The water is freezing, but amazingly clear. Clarity Jack could have easily done without at this moment.
His last full breath of air presses painfully against his ribs, fighting to escape. He thinks it really says something about his faith in last minute miracles that he’s floating so calmly underwater, his hands pressed against the gold ceiling above, keeping his body from wasting the tiniest moment, not wanting to deplete his oxygen before Jacob pulls a solution out of his ass. Especially when every instinct is telling him to thrash against the claustrophobic compression.
It takes a lot longer to drown than he would have thought. Or maybe the moments have simply slowed down to match the agonizing stillness of his body.
It’s beginning to burn a bit now.
His eyes are open, despite the sting of salt water and the frigid ache that’s seeping in at every crack.
He hates dying when it’s cold.
Across from him in the damningly clear water is Carter, holding a similar position only a few feet away.
He only realizes that they are staring intently at each other when the stillness is shattered by a small burst of bubbles from the corner of her mouth. Her lips squeeze tightly shut around the leak, but her eyes have gone wide and Jack’s already struggling heart thuds with sickening finality.
Hold on, Carter, he mentally projects. Jacob will not let them die. Not like this.
She’s moving now though, using precious stored energy to move slightly closer and he wants to demand what the fuck she thinks she’s doing, but that would take far too much air and energy so he just stares, hoping to God he’s misreading her expression.
She grabs at the front of his shirt, her nails scraping slightly against his skin and in the deprivation and stillness he feels the sensation travel the length of his body. Her fingers clench, her face contracting with the agonizing battle against the inevitable.
He can see it, the moment before she finally loses, his own hand reaching down to grab hers as her lungful of air bursts free, turning the water between them turbulent with bubbles.
He doesn’t think, just pulls her closer, ready to give her whatever small cache he has left, to push his air into her empty lungs. She moves across the space far too slowly, and he knows she can read the desperation on his face. Her lips finally reach his, frigid flesh meeting, but before he can get a proper grip on the back of her head and breathe out one last time, she shoves hard against his chest, slipping out of reach and he barely manages to keep his hold on her hand at the unexpected force.
Her mouth, open to the water, moves to form words he can’t let himself interpret, her eyes apologetic.
He shakes his head at her, his fingers digging into the back of her hand, trying to drag her back.
She takes a breath.
He can barely hold back the impulse to shout.
She’s shaking as he reels her back in, the spasmodic jerk of her body desperately searching for air and finding only water.
He feels it now, the sinking, the shudder of the ship as it’s getting sucked down and torn apart. He’s pretty sure it’s no longer the air threatening to burst out of his chest, but the deep-seated terror of her body beginning to float freely, pulling away him.
He stares at her unfocused eyes and thinks about letting go of his own air.
The jagged grind of the door takes a moment to penetrate his haze, the water now sucking away at his feet, pulling Carter with it. With one arm he hauls her against his chest, his other arm propelling him towards the surface rapidly appearing above their heads.
When he breaks up into precious air, he sucks in a greedy breath, fighting the dizziness pushing against his consciousness.
Faster, faster, he’s thinking as the water recedes far too slowly, her head lolling against his shoulder.
As soon as he can, he lays her on her side, pulling her arm up over her head, watching the water dribble out of her mouth before moving her to her back. His body goes into default mode, following the far too familiar steps of resuscitation, pushing air into her reluctant lungs, pounding away at her chest.
Now time seems to leech away far too quickly, like the perverse bitch she is. Jack just channels that anger into energy to keep his body moving.
At some point he registers that Teal’c and Jonas have appeared, standing motionless in the doorway, but Jack doesn’t spare them a thought.
“Goddammit, Carter, breathe!” he yells now that he can.
Breathe. Compress. Everything begins to blur together.
More pounding feet in the hall, Jacob’s hoarse denial in the air. Sweat and salt water stinging Jack’s eyes. Carter’s cold, pliant flesh under the continued onslaught of his hands.
A hand on his shoulder, soft voice heavy with regret in his ear. “O’Neill.”
But Jack shoves Teal’c off, not pausing in his motions. “No.”
The water had been freezing cold, he knows that works in their favor. There is a loud crack and Jack ignores that too. He’ll apologize for broken ribs later, when she is warm and breathing.
“Fight, dammit!” Jack shouts. Breathe, compress, breathe, compress. He leans over her face once more, pausing momentarily. “Don’t you dare do this to me, Carter.”
He’s breathing into her mouth when he feels her finally, finally, sputter against him. He ignores the hoarse cries from the other men, tugging her onto her side, his arm firm across her back as she begins to shudder, fighting against the last bits of water hijacking her lungs.
When she finally begins to still, her breathing smoothing out, he sees her eyes flutter and once more rolls her to her back, moving with her.
He’s raw and too tired to give a damn what he may or may not be giving away. His hands are on her face, her breath against his jaw as he rests his head on hers. “Jesus, Carter,” he mumbles.
She doesn’t answer, probably can’t, but her eyes are open and focused on him and for now it’s more than enough.
The fatigue finally settles in as his adrenaline abandons him, his own abused lungs and deprived muscles refusing to cooperate. He drops onto his back, one arm thrown over his face, his other refusing to release it’s grip on Carter as the others move in closer.
He doesn’t pay attention to what the others are saying, glad to let them take point as he lies in a frigid puddle, Carter’s pulse fluttering at her wrist under his fingers.
He breathes out.
* * *
The rescue submarine is tiny, Carter stretched out on the bench running down one side, the rest of them pressed together on the other. Jacob sits on the floor next to her, his hand on her shoulder as if to reassure himself of the steady movement of her chest with each breath.
Jack would rather be doing that himself, but is content to sit on the floor, his back against the inner curve of the hull. His hand, mostly out of sight of the others, rests against her foot as casually as he can manage.
He’s happy to plead exhaustion, closing his eyes as he tries to rein everything back in, but all he can see is the moment Carter’s eyes went vacant, the cold seeping into his bones and absolutely refusing to thaw.
A hoarse sound he can’t quite hold back escapes his throat and he manages to muffle it with a cough, his free hand lifting to cover his face. Now is not the time to fall apart, he knows, the submarine suddenly far more claustrophobic than the gallons of inescapable, stagnant water had been.
Something bumps Jack’s leg and against his better judgment he looks up to find Jacob watching him. The riot of emotions on the man’s face seems to run the same gamut as Jack’s, only with a dawning realization that isn’t comfortable for either of them.
Jacob is visibly pensive for a moment, perhaps internally discussing something with Selmak, and even though Jack knows he should look away, he doesn’t, waiting for Jacob’s response.
His hand tightening on Carter’s shoulder, Jacob finally says, “Thank you, Jack,” gratitude for his daughter’s life apparently outweighing any other suspicions. “Thank you for not giving up.”
He says that like Jack had any other options, like failing to save her had ever been a possibility he was even capable of entertaining.
In his mind, she’s sucking in that first lungful of water again.
“It was never a choice, Jacob,” Jack says, meeting his eyes squarely.
And maybe both men realize he’s talking about a lot more than just saving her life.
Carter shifts then, coughing hoarsely and drawing Jacob’s attention away. Jack waits for her coughs to subside before dropping his head back against the hull.
He listens to the rough sound of her voice and wills himself to forget. To repress.
Her foot presses weakly against his hand, his own fingers tightening in response.
There’s no other choice.