It was the second time he’d seen her crumpled up in a corner and the feelings had only intensified with time. Really, it was that fact that he couldn’t get to her that had set his teeth on edge. Mostly. Also because he figured she had to be bleeding but he couldn’t fucking tell from this distance. He never liked being separated from his team and it was worse when he was separated from her – even though he knew it wasn’t supposed to be, and even though he knew she could take care of herself, and even though Teal’c had been standing closer so if anything could have been done it would have been…
It took seven excruciating minutes for the glass-like partition to slide open so he could get to her. She was still out cold and that was never a good sign. He felt the back of her head, the palms of his fingerless gloves catching the fine strands of her hair, and grimaced when his fingertips encountered blood.
He could have waited for her to wake up. He could have waved some of that vile smelling stuff under her nose. Hell, he could have asked Teal’c to carry her back to the gate. Should have. Instead, he gathered his frayed nerves and scooped her up into his arms.
It was a job to stand up. She wasn’t a small woman, he wasn’t an overly large man, his knees were shot, and these things were never as easy in real life as they looked in the movies. Neither Daniel nor Teal’c said a word, they wouldn’t have dared, not after the day they’d all had. They merely stepped aside and let him pass between them. They took up their places behind him, each one a bit to the side, and SG-1 made their way out of the Ylurgian factory.
These people were advanced enough that it felt sort of like walking around a foreign industrialized country instead of around an alien planet. But they hadn’t been overly friendly and in the moments before Carter was knocked out and trapped behind glass they’d pretty much been told to vacate the planet.
That was why Jack wasn’t stopping for medical assistance even though he could feel Carter’s blood soaking into the arm of his t-shirt. It was a ten-minute walk to the gate when he wasn’t carrying his second, he made it in eight with her in his arms. She didn’t rouse while Daniel dialed or while Teal’c used the GDO strapped to her arm to send their code to the SGC.
He had the odd thought as he stepped into the wormhole that maybe when they got through and were remolecularized on the other side, that maybe some of her molecules would be a part of him. And maybe some of his would be a part of her. He still felt one hundred percent like himself when he stepped onto the ramp, though. He tried not to be disappointed.
Daniel had called for a medical team the moment he’d hit the SGC and it took only moments for a gurney to come careening into the room with Janet Fraiser right alongside. He set Sam down and not because he needed to – his arms were practically locked into place with the exertion of the past many minutes, but he’d have carried her far longer had he had to. No, he had a deep, personal need to have her seen to as quickly as possible. It was a need he wasn’t going to examine too closely.
She’d been his second for sixty weeks. He’d counted every one. Because he’d known from the first trip through the gate that he had a limited amount of time serving with her before things would get complicated enough that there would have to be changes. The way he felt right now told him they were painfully close to that day.
In the infirmary, the medical staff moved efficiently around Carter’s bed. They had her on an IV and in a gown before the rest of SG-1 had been allowed to see her. It had taken only minutes but Jack had felt himself grinding through the layers of his teeth while they waited.
Janet was worried that she hadn’t woken up yet. Jack was too. What he lacked in a medical degree he made up in field experience and he knew a twenty-minute knock-out was bad news. Daniel was quiet and Teal’c, inexplicably, kept saying what Jack was sure amounted to comforting things in Jaffa-speak.
They sat vigil. Past the hour mark when Janet moved from worried to tenacious. Past the two-hour mark when they started pumping her full of drugs that were supposed to help. Past the four-hour mark when Janet finally decided that she needed to remain unconscious. At five hours Jack sent the rest of the team to their quarters. At seven hours he went and took a shower and at seven hours and twenty minutes he was back in his place, his chair against the wall at the foot of her bed.
She woke up with a groan that only Jack was there to hear. He watched closely but she didn’t try to open her eyes. She could probably tell, without even trying, that the light above her bed was bright. He got up to switch it to low.
She blinked blearily as soon as he had. “Oh god, what happened?” She coughed a little when her throat stuck on the words.
He poured water into a little plastic cup with a straw and held it to her lips. “You’ve been unconscious for fourteen hours.”
“Wow.” She pushed her head forward for more water. She drank a few long pulls of the tepid water. “Why?”
“EM… thing… on P3X-oh hell, I don’t know.”
Despite her likely feeling like roadkill, she smiled as she relaxed back into the insufficient infirmary pillows. “Have you been here the whole time?” She looked, almost immediately, like she regretted asking.
He wasn’t quite sure what made her ask, either. He could have deflected. He was tired of deflecting. “Yeah.”
She closed her eyes and the corners of mouth tipped up. “Thank you.”
“Not leaving me alone.”
Now, he could have said anything. He could have politely blown off the thanks. He should have. He shouldn’t be contemplating rolling both of their careers under for some feelings he was sure she hadn’t guessed at and couldn’t possibly feel in return. She was young. She was smart. She was beautiful in a way that transcended physical attractiveness and yet was also defined by it. She was the kind of woman he wanted to wake up to, and read the paper with, and argue with about how to load the dishwasher, and, yes, make love to before dinner because they simply couldn’t wait until it was time to go to bed.
He knew he had it bad.
He knew he wasn’t the kind of guy who felt those sorts of feelings often.
And he remembered that the last time he did he’d proposed marriage.
So he could have said anything at all, but he chose, “Carter… I won’t leave you alone.”
Her eyes peeled open and she smiled. “Ever?”
His heart stopped beating until he remembered she both had a head injury and had been pumped full of more than one of Fraiser’s good drugs. She wasn’t stating a preference, O’Neill. But his mouth hadn’t caught up to his brain. “That would be my first choice.”
He could see the way the pieces fell into place behind her eyes as she studied him. “Sir, I—”
His immediate reaction was to cut her off before she could cut him down. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’s only been a year,” she blurted, her voice raised, her eyes wide and clearer than they had been so far.
“We’ve only known each other a year.”
One year and two months, he wanted to correct, but it would sound juvenile and he didn’t want to derail whatever it was she was about to say. “So?”
“So you… and I… we… Sir.” His honorific came out pained and plaintive. And he suddenly realized that it wasn’t that she didn’t feel something too. It was that she knew it was wrong and she was ascribing that wrongness to the newness – rather than the far more pressing command structure.
The chain inside him that held back most of what he was feeling began to give way. Even as it did, his self- and Carter-preservation kicked in. “I should have—”
She took a deep breath. “So now what?”
“But now we know.”
“It’ll be enough.” For him it would be, anyway. To know the amazing woman he’d started to fall for felt even some of what he felt in return. It would be enough to sustain him through the war they were fighting.
“For how long?”
“Until this is over.”
“We may not survive this.”
He knew that. He knew that very well considering he’d carried her through the gate and had thrown away the shirt with the arm soaked in her blood because damn if he was always going to know exactly which black t-shirt she’d leaked her life onto. “If we don’t… just knowing…”
She sighed peacefully. “You’re right.”
It was wrong. It was wrong to even feel it, to share it, to pack it away and try to pretend like it didn’t matter. It did matter. Just not for the reasons he wanted it to. It should matter because they shouldn’t be able to stand to not be together if they felt the way they did. But the truth was, it shouldn’t matter because he had three whole, complete people to keep alive out there and one of them… one of them he loved differently.
If any insult was added to injury it was that. The insult he was dealing Daniel and Teal’c by not telling them that his priorities had shifted. He hadn’t wanted them to, he hadn’t asked or permitted. They deserved to know that the man they trusted wasn’t altogether trustworthy.
“Stop thinking like that.” She proved in one phrase how she knew him. “Nobody is dying. You won’t let that happen. And the chances of having to choose… sir, you know as well as I do that there will never be a choice. If one of us goes, more than one of us will try to stop it.”
“Carter, I—” love you.
He nodded. “Now what?”
“How long until the guys come back?”
He checked his watch. “About an hour, probably.”
“You could pull up a chair and keep me company.” Her voice was hopeful. Like he’d leave her now. Like he’d leave her ever.
An hour later, when the rest of SG-1 walked in, they were both asleep, their fingers tangled together in a telling sort of way. Daniel and Teal’c exchanged a glance and pulled two stools up next to the bed. And when Jack opened his eyes and reluctantly pulled his hand away from Sam’s, both men studiously did not see a thing. They would not think a thing. And they would not say a thing. It would be the secret and truth of SG-1. And they were all complicit in it together.