Chapter 2 To Hell and Back

Sitting at the breakfast bar, Jacob ate with evident pleasure the chicken casserole that had been left in the oven awaiting their arrival. He had tried to ignore the fact that Jack, sitting next to him, had spent the last ten minutes moving potatoes, various vegetables and chunks of chicken around in the bowl in which it had been served without once attempting to taste it.

"Enough with the strategic maneuverings, you're not at the Academy; the food's good," he spoke enthusiastically, "Go ahead, and try it before it gets cold."

He couldn't help but notice Jack's hand still as much as it could given the tremors that afflicted him, but as the fork rattled against the dish, the younger man jerked his hand away as if it had been struck, hiding it below the bar, his thin face darkening with frustration.

"Jack."

Dark empty eyes turned to meet Jacob's own before Jack pushed himself to his feet. "I'm tired."

No other words were spoken. He simply pushed his stool back, rose, turned and went to his allocated room, ignoring the feeling of being watched, no longer able to hide the limp or still the worsening trembling of his body. Nor was he able to slam the door of his bedroom as he desperately longed to do, but rather had to leave it a good two inches partially open.

He knocked, hesitated a fraction, and then pushed open the door realizing there was zero likelihood of receiving an invitation to enter. He walked in, a glass of milk in one hand, his other extended, holding a number of tablets. And seeing the bleak scowl when dark brown eyes fixed on the drink, he explained crisply, "If you don't eat, this is what you get – your choice. Complain to the management if the system sucks."

But there were no complaints, no words spoken at all, and much to the Tok'ra's surprise and relief, the capsules were swallowed and the milk consumed. And yet Jacob couldn't help but have an inkling of discomfort – it was all proving just a little too easy for his liking. A quiet, acquiescent Jack O'Neill was not what he'd been expecting.

'Well,' he thought musingly, 'I'll just have to wait and see what tomorrow holds in store.' And giving Jack a gentle goodnight, he left the room, careful to leave the door as he had found it.

Even in his sleep he knew it was imminent, knew that the slithering beast was coming, knew that the pain would be excruciating. As in previous nights his head tossed against the pillow and the heat of his body increased so that his boxers and T-shirt were soaked in sweat. He murmured unintelligible words while behind his eyelids his eyes moved rapidly. There followed a period in which his body fought this nightly battle as arduously as any fought in reality, culminating in him rearing up and screaming himself awake knowing that in the next seconds he would certainly expel anything which was in his stomach. He felt the burning bile rising to his throat and wrestled madly with the sheets, desperate to be free, to attempt to make it to the bathroom. Sobbing in frustration he knew that he wasn't going to manage, that the ignominy of puking all over himself was yet again his to experience. As his upper body convulsed, Jack was vaguely aware of a cool hand at his back while a bowl was placed in front of his mouth as he heaved his insides out.

He was hazily conscious of gruff words of encouragement as his stomach churned and roiled until there was nothing left and then a cool, damp cloth was passed over his face and he felt himself being lowered back as the weight of exhaustion took over. And when he would have liked nothing more than to sink into a worn-out sleep Jacob was tugging him up, heedless of the trembling of his limbs or the weakly snarled curses Jack threw at him in the vain hope he would be left the hell alone.

Later, lying in clean boxers and t-shirt on fresh bedding, his haunted eyes hidden behind a raised arm, he had sensed Jacob leaving and had muttered dryly, "I thought you didn't do bed baths."

Looking over his shoulder, the Tok'ra had seen the utter vulnerability of the ill man and was relieved his daughter wasn't there to witness it, for it would, he knew, have shattered her.

"I'm always willing to make an exception...get some rest, Jack."

"What time is it?"

"Two hairs past a freckle. Now go back to sleep; don't even think I'm going to let you sleep in."

Too tired to argue, the younger man allowed his weary eyes to close though he knew sleep would not come easily, if at all.

Jacob had to wonder which of the two was more relieved that the ordeal of breakfast was over. Certainly he'd put watching the Colonel play with his oatmeal on a par with watching grass grow, spectacularly dull until, that is, he had indicated his own willingness to spoon feed the invalid. And for just one moment the possibility that the contents might end up round his ears had been keenly felt as he watched the airman's grip on the bowl tighten, but the moment passed, possibly due to the fact that Jacob had promised him an interesting lesson on food etiquette should he be the least bit tempted, and the Tok'ra had been able to relax in his seat, relieved that the tension, for the moment at least, had passed without mishap.

"Get your boots on."

Having just slumped into an easy chair, Jack's enthusiasm to comply with the order was noticeable in the way he simply ignored the Tok'ra as if he hadn't spoken.

Jacob snorted, shaking his head knowingly. "Jack, I've experienced life with two rebellious teenagers - your silent treatment is nothing new."

'Carter, a rebellious teenager?' The thought would have been provokingly entertaining had he not realized he'd allowed his thoughts to wander into prohibited territory, so Jack massaged his protesting knee, the pain quickly erasing any thoughts he might have had of a blonde, blue-eyed female.

A pair of his black, leather boots was dropped heavily at his feet.

"Get them on."

Head bent, his face hidden, still the reluctance dripped from him like the sweat of a fever-ridden illness.

"Don't shoot the messenger, Jack. It's another on Janet's list of things to do - exercise, so that means in my book we go out and explore."

Forcing a stale smile to his stiff lips, the younger man replied dryly, "I appreciate the offer and don't take this the wrong way, Jacob, but I like to do that sort of thing on my own."

"Ah, well..."

Jack knew he was cringing as the sound of Jacob's words grated on his already frayed nerves.

"What?" he demanded testily.

"That was one of Janet's daily no-nos."

And seeing the look, Jacob raised both hands in an all too obvious conciliatory way.

"Like I said before Jack, take it up with management."

The walk was moderate by any standards, the Tok'ra leading his despondent ward with care; insuring nothing too demanding faced the airman. Having crested a gentle rise, Jacob paused to take in the vista of lush valley parted by a winding river which led to far off snow-peaked mountains before them.

He drank from a water bottle and then passed it to Jack who accepted it with a nod of thanks. Feet splayed slightly apart to support his trembling legs the man drank deeply, his chest rising and falling as he worked at taking in the oxygen needed to feed his aching body.

"Not a bad view, eh, Jack? It's Sam's favorite spot; a place that has brought her peace when she's needed it."

Jacob sensed his companion's spine stiffen followed by the curt retort,

"Can the tour spiel, Jacob; save your breath for those who're interested."

Swallowing the invective that sprang to his lips as well as the desire to cuff the obdurate man, Jacob smiled tightly and ignored the bad manners.

"Okay, Jack. Let's get back."

Although the head of SG-1 would have liked to have thought he'd hidden his discomfort over the last haul of the return journey, he knew he'd be fooling no one but himself, but it still irked when Jacob casually ordered him to relax on the sofa while he went to fix lunch.

"Not hungry," he muttered crankily.

Without pausing to take breath, Jacob retorted, "Not interested in that reply, Jack. Just park your butt and I'll have something to tempt your appetite in a flash."

The Tok'ra ignored the muttered curse the same as he ignored the dark scowl a little later when he thrust a tray on Jack's lap containing a bowl of homemade chicken soup and a warm bread roll plus the ubiquitous medication. Returning with another tray, Jacob snagged a comfortable chair and began to consume the food with gusto, trying his hardest to pay no heed to the lack of any movement across from him, but once his food was consumed Jacob resigned himself to having it out with his guest.

Realizing what was coming, Jack decided to beat Jacob to it.

"I'm not eating it."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not."

"Want to bet?"

Resentment burned through the younger man at the smug, patronizing tone of the Tok'ra and everything he detested about the supercilious race rose up relentlessly, a tidal wave that could not be stopped.

The cabin's front door closed with a resounding noise and both men, about to face each other off, turned as one to the sound.

"Kate!" Jacob's whole demeanour transformed as his brown eyes alighted on the slim figure of the woman who now stood before them, her back to the closed door, her green eyes twinkling, and the hint of a smile touching her warm lips. Her hair, a silver grey, was tied in a thick plait which lay over one shoulder.

More sensitive than many, she realised instantly that she had disturbed the two men before her at a vital moment.

Smiling hesitantly, she murmured softly, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything important." Her green eyes moved to Jacob's seeking reassurance.

But before Jacob could reply, Jack had risen, sliding the tray smoothly to the side, and approached the woman, hand extended in greeting almost concealing his infirmity.

"I'm Jack O'Neill, two 'Ls'; pleased to meet you, Kate."

Aware that the atmosphere was crackling with electricity, Kate's eyes flickered again to Jacob before returning to Jack. Her smile widened as she shook his hand firmly, noting the sickly pallor and over-loose clothes on too slim a frame.

"Jack."

The warning was there for the Colonel's ears only and like a defiant teenager knowing he had an escape exit, he chose to ignore it, giving Kate a brilliant smile and continuing, "I was just off to watch the fish swim - please excuse me, ma'am, Jacob."

Once the door had closed behind him, Jacob swore softly and fervently. "Damn the man!"

Slipping off her warm, woollen jacket and hanging it up at the door, Kate now turned and asked, "Is there a problem?"

"That's putting it mildly."

She removed her thick sheepskin boots. Dressed in black trousers and white blouse, Jacob's eyes instantly changed from irritated to interested.

"I wasn't expecting you today."

His dark eyes roamed her face and her swift retort had him instantly backtracking. "I can go if it isn't convenient."

"No, no, no!" And then seeing the mischief in her eyes he shook his head, groaning, "Hey, you. There's only so much aggravation a man can take and one pain-in-the-butt Jack O'Neill fills all the necessary requirements, thank you very much!"

She joined him at the breakfast bar, accepting the steaming cup of coffee he proffered. "Not going according to plan, huh?" she asked sympathetically.

Jacob's eyebrows rose as he snorted, "Where a certain air force colonel with attitude is concerned, there's never a plan. You fly by the seat of your pants and just hope for the best."

Kate smiled understandingly. "Maybe I can help?"

"Hi, Jack."

He'd been deep in thought and hadn't heard her approach, which he found slightly disconcerting. His eyes tracked past her and she was quick to understand.

"Jake's busy. I thought maybe you'd like a drink." And noting his suspicion, she explained, "It's coffee."

Kate didn't miss the spark of surprise in his shadowed eyes, but as he reached out, she took one step back, ensuring the drink was out of reach.

"Ah, ah. There are conditions."

He snorted in undisguised annoyance and made to turn his back on her in typical Jack O'Neill sulk mode.

Not to be outdone, Kate raised her chin and asked innocently, "Did I say this was coffee?" allowing the tempting aroma closer.

It had been months, if you took the time he'd taken the Tok'ra symbiote until now, since he'd last drunk the stuff, so the bait held too great an allure to be ignored no matter how much Jack would have liked to have paid her no heed. Grudgingly unwilling, Jack turned back to face the woman.

"I'm waiting!" he snapped.

"So am I," came Kate's quick-fire reply.

She noted that he had the grace to flush and lower his eyes at her words.

"What conditions, ma'am?" His tone had dropped its mockery and was accordingly respectful.

"This coffee isn't very strong, but from what Jake tells me, it's been a long time since you've had any, so it should still hold a kick - it's made with milk and sweetened with honey."

She watched as he assimilated all the information and noted with satisfaction that he hadn't rejected her offer. Carefully, she held out the offering and Jack took it, the hint of desire touching his eyes. As he raised the mug, Kate held out her other hand palm up, a number of tablets resting there.

A shadow passed over his features and he grimaced. "Should have known - it was too easy," he mumbled grudgingly, but he took the medication, surprised when Kate wrapped a sweater round his shoulders and then turned her back and started to return to the cabin.

"Hey," he called, "aren't you forgetting something?"

"Am I?" she challenged, looking over her shoulder. And then seeing the surprise register in dark brown eyes, she smiled kindly and said, "I don't think so - you look like a man I can trust."

Jack watched her until she disappeared through the cabin's front door. He shook his head.

"Damn!"

He looked distastefully at the pills then dry swallowed them in one go before allowing himself the pure pleasure of drinking the coffee. He closed his eyes as the hot drink warmed both his hands and his insides, savoring the taste. He didn't even stop to think that he was consuming milk - it was good, more than good he admitted and for the first time in a long time, he actually enjoyed what he was consuming.

Jacob was awaiting Kate's return practically grabbing her as she re-entered the cabin's welcoming warmth.

"Well?"

"Well what?"

That same twinkle had the Tok'ra groaning. "Woman, if Jack doesn't finish me, you will." And he pulled her towards him in a warm embrace that held future promises. As her own arms encircled him, she grinned, the years falling from her face making her appear much younger than her fifty-three years.

"He took it?" He sounded surprised. "Did you watch him take his meds?" he asked warily.

Kate's simple negative had him groaning and shaking his head. "Hell, Kate, they'll be at the bottom of the river as we speak!"

"No, they won't."

Her firm conviction had his eyes meeting hers perplexedly. "And how can you be so sure?"

Kate smiled, the color in her cheeks making her appear even more attractive. Jacob's thoughts were warring between his worry for his resentful guest and his growing desire to take this woman to his bed right here and now.

"Because I'm holding him to his honor code."

"You're wha-at?" Jacob couldn't help the grunt of derision that escaped him. He looked totally baffled.

Unperturbed, Kate answered confidently, "Jack knows I trust him - he won't break that trust."

Shaking his head again, Jacob groaned, "This isn't the Academy, Kate." But seeing her conviction, he murmured softly, "I hope you're right, but Jack and meds..." He left the remainder of the sentence unfinished.

Looking somewhat smug, Kate answered, "I am. And you should know better than to doubt me."

His brown eyes flashing, he responded strongly, "Oh, it's not you I'm doubting - but sitting out there is the personification of everything obstinate, ornery, demanding and totally wilful; it's his own way or nothing. I've known damned pre-schoolers with better discipline skills than Jack O'Neill...What?" And seeing the light twinkling in Kate's eyes, he exclaimed indignantly, "You think I'm exaggerating? Hell, Kate, hang around and you'll learn exactly what I'm talking about!"

"I've come to do some cleaning, General Carter, not to stand around and let you bend my ear." And with a saucy twist of her slender body, she escaped Jacob's hold, casting a cheeky grin his way. "You know, there's someone I know, who doesn't take too kindly when things don't go his way either - it seems to me..."

Aghast, Jacob held up both hands as if warding off evil. His voice was full of reproach. "Don't tell me you're comparing us?" he demanded clearly aghast.

"Well you did say Sam had feelings for the man. She loves you, therefore..."

"Argh! Enough! That's more than my stomach can take."

( Chpt. 3 to follow)