Starting Over Part 1

Sitting in Dr. Frasier's office, the two men were deep in conversation, their eyes constantly straying to the curtained-off area just visible through the partly open door.

"Do you intend discussing this turn of events, Daniel Jackson?"

The larger, dark-skinned man with the unusual gold emblem tattooed on his forehead gazed calmly at the younger man whereas Daniel's concerned blue eyes grew wider still.

"What, and ruin a beautiful friendship? … You?"

The warrior did not blink.

"Indeed I do not."

Daniel could sense the hint of censure and raised troubled eyes to the unwavering black gaze.

"Aw, c'mon Teal'c. It was that or Janet wasn't going to let him out of her clutches. You know how much Jack has been looking forward to this break? If he thought he'd have to stay another ten days in this place I think he'd go crazy."

Teal'c was not, however, about to let him off the hook just yet.

"Perhaps you should have put forward the two options to O'Neill and let him decide."

"Let me decide what?"

Daniel jumped out of his chair as if propelled by an external force, opening the door wider to allow the new arrival easier access on his crutches.

"Jack! We didn't see you."

He studied the tall man before him, the gaunt boyish features at odds with his grey hair, his left leg encased in a removable splint. Cool brown eyes, hiding a lot of pain, stared down at him.

"Let me decide what, Daniel?" he repeated sharply.

"Er, Teal'c was wondering whether you'd prefer sitting in the front next to him or being in the back where you could…"

"Front's fine," he interrupted tersely. Already a fine film of perspiration was visible on his pale forehead and he was frowning as if the mere effort to think was causing him discomfort.

"That's a negative, Colonel." A slim, tiny brunette in white coat and navy-court shoes had followed the grey-haired man into the office.

Jack's eyes flashed his annoyance but the diminutive figure ignored the look turning instead to the other two men in the room.

"He needs to be in the back with his leg raised, is that understood Teal'c?"

The large man nodded agreement and the doctor turned to face the colonel. For a moment she saw the pain and despair buried deep within those dark brown depths, but the shutters dropped the instant he felt her studying him.

"Is that understood, Colonel?" she repeated, her tone hardening.

"Loud and clear, Major," he growled.

Choosing to ignore his tone, Dr. Frasier continued, "Teal'c, you have a list of his medication and when he has to take it?" She waited until he nodded. "It's all in the car? Good. Now gentlemen, if you'd allow me a few moments with Colonel O'Neill – perhaps you'd make sure the wheelchair is ready."

The injured man's head shot up in protest. "Aw, c'mon Doc, not the …." His irritated voice died away as the doctor turned to him.

Janet fixed Jack with a glacial glare as Daniel scrambled for the door, eager to escape Jack being read the riot act prior to his release. Teal'c's exit was more dignified and he gave the doctor a gentle nod of acknowledgement as he left.

Knowing how desperate her patient was to escape the medical confines and aware that he couldn't do a thing until she gave him his release papers, she intended to make the most of this moment of supreme power, not out of a sense of being dictatorially power hungry, but out of deep concern for this man who stood stiffly before her, refusing to show any sign of the pain she knew he must be feeling as if it was some sign of weakness which would make her think less of him.

Dark brown eyes scowled down at her, enough to make many a grown man twice her size back down and run in the opposite direction. But Janet Frasier had the measure of this man before her and was not in the least intimidated.

"Okay Colonel, time for our pep talk, I'll cut to the quick. I know you're eager to be away," and now her voice grew distinctly harder, her brown eyes burning into his. "If I learn you've not been following my orders to the letter – if I get just a hint of a deviation from what I've prescribed, you'll find your butt back in this infirmary so fast you'll not know what's hit you … other than half a dozen very large and very painful injections! Do I make myself clear, Colonel?"

Jack rolled his eyes in annoyance but knew he had no choice.

"Colonel?"

'Okay, okay,' he thought grimly, 'your bedside manner stinks.' He sighed loudly.

"Okay Doc, you win."

She threw him an affectionate grin before saying, "I always do, Colonel."

It had been a long drive, just made bearable by the fact that Jack had slept a large part of the way, but the pain had steadily worsened for the last half hour of the journey and yet the stubborn O'Neill streak insisted that he could make it without having to take any meds.

As he shifted in a futile attempt to ease the stabbing thrusts in his knee, Teal'c's calm voice broke through his pain-filled haze.

"We are almost there, O'Neill. I should warn you that…."

"Save it, Teal'c," Jack mumbled whilst attempting to sit up, the movement in his knee shooting bolts of agony up into his hip.

Damn and bloody damn! He gritted his teeth forcing himself to take note of his surroundings and blinked in surprise, the pain receding for a moment, as he realized they were mere minutes from their destination. His own jeep had nowhere near as good an interior suspension, but in this rental SUV he hadn't even realized when they'd moved off road onto the dirt track. Straining his neck he could just make out the roof through the trees – there was smoke coming from the chimney.

He smiled for the first time since the journey began, thinking Daniel must have already got there and made the place welcoming.

"Nice driving, Teal'c."

The Jaffa warrior inclined his head as he regarded his passenger for a moment in the rear view mirror, a shadow of concern touching his black eyes.

"You are in pain." It wasn't a question.

"Nothing that a visit to the cabin can't fix … and maybe a bottle of beer or ten or twenty."

Jack grimaced as he tried shifting his weight on the seat and paled significantly as the nagging, poker-hot thrusts increased substantially.

"Looks like Daniel beat us to it."

He forced himself not to think of his injury especially as the vehicle was just pulling into the open grassed area in front of the large deck which encircled the cabin. For a brief moment he worried about the four steps up to it, but as his eyes rested on the lake with the sun just beginning to set, he gave himself up to the joy of being back in the place he loved the best.

Grimacing at his clumsiness, he struggled to alight from the car without looking a total ass. He had waved Teal'c's helping hand away, determined to regain a semblance of lost independence and he intended to start as he continued. No more Doc Frasier stopping him at every turn, no more nurses who would go running at the drop of a hat to inform on him, no more catheters and no more needles. He sighed happily and straightening up he turned to face the cabin.

He frowned as he spotted the figure at the top of the steps, blinking with the last rays of the setting sun shining blindingly into his eyes. He cursed for not having his sunglasses to hand and had to reach for the security of the vehicle's door as he felt his knee begin to complain. He put his free hand up to his questioning eyes, still wondering who on earth it could be, a tentative smile touching his lips.

"Hello, sir."

He froze as time stood still and a look of blank incomprehension closed down all other features as his mind raced in turmoil to make sense of the hallucination before him. As suddenly as the blood rushed to his head it drained away immediately and he felt Teal'c's presence beside him silently offering his support.

Jack refused it. He wasn't about to show any weakness now, especially not now. Bitterness gave him added strength as he drew himself up and offered a frozen, tight- lipped smile.

"Carter," he acknowledged, forcing himself not to remember all those times he'd called out her name in the dark, all those times when she hadn't been there, all those times he had pictured the sweetness of her smile, longing to be confronted with flesh and blood. And now, what he had longed for confronted him in full colour and life. He gave a short, dry laugh but there was no humour in it.

"Must be getting old….I don't seem to recall inviting you here." He was watching her face intently and felt a surge of what? – pleasure, deep, gut-warming euphoria at the pain he saw cross her face.

He could have stayed like that till hell froze over; revelling in the pure gratification of watching her discomfort, but his moment of triumph was to be short lived as his leg began to protest excruciatingly. He knew it was a matter of seconds before he was lying face down in the grass.

"Hold on to me, O'Neill."

Teal'c's welcoming arm was proffered and, gratefully Jack leaned his weight into it. Limping to the foot of the steps, concentrating on not making a fool of himself, he felt her eyes on him and felt the frustration rage inside him as he felt her pity burning into him.

'Keep your goddamn pity!' His jaw locked in grim determination as slowly, carefully he climbed each step, welcoming the throbbing ache for anything was better than the pain stabbing at his heart, wrenching his very insides apart so that for one horrendous moment he was afraid he would throw up the little lunch Teal'c had insisted he have.

'Get a grip, O'Neill – you can fake this.' With painstaking care he approached, watching her with an expression she could not interpret. Her blue eyes, framed by slightly longer blonde hair, scrutinized him carefully, warily.

'Rightly so,' he thought grimly, recognizing her mood, 'you should bloody well be worried.'

"So?"

The usual echo from his retired 2IC was not there, nor did he expect it to be.

"How are you doing, Sir?" He'd forgotten how soft her voice was, how it made anyone she was addressing think they were the only person in the whole world she cared to be talking to.

"Drop the 'sir,'Carter; you're not in the Air Force now."

He meant it as a criticism and was pleased to see the flash of pain cross her features before being quickly concealed.

'Yes! O'Neill: 2Carter: 0'

"I'm fine," he continued, his voice as neutral as his expression.

Settling himself on one of the enormous cord sofas, he was slightly irritated when Teal'c began to fuss over him, putting his legs up and placing a cushion behind his back.

"Cut it out, I'm fine, as I've just told Carter," he snapped peevishly.

He knew he sounded grizzly, but at this moment didn't give a damn.

"I will bring in the luggage, O'Neill, and leave you and Dr. Carter to talk.'' And turning to Sam, Teal'c bestowed on her one of his rare smiles.

"It is indeed a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Carter." And with a slight bow of his head he went outside.

'Traitor, traitor!' Jack's mind screamed silently. Teal'c belonged to his camp and he allowed no shift in allegiance.

He permitted himself another furtive glance at his former second-in-command, frowning to see her busy in the kitchen. His kitchen.

"What are you doing, Carter?"

"Making you some green tea, si-, Colonel."

'What the hell.' He didn't want any tea and he damn well didn't want green tea and he certainly didn't want Carter in his kitchen making herself at home – making like they were still a team. He grimaced as if in pain and was annoyed to see she'd observed it.

"If you tell me where your painkillers are, I'll get them for you."

Ignoring her, Jack growled, "Where's Daniel?"

Her blue eyes widened considerably – now she was looking distinctly uncomfortable but this time Jack wasn't taking any pleasure in it. He tried standing up but was furious when his knee refused to co-operate. Seeing his struggles Sam came to offer her assistance and he glared up at her ferociously, stopping her in her tracks.

"Teal'c, Teal'c, where the -"

"I am here, O'Neill." The Jaffa's calming voice was in stark contrast to Jack's own.

"Where's Daniel?" he snapped, brown eyes flashing.

"Daniel Jackson is unavailable." He didn't even blink an eyelid as he said it and Jack found his patience, what little there was, disintegrate. He snorted in exasperation, one hand raking through his short, grey hair. "Remain calm, O'Neill. There is no need to distress yourself. Dr. Fraiser expressly forbade you to over excite yourself – it is not conducive to your recovery."

"Maybe if I could get an answer to a simple question, my blood pressure wouldn't be taking a fast ride to the stratosphere!" And suddenly, as his eyes burned scorching into both Teal'c and Sam, ice cold comprehension brought a flicker of dread and, trembling with the force of unspent emotion, he managed to push himself up so that he no longer felt at such a distinct disadvantage.

He turned the full force of his glare on Sam and it did not pass his notice that the knuckles of her hands showed white as she gripped a mug, hesitating to approach any nearer.

"You never showed any interest in coming to the cabin before, so…why now?"

"O'Neill, if you would -."

Jack's eyes never veered from Sam's as he snapped, "I'm talking to Carter, Teal'c, stay out of this!"

She swallowed, heat rising to her once pale cheeks. She could see clearly the pulse in Jack's right temple throbbing – a sure sign of his barely controlled rage, a rage that on a few occasions she'd seen vented, as when he'd smashed General Hammond's car window when they'd thought they had lost Daniel forever, but it had never, ever before been directed at her.

Resisting the compelling urge to turn and run, she faced him, biting at her lower lip.

"I…I hadn't realized you hadn't been put in the picture, Colonel." Damn Daniel. She was definitely going to make him pay for this. 'But you see, sir," and here she paused, realizing her mistake in addressing him this way. She shrugged apologetically. "Old habits die hard," she explained softly.

"Get on with it," he growled.

"SG-3 lost their archaeologist and linguist to mumps and it was imperative they had someone of Daniel's experience to co-ordinate an off-world treaty."

She watched as Jack's shoulders sagged and lowered her eyes, not wishing to witness his keenly felt disappointment.

"That doesn't answer why you are here," he spat.

She winced at the contempt in his voice but raised her eyes in mute appeal to Teal'c who, she realized, was ready to step in to her defence.

"Janet made it clear that she'd only release you from the infirmary into the care of two responsible carers," Sam explained calmly, willing her racing heart to slow down.

'Carter assigned to be my babysitter – no way!'

Seeing the light of battle flare hot in Jack's dark eyes, Teal'c could hold himself back no more.

"That is correct, O'Neill," and, wishing to divert some of the flak his way, continued, "Dr. Fraiser felt one person alone would be at a distinct disadvantage in the face of your wiles to evade carrying out her precise orders."

Sam's eyes widened further than ever and she coughed to smother the nervous laughter that jumped to her throat.

Teal'c's features were impassive as he faced Jack, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this information would further incense the colonel. His dark head tilted to one side as he surveyed Jack, still holding the bags.

"Are you not pleased, O'Neill, that Dr. Carter was able to take the place of Daniel Jackson at this last minute, thereby allowing you to leave the hospital as has been your fervent desire this past seven days?"

Jack closed his eyes, not wishing to listen to the logic. His dismay at being confronted so unexpectedly by the one person he'd forced himself to accept he'd never see again was, in his overly weakened state, simply too much.

He turned towards the stairs, wanting only to escape to the privacy of his own bedroom.

"Er….. Colonel, I was asked to prepare a room for you on this level." Sam indicated the door on his left. Her voice sounded apologetic, as if she was afraid to allude to anything pertaining to his injuries.

For a moment she thought he was going to speak, to argue, but after giving her a hard and threatening look, he moved stiffly to the room, shutting the door firmly against any intrusion.

Teal'c remained still, studying the young woman's sad features.

"It was a long and tiring journey, Dr. Carter and I believe O'Neill's injuries are causing him some discomfort."

Sam smiled tiredly for the first time. "You don't have to make excuses for him to me, Teal'c"

And suddenly, without realizing how, she was in his arms, the huge Jaffa comforting her as hot, stinging tears coursed down her pale cheeks and silent shudders wracked her body. He held her gently until she grew calmer.

"Do not distress yourself, Dr. Carter. Under our expert supervision, O'Neill cannot but make great strides in his return to good health."

"Oh, Teal'c, I hope you're right." But in her heart of hearts she understood that the person in question could barely stand being in the same room with her. How on earth was she going to achieve their objective?

Go to Part 2