Jack woke slowly, the surrounding sounds gradually penetrating his fuzzy brain.
He could hear beeps coming from somewhere over his head. Well, that was a strange place for beeps to be located. Maybe Carter could tell him what was going on - she always knew everything, so it stood to reason that she would know this, too.
But that lump sitting beside his bed didn't look like Carter. In fact, it looked more like Daniel. But what was Daniel doing sitting beside his bed? Was he in some kind of hospital? Maybe it was one that only allowed males inside its doors.
But Jack didn't believe that the minute he had the thought. He'd never heard of such a hospital, anyway. If his head would only stop spinning long enough for him to get a fix on one subject, then he could reason out what had happened. Had he been on a mission that had gone wrong? Had he hit his head? He tried to move his left arm up to touch his head, but the cast covering his entire arm was heavy enough to stop him.
Why was his arm in a cast? He'd hurt his head, not his arm... hadn't he?
And where was Carter? She always sat with him in the Infirmary until he woke up.
Oh, that's where he was - the Infirmary. So.... he was at the SGC. In the infirmary. Jack puzzled over why the fact that he was in the Infirmary did not bring him the feeling of relief and safety that he thought it should.
Carter would know. Carter knew everything.
But Carter wasn't here - Daniel was. And there was no Teal'c hovering near the foot of his bed. Where was Teal'c?
And just where was Carter? She hadn't showed up yet, though Jack had been awake for several minutes. Was she alone on a mission? Was she captured? Was she hurt, also a resident of the Infirmary? Was that why he hadn't seen her yet?
What if she was lying unconscious somewhere, and woke with no one by her side? What if she'd been captured, and woke alone in a Goa'uld cell?
Panic seized Jack. Possibilities continued to burn through his brain, though perhaps 'burn' indicated too much action. The thoughts that seemed to race through Jack's mind were actually very sluggish, and he was having trouble keeping his eyes open. The one thing that spurred him to wakefulness was his need to find out that Carter was safe. If she wasn't by his side, then where was she?
Frustrated, Jack gathered as much energy together as he had at his disposal and asked, “Carter - where?” He was rather dismayed to find that all he could produce was a mousy sounding whisper.
Daniel looked up from the book he was intently reading. “Jack?”
But Jack wanted nothing to do with Daniel. “Carter,” he insisted, and tried to turn his head the other way for a look around, hoping to spot her, but pain shot through his head. He had to stop before the world spun away from him. The nausea was making him want to heave as it was.
Daniel snapped the book shut and leaned in close to Jack. “No, I'm Daniel,” he said, obviously mistaking what Jack had said as thinking that the man had called him by his team mate's name and not his own. “Sam wanted to come down here, but since she's not part of the Air Force anymore...”
What? Not part of the Air Force anymore? What was Daniel on to think something so insane as that?
“Carter,” Jack more forcibly repeated, straining his bonds this time to see what he could still do. The fact that his bonds were nothing more than the bedsheets and blankets weighing him down slipped past him.
Daniel got his 'I'm gonna be patient now' look on his face and tried explaining, “No, Sam's the one who hit you. She thought you were a clone.” Then Daniel let his head fall to the side as he considered. “Well, of course she thought that. To her, you're dead. You can't be you, so you must have been a clone, just like she was from before.”
“Where is she?” Jack demanded, and struggled a little bit more against the weights on his body. Maybe this was some kind of weird gravity pushing against him? He'd come across that odd use of gravity during injury before. Thoughts of the time he'd spent as a prisoner of Ba'al flitted through his mind. There, gravity had definitely not been his friend!
And that was when he recalled something linking Carter to Ba'al... Jack's panic mushroomed: Oh, God, Ba'al had her! He would kill her!
Jack thrashed even harder, terror giving him strength. Before he knew it, he had his 'bonds' loose on one side of this contraption he was being held in, and had slipped out. But the wires held by a needle in his wrist got all tangled up with monitor wires, and he would have fallen if Daniel hadn't caught him.
“Jack! What are you doing?” Daniel's stricken voice asked him.
“He's got her!” Jack yelled. “Gotta get her outta there!”
Daniel pulled Jack off balance and into his lap, where he fought against Jack's weak thrashing. “Gotta get who? Who's got her? Who is 'her?'
Why was Daniel being so slow in all this? “Ba'al! Got Carter!” Jack tried to explain. “Find her! Rescue...”
As quickly as he had woken to a panic strewn world, that world receded as the drugs that had been pumped into his veins through the IV in his arm took effect. Jack felt the inexorable tug of more sleep, and he fought it off long enough to get right into Daniel's face and say, “Get Carter.”
Then he was gone. The idea of Carter hitting him and putting him in here - ludicrous. It was because of the clones. Clones... and Carter...
Thoughts swirled together in Jack's brain as darkness once more welcomed him into slumber.
* * *
When next he woke up, he was lying on his back on the bed again. Only this time, the pain in his head had been reduced to a dull ache rather than the thud of powerful wings beating against his skull. He again ascertained the beeps of a heart monitor singing just above his head. That made sense - that's where the heart monitors always were when he was in the Infirmary.
And yes, he was definitely an Infirmary guest. He would recognize that Infirmary smell in a heartbeat, a combination of dank underground mixed with antiseptic. It was a smell that Jack always associated with Doc Fraiser.
With a twisted ache in his heart, he then swiftly remembered the tiny female Napoleon's death. So it wasn't her who had given him his last bout of sedatives, like he'd thought at the time. A sideways glance told him that Daniel was still there. He suddenly had a brief flash of sitting on Daniel's lap.
But that didn't make sense, either. He and Daniel weren't in the type of a relationship where one of them sat in the other's lap. They never had been - he was sure of it.
Daniel was reading, his nose practically glued to the page of a thick book. His glasses constantly crept down his nose, and every few minutes he would push them back up again. Jack watched several of these maneuvers from the corners of his eyes, but didn't say anything to alert Daniel of his new wakeful status.
Daniel was familiar to him, but not recently familiar. He couldn't quite remember why, either, and it instantly pissed him off. But why was he pissed? He didn't quite understand things yet. He needed more intel.
So he glanced to the other side of his bed. Carter was sitting there, her head in her hands, so still that she wasn't even doing her thinking mode thing. Instead, she was doing nothing more than quietly contemplating the floor.
Which was just wrong. The Carter he knew was never completely quiet like this. She was always moving, thinking, fiddling, focusing. This lack of focus-driven Carter-action gave Jack the hebbie-jeebies.
And wierder yet, when she went to scratch her lower right leg, Jack could clearly see that she didn't have a left leg to match the right.
That's when it hit him, fast and swift, like a mental hammer blow to his aching brain.
Carter - clones - captured - Ba'al - Gate Room - discharge - sort of on the run - Daniel's messages - the shock of seeing Carter again - her 'marriage' to Shanahan - her discharge from the Air Force - him finding out that he hadn't been discharged like he thought - her hitting him on the head with her crutch...
Wham! She might just as well as hit him again.
But then Jack mentally frowned - if Carter had been medically discharged from the Air Force, what was she doing sitting beside his Infirmary bed, just like always? It just didn't add up.
“Daniel? Carter?” he groaned in order to let them both know that he was once more awake.
She was looking right at him in a nonasecond. Her blue gaze sizzled his brown, tearing up as he watched with growing horror. “I'm so sorry for hitting you, Sir,” she whispered in contrite sorrow. “I thought you were dead. Daniel said you were...”
“No Sam,” Daniel piped up from the other side of the bed, and Jack turned his head to stare at Daniel. “You said that.” Then he reluctantly added, “I...um... just didn't correct you on it.”
Jack turned back when Carter made a grunting noise that sounded like a snort of disbelief - her pensive attitude had turned murderous enough so that she could argue about something that had obviously been argued about many times already. Jack was suddenly very glad that he wasn't Daniel. “And all this time, you let me think...”
Daniel interrupted her, and again Jack turned to look at him. “It wasn't so much 'let you think' as 'didn't quite get around to explaining everything.'”
Sam struck out and hit the side of Jack's bed, a noise that caused Jack to again stare at her. The Carter he knew never gave into her emotions like this. But then, the Carter he knew was still a member of the Air Force. He didn't know much about this retired Carter, or what she would do. “That's semantics, Daniel, and you know it!”
Jack heard Daniel spurt an exasperated sigh, and he looked back to his archaeological friend, who was looking slightly fearful even as he defensively pointed out to Carter, “Look, I tell you again that I did what I thought was best at the time! The deal was that Jack was gone, and I didn't know where he was, didn't know where you were, had an inkling that you were someone you weren't, fought the entire SGC over the whole clone thing - for months I might add... Just what would you have had me do in that scenario that would have been different?”
Jack could see the building anger in both his friends, and trying to deflect the wreck he saw looming in the very near future, said a short, “Uh, how 'bout we..?
Ignoring him, or not hearing him because his voice had been so quiet, Sam huffed an angry breath and stared in mounting fury at their friend. “You could have told me the truth, Daniel!”
Daniel was incensed as well, and completely missed Jack clearing his throat in order to call their attentions onto him. “Oh,” Daniel said, heavily sarcastic as he faced Sam. “Like I was just going to saunter into your Infirmary room the minute you got back and say 'Your clone hurt Jack so bad that he actually left the SGC, and obviously doesn't want to see any of us ever again - and how are you doing now that your leg has been cut off?” His sarcasm had very uncharacteristically turned biting. “And tell me, what would you have done if you had known?”
Sam glared daggers at him. “I would have found him, Daniel!” she exclaimed over Jack on his bed.
Daniel snorted. “Like it was so easy! I tried!” he reported in a voice like a whip. “Three times! It took a huge amount of trust for him to come back at all! The only thing I could do was tell him as much as I could about you! He didn't come back for me, Sam. He came back because of you!”
The shock of Daniel's statement made Jack give a jerk on his bed. Was that what had really happened? And was it so obvious? And why was Daniel using such a biting tone? It was almost like he felt left out.
Which was another revolutionary idea. For the first time, Jack considered how this entire mess must have affected Daniel. The guy had lost his friends - Teal'c was gone, Jack was gone, and Sam...
Sam was.... what had he said that day in his bathroom? Sam was his responsibility. That was it. He'd felt responsible for her... for her state of mind... so he had let her believe that Ba'al had killed Jack... then that Jack had committed suicide... and why?
In a breath, Jack understood: so that she wouldn't worry, so she could concentrate on getting better, think about herself rather than him. Had she known the truth, Daniel knew how she would have been: consumed with the idea of finding him, even to the detriment of her own health. So he'd let her think...
But then, in order to do that, he would have had to pretend that Jack was dead. And Jack was, in some ways. He was certainly gone... and had left Daniel all alone to deal with all of this... all by himself.
Jack felt the first twinges of guilt crawl up his spine.
But what Daniel had just said made Sam give a jerk, too, and her abrupt movement cut Jack's guilt short. She finally sought out Jack with her gaze, and instead of backtracking, as Jack expected her to do, she uncharacteristically blurted, “You came back because of me?”
Jack gave another start. Where was her constant need to pretend that he didn't exist for her? Or rather, her feelings for him didn't exist. She had done nothing short of everything possible to convince him as well as the entire base that she was free of him. So what gives?
Jack could only stare, his voice frozen in his throat, terrified by this new Carter and her unfettered questions.
It was an instinctual defense mechanism for Jack to either make a wise crack, or to ignore what she'd said altogether. But another blink later, he recalled what Daniel had said to him about him being able to do whatever he wanted concerning Carter and no one would stop him, or call him on behavior unbecoming an officer, or turn him in, or do anything to either of them. With all that flashing through his mind, he decided to take a chance and be honest for a change. It was a weird moment.
Jack opened his mouth to answer Sam's question as honestly as he could, given that he was in a public Infirmary, but the sudden appearance of a female doctor whom he didn't know cut him off. “Excuse me,” she said, bristling with crisp authority. “But this is my Infirmary, not the General's office, and not a place for such a loud discussion. You're bothering my other patients. Either you keep it down, or I kick you out. The end. Are we clear?” She eyed her patient and his visitors with an unforgiving death glare. There was no mistaking that she was serious.
Contrite, the three nodded as one. Her face softened minutely as she glanced at Jack's monitors. “General, how's the head?”
It took him a second to remember that he hadn't been discharged like he'd thought he had been, and she was talking to him. “Uh... better,” he told her. “Instead of a big roar, there's only a dull roar now.”
“Good,” she commented. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Jack could barely keep himself from glancing towards Carter when the doctor asked that question, but he managed to keep his voice modulated to a mild tone and reported, “I don't remember anything specific - there were a lot of people there.” He narrowed his eyes in thought. “Did I hit something?” he asked hesitantly. “After someone pushed me? Or fell into me?” He ruefully looked at his arm in its cast. “I tried to catch myself with my hand - that much I remember!”
“Hmmm,” the doctor hummed. “Well, your arm is broken, not dislocated, almost like you tried to block a blow with it, not used it to stop your downward momentum.” She looked pointedly at Jack now. “You're sure you remember catching yourself with your hand?”
Jack let doubt cloud his face. “Maybe I don't remember that either,” he said in a tentative voice.
“Well...” The doctor took one more glance at the monitors, then looked at Jack. “Perhaps you'll remember more with time.” Then she widened her attention to include Daniel and Sam. “And keep it down - all of you.” With that, she was gone.
As she disappeared, Daniel and Sam both hissed a sigh of relief that washed over Jack. It was obvious that none of them wanted to heap assault charges on Sam, who had enough to deal with.
“Thank you, Sir!” Sam softly said.
There was that 'Sir' again, instantly annoying Jack. It brought with it too many memories of a past that he preferred to forget right now, most notably the fact that she had rarely allowed herself to call him anything but what military confines had dictated was acceptable. Jack was abruptly tired of military confines, discharged or not.
Jack's eyes narrowed again, this time in absolute disquiet. But he asked the safer question, “Either of you mind telling me who I just lied to?”
“Her name is Carolyn Lam, the new CMO,” Daniel replied just as softly. “She's alright, but even more strict than Janet, and definitely more willing to carry through on her threats - and Janet was willing enough as it was!” Carter looked as intrigued about the new CMO as Jack did, so Daniel added, “She came just after Sam left the Infirmary last time.”
Jack smirked. “So you're saying that we can argue as long as we do it in whispers?”
It was a statement which irritated Daniel, who didn't like to argue unless it was with Jack. “Jack!” the linguist instantly objected in a long-suffering voice that was loud enough to catch the attentions of those in the beds around them.
It also carried to the ears of Doctor Lam, who was there in a second. “Alright, you were warned - out,” she perfunctorily ordered.
Jack wondered if that order included him, but he would have a hard time with disconnecting the IV...
Seeming to know that he wasn't quite thinking straight yet, Dr. Lam next said, “General, you need to get some more rest while you're alone. Do I need to help you along, or are you capable of being quiet on your own?” She gave the impression with her frosty words that she wasn't going to take any crap from him. Yet, she hadn't mentioned the court-martial that Jack felt sure was looming on his horizon, either, and that made her alright in his book.
“No, I'll be fine... right here,” Jack said in a small voice, trying for once to be good without being asked first. He didn't think that he would be able to get much of anything passed this doctor, and he and she didn't have the relationship that he'd shared with Fraiser for him be able to count on her making things nice for him. God, he missed Fraiser! He was rarely so aware of the heartache that was her as when he was in the Infirmary. So naturally, he hated being in the Infirmary even if this new doctor was alright. If only his head would stop aching, he'd be in business!
Dr. Lam was now looking at him as if she could see through him, but didn't call him on his obvious falsehood. She only harumphed once, stayed around long enough to show Daniel and Carter to the door, then left Jack alone to go back to terrorizing her other patients.
Jack watched as Daniel waited for Carter to catch up to him at the door into the corridor before they walked off together, not talking, but not fighting, either. The atmosphere around them was tense, but he expected it to be after the things that Daniel had said. He supposed that Daniel would now have to take Carter back to the nursing home in Denver. She had a curfew there, he reminded himself, and wasn't as free to move around as he wished her to be.
If only his head would stop hurting!
If only, if only, if only!
That seemed to be the phrase of the century. If only Ba'al hadn't captured her the way he had. If only he hadn't cloned her to begin with, then none of this would have happened. If only had hadn't cut off her leg out of spite for his former prisoner, then Carter would have two working legs. She'd still be in the Air Force, he'd still be in the... Jack blinked: oh, yeah, he was, thanks to Hammond.
How had Hammond worked that? And why wasn't he surrounded right now by SFs waiting to take him to his court-martial? Hadn't he been AWOL for months? If nothing else, he'd actually taken a shot at a superior officer. Jack really did recall that tidbit. Or at least, he thought he did. But since there were no SFs waiting to haul his sorry ass away for his treatment of a fellow officer, maybe he was making that part up, too.
Crap. Jack wasn't sure about anything anymore. The only thing he did know for certain was that there was more going on here than met the eye, and the only way he could find out any of it was to talk to Hammond. In order to do that, he had to first get released from the clutches of The Dragon Lady Doctor.
Jack smiled to himself at the nickname he had just given to Dr. Lam. It was as applicable as 'Napoleon' had been for Fraiser.
Thoughts of Lam mixing with memories of the Doc lulled Jack back to more healing sleep.
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