Greedily gulping a few mouthfuls of water from his canteen and wiping the excess off his chin with a dirty hand, Jack surveyed the wilderness around him, refocusing his mind and strength on his original purpose for venturing into this rugged canyon in the first place.
Sam was out here somewhere.
Daniel and Teal'C should have been with her, but weren't. He had given up trying to make sense of the distress call, over an hour ago now, that had catapulted him on this urgent quest. She was alone, she'd radioed, and she had lost contact with Daniel and Teal'c.
So where were they then?
They had encountered a party of Jaffa, she'd told him hoarsely.
He had now had the non-pleasure of almost meeting that same company.
She was wounded but had managed to evade capture, Sam had reported. She was afraid that her two teammates had not been so lucky, but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened to them because she'd been hit by staff weapon blast and didn't remember much after that. Jack had asked her if she could walk.
She'd said no. She needed help.
He'd asked her how bad it was. Her answer was vague and it seemed to him that her voice sounded way too weak, way too soft. Jack was now frantic to locate her and get her back to the SGC.
What had happened to Teal'C and Daniel?
The mission had started routinely enough.
They exited the icy grip of the wormhole to find themselves on a sunlit desert planet, so warm they had begun to sweat immediately. Sam had jokingly forbidden her male teammates to remove their shirts, since, she said, it wasn't fair to her. Jack said he didn't see why they couldn't all four remove their tops, and got a self-righteous glare from his Major in return.
Daniel, ignoring the banter, had pointed at the horizon towards a city that had been detected during an earlier recon. Daniel was excited about a possible 'first contact' opportunity with a new alien culture, and enthusiasm lit his face even through the beads of perspiration that hung there.
They had set out down a well-worn path in the direction indicated by the eager archeologist, but Jack had hesitated at the top of the first risewhile they could still see the Stargate behind them, glittering in the sunlight. Something indefinable had sparked a tingle of alarm in Jack's head, and at that point he had put Sam in charge of the expedition to the settlement and had decided to remain behind to guard the Gate. Jack had learned through years of experience to trust his instincts.
And then, not long after Jack had settled in a defensible position from which to watch the Gate, about the same time the three should have been arriving at their destination, Sam's voice had sounded desperately through his com.
Jack stood up again now, his strength returning, and doggedly continued on his way up into the canyon, searching for any clue that his teammates had passed this way, and trying to decipher the few clues Sam had given him as to her location. She'd haltingly told him she was in the shadow of a low hanging tree. She could hear the sound of water nearby. And she could see the canyon wall, rising from the valley floor, not far from her position.
A river ran noisily down the center of this gorge he was trekking through.. He'd been able to hear its percussion the entire time he'd been searching the valley. The only type of vegetation he could see around him were low, scrubby, umbrella shaped trees just like Sam had described. And the foot of a precipice, which ran parallel to the river, was the path he was carefully picking his way along.
She had to be here.
Stopping for another hasty sip of water, he stood sweating and panting in the shade of an alien tree, grateful for the relative coolness of its shade. The barest breeze sifted through the needle-shaped leaves and he closed his eyes briefly, concentrating on the barely detectable zephyr of air soothing his hot face. But there were only a few moments of respite before the urgency of his quest spurred him on.
Sam was only partially cognizant of where she was any more. The staff blast had hit her solidly in the right thigh and knee. Her injury had been bearable at first, and she had managed to get out of sight and elude the Jaffa pursuing her before succumbing to the incapacitating pain. Now the pain was subsiding, but she was experienced enough to know that this was probably not a good sign.
Fear shot through what was left of her awareness, and she tried desperately to stay focused, to stay in tune with her surroundings. She reached up for the radio in her vest pocket. After an eternity of straining to lift her hand to the com, her fingers managed to close over the button and she depressed the intercom several times. Triumphant, she allowed her hand and her head to fall to the ground where she lay, confident that one of her team would hearher signaland realize she was still out here.
"Carter?" Jack responded to the three clicks that crackled out of his radio. "Carter, respond, please."
"Carter, I'm in the canyon, working my way along the foot of the cliff, hoping we're on the same side of the river. If you can hear me, and if you can move at all, get as close to the canyon wall as you can. The Jaffa are gone; I think it's safe to be out in the open. Carter, do you read?"
It was the best she could do. She could only hope and pray he had heard her cryptic response. It had taken all her strength just to get her hand back up to her vest pocket and depress the button one more time to respond to Jack's directives. His voice had given her a hope she hadn't possessed a few moments ago, and now she clung to that hope like a shipwreck victim hangs on a raft.
Willing herself to push through the pain, she rolled herself over and out from under the shelter of the tree, towards the cliff. Just a bit further, she goaded her body. One more move towards Jack, towards getting out of here, towards home.
The one word shot hope and energy into Jack's mind and body and he broke into a jog along the cliff's edge, knowing she was here somewhere.
Sam was strewn limply on the sun-drenched sand, not moving, her right leg covered in blood.
Seeing her injured was unthinkable, unbearable. Even after all the times he'd dealt with blood and burns on Daniel, or T, or even himself, this was horribly different. He couldn't ever remember Carter being hit by enemy fire. Not once. He slid his arms under her unresisting body as carefully as he could muster and lifted her. She needed first aid, and shelter from this blazing sun.
Spotting a particularly leafy, low-hanging tree and settling Sam in its shade, he leaned her forward against his chest so he could slip off her pack and get to their medical kit. Sam cried out as he manipulated the pack off her arms.
"Sorry," he mumbled while quickly opening the med kit with one hand. Jack set to work disinfecting and wrapping her leg and knee. He finally had to resort to cutting off the already shredded material of her pants near the top of her thigh in order to do the job thoroughly. She followed him with pain-filled eyes throughout the whole procedure.
"Done," Jack announced, leaning back on his heels and peering at her face.
"Carter?" Her eyes were closed again.
"Sir," she said weakly.
"Can you tell me anything about what happened to Daniel and T?"
"No sir, I can't. I'm sorry." Carter started to sit up but quickly abandoned that ambition.
Jack watched her attempt to move end in pain.
"I gave you a shot of morphine, Carter. It'll kick in soon." He reached out a hand to her face, tentatively stroking her cheek, his eyes infinitely tender.
She reached up and wrapped her trembling hand around his where it cupped her face.
"You saved my life, Jack," she praised him groggily, her feeble grip on his hand barely holding.
"Just returning the favor," he smiled. They both knew she had saved his life many times over.
Jack reached up and activated his radio, not relinquishing her hand while he called again for Teal'C and Daniel. There was still no response, and a sharp stab of frustration went through him.
Gently freeing his hand, he used both of their packs to make sure she was comfortably propped up off the rocky ground.
"Drink," he ordered next, holding her canteen to her mouth. After a few sips, Sam sighed fuzzily. The drug was really taking hold now and all she could think about was sleep. Her eyes closed without her permission and her head lolled on the pack underneath her. Jack's hands shot out and steadied her until he was satisfied that she was secure.
"Sleep, Sam," Jack soothed.
"Sleep, sweetie," she thought she heard. She dreamed she felt the gentle pressure of his lips against her forehead just before the world around her dissolved into a drug-induced haze.
It was dark and cold when she next regained her senses. Jack was back to back with her, his head resting on the pack with hers, and she could hear his sleeping breaths, deep and even. Warmth radiated wherever his body touched hers and it felt good, but it wasn't enough. She was shivering, and the shivering was shooting lightning bolts of pain down her leg.
"Jack," she whispered hoarsely. She was amazed at how immediately his dark eyes were open and fastened quizzically on hers.
"What's wrong? What happened?"
"Nothing happened, I'm just c-cold."
"It has gotten colder. Lemme fix that."
He pulled some mylar sheeting out of his pack and wrapped her carefully but securely, finishing by enfolding her in his arms. The resulting increase in heat was heavenly. Sam had soon stopped shivering.
"Think you can sleep now?"
"Yes. Why hasn't someone from the SGC rescued us yet?"
"SG1's routine contact from Hammond isn't scheduled until tomorrow."
"I'm what's keeping us from just going to the Gate and dialing home," Sam realized out loud.
"You must be feeling better, Carter," O'Neill noted wryly. "You're thinking too much already."
Sam smiled, but the smile faded as she remembered they still didn't have a clue what had happened to Daniel or Teal'C. SG1 was in deep trouble. As if reading her thoughts, Jack pulled even closer to her, reassuring himself as much as her.
"Hammond will send help," Jack asserted.
The cool night breeze was welcome now that they were insulated against the chill. Exhausted, they both drifted towards slumber.
"Sir," Sam mumbled thickly, trying to hold back the irresistable pull of sleep.
"What?" Jack sounded as sleepy as she felt.
"You called me sweetie," she slurred.
"Good night, sir."
"Good night...sweetie," Jack whispered teasingly in her ear, amused at what she'd thought she heard earlier, relieved and encouraged by the playful interchange. Sam's triumphant sigh brought a half-smile to Jack's lips. He knew her well enough to know that she was probably happier about winning the argument than she was about his endearment to her. He kept her nestled protectively against his larger frame as if by holding her he could somehow ensure her safety and keep her alive. He was soothed to sleep by the comforting thought that by this time tomorrow, she would have received treatment and be recovering in the SGC infirmary.
Sam woke to a dawning sky. The air was still cold, but the first rays of the sun were already promising another hot day. Jack was up already, heating some breakfast over a portable stove.
Jack noticed that she was awake, and smiled at her.
"Not really." He poured a cup of coffee and brought it to her, but she turned away, pale, feeling sick with pain. Jack put the cup on the ground behind him.
"I should check the dressing on that leg."
Sam nodded, but inside she was even more nauseated at the prospect of having anyone or anything touch her aching leg. Jack moved to her side and began to pull at the blood-soaked bandages. At his slightest touch, waves of agony shot through her so that she could barely breathe.
"Please stop," she begged him shakily. With a nod, Jack wordlessly prepared a shot of morphine and administered it with quiet efficiency.
"Thanks," she responded gratefully. The numbing effect was mercifully fast and she found herself relaxing back against the pack she had been cushioned on all night. Jack cut short the first aid procedure by wrapping her leg with a new bandage over the old, so as not to disturb her further.
Jack felt utterly helpless and began to be fearful that she wasn't going to survive this one. They'd squeaked out of so many tight spots and dire situations over the past six years that he'd begun to harbor a secret fear that they were long overdue for a wrong turn. Part of him was always full of dread, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He hoped fervently this wasn't the mission.
"This is General Hammond calling SG1. Report, Colonel O'Neill. Over."
Instant, glorious relief flooded Jack's whole body.
"O'Neill here. SG1 is in serious trouble, sir."
"What's your situation?"
"We encountered a company of hostile Jaffa yesterday. The team was separated during the fighting. Daniel's and Teal'C's positions are unknown. Carter's wounded, sir. She requires medical assistance. We need reinforcements."
"Copy that. Is the Gate secure?"
"I don't honestly know, sir. Our position is in a canyon about three clicks northwest of the Gate."
"Launching recon UAV. Stand by, Colonel."
"Hey, you hear that, Carter?" Jack asked her while they waited for Hammond to contact them again. Jack reached over and grasped her shoulder. "You're going home. You're going to be fine, Sam."
She nodded woozily, out of it but not so far gone that she missed his choice of words.
"Aren't you coming back too?"
"No. I'm not coming back until we locate Daniel and Teal'C."
"Good. That's good. Find them. Bring them home."