Disclaimer: I don't own them, but I'm sure having fun with them!

The 'Threads' of DC

by Linda Bindner

Jack had been in DC for two weeks, and already he was bored to death by his new job. If it weren't for his e-mails sent to Carter still in Colorado, he'd truly have gone insane by now.

Which reminded him... he had yet to answer the final e-mailed question that Carter had asked the previous afternoon about him someday becoming her brother's 'future brother-in-law.' He had been distracted from answering her right away when his secretary-of-the-day had brought a stack of reports from the Alpha Site for him to read, and then he'd been distracted again when an unexpected video conference about Area 51 had begun. He hadn't gone home from work until 2200, and by then, he'd been too tired to respond to Carter's question in a coherent manner. So he would have to do it later on the next day - today... after this damned meeting that he was currently in had ended, that is.

But the voices belonging to the members of this meeting were droning on and on, and there was no indication that it would end any time soon. Jack hated this part of his job - all this useless talking. Funny how talking to Carter over e-mail never seemed to make him wish he'd stayed in bed, as his meetings always did. (Well, he wouldn't mind being in bed with Carter, just that.... SO not going there!)

Jack reoriented his thoughts back to listening to what blathering thing Kinsey was saying now. (He still had a difficult time accepting the fact that Kinsey was now the Vice President!) Kinsey was currently employing his typical time-wasting trick of babbling his mumbo-jumbo party line as he cleaned his glasses (for the fifth time in an hour - Jack had counted) when all of a sudden, with no warning whatsoever, the crowded conference room erupted into chaos.

Someone politely knocked on the conference room door, then the door firmly opened. Jack had just finished swiveling his chair around to face the door to see who had invaded the sanctity of the conference room when in walked the last person he had expected to see for the next few months, at least. Carter?!? burst out of Jack's mouth.

The theoretical astrophysicist acknowledged his surprised outburst with a tiny answering smile, but her first statement was aimed at the members of this meeting with the VP and the PLDC (Planetary Defense Council, comprised of every high ranking military officer available in DC) who were seated around the table. Each member stared at her and her sudden interruption with mouths opened in awe as she said, Please excuse me for this interruption, Ma'ams and Sirs - I need to speak to General O'Neill for just a -

And that was as far in her opening comment as she got before she was unceremoniously slammed into from behind by a burly thug from the Secret Service set to protect the Vice President. Jack only knew the man as 'Tiny.' The not-so-tiny Secret Service agent hit Carter so hard that she instantly collided with the conference room table, her head making a sickening 'crack' as it met with the wooden piece of furniture. Jack had barely had time to expel the gasped breath of air he'd inhaled before 'Tiny' had the unconscious and bleeding Colonel Carter's hands hauled roughly behind her back, where the big man was now attempting to clasp them with the handcuffs kept at his waist.

Kinsey, as well as every member of the Planetary Defense Council, was on his or her feet, yelling their outrage at this unexpected interruption. But Jack ignored it all to vault up from his chair in the next instant, his eyes focused on his former 2IC as he took the two steps between him and Carter with her 'tiny' assailant. Adrenaline pumping through his muscles, he hauled the bigger man named 'Tiny' backwards with one enormous yank, throwing him against the far wall in his abrupt surge to get to his former team mate. Carter! he yelped as she slid from her spot doubled over on the table towards the carpeted floor. He caught her just before she collided with the carpet, and eased her down, hastily pushing chairs and people out of the way as he went.

Quickly, yet surprisingly calmly, considering who he was tending to, Jack reached into the pocket of the coat belonging to his dress uniform, in search of the linen handkerchief he always kept there, supposedly for Daniel, in case a sneezing frenzy ever overcame him while he and Jack were on a trip together. But as it had been ages since he'd traveled with the allergic archaeologist, by all rights, Jack should have taken that handkerchief out of his pocket by now. But in truth, Jack was a forgetful man, and had forgotten about the presence of the handkerchief... until right this instant, when he needed it the most.

Now, Jack's hand delved into his dress uniform coat pocket and came back with a scrap of linen that he hastily placed on Carter's bleeding forehead. As he pressed the handkerchief into her bloody skin, Jack reached around behind her to release her hands from the binding of the handcuffs, which his rough hauling of 'Tiny' away from the Colonel's form had interrupted. Thus, it was easy now to pull her arms out from under her back and to lay her flat on the floor beneath her. Still amazingly calm, he began to use his free hand to feel the length of Carter's form, searching for other, more hidden, injuries.

Fortunately, Jack found nothing more than the obvious head wound that was causing enough bleeding on its own.

Somebody call an ambulance! Jack tersely suggested as he bent over Carter. He had no idea if his 'suggestion' was followed as he grasped her wrist in order to take her pulse, finding it comfortingly strong under his probing fingers.

At the head of the table, Kinsey stuffed his hands in his pockets in a severe show of impatience. General O'Neill, care to explain what your team member is doing here in DC? he huffed.

I agree, another Council member piped up. General, just what is going on?

Jack managed to take enough of his concentration off Carter for a second to gruffly tell Kinsey, If I knew what was going on and why she's here, I would happily tell you. Since I know about as much as you do, shut the hell up - I'm concentrating! A woman's life may very well be at stake here!

But Kinsey was not content to 'shut the hell up.' He rolled his eyes and groaned. A bit on the dramatic side, as usual, O'Neill, he snottily informed. I think...

Jack's thin grasp on his temper vanished. He glanced up, a look of pure venom on his face. Maybe you would like me to let 'slip' to the people of this country that you've trained your lackeys to attack first, and ask questions later - this little racket that you have going here seems an awful lot like martial law, if you ask me! Maybe you wouldn't mind if I just let everyone know that one of your goons gave an innocent woman a head injury? If not, then shut up and let me try to help her!

Successfully chastised, Kinsey verbally retreated, but he remained at the head of the table, a glowering presence that barely appeared contained.

Jack ignored him to once again concentrate on stopping Carter's bleeding. Her forehead and blonde hair was a mess of streaks of red blood that was drying quickly into a hard, sticky crust of crimson. Her eyelids fluttered up once, and Jack had the satisfaction of staring into blue eyes gone foggy with pain, but knowing that she had instantly recognized him before she slipped back into unconsciousness. Still, Jack's worried spirits were calmed by her blink, for in that one instant, he had seen that she, at least for now, knew his identity and was still able to recognize him among the many people who could potentially be helping her at the moment.

Thus encouraged, Jack pushed harder on the cut on her forehead near her hairline that was still bleeding, and Carter moaned at the discomfort that his motion caused. Jack was even more heartened to hear her reaction to pain, hoping that it was a good sign just as the already crowded room became even more crowded with the arrival of the paramedics that someone had obviously called.

Outfitted in white, the two woman and one man medical team bustled in and immediately began working on Carter. One of the women fired questions at Jack, who was the only person administering to the injured victim, asking him what had happened, what Carter's responses had been, if she'd woken at any time, and what was the VP doing just standing there - shouldn't an elected official of the country be helping in a situation like this?

Chastised again, Kinsey huffed once more and threw up his hands in irritation. No one else is helping either, I notice! Kinsey growled.

Yes, the female paramedic said as she continued to feverishly work on Carter. But the others are not an elected official, she noted. They're not entrusted with the health of the nation.

Jack had the wherewithal to snort at that comment, especially amused at the idea that Kinsey could ever be trusted with the health of anything, but again, his attention was drawn to the woman laying prostrate on the floor before him. She now had an IV line running into her hand, and a white temporary bandage kept her bleeding to a minimum.

Still, Carter looked awful, pale and fragile while lying before the Council members. The paramedics moved her to their gurney that they had brought in with them, and prepared to wheel their charge away.

Wait! Jack desperately shouted after them as they hurried Carter out of the door. Where are you taking her?

County General, came the prompt answer. Then they were all gone in a swirl of white and blood red and squeaky gurney wheels.

In the ensuing silence, Jack managed to take a much needed breath of air, then prepared to follow.

Jack was stopped from rushing headlong through the door by a warm hand placed on his arm. He glanced down in annoyance, wondering who could possibly be detaining him at a time like this, when he noticed that the warm hand belonged to Lieutenant General Marcus Wilks. He glanced up at the man, who was holding a piece of paper out to him.

Your... um... friend... had this in her hand, he stuttered, clearly unsure of what to call Carter now that the excitement was over and she was gone. He went on, I caught it as that man hit her from behind, knocking it out of her hand. He glanced once at the single ungreeted and unsigned message on the piece of paper in his hand and gestured towards Jack with it. It has your name on it - I figured that you would know why she wanted to hand it to you.

Surprised, Jack took the paper being held out to him, and glanced at it as Wilks withdrew into the safety of the group of people babbling about the sudden and disastrous interruption to their otherwise boring meeting.

Ignoring the noise level in the room, Jack quickly scanned the message on the paper, and instantly recognized it as e-mail reportedly from him to Carter. He noted the time and date on the message header, and deduced that this was some kind of a response to Carter's final question of him in their e-mail conversation from the day before.

Except... The message header claimed that it was from him... only he didn't recall writing this letter and sending it to her. In fact, he remembered the opposite happening - he hadn't had the time to reply to Carter's question about brothers-in-law at all, and intended to do that today.

The fact that there was no greeting, or any signature indicated that this e-mail message was more than it obviously seemed on the surface. Jack kept reading and rereading the note, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling more and more with each rereading he did. Finally, his eyes settled on the last words of the note, and he breathed in sudden understanding of all that had led up to what had just happened in the conference room... Carter's sudden appearance, her 'request' to speak to him... It all made sense now.

What the note said was really quite simple and concise:

No, there's nothing going on that you don't know about. Mark did say that thing about 'future brother-in-law,' but I'm just yanking your chain by repeating it, I admit. Though it's a nice thought. Whadyasay? It could work.

Though it's a nice thought, Jack repeated to himself now. Then, he continued, his heart stilling in his chest as he did. Whadyasay? It could work. This last comment was referring to changing Jack's status in Carter's life from one-time CO to becoming her brother Mark's 'future brother-in-law.' This...

Slowly Jack breathed again.

In the stumbling fashion that was very akin to him, Jack knew, this message depicted a very humble, yet hopeful marriage proposal.

Except... Jack hadn't proposed marriage to Carter yesterday - not that he knew of. Even if the printed e-mail he held in his hand did claim that this message was from him to her... he just didn't remember sending anything that looked like this at the end of his and Carter's conversation. If he had proposed - well damn! He'd sure as hell remember something like that!

But now Jack remembered nothing. Jack rolled his eyes in aggravation - first Mark claiming that he was his sister's boyfriend, and now this! It did, however, explain Carter's sudden appearance and request to speak to 'General O'Neill.' She was probably as confused by this message as he was.

With deliberate movements and an even more deliberate sigh, Jack again refolded the paper and put it in the front pocket of his trousers. Afterwards, he headed unflinchingly out the conference room door, seeking the fastest route possible to County General Hospital to wait for Carter to regain consciousness so they could figure out together what was going on in their lives.

* * *

Five hours later, Jack was still waiting. And it appeared that he would be waiting for hours yet to come.

They'd immediately taken Sam to get an x-ray and an MRI, looking for possible bleeding on her brain.

Just the thought of blood encompassing his Carter's brain scared Jack half to death. He decided that whatever hair he had left that was still silver had definitely turned gray upon hearing of that possibility.

Next, Sam had been ensconced in the neurology department's ICU. There was an entire wing of the hospital confined just to the 'head cases.' Jack was part horrified that Carter was now considered a 'head case,' and glad at the same time that she was getting the help that she needed to combat whatever was taking place in her 'upstairs.'

Sam had a definite concussion, one that rivaled in size the concussion that she'd gotten on board The Prometheus. But that ship concussion had been over a year ago. Still, the hospital's doctors were being cautious concerning the possibility of a blood clot developing in Sam's brain, and had decided to keep her relatively isolated and in their constant care in the ICU.

Which meant that Jack couldn't sit by her bedside, watching over her himself, for the first time in eight years. He was only allowed in to see her for five minutes every hour. Not knowing how she was doing minute to minute was driving him nuts!

As he waited, he tried to call to mind again all that had happened since Carter's unexpected arrival that morning in DC. But the sudden ringing of his cell phone combated the pall of anxious boredom that had fallen over him. He first checked his watch - noting that he had thirty-five minutes to go before he could see Carter again - then he pulled his phone from the coat pocket of his dress uniform to answer it. O'Neill, he tiredly said into the phone.

Jack? Daniel's voice came loud and clear through the earpiece.

Before Jack even had the chance to respond to the simple question of Daniel saying his name, a nurse was standing beside him, tapping him on the shoulder, giving him a shake of her head.

No cell phones this near ICU, sir, she chastised, and pointed at a sign near the Intensive Care Unit door that said the same thing. She went on to add, It messes with our monitoring equipment. Please disconnect as quickly as possible.

Then she crossed her arms, refusing to leave, and did everything but impatiently tap her foot as she gazed straight at Jack to make sure he did as she requested, not impressed at all by his uniform.

Jack sighed again - this day was quickly going from bad to worse, he sourly thought. Daniel, I'll have to call you back, he said, giving no explanation as to where he was or why he'd have to call again. Are you...

At home, Daniel quickly replied. Call back soon. Then he hung up.

Jack flipped his phone shut after turning it off. Sorry, he dispiritedly said. It won't happen again.

Are you alright? the nurse then asked, noting his haggard appearance for the first time. Could you use a cup of coffee? Something to eat?

Um... Jack considered her query as he once more pocketed his cell phone. Coffee, I guess. The caffeine might help keep him alert as he waited.

The cafeteria is that way, fifth floor, she told him, solicitous now as she pointed to a bank of elevators that Jack hadn't seen yet.

Thanks. Jack slowly rose to his feet, his knees creaking in spite of what Ba'al's sarcophagus had done for them several years before. He felt old for the first time in ages as he walked after the departing nurse and into a waiting elevator.

It took Jack ten minutes to buy some coffee, then to find his way to a waiting room with a public phone set to one side of a stained, well-used couch. After punching in the numbers of his credit card, as the instructions ordered him to do, then dialing Daniel's number from memory, he finally heard the connection being made in Colorado.

The phone was answered before a proper ring had even sounded over the line. Jack? came Daniel's worried voice. This better be you this time, or I'll... faint... from waiting, he lamely ended.

You thought it might be someone else? Jack joked, his amusement momentarily alleviating his exhaustion.

Don't screw with me, Jack! Daniel demanded. He didn't wait for Jack to say more, but went on to ask, Have you seen Sam today? She was supposed to get to DC about three hours ago, and she was supposed to call me when she got there, but I haven't heard from her yet, and she isn't answering her cell phone, and she...

Daniel, Jack interrupted. Relax before you rupture something. Carter's here in Washington, with me.

The relief in Daniel's voice was palpable even over a long distance line. Oh, thank God! he exclaimed. Then his voice seeming to come from far away, he said, She's with him in DC!

Jack instantly grew suspicious. Daniel, who's with you? Is T... Murray back from... you know where... early or something? he inquired.

Daniel hesitated in giving his answer. Nooooo, he hedged. I was...

Jack heard a distinctive voice saying, Oh, just tell him! sound over the line.

Daniel sighed, then said, Mark's here, Jack.

Mark? As in, Carter's brother? There? As in, in Colorado? With Daniel? Jack's eyes wrinkled in puzzlement. Mark - as in, Mark Carter? Carter's brother?

Yeah. Daniel sighed a second time.

Jack was even more confused. How did he get there? I thought you wouldn't be home until today, that you had that conference that you said you wanted to go to that was earlier... Then he finally understood. But how could you have gone to a conference when I talked to you on the phone during a call that I got yesterday from Mark? he asked, now thoroughly flummoxed. Unless you were staying with Mark? he suggested as inspiration hit him. Wasn't that conference in Idaho, though? And didn't Mark live in California? Okay Daniel, Jack demanded in his best pissed-off-CO voice that he could produce considering how tired he was. What gives?

Daniel, when he decided to speak, didn't beat around the bush. No conference, Jack. Instead I flew out to San Diego to visit Mark. We spent the last three days talking linguistics - would have bored you to tears. He paused a pregnant pause. So, he reminded. Sam?

Jack gusted a sad sounding puff of air into the phone.

Jack! Daniel warned when he heard the sigh.

It was the only thing the archaeologist needed to say to prompt Jack to tell him, Carter got to the Pentagon about five or six hours ago. I was in a meeting - I don't know how she found me, but she must not have known that Kinsey was going to be there because...

The Vice President was there? Daniel asked, horror now sounding loud in his voice. But he would have had his Service guys... Then Daniel grew far more suspicious. Did she tell you why she was there?

Jack sighed for a second time. She tried, he said. A Secret Service guy sort of stopped her from saying anything when he slammed into her from behind, knocking her head into the conference table, and cutting her head open. She's been in the ICU ever since.

Oh, God! Daniel muttered, sounding as if he'd been worried that something like this had happened when he couldn't get ahold of her. Is she alright?

She's stable, Jack told him. At least, for a critical person.

She's critical? Daniel yelped.

Jack would have grinned to have gotten a rise out of Daniel so easily if the situation hadn't been so dire. She's going to be fine, Daniel, Then he added, I think.

But Daniel was only just barely able to contain himself at Jack's reassuring comment that wasn't quite reassuring enough. Jack - I'm so sorry! We thought she would find you in your office and talk to you - that's all! It wasn't supposed to be like this!

Instantly Jack was intently listening to all that Daniel had to say. You're sorry... He let his pause fill the connection between them with silence. At last he asked, And just what do you have to be sorry about? Though I can guess.

Daniel's voice quickly became guilty sounding. Did you find some e-mail that Sam wanted to show you?

Jack grimaced. Funny that you should ask, Daniel. I did find some printout that looked like it was an e-mail.... from me... to her... though I don't recall sending something that seemed an awful lot like a marriage proposal.

Daniel guiltily spoke, Now, Jack, don't fly off the handle so fast that you... He tried again, Don't get too upset...

Upset? Jack echoed in a mocking voice. Now why would I be upset, Daniel? Jack felt less tired the more he harangued his friend. The only reason Carter was even here to get injured at all was to talk to me about an e-mail proposal of marriage that I don't remember sending to her in the first place! He attempted to keep his temper more contained after he whisper-yelled into the phone. Now why would I possibly be upset when the woman I... He corrected himself before he could say too much. When Carter is lying, unconscious, in the neurology ICU?

Jack heard the despair in Daniel's voice as if he were standing in the room with him. Okay, Jack, you can stop with all this verbal beating me up stuff... I admit it, we did it, though we had no idea that this would happen...

Vindicated, and much more quickly than he had thought he would be, Jack's indignation deflated like a leaky balloon. 'We' as in..?

Mark and I, Daniel told him. I came up with the idea to send a fake e-mail to Sam, and wrote the e-mail, and Mark called the IT person from his department at his university to tell us how to hide it under several layers of script, and... But I did do a pretty good job of sounding just like you, you have to admit, right? Daniel sounded more hopeful as he asked his question.

Jack was too tired again to care overly much what Daniel had done. Well, you figured on the right things to say. He rubbed at his face, grimacing. Daniel, look, I get to see Carter again in a little while - I only see her for five minutes every hour...

I bet that drives you nuts, Daniel commented.

Jack let out a whoosh of air. You have no idea, he responded.

Would you like some company while you're waiting to see her? Daniel then asked, surprising Jack with his inquiry. Mark's making motions over here that we should fly out to DC so that we...

You're reading my mind, Jack then said. Listen, I'll go outside the hospital to use my cell phone to call Peterson to see if they have any flights headed this way... my rank might do some good at long last... Oh, and there's no cells allowed near the ICU, he explained. Then I'll call you back as soon as I've seen Carter, and as soon as I have something more to tell you. I should be able to get you both a flight out here, anyway. I'll see what I can do.

Thanks, Jack, breathed Daniel. You're a Godsend.

Jack quipped, Don't worry - It won't go to my head...

Daniel was actually able to laugh at this second joke of Jack's. See you soon. Then he hung up.

Jack sighed heavily as he replaced the receiver to the public phone. He felt even more tired after talking to Daniel. He pulled the folded piece of paper from his pocket, then again read through the e-mail message that Daniel had written. He sighed once more - yeah it was true that Daniel had captured his specific tone quite nicely. That is how he would phrase a proposal to Carter... if he was ever not too scared to ask her to marry him...

Grim, he sighed again, then headed back to the ICU, his coffee in hand.

* * *

He returned to the neurological ICU to find it his time to visit Carter. Mindful of his coffee, and the 'no food or drink' rule of the Intensive Care Unit, he set his coffee on a window ledge, then walked further into the ICU ward. (After the cell phone problem, he figured that he was already on the 'outs' with the staff, and if he wanted to continue seeing Carter, he'd better follow as many of the rules as he could for now.) Still, the odor of the coffee must have lingered on his clothes, for he had barely had time to say, 'lo, Carter - how's tricks? to the prostrate from of Carter lying in her bed like usual when she gave a sudden, tremendous, and deep inhaling sniff. Her eyelids fluttered open, she stared straight at him, instantly recognizing him again, and quite clearly asked, Did you bring me a coffee, Sir?

Jack was so stunned by her sudden waking state that he didn't respond fast enough to her question before she had already dropped off back to her sleep-world. He hadn't had time to alert the medical staff while she was awake, but he took the opportunity now to holler, She woke up for a minute! She spoke to me!

Jack ignored the 'quiet please' sign near the door when he managed to turn his excited gaze to a nurse who calmly - especially compared to him - checked Carter's vital statistics, smiling at the enthralled O'Neill as she recorded the numbers. You said that she spoke, Mr. Carter?

I'm... Jack began to say that he wasn't 'Mr. Carter,' but then thought better of it as the staff might refuse him even his short visitation rights if they knew he and Carter weren't related. So all he did was correct the 'Mr.' I'm a General, he said, trying to hush and regulate his voice to match the tones of the more seasoned nurse beside Sam's bed. She very clearly asked if I'd brought a coffee for her when I got mine a few minutes ago - she must have smelled it on my clothes! he insisted. I didn't bring it in, honest!

The nurse smiled indulgently again, but only said, Well, General Carter, your daughter seems to have fallen asleep again. We'll let you know as soon as she wakes up for more than a second at a time.

Thanks, Jack said, again not fixing her assumption that Carter was his 'daughter.' To think - he was even here because of a proposal for marriage, and the nurse thought that /carter was his daughter! The irony of that situation didn't escape him as the nurse checked her other four patients in the NICU, then hurried out of the room.

Jack's attention returned to Carter. He stared at her fragile form on the bed, acknowledging that she looked more vulnerable than he had ever seen her look before. Wake up soon, Carter, he whispered as he slightly rubbed at her cheek. And you can have as much coffee as you want. He would promise her the moon if only she would wake.

Then he left the room, grabbed his coffee from the window ledge, and left the hospital to stand outside in the warming air to phone Peterson Air Force Base to see if he could arrange a flight for Mark and Daniel.

After one other phone call, he was once more phoning Daniel at his home apartment. Daniel? Jack greeted the archaeologist.

Yeah? Daniel greeted back.

Jack continued, I got you and Mark on a flight that goes from Peterson to Keesler AFB in Mississippi. From there, you get on a prop plane that will take you the rest of the way to Andrews. You and Mark won't get to sit together - there's only one seat on each side of the aisle - you know how small prop planes are... His voice trailed off, as once again exhaustion engulfed him.

Daniel took Jack's trailing silence as an invitation to talk. Sounds good, Jack, we don't care, just as long as we get there. His voice sounded like he had perked up as he asked, How are you holding up, Jack? Anything to tell us - any change?

Jack's brows rose minutely. She spoke - asked me a question about did I bring a coffee for her - then she fell asleep again. His momentary energy vanished with his explanation.

But Daniel seemed energized by Jack's news. She spoke? he excitedly asked. She asked for coffee?

Yeah, Jack tiredly breathed. Coffee... she must have smelled the coffee I had just bought.

Jack, came Daniel's worried voice. You sound terrible. You said that you have an hour before they let you see her again...

Jack interrupted him to inform, They think I'm her dad - they keep calling me 'General Carter.'

Daniel snorted at this news. We won't tell Jacob about this, will we? he inquired, then craftily added, If you don't want to be known as her dad, tell them that you're her husband...

Jack sighed at Daniel's obvious attempt at manipulation. How can I be married to her if my name is 'O'Neill' and her name is 'Carter?' he sighed, aggravated.

Daniel instantly replied, You can say that she kept her last name 'cause you were both the rank of 'Colonel' at the time of your marriage, and two 'Colonel O'Neill's is just too confusing.

Jack was impressed at Daniel's seeming forethought even as he yet more aggravated. You've obviously given this idea some thought, he flatly remarked.

I'll be thinking about this all the way to DC, Daniel noted, a grimace sounding in his tone. Hey, should we meet you at the hospital, or at your house?

The house, Jack instantly answered. Visiting hours will be over long before you get here. You'll have to wait till tomorrow to see Carter. Oh, and I'll have my car sent round to get you at Andrews, so you won't have to drive in DC - the roads are a bear. Jack reflected that Carter knew that he thought this way, but Daniel didn't.

Daniel quickly agreed with Jack's plan. Okay, sounds like a plan to me.

Jack almost smiled at Daniel's attempt at humor, but it didn't quite make it all the way to a full blown gesture. It's not a problem, he stated. You have an hour to get to Peterson, he next informed.

Okay, Daniel said, immediately becoming all business again. We'll see you in about eight hours.

Yeah - see ya, Jack said, then turned his cell phone off again, closed and pocketed it, then once again returned to the NICU to sit and wait in the hallway for his five minutes with Carter.

Jack returned to the Neurology Wing of the hospital in thoughtful calm, only to be greeted by an amount of chaos in the ICU. Jack stopped a nurse hurrying out the door and into the hallway by asking, What's happening?

I'm going for the main doctor's medical records of Ms. Carter's case...

The comment stopped Jack cold. Is she okay? he quickly asked. Is she..?

She's awake again, the nurse reported. Your daughter...

Remembering what Daniel had just suggested, Jack glibly replied, She's not my daughter, she's my wife - she kept her own name to avoid confusion when I was still a 'Colonel.'

The nurse looked at him in puzzlement. So, you're not 'General Carter?'

Jack gave a wan grin. 'General Carter is her dad. I'm 'General O'Neill' her husband.

Ah, the nurse breathed in understanding. Then as soon as the doctor has seen that Miss...

Jack was about to correct the nurse again, but changed his mind at the last second. The nurse apparently changed his mind, too, and questioningly guessed, Is she called 'Mrs. O'Neill?'

Lieutenant Colonel Carter, Jack informed. She's called 'Colonel Carter' in military settings.

Lieu... Col... Carter, the nurse stumbled over the unfamiliar names. He gave up and just forged on ahead, saying, After the doctor sees her, your wife will be moved to a room on the neurology floor where we can watch her for a day or two, then she'll be released, if all goes well. We'll let you know where she's taken, he promised, then hurried away again.

Jack sat back on the ICU 'waiting-in-the-hallway' chair, the first smile that he'd been able to produce all day erupting on his face.

Excellent.

* * *

Jack was still thinking that his day had turned out to be rather excellent, but the thought had palled a bit as he impatiently waited to be told that Carter had seen her doctor and had been transported to a regular hospital room, where he could sit beside her bed all he wanted. As it was, it was getting close to the end of visiting hours, and he hated the idea of having to go home before he could see and speak to Carter.

Finally, three and half hours after initially speaking to a nurse, he was approached by another nurse. General Car..? she tentatively asked when she caught sight of his weary form sitting on the ICU chairs in the hallway.

Jack heard the nurse's voice as if it were from a long way away, and blinked against suddenly bright lights for a moment before his vision settled on the form of a woman standing before him. No, I'm General O'Neill, he corrected her original assumption, then added on a tired sigh, But don't let that bother you - I've been called 'General Carter' before - her dad would get a total kick out of it! Jack informed.

The nurse smiled and told him, Your..? She asked with a raise of her eyebrows what relation he was to her patient then if he wasn't her father.

She's my wife, Jack glibly informed her, feeling not at all guilty about his little fib. If it took fibbing for him to be allowed into Carter's room, then he would fib. He'd do whatever it took.

General O'Neill then, she echoed with a small smile. Miss... Mrs. General... She shot a confused glance at him. What should I call her if her name isn't the same as yours? she asked. Then the frown marring her forehead deepened. Why isn't it the same as yours?

Jack sighed again as he rose, and collected all the cups he had been drinking coffee from. I'm called 'General O'Neill.' Carter is called 'Lieutenant Colonel' or 'Colonel Carter.' When we were married, I was a Colonel too, so we for a while we were both called 'Colonel O'Neill.' But that was just too confusing, as you can imagine - we never knew who they were paging over the base sound system. He grinned, enjoying this fantasy life that Daniel had suggested.

You both work on the same base? the woman now politely asked. What's that called? Then she attempted to answer her own question. You're stationed at the same base?

Then, yes, Jack replied. Now, no. She was just visiting me when... this... happened.

Ah, I see, the nurse said. Then she beckoned Jack to follow her. If you'll come this way, I'll show you to... Colonel Carter's room. Then she threw a glance over her shoulder. Did I say it right?

Jack smiled again. You did.

Even though she's a Lieutenant Colonel? she asked. We should call her 'Colonel' anyway?

Jack shrugged. That's how we do it in the military, he informed as he trailed behind the nurse down several hallways. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

The nurse laughed, which made Jack think that this woman's laugh didn't hold a candle to Carter's laugh, but he didn't say anything more, only followed where this laughing woman now led - if she would only lead him to Carter, he'd let her laugh her head off if she wanted to.

A moment later, the nurse paused at a door that read 420 and turned to face Jack. Don't be too alarmed if she doesn't look how you expect her to look - normal, like she just came back from the hair salon.

Jack grinned again.

But the nurse continued, There are a lot of wires and gadgets attached to her right now - doctor's orders.

Who is this mythical doctor, anyway? Jack asked, thinking for the millionth time that he wished Janet were here. Is this doctor sure that all the things are necessary?

The nurse commented yes with a side tilt of her head and a grim look. We're still monitoring Colonel Carter closely, she replied. All the wires and gadgets help us to do that.

Jack nodded okay, that he understood, and went to push his way through the door that Carter lay behind, but the nurse stopped him again. Don't get her over excited, she warned. And she may be asleep - she was when we left ICU to bring her here.

Nothing too exciting, he repeated.

Nothing romantic in nature, she warned again. Save that for when you get home.

Well, that won't be too hard, Jack sourly thought to himself, grimaced, and pushed his way through the door after he nodded his acquiescence to the nurse, who accompanied him into the room.

Together he and the unknown nurse crossed to Carter's bed. Jack got his first look at Carter out of ICU. He was glad that the nurse had warned him about how Carter would look first, for he would have been shocked otherwise, and he doubted that he could have covered his shocked look from her quickly enough.

Carter had an IV running into her left hand. Wires and tubes hung from her forehead. There was some kind of line running into her throat, leaving what would probably become a jagged scar. A bandage covered her initial injury on the right side of her head, and then that bandage was covered by another white piece of gauze that wrapped entirely around her head to hold the first bandage securely in place now that she was out of ICU and allowed more movement. Besides that, she was so pale, she looked translucent. Jack didn't remember her ever looking so white before.

Why is she so..? he started to ask in a whisper.

Pale? the nurse finished for him, also in a whisper. Jack just nodded. She gave another grim smile. She's been through so many tests recently, I'm not surprised that she looks pale and tired, The nurse nodded knowingly. She'll look a lot better tomorrow.

Good... So Mark and Daniel wouldn't have to see her so fragile looking. Jack instinctively knew that if Carter looked purely horrible, Daniel would never forgive himself for setting the events in motion that had brought them to this spot.

Jack nodded that he understood, and that Carter's condition was okay. But again the nurse was going on, I'll just wake her for a moment so that she can see you, then we'll let her get some sleep, and you should go home and sleep as well. She's in good hands.

Jack found it harder to nod this time, but he did it.

Good. The nurse smiled, then gently rocked Carter with her hand on Carter's shoulder. Colonel, you have a visitor - wake up for just a second, honey. I know that you're tired, but you'll want to see this person.

Carter stirred and acted like she was going to fight the necessity of all the wires for a moment.

That's it, the nurse cajoled. Come on, let's see those baby blues...

Slowly, as if she were fighting an army of Jaffa with just her eyelids, Carter's eyes slid open, and she blurrily peered up at both the nurse and at Jack. She gave a lazy grin when she recognized Jack. Sir, you're still here, she croaked.

The nurse gave a look at Jack. She calls her own husband 'Sir?' she asked him.

Uh... Jack thought fast. Finally he said, It's an old pet name - I'm not surprised she called me that, actually, he said, congratulating himself at his fast thinking.

The nurse just shrugged again, then said to Carter, Well, I'll leave you alone with your husband for a few minutes. She turned another warning look on Jack. Don't wear her completely out. Then she left.

The second the door closed behind the nurse,Jack blushed to the roots of his hair. Uh... About the 'husband' thing... he started to say to Carter.

But Carter didn't let him finish. It's okay, GGGJJJ - ack, she said, sounding loopy from the drugs he figured that the doctor had recently given to her. I'll be mared to ya if ya want.

Jack sighed. I do want, he thought, but only said, It's so that I can come and be with you - hospital reg #1 - no non-relations allowed in ICU. That's where you were, the neurological Intensive Care Unit.

Know, Carter sleepily grunted at him. Then she reached up and grabbed his hand with her right one, enfolding it in a surprisingly firm grip, surprising Jack all over again with her strength. You can be my husbnd, if you want to.

Jack gave a semi grimace, semi sigh. God, she sounds just like that skunk did in that damned Disney movie... Bambi, he thought in slight revulsion of the sappy film. Jack hoped that she wouldn't start thumping with her foot next.

He let her hand hold continue, and he had to work to stop his own foot from thumping when she squeezed his hand. Jack, liked the last... She had to pause in order to yawn a mighty yawn. Then she continued, Yr... yr e-mail, she slurred, and her eyes slid closed.

Jack leaned over her bed. Carter, he whispered. About that e-mail...

But she cut him off again. Liked it, she repeated with a small smile. Good prpsal.

Carter, Daniel wrote it, not me, Jack bluntly whispered.

But it didn't look like she cared who wrote it. Only that she hadn't answered it. Said it from you, she contradicted him. From you. Her voice trailed off, and she appeared to have returned to sleep, for her breath evened out, and her chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm.

Carter, Jack prodded after a moment had passed.

She woke enough to squeeze his hand again. Love ya, she sleepily slurred.

Hope surged wildly in his chest, but he forced himself to remain realistic - Carter was still completely drugged up. She didn't know what she was saying right now. She didn't even know if she was right side up, or upside down. So... Sure she does, Jack sarcastically said to himself. It's the drugs talking, he reminded himself. Still, he couldn't keep the little flips his heart was doing inside his chest to the inside of his chest. The emotion that he was feeling suddenly erupted into a smile that lit up his entire face. Love ya too, he whispered back to her in spite of what he kept telling himself was the reality of the situation. Right now there was no room for such an obnoxious thing as reality. You go to sleep - I'll be here, he told her.

Jack pulled a visitor chair over beside her bed, sat, and leaned his head against her mattress, the dim light in the room falling softly over their two forms.

Well, he reflected. That face to face confrontation didn't go quite like I expected it to go. Then he thought of what Sam had just said to him, about loving him. He wasn't sure that he entirely believed her - after all, she was so doped up, she surely thought that she could fly.

But Carter really could fly.

And besides, he wasn't doped up. And he still felt like he could fly right along with Carter.

Nope, this wasn't what he'd expected at all. In some ways, it had been a whole lot better!

The End - sequel: 'Threads' of Vision


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