"Justice has been done," Jack heard the magistrate declare somewhere in the distance, but he was too dazed for the words to register. He was still staring at the empty space that Carter had been standing in only moments before.
"Son of a bitch," Jack swore, surging towards the edge, perfectly capable of jumping in after her, but before he could get there he was grabbed him from behind, once again disarmed and slammed down to the ground.
Over by Daniel, Cyrus waved his hand at his guards. "Let the husband up."
Daniel popped up to his feet, his eyes darting back and forth between the magistrate and the river as if not sure what to do. Punch out the asshole or jump in the river after Carter? Jack sympathized with his dilemma.
"You are free to go," Cyrus said.
"Excuse me?" Daniel said.
"These men will escort you to the gate," Cyrus replied, gesturing to the soldiers.
"And my friends?"
The magistrate's eyebrow lifted imperiously at Daniel's referral to Jack as his friend. "As I said, his punishment is your prerogative."
"He comes with me," Daniel said. "And Teal'c?"
"Of course, he too will be released. Your belongings will be returned to you once you are outside the city. We had hoped to avoid further chaos," he said, his distaste for their dramatics evident.
Jack would show him chaos. They should know it was a mistake to let Jack O'Neill anywhere on this planet while he was armed. He would burn the whole goddamned place down.
Probably aware of his thoughts, Daniel sent Jack a significant glance, his eyes darting towards the river. 'Don't do anything stupid,' he seemed to project, 'we have to think of Sam.'
Jack forced himself to calm. Daniel was right. She wasn't dead until he saw her body himself.
"We would like to leave immediately," Daniel said.
"Release the prisoner and collect their belongings," he ordered. Turning to Daniel he said, "I am sorry we could not reach an accord."
Daniel's jaw visibly clenched against his anger, his words surprisingly calm when he spoke. "Oh, don't worry. This isn't over."
It was the closest Jack had ever heard Daniel get to an outright threat of violence.
Cyrus didn't quite seem to get that though, nodding his head solemnly. "You and your people will always be welcome in Timgad."
Teal'c appeared the next moment, sparing them the need to reply to that delusional statement. It was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
The trip out of the city was indeterminably long, and even though Jack knew the streetcars moved with a set speed, he didn't remember them being quite that slow. Once they reached the end of the line, the soldiers seemed content to stroll from the tram station to the city gate, no matter how often Daniel demanded they move faster.
They all treated Daniel with an indifferent sort of pity that was clearly driving him insane. But at least he wasn't walking bound at gunpoint like Jack and Teal'c. Anytime Jack had tried to encourage a bit more velocity, he'd just ended up with a swift jab to his ribs that only wasted more time. He kept his mouth firmly shut after that, letting Daniel explain the situation to Teal'c.
Finally, finally, after what felt like hours but couldn't possibly have been more than twenty minutes, the soldiers stacked their gear outside the checkpoint and gladly dumped them on the road.
Jack spent the few moments it took for Daniel to cut them free of their bindings imaging creative ways to kill the arrogant bastards, abandoning them just as quickly when he was finally able to push to his feet. Teal'c automatically went over to their gear and began rifling through it.
"Daniel," Jack said, pulling the other man aside. "I need you to get back to the SGC and tell Hammond what's happened. Bring back search and rescue and medics. Let them know the inhabitants are hostile and well armed. Teal'c and I are going on ahead."
"Should we not wait for backup, O'Neill?" Teal'c cautioned, coming to stand by them.
There was logic there, they could easily run across more resistance they couldn't handle, but the logical part of his brain had ground to a halt long before this. "No, we don't wait."
Daniel seemed relieved. He took his pack from Teal'c and holstered his weapons.
"I want radio contact every ten minutes until you get through the gate, Daniel," Jack said. He didn't think Daniel would run into any issues on the journey, judging on how he'd been treated so far, but sending him off alone, no matter how necessary, still made Jack a little jumpy.
"I will, " Daniel promised, taking off at a run down the road, disappearing around the first bend into the forest.
"I have inventoried Major Carter's belongings," Teal'c said. "Only her knife is not present."
Jack didn't know why the possibility of her being armed made any difference at all, let alone why it raised such a bubble hope in him, but at this point he would take anything he could get.
She was strong. She'd survive. The alternative didn't bear considering.
Jack slid on his vest, grabbed his weapons and ammo, and even though he didn't want to bother with his pack, he slipped it on, knowing he might need it even if it slowed him down.
Teal'c picked up Carter's gear and they jogged down the road after Daniel. Once they were out of sight of the city, Teal'c dumped Carter's stuff behind a tree.
"The river is this way," Teal'c said, pointing to the right of the road. They both took off at a run, splitting up ten minutes later when they finally reached the water, Teal'c heading downstream while Jack went up.
It was rough going, no clear paths other than the odd game run and Jack didn't dare move too quickly for fear that he might miss her. Down here the river had widened measurably, the banks following a much more gradual incline. Even the water didn't seem quite as treacherous, but that didn't make him feel any better.
It was when he caught sight of a large animal dam of some kind stretching almost a quarter of the way across the river on the other side that his eye was first caught by something. Sliding down to the water's edge, he stepped up on a boulder, craning his neck. There was definitely something there, just above the dam and a few feet up the bank. He jumped off, pushing up stream for a better vantage point. Whipping out his binoculars he caught sight of green fatigues and a flash of gold.
"Teal'c!" he yelled into his radio. "I found her, about two and a half klicks up river. She's on the opposite shore."
"I am on my way," Teal'c replied.
Jack had already dropped his pack to the ground, pulling out a length of rope. The river was slightly slower at this point, but still a good 40 meters across. Tying the rope to a large tree on the shore, he waded in.
The water hit him like a solid wall, the temperature hovering barely above freezing if the pain in his legs was anything to judge by.
By the time he had struggled halfway across, Teal'c made his position. When the water rose a little too high, knocking Jack sideways, the rope pulled taut, Teal'c having taken up the slack. He didn't even take the time to glance back in thanks.
He was close enough now to see that Carter was lying on her stomach, but there was no way to tell what sort of shape she was in so he just kept trudging as best he could, trying not to think too hard about how still she was.
He stumbled on the rocks in his haste to cover the last distance, his shin slamming hard against the edge, something snapping in his knee. He swore loudly, forcing himself back to his feet and pulling himself up onto the bank next to her.
He pressed his fingers to her neck, not feeling anything with the numbed digits for far too long before he finally registered the steady beat of her pulse.
Grabbing her shoulder, he rolled her onto her back. He registered a flash of steel and his hand automatically reached out to block the thrust of the knife, falling forward over her, their hands slamming down into the dirt.
Even half dead after jumping into a river, she was still fighting.
"Sir," she breathed in surprise, releasing the knife.
Jack reached blindly for his radio, nearly shouting into it. "She's alive, Teal'c, but she definitely needs a medic. Get to the gate and escort them back quick."
"I understand, O'Neill." The raw relief in his voice belied the calm response.
Jack's hands were already methodically checking her for injuries, his eyes taking in every bruise. The nastiest wound seemed to be her shoulder, an obvious compound fracture, bone pushing sickly through the skin. He tried not to think about how lucky she was not to sustain that kind of an injury to a more vital part of her body. There was also a head wound that was bleeding freely. Frankly, he was surprised she was even conscious, let alone that she had managed to drag herself this far up the bank and keep herself armed.
The overwhelming power of his relief was almost too much to handle, the sheer terror of watching her step back off that platform still making him dizzy. Anger was much easier.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he yelled as he rooted around in his vest for some gauze.
He hadn't really expected her to answer. He should have known better.
"I was thinking that the probability of me surviving a little swim in the river was higher than you surviving a firing squad," she replied through chattering teeth as if explaining rudimentary logic to a four-year-old.
"A little swim in the--," he sputtered. "Jesus, Carter. You're completely nuts, you know that?"
"Yes, sir," she said with smile that ended up more of a grimace as she started coughing, deep, hacking coughs that shook her entire body. Jack wrapped his arm around her back, holding her up as best he could as she shuddered through it.
"Oh, God," she sputtered when the coughing finally abated, collapsing back against the bank again.
"Broken ribs?' Jack asked, gently pressing gauze against the gash on her forehead.
"Oh, yeah," she confirmed, her face becoming even paler and her eyes losing focus.
There was far too much possibility for internal injuries for his comfort. "I need you to stay with me, Carter," he said, his hand cupping her face.
"I'm not…planning on going anywhere," she said, her voice sluggish, but she reached out with her good arm, her wrist raw from the bindings she had managed to escape from, and grabbed his arm, her grip reassuringly strong.
He took her cold fingers in his, trying to rub warmth back into them for lack of anything else useful to do. "Where the hell are they?" he mumbled, looking back over his shoulder.
"Jack," she said, squeezing his hand.
He stilled, looking down at her and he couldn't for the life of him resist doing the one thing that had gotten them into this fiasco in the first place. Leaning over her, he pressed his cheek against her hair, letting himself absorb the reality that she was alive. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, felt her lean into the touch.
He remained there, hovering over her with her hand in his until he finally heard the splash of the rescue team on the other side of the river. He pulled away to secure the end of his rope to a tree, forming a guideline across the river for them to follow.
"Let's get you home, Carter."
They came across no resistance on the planet on the way back to the Stargate, and Daniel posited it was because Sam's survival meant the gods forgave her of her sins. She'd probably even be welcomed back into the city with no problems.
Sam, overhearing this from her position on a stretcher and pretty fuzzy from the painkiller administered by the medics, still managed to succinctly declare it would be a cold day in hell before she stepped foot on 'this misogynistic backwater of a planet' ever again.
"Amen to that," Jack said.
Carter was whisked away by a determined Janet as soon as they made it through the wormhole, the rest of SG-1 left behind with the buzz of far too much adrenaline and a sudden lack of anything useful to do.
"Ok, SG-1," Hammond said as he sat down at the head of the table. "Care to tell me what the hell happened out there?"
Hammond hadn't even attempted to have this meeting until Carter was safely out of surgery, wise enough to know the rest of SG-1 would be pretty useless until then. She had been very lucky to avoid any internal bleeding, but her shoulder had been a rather nasty mess to deal with. Six hours of surgery later, she had been declared stable and Hammond called the rest of SG-1 into the briefing room.
"Am I to believe Major Carter's injuries are a result of being punished for adultery?"
Jack grimaced. It was time to pay the piper and he was so not looking forward to this.
Daniel was the first to speak. "When we first arrived on the planet, we discovered severe penalties for unmarried woman traveling alone with men, so we let them think I was her husband."
"I see," Hammond said, more than aware of this far too common off world charade.
"Later that day Sam and Jack met in the public gardens and someone must have misunderstood what they saw. Either that, or even being alone with a man other than her husband is considered criminal."
Jack didn't know if Daniel was being deliberately obtuse or if he still didn't quite believe the charges. His faith in them wasn't particularly comforting. He sat in silence as Daniel and Teal'c laid out the rest of the mishap in the simplest terms, sparing Jack the need to speak.
When the long litany was finally over, Hammond turned to Jack. "Anything to add, colonel?"
Jack glanced at Daniel before turning his attention to Hammond. If it was just his neck on the line, he wouldn't care, but this was Carter's too. So he took the opening Daniel gave him and flat out lied. It didn't matter that it was really only a sin of omission.
"Just that we'd better erase that address from the computers if you don't want me going back and causing an intergalactic incident, sir," Jack eventually said, letting Hammond assume his silence had been born of his barely contained anger.
Hammond gave Jack one of his tolerant smiles that seemed to say he was tempted to let him go back just to see what he'd do to them, being rather pissed off himself. "So noted. If that's all, you are dismissed."
When no one said anything further, Hammond pushed out of his chair and disappeared back into his office, leaving the three members of SG-1 alone.
Jack leaned across the table, his voice low. "Daniel-."
Daniel shook his head, cutting Jack off. "I think enough damage has been done without dragging Sam's career into this, don't you think?"
That low, furious whisper told Jack that Daniel knew he had just lied and was pissed as hell about it. Jack didn't blame him.
Teal'c rose from his chair, drawing the attention of both men. "I believe Dr. Fraiser said Major Carter would awaken soon. Should we not be present when that happens?"
It was impossible to tell what Teal'c thought about the situation from his tone, but he did manage a good job of reminding them both that some things were more important than their anger right now.
"You two go ahead," Jack said.
Daniel peered suspiciously at him. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to talk to Hammond."
"And tell him what, exactly?"
"Look," Jack said, his hand lifting in defense. "I know you don't really believe it right now, Daniel, but you can trust me to do what's right."
Daniel stared across the table at him for a long moment, looking absolutely exhausted. "Isn't that what got us into this in the first place?" With that last jab, Daniel shoved back from the table and headed out into the hall.
Jack sighed, looking up at Teal'c. "Nothing to add, T?"
"I doubt I could say anything on this subject of which you are not already well aware, O'Neill."
Only Teal'c could so succinctly blend disapproval with understanding. With a nod, he took off after Daniel.
Jack sat at the table another minute or two before he finally crossed the room to knock on the general's door.
"What can I do for you, colonel?" he asked when Jack entered.
Jack didn't see the point in beating around the bush. "I'm afraid I need to step down from my command of SG-1, sir."
Hammond leaned back in his chair, not looking nearly as surprised as Jack would have liked. "Is this about your injury?"
Jack shifted his weight with a grimace. He'd managed to tear his damn ACL when he'd fallen in the river. Just yet another insult offered by the mission gone astronomically bad, but at least this one gave him a way to do what needed to be done without killing Carter's career.
"I'm looking at another surgery and at least six months of rehab," he said. "I'm not sure how great the returns will be on that. We both know there aren't too many guys my age still in the field to begin with."
Hammond smiled, nodding his understanding. "I guess I can accept that. So this would be for medical reasons."
Jack stared at the general for a moment. He didn't relish the idea of lying to him, respecting him too much, but the truth was dangerous. He didn't want to put Hammond in that position.
"When you're no longer capable of doing your job one hundred percent, you really owe it to everyone to step aside, don't you think?"
Hammond regarded him over his clasped hands. "I've always given you a lot of latitude, Jack, because I trust you to know your own limits," he answered almost as obliquely.
It was pretty amazing how adept everyone around here had become at saying everything without actually saying anything at all.
"I appreciate that, sir," Jack said. "You're just going to have to trust me on this one, too. I can't do the job anymore."
Hammond was smart enough not to poke too deeply, simply nodding. "Fair enough. But at least give me time to find some way to keep you involved, Jack."
"I'm not really looking for a desk job, sir."
"I would imagine not," Hammond said with obvious amusement. "Let me just say that there are a few projects in the works I can't talk about yet. But I definitely think one or two of them might catch your interest."
Despite himself, Jack was intrigued and Hammond knew it too, judging by the self-satisfied look on his face.
"Okay," Jack agreed with a shrug. "I won't resign as long as I am officially off SG-1 as of this moment."
"Fair enough. Consider it done."
"Thank you, sir."
Hammond nodded, waving Jack out of his office.
At the door, Jack paused, looking back at the general. "One more thing, sir. When you choose someone for command of SG-1, you'd be crazy not to consider Carter. She's earned it."
Hammond was back to looking dangerously thoughtful. "I'll keep that in mind," he said, turning his attention to the files on his desk.
Jack closed the door.
It was quite late at night by the time Jack had finished his paperwork and informed Daniel and Teal'c of his decision to leave SG-1. It was only after both had been dealt with that Jack allowed himself to head down to the infirmary.
Unsurprisingly, Carter was asleep, Teal'c seated off to one side of her bed. Jack touched his shoulder. "Why don't you go get some sleep?"
Teal'c stood, relinquishing his post. "We did not tell her of your decision," he said lowly.
Jack nodded in understanding. "Thanks."
Jack took the seat vacated by Teal'c, pulling it closer to the edge of the bed. He propped his elbows on his knees, casting a critical eye over Carter, noting her pale face and the large bulk of bandages over her shoulder where a brace immobilized her right arm. There was also a cast on her right wrist that she had dislocated in order to escape her bonds.
For the first time since those soldiers had bullied their way into his room, Jack finally allowed himself to feel all the horror of what had happened. It was the one thing he'd always sworn he'd never let happen. He'd let their feelings almost get her killed.
He lowered his head into his hands, rubbing them across his face. He sat there like that for a long time, until he felt the touch of a hand on his head. He looked up to find Carter staring at him.
"Hey," he said with a smile, pushing to his feet.
"Sir," she said, her voice rough with sleep.
He held out the cup from next to her bed, helping her take a few sips. She let her head rest back against the pillows, her eyes blinking open and closed slowly, as if she was on the verge of falling back asleep. After a while, she focused back on him with a small smile.
"I hear you got your first metal screws, Carter," he said, indicating her shoulder.
She followed his gesture, looking down at her arm. "Yeah," she said. "I guess so."
She managed to roll her eyes at him in annoyance, seemingly more awake. Her good hand picked absently at the edge of her sheets. "Did you talk to Hammond?" she eventually asked.
"Yeah," he said, picking up a roll of surgical tape from the table by her bed. "It's done."
Her eyes followed the movement of his hands. "It didn't have to be you."
"Yeah, it really did," he said.
She was still stubbornly staring at his hands as if not ready to accept that just yet.
"Did you tell Daniel and Teal'c?" she asked.
"And?" she prompted when he didn't elaborate.
"And…they hope you get command so they don't have to take the time to break the spirit of a new commander."
"Sir," she said with an impatient edge, obviously not buying his attempt to make light of the situation.
"They're fine," he said, dropping the tape back to the table with a decisive thunk.
She didn't look convinced.
"They're not blind, Carter."
She looked away, embarrassed maybe. Neither of them had exactly been at their smartest the last month.
"At least Daniel no longer feels the need to kick my ass for almost getting you killed, so that's a bonus." His tone wasn't as light as he would have liked.
"You didn't," she said, obviously catching the edge of guilt. "It wasn't your fault."
Ah, Carter, the queen of self-flagellation. He just gave her a look until she finally dropped his gaze with a huff.
"Fine, we share," she conceded rather ungraciously.
He smiled, wise enough not to comment on her grumpiness. With the day she'd had, he'd be grumpy too.
She was quiet for a while, her eyes slipping shut and Jack assumed she had fallen back asleep. He'd just sat down again when she spoke again.
"It's hard to believe it's over," she said, her voice soft with regret.
He felt something twist painfully in his gut, his hands tensing against his thighs. "You'll be back on your feet in no time, giving Anubis hell, I have no doubt," he said, his tone carefully light.
"That's not what I meant." She turned her head toward him, her eyes sliding open. "I just…can't imagine SG-1 without you."
He pushed to his feet. "Look, I know none of this is what you wanted."
Now it was her turn to give him an arch look.
"It's messy as hell…," he admitted.
Her hand slid down the sheet, brushing against his. "We always knew it would be."
"Personally, I don't have a problem with messy," he said, his hand wrapping around hers.
"I just hope it's worth it for you," she said, dropping his gaze even as her hand tightened around his.
He leaned over the edge of her bed and trailed a finger across her forehead, brushing back a strand of her hair. "I'm not so worried about that either."
She looked up at him, something terribly vulnerable in her eyes as she searched his expression.
"Okay," she eventually said.
Jack smiled, sitting back in his chair, not letting go of her hand. "Why don't you get some sleep?"
She nodded, her eyes drifting closed. A few minutes later on the edge of sleep, she jerked back awake, her eyes searching him out. Finally settling on him, she looked like she wanted to say something.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said, his thumb rubbing across the back of her hand.
She looked a little embarrassed, but reassured, letting her eyes close again.
She slept the rest of the night and true to his promise, Jack never moved out of his chair.
Hours later, as the base first began to stir awake, Daniel appeared, wordlessly handing Jack a cup of coffee. His eyes darted to their hands, still entwined against the sheets.
Jack waited for some comment, some sign of Daniel's mood, but the other man simply shrugged and brought another chair to the other side of Carter's bed, settling in to share the next few hours of bedside vigil.
By the time Carter woke a while later, Teal'c had also arrived, the three men sprawled around her bed, generally making a nuisance of themselves and not caring in the slightest.
Carter smiled at each of them in turn, her soft laughter filling the space as Daniel expertly distracted her from her discomfort, Teal'c occasionally chiming in as he stood at the foot of her bed, one hand resting lightly against her leg.
When she turned to Jack with a warm smile on her face, he decided messy as hell might just be the way he preferred it.