Jack groaned, his fingers no longer following the commands his brain was giving. He cupped them over his mouth and huffed warm air into the pocket, trying to warm them with little success. When rubbing them vigorously had little effect either he finally had to admit defeat. He rocked back on his heels, his knee whining in protest, and examined the mess he had made of the control panel.
With a grunt he forced himself to stand, the whining knee now screaming at the sudden movement. He rubbed at the twinge. The wind gusted over the top of the ship sending a surge of cold air through the hole above him. He shivered violently in response, cursing his weakness under his breath. Completely frustrated he kicked at the cover to the panel he had been working in. When that did little to relieve his irritation he kicked at the overturned, blood covered pilot’s seat. That didn’t help either. Anger building to a boiling point he spent the rest of his energy keeping the yell from bubbling to the surface. Instead, he slammed his fist into the nearest wall, regretting it a moment too late.
He clutched his injured hand to his chest, curses and moans muffled through clenched jaw. He squeezed his eyes shut and let his forehead rest against the freezing wall. Several slow, deep breaths later he was calm enough to trust he wouldn’t break anything else…ship or bones. But the pent-up energy caused by five days of sitting around this hunk of junk failed to dissipate. Despite bone-deep exhaustion, Jack just couldn’t relax or sleep. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept. Passed out, yes; slept, no. He paced the length of the ship, his throbbing hand tucked under his jacket, the other clutching the torn garment around his aching body.
He paused in front of the door to the cargo hold, a clatter of metal on metal and a string of what sounded like very colorful cusses catching his ear. He waited a second but no other noise passed the heavy door. He let out a little sigh and continued to pace, convincing himself the movement was good; it would keep him warm. That thought was quickly revealed as a lie. He blew into his uninjured hand, his breath crystallizing in the cold air. He looked over his shoulder at the cargo hold door again. All was quiet from the other side and he wondered what Carter was doing.
He felt a soft groan escape his throat as his cold-numbed mind replayed the last few days in agonizing slow motion as if it had nothing better to do. Carter only remembered the last three: one day of recovering and two days of fiddling with the innards of this piece of crap. Jack remembered a completely different chain of events.
The mission was supposed to be simple. That should have been Jack’s first clue that it would all go to hell in a hand basket but even he had been shocked at how quickly it had all fallen apart.
Step one: drop Daniel and Teal’c on P3X-whatever to dig in the dirt for a few days… the equivalent of Christmas for an archaeologist.
Step two: take acquired, retrofitted Tel’tak to Tok’ra base.
Not so quick with the checking there, buddy.
It had taken a quick 22 hours to fly to P3X-whatever. Daniel barely mumbled a thank-you or goodbye, his eyes wide with something akin to lust as he surveyed the ancient ruins and the small tent city set up by SG-16 and a small scientific team that arrived earlier. Jack had exchanged knowing glances with Teal’c, the Jaffa silently agreeing to keep a diligent eye on Daniel with a simple nod of his head. Back on the ship Jack had joked with Carter over it all, the two chuckling and falling into a comfortable silence as they let the autopilot take control.
Jack had leaned back in the co-pilot’s chair, resisting the urge to prop his feet up on the control panel. Carter had pulled a paperback book from her pack. A silly romance novel of all things, a half-dressed redhead held close by a shirtless hero on the front. Jack raised his eyebrow at her choice of reading material but she didn’t notice. Or chose to ignore him.
It had been nice for about fifty seconds.
Jack sighed, hunching his shoulders against the cold gushing in from the hull breach. The shivering was becoming uncontrollable but his guilt was stronger. His harsh words towards Carter not forgotten. He was sure she wouldn’t forget them any time soon either.
He’d give anything to get those few hours back, sitting side by side in the ship with nothing to say but at complete ease with the silence. It was so much better than this. Heck, their usual uncomfortable tension when alone would be preferable to this. Guilt kept him in the cold. Some part of his brain, way in the back where he shoved all the unpleasant memories and dumbass moves, told him he deserved it. After the way he treated Carter, he deserved nothing more than to freeze his ass off. His inner-self was a bastard.
“Not unlike your real self,” he muttered under his breath. He stood watching the puff of air disolve like smoke trailing up from an invisible cigarette.
Two days they had been on this planet before Carter had come to. She didn’t remember anything after the attack. It had come swiftly and out of nowhere. Jack was still trying to work it all out in his head. One minute they were sitting, Jack about to finally comment on the book, and the next everything was FUBAR. The world had been spinning, the blasts coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
It had taken them only seconds to react, Carter’s book tossed to the side and forgotten instantly. She reached for the control orb, bringing the ship out of the stomach-churning spin that even the internal dampeners couldn’t compensate for.
“What the hell,” Jack had barked but Carter never answered. Another volley of fire rained down on them… or up… or from the side, Jack always had a hard time keeping track of things in three-dimensional space. All he knew is that the spinning stopped but then they were falling. Some part of his mind wondered how they could be falling in space and that he should ask Carter some day. It took him a few moments to register that Carter had turned them towards the nearest planet and the “falling” feeling was just an effect of the growing planet in the viewscreen.
Then they hit the atmosphere.
“Hopefully, we’ll lose them-”
She didn’t finish the sentence, another blast rocking the ship, pitching it to the side. Jack braced himself against the now sparking and sputtering control panel. He noted the familiar Air Force issue altimeter spinning absurdly fast in front of him. He glanced over at Carter, her face screwed up in concentration as she tried to keep control of the ship.
“Uh, Carter,” he said, trying to keep the calm in his voice as they broke through the cloud cover, the ground coming up fast. “Carter,” he said a little louder, cringing at the way his voice broke. She grunted, pulling back hard on the orb, curses escaping under her breath. “CARTER!” he screamed as the ground rushed up at them. At the very last second, she had pulled up, the dark blue sky of night filling the screen.
They never did see who had attacked them. There wasn’t time to check readouts and computers or make a call and ask. Carter banked to the right as more blaster fire erupted in front of them.
“Holy crap,” Jack shouted, wincing away from the screen. “That was close.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter mumbled. “Hold on.”
Jack gripped the arms of his seat as his 2IC pushed the cargo ship into maneuvers the designers probably never intended; heck, probably never imagined. The inertial dampeners fought to keep up with the onslaught of g-forces. The only tell was the slight queasiness to Jack’s stomach, the way he was plastered into his seat barely able to move and the gut-wrenching spinning of the world in the viewscreen.
If Jack had thought things couldn’t get worse he had been wrong. The next few minutes were still a blur. He remembered Carter throwing them into a tight spiral, blasts slamming into the ship causing it to shutter. Then there was pain and screaming and the smell of ozone and burning flesh.
Jack had woke after some undetermined time sprawled over the control panel, his arm on fire. He had gingerly lifted his left arm, pulling his charred sleeve away to reveal a nasty burn, the skin puckered and red. But not black. Black was bad, his brain told him, trying to catch up with the events. Still groggy, blood trickling from a head wound just below his hairline, he called out. “Carter? You okay?”
There was no answer. “Carter?” he tried again, louder. A buzz of warning intruded in his addled brain, his skin prickling and not from the sudden cold that permeated the small space. Finally, his senses seemed to return. He turned towards the pilot’s seat but it had been gone. The seat and Carter were tossed to the deck, a chunk of the hull pinning both. It had taken Jack a good two hours to pry her lose, her only saving grace the damned seat. The only good thing he could ever say about the Goa’uld is they knew how to build a sturdy chair.
He had nursed her back from an obvious concussion but Carter didn’t remember any of it and he hadn’t had the heart to tell her how close she came to checking out early. And how much it had nearly killed him to come to terms with that. The sound of her groaning in pain had been the most beautiful sound ever. For her, only three days had passed. She didn’t understand the desperation that had taken over Jack. Their limited food was gone, the freezing wilderness outside offered little in resources. And who knew if their trigger-happy friends would be back.
Now all they had was the tension and the threat of death hanging uncertainly over their heads. Jack stared at the door again, itching to go inside to the relative warmth of the cargo hold, to look at Carter and reassure himself that she was okay. Not that it mattered. How could he tell her that he had failed? That he couldn’t save them this time. He couldn’t look her in the eye and let her know that he had given up hope. And there was still that pesky guilt twisting his stomach for yelling at her the way he had. It wasn’t her fault and she didn’t know.
With a deep sigh filled with regret and bitter tiredness, he tapped the code to open the door. The hold was dark, a single emergency light glowing above the door. Of all the places for the Goa’uld to be minimal. He could just make out Carter’s form, curled in a tight ball next to the wooden cargo box, another crate of Tok’ra supplies spilled next to it. The obvious source of the crashing noise and the sailor talk. He moved quietly across the room.