A/N: It's finally, finally here! Or at least the first chapter is… In spite of a full-time job, a summer internship at a local think tank, two volunteer gigs and the nastiest case of writers' block I've ever had the misfortune of experiencing, I've finally got a good start on this story! It's still a WiP, so feel free to share your thoughts and ideas (my eternal gratitude in exchange for suggestions!)! And now on with the show… Enjoy!
Measure After Measure
Logically, Jack knew he'd experienced worse pain than this before. However, the human body only remembers that at one time there had been pain, providing only the vaguest recollections of intensity or duration. As a result, even though he knew his current discomfort was nothing compared to what he'd endured in the past, he was having trouble convincing his body to see things his way. To top it off, the pain was doing its damnedest to temper his relief at having found Sam, safe and relatively sound. Needless to say, Jack was not impressed.
"Just a little longer, sir," Sam murmured quietly, repeating the words almost as if doing so would hurry the paramedics along. One hand rubbed his shoulder soothingly while the other held his side arm at the ready, lest any other snaky surprises were lurking in the shadows.
"Don't tell her," Jack ground out through clenched teeth, trying to add some humor to the rather crappy situation he'd found himself in. "But I think I actually miss Frasier and her two minutes or less response time."
"My lips are sealed, sir," she swore, eyes twinkling with amusement.
If Jack didn't know better, he'd never have believed that she'd been kidnapped, held against her will for days and almost killed for the sake of so-called medical science. Then again, it was probably easier for her to slip back into the familiarity of following orders and bantering back and forth than it was to deal with all that had happened. He made a mental note to keep an eye on her in the coming days; he may be the king of denial and repression, but Sam was a very capable heir to the throne.
The steady pounding of approaching footsteps broke through Jack's musings and he felt Sam stiffen beside him. Her warm hand dropped away from his shoulder, meeting its mate on the grip of his side arm, aiming into the darkness uncertainly. Jack could feel the tension in her, could feel her training struggling to overcome her ingrained fight or flight instincts, confirming his suspicions that she wasn't nearly as together as she wanted him to believe. Through sheer stubborn determination, Jack pushed down the pain throbbing in his arm and focused, taking control of the situation before it could get out of hand.
"ID yourselves!" he hollered, his voice echoing unnervingly through the maze of hallways running beneath the hospital. With effort, he managed to maneuver himself so the fingers on his right hand brushed against Sam's knee, hoping the contact would steady her understandably frazzled nerves.
"We're the paramedics Major Carter requested," an unfamiliar voice replied in surround sound, the words bouncing off the concrete walls of the corridor and bombarding the two SG-1 members from all directions. "We've got four members of the SWAT team with us," the man added, cognizant of the wisdom in warning them about the men with guns before they came into view.
"You're clear. Come on ahead," Jack called back. Although he squeezed Sam's knee reassuringly, she remained tense and ready for a fight.
Her arms dropped out of firing position instantly, but she maintained a white-knuckle grip on the weapon, her finger still poised to pull the trigger at the first hint of danger. She seemed totally oblivious to his scrutiny as her eyes scanned the steam-filled darkness, ratcheting his concern up another few notches. For someone who seemed so hypersensitive to her surroundings, Sam's lack of awareness of his eyes on her was disconcerting.
The footsteps resumed, approaching their position accompanied by the familiar though despised metallic rattle of a gurney. Suddenly the locals were right on top of them, eight bodies – four of them armed – materializing seemingly out of nowhere. The SWAT guys ensured that their position was secure, sweeping their weapons through the air with practiced ease before waving the paramedics forward. They held their positions, the barrels of their guns aimed outwards, providing a measure of security while leaving their companions plenty of room to work.
Abandoning the gurney, the four paramedics hurried to Jack's side, assessing the damage, asking questions and conversing with one another about the best course of action to take. In the midst of the jargon-filled chaos, one of the paramedics gently maneuvered Sam out of his way. Without a word, she climbed somewhat unsteadily to her feet, backing away and pressing herself flat against the wall behind her. Jack tried to catch her gaze, but failed, first because her face was swallowed up by shadows, and then because of the black spots dancing before his eyes as gentle fingers began probing his wound.
It took only a few minutes for the paramedics to ready Jack for transport and although he protested, they insisted he ride the blasted gurney out to the waiting ambulance. As they settled him on the gurney, Jack bit back a pain-filled hiss and focused on the furtive, hushed conversation one of the SWAT members was having via radio. His efforts were all for naught – there was simply too much ambient noise for Jack to make out more than the odd word here or there – but when the man turned and began making his way over, the look on his face assured Jack that he wasn't going to like the status report he was about to hear.
"Sir, our teams haven't found the suspect yet, but we do have the building sealed off," the man explained apprehensively, correctly assuming that, when angry, the injured Air Force officer before him was a force to be reckoned with. "It's just a matter of time until we find him."
Which, Jack realized, meant they still had a Goa'uld on the loose somewhere in the building. Damn.
"Carter?" Jack called, signaling for the increasingly antsy paramedics to hold off moving him just yet.
"Sir?" she replied uncertainly. Whether it was fear or exhaustion that made her voice tremble ever so slightly, Jack couldn't say.
"You're coming up with me," he instructed firmly, his tone leaving no room for argument. "Daniel and T can meet us on the surface and you can all supervise the search from there."
Thinking that was that, one of the paramedics made to start wheeling him away, but was stopped by a steely glare from his patient. Jack was fully expecting a fight, and Sam, never one to disappoint, delivered, albeit half-heartedly.
"But one of us needs to stay here in case…" she began to protest, trailing off as she realized there was only so much she could say to prove her point in present company.
Knowing her as he did, Jack was able to detect the slight edge of hysteria creeping into her voice. Clearly she was just going through the motions, objecting because it was expected, not because she wanted to spend a single moment longer in the hospital-cum-hellhole Conrad had whisked her off to. That was fine with Jack; he didn't want her to stay either.
Ignoring the aggrieved sighs from the paramedics, Jack leaned forwards and groped blindly through the darkness for his teammate. A sharp burn raced along his nerve endings, white hot agony exploding in his arm as the movement forced damaged muscle into action, but Jack shoved it aside, searching for the woman who seemed determined to fade back into the shadows. When his fingers finally closed around her slender wrist, he didn't miss Sam's sharp intake of breath, nor the desperate yank that jarred his aching body when she tried to break his grip.
"Carter," he said quietly, keeping his voice calm as he tugged her towards him and out of the long shadows that swallowed up the corridor's dim emergency lighting. "It's fine; everything is fine. The locals have everything under control, so we can both go up together, okay?" He chose his words carefully, trying to cut through the panic he could sense building in her while reminding her that the local authorities were to remain in the dark about what had really transpired here.
One more gentle tug brought her out of the darkness, finally letting Jack see how her wide, fearful eyes were darting back and forth between the paramedics. It struck him as odd that she didn't seem bothered by the men with guns, instead keeping all of her attention locked on the men standing around the gurney. Then again, being threatened by guys with guns was just another day at the office for her; menacing medical professionals, however, were still relatively uncharted territory.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" one of the paramedics asked in concern, taking in her chalky white complexion. He made to move towards her, but Sam flinched and tried to back away.
She managed to move only an inch or two before Jack's hand wrapped around her wrist stopped her progress. Sam was dimly aware of the reassuring squeeze of his fingers momentarily tightening their grip; most of her attention was still focused on the paramedics.
"Leave her be," Jack advised, his voice dripping with authority. He was relieved when all four of the medical technicians moved to stand on the far side of the gurney, wisely putting him between themselves and Sam.
But the increased distance did little to put Sam at ease. Her frightened eyes continued to sweep over the four strangers in search of any hint of ill intent, leaving Jack no choice but to try and calm her another way.
"Carter, I don't want to leave you down here alone," he reasoned, gently pulling her closer until she stood right beside him. "Look at me," he advised, waiting until she managed to drag her eyes away from the paramedics before continuing. "Come up with me. Daniel and Teal'c will meet us there and you can stay with them while I get my arm checked out."
"Actually, sir, we should bring her along so someone can take a look at her…"
Jack could feel Sam's pulse pick up, thumping faster and faster under his fingers at the mere thought of being subjected to yet another round of medical poking and prodding. Given what his 2IC must have been through in the last few days, he certainly couldn't blame her for her agitation in the face of additional examinations.
"She'll be okay for a few more hours," Jack declared abruptly, hoping he was making the right decision. "No more doctors until we're back home with Janet," he promised, holding her gaze steadily.
Sam seemed to take an inordinate amount of time to think it over, but she consented in the end, giving him a single sharp nod.
Slumping back against the thin pillows, Jack released his grip on her wrist and slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together. He offered her a quick, comforting squeeze before turning his attention to the paramedics.
"All right, guys," he instructed lightly. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."