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Irrevocable Decision Part 3

The snow had started to fall again, the sky a heavy white blanket in the darkness. Hunching his shoulders and pulling his Air Force issue cap low, Jack cut out across the grassy area down to the lake, stomp onto the small dock. It was already bitterly cold and he stamped his feet wishing he'd taken the time to put on his thicker boots.

Nothing stirred on the still black water and after a few minutes he turned away unsure exactly what to do. In no mood to face Jacob just yet, he decided to follow the path he'd recently made through the woods. He briefly considered returning to the cabin for his torch but decided against it – he didn't intend leaving the path, nor would he be long – his leather jacket only provided so much protection and he wasn't wearing thermals.

He strode out, his anger producing an excess of energy which drove him further afield than he'd intended, but even in the biting cold the light thrown out by falling snow had turned his surrounding world into a magical land of serenity, the trees decorated in a soft down of pure white. Already there was enough covering on the ground to mask any sounds his feet may have made whilst the snow, which still fell, was made up of iridescent snowflakes, fairy lights falling from the white sky.

Eventually Jack felt the racing of his heart begin to steady as his surroundings elicited a calming response and he found himself slowing his pace. Then suddenly, before he knew what had happened, the largest stag he had ever seen was facing him, nostrils flared, its bright eyes shining fearlessly. It was a statue of ice, the whiteness of its coat almost blinding and Jack froze in astonishment and wonder, unable to believe that the huge beast hadn't leapt away at his presence. And what Jack had originally taken for snow, he realized was in fact a pure white coat whilst in contrast, its black antlers reached up to a terrific height.

Hardly daring to breath, Jack faced the beast, taking in its graceful symmetry, its sleek albino coat and its magnificent body. He'd seen plenty of game in his time but nothing to equal the majesty of the beast which stood transfixed before him.

He blinked and in that instant it bounded away to his left, through the dense growth as if a wraith and only the indentations of its cleft feet gave evidence of its existence, otherwise Jack wondered if he would have questioned what his own eyes had seen.

Pushing open the cabin door, his senses were assailed by the inviting aroma of cooking food. Kicking off his shoes he padded into the kitchen to find Jacob standing over the stove stirring something which was bubbling away.

"Didn't think you'd mind me putting my hand to a little culinary treat – spaghetti bolognaise; it used to be one of Sam's favourites."

A mutinous expression settled on Jack's face.

A green salad had already been put in a bowl and as Jack scowled at the domestic scene before him, Jacob proceeded to strain the pasta and serve it into two smaller bowls.

"Go wash up then come and eat."

He couldn't believe what he was hearing and seeing and he span back round to face Jacob, his dark brown eyes flashing irately.

"What the hell are you doing?" he snapped.

"I think that's pretty obvious," and, not in the least intimidated by Jack's belligerence, asked evenly, "By the way, where are the napkins?"

"Jacob!" Jack's voice held a tense note of warning as he growled the name out; Jacob blinked.

"Sam was right, you know – you are a mule headed son of a bitch. Now go wash and then we'll eat," and seeing the O'Neill look added, "That's an order."

"I don't take orders anymore or have you forgotten?"

Jacob smiled chillingly piercing Jack with a menacing glare.

"Yes, you do Jack," he uttered softly. "You see, I still have this general's mentality and whether you like it or not – you're still a snot-nosed colonel and in my book that means you do as I say."

For a second Jack wondered whether this was the time to call Jacob out, demand to know what the hell was going on, but in truth he was too tired, cold and hungry and the food did look appealing. He decided, against his better judgment, to put his questions on hold whilst he catered to other bodily needs.

"So tell me Jack, how do you keep sane?"

"Excuse me?" The glass of wine held to his lips was replaced on the table as Jack gave his guest a hard stare.

Waving his hand around him, Jacob smiled - much too sweetly, his host thought gloomily.

"You know, all this. And then compare it to the SGC?"

Jack adopted the blank, incomprehensible look he liked to use when he wished to give the impression he was a little dense.

Jacob merely gave him a dry look of reproof as if to say, 'Don't waste it on me, Jack. I don't buy it.'

Scowling deeply, Jack finished off his wine aware when it was refilled yet uncaring.

"It's a nice place you ran to though."

Brown eyes flashed dangerously knowing all too well what Jacob was saying. Jack remained silent.

"Aren't you just a little intrigued to know what's been going on, what's going on now?"

Scraping back his chair just a little too quickly, Jack took his dish into the kitchen area placing it in the dishwasher. He took his time, needing the respite from Jacob's none too subtle inquisition. He put the percolator on and finding no other reason to stay away, returned to the dining table to find Jacob holding out his own empty dish. Jack looked at it witheringly and Jacob sighed.

"I am the guest here."

Snatching it out of his hand, the younger man returned to the dishwasher practically throwing the unoffending item in with bad grace.

He stomped back to his place grabbing his wine and downing it in a fit of pique then played with the glass somehow managing not to break it.

"Sam seems to think you've got some demons inside you which need exorcising."

Jack kept his eyes glued to the glass, his face apparently carved from stone.

Jacob snorted incredulously. "Told her George had molly coddled you too much and all you needed was your butt kicking hard to exorcise whatever it was eating away at you!"

Eyes glowing with resentment, Jack shot the Tokra a venomous look. "Is that what you're here for?"

Jacob didn't trouble to answer as he drank the wine, his grey head tilting a little to the side, a trace of cynical amusement tugging at one corner of his mouth.

Unable to hold Jacob's gaze for long, Jack dropped his own eyes, reaching for the bottle to refill his glass. He began to cough and felt the colour rising in his face as he felt Jacob's observant eyes on him. Once the coughing spasm had subsided, Jacob spoke again.

"You taking anything for that?"

Jack threw him a scornful look saying dryly, "Didn't know you cared." He thought he saw a glint of anger flash across Jacob's blue eyes but if it had been there it was instantly masked as the older man grinned at him.

"Beats me how Sam managed to work with you all those years without taking a swing at you." He said this amiably, with no hint of malice, but Jack was instantly on alert.

"Oh, she had her moments," Jack responded cryptically, returning Jacob's grin but devoid of any warmth. "So…how are they?" he continued casually, succeeding, he believed, in making Jacob think it wasn't the one question he had longed to ask from the moment his visitor had darkened his doorstep. He deliberately kept his eyes lowered, unwilling to meet Jacob's intense scrutiny.

"Not bad, considering their CO turned tail leaving them high and dry."

Jack willed himself to be still though he was unable to prevent the hot flush rising within him.

"You know Jack, I've called you many names but I never figured you were spineless."

The blood pounded in his brain yet still Jack cautioned himself to remain calm,

"Think what the hell you like, Jacob – it's your prerogative."

He grimaced realizing the Tokra had failed to provide answers to what he craved nevertheless he was reluctant to ask again. But as if knowing what was in Jack's head, Jacob continued, "Teal'c is Teal'c, always the same but, if I were to ask him he wouldn't be afraid to admit he missed you."

Jack felt the intended dig but revealed nothing.

"Daniel being Daniel threw tantrums left, right and centre then simply turned sad…He likes to think he's gotten over you running out, but he hasn't. Betrayal is a hard thing to-."

"Betrayal!" Jack's indignation was palpable as his dark eyes, high precision drills, bored into Jacob. "I retired, for crying out loud! Admittedly it was quick, but I. DID. NOT. BETRAY. HIM!"

Seemingly oblivious to Jack's fury, Jacob merely shrugged. "Try telling that to Daniel…Oh, I forgot. Silly me. You haven't spoken to any of your team since you returned from PX238," the Tokra muttered dryly.

Rigid with anger, Jack struggled for self control, his face devoid of colour.

"I think I'm ready for that coffee that's been bubbling away," Jacob uttered softly, moving to the breakfast bar. He appeared to know where the mugs were kept and took two down pouring the strong, black liquid into each. "Any honey?"

Silently Jack produced a jar from an overhead cupboard banging it down on the counter and watching as Jacob poured a good spoonful into one of the mugs.

"Milk?"

Jack shook his head and as Jacob slid over a mug, he shook his head indicating the other one.

"That's yours."

"No, it isn't."

Irritation flared. "That's the one with the honey," he snapped indicating the mug Jacob was pushing his way.

"I know."

Jack blinked. "I don't take honey." His tone had taken on a hard edge as he struggled to remain polite.

"You do now." And raising the unsweetened mug in a toast, Jacob proceeded to drink the coffee.

Mulishly Jack pushed the proffered mug back to the Tokra. "I don't want honey."

"You may not want it Jack," Jacob insisted softly, "but you will drink it." And he pushed the mug back again.

"Don't think so," he persisted.

The mug came back.

"Stop being such a damned pain in the ass, Jack."

"If you'll stop playing the goddamn mother hen!" was the sharp retort.

"Don't you want to hear about Sam?" And knowing he had the upper hand, Jacob continued, "Drink, indulge an older man."

Far from pleased at how this situation had evolved, Jack knew he was being held over a barrel – if he wanted more on his team he was going to have to grovel for it. Grudgingly he swallowed the hot liquid, trying hard to ignore the patronizing look Jacob was throwing his way.

"Ferretti was offered SG-1 – turned it down. Was unwilling to leave his own team and told George there was only one man suitable for the post."

Jack nursed his mug, his head hung low, his face hidden.

"Hate to admit it but I agree with him," Jacob continued, "but Stone was put up for it and accepted." Jacob watched Jack keenly but apart from a stiffening of his shoulders there was nothing. "The others put up with him and get on with it as best they can, but when you take the fighting spirit out of a team there's not a lot can be done."

The Tokra had hoped to get a response at this and wasn't disappointed when Jack's head jerked up.

"What the f-ck! Teal'c's got more fighting spirit than ten of me, so don't give me that crap!"

Jacob eyed the younger man through narrowed eyes. "He's your man Jack, always was, always will be. When you left he requested to return to Chulak, but George persuaded him to delay the move for a little while . . . Daniel spends more time going off-world with other teams too. That cohesion you all forged disintegrated when you decided to take your ball away and sulk on your own."

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Jack raked a hand through his grey hair. "Ever tried the objective approach, Jacob?"

The Tokra's eyes flashed dangerously. "This is the objective approach," he snapped, allowing O'Neill to see a little of what he was really feeling. "If I took the subjective way, I'd be dragging you outside by the scruff of your scrawny neck and beating the shit out of your worthless hide until you came to your senses!"

'Jacob!' Selmac's warning voice echoed loudly in the Tokra's head. 'We agreed to take the restrained approach, did we not?'

'You did,' snapped Jacob silently answering his symbiote sharply.

'Did we not feel that an all out attack would merely serve to raise O'Neill's defences to such an extent that-.'

'Yes, yea. He's a stubborn son of a bitch, you've no need to remind me!'

'Then I suggest you desist from provoking the colonel any further.'

Turning his full attention back to the fiery ex head of SG-1, Jacob took a deep breath, counting to ten and back.

"Selmac tells me I'm being too hard on you."

"I don't need a snake looking out for me!"

"The trouble is, you can't cope with anyone looking out for you!" he challenged tersely.

"So you've moved into psycho-analysis now," Jack returned snidely.

Jacob grinned maliciously. "Just adolescent brats." Then glancing at his watch his eyes widened in surprise. "Look at the time. I need to get my head down soon…Now, where was I? Oh yea, ...Sam."

He paused for effect, wanting the younger man to dangle painfully like a worm on the end of a fishing line, but Jack remained outwardly impervious to Jacob's determined mental prodding. Only the tightening of his lips and the narrowing of his guarded eyes gave any indication of underlying emotional turmoil to anyone astute enough to see.

'Yea, Sam…Well, you tell me how 'you' think she's doing."

The unexpected request threw Jack slightly and he started.

"She's one of the finest officers I've ever worked with – she'll cope with whatever's thrown at her."

Jacob raised his mug as if in a toast, downing the last of its contents. "In a nutshell – she's coping. Fraiser says that given time, she'll be as good as new."

Jack's tired head shot up, eyes apprehensive. "Fraiser?" The hesitation and dread were there to see and hear.

For a moment Jacob was lost in his own thoughts then observing Jack, he continued grimly, "The last mission didn't go down too well – they gated straight into some internal friction. Before they could gate out she'd taken a hit."

Shit! "How is she?"

"Why don't you ask her? It appears that in her delirium she was asking for you."

(Go to Part 4)

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