This story is dedicated to Nell for all her wisdom and skills as a beta specialist and for her tireless enthusiasm which keeps me going.
To Hell and Back
He tried hiding the limp and was successful to a point, but the tremors in his hands were a different matter, and as he hurriedly signed his name in the 'OUT' book, he knew the officer on duty had noticed. Keeping his eyes lowered, he didn't bother nodding as he turned away.
'Just get past the door,' he told himself, his whole attention on escape, all too aware of the questioning eyes on his stiff back and even stiffer leg.
The relief was palpable as he stepped out into the morning light, blinking at the brightness and automatically reaching for the shades in his shirt pocket. For a moment he paused, taking in the greens, reds, and oranges of the trees and the intense blue of the sky. A crisp autumn day, one that in the past would have had him itching to go fishing, but which now left him feeling…nothing.
He frowned, and then turned left to the parking lot.
'Where the hell is my truck?'
He scratched his head doing a full 360 degree turn. It had been a long time since he'd last parked it and his mind struggled to recall that last occasion when the leaves were still growing, so many days, weeks and months ago.
His eyes alighted on the familiar dark green 4x4 and he couldn't help the small sigh of relief even as it irritated the hell out of him to think his anxiety had been raised at the mere thought of not knowing where to look.
Fingering the keys in his trouser pocket, his grey head was lowered as he approached the driver's side, unprepared for the sight of the large man sitting in the driver's seat of his car, smiling at him through the lowered window, yet still appearing smug.
Jack's frown returned.
"Jacob?" His voice was questioning yet lacking the inflection that made people sit up and pay close attention to anything Colonel Jack O'Neill of the U.S.A.F. had to say.
For an unstoppable moment, memories piercingly painful kicked him low in the gut and he had to force himself not to twist away and search for a place to hide.
His mouth tightened and he willed himself to remain still, refused to tremble.
"You're in my truck."
"Glad to see your faculties are still so highly honed." The sarcasm was the light, friendly banter he had been used to, but that was before…. He blinked, his cold eyes hidden behind the dark plastic and made much of checking his watch.
"Look, if this is just a social chat, then-."
"Not social," Jacob interrupted, making no attempt to hide his careful observation of the other man.
The short, dishevelled hair was the same he noted, sprouting up at all angles, defying the skills of the most talented barber to tame it, though there were more silver highlights running through it now. The eyes were obscured, but the human Tok'ra did not miss the change in Jack's voice, the loss of the rich tones. Gone too was the cocky arrogance of a man sure of himself and what he was doing.
"Sam mentioned that she and the rest of the team have been seconded to cover SG-2's work as they've all come down with a form of measles."
Jacob didn't fail to see the sharp reflexive jerk of Jack's shoulders.
"And is there anything else Carter told you that I should know about?" he demanded cuttingly.
A faint curve of the older man's lips showed he had taken no umbrage from Jack's tone as he continued softly, "Your games are wasted on me, Jack. Just get your butt in the truck before you fall down and embarrass yourself."
The colonel glowered hard. "That was my intention – the only thing is you're in my seat."
Seemingly oblivious to the resentment emanating from the six foot two man, Jacob started up the engine, and then placed both hands on the steering wheel.
"There's not a hope in hell of you driving Jack, so do yourself a favor, cut the pissy act and get in the damn truck."
He did it, but every movement conveyed his reluctance. However, it was water off a duck's back with Jacob Carter as he put the truck in gear and drove towards the last security gate.
The two armed guards on duty did not automatically raise the barrier as was their usual custom once they'd recognized the occupants and the vehicle was required to stop as each airman approached the two sides.
Lowering his window, Jacob passed over a sheet of paper which the SF officer studied carefully whereupon he gave a sharp salute, nodded to his colleague and the obstruction was raised.
Throwing a disgruntled look at the driver, Jack asked, "What was that all about?"
The Tok'ra glanced over before returning to watch the road he was traversing. "Just Doc Fraiser making sure all is well with her favorite colonel."
And suddenly Jack knew that all his scheming and planning to escape the infirmary's confines had been for nothing. The Napoleonic head of the SGC had known his plans probably before he'd even thought of them, what about putting them into action and he snorted, his irritation growing by the second. His hands, which had been fiddling with the strap of his seatbelt, clenched into painfully tight fists.
A quick glance from the corner of his eye and Jacob's voice softened. "You need to relax, Jack; we've got a long journey ahead of us. Try to get some sleep."
"What journey?" The question was shot at him like a deadly bullet.
Jacob could already feel the resistance as well as hear it.
"You're not the only one with a cabin – we're going to my place."
"Not a chance!" Sitting up stiffly, Jack now glared heatedly at the driver.
Keeping his eyes on the twisting road down the mountain, Jacob's dry voice cut through the chill air, appearing to take a quiet satisfaction in delivering his next words. "Unless you want me to turn around and hand you over to Janet's tender loving nurses for the coming days, you're stuck with me."
And risking another glance, he noted the slump to his passenger's shoulders, followed by the sullen words, "I want to go home."
"Your decision, Jack, but it's either my place or your own special bed in the infirmary." And seeing the mutinous set to the younger man's features he quipped, "Just don't expect me to give you a bed bath!"
That little wisecrack appeared to do the trick as Jack's shoulders slumped dejectedly as he mumbled, "I'll need some clothes."
"All taken care of." Jacob could feel the cold questioning eyes on him again and explained, "Sam used the spare key and went and chose a few things. They're in the back."
Jacob knew full well that information had not gone down well, could feel the colonel's displeasure. Jack knew it would be futile to protest, yet he made it anyway.
"She may be your daughter," he growled, "but Carter had no damned right to-."
Jacob was nodding his head in a placating manner. "I know, I know Jack, but Sam simply wanted to make things a little smoother for you."
The snort of derision from his passenger conveyed everything and more and Jacob smothered his sigh, keeping his silence, knowing that any effort to mollify Jack would be shot down in flames. He concentrated on the journey ahead.
In due course, the car's rhythm lulled Jack into an exhausted sleep and only when Jacob pulled into a diner's lot four hours later did the lanky colonel raise himself out of his stupor.
Taking a seat opposite the Tok'ra, Jack studied his hands, unaware he was doing so until he was startled by the arrival of the waitress. He looked up almost guiltily, even more surprised to find a glass of milk and a chicken sandwich before him. He stared at the food before him solemnly.
"I didn't order this."
Chewing with gusto on his own steak sandwich, Jacob nodded agreeably. "Doc Fraiser was pretty explicit on your dietary requirements." And seeing the look on Jack's face, continued, "And she was pretty explicit on what would happen to me if I failed to ensure you ate sensibly."
Jack stared at the drink. "I hate milk."
"She said you'd say that and asked me to put forward one other alternative – intravenous."
Even though Jack's dark eyes lay like extinguished lights in their deep sockets, Jacob still saw the flicker of irritation mixed with something else he couldn't ascertain. He reached for his coffee and noting the barely perceptible change in his companion's expression, paused with the cup to his lips.
"This stuff was almost as high on her list of banned substances as alcohol. Don't even think about it." And reaching over, he pushed the cool glass nearer to Jack. "Drink!"
The younger man's natural inclination to dig his heels in warred and faltered against Jacob's determination and with weary resignation Jack lifted the glass to his lips. The sandwich followed though neither was finished. Despite this, the Tok'ra seemed perfectly pleased with the outcome and said no more.
If he was surprised by the location of the cabin, Jack didn't show it though his eyes were drawn to the fast moving river that flowed swiftly a mere hundred yards from the wooden deck. It was an imposing building which held its own against the natural might of nature, the two standing side by side, worthy opponents.
Seeing the direction of Jack's gaze, Jacob paused as he took two duffels from the backseat, and nodded at the river. "She's not to be treated lightly is that one, Jack."
The younger man turned away making no comment, limping up the steps following Jacob into the warmth offered by the blazing fire which crackled welcomingly in the huge, stone-bricked hearth.
"Ah, thank God for Kate – she's never let me down yet." And the older man's satisfied words matched the expression on his face. "There's nothing like a log fire to take the chill out of the day. I remember when…." Fond memories faded as Jacob noted the stony features on his 'guest's' face. "You'll want to freshen up. Your room's just across the way. Here we are."
He pushed open the door, allowing Jack to enter ahead of him.
Noting the large bed and solid furniture, Jack's attention moved to the view through the patio doors. The wide expanse of timberland continued as far as the horizon and for once Jack felt the weight inside him lift just a little as he approached and opened the doors wide.
Jacob watched him, aware that even though it was getting chilly, this man had a need to feel he was not enclosed by any barriers and if an open glass door was what it took to make O'Neill feel a little less like a prisoner here, then so be it. Placing a bag on the chest at the foot of the bed, Jacob said, "Hope Sam got what you need – I know your Dopp kit is in there. I'll leave you to unpack while I go see what Kate has rustled up for our dinner
There was no acknowledgement from Jack, who continued to stare at the view, and after a few seconds Jacob withdrew, closing the door behind him. As he moved to the open plan kitchen separated from the rest of the room by a breakfast bar, he heard the door of Jack's bedroom open and glancing over his shoulder saw that it was now slightly ajar.
'Damn it all!' he muttered softly under his breath with such vehemence that instantly his eyes glowed brilliantly and deep within Jacob heard the voice of his symbiote, Selmak.
'This is not an easy journey O'Neill must undertake.'
'Hell, Selmak, Jack O'Neill is the most private person I know, and now he can't even…' His inner voice faded away as he shook his head unhappily.
'There will be many manifestations of character at odds with the O'Neill you know and there will be extremes in his behavior that must be borne before he can attain the equilibrium which allows him to be who he is. It will not be painless.'
As the golden light in his eyes faded, Jacob implored the God he still believed in to give him the strength and patience he would surely need to face the hurdles that he knew all too well would have to be faced in helping Jack O'Neill in his recovery.
(Chpt. 2 to follow)