Chapter 11: The woman who bites back
Jack put his head back and grimaced, when his muscles protested against the movement with a crackling sound. His body had suffered from physically more demanding missions in the past, but nothing he'd experienced so far was comparable to the psychological pressure that was weighting down all of them. The constant fear to end up as vivid kebab skewer for those monsters left its mark on everyone. He was no exception. But what could else could he do but going on? He was not ready to give up his life, might it be unworthy to live right now. It was his life and he would fight for it until his last breath. He had straightened out that matter with himself weeks ago and drew strength from that. But maybe he was just better at hiding his fears than others. And currently, he sure was hiding it better than Sam Carter too.
Jack was turning his back to her respectfully while she was busy wiping all kinds of body fluids from her face. He leveled inquiring eyes on her now and then, when he was convinced that she didn't notice it, ensuring that she wouldn't pass out on him. She did look little green around the gills. But that had been quite some show from her. One moment, he thought she would turn into a pillar of salt before his eyes, and in the next minute she was hitting the dead man's body like a madwoman. O'Neill was fairly certain that such aggression wasn't part of her normal self. If she was trying to conceal her feelings, she was far less successful than him. He could literally smell her shock. She'd probably scared herself quite a lot.
It was in the way she moved. How she eyed herself doubtfully, like she was disgusted with her own actions. Before him stood a woman who wasn't used to feeling out of control. For a second, Jack wondered if he should feel bad about it. After all, he'd been the one urging her to do it. But no, it had been necessary. Carter needed to do that, more for himself than him. If Jack had learned one thing about this new world, it was that every day was a struggle and they both had to see with their own eyes if she was capable to deal with the stress. And she had not disappointed. Although Carter might be pretty scared and disgusted with herself right now, she had still proved that she was a fighter. Faced with a threat, she defended herself. That was good. Not just for her, but for all of them. If they wanted to survive, he had to know exactly how much he could expect from each of their group. His current assessment of Sam Carter was, that she could haul truckloads of shit before she collapsed. She was probably the only one overlooking her inner strength.
Currently, however, she didn't seem to be very proud of herself. Understandably. She was still adapting to the new circumstances, preparing herself for worse things to come and trying to find her place among the walking dead. They all had to do that. It was a process that took its time.
One last time she wiped the cloth over her face, her skin red and irritated from the rough fabric, and let it fall to the floor. It dawned to him that he should say something, but what? Encouraging her? Pep talk? Or even lecturing her how she could get rid of those pesky biters a little less bloody? That was all crap and verbiage. Words meant nothing. It was always better to make one's own experiences and learning from it. That's the way he'd handled with his soldiers. It was not his style to mother someone and he certainly wouldn't start now.
Nevertheless, he wanted to know if she was alright. Simply because he didn't want her to think about him as cold-hearted asshole.
"You okay?" He decided to ask a simple question. His tone left it to her if she wanted to respond to it or not. For a moment, she stared at the at the dust particles dancing around them in the sparse light as if bewitched.
Her response was accompanied by an almost scornful snort. She sounded almost bitter. Not a welcome sound in his ears.
"Do I get my old live back if I say yes?"
Jack recognized the rhetorical question for what it was and left it unanswered. Instead, he put the focus on what lay ahead of them. It was never good to wallow in the past. The past always included malevolent memories about things he'd prefer not to remember. Fatal errors he'd committed, events which couldn't be re-straightened. But the future carried at least the vague hope of doing something right.
Instead of uttering dumb words of sympathy, he helped her with her bulging backpack. Doing so, he noticed the look on her face and realized that she seemed to have caught herself. He had to give her that, contrary to all initial doubts abut her, the scientist was keeping up really well. With the neckerchief she hadn't just wiped the blood from her face, but also every external indication of self-doubt and despair.
Silently, they agreed to go on. There was still stuff left on their shopping list. Batteries, that was very important for them. Although they avoided using any additional light in the dark and thus attracting biters. Any kind of light enticed them magically, no matter if it was campfire or artificial. Nevertheless, none of them had superman-like eyes and could see in the dark. Stumbling around blindly in the darkness without any source of light wasn't so great either. From time to time, they needed flashlights if they suspected a pack of critters approaching them. The motto, if I don't see them they don't see me, was not working well with those Walkers.
Jack had just taken one step, when he nearly tripped over something that didn't belong in this aisle. He lifted his foot and bent down to examine the object in question in detail. Magically, a can of peaches had appeared in front of him. He picked it up and showed the discovery to his blonde teammate.
"Yummy, canned peaches. Is there anything better that this?"
Carter made a contemptuous snort in her throat. Apparently, she wasn't very thrilled about his unexpected discovery.
"Don't tell me you're one of those who claim to hate fruit?"
"Just canned fruit. My aversion is strictly confined to canned fruit."
O'Neill looked at the can skeptically, because Carter stared at it as if it was a bomb about to explode.
"Have you any idea how much sugar is in there? A normal peach has about 8 grams of sugar per 100 grams of fruit. But those cans contain more than 18 sugar cubes. This stuff has nothing to do with fruit. It's unhealthy and increases your blood sugar level to a level that messes with you organism for hours."
Jack was little impressed with her lecture. The prospect of finally tasting a different flavor than musty beans made him ignore pretty much everything she'd just said. In addition, the last problem he could think of right now was his blood sugar level. Quite the contrary, the word 'sugar' alone made those peaches look damned tasty. He was a sucker for sweets, there was no sense in denying it.
"Well, thanks of the info, Martha Steward. But I see no peach tree around here, so we have to take what we can get."
She fired a few dirty looks at the hated canned fruit, but then she gave in with a slight shake of her head. Still acidified about him throwing her diet tips to the winds, Carter turned around so that Jack could open her backpack and stuff the can in it. None of them felt a great desire to quarrel because of a stupid can of peaches.
Jack was just about to grace her with one of his patented one-liners, when the hairs on his neck stood up at once. He couldn't say exactly what triggered his spider senses. Carter noticed his tension and opened her mouth to ask, but he motioned for her to stay quiet. He cocked his head to the side and listened.
There! There was definitely something. A scraping, scratching sound. Not Quinn or Hanson. Heavy feet dragging along the ground. Unable steps. O'Neill squinted his eyes, wishing himself away even though he knew how childish this desire was. But all he saw behind his closed eyes were emaciated, nibbled off, stinking bodies dragging themselves aimlessly over this world. He hated that, this new substance of his live.
O'Neill's body tensed up as he leaned his back against the shelves, peering into the corridor ahead. In the twilight, he saw erratic shadows scurrying across the floor. Damn it! Biters! And from the look of it, lots of them. His body responded to the threat with goose bumps and pent up exertion. From biology classes, he knew that the hormone cocktail in his body urged him to flee. Right now. No matter where to, just away from here. But his will was stronger than panic. He suppressed the rising hysteria like one would quench a fire that threatened to spin out of control. Stifled his feelings with experience until there was only a healthy dose of fear left. Hysteria was deadly, made him headless and slow. But fear was helpful. Making sure that he was attentive, ready, fast and quick-witted. Everyone was feeling panic. One had to be dead not to feel panic in this hell. But it was important not to let those feelings overwhelm you. Who was afraid survived, who panicked died. It was as easy as that.
Carter was right there with him, understanding that they better hurry up now. He motioned to go the other way and she agreed, nodding. One after one, they snuck out of the corridor, Jack leading them while Carter covered their backs. Their breaths coming in a high frequency now. They had just covered a few meters, when O'Neill stopped so abruptly that Sam had no other choice but to collide with his back. She peered over his left shoulder to see what had persuaded him to halt.
The next pack of Walkers was right there in front of them, approaching steadily.
"Back, back, back." Whispered Jack, urging her in the opposite direction. There was no other possibility but to retreat in the corridor form which they had come from.
On their hectic flight, the first biters discovered them. Motivated by the prospect of fresh meat, they sped up their unsteady gait. Stumbling over each other in their greed and stretching bony arms out at them. Their exited panting delivering the message that dinner was waiting.
"Fuck!" swore O'Neill, not whispering because it didn't matter anymore.
"What about Hanson and Quinn?" Asked Carter and if Jack hadn't been so busy trying to look for a way out, he would perhaps wondered about her. That she was thinking first and foremost about the other's welfare instead of her own. Crazy woman. Altruistic, but still crazy.
"No idea. But we can't reach the other side of the hall anyway."
"But we need to help them." She argued while Jack peered through the shelves, discovering the horror of even more pallid body parts on their way to them.
"We gotta help ourselves." He warned.
It was an easy truth. They simply couldn't reach the end of the hall. Two groups of biters cutting them off effectively form any way out. His gaze wandered around. He wasn't panicked yet, but definitely affected. Today wasn't a good day to die, he decided spontaneously. Much too hot.
Meanwhile, the Walkers displayed a perfidious race to their hideout. The first walking corpse lurched towards them and Jack got rid of the thing with a targeted stab of his long knife. What used to be a man slumped lifelessly at his feet. But more were coming, encircling them. To many to fight back in the narrowness of the corridors.
Behind him he heard Carter groaning painfully. Quick as a flash, he whirled around and it was almost too late. Bony hands stuck out between the shelves, holding onto her backpack and pulling her body backwards. She was struggling, trying to shake of the fingers, but the extra weight on her back slowed her down. Jack pulled out his hockey stick, letting the curved end whiz down on the eager arms like a samurai sword. There was a crash, as if dry branches breaking in pieces. The Biter's bones were broken below the joints, hands hanging down uselessly. Carter was finally able to free herself and hurried to get rid of her backpack. Jack did the same. There was nothing in them to use now anyway.
Ready to grasp even the smallest opportunity to save their lives, Jack grabbed one of the heavy metal shelves. Tried to knock it over as to erect a makeshift barricade between them and the Biters. Carter understood what he was trying to do, also pulling at the shelf. At first, it just wobbled, then it finally fell over. Sam and Jack jumped back just in time. A few Walkers had worse timing and found themselves buried under the weight of the metal. Their clotted blood quickly gathering in large, slimy puddle of blood.
Carter and O'Neill were both breathing heavily, but they hadn't achieved anything yet. Their maneuver had bought them some time, but nothing more. Carter's eyes stayed glued to the barricade, an idea forming in her head. Her eyes darted to the narrow window directly under the roof. O'Neill followed her gaze and understood. His mouth twisted into a grin. She was clever, the theoretical astrophysicist. Not just clever in the scientific sense, but she also possessed an amount of street smartness.
A discussion about the pros and cons of this effort resolved itself. Either they tried this, or they could just shoot themselves in the head.
"You first." Jack called above the panting and groaning and croaking of the angry Walkers. For a second Carter seemed ready to protest, but then she let it go. She hurried to the shelf under the window, grabbed the metal plank above her head with both hands, leaving one foot on the floor and placing the other shoe on another shelf. Tensing her body, she tried to use the shelf as a ladder to get to the top. She felt O'Neill's hand on her butt pushing her upwards. But Carter barely registered it. There was not time for vanity and hypersensitivity. When she had to stop her climbing to shake off more hands reaching for her through the shelves, she started to realize there might never be again time for that. You couldn't make it in this world with being thin-skinned and oversensitive.
Her hands were sweaty, threatening to slip from the smooth metal of the rack. She peered down over her shoulder. Saw O'Neill as he braced himself against the shelf, trying to stabilize it so it wouldn't fall over with her on top. Meanwhile, the two groups of Biters had united on the other side of the barricade and were about to climb over the fallen shelf. Ready to take a bite out of them.
Calm! Stay calm! She encouraged herself. Don't panic! Just keep climbing.
She forced herself to control her wild emotions. This was their only chance to save their lives. If she let the horror win, she would ruin this for the both of them.
The hissing grew louder, sounding irritated. As if the Biters could feel more than just hunger. Impatience, maybe. Or anticipation about sinking their teeth in her warm flesh. Finally, her hands clutched the last shelf. Carter pushed her feet from the frame, throwing one leg over the top shelf and then heaving the rest of her body up until her body rested completely on the surface. She had just managed to catch a breath, when the hockey stick appeared in her view. Instinctively, she reached out and took the stick and a second later felt the shelf shaking violently. Now it was O'Neill's turn to climb the shelf and his greater body weight made sure that the shelf wavered, dangerously close to falling over. Carter tried to maintain her position on top, compensating for the fluctuations. She didn't dare to look down, fearing that relocating her weight would make them and the shelf topple over.
She heard O'Neill cursing while he climbed the shelf. His hands appeared firstly, then the shoulders, torso and legs as he climbed on top like she had a moment ago. At the second their eyes met, they heard a high-pitched squeal when the Biters threw their dead bodies against the shelf barricade and shoved the metal across the floor. With caution, Sam turned towards the narrow window. Now she was glad for the hockey stick, pondering if O'Neill's stubborn wish for the thing hadn't been childish at all, but an unexpected streak of genius. She used the curved end of the stick to smash the milky glass of the window, getting rid of the protruding shards on the frame the same way.
"Go on." O'Neill breathed, casting a worried look down. More and more Biters managed to drag their lanky bodes over fallen shelf. Trampling without any kind of emotion over the one who'd fallen. Like wild animals…no, this was much more worse than that. Actually, there was no description. Carter stuck her head out of the window, looking outside and checking the situation. On the road underneath, everything seemed quiet. Just a few isolated biters wandered around restlessly. Only god knew how long they'd waited in the dark corners of the extinct city, lurking for those who were still alive. And now they sensed that there was meat somewhere, but couldn't locate the source.
The way down wasn't as high like she'd feared. Maybe six, seven meters. Her mind roughly calculated the chances of making this jump. Her brain was doing this single handedly, she couldn't do anything about it. She multiplied the result of her calculations with the fact that she would land on the hard concrete. But it was possible and even if not, they had no other choice. She'd rather suffer from broken bones that a bitten off body part.
She felt O'Neill's hands on her shoulders. A silent call to move. The Biters howled directly under them. Their arms, covered with baggy shin, stretching greedily up. Carter decided to jump with her legs first and squeezed her body through the narrow gap. Her feet dangled in the air for a moment. Sam took a breath, preparing her body and mind for the jump and the pain. Even if she would get injured, she still had to keep moving. Nothing was more important. Just keep moving.
Then she was falling. Her body felt weightless for a few blessed seconds and she caught herself wishing that she could always fee like this. Like flying. But a moment later, her feet hit the hard concrete. Her body functioned automatically and she rolled off to derive the force from the impact. With a flight role, not very elegantly, she landed on the road. The momentum accelerated her body so that she stumbled a few steps, then coming to her feet again. But it had gone well. No injuries. Still, she felt adrenalin pushing forcefully through her veins. By the time she was feeling ready to go on, the stray Walkers had noticed her and staggered towards her position. That ,surprisingly, was the least of her worries. She was patiently waiting for O'Neill. What was taking him so long?
Jack O'Neill watched Carter disappearing through the narrow window. He listened intently, but couldn't hear her scream over the noise of the Biters. They were rattling, groaning, moaning and smacking their lips. He had no idea if she had hurt herself during the fall, but that couldn't be helped at the moment. Now, it was his turn. He copied her movements, crawled to the window, looked out and breathed out relieved upon seeing her unhurt. First, he threw the hockey stick out of the window. Who knew what it would be useful for? Meanwhile, almost everyone of the damned Walkers had met under his shelf. Their scrawny bodies pushing against it and making the metal construction wobble dangerously. It was getting more and more difficult for Jack to keep his balance. He almost fell over and decided this was it. He, too, was planning to jump with his legs first. O'Neill had just managed to squeeze his lower body trough the frame, when he felt the shelf tipping over. Carter had been able to perform a controlled movement, but Jack wasn't so lucky. His arms and hands lost grip and he felt himself falling uncontrollably through the window.
Jack tried to stabilize his body, but it was useless. His knees crashed on the ground, joints aching when they had to absorb the entire force of the impact. He suppressed the stabbing pain with a low groan. All air left his lungs and for the live of him, he couldn't move. He would have loved to stay here, laying on the hot concrete and screaming to the worlds a gracious 'Fuck you too!'
But Carter had other plans for him. He felt her tugging at his shoulders, nearly heaving him back on his feet all alone. His left knee buckled and he stumbled, almost falling on his ass.
"Can you walk?" He heard the woman ask, but her voice sounded like it was coming from someplace far away. In the corner of his eyes he saw two or three Biters staggering toward them. What a question. Could he run? Probably. Should he do so, given the fact that his knee was smashed? No, certainly not. But the real question, the only question that mattered, was: Did he had to run? Oh yes, definitely. As fast and far as he could. Jack blinked, his mind returning to the present, and shook his head to chase away the daze and pain. Carter gasped and looked at him startled, misinterpreting his gesture as him telling her that he could move.
"I'm okay." He finally squeezed out, correcting her assumption. She pressed a pistol in his right hand and the hockey stick in his left. Motioning for him to use the bat as a crutch. Then she grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him along. Who had told her to take over command, Jack wondered as he stumbled after her. He was keeping himself on his two feet barely. But with a little bit of luck, he wouldn't have to go far. Their truck was parked on the other side of the building.
He tried to keep up with her as good as possible. But it wasn't easy. They met three Biters on their way to the truck. His muscles trembled as he raised his arm to shoot, but the dead bodes were already falling. Blinking puzzled, he searched for the source of the shots and found Carter standing there, legs apart, and with her gun in hand. It wouldn't surprise him if she was an exert shooter, too. The woman was full of hidden talents. She waved him on and he dragged himself across the street, leaning heavily on the hockey stick.
As they passed the large windows of the store, they both stopped. Couldn't avert their eyes. Stood there petrified. Although they knew that it was dangerous to stand still. Idleness was deadly in this world. If you wanted to survive, you had to keep moving. And still…the grotesque spectacle that was going on behind the shop window was too bizarre to look away. It seemed that the group of Biters in the warehouse was not all. In the sales area, behind the window, an even larger crowd had gathered. O'Neill had no clue where they came from. Perhaps, there was a nest somewhere? Like a thick tangle of rotting arms, legs, feet and heads, they huddled close together. The stinking flesh of their faces flattened against the smooth surface of the glass. Their hands were hammering against the window, their broken fingernails scratching and spreading grease and other fluids across the surface.
Resignation crept upon Jack and threatened to overwhelm him. Whether they made it out alive or not, one thing was already clear. They would have to forget this shop as potential source of food and other stuff in the future. It would take a lot of time before the Biters would leave the shop or the town. Maybe they would stay here forever. Shuffling around like ghosts. It was a shame. So many foods and other useful things lost for them. Their group could have lived for moths thereof. Now, they had to start their search for food anew.
A horrified gasp brought him out of his thoughts. He followed Carter's wide eyes and understood what was scaring her like that. There was a fine hairline crack, drawing from one side of the window to the other. And it was getting bigger, spreading like tentacles. Like an ice surface which threatened to break under the weight. If the glass broke…..
"Colonel! Colonel O'Neill!"
He heard someone call his name from far far away and tore his gaze away from the shop window. Carter was standing there, looking at him. What was the matter with him? Normally, he wasn't absent minded. Certainly not when all his instincts told him that he was in danger. It was growing difficult for him to classify matters correctly, to concentrate on what was going on around him. But he felt no dizziness or nausea. He'd know if he was suffering from a concussion. It had to be his knee. There was definitely something wrong with it, the pain radiating through his whole body. The only thing that kept him upward was probably the adrenalin. He'd better get going before the effect lessened. With a gesture, he gave her the sign that he was okay.
Still, she ran back the few steps and didn't leave his side as they rounded the building together. They walked to the parking lot, expecting to see the truck and the two Jonas's….but…neither one was there. They halted abruptly, rooted to the spot. Looking around unfoundedly. Yup, the truck was gone. And the Jonas brothers, too. No trace of them.
"What the hell?" cursed O'Neill. For the health of the two other men, he really hopds that they had left because they had been forced to. If not, god help them. He was getting really angry now.
"Where are they?" Carter wanted to know. Her posture told him that she was equally pissed. Jack shook his head, leaning his whole body on the racket. It was more and more difficult to ignore the throbbing pain.
"No idea. Doesn't look like they had any trouble."
That was true. There was no visible sign of a struggle. No blood, no dead Biters on the ground, no bullets and they sure hadn't heard any shots.
But it seemed that they would get into trouble real soon.
The grumbling and growling grew louder again. The source of the noise came closer, advancing on them. Behind the building appeared half a dozen Biters. Probably from the delivery entrance. When they discovered Cater and O'Neill, their noise got louder and eager. Their stiff legs moving faster, struggling to cross the distance between them and their possible dinner. Like puppets that someone else was controlling, someone who enjoyed this perfidious game immensely.
"Too many." Carter's stressed voice reached his ears.
"Let's go. We need to hide."
They literally reversed gear. Turning on their soles and hurrying as best as they could over the parking lot and back to the street. Carter was running a few steps ahead of him. He hadn't asked for it. Nevertheless, it seemed to be only natural for her to clear the way for him. If Jack hadn't been in so much pain, he'd have smiled about it. His own personal blonde bulldozer. He was pretty sure she'd give him hell if she knew he was calling her that in his thoughts.
They managed to put some distance between the group of Walkers and them, still faster than the dead. But Jack could feel the power draining from his body. He couldn't keep up with Carter's tempo any longer. But he tried. Dragged himself across the asphalt, his movements resembling more the things he was running away from than a real human.
The sweat ran down his face and into his eyes. Jack could hear them coming closer. Before him, Carter had reached the road and paused to look right and left.
Where to now? Which direction was safe and where lurked the danger?
You're safe nowhere - his thoughts taunted him.
The decision whether to go left or right, was taken from them by fate, which seemed to have a perverse pleasure to see them failing. To her right was the front of the shop, including the damaged storefront. A loud clatter spread over the entire street when the glass burst under the pressure of the Biters. Instinctively, Sam held up her hands to protect her face. The window was made out of this glass that would burst outwards, dispersing the shards over the possible burglar instead of the sales area. Like a drizzle, countless pieces of glass in all different sized rained down on the street. In the blazing midday sun, the broken glass shone like a sea of precious stones. But the picture of conniving beauty didn't survive for long. As if in slow motion, she watched the first Biters taking staggering, swaying and tottering steps on the sidewalk. They were many. Like someone had pulled the plug from a full sink. A flood that could no longer be contained.
The terrible moaning and smacking filled the air. The stench of rotting bodies mingling with the heat to a calamitous mix. Everything seemed to have conspired against them. As she stood there, fused to the asphalt beneath her feet, she felt out of place again. This wasn't her world anymore. She didn't belong here. No one who was still alive belonged here. Like she was an alien trapped on a strange, hostile planet.
O'Neill appeared beside her, sweating and panting. His eyes took in the danger that hovered mercilessly above them. But unlike her, he seemed to have analyzed their situation in less than a second. He was the kind of person that knew how to help himself. The kind of person that acted instead of over-thinking. He grabbed her and tore at the fabric of her jacket. There was no real power behind it, due to his injury, but the meaning was clear. We gotta go, real quick!
They ran to the left. It wasn't a difficult decision, because it was the only way that was still Biter-free. With the desire to shake of the paralyzing chokehold of her overactive brain, she jogged along the street. As her pulse rose, she started to feel her body. It was a great feeling to get away from those things. To know that she could be so much faster than them. It gave her the feeling of being still the more advanced race. The wind in her face, the movement of her body. In this moment, she felt almost free. So she ran on. It reminded her of better times. Before the world had turned crazy and inhospitable, she'd loved to go for a run.
If she could spare the time, of course. Never slow, but quick. She needed the speed as compensation for her desk job. Running was the only free time she'd allowed herself. She couldn't afford more. Not with everything there had been to achieve. All those plans other people had with her. Her father, who believed that she could and should fly high with her career. Joe, who had been quite delighted when she'd fished her transfer to the Pentagon out of the mailbox. Moving to Washington D.C. would have given his carreer the long awaited push. Her boss, who'd been convinced that she was the ideal candidate to be his legitimate successor, and thus ensuring that the institute retained its scientific tradition.
All those people who had invested so much in her. Work, money and hope. Sam hadn't even dared to think about disappointing them. And now? Now, nothing of that mattered any more. Everything she'd achieved and had wanted to achieve….didn't mean anything. For nobody. She was no longer Major Samantha Carter, a brilliant scientist on her way to the world's elite. Now she was only a dirty woman running for her live. Like everyone else did. The death made them all the same.
Behind her, the groaning reached a new level of intensity. She'd never heard them making a noise like that. But there was something else mixed in it. Sam almost overheard it. This suppressed sound. It nearly mingled with the bluster of the Biters. But, now that she focused on it, she could clearly notice that the source couldn't be a Walker. They dead didn't sound like that. More than that, the dead didn't curse, only the living could.
O'Neill! The thought drove through her head like a flash. She abruptly stopped her run, almost stumbling. Then she whirled around, her eyes scanning the area. Scolding herself that she hadn't noticed that O'Neill wasn't with her anymore. This time, however, she was sure that he hadn't left her side willingly. Something must've happened to him. Only now did she understand, that she'd been running much too fast for him to keep up with his hurt knee. O God! She'd left him behind. Like a bait for the monsters.
They were so many of them! Dozens! They moved like a horde of locusts. Some faster, some slower, but all of them with the goal to devour the two living souls who had dared to disturb their slumber. Sam tried hard, but couldn't discover him among the dead. The first tears burned in her eyes, her view blurred. Stubborn, she wiped her hand over her face and forced herself to stay calm. At last, she noticed a movement that stood out among the jumpy motion of the dead. Over there, on the right side! The motion was too dynamic to be an undead.
She stumbled back a few steps, squinting her eyes. There was definitely something. Some Biters were laying over each other in a heap of limbs. She saw an arm protruding under the dead bodies, dressed in camouflaged fabric. O'Neill, certainly!
Her stubborn side prevailed. None of them would die today. Not if she had anything to say in it. Basta! Like a dervish, she turned around and sprinted towards the tangle of arms and legs rolling around on the floor. Rounding and ignoring the mass of biters that were quickly closing up on her. Blood pumping violently through her veins and spurring her on. Yet, she had no idea if her assumption was true and if it was indeed O'Neill laying there. Was he still alive? And unhurt? She was now just a few steps away and could feel her body tense up under the pressure she was feeling. A long knife appeared among the struggling limps, reflecting the sun and burying itself deep into the head of one Biter. The dead body immediately collapsed on top of the heap. The knife swung again, but missed its second goal.
Hope spread through her. That could only be O'Neill! And he was definitely alive. Struggling and fighting for his live. When she was about two meters away from the pile of bodies, Sam stopped, drew her gun and aimed. She had four bullets left in her magazine and each of them was a hit. As quickly as her agitated fingers allowed, she changed the magazine –her last one- and send another round of bullets towards the approaching Walkers. Buying herself and her companion a few precious seconds of time. Making good use of it, she crossed the distance between herself and the tangle of bodies with a few fast steps.
Sam rushed to the pile, not driven by the desire for her own safety, but by the fear of having to watch how a man was mauled before her eyes. That was even worse than imaging herself being eaten alive. She grunted hard as she grabbed the first Biter by the shoulders and pushed it on the ground. Her knife did the rest. Only in the background of her mind did she register how the blood was splattering all over her. She managed to kill the next undead just before it could bury its yellow teeth in her hip. She almost tripped over one arm greedily grabbing for her feet. A lunge just in time saved her.
She fell in a similar delusion as in the warehouse, when she had smashed –totally out of control- a man's head. However, this time she was victor over her panic. Instead of lashing out indiscriminately, she managed to take aim at the forehead and temple. Her whole body was in constant movement, slowly remembering what she'd learned in close combat classes. She quickly dodged all the hands, arms and mouths wanting to take a bite out of her. Her mind was fully focused on survival.
Still, it seemed to take an eternity until she had finally worked her way through the heap of limbs. A sea of dead Biters, blood and guts had accumulated around her in dark pitches. But she didn't care about all of that. The only thing that mattered now was O'Neill's face, battered but not dead, appearing under the last Biter. She watched the colonel's arms bracing against the dead body lying on top of him, but there was no real force in his efforts because the whole weight of the Biter rested on his injured knee.
Carter supported his attempts to free himself by grabbing the back of the Walker and pulling. Shelving away the feeling of the cold, leathery skin under her fingers. With joined efforts, they managed to roll the rancid body from O'Neill. The colonel's expression was nothing but pure strain when he sat up and gasped for air. His clothes looked worn and tattered, but he himself seemed thankfully uninjured. For a brief moment, their eyes met and his mouth twitched slightly, indicating a lopsided grin. The unnatural whimpering and whining of a Biter destroyed the moment quickly.
The colonel's eyes flicked on, saw the herd that approached them, stumbling like idiots. Hungry idiots. No word was spoken between them as O'Neill held out a prompting had to her. Sam understood the demand and hauled the man to his feet. There was no time to agree on some time of tactic, so they started walking. Down the road. Walking away from the huffing and puffing dead. Carter grunted a few times, almost buckling under the colonel's added weight, but she held herself –and him- upright. She noticed that he was trying to walk on his own feet, but the fall and the fight with the Biters must've given his knee the rest. He wouldn't get very far without her body to support him.
So Sam dragged herself and the Colonel on. It was monotonous work and she almost forgot everything around her. What mattered now was the empty street in front of her and the herd of Walkers behind. Under the heat of the august sun, she was losing her sense of time. She made the mistake of peering over her shoulder once, realizing with great shock that the Biters were making up good ground. Driven with the need to rebuild the distance between them and the monsters, Sam quickened her steps, but so suddenly that O'Neill couldn't adjust in time. The two faltered dangerously, nearly falling on their asses. A small mistake that could've ended fatal for them. As fast as the Walkers were catching up on them, it could be very well possible that they wouldn't get the chance to stand up again after a fall.
Carter felt the colonel's arm slipping from her shoulders and grabbed for his hand to prevent his body from collapsing …but he shook her helping hand off. She turned her head to see what was going on and he was already dragging himself painfully down a narrow side street. He limped heavily, dragging his bad knee behind. Halfway, he nodded at her and motioned to follow him. After almost dying in an alley just like that a day before, everything in her was reluctant to walk willingly in such a potential death trap again. But splitting up was no option either. In no case, did she want to end up alone.
So hurried ran after him. O'Neill was leaning with his body against the rough wall, then knelt down on the ground awkwardly. There was a blue cellar door and the Colonel pulled out his knife, plunging the blade between the two panels of the double door. Gently swaying it back and forth until he heard a crack, then he leveled the blade jerkily from left to right, effectively breaking the lock. Carter came to a stand beside him, pulling on the door until it opened with a loud creak.
Musty air and dust met her. She looked in the room below, which was wrapped in darkness. Like a maw that was opening and threatening to swallow her. It didn't feel right to go down there, not knowing what was lurking for them. But it seemed to be their only chance. Realistically, they couldn't outrun the Biters. Not if O'Neill could only hobble. Carter knew that she could possibly make it, but she wouldn't leave him. So she was following plan B. Hiding somewhere.
She felt O'Neill's hand on her back, urging her to go first. Sam took one last look over her shoulder. The Walkers had found them. Some where stupidly staggering past the alley, inattentively overlooking their pray. Others weren't so distracted, detecting that their foot had taken a different path and adjusting their shuffling. Without thinking about it, Sam and Jack rushed in the darkness of the basement. Maybe, death was waiting for them down there too. But they knew that if they stayed on the street, death was certain.
As he stumbled into the basement, Jack forced himself to ignore the throbbing pain in his knee. Not thinking about the injuries he possibly sustained. Instead, he slammed the door shut form the inside and used a bolt to lock it. Unfortunately, the bolt made no particular sturdy impression. Moreover, since he had broke the door lock himself. He loosened some paracord bracelets from his wrist and wrapped them several times around the latch and the deadbolt, forming an eight and reinforcing the locking mechanism standing between Carter and him and those monsters.
He pulled at them, testing the stability of his provisional design. The practical proof followed on foot. The first Biters hammered against the door from the other side. Wedging their bony fingers through the gap between the two panels. Thankfully, the deadbolt worked. Certainly, not forever and not if more of those things tried to break in. But maybe they'd get lucky and the critters were getting bored. Walking on and searching for other victims somewhere else.
Now gradually feeling the fatigue, he couldn't push back the pain any longer and sank to the floor. The old paint on the door peeling off and spreading on his back. But what did it matter? Looking good was not longer a goal to achieve. Wearily, Jack leaned his head against the door, not listening to the insistence on the other side. The silence in their dark hiding place was such a stark contrast to the noisy Biters out there, that the almost total absence of any noise boomed in his ears.
There was no other sound that their strained attempts to breath and O'Neill felt himself threatening to drift into a microsleep. But he couldn't. It was too dangerous. That was one of the advantage those things had. He was a man. Had to eat, wash, sleep, rest, couldn't be alert round the clock. Those Biters didn't have such problems. They felt no pain, no fatigue, frustration or depression. They could just go on and on and on. Continue running, chasing and eating the living forever. There seemed to be no limits for their existence. Jack opened his eyes again. Blinking while adapting to the prevailing darkness.
Carter stood before him. The gun still convulsively in her right hand. Although they both knew that her magazine was empty. But she kept gripping it firmly. Her breath coming in hard, unsteady waves. Jack wanted to say something, and had to clear his throat first because his vocal cords felt like sandpaper.
"Are you hurt?"
Carter eyed herself for a moment, then judged that she was okay. Physically, at least.
Actually, he should say yes now. His knee felt squished. The torn skin was bleeding and his muscles were shaking form the effort. He felt dirty and stinky. Everything hurt, even breathing. But that was not what she had asked. She wanted to know if he had gotten a bite or a scratch. He was relieved when he could say no to that.
It was strange, that they trusted each other blindly about that. After all, it was about a potential deadly infection. If one of them hand been infected, death for the other one was just a matter of how long this virus needed to break out in the infected body. So, it was a rather important thing. But neither Carter nor O'Neill seemed to feel the urge to control each others words.
He let his eyes wander and could make out a long workbench and some rusty racks and tool boxes. It smelled musty, like old machine oil and rusty metal. Their refuge had once been a small workshop. Beside their strained breathing, he couldn't hear anything else. But that didn't automatically mean that they were alone. They couldn't rule out the possibility that there was a lurker, waiting for one of them to stumble over him.
"Could you take a look around? Just to be sure. I need a sec."
His scratchy voice reached Carter's ears and even though he had whispered, she startled like he had yelled at her. It took her a moment to understand what he wanted from her. Then she nodded quickly.
He noticed that she was still clutching the gun like her live depended on it. However, without ammunition, the gun was useless.
"You've got no bullets left." Jack remarked, aiming for a neutral tone. He didn't want her to think that he was doubting her. Because he had no reason to. He was well aware of the fact that she'd saved his miserable live. And in an impressive manner, if he might add.
She blinked and looked blankly at the gun in her hand, almost as if she noticed for the first time that she was still holding the cold, useless metal.
"Oh. That's not good." Was all she had to say. Biting her lip, Carter peered doubtfully into the dark workshop. Her posture was withdrawn, inhibited.
"You still have your knife." He reminded her. And Jack could even offer her some more light as rummaged through his pant pocket, searching for the small led flashlight that was tucked away there. When he found it, he tossed her the red battery-powered lamp.
"Here, take this. Better that nothing."
The plastic bounced off her palm and she had to grab for it a second time, until she finally caught it. When Carter pushed the on-button, the smooth glow painted a narrow column of brightness on the floor.
Her first steps were inhibited, uptight and Jack concluded that she was slowly reaching her limit for today. A few minutes of rest would probably be enough to catch up and he'd loved to spare her wandering around barely armed. But contrary to him, she wasn't injured, which automatically meant that it was the only logical choice to leave the exploring of their hiding place to her. Physical fitness was the most important skill in this new world order. It was easy to outsmart a few Walkers. But a whole horde of those bastards made you running for your life and hoping for the best. It wouldn't do them any good if he stumbled around himself, barely able to stay on his own feet. It was rare for him to give such a task to someone else, but from time to time he was open for reason.
He also knew his body pretty good, especially his knees. As long as he could remember, his joints had always been a tad prone for injuries. Most of the time, he could compensate for this weakness with clever movements and extra strength training for the muscles but now, looking at his trembling knee, he was pretty sure that he shouldn't stress his muscle tissue any more.
"Hey, there's probably nothing here anyway. We should just make sure. And I'm here too. I won't be much of a help, but still." He admitted with a shrug. Jack knew very well that, should she meet a Biter, he couldn't reach her quick enough to help. Ultimately, she was on her own. But sometimes, it was good just to know that you weren't alone.
Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and advanced into the darkness. Jack followed her with his eyes, grimacing when he lost sight of her. The workshop wasn't huge, but still piled up and contorted. Because his eyes were useless in the darkness, he concentrated on his hearing. Blocking out the noise from outside the door and solely focusing on Carter's cautious steps. For a while, nothing unusual reached his ears, then he startled when a clatter cut through the silence. Something heavy had just been dropped.
"Carter? Carter!" He shouted, not caring that his voice incited the Walkers at the other side of the door. Be became nervous, when there was no answer.
"Carter!" be barked again. Nervousness morphed into full blown concern. Despite the pain in his knee, there was nothing that could keep him sitting on his ass right now.
Laborious and cumbersome, he grabbed the edge of a workbench and pulled himself clumsily up. His knee relented to the weight, but he bared his teeth and swallowed down any protest. Yet, Jack had no idea how to make even one step without immediately falling down again. But he had to move, wouldn't sit around uselessly while Carter may be eaten alive or…
"Fuck!" He couldn't help but snarl at her as Carter's blonde head appeared before him suddenly. Uninjured and safe.
"Jeez, woman! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
To her defense, she refrained from pointing out to him that he'd done something similar to her in the warehouse. Instead, she ducked her head and stared at him from beneath her lashed, holding the excuse in her hands.
"Sorry. But I found this."
She held up a dusty first aid kid, the orange color slowly fading. Jack was instantly willing to forgive her. Still desperately clinging to the workbench, he nodded gently.
"It's okay. But next time, say something." He complained while the vehemence left his voice. Thereby concealing the fact that the reason for his anger wasn't that she hadn't answered immediately, but because he'd instantly feared that something bad had happened and that she couldn't answer anymore.
"Next time." She promised and took a step towards him. Holding up the first aid kid and nodding to his bruised knee.
"Want me to take a look at this?"
"I thought you're not that kind of doctor." Remarked Jack. It was supposed to be one of his patented bad jokes, but too late did he realize how hostile his words had sounded. He could practically watch how Carter's frail camaraderie she'd developed in the last hours towards him shattered.
"I'm the only doctor you have. Also, I'm a trained combat medic."
Jack swallowed. Wanted to apologize for his crude way, but didn't manage to do so.
"That would be great."
With her help, he limped to the other side of the room where he sat down carefully on the floor and stretched out his injured leg. Carter knelt beside him, opening the first aid kid and pouring the contents out. There was not much left. Whoever had been tinkering in this workshop, he or she had a serious knack for minor wounds of all kind. It was striking that there was not a single patch left. Good for Jack that his wound required more attention. Fortunately, there was still enough dressing material.
Carter put her head to the side, leaning over the injured knee for a closer look and thinking about how to tackle this problem.
"I think I need to cut you pant." She reasoned finally, a pair of scissors in hand and a concentrated expression on her face.
Jack didn't mind. Like she'd said, she was the doc.
"That old thing? Go ahead, have fun."
"I can assure you, this is not my idea of fun."
O'Neill huffed and rolled his eyes.
"Of course not. I bet you're having a field day staring at numbers and calculations."
"Fun is relative. I guess you love reading joke books to improve you own humor."
Secretly, he was having much fun right now. Bickering with her. But he thought it was wise not to admit this. He grabbed the fabric of his shirt dramatically, right over his heart, and sighed.
"Oy, that really hurt. But still, point taken."
As he watched her hands cutting open his trouser leg, he pulled out a packet of crackers. He was a little bit surprised that he could eat in this situation. But it had always been like that with him. No matter how hard the day or how much pain he was in, his appetite never let him down. Maybe it was some kind of coping mechanism? A weird form of comfort eating? He just knew that there had been only one time in his live when he hadn't been sure if it was worth the effort to keep his body alive with food. O'Neill blinked, protesting against thinking about this now. It was pointless. Now matter how many times he tormented himself with these thoughts, he'd never get the chance to make his amends. And it was good like that. A suitable punishment for him.
So it was fine with him when he caught Carter staring at him from the corner of her eyes. She looked away quickly, wanting to hide that she had been indeed staring. Yeah, like he wouldn't notice that.
"What?" He demanded to know what was so damn interesting about his face. At the same time, something in his mind told him that it was probably not a good idea to distract Carter while she was busy working with a pair of scissors near his bare skin. But he didn't get to choose his nurse. Or his temper.
"It's nothing." She mumbled.
Jack grunted. "Oh, please. Doesn't look like it's nothing. You're doing that scrunching up your nose thingy."
"I'm not scrunching up my nose." She insisted, but her face betrayed her with doing just that.
"Of course. You're doing it right now. I notice things."
Carter paid no attention to him as she pushed aside the two pieces of his pant leg. The wiser head gives in, as the saying goes.
She sighed and furrowed her brows as she looked at his battered knee. Cautiously, her hands touched the swollen and bloodshot skin. Jack winced and involuntarily tried to escape her touch.
"Sorry." Carter apologized and he could hear that she meant it.
"It's okay." O'Neill breathed out, relaxing again as the pain subsided. His doctor leaned back and pursed her lips.
"I don't think something's broken. Looks like a pretty bad articular effusion."
Jack gave his knee a thoroughly once over and had to admit, it looked rather bad. The skin was swollen and sore, the color already turning into a brownish red, or reddish brown, depending on how you looked at it. It felt like the whole joint was burning up. He put a hand on his tight, just above the knee and tried to stabilize it, feeling the heat emanating form the injury. An inflammation?
"And this effusion…is it very bad?"
The way Carter stared a bit helplessly at the empty first aid kit made him uneasy. It wasn't his first injury. But he'd never listened closely when the doctors had explained him their diagnoses. Now he wished he'd at least looked at the x-rays. He himself couldn't identify the severity of his injury, except that it hurt like hell.
Carter wiped a strand from her forehead and cocked her head thoughtfully to one side.
"I don't think so. My brother once had something like that, not quite as bad, but sill. The doctor performed a puncture to derive the accumulated blood."
She said this so casually, that Jack almost didn't realize the consequences of the indicated treatment.
"Puncture! Wait a sec! Nobody gets punctured!"
The blonde physicist was actually impressed by his childish objection. She appeared to be honestly regretting what she had to tell him.
"But we have to do something. If not, you're risking compartment syndrome."
"Compartment syndrome. It happens when an increased tissue pressure leads to a reduction of tissue perfusion, resulting in a neuromuscular disorder or tissue and organ damage."
Jack closed his eyes briefly. The long and complicated words dancing before his pupils. He didn't understand a word. Except damage.
"Carter, I have no idea what you're trying to say."
She responded to his implied question with leaning back on her knees and propping her hands on her tighs.
"It means that the swelling and bruising squeezes down on the tissue underneath. Compressing the veins, too. More blood accumulates and the pressure increases. In very bad cases, the tissue bursts."
O'Neill shook his head in disbelief.
"It's like grilling a hot dog for too long. Eventually, the sausage bursts."
Jack grimaced. This comparison he'd understood very well.
"Urgh. You mean, my knee will explode?"
"In fact, it would be more like an impulsion."
"Oh, thanks a lot dear doc, I'm feeling so much better already."
For a moment, they stared at each other in silence. Jack with his typical stubbornness when it came to necessary medical treatments and Sam with a tenseness concerning what she had to do to help him. Determined, she reached for an object she'd placed next to the first aid kit. She was sure that this was the only way, considering their poor equipment. If they didn't do anything they were risking a worsening of the injury, maybe even ending in death for him.
"Normally, this is done with a wide needle. But we don't have such a needle, so…" She left the sentence unfinished and held up her knife. The colonel's eyes turned huge upon seeing this.
"Absolutely not! No way! Never ever! No frigging way!"
"I told you, don't Sir me. Especially not when you're fidgeting with a knife in front of me. Over my dead body." He warned her and pointed an accusing finger her direction. But Sam didn't relent.
"You said it! If you don't let me do something, this will end with your death."
This seemed to stun him to silence, so she kept talking. "I don't see another option. The knee looks pretty bad and it won't be done with a simple bandage. The pressure has to go. The longer we wait, the more damage we risk. Think about how far you'll get if you can't run or walk properly."
Her objection hit a nerve with him. O'Neill opened his mouth, but closed it again without saying anything. Instead, he let his head fall against the wall and squinted. His jaw tensing briefly.
"All right then. If you're sure you can do this."
His glance was so intense, that Carter had to fight against looking away.
"As sure as I can be."
"Hate to say that Carter, but that doesn't sound that much convincing."
"That's because I'm not convinced it's going to work. But I assure you, I'll do my best."
Jack grunted in agreement. "Wouldn't have expected anything less with you."
"Maybe you should close your eyes." Sam suggested when she saw his less than enthusiastic face.
"Ack no, I prefer watching disaster approaching me. Don't want to implore that you're not good at this." He added quickly. Jack was no idiot. He knew it was a very stupid idea to annoy the woman that was about to cut his knee with a sharp knife.
"I'm sure you'll do the best you can possibly do…considering the dirt, the absence of any medical equipment, with only a knife and all those gems and bacteria floating around…"
Carter's eyes went wide. She put the knife away and reached behind her.
"I almost forgot. I think I can do something about those gems."
She showed him a half-full bottle of whisky.
"I found this in the back. Not ideal, I know, but at least it's something."
"You mean, at least something high-proof."
She smiled knowingly and opened the bottle. Professionally, she disinfected first the blade of the knife, then soaked a piece of gauze with the alcohol and wiped it gently over the swollen skin of his knee. This time, Jack managed to control his nerves and kept his body from reacting to the pain her touch was provoking. Maybe the alcohol could help him with that too?
"Hey Carter, what about me? Don't I get a sip?"
She pursed her lips denying.
"I wouldn't recommend it. This isn't a particularly good drop."
To confirm her words, she shoved the bottle under Jack's nose so that he could take a generous snuff. He sneezed and knew that she hadn't exaggerated.
"Oy, that stuff is evil."
"That's what I'm saying."
"But…I guess I'm not in the position to be choosy."
"At some matters, you should definitely be choosy." She insisted and Jack was willing to leave it there. The stuff wasn't worth a dispute.
The next short minutes were spent with Carter making the final preparations. When she had everything ready she would need, Carter took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eyes.
"Do I have a choice?"
"Not if you want to keep your knee."
Jack realized that he really couldn't get out of this and gave in with a slightly plaintive sigh.
"All right. Showtime."
She took a lot of time to set the sharp blade on his skin, giving him the opportunity to prepare for the pain that was about to come. Jack squinted, trying to breathe deeply and regularly, even as the pain flooded his whole body. He couldn't suppress a soft moan as he watched her carefully cutting his skin open. A fine red line spread across his knee.
"Fuck, that hurts." O'Neill rasped and Carter's face contorted with regret and compassion.
"I'm really sorry."
Viscous dark, red blood sipped trough the cut and ran over his skin. Carter quickly put the knife away and dapped the blood with some more of the dressing material. In the meantime, Jack desperately tried to keep breathing and was genuinely surprised when the pressure and pain actually, albeit extremely slowly, subsided.
"Wow, this is really helping." He remarked when he was sure again that he could speak a few words without bursting into tears. Carter gave him a rare, but all the more wide, smile.
"That's great. I'm relieved."
Jack snorted with amusement. "Sure you are. You're just afraid that you need to keep dragging me across the street."
As their tempers had calmed down a bit, and when she could trust her fingers to work properly, she started to dress the colonel's knee. Pondering what there was about this guy, that made her react so strongly. While he watched her fingers applying the gauze, Jack had similar musings. Why the heck were they always fighting or quarreling with each other? He certainly couldn't say that he didn't like her. Carter was quite okay. Okay? Was that the right word? After all, O'Neill didn't feel indifferent about her. People he didn't care about, couldn't evoke such strong emotions in him. But perhaps it was just the tremendous stress. Carter, if she would become a friend or not, had just saved his life and he wouldn't forget that anytime soon.
Glad that his injury didn't feel as bad as expected, he exhaled relieved. No sooner than Carter had applied a pressure bandage, the strain on his knee subsided. Then pain was still there, but slowly fading to a level he could tolerate without making an ass out of himself with his whimpering. With eyes half-open, he watched as she fixated the bandage with a metal clip. He sighed and met her searching gaze.
"You should try to get some sleep."
Immediately, she looked at him. Her eyes scanning him attentively and coming to a rest on his knee.
He shook his head.
"No. You first."
"I'm not tired."
Jack groaned. Why did she have to be so damn stubborn?
"You're hurt. You need the sleep more than I do."
She was right, of course. Had beat his recalcitrant stubbornness with her logical and analytical persistence.
"All right, all right." He finally gave in. Because he was pretty sure that he wouldn't relent. It was actually only logical to go easy on himself, leaving her in the responsibility. He had asked her for her trust, now it was only fair that he started trusting her too. He took off his wristwatch because he knew that she didn't have her own watch.
"We have eight hours of sleep in front of us. I'd say that's four hours for each of us. We'll get up at six and take a look outside. That okay with you?"
Carter took the watch from him, fastening it around her own wrist and nodding in agreement.
"But hey, don't try to trick me. You wake me up after four hours and I take over. No ego trips." He warned, pinning her with strict eyes and it was good that he did that. Her look told him that she'd planned to do just that. Somewhat reluctantly, she nodded again.
When that matter was settled, he peeled off his jacked and patted it with his hands until he'd formed something that hadn't much in common with a pillow, but still served as such. He settled down on the cold floor as comfortable as possible, laying down on one side, mindful to protect his injured knee. Contrary to his expectations, he actually started to doze off. He focused on Carter's quite breathing, but her lulling sounds were interrupted by the Biter's hissing outside the door.
"Oh for crying out loud, shut the hell up!" Jack shouted back, knowing full and well that these things could perceive nothing else but hunger. As if an answer to his curse, the drumming at the door got louder again and he shot and heartfelt "Assholes!" afterwards. Carter chuckled at his contra-productive communication with the Walkers, but sobered up palpable. There was something on her mind and he could feel it. It was keeping him from settling down.
"What are we going to do tomorrow if they are still there. How are we supposed to get out?" She spoke up, voicing concerns that were on his mind too, but that he refrained from addressing. No sense in wrecking his head about something that was still in the future.
"We'll wait for Kowalski. He'll come and get us out."
"I dunno. But he's a clever guy."
She was silent and he could practically sense her gnawing her lip.
"Don't worry so much. He'll come."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because he knows I'll rip him a new one if he doesn't."
Her thoughtful "hmmm" told him that she needed something more substantial to believe in their rescue. He turned his head, trying to catch her eyes with his.
"Hey, Kowalski's a good guy. I've known him for a very long time. He won't leave us in the lurch."
His strong words didn't seem to get through to her. She apparently needed a different kind of pep talk and Jack wouldn't even dream of pretending to know what this was. A bit embarrassed with his own inability to cheer her up, he winked at her and choose to lay down again. But sleep wouldn't come. Not when he could practically hear Carter's busy brain cells struggling to find something fairly logical in all this shit. Of course, to no avail. No one could understand this. Not even a genius like her.
Jack could have feigned sleeping when he sensed that rest wouldn't come to her quickly. But that was not him. He was far from claiming to know how to console or encourage someone. But when one of his people had a problem, he was there and after everything they had experienced together on this day, he looked at Carter as part of the team. If she had a problem, he had one too. It was simple like that. With a soft sigh, he sat up again, pain pulsing through his knee when he made the mistake of moving his leg.
"Look Carter, I'm sure we'll get our chance to scoot. Like I said, Kowalski will search for us. I trust him." He spoke these words with a heavy undertone, aiming at making her understand that he only trusted those who deserved it. You had to work hard for his trust, it wasn't to be had for nothing. And if she trusted him, and he trusted Kowalski, therefore she could trust Kowalski too. If that made any sense at all.
Carter thought about that for a while. Waiting if he was going to lay down again, if he wanted his peace because he had enough of her and her constant worries. When he did no such thing, she saw it as silent invitation to share her thoughts. Sam eyed him closely. She had a certain hunch about him, but wasn't sure if it was okay to address it. Normally, something like that was top secret. But on the other hand, what could happen? There was no one here anymore, who could controll classified information.
"You and Kowalski, you're Special Forces, right?"
O'Neill's astonished eyes met her like a laser beam.
"How do you know?" Jack was pretty sure he hadn't mentioned that. Part of his job was telling no one about the true nature of his job.
Sam shrugged her shoulders as if her thoughts were too trivial to share.
"It's the way you move. My dad used to move like that. Even when he was at home with us. Always tense, always on the alert, always ready to go."
Jack clicked his tongue approvingly.
"Carter, has someone ever told you that you're really, really smart?"
The question wasn't meant very seriously. He knew that she was aware of her high intelligence and therefore Sam left the question unanswered. Instead, she made an attempt to approach the mystery that was Colonel O'Neill.
"So, Ranger or Green Beret?"
O'Neill crossed his arms over his chest. But not in a refusing gesture, but in an attempt to make himself more comfortable. Apparently, sleep was no longer a serious option for him. So he settled down beside her. A long night ahead for both of them.
She made an appreciative sound in her throat, but remained silent for so long, that it was the Colonel who spoke up the next time.
"Your dad's a Ranger too?"
Smalltalk. Sam had to admit to herself, she was a tad disappointed about that. She felt the need in her to talk about more profound matters. About what was going on. But she knew it wasn't very polite to impose such conversations on someone. Added to this was the fact that she didn't even know how to voice what was going on in her mind and heart.
O'Neill stared broodingly at the ceiling.
"He was…" she began, but he interrupted her animatedly. Mischievous humor spreading on his facial features.
"Oh no! Don't tell! I like a good puzzle once in a while."
He tapped his index finger against his chin, imitating the classical posture of a thinker. Meanwhile, Sam leaned back, satisfied to let him ponder for a while. She was anxious too see how smart the good Colonel really was. And he didn't disappoint.
"So, Dad enjoyed a Ranger training, but is not really one. That means…Black Ops?" He accompanied his educated guess with snapping his fingers.
Now it was Sam looking at him in astonishment. Although he seemed to act uncouth from time to time, he was definitely hiding a razor-sharp mind behind it. And a good deal of knowledge of the human nature.
"I know my those guys inside out. Even trained some of them myself."
"Have you been a good teacher?"
"I guess so. I remember them cursing all of the time , so I must've done something right."
The Biters outside choose this particular moment to renew their attempts to break in the door and effectively silenced their conversation. Both of them instinctively reached for their knives, knowing full and well that they stood no chance against the Walkers lurking at the other side of the door. Fortunately for them, O'Neill's paracord bolt didn't yield. Slowly relaxing again, Jack realized that he was indeed interested in continuing the conversation with Carter. Which was normally not like him. Talking with someone else. Willingly. But he blamed it on the strange mix of fatigue and adrenalin. He was actually so damn tired, that he was paradoxically also wide awake.
"Your dad, he's a real tough cookie, eh?"
He noticed her tensing up beside him. Uh oh, he'd probably touched a sensitive topic.
"You can say that again." She finally answered, but refrained from telling him anything else on her own. Jack was faced with the difficult decision whether he should leave it at that, or not. He didn't want to drive her into a corner, but still wanted to know more about her. So he opted for a compromise.
"You don't like talking about him."
His question was open enough to give her space for every possible option. She could answer if she wanted, or not. Both was fine with him.
"No, not really. We…we've never been close."
A humorless and peevish laugh escaped her lips. "The general wasn't exactly a storybook father."
Jack was willing to leave it at that, if it wasn't for this tiny little thing that made him sit up straight.
"You call your dad, 'General'?"
Carter wiped her eyes in a telltale way and sounded dejected.
"I guess I'm just a typical air force brat, born and raised. We used to move so often, that our family had no friends or acquaintances outside the base. The only people who came to visit were colleagues of my father and all of them called him sir. Sometime, I started to do the same. I think he liked it."
Jack grimaced. In his mind's eye, he saw two small children's feet racing over the slippery parquet floor of the living room. The cheerful voice of his son threatening to deceive his mind and lacerate his heart. Charlie. He remembered the little boy having fun with saluting and calling his dad sir, too. But that had always been fun. Just a silly game between the two O'Neill men. It happened every time when the boy didn't want to go to bed, not listening to his mother's warning words. That had been the time for Jack's appearance. He'd mimicked a strict drill sergeant and ordering –with a broad grin totally betraying his fatherly authority- his son to take up a concealed position under the blankets of his bed. Charlie had used to react to this command with saluting as seriously as a four year old could and letting his father chase him up the stairs. Always happily screaming when Jack caught up with the boy halfway, throwing him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry and delivering his precious cargo to bed himself. The following good night story a welcomed opportunity to calm down and end the day with some warm and fuzzy feelings.
That had been a totally different kind of chemistry between father and child. If his son saluted and called him sir, it was because he wanted to play and have some fun. It had never been about authority, about domineering. Jack felt himself developing a serious dislike for Carter's father, even if he didn't now the old geezer. He'd once been a father too and it was his honest opinion, that if your own kid felt the need to treat you like a superior rather than a daddy, then there was something damned wrong with you way of parenting.
Upon hearing this little snipped of her childhood, something concerning Carter and her behavior clicked in O'Neill. Some kind of understanding, although he couldn't identify the character of this understanding. So he forced himself to swallow his own troubled feelings as well. Carter was damn smart, had a quick mind. She'd notice his resentment if he wasn't cautious. And how should he explain the reason for his resentfulness towards her dad, which he didn't know, without telling her about Charlie. Something he absolutely didn't want to do. He shoved the emotions back in the battered safe that was his heart. As he always did when it came to Charlie.
"I'm not like your dad." He had the strongest urge to tell her that. And more, now that he was at it. "And I'm none of those asshole macho-idiots that think women are small and delicate pixy-like beings that need to be protected from the world and themselves. Just so you know it."
Carter's head whirled around. On her face, the expression of someone who'd been caught doing something that was forbidden. Jack looked back at her confidently, satisfied with his own ingenuity. Of course he'd noticed her latent hostility towards him. He knew he could act like a flipping idiot and it hadn't been particular difficult for him to realize what kind of problem she harbored. Coming to the brilliant conclusion what she probably considered him to be a chauvinist. And that was complete bullshit! He, a chauvinist? Pshaw! Never in a million years! He liked women just fine. Honestly.
"Come on, Carter. You're not that transparent. And as I said, I notice things like that."
"And what else did you notice?"
Jack shook his head gently, but answered nonetheless.
"A lot. All those things I learned about you today… You've got a sharp wit. You can pick a lot like you're an unofficial member of the Beagle Boys, you're an ace at the gun, you knew how to keep my knee from turning into a bursting wiener and on top of that, you're an expertise about whisky. You sure you're not at least part Irish?"
Charter chuckled like she really felt the amusement and it was like music to his ears.
"Nope. California girl."
O'Neill groused, sorely disappointed, and tsked.
"What a pity. You could've been my dream girl."
His remark was meant as a joke and nothing more, but Carter seemed to take him quite serious. She pretended to be suddenly very busy clearing away the remains of the first aid kid, but in truth she was looking for a way to hide her red face from him. And since it hadn't been his intention to embarrass her with his stupid joke, he quickly changed the subject.
Thankfully, she accepted his invitation.
"Yes. With my dad's profession, we moved a lot when my brother and I were still children. We never stayed long in one place. But we've been the longest time in San Francisco. Almost one and a half years. My brother sill lives there with his family."
He couldn't help but notice that she was again trying to hide her face. But this time not out of shame, but out of sadness.
What the heck was wrong with him? Why did he always manage to make the women around him cry? And why the hell didn't he even have the faintest clue how to make it better again? A pissed off Carter he could handle, but one shedding tears and frantically struggling to hide it, he had no idea what to do. But it was his fault, plus he was the only other living soul around. He had to do something.
"Hey Carter, come on…don't…I mean, maybe they're all right. Your brother and his family. We don't know what's going on in the other states. Maybe they made it to a safe zone. Maybe California is safe." He tried to comfort her, speculating that him mentioning her family had made her cry.
"I'm so sick of all those maybe's." She sniffed, confirming his suspicions.
Jack shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Maybe is better than nothing." He offered, feeling incredibly dump and useless.
A bitter grunt was her answer.
"Maybe's not enough. Not nearly enough."
"I…I don't know what to say here."
"There is nothing you could possibly say."
"Yeah." He pondered, pausing for a second. "Just…don't give up. That's all you can do."
"I know. Nothing is easy anymore."
Silence fell over them. There was nothing more to say anyway. Amazing how many words gushed out of normal people on a normal day. And how meaningless and empty all those possible words were in this new world. There was simply nothing to describe adequately what they were suffering from. Sometimes, silence was gold and Carter seemed to think alike as she kept quiet and fiddled with the torn fabric of her sleeve.
The next morning announced itself with bright light shining through the door slot and chasing away the darkness of the almost abandoned workshop. The soft light rays traveled trough the basement, finally landing on O'Neill's face. Slowly, he awakened and then startled when his perception realized that he was actually asleep. His jerky movements causing the dull pain in his knee to flare up somewhat, but not as bad as yesterday. He even had the feeling that the swelling had reduced a good deal over night.
His eyes fell on Carter, who had curled up next to him like a cat. Still asleep and snoring…? Puzzled, he leaned his upper body towards her and listened. In fact, she was snoring, albeit very, very quietly. But still. Anticipation pushed a grin onto his face. Oh, he couldn't wait to razz the good doctor with the not so charming noises she made while asleep.
Although it was equally annoying to him that they had both fallen asleep. That was dangerous. Sleep made them weak and defenseless to the monsters threatening their lives. Those few seconds body and mind needed to become fully awake could mean their certain death. So no, as much as he didn't begrudged Carter and himself the few hours of blissful sleep, he wasn't happy about it.
He stifled a yawn and glanced at his left wrist, only to remember that he'd given his watch to Carter. His muscles protested as he leaned over to take a look at his watch on her wrist. His bones were definitely fed up with sleeping on the hard and dirty floor. The dial showed 10:28. So it was much later than they had agreed to get up in the morning. About time to wake up and figure out how to get the hell outta here.
At the same time, Jack was well aware that their chances were not particularly high. Possible that the Biters had left, but they couldn't know for sure. And even if the way was clear, he was sure that those beasts hadn't withdrawn for good. It was more likely that the Walker herd still lingered in the village and Jack knew that he stood no chance to outrun them with his bad knee. However, Carter was fit and smart enough. She would certainly find her way back to the camp. And Jack knew that she knew this too. That's why he was actually thinking hard how to convince her to leave him back and try her luck without out him as handicap. He had a feeling that it would be very difficult to persuade her. Carter seemed to be more like the hard headed kinda woman. But therefore, she had to wake up first and gentleman he was, Jack took over the duty of luring her out of sleep. Waking up someone gently was his specialty.
"Carter? Carter? Come on, wake up." He whispered softly, trying to avoid that she'd wake up as uncomfortably as he had. But she didn't respond, probably still in deep sleep.
"Carter! Wakey, wakey! There's a nice cup of coffee with your name on it!" He tried to bribe her, but to no avail.
Oh-kay, madame was late riser. He had to resort to drastic measures. O'Neill tapped her gently on the shoulder and, lo and behold, finally a reaction. Her eyelids fluttered and she frowned. Jack was just about to praise himself for his brilliant idea, when he realized that she was half awake, but not fully. Instead, her right arm flew towards him as she tried to wipe away his fingers like one would chase an annoying fly.
"Oh for crying out loud…"he muttered one of his favorite curses. Now, he was serious. Bending his upper body and looming almost completely over her, he patted her left cheek rather roughly.
At last, some life returned to her body. Her limbs tensed up and suddenly she shot up in the air, apparently feeling threatened, not only by his touch on her cheek but also by his weight on her. Jack recognized her uncontrolled waking up and tried to immediately back away, but not quick enough.
He felt a sharp pain in his palm. Jack quickly pulled his hand back and stared dumbfounded at the bleeding wound there. Then his eyes fell on Carter. She was kneeling and also staring at him, more shocked about her actions than about his presence. When she understood what she had done, she put both hands in front of her face. She had bitten him. Sam Carter, major in the air force and professor dr. dr. something-something had actually bitten his hand.
And Jack could understand her irritation very well, because that was something new for him too. He'd never been bitten by a human.
Looking between his bleeding hand and Carter's bewildered face, his eyes finally stopped on her. He was looking at her, really looking at her and had to laugh out loud. The look on her face was priceless! She appeared to be so completely flummoxed that it was difficult not to find this whole situation funny. Her eyes were big as saucers, her eyebrows seemed to vanish into her hairline and her entire face was glowing with an adoringly shade of red. Her hair was fully disheveled from restless sleep, making the strands stand up like a bird had build his nest there. And then there was this biting irony of the situation. Here he sat in the dark and musty workshop because he'd wanted to hide from the Walkers greedy to get a bite out of him. After everything he had undertaken to not get bitten by the Walkers, Carter –of all things- was the one biting him. That was just to damn funny!
So he laughed. And he was having fun with it. Jack couldn't remember the last time he had such a good laugh about something….too damn long. For that very reason alone, he couldn't bring himself to be angry at Carter.
O'Neill was still gasping for air when the horrified expression on Carter's face was replaced by a sullen one. She had propped her arms on her hips, staring down at him in a clearly bad mood. Apparently, she wasn't happy about the fact that he could find her little action so amusing while she felt downright ashamed. Jack ignored her, he was having too much fun with it.
"Are you finished?" She asked grumpily as Jack was slowly calming down. When he spoke, he wasn't answering her snotty question, but saying something frighteningly honest.
"Thank you, Carter. That's exactly what I needed right now." He breathed, rubbing his stomach with his uninjured hand. He'd probably get muscle ache with all that laughing. The female physicist frowned, not understanding what he was thankful about.
"You've got no idea how good that felt."
"That's not funny!"
"Oh yes, it is damn funny."
Jack shook his head vehemently, starting to provisionally tape his wound with a cloth. "I bet to differ. Think about it. We race criss cross through the village to avoid being bitten, and in the end you're the one taking a bite out of me."
At the thought of the unintentional humor of the whole thing, he started to chuckle again. "What the heck were you thinking anyway?"
Carter pushed her chin forward stubbornly. Before she answered, she crouched down and loosed the makeshift tape around his hand. Routinely, she applied the last bit of gauze that was left from the first aid kit.
"I wanted to fight back. One second I'm asleep, and in the next I feel someone touching me. I thought I was being attacked by those things."
Jack's jaw fell open at her words. Oh, the sheer irony of it all!
"And so you thought it's a wise choice to bite back? Bite what tries to bite you? Carter, even your binary brain has to admit that this is funny."
She mumbled something, but seemed still inconsolable about this little incident.
"I think Janet has to sew it. It'll leave a scar. I'm sorry."
Honest regret stamped her voice.
O'Neill waved her off with his healthy hand.
"No biggie." He'd accumulated quite the collection of scars over the years. The more, the merrier.
Any next remarks were cut off when there was suddenly a loud knocking on the door. Both startled at first, but then glanced at each other with astonishment. They had noticed the same telltale thing about the sound. That was clearly a knock and only humans knocked. Biters hammered and scratched.
"Hey, somebody in there? Jack? Carter? Say something!"
O'Neill grinned broadly and Carter slumped with relief.
It was Kowalski! Good old Kowalski to the rescue!
"See? I told ya so. Always think positive." Jack noted, pleased with this change of events. Seemed that they would get out of there after all. He loved it when a plan worked.
"Yeah, we're in here!" He called back and was immediately answered with some rattling at the door. Jack tried to stand up, forgetting that his knee wouldn't allow such movement in its current state. With a pained face, he fall back on the ground and felt Carter's hand on his shoulder as she walked to the door instead. As he watched the blonde woman opening the door, a thought struck him and drove a big grin on his face.
She really was something else, this theoretical astrophysicist with the many hidden talents. Carter - the woman who bit back. That was the spirit he loved!