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Fanfiction: Finding Solid Ground - Part II

For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Finding Solid Ground

Part II: Vertical Climb


Some part of Jack was aware he was shivering; moaning. Voices clamoured around him; instructions shouted.

Pain.

A gasp. His.

He tried to move; restraints bit into his wrists and ankles.

Muscles contracted in agony.

His stomach spasmed; hot, bitter vomit surged through his gullet and out through his mouth and nose.

He was choking.

There were hands on his skin; painful hard rubs urging him to take a breath.

He finally managed to suck in air and the faint orangey-scent of a shampoo filled his senses.

Carter.

He stopped struggling. And as suddenly as his awareness had come to him, he felt himself floating as the drugs rushed back through him.

There was a cool cloth on his face, cleaning and soothing him.

Safe.

He was safe.

Another breath of orangey-goodness...and he drifted back into darkness.

o-O-o

Janet wasn’t wholly surprised to find Sam in the observation room or that Sam’s attention was focused completely on the man in the infirmary room below. She stepped inside and closed the door softly. Sam didn’t even look up as Janet slid into the chair next to her and placed the latest report on the small ledge in front of them.

‘He’s doing much better.’ Janet commented. The Colonel looked pale but alive. The last three days had been touch and go; he had coded twice even with the coma and had almost regained consciousness the day before thanks to the negligence of a nurse who was no longer with the SGC. Luckily, Sam had been in the room and had acted promptly to get him the medical assistance needed to put him back under.

Sam nodded quickly. ‘Yes.’ Her eyes didn’t leave the Colonel’s still form.

‘We’re going to bring him out of the coma tomorrow.’ Janet continued.

The statement finally wrenched Sam’s attention away from her CO. ‘Are you sure?’ Sam sighed impatiently and waved a hand before Janet could answer. ‘Of course you’re sure; you wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.’

‘I’m glad you realise that.’ Janet said mildly.

Sam grimaced. ‘Sorry, it’s just...’

‘You’re tired and you need to rest.’ Janet replied. ‘When was the last time you had something to eat?’

The blonde Major shrugged. ‘Earlier; toast, I think.’

‘Sam.’ Janet sighed heavily. ‘You’re not going to do the Colonel much good if you collapse.’

Sam blushed. Janet could see the red flush travel over her face and neck.

Janet took a deep breath. ‘You know the Colonel may not want you or Teal’c with him to witness the next stage of his recovery.’

Sam flinched almost imperceptibly. ‘I realise that.’ She looked down. ‘Daniel didn’t want us there either.’

‘He was scared of hurting you.’ Janet countered.

Sam’s eyes narrowed suddenly on Janet and Janet realised she was unconsciously rubbing the bruised area where the Colonel had injected her. She stopped abruptly.

‘Are you OK?’ Sam asked gently.

‘I’m fine.’ Janet claimed, settling both hands on the ledge. She pulled a face. ‘It was my own fault. I should know better than to approach a highly volatile patient without taking the usual precautions.’ A faint shudder ran through her. It could have been worse. The Colonel was trained to kill and Janet figured she’d had a lucky escape. Her eyes went back to Sam. If the reports of the way Sam had stepped in front of the Colonel were true, they’d both had a lucky escape.

‘Why don’t we get something to eat while Teal’c’s with him?’ Janet suggested. ‘I missed lunch myself.’

Sam nodded reluctantly and, with a final look at the Colonel, she followed Janet out and into the bright corridor.

The two women made their way to the commissary in silence. Janet watched as Sam randomly chose the chicken dish and picked up a dessert glass of Jello as she made her own selections. They carried their trays to an empty table and sat down.

Janet unwrapped the cutlery she had picked up from its paper napkin and began eating. ‘So how’s Jonas?’

She could see her question surprised Sam who paused in pushing her chicken around her plate.

‘Fine, I think.’ Sam shrugged. ‘I haven’t seen him much.’ She nudged some food onto her fork. ‘I think he’s trying to give the Colonel some privacy.’

‘That makes sense.’ Janet agreed. ‘They don’t know each other very well yet.’

‘Teal’c said he’s been helping with the discussions with the Tok’ra.’ Sam added. She finally put the fork in her mouth and Janet watched as her friend struggled to chew and swallow. It was clear that Sam didn’t really want to eat.

Janet focused on the subject Sam had raised. ‘I believe Major Davis is confident we’ll be able to broker a deal.’

‘They shouldn’t be blaming the Colonel at all!’ Sam shook her head. Her fork stabbed into another chunk of chicken.

‘I agree.’ Janet scooped up mashed potatoes. ‘And I think they know that too.’

‘He’s been through so much already.’ Sam muttered. ‘He doesn’t deserve this on top of everything else. I wish...’ she stopped abruptly.

Janet swallowed her food and gestured at her with her fork. ‘You wish?’

Sam dipped her chicken in a puddle of sauce. ‘I just...I sometimes wish I hadn’t asked him to take the symbiote.’

‘If you hadn’t asked him, it’s likely the decision would have been taken out of his hands entirely.’ Janet pointed out. ‘And if he hadn’t taken the symbiote, he wouldn’t be alive, Sam.’

She nodded jerkily.

‘You couldn’t have known what would happen.’ Janet reiterated. ‘No-one could.’

Sam sighed and pushed another forkful of food into her mouth.

Janet wondered for a moment if she should say something else. She wasn’t certain her friend ever would hear the words of reassurance she needed from the person she needed most to hear them from; the Colonel. Moreover, she was becoming increasingly concerned that Sam’s feelings for the Colonel were entirely too personal for Sam to be objective even if he did say something.

The doctor lowered her gaze to her food and concentrated on eating. She had already tackled Sam once about whether there was something more going on between the military officers and Sam had denied it, claiming that the feelings she and the Colonel had once professed for each other were over. Or more accurately that the Colonel didn’t feel the same way about Sam so ergo...Janet stopped the thought before it could reach a conclusion.

There was a point to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule and if she pushed Sam into the confession Janet assumed she’d make if she did push, there would be official repercussions. There weren’t supposed to be any inappropriate feelings between officers especially those serving on the same team even if they were one-sided. On the other hand, Janet knew both Sam and the Colonel had continued to act with the utmost honour even when they had both had shared feelings. She’d taken the decision once not to report them and she would do it again.

It was also different this time, Janet thought, glancing at Sam with compassion. The Colonel had apparently moved on. Sure, he had been intent on finding Sam when she’d gone missing some months before and attentive in supporting her through the aftermath, but nothing she couldn’t ascribe to his protectiveness over his team-mates generally; all of SG1 was close. Or rather had been close before Daniel’s death.

She noticed absently that Sam had given up on the actual food part of her meal and had moved onto the Jello. Janet missed Daniel. The archaeologist had been a good friend and one that she wished was around to help them through the latest disaster. He could have reasoned with the Tok’ra; he could have helped Jack through his recovery; been a shoulder to cry on for Sam; been a support to Teal’c in understanding the responses of his human team-mates...Jonas was a good man but he just wasn’t Daniel.

Janet pushed her own plate away and reached for the juice she had selected. She couldn’t really be too judgemental about Sam’s feelings for the Colonel when she had come very close to falling for Daniel, her patient. Not that anything had happened between them. Daniel had acted as nothing more than a good friend to her and Janet could accept that’s all he had felt despite her own thoughts and wishes drifting along different lines. In any case, his death – Ascension – had rendered the whole thing moot. She grieved for the loss of what might have been but she knew she had to move on. Her dark eyes settled back on Sam. She wondered if Sam was having similar thoughts about the Colonel.

She searched around, determined to change the subject and blurted out the first thing that came into her head. ‘Cassie broke up with Dominic.’

‘Again?’ Sam queried, interest flaring in her blue eyes.

‘She’s says it’s for real this time.’ Janet countered, rolling her eyes.

‘What happened?’ Sam asked. ‘The last time I talked with her everything was going well.’

‘Eliza Sharpen apparently told Chrissie Smith that Dominic had told her that he was bored with Cassie.’

‘So it’s all rumour and supposition?’

‘Well, Dominic didn’t deny it when Cassie confronted him so...’ Janet shrugged. ‘Dominic told her that if she believed Chrissie and Eliza then maybe they should break up.’

‘Ah.’

Janet smiled. ‘It makes me all nostalgic for high school.’

Sam smiled back but didn’t comment.

‘Cassie told me I wouldn’t understand because I hadn’t dated in eons.’ Janet added.

Sam’s delicately arched eyebrows rose. ‘She actually said that to you?’

‘Oh, yes.’ Janet nodded.

‘And she’s still alive?’

Janet grinned. ‘She’s grounded.’ Her smile fell away. ‘The worst thing is she’s right.’

‘Huh?’ Sam’s spoon paused mid-way to her mouth.

‘She’s right.’ Janet repeated. She took a sip of her juice. ‘I can’t remember the last time I went on a date.’

‘Me either.’ Sam admitted with chagrin.

They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

‘It’s not even funny!’ Janet said, wiping her eyes.

‘Maybe not,’ Sam said, ‘but I needed that.’ And Janet could see she had. The white tension lines that had bracketed Sam’s mouth and eyes had eased; there was a smile hovering around her lips.

Sam pushed her tray away and looked at the clock with a small flicker of guilt. ‘I should head back and relieve Teal’c; let him get some lunch.’

Janet nodded. ‘I’ll come with you.’ She stowed her tray and followed Sam out of the mess and back through the corridors. Maybe she would suggest a girls’ night out to Sam when the Colonel was discharged from the infirmary. Maybe it would help Sam move on...and maybe it would help her move on too, Janet thought determinedly.

o-O-o

Teal’c watched as Jonas entered the mess with Major Davis. He was relieved to see his team-mate looked animated as the two men conversed as they secured food. A kernel of guilt lingered in Teal’c’s gut from insisting the newest member of the team keep his distance during O’Neill’s recovery but he was certain that it was necessary.

Jonas smiled happily as he approached the table and Teal’c surmised the Kelownan was harbouring no ill feelings towards him. He inclined his head as Jonas took the seat opposite and Davis sat down beside him.

‘How’s the Colonel?’ Jonas asked immediately.

Teal’c shook salt over his potatoes and frowned. ‘He is still in the coma, Jonas Quinn.’

Davis cleared his throat. ‘That might be the best place for him right now.’

Teal’c looked from one to the other. ‘Are discussions with the Tok’ra not proceeding as planned?’

‘They’re proceeding. We’ve agreed to meet face to face off-world in a neutral location to agree terms.’ Davis said cagily. ‘But they’re fairly insistent on talking with Colonel O’Neill as soon as he’s conscious again.’

‘I never realised that talks between allies could be almost as difficult as talks between enemies.’ Jonas commented, loading up his fork with an impressive amount of food.

Teal’c hid his surprise that Jonas fitted it all into his mouth.

The Kelownan chewed enthusiastically before waving his cutlery at Davis. ‘Is this usual?’

‘Very.’ Davis agreed. ‘Actually, I’ve found it’s sometimes more difficult to negotiate with an ally than with an enemy.’

‘Because you don’t want to upset them?’ Jonas questioned.

‘Because there’s usually more to lose.’ Davis countered. ‘The benefits of the alliance; the shared information, technology.’

‘I get that.’ Jonas nodded. ‘But in this case we’re in a stronger position right now than the Tok’ra?’

‘Anubis has centred most of the attacks on them.’ Davis said, cutting his meal up into precise bites. ‘They’re reduced to a few bases and the majority of them are on the run. We’re an emergency exit not to mention somewhere safe they can go to for provisions and weapons.’

‘Doesn’t that make their protest...’ Jonas struggled to find a word, ‘risky?’

‘Indeed.’ Teal’c answered.

‘Then why do it?’ Jonas asked.

Teal’c and Davis shared a look.

‘Pride.’ Davis answered. ‘The Tok’ra have lost a great deal over the past few months. I think this is just their way of showing they’re not completely powerless.’

Jonas pulled a face.

‘It’s unfortunate that they are using Colonel O’Neill in their power play.’ Davis continued.

‘It is more than unfortunate.’ Teal’c growled. ‘It is dishonourable.’

‘I don’t agree with it, Teal’c,’ Jonas said, ‘but I understand why they’re doing it.’ He looked away shame-faced. ‘My people did the same with Daniel Jackson.’

‘Which puts you in an unique position to help us.’ Davis jumped in swiftly. ‘You’ll be able to provide an objective view-point in the discussions.’

Jonas gave an uncertain smile. ‘I’m happy to help in any way.’

‘Any news on when the Colonel will be brought out of the coma?’ Davis asked Teal’c.

‘Doctor Fraiser informed Major Carter and I that it would be tomorrow.’ Teal’c said. He mixed some beetroot into his potatoes, ignoring the look of horror on Davis’s face and the curiosity on Jonas’s. ‘He is not expected to regain consciousness immediately however and Doctor Fraiser believes it will be many days of recovery before he is ready to submit to a debriefing.’

‘Well, that works for us.’ Davis said firmly. ‘General Hammond did say that Garshaw believes the guy making the demands in regards to the Colonel...’

‘Thoran.’ Jonas supplied.

‘Is grieving.’ Davis continued. ‘If he has some time to get past his grief he may see how ludicrous this is.’

‘I hope you are correct, Major Davis.’ Teal’c murmured. He believed O’Neill did not need to be put through the trauma of reliving his ordeal.

Davis nodded with a wry smile. ‘Me too.’

o-O-o

Awareness crept in slowly. A sound. A wisp of movement beside his bed. A scent of antiseptic.

The infirmary.

The pain came a heart-shattering moment afterwards. His body convulsed. The seizure left him breathless and gasping.

‘Easy, Colonel. Slow breaths.’ Janet’s voice soothed him.

‘Doc?’ Jack snapped his eyes open and took in the formless blur with a frown.

‘You’re in the infirmary, Colonel.’ Janet assured him. ‘You’re through the worst of the withdrawal.’

‘Beg to differ.’ Jack managed to push the words out as he tried to focus.

Janet placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘Your body is going through the final stages. You may feel some nausea and mild seizures but believe me you’re through the worst.’

Mild, his ass, Jack thought derisively. He could make out the blob that was Fraiser but other than that...his heart pounded. ‘Carter?’

‘I wasn’t sure you would want an audience, sir.’ The doctor said quietly. ‘She’s waiting outside with Teal’c. You want me to send them both in?’

An audience? Right. He wasn’t supposed to want anyone to see him – correction: he didn’t want anyone to see him. He’d been through withdrawal once before and it hadn’t been pretty. Nobody needed to see him that way especially not...he should be grateful the doc -

His body shook; muscles contracting painfully before he could complete the thought.

‘Colonel?’

Jack sought the darkness again; the unconsciousness where he didn’t have to feel. He wasn’t aware of Carter’s name slipping from his lips again.

o-O-o

Sam pushed off the corridor wall as Janet waved her forward. ‘Just the Major, Teal’c.’

Teal’c bowed his head understandingly. Sam sent him a sympathetic smile knowing he would be disappointed even if he didn’t show it.

‘I will assist Jonas Quinn.’ Teal’c said.

And I’ll take care of the Colonel. Sam’s words were unspoken but shared nonetheless. Teal’c inclined his head and departed.

Sam hurried into the infirmary room and paused at the side of the bed when she realised the Colonel was unconscious. Her eyes darted to Janet worriedly.

‘Don’t worry.’ Janet said indicating she should take a seat. ‘He’s going to be in and out for the next few days.’

Sam bit her lip but nodded.

‘And Sam?’ Janet waited until Sam looked at her before continuing. ‘He may change his mind and decide he doesn’t want you here and if he does, he may not break that to you in a sensitive way.’

‘I understand.’ Sam was just inwardly pleased that he’d asked for her initially.

‘Don’t read anything into it, OK?’ Janet cautioned.

Sam nodded again. She’d experienced for herself how brutally blunt Daniel had been when he had been going through withdrawal, she was prepared. Mostly. She wasn’t entirely certain she wouldn’t feel some kind of hurt if the Colonel threw her out. There was a gnawing fear in the pit of her stomach that at some point in his distress he may very well blame her for his predicament. Her lips firmed. She could take whatever he dished out.

She hoped.

She watched as Janet finished up her observations and hung the chart on the bottom of the bed. The doctor gave her an encouraging smile and stepped out, leaving the door open.

Sam manoeuvred the stool a little closer to the bed and let her gaze roam freely on over the Colonel’s form. He looked thin; the dark shadow of his jaw highlighting the drawn unusual pallor of his skin; so unlike his usual tanned, healthy self. There were bandages around his wrists where he had been restrained and leads snaked out of the bed and into various monitoring equipment. One beeped steadily with his heart-beat.

She let herself breathe out slowly.

He was alive. He was safe. They just had to help him recover.

She wondered not for the first time how they did that. How did someone recover from what Jack had endured? They’d all been tortured, and she remembered being experimented on like a worthless lab rat herself with less equanimity that she would have hoped for months after the event, but...somehow the Colonel’s experience felt worse. Being tortured to death only to be revived and tortured again...how had he withstood it?

‘Carter?’ Jack’s whisper had her head whirling around to meet his unfocused gaze sharply.

‘Sir?’ She slipped off the stool and moved closer. ‘You need some water? Ice chips?’

He stared at her for a long moment as though he couldn’t believe it was her. ‘Ice chips.’

She picked up the small carton the nurse had left and awkwardly spooned some into his mouth. He swallowed them down and gestured for more. She did it again. And a third time until he pushed her hand away. She wished she knew what he was thinking; his dark eyes were shadowed and guarded. Her stomach clenched as he opened his mouth; she was sure he was about to send her away.

‘I can feel you.’ Jack said bluntly.

Her eyes widened.

‘Tingles.’ Jack explained. He frowned. ‘Unless that’s the...’

‘No, no.’ Sam gave a sympathetic smile. ‘It’s the naquadah, sir.’

He grimaced.

‘You only have trace amounts. Less than me or Cassie.’ Sam continued. ‘It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use the Goa’uld technology but you may be able to sense the Goa’uld and past hosts like we can especially in close proximity.’

He didn’t reply; his dark eyes intent on hers for a long moment.

‘If I, I mean, if it makes you uncomfortable,’ Sam began hesitantly, indicating the door. He followed her gesturing hand. For another heart-stopping second she thought he would send her away and looked down so he wouldn’t see her disappointment. She was oblivious to the indecision that flashed across his face, the brief glimpse of raw need.

‘What day is it, Carter?’

Sam raised her eyes in surprise and took a deep breath, feeling slightly light-headed that he had decided to let her stay. She had to think about the answer to his question; she’d lost track. ‘Tuesday, sir.’

‘Tuesday.’ His dark eyes held hers. ‘How long was I out?’

‘Just over three days.’ Sam told him.

‘And what about before that?’

‘You were gone for three weeks and some days with the Tok’ra and then three or four days, uh.’

‘With Ba’al.’ Jack forced himself to say the name.

‘Yes.’ Sam wiped her palms on the sides of her BDUs and placed one hand on his bed beside his arm. Not close enough to touch him but closer. ‘You need anything else, sir?’

‘Talk to me, Carter.’ Jack invited gruffly.

‘What about?’ Sam said, suddenly unsure why she had thought she could be there for him; could help him.

‘Anything.’ Jack’s eyes closed. ‘Just...talk.’

‘OK.’ Sam pulled the stool up closer and slid onto it. ‘I’ve been working on the X303 designs. We think we have a way of capturing the naquadria power burst and funnelling it into a buffer which will help us calculate the power usage more accurately. And we think the ship at Steveston will help us do that...’

‘Ship?’ Jack questioned without opening his eyes.

‘Yes.’ Sam’s lips twisted. ‘We had a mission while you were gone. Apparently, Adrian Conrad’s project was ongoing although we didn’t know it. He had some geneticists cloning the Goa’uld symbiote he eventually used. They actually were successful in genetically modifying the symbiotes and finding a kill switch for them. Anyway, the clones got loose and took over the population of a town called Steveston to build a ship intending to leave Earth; we were alerted and investigated.’ She sighed. ‘Actually the NID already knew about it.’

‘Figures.’ Jack whispered.

Sam gave a small smile at the familiar caustic tone. ‘They were waiting for the ship to be finished or so they claimed.’

‘You shut it down.’ There was no hint of a question in Jack’s voice and she looked back at him to find him looking at her with nothing but pride.

She nodded. ‘We did, sir. The ship is being taken apart and transported back to Area 51.’

‘How was Jonas?’ Jack asked.

‘Good, sir.’ Sam commented, knowing he wanted to know how their newest team-mate was adjusting. ‘It was his observations that led to the discovery of the ship.’

Jack looked at her evenly. ‘What aren’t you telling me?’

She shifted on the stool. ‘I, uh, well, I might have been taken briefly as a host by one of the Goa’uld symbiotes, sir.’ She grimaced. ‘It’s fine. The kill switch worked perfectly so it was only for a few minutes.’

Jack’s eyebrows shot up. ‘And you were going to tell me when?’

‘I was waiting until you were conscious, sir.’ Sam pointed out.

‘Ah.’ Jack’s lips twitched. ‘I guess I have been out of it for a couple of days. The last thing I remember is you bringing me some water.’

She smiled sadly in response.

‘So you got snaked?’ Jack gestured at her, his gaze filled with a warm concern that flooded over her like sunshine. ‘You OK?’

‘Surprisingly good.’ Sam admitted and tried a smile. ‘It’s not like it’s the first time.’

‘We do seem to be making a habit of it.’ Jack said. ‘We should really stop that, Carter.’

‘You know we’ve both been a host to a Goa’uld and a Tok’ra symbiote.’ Sam murmured.

Jack grimaced. ‘Weird.’

‘Definitely.’ Sam agreed. ‘Weird.’

‘So...’ Jack’s face suddenly contorted and his muscles tensed.

‘Sir?’

He reached out and grabbed her hand. ‘Talk, Carter. Anything.’

‘Shouldn’t I...’ Sam motioned toward the door as though that would explain her intent to get the medical staff.

‘No!’ Jack gripped her hand tightly. ‘Just talk, damn it!’

She searched for a topic as she wrapped her free hand on top of his, watching as he helplessly shuddered. ‘I think we might need to focus on redesigning the X302’s hyperspace engine to incorporate the buffer idea so we can still include the technology in our gliders. Oh, and Teal’c’s been checking progress on the Alpha site every week so you don’t need to worry...’

She felt Jack’s grip slacken as the convulsions eased but kept talking – anything and everything that came into her head. Eventually, Jack slipped back into sleep and Sam stumbled to a halt.

Tears sprang into her eyes and she hurriedly blinked them away in case he woke and saw her. She had wanted to be there for him so much but she wondered if she had the strength to continue. She frowned heavily at the thought. He had wanted her there so she would stay. It was the least she could do for him. He had kept hold of her hand and she loathed to pull it away. She settled on the stool and waited. She would be there when he woke up and she would talk to him again. She would continue talking to him as long as he needed her.

o-O-o

The planet Oma had left him on was peaceful and Daniel had taken the opportunity to explore it; primarily to have something to occupy his thoughts and keep him away from Earth. He’d found ruins on the other side of the lake. A tall white temple had once stood proudly on its banks. It was a mess of half-crumbled walls and broken glass. Daniel treated it like a normal excavation. He hunted and dug through the dirt and debris, lining up objects, cataloguing in his head what they were.

The ruins had belonged to the Ancients; to the builders of the Stargates. He had found some interesting writing carved on white marble tiles in what appeared to be a central courtyard. It was a covenant of some kind; an agreement to self-determination and free will; it denied something called Origin.

Daniel theorised briefly that the temple had been raised to the worship of science rather than to any God; that Origin was some kind of religion. Perhaps the Ancients had endured a religious fractioning of their society similar to the turmoil that had once almost torn Europe apart when Christianity had found itself at odds with science.

His fingers traced over the word Origin. What was the religion? What did it espouse that had rendered such a condemnation of its views? There was nothing else in the ruins to explain.

The marble wording drew his eye again: ‘we seek that all should hold their own destiny in their hands and none shall interfere.’

A shiver darted down his spine. It sounded so similar to the non-interference directive that the Other Ascended Beings ascribed to that he couldn’t help wonder if there was a connection. He spoke the words aloud again in Ancient.

‘That they will succeed or fail on the strength of their own wits and talents; that they will seek not power but knowledge.’ A woman’s voice continued when his fell way.

He turned around, trying hard to hide his surprise. Another Ascended Being sat on a rickety stone bench just behind him. She appeared a forty-something year old woman with sharp, intelligent features. His heart pounded uncomfortably. Had she come to punish him for helping Jack? Why else would he be approached? The Others kept their distance and he’d only made the acquaintance of Orlin because he was as much of an outcast as Daniel.

She patted the bench and he moved to sit beside her. Her white dress glowed with her power; her pale skin luminescent. ‘Welcome to the Isle of Apples, Doctor Jackson.’ Her smile flashed at him, knowing and secretive all at the same time as he took a seat. Her dark, inscrutable eyes waited on his expectantly.

‘The Isle of Apples.’ Daniel searched his memory. ‘Said to be the one of the domains of Morgan Le Fay in Arthurian legend.’ His blue eyes widened on the woman. ‘Are you suggesting you’re Morgan?’

She lifted a shoulder brushing the edges of her brunette hair. ‘It has been one of my names.’ She breathed in deeply, her face turning towards the silvery lake. ‘It has been many years since I was here. It was my home once.’

‘It must have been beautiful.’ Daniel commented. His gaze strayed back to the building. He could almost imagine the ivory towers at each corner; the quiet serenity of the courtyard in which they stood.

‘There was an archway through that wall.’ Morgan pointed. ‘It provided a picture window of the lake. I would sit here at sunset and watch as the water turned to gold and silver.’

‘You miss it.’ Daniel realised.

‘It was another life.’ Morgan answered. ‘But yes.’ She smoothed her skirt. ‘You have questions, Doctor Jackson.’

‘Call me Daniel, and yes, I have lots of questions.’ Daniel said prompting them both to smile. His mind raced with questions about her; was she really Morgan? Had she lived in Arthurian times? And what about the ruins and the connection between the Ancients and the Ascended Beings? Not to mention...

‘You’re struggling to understand our rules.’

‘Not so much struggling to understand them,’ Daniel admitted, ‘as...’

‘To abide by them?’ Morgan supplied with twinkling eyes. ‘It is a hard task to bear when one has not released all ties to those left behind.’

‘Yes.’ Daniel didn’t even try to deny it although he wondered if he should.

Morgan sighed. ‘Ah, an honest man.’ She looked at him speculatively. ‘Tell me: did you Ascend for knowledge or power?’

‘I’m not sure.’ Daniel frowned; unsure why he felt so compelled to confess all to her. She continued to regard him evenly as though she had guessed at his uncertainty and was waiting for him to make a decision. He sighed heavily. ‘Sometimes I think it had nothing to do with either.’

‘Ascension was an escape from your old life.’ Morgan surmised.

He couldn’t deny the charge. ‘And sometimes, I think it was for both.’ He answered, directing them back to the question. He leaned forward, his gaze on the lake. ‘I’m an archaeologist. Or I was.’ He waved a hand. ‘My previous life was all about the search for knowledge, trying to understand where humanity came from; why we’re here.’ He stopped. ‘But the last five years of that, I was part of something...a mission to protect my world and that was about finding both knowledge and power.’

‘And now you’re Ascended you realise you have knowledge but cannot use the power it brings to further your mission.’ Morgan surmised.

Daniel nodded. ‘Or to help the people I care about.’

‘Tell me, Daniel,’ Morgan said quietly, drawing his attention back to her, ‘do you believe everyone should have the right to choose their own destiny?’

‘Theoretically.’ Daniel agreed.

‘Because practically, the choice is more often assumed as real than real.’ Morgan supplied his argument. ‘It is a rare individual who holds enough power and knowledge that they are free to determine their own destiny.’

Daniel nodded, rising to the intellectual debate. ‘Governments encroach on the rights of the individual; other individuals encroach on each other. A wife may determine a destiny for her husband,’ his eyes saddened as he remembered Sha’re, ‘and vice versa.’

‘Those with power whether political or emotional determine the destiny of those they hold power over.’ Morgan agreed. ‘Those of us with power must always question whether its use is justified.’

‘I get that.’ Daniel argued. ‘I do but...’ he gestured at her, ‘shouldn’t we also question whether its non-use is justified? What about when the choice is black and white? When we don’t use our power, when we stand by and do nothing, and we allow someone, or something, to determine a destiny for an individual or whole society who ends up with no choice at all? How is that right?’

Morgan tilted her head. ‘Things are generally never completely black and white, Daniel.’

‘But when they are?’

‘A pebble may drop into a lake so deep that the ripples only travel under water.’ Morgan murmured.

Daniel’s lips twisted at the cryptic answer. ‘So because we can’t see the ramifications we shouldn’t act?’

‘Do two wrongs make a right?’ Morgan countered.

‘Before I joined the Stargate programme I would have said no.’ Daniel mused. ‘But now...I would say sometimes.’ He thought of Jack; of Ba’al. At what he, Daniel, had done; what he hadn’t. ‘I guess I believe in the maxim that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

‘Then you have the answer to your struggle, Daniel.’ Morgan said softly.

Daniel blinked as he tried to go back over their discussion and see where she had determined his course because he just felt the same deep sense of confusion. ‘I do?’ he smiled shyly. ‘Maybe you could explain it to me again.’

Morgan gave a laugh. ‘I believe you know why you agreed to Ascend, Daniel, and when you realise the whole truth for yourself, you will have your answer. Let me ask you this: have you ever wondered why Oma Ascended you?’

Her question arrowed through him. He hadn’t questioned Oma’s decision to help him. He had simply assumed she’d seen something in him; potential – just as the Asgard saw potential in Jack.

Morgan’s eyes suddenly shifted to the side of him and Daniel turned his head. Oma stood there silently; watchful.

‘Oma.’ Morgan said respectfully.

‘Ganas Lal.’

The two women exchanged a deep look and Daniel flushed. He had an idea that they were having an entire conversation about him that he really didn’t want to know about.

Morgan turned back to him as she rose to her feet; her form shimmering and giving way to pure white energy. ‘I believe I shall enjoy our acquaintance, Daniel.’ She disappeared into the lake without another word, leaving Daniel alone with Oma.

Daniel turned to her, Morgan’s last question at the forefront of his mind. ‘Why did you Ascend me?’

‘What do you believe?’ Oma countered.

‘I asked first.’ He didn’t care if he sounded like a petulant child but he wanted a straight answer.

Oma looked at him for so long he thought she wouldn’t answer and when she did, she disappeared a heartbeat later, leaving him with only one word echoing in his mind and through the small desolate courtyard. Balance.

o-O-o

Jack shrugged on the soft cotton shirt and winced at the remaining soreness in his muscles. He was whipcord lean; barely muscle over skeleton. Fraiser had ordered him to put on weight but he had yet to regain his appetite. He wasn’t sure he ever would. He was filled with a restless listlessness that made him twitchy and apathetic at the same time.

Withdrawal really sucked, Jack thought succinctly. The only bright spot had been that he’d spent most of it with Carter. It scared him a little how close he had been to sending her way. He could remember the moment he’d decided to hell with it; she’d had been standing in front of him, staring at her feet and looking as though she had known his intention and then he’d caught the faint scent of her shampoo; that orangey scent that filled him with security and the sense that he was home and he just couldn’t do it.

It had worked out even if Jack remained a touch embarrassed at how much she’d seen. Not that she hadn’t already seen him in the field throwing up his guts before or in pain...it was jarring to realise that really he had few secrets where she was concerned apart from the obvious ones; that he loved her, needed her, wanted her. Jack grimaced and did up the remaining buttons.

For three days, Carter had talked and he had listened. He really had no idea what she had been saying most of the time. It had just been soothing to hear her voice talking him through the seizures; lulling him to sleep, with her scent anchoring him to reality and keeping the nightmares at bay. It had been like a moment out of time; just the two of them. It had slowly eked away like bubbles disappearing on bath-water. He had grown stronger and she had returned to the work she had ignored since his return.

The tell-tale clip hop of Fraiser’s heels had him turning to the door to greet the doctor. He felt a frisson of guilt as he set eyes on her petite form. He’d heard about his attack on her, Peters and Carter. It chilled his blood every time he considered it. Something else he would have to discuss with Mackenzie, Jack thought wryly.

‘Colonel.’ Janet held up the clipboard she held and ran her eyes over him assessing him objectively as thought to confirm her decision. ‘Your discharge papers from the infirmary.’

‘Great.’ Jack said brightly. ‘No offence, Doc, but I can’t wait to blow this popsicle stand.’

‘You’re officially on medical leave, sir.’ Janet said, ignoring his comment. ‘Your first session with Doctor Mackenzie is scheduled for a week tomorrow; oh-nine-hundred. Please be on time.’

‘Wouldn’t miss it.’ Jack muttered, trying hard to ignore that a large part of him wanted to miss it. If he never cleared the psych eval he would never have to go back; never risk falling into Ba’al’s hands again...

‘Are you sure you don’t want to stay local, sir?’ Janet asked suddenly.

‘My cabin is the perfect place for R&R, Doc.’ Jack countered. ‘Trust me on this.’

Janet sighed. ‘I want you to call in for the first two days.’ She held up a hand. ‘Just one call every twenty-four hours. I’m not convinced shutting yourself off from civilisation is the way to go here, Colonel, and unless you want me restricting you to base...’

Jack glowered at her, more for effect than in truth. ‘You drive a hard bargain.’

She simply smiled and departed.

Jack buttoned his cuffs and stuffed his feet into the waiting boots. He’d just finished tying up the laces when Hammond and Carter both entered.

‘General.’ His eyes drifted left to Carter. ‘Major.’ He waved at them as he pulled on his leather jacket.

‘I just wanted to stop by and wish you a good journey, Jack.’ Hammond tilted his bald head. ‘And to let you know the talks with the Tok’ra are proceeding.’

Jack pulled a face. Hammond had informed him of the Tok’ra’s request to hand him over to be brought to account for Kanan’s death. It would have confirmed everything he had ever suspected about their so-called ally if Kanan’s blatant use of his body hadn’t already confirmed it for him. ‘Jonas and Teal’c still keeping Davis company?’

‘They are.’ Hammond agreed. ‘I’ll be heading off-world myself to join them in a few days.’

Jack shrugged. ‘Let me know how it turns out.’ He stated dryly.

‘You’ll be the first informed, Colonel.’ Hammond promised with an understanding smile. He reached over and Jack shook the proffered hand. ‘Car’s waiting for you on top. Take care of yourself, Jack. Enjoy the fishing.’ He left before Jack could make any further comment.

He found himself alone with Carter.

‘I hear you’re off to Area 51.’ Jack commented, reaching for his small leather bag. ‘Checking up on McCoy?’

Sam smiled. ‘They’ve made some good progress on the engines and I want to go over the designs for the shields and defences.’

His lips twitched; she hadn’t denied his assertion or corrected his deliberate mangling of McKay’s name. ‘Walk me to the elevator?’

She nodded and they walked out of the infirmary room.

‘So,’ Sam said brightly, half-turning to shoot him a teasing look, ‘fishing?’

‘Fishing.’ Jack confirmed. He was looking forward to it; he was. The solitude; the beer; the familiarity of his routine there. It was only missing one thing. ‘Shame you can’t come with.’ The words left his mouth before he registered he’d even said them.

They both came to a stumbling halt in the corridor, thankfully and serendipitously in front of the elevators.

Jack hastened to reassure her seeing her blue eyes widen impossibly as though she couldn’t quite believe she’d heard him. The last time he had invited her fishing, his invitation had been fraught with other connotations and they both knew it. ‘I mean, as a friend; colleague.’ He hurriedly pushed the call button. ‘Obviously.’

Sam gave a pained smile. ‘Of course, sir.’

‘But then I’m sure you’ll have fun with your doohickey.’ Jack commented. He pushed the call button again, and hoped the action didn’t look as frantic as it felt.

‘It’s the X303, sir.’ Sam pointed out as though a spacecraft as large as the Titanic didn’t qualify as a doohickey.

‘Your big doohickey.’ Jack corrected. He gave a sigh of relief as the elevator doors opened. ‘Bye, Carter.’

‘Bye, sir.’

It was only as the elevator doors slid shut that he realised how disappointed she had looked. He froze. Was she disappointed that he had brought it up again and alluded to what they’d once had or was she disappointed that she couldn’t come with him – and if so what did that mean exactly?

Damn it! Jack stared up at the floor counter. He had to stop thinking about Carter that way; had to stop wanting more. The temptation to ask her fishing had been so strong he had almost tasted it. And he wanted her with him despite his very real need to metaphorically lick his wounds in private.

No.

It was best he didn’t let himself get carried away by the friendship and care she’d given him since his return. He wasn’t unaware that some of it was based on Carter’s guilt about asking him to take the symbiote. And on some level, he wasn’t quite ready to admit to, he knew he had agreed to it because it had been Carter who’d asked. He probably should talk to her about that.

Guilt. That’s all it was. And friendship. They were friends. Colleagues. Team-mates.

But what if she felt more?

The question hung tantalisingly in his mind as though suspended on gossamer wings.

What if the last few weeks had resurrected her feelings for him? Jack hovered in the compartment as the elevator doors slid open. He wanted to press the button to go back down, to hunt her out and ask her.

He stepped out of the elevator and watched as the doors slid depressingly closed behind him. Even if Carter’s feelings had resurfaced, it was madness for him to encourage them or to show her they were reciprocated as he had done before. They’d just end up back where they’d been almost two years before and he couldn’t do that. He’d learned his lesson the last time; he’d failed to protect her as a senior officer, as a man, and had ended up with Carter lying on the floor dead and the weapon that killed her in his hand.

He nodded at the SF as he leaned down to sign out. No, if some of Carter’s feelings had resurfaced better to ignore it. She would move on again just as she had before. After all, he was still ostensibly her CO even if he was having difficulty thinking about returning to the programme...

What if he didn’t come back?

The thought arrested him mid-step.

‘Sir?’

The SF looked at him with concern and Jack shook himself, waving away the young man’s concern. He took the final elevator out of the mountain. He strode out to the waiting car. It would take him to Petersen and the helicopter which Hammond had arranged to take him to the cabin. He wasn’t sure he deserved the special treatment but he wasn’t saying no; Fraiser had made it clear it was the only way she would countenance his travelling.

The driver moved swiftly on Jack’s approach opening the back seat of the car and reaching for Jack’s bag. Jack allowed him to take it and got in. He settled back on the cushions as the driver retook his seat and the car pulled away from the entrance. He closed his eyes.

Maybe it was time to consider retirement again, Jack mused. God knew he couldn’t go through what he’d gone through with Ba’al again. The thought of it had the ability to steal his breath; to make him shiver; to turn his stomach. He shuddered and swallowed to rid himself of the metallic taste of fear that coated his suddenly dry mouth.

How could he lead if he was scared to the bone? How could he protect his team? Retirement sparkled like a shiny temptation. Maybe it was time to call it day. He’d done more for his country, heck – world, than most. OK, so it had been partially, mostly, his fault that they’d begun the war with the Goa’uld but he’d fought them for over five years since, taking them down one by one, and trying to pretend there wasn’t another one always waiting to take their place. Maybe he’d done his share; his penance.

Daniel had moved on. He’d taken his way out. SG1 had already been broken apart so it wasn’t like Jack would be responsible for dismantling the team. Despite Jonas’s inclusion and the solid performance the Kelownan had contributed in his short time with them, SG1 wasn’t the same without Daniel. Jack couldn’t pretend that for him it didn’t quite have the invincibility factor anymore. He had once thought SG1, the unique combination of the team, was vital to winning the war but maybe it wasn’t. After all, they hadn’t won an all-out victory when Daniel was on the team and maybe they never would. Maybe it was time for him to make an exit too. His fingers tapped restlessly against his thigh.

Retirement.

He could retire.

And perhaps, maybe, possibly, that might create an opportunity for him and Carter. If she still felt something for him. Which she probably didn’t. Why would she? He was a mess. Tortured; battered. What could a vibrant woman like Carter possibly see in him? He was probably just making too much of her friendship over the past few days.

Jack sighed.

It seemed he had a lot of thinking to do during his week at the cabin.

Continued in Part III.


 

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