I woke with the sunshine falling onto my face; I was warm and toasty all over. I yawned and sat up frowning at the blankets now covering me. When had those appeared?
It was quiet in the cabin as I went to the bathroom to wash up.
When I had dressed I saw that the couch was neatly made. The pillow and sleeping bag stacked and ready to go back into the closet for the day.
But there was a note on the table. Timed at 0625 Jack said he'd gone out for a walk to clear his head. I saw that it was now almost eight o'clock. I boiled the remaining egg for breakfast, took my pills and made some coffee and sat outside with my book. I wasn't worried too much about Jack. He was like this off world too. If he couldn't get to sleep he liked to watch the sunrise.
I couldn't concentrate on the book this morning. I gave up on it for now. `He'll never know' I thought as I went back inside for my laptop. Oh the comforting chimes of the start up! I eagerly pointed the mouse towards the program I wanted.
"Enjoying the book?" Jack suddenly said behind me. I jumped up in surprise dropping the book onto the grass. I hadn't heard him return. I glanced at my watch, it was almost nine thirty.
"Ah, yes. It's very detailed."
"Uh huh. That why you gave up and got the laptop?" he asked curtly. He looked tired and I saw from his expression and posture that he was in a bad mood and spoiling for a fight.
"Were you spying on me?" I guessed feeling annoyed.
"Not as such. Just doing a tour of the perimeter. I saw you. What were you doing? I thought we had an agreement!" he snapped.
"I was playing Solitaire!"
"Of course you were."
"Okay, I also played Backgammon. Is that better?"
"Carter don't!" he stepped towards me bristling with anger.
"What? You prefer Hearts?" I taunted deliberately.
Jack closed his eyes and swallowed.
"The Backgammon games are always weighted to the computer. Gives itself twice as many doubles on the dice throws. I counted it one time," he suddenly said.
"Not on my computer it won't," I retorted, trying to follow his conversation, and he hadn't replied to the other question.
"Right. Fixable. Saveable. Of course," he muttered.
"What's going on here Jack? What's wrong?"
"Nothing…Everything. I don't know. Just leave me be," he said wearily before turning round and heading for the log pile at the side of the cabin.
Exasperated, I called after him "You want something to eat?"
"Nope," he called back as he picked up the axe and lifted the first log onto the stump.
`Just as well,' I thought angrily. `'Cause a/ there isn't much left and b/ I'd a peed on it anyway.'
I read my book interspersed with the thunk of logs being split and Jack's noisy grunts of effort and swearing and muttering to himself.
I had to wait until Hurricane Jack blew himself out.
"Fuck, what a bitch! " Jack snarled at himself. He didn't mean Carter, no way. Life sucked. Ever get those days when you wake up and the whole world just pisses you off? Well, hello this morning was one.
He'd reached boiling point. He wanted to hurt something or somebody badly. His long walk hadn't helped much. He was mad at everything. The bluff overlooking the cabin and the lake was his favourite viewpoint. Until he'd spotted Carter coming out with the laptop. What was she doing? Had she tricked him after all and this was some kind of remote device she could activate? He had his cell phone out and speed dialled the base before he realised what he'd done. Stop! Think. He had to trust her didn't he? Crap, he was still jumpy after her little walkabout last night. And then of course he got to thinking about being taken over himself and that led him straight back to his own black hole. Life's a bitch and then you die. Messily. Painfully. Again. And again…
Another log splintered and cut in half. He picked up one half and quartered it. He realized he was counting the logs he cut. He got to twenty and started over.
"That's how many times, Daniel. I told you it was too much. But oh no, you wouldn't do anything. Whiny ass cry baby."
Another log hit the pile.
"Twenty times in the damn cure box. Each time losing a part of me. It hurt Daniel."
Jack stopped and got his breath back for a moment. He took off his flannel shirt, and threw it away from the log pile. He untucked his t shirt; it was going to ride up anyways.
Another log on the stump, Jack lifted the axe.
"Hurt a lot Daniel, and I know about pain."
"It's a thin line between love and hate…"
"And I don't know where I am at the moment Danny boy."
Gradually the pile of whole logs was reduced to manageable chunks for the fireplace. After securing and putting the axe away, and picking up his flannel shirt, Jack headed to the cabin for a shower. He had blisters and small wood splinters on his hands and he was soaked in sweat.
Carter was still reading her book out front. She didn't turn round as he passed behind her.
"Fine. Whatever," he grumbled as he grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and drank it down in one go. He peeled his clothes off in the bathroom and ran the shower. Leaning with his hands braced against the tiles he stood letting the water beat down on him. He wished he could wash it all away. He'd really screwed the pooch on this one. He'd had no sleep last night. Carter's little sleepwalking act made him nervous. She said she was alright, that the Goa'uld had dissolved…he wanted to believe her. But it had kept him awake, thinking about that and the whole Ba'al/Daniel thing.
"What did I do to deserve all this?" he wondered. It didn't matter that he'd been through torture before and not just in Iraq. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Things had been different and better at home then. But this was now. He needed to get things back together while Carter was here. She'd been through something nasty too. He finished up in the shower, and well if some of the water down the drain was his own salty tears, nobody was gonna know.
I had ignored the cabin door slamming shut as Jack passed through. He'd come out and talk when he was ready. He'd try and apologize somehow. I heard the shower going for a long time. Then silence. He didn't reappear.
I turned the page of my book and waited. I gave up after an hour and went inside.
Jack was slouched in one of the chairs asleep. He looked uncomfortable. He stirred restlessly, muttering under his breath. He clutched at his chest, "No," he said clearly. His eyes opened looking at something only he could see. "Daniel," he breathed.
`Oh, Jack,' I thought sadly, `Forgive me for accusing you of not caring about him.'
Suddenly Jack seemed to throw himself off the chair; he landed on his knees and palms. I bent down, "Jack?"
He looked up at me, "I fell," he stated.
"Sure did," I replied
"I fell," he repeated. I realized he wasn't listening to me or blinking, just staring.
"I was stuck and then I was falling…there was nothing there…" he said desperately.
I held onto his arm, and put my face close to his.
"Jack, it's okay. You're in Minnesota, remember?" I shook his arm as I said it.
"No, I'm…" he began then he blinked.
"Fishing, your lake. No beer and no food either but we can always get some," I continued just so he could hear my voice.
I knelt on the floor and put my arms around him, knowing how much he had helped me the other day. He clutched at me and hung on. I kissed his forehead; his hair was all mussed up again.
"I'm me, I'm home," he said thickly.
"Yes, Jack you are."
He breathed out noisily and we sat there until Jack was ready to move. You had to do it on his terms or not at all.
He lifted his head and scooted over to sit back in the chair. He cleared his throat and said "Thanks."
I nodded at him.
"I guess I should apologize for earlier- it was stupid and uncalled for…and now...losing it,"
"Hey, it had to happen at some point. Okay," I soothed knowing how hard it was for him to talk at all.
There was a pause.
"So," he began "Hearts, huh?" A small smile appeared on his face.
I laughed. "Well, with my history, playing Minesweeper is a much safer bet."
"No, you'd definitely win at Hearts," he said. I smiled, ducking my head in response, unsure where this was going.
I decided to change the topic for better or worse. Best pick at the wound while it was exposed.
"Um, you mentioned Daniel," I started uncertainly. He looked back at me, his eyes unfathomly dark. Anger and sorrow stared back at me.
"Yup, several times, actually. I know you miss him. We all do, believe me. But wishing he was still alive isn't going to help."
He closed his eyes tightly. He was too tired for this.
"You have no idea, Carter. None at all,"
"No! I don't want to talk about it!" he shouted back.
"About Kanan…" I was going for broke.
"About Kanan…" Sam began. Jack stilled.
"What?" he said sharply.
"Forgive me. We thought we were doing the right thing. We never expected…"
"The Spanish Inquisition?" barked Jack. "Neither did I. Nope, never saw that one coming. At least the last time…" he broke off abruptly. `I knew where I was. In Iraq, left for dead by the remnants of my team,' he thought to himself bitterly.
"Last time, what?" asked Carter.
"Never mind. Look, you did what you had to do," he offered.
"We didn't want you to die! None of us did!" snapped Carter.
"It worked! It's not just about me though. How were any of us to know that Kanan would turn out to be a body thief?" replied Jack.
"We had no way to know. I don't know if this sort of thing has happened before. I could ask Dad."
Jack ignored that one. He'd had his fill of Tok'ra for quite a while; they were nothing but trouble - even if their motives were good. "It was the only option that Kanan had to save her," Jack said. "He couldn't wait for a better host."
"A better host?" queried Sam.
"You know- a permanent one. He knew I didn't want in on it."
"But when he accessed your memories..." began Sam
"Carter don't!" he warned again, not wanting to remember the pain and confusion of the blending. The outrage of another mind rummaging through his carefully locked memory boxes.
"No, listen. He played on your sense of honour and duty." Like we did, to save your life, she thought to herself. "You were the perfect host!"
"I don't think I like where you're going with this. You think the Tok'ra were banking on this?"
"I have no idea!"
"Jacob?" he pressed her.
"I don't know. His presence still causes friction amongst the Tok'ra. They could have kept him out of the loop," she frowned.
"You knew I'd go for it, for Kanan's intel," he said quietly.
"The General and the Tok'ra thought so. I thought so."
"It's done. It's over! Shaylin got out. That's it."
He hadn't wanted to die from some microscopic virus that no one could explain to himself let alone to Sara. He wanted to die with his boots on. Sara would have got some sanitized version of events and a tin box full of ashes. Maybe not even that much.
His body had been hijacked by the virus from hell and then the cure had walked off with his body too. Go figure. It could only happen to him.
Jack felt liked he'd been used too much lately, a pawn in someone else's cosmic game of chess. It sucked big time. He needed another break, some space for a little while. He levered himself out of the chair and made for the door.
"I need to fix the windows. Sid back in town will have some glass and stuff. He's also got a new mattress on hold for me. I'm going to drive over and get it. I'll be an hour or so."
`Damn', I thought as I watched him stalk off to his rental truck. I pushed him too far. But, it needed to be said. He was tough; he could take it. Couldn't he?
`At least the last time…' Which last time did he mean? I wondered as I heard the truck drive off down the road. Hopefully he'd buy some food too, otherwise we were both going to be toast…or we would be if we had any…
The bell on Sid's store tinkled annoyingly as Jack pushed the door open.
"Hey, Jack. What can I getcha? Food? You didn't grab much the other day on your way through." Sid commented cheerily.
"Ah, no. Sid...look you got any panes of glass so big?" asked Jack demonstrating with his hands. "Here," he said digging in his pocket and pulling a scrap of paper. "I wrote the dimensions down for you."
"Ya, I'll go check. Much damage? What was it, racoons?"
"Ninja squirrels I think"
Sid laughed. "Back in a minute," he said and disappeared through the back of the store. Jack heard voices, Sid's low drawl and another higher and softer which would be his wife's.
"Sure," said Jack to himself, `why did I think of ninjas? Dark, silent and deadly. That set him off on too many dark thoughts.
With a scrape and a clatter, Sid was back, jerking Jack out of his black hole.
"You're in luck, got sealant too. Quicker 'n' better than putty."
"You okay, Jack?" Sid gestured towards the left side of Jack's face. Jack winced mentally as he realized how he must look. Sid was giving him a look that spoke volumes. Jack was not going to tell him he'd been spooked by a dream and fell over a chair.
"Never better. Why?"
"Well, usually I leave you alone here; you've dismantled the display stands or something by now."
Jack laughed dutifully. "Yeah," he admitted, pulling out his wallet so he could pay up. "Guess I'm not myself today."
Sid didn't comment further as he counted back Jack's change which Jack appreciated. Folks around here knew when to mind their own business. It was part of the place's charm as far as he was concerned.
"I'll just get some wrapping for the glass," Sid said, as he closed the register drawer.
Jack waited as Sid carried the pane of glass into the back. It didn't take long for Sid to return with his purchase wrapped carefully in newspaper and masking tape.
"Here ya' go, Jack," Sid said easing the pane onto the countertop.
"Oh and Carrie said to give you this," announced Sid, handing over a paper bag. "Says you look too thin."
Jack raised an eyebrow but opened the bag and peered in and found a fresh baked loaf, some fruit and vegetables and home made sausages. Yep, folks around here minded their own business but sometimes they made you their business. Jack glanced up and toward the door that led to the back of the shop but Carrie must have decided to stay hidden. Jack reached into his back pocket again for his wallet.
"Na, put it away. You've done enough for us over the years."
As Jack placed the glass on the back seat of his truck he heard another car pull up outside the store.
Heading back to the store to talk to Sid about the mattress and have a word with Carrie, he realised that Sid was swamped by the new arrivals. All at once they clamoured for fishing gear, licences, and food while the kids ran about. Suddenly one of them pulled over a stand. It landed with a crash. Sid's head jerked up and looked back into his house. A moment later a thin wail started and picked up in intensity.
Jack was confused. It wasn't one of the kids in the store. He caught Sid's eye.
"Would you do me a huge favour? Carrie's slipped out for a while. Food and laundry run for a neighbour, and I'm stuck here. Could you…could you check on Robert?" he asked jerking his head back to where the screaming baby noise came.
Jack nodded and went through to the back of the store and into the house. In the first room he came to a baby cot standing to one side, the room cheerfully decorated in nursery animals and alphabets. The source of the noise was clear; Jack had reached his target. As he peered over the rim, the angry baby stilled, a frown crossing its tiny forehead for a second before determining this face was not one he wanted. Across the light blue romper suit a Velcro name tag read "R is for Robert". Fists waved and the crying continued. Robert looked a couple of months old at most.
"Well, R is for Robert, I know exactly how you feel little fella."
Jack reached down and gently picked up the baby. First things first. Start with the basics.
"No offence, Robert," he said as he sniffed the baby. Excellent start, no poop factor. He looked at the baby and lightly felt around the diaper. All dry.
"Way to go Robert. Well, it's just you and me." he continued, speaking calmly to the still wailing baby.
"Okay, Robert. I'm not going to lie to you in the sit rep. It looks bad." He gently clasped the baby to his chest supporting his padded rump and cradling the head. Maybe moving around would distract the little guy and he'd stop crying.
"Your dad's engaged with semi hostile natives and Mom is temporarily AWOL. But they'll both be here as soon as they can. I promise you."
Instinct taking over he wandered around the room looking for a toy to amuse Robert. But no, Robert wasn't having any of it. He carried on crying after Jack produced the spotted stuffed dog. The squeaky toy made him cry even harder. Not even the soft and quiet bit of blanket could console him.
Abandoning all tactical gear Jack slowly rubbed circles on the baby's back hoping to soothe him. Robert squirmed against his chest.
"I'll let you into a little secret, Robert. All this wailing and gnashing of teeth only works for small cute guys like you. I've been doing some of that recently. It doesn't get you anywhere. And you know what else, Robert?"
The baby looked up at him with big blue eyes, only whimpering now.
"It just tires you out," Jack whispered at the baby.
Jack carried on talking to Robert and rubbing his back, while walking through the house until he came to a patio area with some deck chairs.
Robert began snuffling across Jack's shirt as he gently lowered himself to sit in the deck chair. Carefully Jack re-adjusted the small, warm wriggling body against his chest.
"Shh, it's alright," he soothed, beginning to feel at peace too, for the first time in a very long time.
Jack bent and smelled the baby again. How could he have forgotten this? The smell of milk and ... indefinable things. He lifted a finger and gently traced it down Robert's chubby cheek. It was silky smooth. Perfect. Adorable. Like Charlie had been. A lifetime ago.
Robert snuffled again at a button on Jack's shirt.
"Hey, cut that out! I'm not that kinda guy!" chided Jack softly, hoping Robert would fall asleep soon. "You'll just have to wait for your Mom."
He closed his eyes, savouring the feel of the tiny body that needed him. A refuge. Company. Comfort.
"Was that it? You were just lonely, huh? I think maybe you're right, Robert. Company can be a good thing after all."
Jack opened one eye, cautiously peering down at the baby. Robert was asleep now, mouth slightly open, one hand clutching Jack's shirt, the other tucked under his chin.
Jack smiled to himself and closed his eye again. Mission accomplished. Nice to know that he hadn't lost the knack. Drove Sara mad that he could just walk in and tame Charlie, while she'd spent the day demented.
Minutes passed in peaceful remembrance. He relaxed and was almost asleep when a quiet feminine voice asked
"How d'ya do that?"
Jack's eyes popped open. Sid and Carrie stood in the doorway, bemused smiles on their faces.
"Sara used to ask me that," he answered.
"He must really like you. Usually he keeps on going for hours," Carrie added.
"Thanks, Jack. You're a godsend," said Sid gratefully as Carrie reached down to carefully remove the baby.
"I know I haven't been up here lately but…I'm sure I would have noticed…did you tell me? Or did you guys adopt?" Jack asked slightly confused. Yes, he'd been up here months ago, but he hadn't exactly asked for company other than the bottled kind, in the aftermath of Daniel's…ascension.
Sid took up the tale as Carrie went into the house with Robert.
"Let's see…the last time you were up here was…oh yes. You bought a few cases of beer and gave me a `don't talk to me' look. You obviously had stuff you needed to deal with. We didn't bother you with it. `Sides, it was the first trimester and Carrie was having a hard time. I thought it easier not to say anything until the baby made it."
"I'm sorry; I can be a real asshole at times," said Jack apologetically.
"It's your cabin, your life. God knows we've both been through enough," Sid answered, meaning it was okay.
Jack had been coming to the cabin for as long as Sid could remember. Sid knew about Sara and Charlie since he'd met them when Jack's life was all he could wish for. Jack knew about Sid's first wife Tanya. She'd been killed in a car accident a year or two after Sid married. It had been a long time until he met Carrie. Life carried on.
"I'm glad for you, Sid. If you need a babysitter anytime I'm up here, just let me know," Jack offered, surprising himself.
"Thanks, I might take you up on that. We need some time to ourselves. I nearly lost them both, Jack. Pre Eclampsia! Robert was so tiny! He was too early. Carrie's only just back on her feet," Sid grunted.
Jack clasped Sid's shoulder "The important thing is they made it. You made it. Don't think about anything else."
Sid cleared his throat. "Yeah, I'll give you a hand with that mattress," he said effectively ending the topic.
"I'm going to need it. Got an unexpected visitor from the base," Jack explained without giving too much detail away.
"So, now you'll be able to eat too," smirked Sid referring to the food parcel Carrie had made up.
"Right. I have one last thing to check in your freezer before I go though. It's kind of an `in-joke'," replied Jack.
"Damn, you've come back in a good mood." I smiled as I helped Jack unload the mattress from the back of the truck.
He just smiled and muttered something about glowy things and blaming Robert.
I knew better than to ask him to explain. The Colonel couldn't help but be cryptic.
I was glad he'd picked up the mattress. Chivalry meant I kept the bed, while Jack endured the couch. Maybe he'd get some rest tonight.
"Hey, I got some food,"
"I've never seen you buy fruit before."
"I didn't. Carrie put that in there. But I did choose these!" He triumphantly produced Ben and Jerry's ice cream tubs.
"Pfish food! I should have guessed! Thanks, I like that one. Oh, Caramel Chew Chew! You shouldn't have!" I babbled.
"They didn't have Karamel Sutra…otherwise…" and he waggled his eyebrows suggestively at me.
I laughed. What else could I do? Besides, it felt good.
After a big lunch some of which Jack actually ate, I had a nap – brought on by the huge dinner and the pills. Jack said he was going to fix the broken window in the spare room. We left the mattress out in the open to air for a bit.
When I got up later to check on him, he was flaked out, fast asleep on the new mattress in the spare room. He hadn't bothered with any sheets. I could see that he'd tidied up the old putty and shards of glass into a metal bin.
I had another game of Minesweeper on my laptop. Jack had promised me a real card game for later in the evening. Said it was family favourite.
Later at night if the ninja squirrels wanted to watch through the window they would have seen Jack and Sam playing cards. Noisily. Empty Ben and Jerry "Pfish Food" ice cream cartons and spoons sat at one end of the table.
"No! You can't DO that!" yelled Sam infuriated.
"Can too. Just did." Jack smirked back.
They both stared at each other across the wooden table.
"But I was going to get my set and run out, until you…you Arrggh!"
"Beat ya," chuckled Jack.
"Damn, now I have to do the last phase again. For the third time," grumbled Sam as Jack reshuffled the Phase Ten cards before dealing.
"Poor you. Stuck on, what…Phase three is it?"
"You know darn well…sir. A set of four and a run of four. What are you on?"
"Phase Eight- seven cards of one colour. Piece of cake. Only two to go."
"Look it's just a card game. We used to play this for hours."
"I'll be back in a moment," Sam said as she got up and headed for the bathroom.
While she was gone, Jack decided it was a good time for a break too. He filled the coffee pot with water and switched it on, and searched in the cupboard for the coffee. He pulled out an unopened bag and stared at it.
One of Daniel's favourite's. A slight breeze lifted the tufts of Jack's hair. Jack glanced at the closed door and windows.
`Look, if I thought you could hold the cards, I'd deal you in buddy.'
/It's the thought that counts./
`Yes, don't I know it.'
/Just make my coffee./
`I had to do something with it...Jonas doesn't like it and I never got round to putting it in your lab before you went to Kelowna.'
/Then drink it for me./
`Why not? Sounds like a plan.'
As I went back to the kitchen I thought I heard Jack talking to someone.
"Did you get a phone call?" I asked.
He looked puzzled. "No."
"Oh, I thought I heard you talking; that's all"
"Nothing, just thinking aloud. Coffee- want some?" He gestured towards the pot.
"Sure," I said. I needed to clear the sticky taste of the ice cream away. "Isn't this…?" I asked as I recognised the coffee bag on the counter.
Things were turning out for the better. Jack looked rested. I was relieved after the horrible way today had begun.
We took our mugs back to the table, where the dealt piles of cards lay. Quietly we sorted our cards. I picked up my mug.
"To absent friends…" I toasted, staring at Jack and hoping I hadn't misread him.
"Gone, but not forgotten," he replied, an odd smile on his face.
As we played the card game I thought about how far we had come in the last few days. We still had a way to go, but we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I smiled to myself at the terrible cliché.
"What?" Jack asked.
"Nothing. Just a bad cliché."
"Spill. I wanna hear it."
"Alright. I was just thinking about how much better I was beginning to feel and that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel."
He stared at me. I was unsure, from his blank face how he was going to read this.
"Well, you know what they say about those tunnels…" he murmured as he picked up a card and then discarded it.
"What?" I asked cautiously, knowing there was a trap here somewhere but not seeing it. I took a sip of coffee.
"Just be careful the light isn't the train heading straight for ya," he deadpanned, his dark eyes twinkling at me.
I snorted my coffee and coughed as some went the wrong way down my throat.
"Jeez Carter, you never heard that one? You okay?"
I shook my head then nodded in answer. He reached over for a cloth to mop up the coffee.
"Didn't think it was that bad…" he said slightly hurt.
"It was terrible!"
"Hey, it was your cliché to start with!"