14

Starting Over Part 8

The all too familiar sound of beeping encroached on his tired thoughts and he was vaguely aware of mumbling an obscenity at being disturbed, trying to return to the safe cocoon that had somehow enveloped him. He had no intention of leaving his safe haven, especially when he knew that the ice and fire were waiting to clutch him back into their torment.

Dimly aware of a growing pain in his breast bone, he croaked out a stronger expletive and heard a disapproving gasp.

Sharp sounding steps approached him and then a voice, an oh so familiar voice, one to be feared.

"Open your eyes, Colonel. Come on, do this for me and we'll leave you in peace."

Hah! He'd heard that one before. He wasn't going to fall for that ploy.

"Go 'way!"

Hell, that didn't even sound human, just some awful groan from an alien species.

More movement and a cool hand brushing his forehead, the same voice sounding more relaxed.

"Hi there. We were wondering when you'd decide to join us."

His eyelids felt glued together – the effort to open them proving almost impossible to attain as he strained to do what was asked.

More effort. Crap, he felt weak. Then, at last, dim shapes, blurred, unreal. Slowly, when the panic receded that he hadn't become partially blind, he was able to open a little more.

Blinding light! God – he tried jerking away but a firm hand held his chin.

"Turn off!"

He was furious that his speech was too slurred to be understood.

Ah, no. Doc was a master at post-recuperative O'Neill language. Light off. Thank God.

"Sorry, Colonel. I know you hate it. I just needed to make one last check. It's over now. Rest easy."

Tired. So tired. He felt his eyes close of their own accord, too exhausted to even make the obligatory check on his own body to make sure everything was in its right place. He felt himself fading then abruptly yanked himself back as his brain zeroed in on one thought.

His lips moved, no sound. F—ck – he had to know! He could hear monitors beginning to make more strident noises unaware they were picking up on his stress levels. His body jerked as his brain sent insistent orders for him to move his ass.

Hands pressing down on his shoulders and legs. That same voice, concerned. "Easy, Colonel, take it easy. Just relax. There's nothing to get-."

"Jack! Jack, we all got back." Daniel's voice cut though all the other noise, eliciting an instant transformation in the patient.

Just as quickly as it began it ended and Jack quietened and lay still, his eyes closed, his breathing returning to normal.

"You must rest, O'Neill," Teal'c's calm voice cast ripples on his sleep befuddled brain. "Daniel Jackson, Major Carter and I have witnessed the extreme stress you have endured. Now you must allow your body to recover."

Feeling the demands of sleep urging him down into nothingness, he allowed himself the peace of slipping away, a niggle of doubt still hovering yet taking no shape.

As Dr. Fraiser adjusted the meds flowing into his bloodstream, she smiled to the others knowing the battle, though a bloody one, had been won.

"Okay people – you got what you wanted. Now it's my turn. The colonel is going to be asleep for a long time… I want you to do the same. Go. Now. Sleep." And when there was no movement, her tone hardened slightly. "If I have to, I can make that an order."

It was a further forty-eight hours before Jack was able to open his eyes and stay awake for more than a few minutes. Nevertheless, each time, apart from the obligatory nurse, there was always a member of his team at his bedside proffering a spoon of iced slivers or whispering a few words of gentle encouragement as he travelled the difficult road to recovery.

Eventually, he could join in the conversation though Dr. Fraiser watched all of this with the eyes of a predatory hawk, ready to swoop down to shoo visitors away the moment she recognised any signs of weariness. And no matter how much Jack protested, she guarded him like a lioness her cub. Even General Hammond was not immune to her authority as he was evicted from the patient's bedside on a number of occasions.

What was, however, glaringly obvious to Jack in those first 48 hours of waking and sleeping was that his 2IC had never been there. At first he had wanted to ask for her, but his drugged mind had been unable to stay awake long enough to formulate the question and then, when he had been capable of doing so, his stubbornness prevented him from asking.

So when she did make an appearance on his first day of reasonable lucidity his reception of her had been icy cool to say the least. Noting her pale features and the shadows under her eyes, Jack had assumed she was working on something she simply found too compelling to be drawn away from.

Tightening his lips and giving a curt nod as he muttered her name, he told himself he could live with it.

She had drawn up a chair, careful not to get entangled in all the wires and tubes which were still connected to him and which he railed against whenever any medical personnel came within hearing distance.

"How are you doing, sir?"

"Peachy."

He could feel her wide eyes on him but kept his own gaze on his hands which were playing with the edge of the single sheet. There was a long silence.

"I guess you heard that Teal'c and Daniel came looking for us."

He nodded, still not meeting her worried eyes.

From across the room Janet was keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings though not, in this case, to watch over her patient. The petite doctor's lips thinned and her eyes narrowed as she observed the cold shoulder her friend was receiving and when, at last she saw Sam rise from her chair looking shell shocked, it took all of Janet's restraint not to go over and give Colonel O'Neill a piece of her mind.

He was bored and all the staff in the infirmary knew how dangerous a situation that was. Some trod on tiptoes, some refused to deal with the colonel, while others took unexpected leave.

Janet knew the drill and was herself, desperate for an excuse to get rid of one ornery, stubborn, bad-tempered colonel as soon as was humanly possible. Unfortunately, he still wasn't well enough to be released into his own care. However, there was one possibility…

Her eyes lit up at the thought of a reprieve and instantly she was on the phone.

"Yes, yes, yes, no and no," Jack answered glibly, unable to contain his delight at escaping the confines of the infirmary even if it was Dr. Fraiser who was driving him home and who was now ensuring that he understood fully the rules he had to live by in order to get his release.

Waiting at red traffic lights Janet threw him a brief glance, smiling when she saw how bubbly he was.

"I swear if that seat belt wasn't holding you down you'd be bouncing off the ceiling."

"Damned right, Doc – no offence but I couldn't have spent another day in that place."

"Believe me, Colonel – the feeling of my nurses is mutual."

As Jack stepped through the door of his home, for one awful moment he had the gut wrenching feeling that he was going to find Carter waiting for him and he hesitated to the point that Janet put out a steadying arm, concerned that he was experiencing a dizzy spell.

Shaking off the feeling and shrugging off her help, he took in a deep breath, exhaling softly.

He made a beeline for his large, comfortable sofa and against her better judgment, Janet allowed it, watching him sink carefully onto it in obvious relief. She fussed over him for the next few minutes ensuring his medication was close at hand, that he was covered by a throw; the T.V. control was within reach and water the same.

At last, satisfied, she turned back to Jack who was already caught up in a game of ice hockey.

"One of your team should be arriving in the next half hour."

"Sure doc."

"I'll call in on the way home to make sure everything is fine."

"Sure doc."

"You are to take all, and I mean all, of your meds."

"Sure doc."

Janet's eyes narrowed and her lips tightened.

"It might help if you take a running jump off the nearest cliff."

"Sure doc."

Reaching for the control, Janet flicked the T.V. off and met an outraged glare from her patient.

With her arms crossed she struck an imposing figure which wasn't lost on Jack or the less than subtle outraged look she was throwing at him.

"You haven't been listening to a word I've said!" she accused.

He longed to kick up a fuss but couldn't quite manage to forget just who he wanted to argue with – it simply didn't pay to get on the wrong side of the person who wielded those heavy duty needles.

"Aw doc, c'mon," he entreated, giving her the look which had melted many a hardened female's heart but which Janet had slowly learned to grow immune to – well, almost.

"You can switch off the 'little boy lost' routine, Colonel. It won't hack it with me."

Damn! Shoulders slumping, Jack looked forlornly at the T.V. screen but Janet would not be swayed.

"Okay, okay Doc. I'm all ears."

Janet's eyes studied the silver-haired man who had become a good friend over the years. Even so, she hesitated to speak, wondering whether this was a good time or not. She took a deep breath.

"It's been a pretty rough few months for you, Colonel."

Sensing something, Jack's eyes moved away from the blank screen to rest on the doctor.

"Yea, you could say that." He sounded wary.

"It's been a hard time for the rest of SG-1, too."

'If this is going where I think it's going – STOP!' Jack thought grimly. "Doc?" The word was spoken in a cold, flat tone. Definitely warning her off she realized.

"I sort of noticed that you never asked where Sam was when you regained consciousness, not once…I figured-."

"You figured what?"

Janet blinked at the sharp interruption and forced herself to appear calm.

"I figured that was unusual."

Jack had dropped his eyes to stare at something on the floor but now he fixed her with a piercing glare.

"Not unusual, Doctor," he stated coldly, taking on an official tone. "I figured Carter must be busy working on one of her doohickeys – no sweat."

Janet could feel her irritation with Jack warring with her own keen sense of survival but her mind could not, would not tolerate an injustice and she pressed on, knowing she was treading on very thin ice.

Jack's whole demeanour shouted that this was a 'no go' area. Janet had dared to knock on the door and was receiving a slammed door in her face. She hadn't, however, gotten to where she was in the U.S.A.F. by knuckling under when the going got tough. The slammed door tactic wasn't going to work with her.

"She wasn't working on a doohickey…Sir."

The lines of pain around Jack's eyes and mouth tightened and Janet thought she caught a muttered obscenity.

"Whatever – it's her life."

He had picked a pen off the coffee table and began to twist it between his fingers, this way and that, his cold eyes boring imaginary holes in the carpet beneath his feet.

"No, it isn't, Colonel," Janet snapped back, pleased to see a glimmer of surprise in her patient's stiff demeanour. His hands stilled as he looked up.

"It may not be my place and Major Carter may not thank me but I'm going to have my say."

She paused to ensure she had the complete and undivided attention of her patient. If she was going to be up on charges after this little episode she decided she might as well get it right.

"Sir, do you remember anything of your journey back to the gate once Teal'c and Daniel joined up with you?"

She was getting that glare. 'Oh well, in for a penny in for a pound.' "I'll take that as a negative, Colonel."

Janet was pacing now as she got into the flow of her lesson whilst never letting her eyes move from the reclining figure.

"Teal'c carried you back …but the strange thing was, even though you were completely out of it, you wouldn't let go of Sam."

'Hah! Yet another reaction. Good!' Janet continued, "The moment you two separated, you would kick up an almighty fuss. And it didn't end there." Janet's eyes bored into the colonel and she was pleased to sense his disquiet.

"When you got to me, sir, you had a raging fever and started convulsing. We played a – not to be repeated, please – game of iced tub to I.V., backwards and forwards and though I would previously have sworn you couldn't possibly have been aware of anything in this period, you would only allow yourself to settle and allow my staff to do their jobs if Sam was with you. In fact, she became your nurse in the end."

Janet hadn't failed to see Jack squirming in discomfort, a deep blush travelling up his neck and face.

"No need to make a song and dance of it," he growled softly.

Janet froze, giving him a blistering glare.

"Colonel O'Neill," she snapped in outrage.

He cringed big time.

"Sam never left your side for the first 72 hours, even when she was dead on her feet; even when she collapsed from exhaustion; even when I ordered her to rest."

Jack's deep brown eyes seemed to grow more alarmed with every new clause reeled off by the CMO.

"It took the august presence and command of General Hammond before she would stand down, and even then the general had to make it a direct order!"

Jack could see Janet frowning, her eyes looking to the distance as she relived the memory.

"We weren't sure who to worry about most – you or Sam. And she even tried sneaking back!" Janet was now shaking her head in amazement. "Can you imagine?"

Jack couldn't. Not Carter. She'd never disobeyed an order in her life. He actually started to worry.

"You should be worried, Colonel."

Jack's eyes shot back to Janet's. Was he so easy to read? He was aghast.

"The general caught her trying to sneak back and read her the riot act."

Jack's grimace was most positively sympathetic – he could almost remember word for word the reaming he'd recently got, which reminded him – he'd still some unfinished business in No. 1 uniform with the general. Crap.

Janet continued watching Jack's response carefully.

"Though, the general did accept there were some mitigating circumstances that leant him towards a more lenient approach."

'Ah,' thought Jack, 'taking care of her CO must be worth a few kudos.' He fully approved the general's stance.

"The general felt that a certain negative influence by an undisciplined individual he chose not to name, could have led to Major Carter's temporary insubordination."

"Wha—at?"

Jack was sitting up now, the colour leaving his face as suddenly as it had appeared.

"So you see, Colonel, there was a very good reason why, when you surfaced from your illness, Sam wasn't around for quite some time."

She was glad to see that Jack was looking decidedly ill at ease with the information she had just made available.

"I hope," she said slyly, "you were suitably appreciative when Sam did manage to get permission to see you."

Jack's eyes widened in alarm as he painfully recalled just how 'appreciative' he had been.

He groaned miserably, his head dropping into his hands, his shoulders slumped in abject dejection.

'Crap, crap, crap!'

When he eventually raised his head he looked bereft.

"Colonel?"

What Jack wanted to do was to dig a hole and stick his head in it.

"Is your wound giving you pain?"

Jack shook his head.

"I...I…" 'Oh shit, oh deep shit.'

Janet's eyes glowed triumphantly – this was going better than she had ever anticipated.

She started to gather her things together.

"Doc?"

She paused, hearing the uncertainty and hesitation in his voice.

"I need to talk to Carter."

She stared at him, revealing nothing in her features. He looked uncomfortable.

"I…I kinda need to say a few things."

"Heard of a phone, Colonel?" She knew she was pushing it, but if Sam's recent expression was anything to go by – he deserved it.

He grimaced. "What I have to say needs face to face." He was actually blushing now.

"Please Doc. Either I'll go to her or-."

"Out of the question, Colonel. By rights you should still be in hospital," she shot at him sternly. She watched him exhale, pain and worry warring with each other and for a moment she questioned whether she had done the right thing in allowing him to escape the confines of the infirmary so soon.

"Bed, Colonel."

His head shot up, pleading. "Aw, c'mon, Doc – the match."

"You'll be asleep in ten minutes, less, once your head hits that pillow."

He would dearly have liked to argue but she was giving him that look which he was all too familiar with, the one he knew was a complete waste of his breath to even attempt disagreement.

His eyes shot to the ceiling in disgust but he knew it would make no difference.

Later, relaxing in his large bed waiting for the arrival of Daniel, he felt his eyes growing heavy even as he struggled to stay awake. He wanted to ask his archaeologist friend a favour and needed to ensure Daniel would be receptive to his request before voicing it.

He had to see Carter, without delay, even if it meant driving, or rather being driven, to his 2IC's home. There were some things that needed saying and he had a lot of explaining – no, make that apologizing, grovelling or whatever it took to ensure she stayed with SG-1.

Damn, he'd made a mess of this, but he was determined to put things right. Hell, he'd live without the more important things in his life – having her love – as long as she stayed.

But that wasn't going to be easy – not after what he'd said to her when she'd visited him in the infirmary.

He groaned softly as he recalled every painful memory; his coldness when she had eventually shown herself, his words making him wince.

'I know you must have some of those important doohickeys waiting back at your lab, Carter, no need to hang around here.'

He could still picture her surprise, the tight lines of pain appearing round her eyes and mouth when he'd said this quickly followed by the coup de grace.

'I'll have a word with Colonel Millar as soon as they let me out of here – seems he's in need of a scientist for his team. Can't promise anything, mind you.'

He squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head from side to side.

'Shit, shit, shit. Way to go, O'Neill!'

He had to see her, he just had to. He couldn't bear the thought of her misery that he was going to have her transferred from SG-1. What the hell had he been thinking of anyway? Suppressed memories of their night together rose unbidden as he lay awake, her smooth, soft skin, the light of desire in her brilliantly blue eyes, the gentle contours of hip and breast and the tantalizing dip to hidden secrets which had raised his own body to a raging awareness which, even now, as sick as he was, was having a very strong and obvious effect on him.

Again he groaned and would have turned on his front but for his more than painful wounds.

He started as he felt the cool hand on his flushed forehead, his dark eyes shooting open, undecided as to whether he was aghast or relieved to be facing a cool pair of intense blue eyes.

"Carter?" Was it a hallucination?

"You're starting a fever. I'd better call Janet."

"No!"

He could see her hands reaching for the single bed sheet to pull it down.

"I'll just have a look at your wound, sir, just to-."

"No!"

She stiffened for a second, her own eyes darkening.

God, he was causing that pain. Crap!

"I….I'm fine, Carter," he croaked weakly.

He could see her indecision – go or stay, stay or go. She glanced at her watch.

Was she going to leave him? He'd barely been able to take in her presence. His eyes roved hungrily over her face, the blood in his body seeming to have no intention of receding in the imminent future. He willed his hands to make no effort to hide his discomfort – he could not, would not, show himself up to be a hormonal juvenile unable to control himself.

He knew he was grimacing and saw the resolve in her flashing eyes.

"I'll change your dressing and it'll save Janet a chore."

"No!"

Oh hell, she would think he was just being difficult.

That was all he needed to make his ignominy complete. His hands had a death grip on the sheet held to his chin.

"Look sir," her voice had grown chilly. "I'm sorry if this is difficult for you. I really just wanted to-."

"It…It…It's not difficult," he stammered thus belying the fact. "I….I'm fine, really."

And seeing her giving him a sceptical look.

"Really!"

He suffered her reaching to feel his forehead again and was pleased to see a spark of relief in her eyes.

"Um, you do feel less hot."

Jack literally willed himself to think of an ice cold shower and slowly, very, very slowly, began to feel the benefit of such chilling thoughts on his body. He sighed silently.

"Feeling better, sir?"

His eyes shot open.

"Yea, yea, thanks."

He blinked, feeling her eyes still on him.

"Janet told me you wanted to speak to me?"

In the pause that followed, Jack could feel her look intensify – he looked away. His hands began to play with the edge of the sheet. He couldn't afford to make a mess of this.

'Get on with it,' he chided himself. 'She won't stay here forever.'

"Sit down." It sounded too much like an order. "Please!"

Her eyes widened. They'd started to take on that wary look again, the one he really didn't like.

"Look, Carter," he began briskly, "I know I've been a bit difficult-."

"A bit?" She exclaimed in exasperation.

His eyes met hers, his initial outrage changing to definite discomfort as his gaze dropped away.

"Okay," he mumbled self-consciously, "maybe more than a bit," he admitted grudgingly. "The thing is, I don't think something as inconsequential as that should have such an effect as to make you want to go running off to another team."

"Excuse me, sir!"

Damn, she not only sounded pissed, she looked highly pissed too! She had leaped to her feet and looked ready to fly.

"I haven't finished!"

Her blue eyes had taken on a stormy glare and Jack was beginning to wonder if he should have dealt with this in a different way.

"Carter, what I'm trying to say is – you're not going on another SG team."

He wasn't sure, as his eyes followed her carefully, what reception he had expected from her, but the outright anger, NO, make that fury, blazing out of her hadn't quite been on his list.

She was striding to his bedroom door, her erect back an all too obvious indication of her emotional state.

Castigating herself for even thinking she could expect Jack O'Neill to treat her fairly, she barely heard his calling of her name as she stomped down the stairs and was, even now, reaching for the outside door handle when she heard the ominous thump from above. Hesitating, even in her angry turmoil, she resolved not to return. She knew the sort of tactics he would stoop to and she wasn't falling for any of them.

The door was open now.

'Bastard!' she thought grimly – he'd called her to tell her she was no longer part of the SGC. Well, she wasn't going to go without a fight. No way. She would-.

"Sam, I'm sorry!"

She froze, totally unprepared. Slowly she turned, alarmed to find him swaying dangerously at the top of the stairs, a trickle of blood travelling from his left eyebrow down his pale cheek.

"Ja—ck!"

She knew she had never moved so fast in her life – not even when chased by a horde of Jaffa warriors intent on her blood.

Go to Part 9