A Common Virtue
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
Title: A Common Virtue
Author: Charli Booker
Sequel/Series Info: N/A
Content Warnings: Language; violence
Summary: Stranded off-world with an injured colleague, her medical staff and Colonel Jack O'Neill, Janet Fraiser is afforded a glimpse of uncommon valor.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
Archive: JackFic, Heliopolis, StargateFan.
Author's Note: This is for Linda who, through it all, demonstrated an uncommon valor.
A COMMON VIRTUE
By: Charli Booker
"Of the Marines on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue." Chester W. Nimitz
* * * * *
When a warm body brushed against her, Janet Frasier flinched so hard she nearly toppled over. She steadied herself and blinked at her gloomy surroundings. Dazed, she wondered where she was and why she was sitting on a cold, rough surface.
"How's she doing?" Jack O'Neill whispered.
Glancing toward the comforting sound of the familiar voice, Janet's memory abruptly cleared and it all came rushing back - the mercy mission to help a village of sick and starving aliens, and the sudden attack which had separated her and her medical staff from the rest of the SG personnel. Out-numbered and out-armed, hiding in the rock-strewn foothills behind the makeshift clinic, she recalled with vivid clarity the rush of relief she'd felt when she'd seen Jack O'Neill. She'd spied him as he was making his way toward them, accompanied by a native woman and her infant son, both of whom he was shielding with his body.
Janet gingerly shifted her weight. Aching muscles and stiffening joints were a testament to the laborious five-hour trek on which the Colonel had led them, as well as the twenty hours which had followed - long hours spent huddled in a cold, damp cavern far from the village and even farther from the Stargate and rescue; long hours made even more arduous because each passing minute spelled disaster for her injured friend and possibly for her commanding officer as well.
The Colonel had slipped outside soon after their arrival and the radio Janet clutched like a safety line had remained disturbingly silent ever since his departure. Several times she'd debated contacting him, but each time she'd weighed her need for reassurance against the very real risk of putting him in greater peril. That risk had far outweighed her need; it had been the only thing stopping her.
Now, with him once again safely by her side, Janet was overwhelmed by the severity of their situation. She slipped the radio into her pocket and wiped her eyes in an attempt to dispel the exhaustion and desperation lingering in the wake of her aborted nap. She felt hung-over - headachy and miserable - and she imagined the Colonel must feel the same, if not worse. When the starbursts vanished from her vision, she studied the profile of the man who'd settled next to her.
"Doc?" he prodded worriedly as he unsnapped his weapon from his vest.
The scent of him, the solidness of his presence and the feel of his knobby elbow pressing against her sore ribs were warm and reassuring, and Janet glanced over at her patient as she struggled to get her emotions under control. Finally, she met his gaze. "She's holding her own. For now," she added.
Jack O'Neill looked past her at the still form of Michelle Ireland. The young doctor had fallen during the initial attack on the village. She'd taken a direct blow to the back of the head and had yet to show signs of regaining consciousness. In fact, Ireland's stats had been falling hourly, and even worse, less than thirty minutes ago she'd suffered a massive seizure. Janet and the small group of half a dozen nurses and medics had watched helplessly.
They were tired and frustrated, but mostly they were saddened by the knowledge their colleague was dying and there was nothing they could do other than to make her more comfortable. As Janet's staff had gathered in a protective circle around their fallen comrade, the native woman, Simza, had clutched her sleeping child to her breast and had retreated into the dark recesses of the cavern. She sat there still, watching them from a distance, obviously aware of the gravity of the situation and probably wondering if she would be held accountable for the actions of her people.
Dismissing the worried mother, Janet squinted at the Colonel's face. He was pale and clearly exhausted, and Janet pondered the need of telling him just how bad things looked for the injured doctor. After all, as long as the threat from their attackers remained, there was nothing he could do. There was nothing any of them could do. So, why make him feel any worse than he probably already did?
As if reading her thoughts, he laid his MP5 across his lap and turned red-rimmed eyes upon her. "How long?"
So, he knew. Her chest heavy, Janet looked over at the others; they appeared to be dozing fitfully - or at least trying to. "It's difficult to say," she murmured. "With head injuries, there's never a clear-cut outcome."
"I need to know how long."
She looked at him. Despite his exhaustion, despite the deep lines carved in his face and the exaggerated slant of his shoulders, the dark eyes were as sharp as ever. "A day. Maybe two." Dropping a hand onto his arm, she leaned closer. What she was about to say was unfair. She knew that. But, with his return, the weight of command and responsibility shifted. It freed her, allowing her to plead her colleague's case. "We can't stay here. We have to get her to the SGC. There has to be someth-"
"She needs immediate medical treatment."
"Captain!" She thought she saw a grimace of pain distort his features, but it came and went so rapidly, it might have been a mere trick of the dim light, a distortion caused by the humid air of this godforsaken planet on which they'd been marooned for the last twenty-five hours. "We can't. I-" The air seemed to go out of him and the Colonel sagged slightly. Scrubbing a grimy hand over his forehead, he leaned back against the damp wall, frowning, refusing to look at her. "It's not safe, especially if we have to worry about someone who's incapacitated."
"My people can carry her. There are enough of us. We can take turns."
He was already shaking his head. "Between us, we have one MP5, three Berettas, and a couple of knives."
"Simza can lead us."
"There's also the baby to consider."
"She knows the countryside," Janet persisted.
"We have to wait here, at least for n-"
"Without medical attention, she'll die!"
"She may die anyway!"
Their anger echoed; harsh voices ricocheted off the clammy walls, mocking them. In the wake of their desperate fury, Janet heard the rustling of shifting bodies and the distant, slow drip of water. The baby wailed, but its cry was abruptly silenced.
Jack O'Neill's long fingers curled into fists, but his gaze when he looked at her was soft and his voice, pitched for her ears only, was kind. "Don't ask me to risk them to save someone who's going to die anyway."
"You don't know that. She could-"
Janet knew he was right, and she covered her face with trembling hands. "Please."
When there was no immediate response, she looked up. He was watching her, but he looked away at her glance, lifted his weapon and busied himself with re-securing it to his vest. "If you haven't already done it, pick two people. Send them back into the cave."
A frown creased his forehead, but he otherwise ignored her. "We need fresh water. Sounds like there might be a spring somewh-"
"Sir." Slowly, warily, he met her gaze. "I'm asking you to reconsider."
He studied her, his eyes flicking over her face as if searching for understanding. For an instant, she thought he might give in then his mouth hardened and she realized it wasn't her support he sought - it was her forgiveness. He looked away, checking the ammo clip on his rifle. "Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and there'll be a back door to this place."
Janet sighed as he pushed himself to his feet.
"If you need me, same as before - click your radio three times and wait for me to respond." He turned his gaze to the depths of the room, eyes deliberately skipping over the dying woman to linger on Janet's staff then the mother and child. Watching Simza rock and softly croon to her son, he mumbled, "Any questions?"
"No, sir." Janet pulled the radio from her pocket and checked to make sure it was still switched on. "I understand," she said, glancing up at him, but he was already gone.
* * * * *
His knee protesting painfully, Jack knelt behind the boulder and pressed his body against the cold, wet stone in an effort to render himself invisible. He'd left the cave over three hours ago, heading southeast toward the village for forty-five minutes before turning west, moving south of their hideout. At some point, he couldn't remember when, it had started raining...hard, and there was no sign of it letting up. He was cold and soaked through. His baseball cap sheltered his eyes, but it also squeezed his head in a wet, shrinking vice. Only his feet were dry.
In the nearly twenty-four hours he'd spent slithering around the rugged countryside surrounding their hiding place, he'd seen numerous signs of wildlife and humans, but this was the first time he'd seen the enemy in person. There were two of them - men who, like all of Simza's people, were rangy and lean. They looked underfed, strangely fragile, but he knew from firsthand experience their appearance was deceiving. Beneath the loose, tattered clothes and sickly flesh were wiry muscles and quick reflexes.
Jack had been following the two for over a quarter of an hour, ducking behind trees and rocks on a small ridge overlooking the well-worn path along which the men were walking. Initially, he'd thought they were advance scouts, but now he suspected they were merely hunters or perhaps only travelers going from one village to another. The men rarely spoke, but when they did their voices were boisterous, so they obviously weren't concerned about being watched or followed.
Peeking over the top of the boulder, he saw them standing in the middle of the narrow path at a spot where the ridge softened and swelled into a rolling, rock-strewn hill. They were discussing something he couldn't hear and wouldn't understand even if he could. Tucking his chin to his chest in an effort to conceal the cold fog raised by his breathing, Jack suppressed a shiver and for a brief second wished Daniel was with him, or better yet, Teal'c or Carter. But, that wish quickly faded to be followed by another - the wish that his people had made it to the Stargate. To safety.
He firmly believed they had, because while he suspected the attack on the village had been planned in advance, it was obvious these people were maladroit when it came to warfare. The ambush had been a shoddy, haphazard affair, and the fact the medical team had been cut off from the gate had been sheer coincidence on the part of the natives and sheer stupidity on his. He'd spent two days with a group of people who'd seemed nothing but kind, meek and helpless; he'd allowed himself to be influenced by appearances. He knew better. Therefore, the blame for Doctor Ireland's injuries and the injuries of anyone else who might have been hurt lay at his feet and no one else's.
Lifting his head, he watched the men step off the path, veering from their westward course to head north. Jack felt a chill which had nothing to do with the weather. Accidental or not, the men were now on a direct course to the cave. Squinting through the veil of rain, he saw them slip behind the rise of a hill, chatting amiably. Motionless, he patiently waited until they reappeared on the next hill over. From his perspective, a few hundred yards was the equivalent of a collision course. A few hundred yards and a crying baby would spell disaster for his people.
Jack wrapped cold, stiff fingers around his MP5. He was absolutely certain these men were not looking for his people. Unfortunately, if he didn't stop them, they would find them. He couldn't allow that to happen.
* * * * *
He couldn't use his rifle or his pistol. That much was obvious. He couldn't risk drawing the attention of anyone else who might be in the area. That left his knife. He'd followed the men for nearly an hour and they had yet to range more than ten or twelve feet apart. It significantly lowered the odds of successfully removing them both, but he couldn't wait much longer to strike. At their current pace, they'd be within shouting range of the cave in twenty minutes, maybe less.
Slipping his knife from its scabbard, Jack lengthened his stride, thigh muscles burning as he climbed, closing the distance between them. The only things in his favor were the loud patter of the rain concealing his footfalls, and the fact that the larger of the two men was trailing behind. That meant he could take out the greater threat first before dealing with the smaller man. It wasn't much of an advantage, but he'd use whatever he could get.
Biting his lower lip in concentration, Jack slipped closer until only forty feet separated him from them. In the space of a few seconds, he studied the ground ahead, planning his footsteps. Thirty feet. He felt a surge of adrenalin. Twenty. He tightened his grip on the knife. Ten. Thunder clapped and the man in the lead ducked reflexively. The target raised his head slightly, laughing, and Jack launched himself up the hill.
Wrapping his arms around the thin neck, Jack gripped the man's chin with his left hand, exposing the vulnerable throat; with his right, he pulled back hard, swiftly. Gurgling, the man grabbed his throat in a futile attempt to staunch the lethal wound. The native crumpled, sliding downhill, and Jack sidestepped him, his eyes on the second target.
Thunder still rebounding off the hills, the man in the lead turned - whether because his friend had laughed at him or because that laughter had been aborted, Jack wasn't sure. All he knew for certain was the man's right hand was resting on the worn grip of a short, thick cudgel shoved in the waistband of his loose-fitting trousers.
Crap! Tightening his hold on the bloody knife, the need for stealth gone, Jack cursed and strained to close the eight-foot gap between himself and the native. The stranger's eyes widened and skeletal fingers closed around the crude weapon. Pushing himself up the steep incline, Jack watched the native turn, readying himself for the assault by pulling the club free and setting his stance.
Despite the fact things seemed to be heading south, Jack was confident he could still disable his enemy. He could still prevent his people from being discovered.
That was when his foot slipped.
* * * * *
Michelle Ireland was dying. Kneeling next to the injured woman who'd just suffered her third and worst seizure, Janet sighed, lifted her head and stared directly into the eyes of Ken Bartlett. Her weariness momentarily forgotten, she forced a grim smile in an effort to reassure the young medic. Returning her smile with equal enthusiasm - or lack thereof - Janet realized there was no need to sugar-coat anything. These people were her colleagues, her friends, and they already knew the awful truth.
"She's not in any pain," Ken said softly, trying to comfort her.
Janet nodded and thanked him with a genuine smile. "Yes. At least there's that."
"If it matters, I don't think she even knew she'd been hit." Trish Hehmann studied the object of their conversation then looked over at Janet. "I was standing right next to her when it happened. It could have been me," she added.
Standing up, Janet squeezed Trish's shoulder then looked around the dark cavern. Yes, Michelle Ireland was dying - but, she wasn't dying alone. And, she certainly wasn't dying without a fight.
"Doctor Fraiser," someone hissed.
Startled, Janet looked over at the entrance to the cave. Martha Cooke took a step back, knelt on the floor and braced her elbow on an outcropping of stone. Acting as if it were an everyday occurrence, she aimed her Beretta at the deluge just outside the mouth of the cave.
"Someone's coming," she warned over her shoulder.
Throwing a glance at her people, who began forming a protective circle around the dying woman, Janet pulled a borrowed Beretta from her waistband and moved to help Martha guard the entrance. Just as she settled herself against the rock wall, a dark, murky form began to take shape in the gloom outside. Blinking a drop of nervous sweat from her eyes, Janet squinted and took a deep, steadying breath.
After a moment of indecision, she loosened her grip on the pistol, slipped off the safety, and readied herself once more. When Jack O'Neill materialized out of the dreary pall and stopped inside the entrance, Janet heaved a sigh of relief and lowered her weapon.
His face hidden beneath his dripping cap, Jack nodded at Janet then glanced at Martha and tossed her whatever he'd been clutching in his right hand. The nurse scrambled to catch the objects - two waterproof containers like the ones Janet had seen many of the natives carrying, made out of gourds and lined with the intestines of the local version of cattle.
Jack moved toward Janet, and she frowned. His skin and lips were pale, and his clothes were dripping. "You're limping," she observed. "You're also soaked." She reached for his arm. "Come on. Sit down. We need to get you warmed up."
He shrugged off her hand. "There's no time." He angled his chin toward where Ireland lay, without looking at her. "Is she still alive?" he said coldly.
Janet nodded. "Yes."
"Then we need to rig a stretcher. We have to move out." When there was no response, he glanced at the cluster of Janet's staff members. "Now," he barked.
Not waiting for further orders, Ken and another medic slipped outside, she assumed to look for limbs to use for poles, and Martha disappeared with the makeshift canteens into the darkness at the back of the cave where they'd found a small spring. The others began shrugging out of their jackets which they'd zip together to form the body of the stretcher.
"But," Janet was confused, "you said we needed to stay here."
"We can't." Tugging off his cap, the Colonel swiped his arm across his face and leaned back against the wall. "Not any more," he added, and Janet saw that the hand holding the cap was trembling slightly. She was also aware that Simza had tucked her baby to her bosom and was easing her way past those gathered around Ireland, edging closer to the Colonel.
Janet suddenly wondered if the pale skin was a product of something other than the inclement weather. "What's happened?"
Jack shook his head.
"Do we have any food?"
The man was stubborn as a mule, but when he gave her a shy glance, she heard herself sigh and found herself rummaging through the small pile of supplies they'd gathered from their packs. "We have a dozen MRE's."
She tossed him an energy bar instead. He fumbled for it, struggling to catch it while hanging onto his cap.
"What's wrong with your arm?"
Tucking the cap inside his vest, he put the energy bar to his mouth and ripped open the wrapper with his teeth. "It's gonna be a long haul, Doc, and the rain could end any time - though I doubt we're that lucky. Anyway, I want everybody to drink as much as they can while we're here. Is everybody rested?"
Janet frowned and approached him, examining him with her eyes. His stance was stiff and awkward, something she'd initially attributed to fatigue.
Studiously ignoring her, he ate half the bar in one bite. "What about her?" he said around his food and he nodded in Simza's direction. "She should eat. She's feeding a kid."
"She ate, Colonel." Giving him a defiant look, Janet stepped to his side and eyed his left arm. It hung limply at his side; he hadn't moved it since entering the cave. "Broken?"
He shoved the remainder of the food in his mouth, chewed, then reluctantly shrugged.
"So, what happened?" she said as she began gently feeling the limb through the saturated layers of his clothing. When she palpated the area just above the elbow, he flinched. She froze, waiting until she felt him begin to relax before resuming her exam. "Did you fall?"
"Hit." He grimaced and sucked in an abbreviated lungful of air when her fingers brushed the joint. "With a stick." He forced a puny smile. "Albeit, a really big stick."
Janet snorted softly. "Very funny, sir." She frowned, feeling her way like the newly blind. "It's definitely swollen. I need to take a closer look. Take off your jacket and-"
"Later." When she opened her mouth to protest, he raised his functional hand, pressed cold, trembling fingers against her mouth, and leaned close. "Doc," he said quietly, his breath smelling like the sweet snack he'd consumed, "I just killed two men. Natives who happened to venture a little too close to our hideout. Now," he lowered his hand, "I stashed the bodies, but unfortunately, the last guy was a bit...uncooperative. The little shit managed to fire off a round out of my rifle before I could neutralize him." Frowning, he pulled his cap from inside his vest, set it on his head, and tugged it in place. "We could be looking at a butt-load of company any minute, and I'm really, really not in the mood. Know what I mean?"
Janet met his weary gaze before lowering her hands. As Ken and the medic brushed past her carrying an armful of tree limbs, she turned to her staff. "Alright, let's move it, people," she ordered.
* * * * *
Jack eased his sore body onto the gravel and leaned back against the hill with his legs outstretched. Just beyond his feet, the downpour continued, but here, it was dry - relatively speaking. He'd located the outcropping on his first trip outside the cave. Nothing more than a tank-sized boulder whose underbelly had been exposed by erosion, their new hiding place wasn't nearly as spacious or protected as the cavern they'd recently vacated. But, it gave them a roof over their heads and afforded them a panoramic view of the small valley which, a few miles distant, eased its way into the village.
The cold and the damp gnawing at his wounds, Jack frowned and reached with his good arm to unclip his MP5. Only when stiff fingers encountered nothing but wet vest did he remember handing off the weapon to the young woman who'd volunteered to stand watch. Closing his eyes, he tried to think about anything other than the relentless throbbing encasing his left arm from shoulder to wrist and the intense stinging of the skin on his right hip. Knowing neither injury was serious, he hadn't bothered to look at them when they'd been inflicted. Now, he didn't want to.
Sensing subtle warmth along his right arm, he knew it was the native woman settling herself and her baby next to him. Throughout their two and a half hour trek, she'd clung to Jack like cigarette smoke - hanging on him, her presence obvious to everyone but himself. He hadn't realized what she was doing until Frasier had pointed it out, informing him Simza seemed to trust only him. Jack supposed it was because he'd pulled her out of the line of fire of her own people. Dragging her along as they'd made their escape into the hills had been instinctive. She had a baby, for crying out loud, and if the cowardly attack on his own personnel didn't cause him to doubt the locals' morality, their treatment of Simza and her baby certainly did. A mother and child were never expendable commodities. Not in his book.
He cracked open his eyes, only then aware he'd dozed. Frasier was sitting next to him, the rain providing a fitting backdrop to her pale features and slumped posture. They were all exhausted, running on too little food, too little sleep and the fumes of an adrenalin rush long spent.
"Hey, Doc. How's she doing?" he said, referring to Ireland.
In response, Janet merely shook her head and Jack wished there was something he could do. But, so far, his radio calls had gone unanswered. The only thing he could do was what he was doing - getting his people as close to the Stargate as possible while keeping them out of harm's way. No easy task, especially with a dying woman and a crying infant. But, they had to be ready to pack and run at a moment's notice, because Jack knew without a doubt that a rescue mission was in the offing. While Hammond might abandon a crusty old colonel to his own devices, he'd never leave the others - not the medical unit.
"I should take a look at your arm, sir."
Too tired to argue, Jack sat up and allowed her to help him shed vest and jacket. Janet hissed in sympathy when his arm was exposed and, seeing it himself, he couldn't much blame her. It looked every bit as bad as it felt. The elbow was swollen and a little too red and shiny for his liking, to say nothing of the large grape-colored bruise wrapping itself around his upper arm.
Eyeing him closely, Janet probed the injury with gentle fingers. Jack schooled his features and bit back a curse when she hit the spot where the native man had bludgeoned him. To distract himself, he glanced at Simza. When he found her staring solemnly back at him, he gave her what was meant to be a reassuring smile and dropped his right hand onto the crown of the baby's head. The boy grinned and cooed at him, short, fat arms waving happily. Not a worry in the world - as it should be.
"It doesn't feel broken, but," Janet said, giving him a penetrating look, "that doesn't mean it isn't. We could still be looking at a fracture. There could also be damage to the joint itself. It's awfully swollen. You said you were hit?" Jack nodded. "I'm sure it's painful. Unfortunately, there's not a lot I can do except offer you some mild anti-inflammatories. They'll help with the pain and the swelling. A little anyway."
Jack began easing the jacket back on. "That's fine."
"We should also immobilize it."
He shook his head. While it hurt like hell, he could move it. "If we get in a firefight...," he said, letting the image dangle.
Janet sighed and digging in a small pack, she pulled out a packet of ibuprofen and tossed it in his lap. "If there is a fracture or joint damage, even ligament damage, any movement will only make it worse."
"I'll take my chances."
Her heart apparently not in the argument, Janet nodded and glanced over her shoulder at Ireland. "Well, try not to move it any more than you absolutely have to," she mumbled.
Jack frowned and followed her glance, wishing once again he could do something. While he'd never say it out loud, part of him wished the woman would just hurry up and die. Feeling guilty for the mere thought, he looked down, picked up the packet of meds, and focused his thoughts on getting these people to the gate.
Startled, he met Janet's gaze. "Sorry. I wasn't listening."
"I said, 'anything else'."
He shook his head then amended it with a brief nod. "Yeah. Actually...my hip."
* * * * *
Sitting within arm's reach of both her patients, Janet huddled against the back of the overhang and clasped her arms around her knees. The rain was still coming down hard, now thrown at them in sheets by random gusts of wind. It was cold and if she wasn't mistaken, getting colder. Without benefit of a fire, a change of clothes, or even a blanket, there was no way to get dry or warm.
When the wind had picked up, the healthy ones in her group had once again, without hesitation, surrendered their jackets, this time to cover Michelle instead of to carry her. All except the Colonel, who had peeled off his jacket and tucked it around Simza and her baby before carefully curling up and falling into a restless sleep. Otherwise, only Ken and Martha were wearing coats and that was because they were outside, standing watch.
Janet glanced around. Everyone, even Simza, appeared to be dozing. Despite being surrounded by the sleeping and the comatose, and despite knowing two trusted friends were watching over her, she felt more alone than she had in a long time. She wondered where Cassie was, what she doing, and if the rest of the SGC forces had made their escape unharmed. She wondered if rescue was coming and, if so, would it be soon.
Hearing a soft moan, she glanced down at the Colonel who had shifted in his sleep, rolling onto his injured hip. She smiled as she recalled her surprise when he'd so readily admitted to the injury. She'd been wrong about the man...again. In her experience, the Colonel was adept at, and dedicated to, ducking and dodging the bullet when it came to anything medical. But here, in the field, he was different.
Here, he understood the importance of any and every little thing that could affect the outcome of the mission - whether it was having an accurate inventory of their armament, knowing everything he could about the lay of the land and the habits of the enemy, or taking proper care of a hip scraped and bloodied from a tumble down a steep embankment.
When the Colonel had casually unbuckled and eased down his pants, exposing the damaged flesh, Janet's surprise had turned to concern. While the wound wasn't serious, it was gory and she knew that, like his arm, the injury had to be painful. Noting the blood which had saturated his boxers and was beginning to stain his BDU's a darker green, she'd realized that every step he'd taken in the last few hours had to have been sheer agony. And again, her respect for the man grew. Jack O'Neill was obstinate, obnoxious and a complete pain in the ass, but he was also compassionate and competent. The man was a natural leader, and if she had to be stuck here, Janet couldn't imagine anyone she'd trust more with her life or with the lives of her team.
Unaware she was chewing on her bottom lip, Janet watched him sleep. Studying the dark circles under his eyes, the hollowness of his cheeks, and the grimace hardening his features even in his slumber, she wondered again what he wasn't telling her. After she'd tended to his injuries, he'd spent nearly an hour instructing her and her staff on how to reach the gate, taking them outside and pointing out landmarks in the valley then returning to the shelter of the overhang to sketch a detailed layout of that same valley, the village and the Stargate in the mud. Why?
Glancing to her left, she studied Michelle. The woman remained deeply comatose and a little over two hours ago, she'd begun to bleed from her ears and nose. The end was close and Janet suspected that even if they were able to immediately return to the SGC, there was no hope for the brilliant, young doctor. Gently, she reached out and brushed a strand of hair off the woman's forehead before touching the smooth cheek. Michelle was a fighter, even in death. Wiping her eyes, Janet rose to her knees.
"Doc?" The Colonel blinked up at her.
"Bathroom," she whispered.
He frowned and closed his eyes. "Don't wander too far."
Janet crawled to the outer edge of the overhang.
"And whatever you do, let the guards know. Especially that trigger-happy nurse of yours," he added gruffly.
Despite their circumstances, Janet grinned. "Yes, sir. I will."
* * * * *
His arm and hip throbbing with abandon, he sat hunched over the woman, his right hand resting on her chest - just over her heart - listening and feeling. He was unsure whether the tremor he felt was real or imagined. And, if it was the genuine article, was it a product of her struggling heart or his trembling hand? Jack placed the palm of his hand over her mouth. He squeezed his eyes closed, concentrating, but opened them a moment later when he heard the sound of movement behind him. He turned to find Janet squatting just inside the curtain of rain.
She stared at him, her hair and clothes dripping water. Without moving, her eyes swept Ireland's still form and his outstretched hand. "Colonel?"
Jack removed his cold fingers from the slack mouth. "I thought-," but instead of confessing, he glanced down at his hand, which was smeared with the woman's blood. He rubbed his hand on his wet pants. "Teal'c radioed. There's a unit holding the gate and two more outside the village."
"Is she-" Doc started forward but he stopped her, grabbing her shoulder.
"We need to go. Now."
"What did you do?"
"Excuse me?" Slowly, she met his gaze and Jack saw accusation in her dark eyes. Disappointment swept through him, momentarily numbing him to the cold slap of windblown rain. Was he that callous? That insensitive? Fiery pain burst from his left elbow and, grateful for the distraction, he cradled the injured arm and looked away. The others were sitting up, watching them. "Grab what you need," he told them. "Leave the rest."
"Kate," Janet began removing the jackets cocooning Ireland, "help me re-assemble the stretcher. We'll-"
She stopped at Jack's brusque command. "Sir, don't."
"There's no time."
Desperately, Janet grabbed his hand, and he nearly caved. At the sight of the moisture filling her eyes, he nearly gave the order to rebuild the stretcher - an order that would cost them time they couldn't afford to lose; an order condemning them all. "Please." Janet's grip tightened. "We can't leave her here," she quietly pleaded.
Shock merged with his lingering disappointment, resulting in a resignation which consumed him, deadening him to everything but a livid awareness of his injuries. "It's my call," he said, unwilling to clarify his intent. Right now, his only job was to get these people home in one piece; explaining himself to Janet Fraiser and garnering her approval weren't requirements to that end. When she opened her mouth to reply, he tugged free of her hand. "Take your people and go. You know the way. No talking and whatever you do, don't fire your damned weapons unless you have no other options. Understood?"
Janet stared at him, searching his face.
"Yes, sir." She slid her arms into her jacket, unwilling or unable to meet his eyes. "What about you?"
He ignored the question. "When you reach the valley floor, stay out of sight and head south and east like we discussed. Remember, the valley's shaped like a banana. Keep to the outside edge of it and you'll eventually reach the gate. But, Teal'c should find you long before then." When Janet turned to take a last look at Ireland, Jack gently shoved her toward the rain, toward the valley and the safety which awaited them on the other side. "Go on. Go."
He waited until they were gone, until he could no longer hear the sound of their passing, before he looked at the native woman. Simza was huddled against the back wall, her sleeping son clasped close. She was watching him intently.
Jack eased himself to his knees. "I know you can't understand me, but," he glanced toward the rain which had curtained around his people, hopefully shielding them from danger, then he looked back at the young mother. He couldn't leave her and he shouldn't take her. The baby grunted softly in his sleep and nuzzled his mother's breast. "Shit," Jack grumbled softly, making his decision. "Listen, Hammond'll probably have my head, but if you want to come with us...." How could he make her understand?
Simza slipped his coat from her shoulders and gently tucking her child inside the large, woolen shawl draping her torso, she crawled to Jack's side and handed him the jacket. "Remercin per toutant."
"What? I don't understand." Clutching the damp coat, he shook his head.
"Remercinant," she said, nodding at the garment.
Jack looked at the coat, at the woman. "I'm sorry, I still don't-"
Her hand on his cheek silenced him. She looked him in the eyes then tentatively leaned closer and briefly forced her chapped lips against his. The movement was rough, but full of gratitude. When Simza pulled back, Jack stared down at the baby snuggled in the warm bundle. The sleeping child formed a bridge between them; a symbol of the best, most noble thing of which man and woman in any universe were capable.
"Toine sonunte tresoni vallilante," she said.
He opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. At the very least, it felt like a good-bye and the thought of her returning to the village was worrisome. What would happen to her? To the boy? Would she be punished because Jack had dragged her along with him? More than anything else at the moment, he wished they could communicate. "I can take you with me. You don't have to go back to them."
Simza gave him a half-hearted smile. "Vallilante," she repeated, and she pressed a calloused, weathered hand over the place where his heart beat.
He laid a hand over hers and squeezed it. "Valley-lantern, huh?" he mumbled, causing her to grin. "Yeah. Okay. Well, valley-lantern to you, too."
Still smiling, Simza pulled free of him and made her way to the edge of the overhang. She stopped just shy of the sheet of rain and glanced back at him, tightening the shawl around her son. "Vontile chezere dieuso," she said then disappeared into the gloom.
Jack stared after her, saying a little prayer for their safety. He hoped the child had the chance to grow up to be a man who, when the rainy seasons came, would care for his aging mother. A man who would smile indulgently as his mother recounted once again, to his own children, the oft-told, oft-embellished tale of the few days spent with a grumpy, old human from a place called Earth.
Jack sighed wearily and glanced over at the woman who, by all rights, should be dead.
* * * * *
Kneeling beside Teal'c, with a large boulder protecting them from view from the village and with the Stargate and the DHD just a few hundred feet behind, Janet felt safer than she had since the ambush nearly two days previous.
"Wait here, Doctor Fraiser."
Before she could respond, Teal'c disappeared. Janet glanced at her colleagues. Like her, they were hidden behind the boulder; they were tired, hungry, and waterlogged, but otherwise fine, relieved to have made the three-mile trek without incident. Surrounded on all sides by well-armed, well-trained SGC personnel, rescue was imminent.
According to Teal'c, in the hours since the rescue squad's arrival, the interest of the natives had slowly dwindled, and more and more of them had returned to their homes in the village. Concerned about alerting the villagers to their escape, the humans had one chance of dialing up the gate, so they were awaiting the Colonel's arrival.
Fat droplets of rain beat a steady, sloppy tempo on the saturated ground. Carefully, Janet placed her palms in the mud and leaned out, peering around the edge of the boulder. Her eyes followed a trail of widely placed boot tracks and she caught a hint of movement in the tree line at ten o'clock. The only other signs of life were a glimpse of Major Castleman lying in the tall grass along the path leading to the village, and the water swiftly filling Teal'c's tracks.
Janet scooted back behind the boulder and sat down in the mud, her shoulder pressed against Martha's. She wiped her filthy hands on her wet BDU's, crossed her arms over her chest and tucked her head down. The minute amount of body heat she tried to retain was swiftly defeated by the cold rain splattering on the back of her neck and running under her sodden shirt.
A bird squawked from somewhere in the trees - the first bird she'd heard since their arrival - and someone sitting close by coughed softly. Her eyes closed, Janet tried to figure out who it was and whether she should be concerned about an alien strain of pneumonia.
What happened next was unclear. One minute, she was beginning to doze despite the rain then there was a single shot which barely pierced her slide into sleep. The next moment, all hell broke loose. Someone screamed for the gate to be dialed and there was a raucous string of gunfire that seemed endless. Janet pushed herself to her knees and saw Castleman making a run for the DHD. Martha grabbed Janet's arm and began tugging her toward the gate, all the while yelling something that couldn't be heard over the sound of MP5's.
"Go! Go! Go!" someone ordered.
Janet turned to see who it was and a Marine covered in mud materialized out of the ground not fifteen feet from where she and the others had been sitting. Taken aback at discovering they'd been that closely guarded without her even knowing it, Janet was only vaguely aware she was still being dragged toward the gate.
When she saw Teal'c and Colonel O'Neill burst from the trees, Janet stopped, pulling her arm free from Martha's powerful grip. Teal'c was running alongside O'Neill who was struggling under the weight of a body slung over his left shoulder. The Colonel stumbled and dropped to his knees. Teal'c stopped and turned toward the trees, firing his staff weapon with one hand and helping the Colonel to his feet with his other.
Even from fifty feet away, Janet could see the strain on O'Neill's features as he forced himself upright and battled his way through ankle-deep mud. A sudden deluge of arrows exploded from the trees and Jack tried to pick up the pace.
A jerk on Janet's arm pulled her from the stupor into which she'd fallen. "Come on, Doc!" Captain Conner yelled in her ear. "We gotta go."
"But-" Janet tried to go to the Colonel to help him, but instead was pulled toward the gate. Finally, she gave up the struggle. Turning, she saw that the wormhole had been established and the first of her people were stepping into it. With Conner behind her, shoving her inexorably forward, Janet sprinted for the gate.
* * * * *
He landed badly. His boots hit the metal ramp, the left harder than the right, throwing off his balance and pitching him to one side. Jack twisted, trying to land on his right side in an effort to protect his injured arm and, more importantly, the woman hanging over his left shoulder. Something low in his back wrenched at the movement then he hit the ramp on his bad hip. Searing pain flared. Groaning, he tightened his grip on Doctor Ireland and wrapped himself around her.
They slid to a stop at the feet of one of the security forces guarding the gate room. The soldier gave Jack a gentle slap on the shoulder before hopping over him, putting himself between Jack and Ireland and anything that might come through the open wormhole.
Panting from the arduous three-mile trek carrying one hundred and thirty pounds of dead weight and from the final, brutal dash for the gate, Jack closed his eyes and let his head drop onto the ramp. Hungry, thirsty and exhausted, his muscles trembled and his lungs ached, but the most noticeable sensation was the lack of thick raindrops pelting his body, numbing his mind and his skin.
He opened his eyes. Janet and one of the medics were leaning over him, the wormhole had closed, and the iris was in place. When had that happened?
"Sir," the medic said, "you can let go now."
Jack looked down at where the man was trying to peel his fingers from their cramped grip on Michelle Ireland's body. He looked at Janet. "I'd never have done that, you know," he told her, referring to their conversation back at the overhang. "I'd never have left her."
Janet reached across him, helping the medic ease Michelle flat on her back. When Jack grabbed Janet's wrist, she finally looked at him and gave him an exhausted smile. "Yes, sir. I know. Now...we need to take care of her. And you. Okay?"
Jack let his head drop back again, sighed, and nodded.
* * * * *
The infirmary was quiet. Janet signed the last of several orders - this one instructing the nursing staff to change the dressing on the Colonel's hip every four hours - and laid down her pen. Standing at the nurses' station, she ran her fingers through her greasy hair and looked down at herself. Beneath her lab coat, she still wore her damp, filthy BDU's and mud-caked boots.
The Colonel was settled in for the night, and everyone else had been treated and released. It was time for her to shower, change, and go home. She was hungry, but was too tired to even think about eating. She just wanted her bed, and she wanted to escape this place and everything it brought to mind.
"Janet, go home."
She glanced at Doctor Warner and nodded. "Yeah. I am. I'm just going to check in on the Colonel before I leave."
"He's fine. He's sleeping."
"I know. I just-" Janet smiled and shrugged, unable and unwilling to explain. She lifted a hand in a half-hearted wave. "Goodnight."
Slipping her arms out of her lab coat, Janet quietly entered the Colonel's room. He was laying on his side with his back to her. In the dim light, she could see the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. She walked to the foot of his bed and pulled his chart, glancing at the nurse's notes more out of habit than out of concern.
His injuries were painful, but minor. She probably would have released him to quarters, but he'd fallen asleep before she'd finished with Michelle. Janet swallowed and felt the burn of unshed tears pressing against the backs of her eyes. She turned to leave.
Janet stopped, lowered her head and mentally steadied herself before turning to face him. "Colonel. I thought you were asleep." She approached the bed as he groaned and gently rolled onto his back then busied herself with smoothing the sheet covering him. A hand sporting an IV grabbed hers, stilling her nervous movements.
"She's dead," he stated.
It felt nice - being held by that strong, capable hand, and Janet allowed herself a moment to enjoy the sensation before reaching out with her free hand and patting his arm. She forced a tight smile. "Yes. She's gone." She wondered if Michelle had sensed this man's strength, his determination to bring her home. "Colonel-"
"I'm not sure when it happened. I stopped a couple of times to check her and she was hanging in there, so it couldn't have been too far from the gate, I think."
Janet frowned. She'd assumed he thought Michelle was still alive when he'd brought her through the wormhole. Why else would he have risked his life carrying her though a firefight?
He pulled his hand free. "No one gets left behind, Doc. Ever."
She sobbed once then pressed her hand to her mouth, forcing back her grief. That could come later. At home. In her bed. In the dark. "I can't believe I thought-" Janet shook her head. "When I saw you with her...."
"You thought I'd killed her so we could leave. Then, when you found out you were wrong, you thought I'd leave her there." He looked her in the eye. "Don't beat yourself up about it, Doc. Actually...it crossed my mind. She was gonna die anyway and we needed to book it out of there."
"What stopped you?"
He snorted softly. "You mean aside from the fact it would have been murder?" He shrugged painfully. "'I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist,'" he recited then smiled at her. "Seems to me she resisted 'til the bitter end, don't you think? Besides, that native gal decided to head back to her people, so we didn't have the kid to worry about."
"But...you'd already sent us on ahead before Simza left. So, you couldn't have known you weren't going to have to worry about her and her baby."
"I'd have figured something out." Jack hesitated slightly then shifted in the bed, looking for comfort. "We all come home," he simply said.
"Dead or alive," she added. "I wonder if she knew. I mean, I hope a little part of her knew we didn't leave her behind. Do you think she did?"
Rolling back onto his side, Jack cradled his injured arm against his chest and blinked up at her. "Go home, Doc. Get some sleep."
She watched his eyes close and knew he was feigning sleep. Unable to help herself, she gave the sheet another tug. Straightening it, she allowed her hand to brush against his. She let it rest there briefly, absorbing his warmth, and hopefully, a little of his determination.
"Goodnight, Colonel," she whispered.
"Remercin per toutant." Thanks for everything.
"Toine sonunte tresoni vallilante." You are very brave.
"Vontile chezere dieuso." Go with God.
"I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist." 2nd Article of the Military Code of Conduct