Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
Category: Drama, Action/Adventure, Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Crossover
Spoilers: Menace, and very minor for Shades of Grey
Season: 5, after Menace
Sequel/Series Info: N/A
Content Warnings: Language, Violence, Jack whumping, Non-graphic non-con, Disturbing images
Summary: One of the universal constants of life at the SGC was the fact that the members of SG-1 were like the Four Musketeers - all for one and one for all, closer even than family......right?
File Size (kb) : 170
Author's Note: Umm, parts of this went a little darker and nastier than I intended. As usual, un-beta'd - all mistakes are soley mine. Feedback always welcome.
Colonel Jack O'Neill arrived early at the SGC filled with a sense of anticipation. Daniel would be back today, and tomorrow SG-1 would be going on its first mission as a complete team since the encounter with the android Reece. As he made his way to the commissary for breakfast, O'Neill admitted to himself that he was a little anxious about seeing Daniel again. The archaeologist had taken time away from work while his wrist healed - Reece had cracked one of the bones when she'd grabbed him - and Jack hadn't seen or heard from him for three weeks. He'd tried calling him several times, but had only gotten voicemail. None of his messages had generated a response, which was, to say the least, unusual. Unless Daniel was pissed at him.
What worried O'Neill was that, while Daniel had, at the time, eventually accepted that the destruction of the android had been unavoidable, now that he'd had time to brood about it maybe he'd changed his mind. Jack himself had had nightmares about it, waking up sweating, his heart racing, as Reece turned into Charlie just as he fired the shot that had taken her out. He knew what the cause of his nightmares was, and had tried to deal with it as best he could. Part of him shared Daniel's belief that Reece was really little more than a troubled child emotionally, and it had torn him apart to have to take such action against a child - well, the android equivalent of a child, anyway. He sighed as he moved through the serving line, his appetite rapidly fading. Finally settling for coffee and plain toast, he headed for the team's usual table at the back of the dining area. Not surprisingly, Teal'c was already there, his plate piled high with an awe-inspiring amount of fruit.
"Hey, T," O'Neill smiled as he set his tray down on the table and slid onto a seat opposite the Jaffa.
"O'Neill," the Jaffa bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement. "I look forward to resuming our normal duties now that Daniel Jackson is returning."
"Me, too, T," O'Neill nodded, "me, too."
The three uninjured team members had been split up, either accompanying various other teams offworld, or, in Carter's case, working on base on projects, while Daniel had been away.
O'Neill glanced toward the serving line in time to see Carter and Daniel collect their trays and head over to join them.
"Morning, Carter. Daniel, good to see you back. How's the wrist?" O'Neill grinned at the sight of the team's archaeologist and linguist. The SGC just hadn't been the same without him.
"Major Carter, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c had his own unique way of greeting people.
"Morning, Sir, Teal'c," Carter slid onto the seat next to O'Neill while Daniel seated himself next to Teal'c.
"Oh, yeah, hi. Good to see you, Teal'c," Daniel nodded briefly before concentrating on his meal.
Carter flicked a quick glance at her CO, who merely shrugged slightly and picked up his coffee.
"I trust you are well, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked, turning slightly to face Daniel.
"I'm fine, Teal'c. Janet just gave me the all clear."
"That's great, Daniel," O'Neill smiled, determined to ignore Daniel's apparent coolness towards him. "It doesn't look like P4T-whatever will have a lot of stuff to interest you, but it'll be good to have the team back together again."
"I think I'm the best person to judge whether P4T 117 has anything of interest to me, don't you, Colonel?" Daniel's tone was decidedly hostile towards O'Neill. Pointedly giving his attention to Carter, he continued in a pleasant tone of voice as if nothing had happened. "So, Sam, what have you been up to while I've been away?"
O'Neill blinked in surprise. Obviously Daniel had issues with him, and it didn't take a genius IQ or multiple PhD's to realise that it probably had a lot to do with Reece.
"Uh, well," Carter was a little embarrassed by Daniel's attitude towards O'Neill, but struggled on gamely, trying to avoid any more unpleasantness, "I've been working with the physicists and engineers on an updated naquadah reactor design..."
O'Neill exchanged a brief look with Teal'c and shrugged. Now wasn't the time or place to delve into whatever was bothering Daniel. He'd catch up with him later in the day, in private, and try to work through it with him.
"I'll see you guys for lunch - a mountain of paperwork awaits," he pulled a face as he stood.
Teal'c and Carter acknowledged his departure, but Daniel completely ignored him.
"Daniel, you got a minute?" O'Neill hesitated in the doorway to Daniel's office. He'd missed lunch when he'd been called into a last minute meeting with General Hammond, and thought he'd check in with his friend now.
"Actually, no, Colonel, I don't," Daniel didn't even look up from the book he was studying. "I have to get these translations done for SG-9 before they go offworld."
Both men knew that SG-9 wasn't going offworld until the next afternoon, and that the translations had been pretty much completed by the linguistics people while Daniel was away, but O'Neill let it slide.
"Okay, then, perhaps we could get together this evening at my place? I've invited Carter and T as well."
"Whatever. Send me an email," Daniel waved a hand dismissively.
O'Neill stood a moment longer, studying his friend, a worried frown on his face. Usually it was Daniel wanting to discuss `stuff', not him. It felt strange for their roles to be reversed. "I'll see you later, then,' he turned abruptly and left, without Daniel ever having bothered to look at him.
Oneill's House - Later that Evening
By the time Daniel arrived at Jack's place later that evening the others had already eaten, having put Daniel's share of the pizza in the oven to keep it warm. Carter had called him when he'd failed to show on time, and he'd told her not to wait dinner for him, he'd eat when he got there.
Almost dreading what was to come when Daniel finally turned up, O'Neill had tentatively sounded Teal'c and Carter out about their views on the events surrounding the android's destruction.
"Colonel, you had no other choice. By the time you'd shut her down, and the replicators disintegrated, we had less than twenty seconds until self-destruct, Sir. Regardless of whether or not Daniel could have talked her into shutting them down, there was no time left. And I meant what I said at the time, Sir - I believe that Reece was losing control of them anyway. They were on the verge of acting independently, and if that had happened it would have been a complete disaster for Earth." Carter stated her case unequivocally.
"Major Carter is correct, O'Neill. There were no other courses of action available to you given the circumstances. Your actions were the correct ones," Teal'c was adamant.
"I guess," O'Neill wearily scrubbed his hands over his face. "I just wish there had been another way. She just seemed so, I don't know, so alone, so young."
Their discussion was cut short by Daniel's knock at the door. Carter volunteered to answer it while O'Neill headed into the kitchen to retrieve Daniel's pizza from the oven and pour him a glass of wine from the bottle that Carter had brought with her. He grabbed another beer for himself, and a juice for Teal'c before rejoining the others in the lounge room.
"So, Daniel, where did you go during your leave? I tried to call you a couple of times, but I couldn't get past your voicemail," Carter asked as she retook her place on the couch and Daniel settled himself into one of the armchairs - noticeably the one furthest from O'Neill's usual seat.
"Oh, here and there, nowhere in particular," he answered with a vague wave of his hand, not even acknowledging the pizza and wine that O'Neill placed on the coffee table in front of him. "I had my cell turned off while I was away. Didn't want to be disturbed." He turned his attention to the food in front of him, clearly indicating that he didn't want to discuss it any further.
Carter and the others conversed around him while he ate, keeping the discussion on generalities, and staying completely away from anything related to work, especially anything to do with the android.
Finally, once Daniel had finished his pizza and Teal'c had refreshed everyone's drinks, O'Neill decided that he couldn't put it off any longer.
"Daniel, I think maybe we need to talk about what happened with Reece..." he began, careful to keep his tone fairly neutral.
"Yes, Colonel, why don't we talk about Reece?" Daniel's hackles were immediately up, and he glared at O'Neill as he spoke. "Why don't we talk about how you basically murdered what was in effect a young child because you weren't prepared to wait a few minutes while I got through to her and got her to stop her `toys'? You didn't trust in me, didn't believe that I could get through to her."
"But, Daniel, you know that we were almost out of time. We didn't have minutes - there were only seconds left before the self-destruct went off," Carter pointed out quietly but firmly.
"Whatever else you may believe, Daniel Jackson, Reece was a machine, one which had the potential to precipitate the destruction of this world if she had been allowed to continue. Make no mistake, she was a threat which had to be neutralised," Teal'c tried to get through to Daniel.
"Does being `military' mean that you lose all sense of humanity? All vestiges of compassion?" Daniel allowed his scornful gaze to rest on each of his team mates in turn. "Machine or not, I believe that Reece was a sentient being, not just some device to be shut down or destroyed because we didn't understand how it worked."
"Daniel," O'Neill tried again, "it's not about trust. Hell, every time we go through the gate we each of us trust the others with our lives. Sometimes, distasteful as it may be, you have to do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe. I'm sorry that it had to go down the way it did, but there really was no other choice."
"You just don't get it, do you? I know thinking isn't something that you're acquainted with, or even passably good at, but she was a child, Colonel. And you killed her - but I guess that wouldn't be a first for you, would it?" Daniel shot to his feet and stormed from the house.
O'Neill was shocked into speechlessness, all the colour drained from his face. He'd never, ever have thought that Daniel would throw Charlie's death at him like that.
Carter and Teal'c both made as if to follow Daniel, but O'Neill stopped them.
"Leave it, guys," his voice was a hoarse whisper, his face still unnaturally pale. "Maybe we'd better let him cool off for a while."
"I'm sure he didn't mean - " Carter began, but O'Neill waved a hand to cut her off.
"Oh, I think we all know that he did, Carter."
There was something so utterly lost and bereft in the tone of O'Neill's voice that Carter felt the tears welling in her eyes. The Colonel was a good and honourable man, and a good friend, and he didn't deserve the way Daniel was treating him, let alone what he'd just said to him.
"I'll get Teal'c back to base and see you at the briefing in the morning, Sir," she said quietly, rising and collecting her keys from the hall table. At the door, she turned, "He's wrong, Jack."
"Is he?" O'Neill's response was almost too low for her to hear.
"Until the morning, my friend," Teal'c grasped O'Neill's shoulder firmly, wanting to show his friend, his brother in arms, that he had his full support.
"Thanks, T," O'Neill reached up and squeezed Teal'c's hand briefly in appreciation. "You too, Sam," he met his 2IC's gaze briefly. "I'll see you both tomorrow."
"We must support O'Neill during this time, Major Carter," Teal'c stated as he and Carter exited O'Neill's house and walked to her car. "And we must also assist Daniel Jackson in understanding that he is erroneous in his assumptions."
"I know, Teal'c," Carter sighed. "I think it's going to be a bumpy ride, though."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow, giving her a questioning look. "Has something happened to the suspension system of your vehicle, Major Carter? The journey from the base earlier this evening seemed relatively smooth."
"No, Teal'c - " Carter began to explain, then stopped, sending him a small smile. "You do that on purpose, don't you?"
Teal'c inclined his head regally, but remained silent, a faint smile gracing his lips.
As she started the car and backed carefully out of the drive, Carter came up with a plan of sorts. Perhaps Daniel would listen to the General?
O'Neill wearily dragged himself around the house, cleaning up the debris from the meal, trying - and failing - to avoid brooding over Daniel's words. Words that only reinforced his feelings of failure.
He'd spent many hours over the last few weeks going over what had happened, wondering if there was something that he should have, could have, done differently with regard to Reece. This was nothing new - it was something he always did in an effort to identify past failings and mistakes and learn from them. He envied Daniel his absolute sense of wrong and right, his moral certitude. Too often the reasons behind the decisions he was forced to make were shrouded in varying shades of grey, and he often wondered what gave him the right to be making those decisions. He'd once called Daniel the conscience of SG-1, and he'd meant it. He truly valued Daniel's input, and it was never easy when he had to go against his friend's recommendations when reaching a decision. He couldn't help but wonder if a better man might have more success in finding workable compromises. How many had died because he wasn't good enough?
Daniel angrily brought his car to a stop outside his apartment building and stormed inside. Fucking Jack, who does he think he's talking to? Trying to make out that what happened to Reece wasn't really his fault, wasn't really murder! Damn him and the whole goddamned SGC! He stopped abruptly just inside his door. Where had those thoughts come from? Jack would never have taken that action if he hadn't had to. He may be many things, but a child murderer certainly wasn't one of them. Oh, God, why did I say that about Charlie? How the hell can I ever get him to forgive me? What the hell is wrong with me? I have to try and make things right with Jack...can't think straight right now...
As he made his way through his apartment, not bothering to turn on the lights, he was suddenly overwhelmed by exhaustion. Stripping down to his shorts, he left his clothes where they lay and climbed wearily into bed. Despite his turmoil, he was asleep within minutes, tossing restlessly as his confusion spilled over into his subconscious mind.
A dark figure detached itself from the deep shadows near the balcony and moved stealthily into Daniel's bedroom. After studying the man's disturbed sleep for a moment, the figure moved to stand next to the bed. Reaching out, it placed a small, silvery device on the sleeping man's forehead and flicked the switch to activate it. Daniel immediately stilled his restless movement, all expression draining from his face. As the hours passed, the machine hummed slightly as it performed its function.
Dawn was a mere hint in the sky when the figure reached out and deactivated the device before removing it from the archaeologist's forehead. Daniel groaned softly as if in pain before settling down into a deep sleep.
By the time he awoke a few hours later, there was no sign that the mysterious stranger had ever been in his apartment.
After the briefing, which was somewhat tense, and thankfully fairly short, Hammond asked Daniel to join him in his office for a moment. The rest of the team headed to the infirmary for their pre-mission exams.
The General was more than a little disturbed about what Major Carter had told him the previous evening, and he hoped he could help to ease the tension that was threatening to cripple his premier team.
"I don't care what Colonel O'Neill may have said to you, General Hammond, I can't forgive or forget what happened with Reece. It was murder, in my opinion," Daniel pre-empted whatever the General was going to say before he'd even taken a seat in Hammond's office.
`Colonel O'Neill'? What happened to `Jack'? Hammond remained silent until they'd both taken their seats. "Colonel O'Neill hasn't spoken to me about the matter, Doctor Jackson, other than immediately after the incident, and when he was making his report."
"Whatever. I think perhaps that it may be time for me to leave. It's becoming more and more apparent that there is an irreconcilable difference between my ideals and those of the military," Daniel sat back in his chair with a sigh. "I think that I would like to return to Abydos."
Hammond studied the angry archaeologist in silence for a long moment. "I'm sorry that you feel that way, Doctor Jackson, but if that is truly your wish, I'll do my best to see that it happens. We owe you that much, at the very least."
Daniel seemed surprised, and perhaps even a little disappointed, that the General wasn't trying to talk him out of his decision. "Er, fine. Thank you."
Seeing his reaction, the General ventured to offer an alternative. It would be a shame to lose the young archaeologist and linguist completely. "Have you considered a transfer to a purely research-oriented team? I'm sure SG-15 would be delighted to have you."
Daniel considered the offer for a moment. "I'll think about it and let you know. Either way, General Hammond, I have no desire to continue with SG-1 after today's mission."
"Understood. I would, however, like your decision by the end of the week, Doctor Jackson."
"You'll have it."
"Hey, Doc, can I ask you something?" O'Neill spoke quietly, not wanting the rest of his team to hear what he was saying.
"That depends, Colonel," Fraiser smiled as she completed the last part of the Colonel's pre-mission medical examination and removed the BP cuff from his arm after noting the reading on the chart in front of her.
"Did Daniel check out okay when you gave him his pre-mission exam?"
"I cleared him for gate travel, if that's what you mean, Sir," Fraiser answered carefully, mindful of doctor/patient confidentiality. "Are you asking as his friend, or as his CO, Colonel?"
"As his CO, I guess," O'Neill shrugged uncomfortably. "He's been a bit, well, off, since he came back yesterday, and I was wondering if there was any physical reason for it."
"What exactly do you mean by `off', Sir?"
"Short tempered, aggressive, stuff like that," O'Neill shrugged again. "Very un-Daniel-like. I can't pin it down better than that, sorry."
"There were no abnormal results from his tests this morning, or from his examination yesterday, Colonel," Fraiser told him. "I can call him back for more exhaustive tests if you think I need to," she offered.
O'Neill hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I guess not. It was just a thought, Doc. It's probably nothing." He'd been hoping that there was some external cause for Daniel's attitude toward him. It was such a radical, prolonged, departure from the archaeologist's normal behaviour that he couldn't help but feel that it was suspicious.
"Okay then, Sir. You're clear for your mission, Colonel, but I'd like to remind you that you need to watch your weight. You've lost ten pounds in the last three weeks, Sir. Any more and you'll be below the minimal acceptable weight for your height, and I'll have no choice but to take you off the active duty roster."
"Yes, ma'am," O'Neill nodded obediently as he pulled his shirt on. "I'll work on it," he promised as he hopped down from the examination table and headed out of the infirmary.
Fraiser watched him go, a concerned expression on her face. The Colonel hadn't said anything, but she knew he'd been deeply affected by what had happened with Reece. Hopefully, with his team whole again, he'd bounce back with their support.
The General caught O'Neill just before he entered the gateroom.
"A word if I may, Colonel."
"Certainly, Sir," O'Neill waved Carter and Teal'c on.
Having arrived at the Mountain early that morning, Daniel had already had his pre-mission exam before the briefing, and had changed and left the locker room before the rest of SG-1 had finished in the infirmary.
"I thought you should know, Colonel, Doctor Jackson has stated that this will be his final mission with SG-1. He intends to either join SG-15, or leave the SGC and return to Abydos."
O'Neill's flinched ever so slightly, but merely nodded, "If that's his choice, Sir." He tried to hide his pain at the news, but the General knew him too well. "He deserves to find peace after everything he's been through."
And so do you, Jack, Hammond thought as he watched O'Neill walk into the gateroom to join his team, shoulders slumped, head down. The Colonel's normal over-the-top cheerfulness was nowhere to be seen. While O'Neill looked tanned and fit after a few days at his cabin the previous weekend, there was an underlying sadness, a weariness about him that had Hammond worried.
P4T 117 was, at first glance, an idyllic, peaceful planet. The countryside around the gate was characterised by gently rolling hills to the north and east, covered in a grass-like vegetation, and dotted here and there with small copses of trees. A mile or so further away, the trees became more dense. To the west, the trees began about twenty metres from the gate and continued as far as the eye could see. There were no obvious signs of habitation, either recently or in the past, but that didn't necessarily mean that the planet was uninhabited, as SG-1 had learned through sometimes bitter experience.
"Okay, let's move it out. Which direction would you like to try first, Major?" O'Neill decided to leave the choice to Carter, given that it currently looked as though gathering her soil samples would be the most exciting thing they'd be doing this trip.
"Straight ahead seems as good as any, Sir," Carter shrugged and smiled.
"North it is, then. I'll take point, T, you've got our six."
They'd been walking for a little over an hour, having stopped several times so that Carter could collect her samples, and had entered a moderately forested area when O'Neill felt the telltale tingling up the back of his neck that told him they were being watched. He slowed his pace and used hand signals to tell the others to slow down as well, at least until he had a better idea of who was watching them, and what their intentions were.
O'Neill paused just before he entered a small clearing and signalled the others to close up. Once they were all together, they proceeded cautiously into the clearing.
Carter, O'Neill, and Teal'c all stopped, grasping their weapons more firmly when they saw the men emerging from the opposite side of the clearing, but made no overtly threatening moves. Daniel took a few steps beyond the team and stopped, venturing a smile at the newcomers.
"Hello! We're travellers from far away. We come in peace and mean you no harm. My name is Daniel Jackson," he tried English first, hoping to at least get some response so that he could switch languages if necessary.
"I am Leader Strammett. My men and I are hunting to gather food for our people."
While Daniel was exchanging pleasantries with the locals, O'Neill took the time to study the group. There were no women present, so he guessed that the hunting story could be true, although they seemed to be a little light on equipment. The men were all around 5'9'' or 5'10'', with blue or green eyes, uniformly pale skin, and hair in varying shades of brown. If he'd had to guess, he'd go with Anglo or Western European ancestry, although he was hardly an expert.
While he'd been studying their new friends, he'd been monitoring the conversation between Daniel and the leader closely enough to smile vaguely at the appropriate time when Daniel introduced the rest of the team. The looks the men had given Teal'c showed that they obviously recognised him as Jaffa. So, they'd had at least some contact with the Goa'uld. The leader's next words confirmed this.
"Why do you travel with a Jaffa? Do you serve the Goa'uld?" Strammett asked suspiciously.
"Ah, no, no we don't serve them. Teal'c is our friend. He no longer serves the Goa'uld."
"That is good," Strammett seemed pleased. "There have been no Goa'uld on this world for many generations."
"And yet you recognised Teal'c as a Jaffa?" Daniel prompted gently.
"Jaffa patrols have periodically come through the gate, although not often. We have avoided any contact with them, but our legends and writings allowed us to know what they are," Strammett told him.
"I'd be very interested in learning more of your legends and writings, if that is permitted, Leader Strammett," Daniel said eagerly, his eyes lighting up with interest.
O'Neill hid his smile behind the hand he brought up to remove his cap and ruffle his sweat-dampened hair. It was good to see Daniel so enthusiastic again.
He didn't fail to note the look which Strammett directed at him.
"Is your leader from a different tribe to yourself and Major Carter? His skin is golden while yours is pale like ours, and his eyes are brown, while the two of you have blue." Strammett's stare was making O'Neill more than a little uncomfortable.
"Ah, Colonel O'Neill's skin colour is the result of what we call a tan - it's caused by him spending time out in the sunshine on our world. Daniel and I don't get out in the sun all that often," Carter told Strammett with a smile. "There are many different eye colours among our people as well."
"I see," Strammett nodded. "And the silver hair? Is that not unusual on your world? We have never seen its like."
O'Neill laughed deprecatingly, "Ah, no, that just means that I'm way older than Carter or Daniel."
"And yet you seem strong of limb and healthy enough," Strammett ran his gaze over O'Neill in a way that made the Colonel want to have a shower so that he'd feel clean again.
Daniel steered the conversation away from O'Neill with just the barest hint of irritation showing in the look he sent toward the Colonel. "Do your people have any artefacts that date back to when the Goa'uld were on your world?"
O'Neill tuned back out of the discussion, allowing his gaze to wander with deceptive casualness around the perimeter of the clearing. The feeling of unease he'd experienced earlier, before they'd made contact with the locals, was back with a vengeance, not helped at all by the disturbing looks that Strammett kept throwing his way. He glanced over to where Teal'c stood, a few feet away from Carter, and caught a similar uneasiness in the Jaffa's eyes. The two exchanged a very slight nod of acknowledgement before returning their attention to the perimeter.
Crap! There were what looked suspiciously like heavily armed men moving just beyond the first line of trees. Unless the team moved now they'd be outflanked and surrounded.
Daniel had been talking with Strammett, fascinated to learn that they had recently discovered what sounded like a Goa'uld sarcophagus.
"If I'm correct about what you're describing, Leader Strammett, it may be what is called a sarcophagus. If used correctly, it can give health to the injured and the ill."
Carter and Daniel had been more than a little surprised when O'Neill suddenly rejoined the conversation.
"I hate to interrupt, but it's time for us to check in with our base," O'Neill lied smoothly, tapping his watch lightly to emphasise his point. "Sorry about that, but it's standard procedure. We would like to rejoin you once we've done that, if that's okay?" His smile didn't reach his eyes.
Strammett looked somewhat sceptical, but seemed to accept the lie. "Certainly, Colonel O'Neill. We had planned to overnight here in any case. My men will finish setting up our camp while we await your return."
"Great," O'Neill nodded, still keeping a wary eye on the bushes. "We'll see you in about ninety minutes, then."
Daniel had barely waited until they were out of earshot of Strammett and his men before loudly demanding that O'Neill explain why he'd suddenly broken off the discussions. Still bitter, angry, and hurt over what he interpreted as O'Neill's lack of trust in him to handle Reece, and O'Neill's subsequent murder of the unarmed android girl, he reacted badly to what he saw as the Colonel's overwhelming and unreasonable military paranoia.
"Look, I'm sorry I interrupted, but there's something very wrong here. While we were talking, it looked very much like Strammett had more men moving into flanking positions, back in the cover of the bushes. If we'd stayed we would have been cut off. And will you keep your voice down?" O'Neill quickly explained why they were leaving in hushed, clipped tones, his attention riveted to their surroundings, unable to shake the feeling that they were still being observed. "I'll just feel happier if we can contact the SGC and get a backup team here to watch our sixes. "
Carter and Teal'c accepted the Colonel's reasoning. Teal'c shared his unease, and, like O'Neill, had seen the shadowy figures moving to encircle them. Even though the Major felt that the Colonel might possibly have been a little overcautious, she saw no reason not to trust his instincts - after all, hadn't those same instincts saved all their lives on numerous occasions in the past?
"And we all need to go to the gate for that, Colonel? A bit of overkill, don't you think? Oh, that's right, overkill is your solution to everything, isn't it? Not bright enough to explore peaceful alternatives, or even acknowledge they exist, you just use military solutions to everything, don't you?" Daniel just wouldn't let it go. "I suppose I should be thankful you didn't just open fire and slaughter all of them."
"I will not get into a protracted debate with you over tactical solutions or strategic options, Doctor Jackson," O'Neill ground out quietly through clenched teeth. "I've made the decision, and contrary to whatever you may think, it is my decision to make. Now keep your voice down, please!"
"Ooh, multi-syllabic words, Colonel! I'm so impressed. Did it take you very long to learn how to pronounce them? Have you even found out what they all mean yet?" Daniel continued to make no attempt to lower his voice.
O'Neill's jaw muscles clenched and unclenched as he forced himself not to respond to Daniel's words. Now was definitely not the time to get into a long, drawn out, and ultimately pointless argument. The team was in danger, and O'Neill was damned if he'd let anyone get hurt if he could help it - even Daniel, although right now part of him just wanted to grab him and shake some sense into him.
Carter looked as though she might interject, but O'Neill warned her off with a slight shake of his head. He didn't want this escalating beyond what it already was, and he hoped that if he didn't respond, perhaps Daniel would just shut the hell up. A forlorn hope, as it turned out.
Daniel was unrelenting, niggling at O'Neill the whole way back to the gate. O'Neill continued to grit his teeth and tried to ignore it, but it was getting to be very, very difficult to remain silent. Daniel's sharp words, deriding his honour, integrity, and even his intelligence, wounded him more deeply than he would ever admit, and only the threat to his team kept the Colonel's angry retorts unvoiced. He breathed a silent prayer of thanks when they finally came within sight of the Stargate.
"Change of plan. We're going back to the SGC. Dial the gate, Daniel," O'Neill ordered, assuming a covering position near the DHD. There was no way they could continue the mission while Daniel persisted with this disruptive attitude. It undermined team harmony, and a divided team was a vulnerable one.
"Why?" Daniel made no attempt to dial, standing his ground and glaring at O'Neill.
"Dammit, Daniel, dial up the gate now!" O'Neill's patience was now totally and irrevocably gone.
"Not until you give me a good reason why we should go, Colonel!" Daniel dug his heels in stubbornly.
"Because I goddamned said so!" the Colonel snarled, pushing angrily past the archaeologist and heading for the DHD himself.
"Oh, right, so I should just trust you?" Daniel sneered. "As if! Maybe you were right that time, Colonel, about our friendship having no foundation."
Only Teal'c saw the raw pain on O'Neill's face before he managed to fix his expressionless mask in place once again.
"Whatever. Carter, Teal'c, covering positions. Doctor Jackson, if you're not going to be useful then just stay out of the way," O'Neill's tone was flat as he rapidly slapped the seven symbols on the DHD and slammed his hand down on the central dome. He returned his full attention to the surrounding bushes as the wormhole established. "Send the signal, please, Major."
"I swear, Colonel, when we get back - umph!" Daniel's words were cut off as O'Neill dove at him, tackling him to the ground an instant before what appeared to be a beam of energy passed through the space that the archaeologist had been occupying only a moment before.
"Cover!" O'Neill yelled, dragging the struggling Daniel behind the DHD.
Whatever the weapons that were being fired were, they were nearly silent. The only sound was a strange snap-hiss as the beams struck rock and dirt, and the occasional burst of fire from Teal'c's staff weapon or Carter and O'Neill's P-90s.
"Carter, send the signal and get - unh!" Preoccupied with protecting an uncooperative Daniel, O'Neill was the first to go down. Hit squarely in the chest by and energy beam when he pushed Daniel out of it's path, the Colonel's body writhed briefly, lit by an orange glow, before he crumpled to the ground. He landed awkwardly on his right arm, and the back of his head slammed into the base of the DHD.
Outnumbered, and outflanked as they were, the rest of SG-1 were quickly taken down by the strange energy weapons. The beams had a paralysing effect, not unlike a zatnikatel, except that the victims remained fully conscious, while at the same time incapable of any voluntary movement.
With no radio signal or traveller to keep it open, the wormhole shut down with its customary snap.
Immobilised and completely helpless, the team were unable to resist as they were dragged away from the Stargate to the west, into the trees. About half a mile into the forest, the group emerged into a clearing containing a ring platform.
"SG-1 niner, this is Hammond. Please respond. SG-1 niner, this is the SGC, please respond."
There was a pause before the voice came again.
"SGC to SG-1, respond please."
Strammett had one of the guards remove the radios from each of their vests and crush them under his heel. The GDOs taken from Carter and Daniel's wrists were treated in the same manner.
The interruption dealt with to Strammett's satisfaction, the team were taken by ring transport to what appeared to be the outskirts of a small city. Once there, their captors manhandled them a short distance into what was obviously some kind of prison. Once inside, they were taken to a large cell. The cell featured a small cupboard, a table anchored solidly to the floor with thick bolts, and a bucket of what appeared to be water, located to the right of the doorway, and there were several steel rings imbedded in the ceiling. Thick chains, connected on one end to winches bolted to the right hand wall, had been threaded through the ceiling rings, the free ends terminating in hooks which dangled a few feet below the rings. Here and there on the floor, more steel rings were cemented into place. A solitary window, high on the left wall, showed that the walls were several feet thick, and little light managed to filter through, not that it mattered, given that there were four glaringly bright lights, protected by wire, evenly spaced around the low ceiling.
Each of the team was dumped unceremoniously near one of the floor rings, O'Neill on the far right, then Carter, Daniel, and Teal'c. It was no accident that O'Neill and Teal'c had been placed as far apart as possible - they had been easily recognised as being the most dangerous of the four. Working quickly, with no regard for their captives' comfort, Strammett's men stripped them of their packs, weapons, vests, BDU shirts, boots, socks, and belts, throwing everything into an untidy heap in the corner to the left of the cell door. Handcuffs were fastened tightly around their wrists, and heavy leather cuffs were placed around their ankles. Lengths of chain, perhaps eighteen inches long, were passed through steel rings before being attached to the ankle cuffs with padlocks, which also prevented removal of the cuffs. Once they had all been secured, just far enough away from each other to be out of reach, they were left alone.
It was an hour or more from when they'd been hit until the effects of the beam had worn off enough to allow them to move - although it was difficult judge the time accurately, given that their watches had been taken along with their other equipment. Typically, Teal'c was the first to recover, followed shortly by Carter, then Daniel. A quick test of their bonds proved that they wouldn't be going anywhere for a while. It was another thirty minutes or so until O'Neill, who'd been knocked out when he'd hit his head, showed the first signs that he was waking up. He opened his eyes, only to close them against the harsh lighting with a low groan of pain. After a few moments, and keeping his eyes tightly closed as he fought waves of nausea, he pushed himself groggily up into a sitting position, wincing a little when his right wrist protested against the movement.
"How are you feeling, Colonel?" Carter asked quietly when O'Neill was fully conscious.
"Sore. Headache. Bad headache," a tentative, awkward exploration of the back of his head with the fingers of his left hand revealed a painful lump, and what felt like dried blood. "Very bad headache. How about you three? Everyone okay?" Slitting his eyes against the light, he looked at each of his team in turn, trying to see if they were hurt.
"I am uninjured," Teal'c had been attempting to Kel'No'Reem, but opened his eyes as he responded.
"I'm fine, Sir. Just a little stiff," Carter reassured him.
"Oh, just peachy," Daniel snapped shortly.
"How long was I out? What's our status?" O'Neill asked as he investigated his restraints, realising almost immediately that there was little he could do about them at the moment.
"Near as I can figure, about ninety minutes, Sir. We've estimated that it took about an hour for the paralysing effects of the beams to wear off the rest of us." Carter quickly went on to fill him on what had happened after he'd been hit.
"So, definitely more than simple hunters. And a whole lot more familiar with Goa'uld technology than we first thought, then," O'Neill noted quietly, using discrete hand signals to point out the obvious monitoring equipment in each corner of the room, just below the ceiling.
The others, well, Teal'c and Carter at least, nodded their understanding - they'd recognised the monitoring equipment as well. Daniel merely shrugged and looked away.
"Guess you were right about them, Sir," Carter smiled ruefully as she shifted a little, trying to get more comfortable on the hard stone floor.
"How can you say that?" Daniel demanded, still unwilling to accept that O'Neill had been correct to break off the discussions and try to get his team back to Earth. "His actions almost certainly precipitated the attack. They probably thought we were going to call in an invasion force!"
"Daniel!" Carter was incensed, more than a little surprised that Daniel was still niggling at the Colonel.
"Desist Daniel Jackson!" Teal'c had also had enough.
"Leave it, Major, T," O'Neill shook his head wearily, something deep inside finally breaking as he contemplated everything that Daniel had said since he'd decided that the team should return to Earth - actually, everything that Daniel had said since they'd had breakfast the previous morning. "For all we know he could be right."
"Well, what a red-letter day this is. The Colonel finally thinks the geek might be right!" Daniel sneered nastily.
Ignoring Daniel, O'Neill shivered miserably, flinching as the movement aggravated his headache. The cell was cold, and their t-shirts offered little protection against the chill, but somehow O'Neill doubted that the temperature would really be the worst of their problems. All in all, he'd had better days.
In the surveillance room, Strammett watched and listened to the group carefully, his attention drawn constantly to the leader, O'Neill, looking for any clue as to how he might break him and obtain the information that he desired. Clearly there was no point in involving the one with glasses - Daniel - to try to persuade him, judging by the apparent discord between them. The Jaffa, Teal'c, was also not a viable option, since threats against him would carry little weight. Perhaps the woman - Carter?
He resumed his contemplation of O'Neill, noting the way the harsh lights of the cell glinted in his silvery hair. Until he'd met this man, he'd never seen brown eyes, tanned skin, or silver hair on a human, and he found the combination fascinating. He ignored the fact that Teal'c also had brown eyes. He'd seen Jaffa before, and they didn't count as human as far as he was concerned.
Leaning back in his chair, he considered his strategy. Yes, he would target the woman. O'Neill would doubtless consider it his duty to protect her by telling him what he wanted to know. First, he would let them wait for a while, to allow them to contemplate was in store for them.
Three hours later, O'Neill and the others scrambled to their feet as soon as they heard someone approaching. They were in far too vulnerable a position if they remained on the floor.
"What is the strength of your army?" Strammett wasted no time in getting to his questions when he strode into the cell accompanied by three of his men. "What manner of protection to you employ around your Chapa'ai, and how may we circumvent it? How well fortified is your Chapa'ai?"
O'Neill merely stared back at him, no expression on his face.
"Look, there seems to have been some sort of horrible misunderstanding, Leader Strammett," Daniel began, his tone placating. "We mean you no harm - "
"Silence!" Strammett casually backhanded Daniel as he walked past him, knocking the archaeologist to the floor.
"Daniel! Are you alright?" Carter fought against her chains, but was unable to reach Daniel to help him as he struggled back to his feet.
"You will answer all my questions eventually, O'Neill," Strammett stated, halting in front of the Colonel, but out of his reach.
"Oh, yeah, that's so gonna happen - not!" O'Neill smirked daring the man to come closer, studying him carefully and looking for ways to distract him from the other members of his team. Once again he couldn't help but notice the insidious way Strammett's gaze wandered over his face and body. Making no effort to suppress his shudder of revulsion, he noted Strammett's pleased reaction to it, and filed the information away, hoping he wouldn't have to try and make use of it, but knowing full well that he would if it became necessary. Whatever it takes to protect the team.
"I will ask you one more time to give me the information that I want," Strammett wasn't foolish enough to approach O'Neill too closely, despite the fact that he was restrained. He could easily read the threat in O'Neill's eyes and stance.
"So sorry, not going to happen. Can we go now?" O'Neill's head ached and his wrist throbbed in time with his heartbeat.
"Perhaps a less direct approach will be more effective," Strammett began to walk slowly in Carter's direction. "My men and I have been without female companionship for some time."
Oh crap! No way will I allow that happen to Carter!
O'Neill saw the disappointment in the eyes of the three guards as they looked away from him and moved towards Carter, and realised with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach exactly what it would take to distract Strammett's attention away from her. His thoughts racing, he'd knew have to handle it just right, or the man would be suspicious, and Carter would ultimately pay the price.
"Leave her alone, you assholes!" he snarled, allowing the faintest hint of weakness to filter into his voice.
Strammett, his attention centred on O'Neill even as he'd stalked slowly towards Carter, caught the flash of relief, and the accompanying shame in those deep brown eyes when he'd made his intentions toward the woman plain. He made the decision in an instant. It suited his preferences better anyway, he acknowledged to himself with a smug smile.
"Take him!" he snapped his fingers. The guards acted quickly, two holding O'Neill immobile while the third released the chain from the cuff on his left ankle. Strammett's smile grew when he saw the fear in the brown eyes as the man was dragged, kicking and struggling, across the cell. It would be a pleasure to break this one now that he had the key, now that he knew what this man feared most. Oh yes, a definite pleasure - for me, anyway, he mused as he sauntered over to where his guards were securing the chain connecting O'Neill's handcuffs to one of the hooks hanging from the ceiling.
What the hell just happened here? Carter was stunned. One moment, she'd been steeling herself for what seemed to be an inevitable assault, the next, O'Neill had been dragged across the room and she and the others had been left alone.
Daniel looked just as confused as the Major. He'd been sickly certain that Strammett had been going to use Sam to try and get the Colonel to talk, and had noted disdainfully that O'Neill had been less than convincing with his protest. Stupid son of a bitch.
Only Teal'c seemed unsurprised. The Jaffa had been watching O'Neill even more closely than Strammett had. He had observed the fake relief and shame in the Colonel's eyes as Strammett had approached the Major, and had also seen what the enemy had missed. The brief flair of genuine relief in O'Neill's eyes when Strammett had taken the bait and left the Major alone. As I have come to expect, O'Neill does whatever is necessary in order to protect his team.
O'Neill knew exactly what was going to happen now. Had, in fact, made sure of it. The only way to protect his team was to ensure that whatever happened, happened to him alone. Strammett's belief that, as the leader, O'Neill was the only one who would have any information of value had helped, focussing attention on him. It had then only been a matter of working out what would push Strammett's buttons sufficiently to make him believe that he had a weakness that could be used against him, one that didn't involve the others directly. He'd certainly done that. He should probably be congratulating himself on his success, but somehow he didn't feel like celebrating.
The only thing he hadn't taken into consideration was that the rest of the team were going to get to watch.
Once O'Neill had been secured to the hook, one of the guards had used the winch to draw the attached chain taut, dragging the Colonel's hands up over his head until he had to lift up onto the balls of his feet to ease the pressure on his wrists. The chain between the ankle cuffs had been passed through another steel loop in the floor and refastened to prevent him kicking out at his captors.
Strammett himself ripped the t-shirt from O'Neill's upper torso, using the opportunity to run his hands lightly over the lean, hard body, licking his lips once again as he admired the tanned, firm skin. He grabbed hold of the chain that held the Colonel's dog tags and tugged viciously on it, leaving a deep gash where the chain had gouged into his neck before it snapped. Smiling he stepped back, settling himself so that he could lean against the table and observe in comfort, before he nodded to one of the guards. "Pirry, you may proceed."
Pirry allowed himself a small, pleased smile as he moved out of O'Neill's line of sight, opened the cupboard, and withdrew a long, multi-tongued whip, fitted with small, razor sharp metal tips. Taking up a position behind the Colonel, he looked to his master for permission to proceed.
"One last chance, O'Neill," Strammett offered, spinning the dog tags in a lazy circle at the end of their chain.
When O'Neill remained silent, staring fixedly at the floor, Strammett nodded to Pirry to go ahead.
Son of a bitch! O'Neill gasped, but made no other sound, at the first bite of the whip on his back.
By the fourth stroke, O'Neill no longer looked at the floor, his gaze firmly locked with Teal'c's as he drew strength from his Jaffa brother. Oh, Christ, that fucking hurts! The strength silently offered by the Jaffa, and gratefully accepted, kept him going as the whip connected time after time with the raw and bloody mess that his back had become.
Through it all, Strammett continued to ask his questions, and O'Neill maintained his silence, blood running from his mouth where he'd bitten through his lip as he strove to hold back any sound.
"Thank you, Pirry."
By the time Strammett called a halt, O'Neill's eyes were glazed with pain, and he swayed unsteadily as he continued to try to keep his weight off his wrists.
"Willand, if you please." Strammett settled in for the next round, smiling slightly to himself. He didn't really expect O'Neill to give in to mere physical pain. This was just the softening up period. All the better to weaken him in preparation for when he would face that which he appeared to fear most.
Willand grinned as he moved in on O'Neill, drawing a short, thick, rubber truncheon from a loop on his belt. He paused for a moment, obviously planning out what he would do.
O'Neill eyed Willand warily as he moved closer, steeling himself mentally for what was to come. Nothing new here. Been there, done that, got way more t-shirts than I need. He was almost grateful when the first strike of the truncheon against the right side of his chest took his attention from the screaming pain of his back. Three more hits to the same area, and he knew that he had at least two broken ribs, probably more. The pull against his shoulder, chest, and stomach muscles from having his arms stretched above his head certainly wasn't helping, either.
Willand rained blows down on O'Neill's chest and abdomen, the flat thwack of the truncheon and the Colonel's occasional muffled gasp of pain obscenely loud in the otherwise silent room.
O'Neill briefly contemplated the value of a goading comment or two to Strammett or Willand and decided against it. He didn't want them to begin to doubt the persona he was trying to sell them, and getting too mouthy would probably be a mistake. Having blocked out Strammett's voice, droning on and on with questions that he couldn't - wouldn't - answer, he almost missed him ordering another of his goons to get in on the fun.
"Farreck," Strammett nodded to the third guard, who slipped a set of brass knuckles onto his right hand and stepped eagerly over to have his turn.
O'Neill tried to relax and allow his head to ride with the punch, but his restraints wouldn't allow it. Farreck's fist smashed into the right side of his face, and he felt and heard the cheekbone give way. A few seconds later, Willand's truncheon shattered his right collarbone, and Strammett finally got the scream of pain from O'Neil that he'd been waiting for as Farreck's fist impacted with the already broken ribs on the same side.
Overwhelmed by pain, O'Neill felt himself falling into darkness, sagging limply, his full weight dragging unheeded on his wrists.
When he saw that his plaything had passed out, Strammett had Pirry throw a bucketful of icy cold water over him. O'Neill returned to awareness abruptly, fighting against the water that had flooded his nose and mouth, and shivering from both the coldness of the water and the burning pain as it ran down his back. It shouldn't have surprised him that salt had obviously been added to the water in anticipation of such an event.
"Now that I have your attention, O'Neill, I think it's time to move on, don't you?"
Allowing wariness, and a hint of fear to show in his eyes, the Colonel decided to remain silent.
"Still not talking? I'm sure we can remedy that," Strammett smiled in anticipation. "Get him down and prepare him," he snapped the order to the guards and moved away from the table.
O'Neill stifled the anticipation that flared in him at Strammett's orders. A great deal would depend on exactly how they intended to restrain him now, and whether they still considered him a threat.
After freeing the chain from his ankle cuffs, Farreck hit the release on the winch, grinning unpleasantly when O'Neill gasped at the additional pain as his arms dropped, overstretched muscles protesting agonisingly at the sudden change in position, his right shoulder flaring in white hot agony. Willand grabbed the chain connecting his handcuffs and dragged him forward until the front of his thighs smacked solidly into the edge of the table.
A hard push from Pirry against O'Neill's back left him face down on the table, struggling to control his breathing and fight the pain that had erupted at the contact on his flayed skin. Willand pulled viciously on the handcuff chain until he was stretched taut across the table, his feet still on the ground, the chain between the ankle cuffs having been passed through two rings on the floor that kept his feet apart before being secured once again. For the moment, the intense pain made it impossible for him to move, given the way he was held, and the damage they had already inflicted on his body. He could feel the broken bones grating in his chest and shoulder, sending waves of agony through his body. Nevertheless, one thought kept running through O'Neill's mind. Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.
They hadn't fully secured him, choosing instead to keep him in place by holding the chain at his wrists. He maintained his watch on the four men, biding his time.
Farreck used a knife to cut through the bloodied waistbands of his trousers and shorts, dragging the knife all the way down until the whole trouser leg was split open, leaving a deep gash down his right buttock and the back of his right thigh. He repeated the process on the left leg, uncaring that he once again sliced deeply into the buttock and thigh. Replacing the knife in the sheath on his belt, Farreck dragged the bloody, tattered remains of O'Neill's clothing off and threw them aside. Strammett stood for a long moment, admiring the view, fascinated to see that O'Neill's tan was uniform over his arms, body, and legs. Long, slender legs, he noted, his tongue flicking out to wet his lips yet again.
"No!" It was easy for O'Neill to convince Strammett that he was terrified by what was about to happen, and that he was too weak to fight them off. Only O'Neill - and possibly Teal'c - knew that it wasn't terror that he was feeling, it was anger, violent, fiery, all-consuming anger, fuelled by concern for his team. Teal'c would tough it out, he knew, but what about Carter and Daniel? He was sickened at the thought of them being forced to witness this, and the distress it would cause them. "Oh, God, no! Not this! No, please, I'll tell you what you want to know!"
"Yes, you will. After my men and I have finished with you," Strammett informed him smugly, reaching to undo his belt and trousers as he moved toward the table.
Daniel stared at O'Neill in disbelief, unable to suppress a feeling of contempt for his former friend as he begged for mercy, while at the same time ashamed of what he was feeling. He wanted to look away, but found his eyes helplessly riveted on the scene playing out before him.
Carter just looked confused and embarrassed, and worried about her CO. She studiously avoided looking in his direction once she'd understood what was about to happen. Part of her acknowledged that it could just as easily have been her being held over that table. Oh my God! He'd known! He'd known they'd rather take him instead, and he'd manipulated them into it! She realised suddenly, fighting desperately against the nausea that threatened to choke her. God, it should have been me! Hasn't he suffered enough? It should have been me! She was overwhelmed with guilt at the relief she felt that it wasn't her. Tears flowed unchecked down her face as she tried to block out the disturbing sounds coming from across the room.
Teal'c managed - barely - to control his anger at what the men were doing to his brother warrior, and continued to watch O'Neill closely, not taken in for a moment by his uncharacteristic pleas for leniency.
For just an instant, as Strammett brutally forced himself upon him, O'Neill was back in a stinking cell in the heat and squalor of an Iraqi prison, and he began cursing his attacker in Arabic as he felt his flesh stretch beyond endurance and tear, blood streaming down the back of his legs, the pain a white hot knife ripping at his guts.
"This is just the first of many times that you will serve me, O'Neill. You are mine now, to do with as I please!" Strammett's hiss in his ear pulled him back to his current brutal reality. The man deliberately allowed his weight to come down on the tattered skin of the Colonel's back, causing him to writhe in pain, and increasing his own pleasure immensely. With a final hard bite that penetrated the skin of O'Neill's left shoulder, leaving a bloody imprint, Strammett finished and pulled away, refastening his pants offhandedly, and shifting to a position from which he would have an unobstructed view of O'Neill as Farreck moved into place behind him.
After having taken him, Strammett was even more obsessed with O'Neill than he had been before. Despite his begging and apparent horror at what was happening to him, he suspected that there was a hidden strength to O'Neill, and he intended to find out more about him.
The man had endured the whipping and beating stoically, far better than he'd expected. It seemed out of character that he would be so fearful of mere sexual violation after having shown such courage in the face of physical abuse. Still, everyone had their weakness and he had obviously found O'Neill's, he assured himself, observing how the Colonel had been reduced to whimpering in fear and agony when Pirry replaced Farreck. Strammett had every intention of exploiting, and enjoying, O'Neill's weakness for a long time to come.
Once he'd gotten the information he wanted, Strammett had decided that he would allow O'Neill to watch as he killed the rest of his team. Then he would continue to show the tall offworlder exactly who was in control here. He and his men had indeed found a sarcophagus in a previously hidden cave which had been exposed after a recent earthquake. From what Daniel had said, it may prove very useful in prolonging his enjoyment of O'Neill's subjugation.
Pushing Pirry away once he'd finished with O'Neill, Strammett moved in again, dragging his trousers down impatiently. He doubted that he would ever get enough of this, high on the power that flowed through him when he demonstrated his complete control over the taller man. Yes, the sarcophagus would be very useful indeed.
Willand, who had been holding the handcuff chain taut to prevent O'Neill from resisting while the others had their fun, released the chain and moved around eagerly to take his turn, unbuckling his belt and pushing hurriedly at his pants. Once Willand had released him, the others, secure in the belief that they had broken him, obviously saw no reason to continue to hold him down. Farreck had moved closer, but the look on his face told O'Neill that he was merely preparing for another turn once Willand had finished. Strammett and Pirry stood back, observing, and hurling demeaning comments O'Neill's way as Willand took him as roughly as they had.
Coldly disregarding what was happening to his body, O'Neill ruthlessly blocked out the looks on Daniel and Carter's faces - one almost contemptuous, the other shocked and guilty - and studied his abusers carefully, waiting for his chance. Finally it came.
"Pirry, go and tell the others that we have a new playmate. I'm sure they'd like to have some fun with him, too." Just this one time, though, to prove my complete dominance of him, Strammett smirked privately to himself. After this, he is mine alone.
"It will take me about thirty minutes to round them up. I'm sure you can keep him occupied until I get back," Pirry laughed as he exited the cell.
Slumped limply over the table, O'Neill gave no outward sign that he'd heard the exchange, but his level of awareness had just gone up a notch. Three against one was better odds than four against one, and they'd relaxed their guard now that they believed him to be completely cowed. He knew that he'd never get a better chance, especially if more men were on the way.
Despite his watchfulness, even Teal'c was taken by surprise when the Colonel made his move.
O'Neill brought his hands in under his chest and reared up, smashing his head back into Willand's nose, propelling the cartilage into his brain and killing him instantly. Even before Willand hit the ground, O'Neill bent his upper torso around, brought his hands up on either side of Farreck's head, and twisted sharply. He ignored the incandescent flare of pain in his right shoulder and chest, only satisfied when he felt and heard the telltale crack as Farreck's neck broke. Snatching Farreck's weapon from its holster, he threw himself to the ground, using the dead guard's body as a partial shield as he shot Strammett, ensuring that he hit the man twice just to be certain that he stayed down. It was all over in seconds.
Face expressionless, eyes blank, O'Neill reached over Farreck's body and ripped the keys from his belt. After unlocking his own restraints, he tossed the keys and Farreck's weapon to Teal'c then made his way over to where their equipment had been thrown. Rummaging through his pack, he extracted fresh clothing and dressed as rapidly as he could, dragging on his socks and boots last of all. Everything about him told his team to stay away. By the time he'd finished dressing, the others had also donned their socks and boots and were collecting their own packs and weapons.
O'Neill worked as quickly as he could, given that his right arm, which he'd landed on when taking cover, was now virtually useless. He extracted several things from his pack before discarding it and transferring the items he'd selected to various pockets on his Omega vest. Biting down harshly on an exclamation of pain, he pulled it on awkwardly, grateful for the relative softness of the t-shirt against his back as a buffer against the harsher material of the BDU shirt and the vest. Tucking his 9mm into the waistband of his pants, he was finally ready. With a nod to the others, he used his left hand to pick up his P-90, struggling a little as he one-handedly clipped it to his vest, before he moved to the door, opening it carefully so that he could scan the corridor for hostiles.
Without a word, Teal'c activated his zat and fired three times at each of the three bodies. O'Neill had heard the zat activated and looked back in time to see what Teal'c had done, but made no comment. Not once did he speak to, or make eye contact with, any of his team.
Daniel had been shocked by O'Neill's actions, and by the callous ease with which Teal'c had disposed of the bodies, without even checking to see if any of them had still been alive prior to being zatted. The Colonel and Sam hadn't even raised a protest. Something within him understood, after what they'd done to O'Neill. But something stronger within him was appalled at the casual disregard for life O'Neill had displayed, and held on fanatically to the idea that all this could probably have been avoided if the Colonel hadn't broken off the initial discussions so abruptly.
"Sir, are you - " Carter spoke hesitantly, but O'Neill cut her off, finally breaking his silence.
"We need to move. We don't know how long we have left until Pirry comes back with his friends and I definitely do not intend to be anywhere near here when that happens," O'Neill's eyes were cold and hard, his expression distant.
"But - " Daniel began, but this time it was Teal'c who interrupted.
"We must leave this place at once, Daniel Jackson," the Jaffa stated, already moving cautiously through the cell door, alert for any indication that their escape had been detected.
"Daniel," Jack's voice was flat, devoid of emotion, "move out after Teal'c. Carter, you're next. I've got our six."
They reached the rings without incident, and were all greatly relieved when Carter quickly located a control panel on a small pedestal off to one side. She slapped her palm against it and hurried to join the others inside the circle just before the rings activated.
Within moments they were back in the small clearing, about a mile to the west of the Stargate.
As they headed off toward the gate, Teal'c on point, Carter allowed herself a hopeful smile when Daniel dropped back to walk with the Colonel. Maybe he'd gotten over whatever had been bothering him and would be able to help the Colonel through what was probably going to be a pretty bad time in the near future. Fingers crossed, she quickened her pace until she was a few yards ahead of the two, giving them at least the illusion of privacy for their talk.
O'Neill eyed Daniel warily as he fell into step beside him. He could feel his strength draining with every agonising step that he took. Experience told him that he was in for a lengthy stay in the Infirmary when they got back to the SGC. Janet is so gonna be pissed off with me! At least the bad guys had left his knees alone this time. Too tired, and in way too much pain to waste what little energy he had left, he decided to let Daniel speak first.
"Whatever happened to death before dishonour, Colonel? Seems to me you rolled over pretty quickly for Strammett and his men. Where was the honour in that?" Daniel demanded angrily.
O'Neill stopped dead, any lingering trace of colour rapidly draining from his already pale face, too shocked and hurt by Daniel's word to even consider replying. He desperately fought down the bile that threatened to choke him, swaying unsteadily on his feet, his wide-eyed gaze locked onto the ground in front of him.
"Judging by what you said in Arabic, it sounds like this wasn't exactly a new experience for you, was it, Jack? Is that how you survived in Iraq? By letting the guards do whatever they wanted to you? Maybe you even enjoyed it?"
Falling to his knees, O'Neill doubled over in agony as he lost his battle and deposited the meagre contents of his stomach on the ground in front of him, continuing to dry heave painfully when there was nothing left to bring up.
Noting O'Neill's reaction, Daniel continued almost gleefully, "It seems to me you got free and killed those men pretty easily, Colonel. I just wonder why you waited until after - " His words were cut off abruptly by a hard slap across his face and he half-turned to find an absolutely furious Sam Carter glaring dangerously at him, with Teal'c, his expression thunderous, only a few steps behind her.
"Shut up and get the hell away from him, Daniel!" Carter barely trusted herself to speak to him as she forcefully interposed herself between Daniel and the Colonel. She couldn't remember ever being this angry before.
Daniel opened his mouth to reply, but wisely closed it again when Teal'c, moving with frightening speed, grabbed his jacket and hauled him unceremoniously away. The incensed Jaffa continued to make his way to the Stargate, dragging an unrepentant but thankfully silent Daniel behind him.
"Sir? Colonel O'Neill?" Carter studied her CO anxiously. He didn't seem to hear her, and she was more than a little worried that he was going into shock. "Jack?"
Carter's uncharacteristic use of his first name seemed to reach him. He blinked and appeared to be a little more aware of his surrounding.
"Sir?" Carter offered him her canteen, which he accepted with a nod, rinsing his mouth out quickly before taking several small, careful sips.
"Thanks," he handed the canteen back to her to stow on her belt.
"You're welcome, Sir," she smiled, wanting to help him as he struggled back up onto his feet, but hesitant about initiating any contact with him. She hadn't missed the way he'd flinched when her fingers had brushed against his as he'd handed the canteen back to her.
"Carter?" he looked around for the others, somewhat confused when he couldn't see them.
"They've gone on ahead, Colonel."
"Oh, ah, right," O'Neill resumed walking, regaining his composure a little more with each step.
"Are you okay, Sir?" They both knew that she wasn't asking about his physical injuries.
O'Neill nodded wearily. "Been there, done that, already have the t-shirt, Carter. Let's just say that my time as a POW left me with a whole lot of experiences and memories that I would so rather not have," he said quietly, hoping she would drop it.
"I know what you did, Sir," Carter said, her voice very soft, her eyes filled with tears of guilt. "I'm so sorry - "
"Carter, it wasn't your fault, it was theirs," O'Neill cut her off gently but firmly. "And I'd do it again in a heartbeat." He favoured her with a small smile, which she returned hesitantly.
"Let's just hope you never have to do it again, Sir,"
"Well, yeah, that would be good, too," he nodded, his tone marginally lighter.
"Um, Sir, I was - ah, well, there's something else I just have to ask you," Carter began hesitantly.
O'Neill eyed her almost fearfully, dreading what she might want to know. "What's your question, Carter?"
"Well, Sir, um, I may be out of line," she winced at the apprehension on his face but pushed on bravely, "ah, well, Sir, an all-over tan, Colonel? It was a little unexpected..."
O'Neill stared at her silently for several moments, and she worried that she'd pushed too far, until he started to laugh, wincing and guarding the right side of his chest, but genuinely laughing nonetheless. She grinned cheekily at him and started to giggle.
"No giggling, Major! I've told you that before!" O'Neill tried to glare at her, but started laughing again.
He stopped walking for a moment, getting his breath back while trying not to aggravate his broken ribs and collarbone any more than he already had.
"Thanks," he kept his eyes on the trail ahead of him as he set off once more in the direction of the gate.
"You're welcome, Sir."
"No, really, I mean it," he stopped again, letting his P-90 hang from the clip on his vest, as he reached up and brushed his left hand lightly down the side of her face. "Thank you, Sam."
"Any time, Jack," she said softly, understanding what he'd meant. "So, we're okay, aren't we, Sir?"
"Yeahsureyoubetcha, snookums," O'Neill's smile, battered and bruised though it was, was beautiful to see. They were definitely okay. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."
It was only later that Carter realised that not once had O'Neill made eye contact with her.
Hammond looked up from his paperwork in surprise when the klaxons began to blare their warning.
There weren't any teams due back until the next day at the earliest.
"What've we got, Sergeant?" he asked, hurrying into the control room.
"SG-1's IDC, sir," Harriman's hand hovered expectantly over the iris control hand scanner.
"Open it up, and get the SFs and a medical team to the gateroom," Hammond ordered. SG-1 had only been gone eleven hours, and had been expected to be away for two days. That was probably indication enough that something was wrong, even without the unexplained activation from P4T 117 eight hours earlier. They'd redialled the planet once the incoming wormhole had shut down, but there had been no response to their repeated radio calls. It didn't take a genius to figure out that they must have struck trouble.
Daniel had just finished dialling by the time Carter and O'Neill reached the gate. Teal'c had extracted his GDO from a pocket on his vest and had just entered the code when the sound of pursuit came to them from the trees to the west.
"Carter, you two go through. Teal'c and I will lay down covering fire," O'Neill yelled even as he sprayed a burst from his P90 into the trees where several of the enemy had taken cover. Dammit! We almost made it! "Go now, Carter!" Thrusting the pain down ruthlessly, he gave himself over to his darker side, the side of him that had enabled him to be so successful during his Black Ops missions. The side of him that would do almost anything to ensure the success of his mission, and right now his mission was to get his people home in one piece.
Once he was sure that Carter and Daniel had gone, O'Neill signalled Teal'c to follow. He took out the last of the first group of attackers just as Teal'c disappeared through the gate. Another large group of men swarmed into the clearing as he staggered to his feet, firing a long, deadly burst at the newcomers before stumbling up the steps and through the event horizon. It was so time to go.
"Medical team!" Carter yelled as she followed Daniel out of the wormhole into the SGC gateroom.
Fraiser and her people entered the gateroom at a dead run before Carter and Daniel had cleared the ramp.
"Not us," Carter shook her head as the medical team headed for Daniel and her. "It's - it's Colonel O'Neill."
Everyone looked up expectantly as Teal'c appeared through the gate.
"Where's the Colonel"
"He should be here momentarily - he was but a few yards behind me."
A telltale slurp announced the arrival of another traveller and O'Neill stumbled through the gate, ashen faced and barely able to stay on his feet. He'd barely cleared the event horizon when two more men came flying through. One crashed heavily into O'Neill, sending the two of them over the side railing and down onto the gateroom floor in a tangle of arms and legs. The other's momentum carried him down the ramp and straight into the waiting arms of three SFs, who had him disarmed and pinned face down on the gateroom floor before he realised what had happened.
Harriman slammed his hand down on the palm reader, closing the iris and preventing anyone else from coming through. There were three distinct thumps as the iris performed as it was meant to until the wormhole snapped out of existence.
Before anyone could reach them, the first man had recovered his wits and held his weapon pressed firmly against O'Neill's neck. The Colonel appeared to be unconscious, blood trickling from his mouth and nose, and from a deep gash down the left side of his face. The sound of his laboured breathing carried clearly in the ominously silent gateroom.
"Pirry!" Carter recognised the man who had whipped O'Neill.
"Hold your fire!" Hammond barked the order into the microphone. He didn't want anyone risking the Colonel's life unnecessarily. He waited long enough to be sure that his order was being heeded then set off for the gateroom at a run.
"Pirry, you will release O'Neill immediately," Teal'c's staff weapon was armed and pointed directly at the man's head.
"My weapon is no longer set to merely stun, Jaffa. Unless you want O'Neill to die, you will order that the gate be reactivated," Pirry pressed the weapon more forcefully against O'Neill's throat, choking him and making him have to fight even harder to breathe.
"Stand down, Teal'c," Hammond's quiet order was reluctantly followed as the Jaffa deactivated his staff weapon and took several paces back.
"Release Colonel O'Neill and you will not be harmed," Hammond now turned his attention to Pirry.
"Activate the gate and allow me to return to the planet and I may let him live,' Pirry countered, dragging the now semi-conscious Colonel to his feet. "I will be taking O'Neill through the gate with me as assurance of my safety."
"The hell you will!" Hammond's denial was absolute.
"Then I will kill him now," Pirry shrugged, tightening his finger on the weapon's trigger.
O'Neill jammed his left elbow back as hard as he could, catching his captor in the stomach and causing him to loosen his grip long enough to allow the Colonel to slip from his grasp. Two SFs fired at the same time as Pirry, the beam from his weapon just grazing O'Neill's chest even as the SFs bullets found their marks. Pirry was dead before his body hit the gateroom floor.
Fraiser was at the Colonel's side a moment later. Carter hovered anxiously in the background as Teal'c lifted the Colonel onto the waiting gurney before stepping back and allowing Fraiser access to her patient once again. The last thing O'Neill was aware of before he passed out was Daniel leaning over him, his face an angry mask.
"Another notch for your belt, Colonel. You must be so proud, even if it was only an `assist'. And then there's the three who hit the iris. I guess you'd consider them a bonus!" Daniel turned on his heel and stalked out of the gateroom, his outburst having shocked everyone present.
Once things had calmed down, with O'Neill on his way to the Infirmary, the prisoner removed to a holding cell, and Pirry's body on the way to the morgue, Hammond took Carter and Teal'c to his office for a preliminary report on the mission.
The General listened quietly, having to hold a tight rein on his anger, as Carter gave him a brief rundown on what had happened, and found himself unable to regret Pirry's death once he'd heard what he and the others had done to the Colonel.
"It should have been me, Sir," Carter's face was pale and she appeared near to tears. "Strammett had obviously targeted me in an attempt to get the Colonel to talk. Somehow - somehow the Colonel manipulated the situation so - so that they left me alone and - and - " she broke off, shaking her head as words suddenly failed her.
"O'Neill acted with courage and honour, as always," Teal'c finished for her, his pride in his friend unmistakable. "He takes his role as protector most seriously."
"That he does, Teal'c," Hammond had no hesitation in agreeing. "Major, you can't blame yourself for what happened. The blame rests squarely with the people who did this, and no one else. Colonel O'Neill will tell you that himself when he's able."
"He already has, Sir," Carter ventured a small smile as she recovered her composure.
"Which only proves my point, Major," Hammond smiled. "Now, is there anything else we need to discuss?"
"Ah, I'm afraid so, Sir. It's Daniel. He's been incredibly down on the Colonel since returning from sick leave. I don't know what's caused it, but I know he's really hurt Colonel O'Neill with what he's been saying to him. The incident in the gateroom was mild compared with what he'd said prior to that. I was wondering if you'd had a chance to speak with him, Sir? To find out what's causing him to act this way?"
Hammond sighed unhappily. "As you know, I had a meeting with Doctor Jackson this morning after the mission briefing." God, was that only this morning? "I'm not sure why, but he has suddenly become intolerant of the military in general, and Colonel O'Neill in particular. P4T 117 was his last mission with SG-1, at least for now. I'm not sure yet whether he will choose to remain with the SGC, on another team, or if he will decide to leave us entirely. I've given him until the end of the week to decide."
"Does the Colonel know, Sir?"
"I informed him just before you left this morning, Major," Hammond nodded. "Given Doctor Jackson's current demeanour, it might be best if you gave him some time to cool down before you speak with him."
"I have no wish to speak with Daniel Jackson at this time, General Hammond. He has not acted with honour towards O'Neill," Teal'c's disapproval was almost palpable.
"We'll give him a wide berth for a while, Sir," Carter agreed. Otherwise Teal'c might hurt him, and right at this moment, I'd gladly help.
"I think that would be best," Hammond said as he rose to his feet. "And now I think it's time that we went and checked on your CO, don't you?"
"Yes, Sir," Carter was quick to stand, as was Teal'c.
It was, in fact, a further three hours before Doctor Fraiser emerged from the operating theatre to find Carter and Teal'c firmly entrenched in the Infirmary, obviously waiting for news of O'Neill's condition. General Hammond, having been alerted that the Colonel was out of surgery, came hurrying into the Infirmary just as Janet reached O'Neill's team mates. She'd expected Daniel to be with them, then realised that, after his outburst in the gateroom, his absence wasn't really a surprise.
"Well, for once his knees escaped any additional damage," she smiled wearily as she began her report with the good news. "He has a concussion, a minor fracture in his right wrist, major bruising to his abdomen and chest, four broken ribs on his right side, and his right clavicle is fractured. The burn on his chest from the shot fired in the gateroom is relatively minor and should heal without any complications. His right lung collapsed - it had been punctured by two of the broken ribs. I'm guessing that happened in the gateroom when he went over the railing. He has multiple deep lacerations on his back, which we've cleaned and dressed, along with the gash on the left side of his face, and his right cheekbone is fractured." She paused, running her fingers through her hair as she considered how best to continue, not knowing how much the others knew about what had happened to the Colonel, and unwilling to violate his privacy.
"They were with him the whole time, Doctor," Hammond told her quietly, guessing at the reason for her hesitation.
Oh, my God! Fraiser was horrified, concerned for her patient and for his team. No one should have to see something like that, let alone experience it, and for the Colonel to know that they'd witnessed it... She shook her head and forced herself to go on. "Well, he has some fairly serious internal injuries, as well as major tearing and bruising from the, um, assaults. It's obvious from the amount of damage that there were multiple, ah, assailants, and we'll need to test for STDs over the next day or so."
"There were four of them. One of them - Pirry - was the man the SFs shot. He was also the one responsible for the whipping," Carter informed her very quietly. "One of the others, the leader - " she looked to Teal'c for assistance, unable to say it.
Teal'c laid a supportive hand on her arm and took over for her. "The leader assaulted O'Neill twice, the other three once each. In freeing himself, O'Neill killed two of the men and stunned the leader with one of their weapons before providing the means for us to free ourselves. I myself disposed of the leader, and of the bodies of the other two. You are already aware of the fate of the fourth man." His expression dared either Fraiser or Hammond to challenge his actions.
"I wish I could have done it," Hammond snarled.
"Me, too," Fraiser agreed wholeheartedly. She took a deep, steadying breath before going on. "Bottom line is that he's stable for now, but I'll be keeping him under for a few days while his lung heals and he's on the respirator. We've repaired all the damage that we could, and the rest will heal with time and care. You can sit with him after I've completed your post mission examinations, but only for a little while," she told Carter and Teal'c, "and then I want you both to get some rest."
General Hammond waited until the Friday before he sought out Doctor Jackson. If the truth be told, he'd had to wait that long before he trusted himself to speak civilly to the young archaeologist.
"So, Doctor Jackson, I'm hoping that you have reached a decision regarding your future?" Hammond studied Daniel while he waited for his response. The man looked as though he hadn't been sleeping well. Perhaps his conscience was bothering him, the General mused.
"I've decided to accept your offer of a position with SG-15," Daniel told him immediately.
"Very well, Doctor Jackson. Your transfer is effective immediately. You might like to check in with Doctor Fletcher after we finish here to find out about your mission schedule."
"Thanks, I will."
"Was there anything else, Doctor Jackson?"
"Yes, actually there is, General Hammond. Is there any intention to make Colonel O'Neill accountable for what happened on P4T 117?"
Hammond stared at Daniel in disbelief. "And what exactly should the Colonel be held accountable for, Doctor Jackson?"
"Oh, come on, General Hammond. If O'Neill hadn't overreacted in the first place, the whole misunderstanding could have been avoided. His behaviour shouldn't be allowed to go unpunished, if only for the poor judgment alone."
Hammond counted silently to ten before he allowed himself to respond. "Doctor Jackson, after interviewing the man who came through the gate from P4T 117, it is apparent that this Strammett had always intended to take SG-1 captive to obtain whatever information he would need in order to mount a successful attack on Earth through the Stargate. Colonel O'Neill's actions and judgement in this matter are beyond reproach, especially given that he did whatever he considered necessary in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of his team."
"Typical military response," Daniel muttered, still convinced that he was right and everyone else was wrong.
"It seems that we have nothing further to discuss, Doctor Jackson," Hammond had to hold his temper tightly in check as he stood and dismissed Daniel from his office.
Three weeks after he'd returned from P4T 117, O'Neill was recovering physically as quickly as he normally did, but his silence and ongoing refusal to make eye contact with anyone had Fraiser very concerned. Except when necessary for his treatment, he'd barely said a word to anyone, even Teal'c and Carter, in the two and a half weeks since being taken off the respirator and brought out of his drug-induced coma.
Since he'd regained consciousness, the Colonel had been the epitome of a model patient. Even when the medical procedures they'd necessarily had to perform on him were humiliating and uncomfortable, he hadn't voiced a single complaint. The nursing staff, who usually complained bitterly when faced with caring for a grumpy and uncooperative recovering Colonel, were now complaining that he was too compliant, and way too quiet. The Doctor would have found the turnaround hilarious if her internal alarm system hadn't been going crazy.
As if that wasn't worrying enough, the Colonel had also been uncharacteristically cooperative with McKenzie when he'd undergone the counselling that was mandatory given what had happened. After several sessions, McKenzie had reluctantly passed O'Neill as mentally as well as could be hoped, with the reservation that he felt further counselling would be beneficial. He'd had also noted that he was certain that the Colonel was not revealing everything about what was bothering him, but he had been unable to find out more.
In Fraiser's opinion, it didn't help that his team wasn't currently around to provide support, although that had been largely his own doing. He'd insisted that Hammond keep the rest of the team on the duty rotation, adamant that Carter was more than capable of leading in his absence. Hammond had, rather reluctantly, agreed, assigning Carter and Teal'c - at their request - as security for SG-15, the research team to which Daniel had been transferred. Despite Carter's misgivings, Daniel hadn't made an issue of the assignment of his former team mates to watch over SG-15, and seemed to act almost normally around them. They had been offworld for most of the last two weeks.
With no physical reason to keep O'Neill in the infirmary Fraiser had been forced to release him. The Colonel had been gone from the infirmary almost before Fraiser had signed his release, reluctantly accepting the small bag of meds that she had insisted he needed. He headed straight for the locker room, where he changed into civvies and his hiking boots, making a stop in his office before moving on to the General's office. A quick check had shown Hammond to be in the control room, and the Colonel had planned to just drop what he carried onto the General's desk and then go home.
"Colonel O'Neill?" Hammond's voice coming from the doorway to the office caused the Colonel to freeze, his hand outstretched toward the desk.
"Ah, Sir, I thought you were in the control room," O'Neill was clearly uncomfortable at having been caught in the General's office. He straightened and hesitantly turned toward the door, his gaze flickering over the general's face without making eye contact.
Hammond sighed and reached over to pluck the envelope from O'Neill's fingers. "I guess I don't have to ask you what this contains, do I, Jack?"
"I guess not, Sir," O'Neill still avoided Hammond's eyes, staring down at his boots, left hand jammed into his trouser pocket, the right, half hidden in the sling, clenched into a tight fist.
"I'm not going to act on this immediately, Colonel. You have a very large amount of leave accrued, even without the four weeks sick leave that Doctor Fraiser has given you. Why don't you just take as long as you need to go and heal, Jack. I don't want to lose you, son."
Still looking anywhere but the General's eyes, O'Neill shrugged, wincing painfully as the movement pulled on his incompletely healed injuries. "I won't change my mind, George."
"Perhaps not, but I'd still like you to take some time and really think about it."
O'Neill sighed and nodded. "Yes, Sir."
Carter studied Daniel as he adjusted his pack one final time before going through the gate. He'd seemed almost his old self on the two missions they'd accompanied SG-15 on in the last three weeks. Friendly enough to her and Teal'c, enthusiastic about the opportunity to spend more time studying what they found than was possible on a first contact team like SG-1. The only times he'd lost it were when she or Teal'c had tried to talk to him about the Colonel. Merely mentioning O'Neill's name had resulted into a return of the attitude that had shocked everyone before, during, and after the disastrous mission to P4T 117. After a several attempts to talk to Daniel about what had happened, Carter and Teal'c had stopped trying, at least for now. Maybe when the Colonel came back from his leave they could try again. She'd hoped to have a word with O'Neill before the mission, but he'd left the base earlier that morning, while she'd been in the pre-mission briefing. While she was concerned that he hadn't spoken to either Teal'c or her before leaving, she could understand that he would be anxious to get away after having been cooped up in the Infirmary for three weeks.
SG-15 was embarking on a two week mission to allow them time to study some unusual ruins discovered by SG-13 on PX3 016. Hopefully this mission would be as successful - and safe - as the previous two. Despite his insistence that she and Teal'c remain on the duty rotation, it still left Carter feeling uneasy to be going on a mission without the Colonel. Exchanging a glance with Teal'c, Carter followed in Daniel's wake and stepped through the even horizon.
O'Neill sighed wearily as he let himself into his home. He threw his keys onto the hall table and made his way slowly into the kitchen to put away the few groceries he'd bought on the way home. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't completely useless in the kitchen, he just derived no pleasure from cooking only for himself. He absently flicked the coffee maker on before heading into the bedroom, where he kicked his boots off and changed into comfortable old sweats and a grey Air Force t-shirt. By the time he returned to the kitchen, the coffee was ready. Pouring himself a mug, he wandered into the lounge room, easing himself carefully down onto the couch and lifting his sock-clad feet up to rest on the coffee table.
Sipping cautiously at the steaming coffee and staring unseeingly at the dormant TV screen, he decided that he needed to get away from Colorado Springs for a while, if not forever. Maybe some time at the cabin would be good. He could stay there as long as he liked, he realised with a sharp stab of sorrow. It wasn't as though he was needed here anymore. As he sat, contemplating the failure that was his life, he was ignorant of the passage of time until it gradually penetrated his awareness that night had well and truly fallen, and he was cold.
Leaving the empty coffee mug on the table, he dragged himself back onto his feet and walked slowly up the stairs and into the bathroom, where he brushed his teeth in preparation for going to bed. A glance in the mirror revealed the fact that his hair was far too long to meet regulations. He'd been overdue for a haircut even before P4T 117, but it wasn't like it mattered now.
He allowed his gaze to track over the slowly healing wounds on his face and laughed without humour. Fraiser, and even McKenzie, had expressed their concern over the fact that he refused to make eye contact with anyone since returning from that godforsaken planet. He wondered what they'd make of the fact that he couldn't even make eye contact with himself.
Fuck, what a mess!
Shoulders slumped, he flicked the bathroom light off and wandered into his bedroom, hoping for nothing more than a night when he didn't see Daniel's face sneering at him, or hear his former friend's voice, heavy with contempt, reminding him how worthless and despicable he was.
Four weeks later - Minnesota
Hammond's expression was grim as he stepped from the hummer and made his way up the pathway to the well-kept cabin at the edge of the lake. Knocking on the cabin door, he entered, to find the man he had come to see lounging comfortably on an old couch in the middle of the room, reading a book.
"You're looking well, son," he noted quietly.
O'Neill merely shrugged in response, his expression neither welcoming nor hostile.
"I'm sorry to have to do this, Jack, but we need your help. SG - "
"General Hammond! I didn't expect to see you here, Sir," a familiar voice came from his left. Hammond turned in surprise, his eyes widening in shock. O'Neill stood in the doorway of what appeared to be a bedroom, his hair tussled, eyes still heavy with sleep. Looking more closely, Hammond suddenly realised that the first man he'd seen and spoken to had no scar through his left eyebrow. That was the only obvious difference on first inspection. Both men had greying, collar length hair, and currently sported a couple of days' growth on their tanned faces.
The `second' O'Neill nodded.
"Then who the hell is that," he gestured towards the man that he'd originally thought was Jack O'Neill.
"My brother, Angus. Angus, this is Major General George Hammond - he was my CO at the Mountain."
"Call me Mac," Angus told Hammond with an easy smile.
"And you can call me George," Hammond said absently, his gaze still flicking disbelievingly between the two men.
Now that he'd had a little more time to study them, Hammond detected an additional difference between the two men. O'Neill was noticeably thinner, and his face appeared gaunt despite the stubble. Obviously the time off had not yet had the healing effect that Hammond and Fraiser had hoped for, and he hadn't regained the weight he'd lost after P4T 117. The meaning of O'Neill's words suddenly penetrated his thoughts. "Your brother, Jack?"
"It's a long story, Sir," O'Neill's smile was faint, but Hammond was still pleased to see it. "Why don't you grab a seat and I'll put the coffee on."
"I'll do it, Jon. You rest," Angus was on his feet and moving before O'Neill could stop him.
"He thinks he can boss me around just because he's seven minutes older," O'Neill quipped, dropping wearily into an overstuffed lounge chair.
Hammond sank slowly into the other lounge chair, the reason for his visit momentarily taking second place to his curiosity about Jack and his brother. It turned out to be quite a story.
Angus had readily acquiesced to Jack's request that he tell the tale, seeing the lingering weariness around his brother's eyes, and willing to do anything to ensure that he didn't over exert himself.
"I'll give you the short version to start with, George," Angus advised him with a wry smile. "Jon and I were adopted separately shortly after we were born. We both always knew that we were adopted, but neither of us knew anything about the other until we were in our mid-twenties."
"How the hell did that happen?" Hammond was shocked.
"Ah! Now we come to the research that I did when I was about twenty-four. I've always been kind of curious," Angus grinned at Jack's amused snort.
"You going to let me tell this, or what?"
"I'm just sayin'..." O'Neill grinned cheekily and let it drop.
"Anyway, when I was twenty-four, I decided to do some research into my birth parents to satisfy my curiosity," Angus continued, returning his attention to Hammond. "It was easy enough to find out the details of my birth parents, and I was disappointed when I learned that they were both dead, but that wasn't the real shock. It turned out that I was one of a set of twin boys who'd been found abandoned in an alleyway near a hospital in Chicago a couple of days after we were born. There was no note, and nothing to indicate who our parents were. All anyone knew was that we were healthy and no more than two days old," he paused to take a sip of his coffee. "About three days after we were found, the body of a young woman was found in an apartment about three blocks from the hospital. The autopsy revealed that she'd died from complications arising from childbirth. The police investigating the death found a journal that pretty much confirmed what they'd suspected - that she'd given birth to us in the apartment and intended to leave us at the hospital because she couldn't look after us. Her husband - our father - had been killed in a climbing accident six months before we were born. She'd had a difficult pregnancy, and lost her job because of all the time off she'd had, four months before we were born. Between the funeral and medical expenses, she had nothing left by the time we were due - not even enough to cover the cost of the hospital for the birth. It had been her intention to leave us at the hospital, in one of the staff restrooms, in the hope that someone would look after us."
"Then why the alley?" Hammond wanted to know.
"The police thought that she'd tried to make it to the hospital but couldn't, so she left us in the entrance to the alley, obviously hoping that we'd be found quickly, which is what happened. From the autopsy report, it pretty much looked like she'd barely made it back to the apartment before she died."
"That poor woman," Hammond whispered sadly.
"Yeah. I hope wherever she is she knows that we were okay," O'Neill said quietly.
"Yeah, it'd be nice to think that she did," Angus agreed, equally quietly, before returning to the story. "So, there were no living relatives on either side of the family that the authorities could locate, and the decision was made that the boys should be adopted separately, God alone knows why. Because adoption records are sealed, I couldn't find out anything about who had adopted my brother, no matter how hard I tried. That we ever found each other is purely down to luck. When I was twenty-six, I was working for the DSX and was at an Air Force base on an assignment when someone mentioned how much I resembled an officer who'd been there the previous month, preparing for a mission. Publicly, I laughed it off, but privately I followed up on it. Because he was Special Forces, it took me a couple of months to track him down, but I finally managed it."
"Given that Angus was DSX, and I was Special Forces, and involved in Black Ops as well, we decided that it would be safer for both of us if we kept our connection secret, that way neither of us could be used against the other," Jack answered Hammond's question before he could ask it.
"One of the weirdest things were the similarities between our lives," Angus rounded out the story. "We were both raised in Minnesota, both lost one adoptive parent early on, and both served briefly in Vietnam at the end of the conflict."
"And we both play a mean game of hockey," Jack added with a laugh, "especially against each other."
"That's an amazing story," Hammond shook his head in wonder. "It's incredible that you ever found each other. I'm curious about one thing, though. How do you know that you were born seven minutes apart, and that Mac is the eldest?'
"The journal," Mac smiled. "Our birth mother had recorded the times, and she'd put a blue ribbon around Jon's wrist and a green one around mine so she could tell us apart."
"Yeah, well, so, now that you have the whole fascinating story, I guess it's time to get to the real reason for your visit, Sir," O'Neill was, as usual, uncomfortable dwelling on anything of a personal nature and had decided that it was time to get down to business.
"Can we talk in private, Jack? No offence meant, Mac."
"None taken, George," Angus smiled, understanding completely.
"Angus' security clearance is nearly as high as mine, George," O'Neill told him firmly. "He actually even worked behind the scenes on the computer program that Carter developed to run the gate."
"Even though I didn't really believe how it was going to be applied at first," Angus smiled wryly. "I also consulted on security for the SGC just before you were assigned there, General Hammond, when the decision was made to shut down the base. While I was there I kind of found out more than I should have about the big round ring in the basement," O'Neill shared a quick grin with him about that. "It didn't take a whole lot of effort to put two and two together and figure out exactly what it was, given that I'd worked on the dialling program. And no, before you ask, Jon's never given me any details about his work."
"I didn't think he had," Hammond's trust in his 2IC was absolute.
The General considered his options for a moment, then made his decision. If Angus' clearance was as high as O'Neill had indicated, then it was probably higher than Hammond's. The vague outline of a idea began to form in his mind, but he'd keep that for later.
"SG-15 is two weeks overdue, Jack. I've had two teams - SG-3 and SG-7 - searching for them, but they seem to have vanished without a trace."
"That's right, and both Teal'c and Major Carter are with them." Hammond hadn't yet tried to create a new SG-1, clinging stubbornly to the hope that the original team was not beyond redemption, hence the inclusion of Carter and Teal'c on SG-15's last mission.
"So, what's the plan going forward?" O'Neill had been unsurprised to learn that Carter and Teal'c were with SG-15. He'd asked them both to keep an eye on Daniel, to keep him safe. While his gut still insisted that there was something wrong with Daniel, his friend's actions and words had hurt him so deeply that he still felt the pain, and he'd needed to put distance between the two of them if he was going to survive. The longer he'd stayed at the SGC, the more hurt would result for both of them. That didn't stop him from worrying about all three of his `kids', though.
"Officially, I've been ordered to cease wasting resources on fruitless search and rescue missions," Hammond sighed, his frustration obvious.
"And unofficially?" there was just the beginning of the old gleam in O'Neill's eyes, and Hammond's hopes for the future increased sharply.
"Unofficially, I'd like you to go after them, Jack," Hammond held his breath while he waited for O'Neill's reply.
"Just so you know, I haven't changed my mind, Sir. I'm still retired as far as I'm concerned."
"And just so you know, I'm still going to try and change your mind before I submit the paperwork, Colonel," Hammond told him with a smile.
"Okay, so when do I leave?" O'Neill never hesitated.
"As soon as we get back to the SGC and Doctor Fraiser does a pre-mission medical check on you. We can leave immediately," Hammond gestured to where the hummer and driver waited. "I have an aircraft on standby at the airfield."
"Sounds like more than a one-man job, Jon," Angus drawled, smiling lazily at his brother.
"I can't ask you to come with me, Angus."
"They're your family, Jon, as much as I am. So that makes them my family, too. You don't have to ask," Angus told him. "Besides, how can I possibly pass up a chance to actually go through the Stargate?" he grinned.
Hammond smiled to himself. He'd hoped that this would happen.
Hammond accompanied the two men as far as the elevator. He'd already radioed ahead and arranged for a permanent pass for Angus to be ready and waiting when they arrived. He'd been unable to suppress a small laugh when he'd told the security chief the name to put on the pass, and that he should just use one of Colonel O'Neill's latest file photographs on it for now.
"Sir?" the security chief had almost choked at the breach in protocol.
"Just do it, Chief. I'll explain when we arrive."
An explanation hadn't been necessary after all, once the Chief Master Sergeant had seen O'Neill and his brother together. The man had been able to confirm Angus' clearance level before they arrived, though, which had smoothed the way considerably.
"I'll see you both in my office after you finish in the infirmary. The ordnance and supplies you asked for will be ready by then as well, Colonel," Hammond continued on in the elevator to the level housing his office while O'Neill and his brother got off on the Infirmary level.
The two men had drawn more than a few startled glances as they'd strolled casually along the corridor toward the Infirmary. Apart from their identical looks, both men were also dressed alike, in jeans, hiking boots, and flannel shirts over white t-shirts. They even both had the sleeves of the flannel shirts rolled up in the same manner. The only discernable difference was that one's shirt was sky blue, while the other's was emerald green.
"Colonel. It's good to see you again, Sir," Fraiser smiled as she saw who her visitor was. The smile turned to shock when a second, identical man stepped through the doorway behind the first, the only easily discernible difference being the blue shirt the second man wore.
"It's just Jack now, Doc," the second man said firmly. "I've retired, remember?" O'Neill grinned at the stunned expression on the Doctor's face. "Oh, have you met my brother Angus?" he asked with a wide-eyed, innocent expression on his face.
"Please, call me Mac," the first man said with a grin. "You must be Janet Fraiser. Jon's told me a lot about you."
"All good, Doc! All good!" O'Neill hastened to add when he saw that `I've got a huge needle with your name on it' gleam come into her eyes. He eyed the route to the door nervously.
"Oh, I'm sure it was, Jack," Fraiser said, her calm tone somewhat offset by the evil glint in her eye. "Why don't I just get a few blood samples to start with, hmm?"
After she'd recovered from her initial shock, Doctor Fraiser had cleared both men, although she had noted that O'Neill was still about fifteen pounds below his minimum acceptable weight and would not normally have been passed as fit as result. Given the nature and purpose of their mission, she had made a reluctant exception in this case. Privately, Fraiser had been delighted to note that the Colonel's mental state had improved markedly in the time he'd been away, and she assumed that his brother could take much of the credit for helping him with that.
After clearing the infirmary, they'd gone to the General's office to go over their plan, such as it was, one last time. When he'd reviewed the list of armaments O'Neill had put together, Hammond had argued that Angus needed more weapons, but O'Neill had vetoed the idea immediately.
"It's not his way, General. You may as well accept it. I have," he'd shot a quick grin at his brother, who smiled in response.
"You did eventually, Jon," Angus had quipped back cheekily.
From his vantage point in the control room, Hammond studied the two men who strode purposefully into the gateroom. With both now clean-shaven, and wearing identical clothing, even to the baseball caps, there was no obvious physical way to tell them apart, given that the BDUs hid the fact that O'Neill was significantly thinner than his brother, and the baseball caps denied a clear view of their left eyebrows. The looks on the faces of the SFs on duty on the gateroom were priceless. Hammond made a mental note to ask for a copy of the security tape later, certain that Major Carter and Teal'c would enjoy seeing it.
The only way the General could tell them apart at this distance was the fact that Angus' only weapons were a zat and two knives - one on his belt, the other tucked into his boot - while O'Neill had a zat, two knives, his 9mm, and a P90.
Hammond smiled as he watched Angus' face when the gate began to spin. O'Neill was obviously enjoying his brother's reaction, and doubled over laughing as Angus jumped back in surprise when the wormhole established. Once they'd both recovered their composure, they moved to stand at the base of the ramp.
"Gentlemen, you have a go. Godspeed."
"We'll be back soon with the lost sheep, General," O'Neill gave his usual sloppy salute.
"See you soon, George!" Angus waved before following his brother up the ramp. They paused to exchange grins just before they stepped through.
"This is just so cool!" Angus' comment carried clearly, as did O'Neill's response.
"I've always thought so - just don't tell Carter when you meet her!"
Oh yes, Hammond was definitely going to get a copy of that tape.
"What a rush!" Angus exclaimed as he exited the wormhole beside his brother.
"Oh, yeah! Never get tired of that!" O'Neill grinned at the excited expression on Angus' face. Out of habit, he moved over to check the DHD, taking in the unusual design worked into its base as he did so. He had a photo of the DHD showing the design in his pack, as part of the information that Hammond had provided to them.
The area around the gate was clear, but the two men moved immediately away and into the cover of the surrounding trees. The activation of the gate wasn't exactly quiet, and they didn't really want to run into whoever might come to investigate until they had a better understanding of what was going on.
The logical place to start their search was the ruins that SG-15 had come to the planet to investigate.
It took them several days, with Angus insisting that they move at an easy pace given his brother's lack of stamina, to locate any trace of SG-15, and even then they'd been lucky. It was understandable that SG-3 and SG-7 hadn't picked up on it - none of the members of those teams had O'Neill or his brother's expertise in tracking.
Once they'd found the first sign, a thorough search soon revealed more, the trail leading off toward the distant mountains.
It was a further two days until the trail they'd followed brought them to the outskirts of a town located at the base of the mountain range, in the foothills. The inhabitants appeared human, and there didn't appear to be any obvious signs of Goa'uld influence from what O'Neill had been able to observe. It still didn't explain what had happened to the missing team, or why. They obviously needed more time to observe and collect information.
As they melted back into the forest, both men continued to be convinced that they were being watched. They'd felt that way since they'd arrived through the gate, but, try as they might, they hadn't been able to find any trace of whoever was observing them.
Teal'c stumbled, dropping to one knee. One of his guards immediately moved forward to help him up.
"Are you okay, Teal'c?" Daniel moved over to him, concerned.
"I am uninjured, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c replied, gesturing subtly with his hand and drawing Daniel's attention to several small sticks and a pebble that had been arranged on the ground to form the point of origin symbol for Earth.
Daniel's eyes widened but he gave no other sign that he'd seen anything. Once the Jaffa had regained his feet, both men examined their surroundings casually, trying unsuccessfully to spot whoever might have left the symbol there for them to find.
"I wish we'd hear from someone from home," Daniel said, his voice a little louder than normal. "I'm sure that a direct approach in a friendly manner would soon get this whole thing sorted out."
"Indeed. The sooner the better," Teal'c agreed with him.
"Are you able to go on, Jaffa Teal'c?" One of the guards, a giant of a man who even managed to make Teal'c look small, inquired solicitously.
"I am, thank you Guard Im'hal," Teal'c inclined his head regally.
The group set off once again, walking at an easy pace. Rounding a bend in the road, they found themselves facing two men wearing the unmistakable uniform of the SGC. They were dressed identically to Teal'c and Daniel but for the lack of team designation on the newcomers' right sleeves.
Both men appeared to be armed only with holstered zats and sheathed belt knives, and held their empty, open hands carefully away from their sides to emphasize their peaceful intentions. Given the brightness of the sunshine, the men's faces were deeply shadowed under the brims of their baseball caps. Teal'c tilted his head in puzzlement, certain that he recognised both men, but that was clearly impossible.
"We bring greetings from the Tau'ri and come in peace," one of the men spoke.
There was no mistaking that Minnesota drawl.
"O'Neill, it is good to see you," Teal'c bowed his head briefly and smiled, his suspicions confirmed. That still left the mystery of the second man, however.
"What are you doing here, Colonel?" Daniel was shocked, his pleasure at seeing someone from the SGC rapidly fading. As far as he knew, O'Neill had left the SGC over a month before. A very small part of him was ashamed to admit that he'd not even attempted to contact him in all that time. And a much larger part of him was still angry with him, and doubted that anything good could come from his unwelcome presence. Weren't they already in enough trouble without O'Neill barging in and bullying the natives?
"Hey, T," O'Neill took his baseball cap off and stuffed it into one of the pockets on his vest. "What do you think I'm doing here, Doctor Jackson? I'm looking for a missing SG team. Know where I might find one?" O'Neill's tone was noticeably cooler when he spoke to the man he'd once considered to be his closest friend.
"Couldn't resist another chance to play hero, Colonel?" Daniel sneered.
Angus looked at Daniel in surprise. His brother had told him that something had gone horribly wrong with their friendship, but the depth of Daniel's animosity toward his brother was still a shock, especially given that Jon had dropped everything to come here and rescue his former team mates and their companions. What is the guy's problem?
"I am Guard Im'hal," the leader of the guards spoke to O'Neill, having seemed unsurprised to see the two strangers, tacitly confirming their suspicion that they'd been under surveillance from the moment they'd arrived on the planet. "Will you and your companion accompany us to the Council Chamber?"
"Angus?" O'Neill turned to his companion. "This was your idea after all."
"We will certainly accompany you, Guard Im'hal," O'Neill's companion spoke for the first time. Taking off his cap, he mirrored O'Neill's earlier action and stuck it in a vest pocket. "I'm Angus, and this is my brother, Jonathon."
"How you doin'?" O'Neill smiled pleasantly at Im'hal and the other guards.
The guards, Teal'c, and Daniel all stared at the two men in amazement.
"Teal'c, Doctor Jackson, this is my brother, Angus MacGyver. Angus, this is Teal'c and Doctor Daniel Jackson."
"It is an honour, Angus MacGyver-kin-O'Neill."
"Likewise, Teal'c, and please, call me Mac."
"Angus MacGyver? Macgyver?" Daniel was still in shock. "Your brother?"
"I though you said he was a genius, Jon?" Mac was not above teasing the man, especially given his negative reaction to his brother. Jon had made so much progress in the past few weeks, and now this asshole was trying to knock him down again.
"Yeah, well, I guess he's had a bit of a shock," O'Neill smirked, enjoying Daniel's reaction immensely.
"Just another secret you didn't trust me enough to share, Colonel?" Daniel asked bitterly.
MacGyver and Teal'c both saw the sorrow that flashed across O'Neill's features before he hid it away behind an impassive mask.
"It wasn't just my secret to share, Doctor Jackson," O'Neill's voice had lost any lightness and was now flat and dead. Turning to Im'hal, he gestured to the pathway behind him. "Lead the way, Guard Im'hal."
Aliani, Melwyn, Chiahn, Geraint, and Jaque - the five Morwynn Elders who comprised the Guiding Council - did not seem surprised when Guard Im'hal brought Teal'c Daniel, and the two newcomers into the Council Chamber and introductions were duly made. Mac and O'Neill shared a brief, knowing glance - yet another confirmation, if they'd needed one, that they'd been under surveillance for quite some time since arriving on the planet.
The Elders were surprised by the fact that O'Neill and Mac looked alike and immediately assumed that they were clones.
"We were not aware that the Tau'ri had perfected the science of cloning," Aliani remarked, studying the pair closely. "Which of you is the original?"
"We're not clones," O'Neill shook his head with a wry smile. "We're twins."
"Twins?" Chiahn leaned forward, intrigued. "What are twins?"
Mac had patiently explained to them that he and O'Neill were identical twins, the result of a single fertilised egg splitting completely into two during the initial changes that occurred after conception. Unusual, but not unknown and a perfectly natural phenomenon. He also mentioned other multiple births, and fraternal twins. "So, there you have it. I can get you more information on multiple births if you'd like," Mac offered at the conclusion of his explanation.
"We would be most interested to learn more, Angus-kin-Jonathon," Jaque smiled and nodded. "However, there is no urgent need, and we have other matters to discuss, do we not?"
"Ah, yes, we do indeed," O'Neill responded after a nudge from his brother indicating that he should take over. "Primary among them would be why you seem to be holding our people here?"
"One of their number - the one known as Doctor Mortimer - unfortunately broke a piece of equipment when examining it. Under our law, he and his associates must be detained until the equipment is once again functioning. We have, sadly, lost the knowledge behind the device and are unable to offer any insight into its repair," Melwyn told O'Neill and MacGyver sombrely.
"Carter hasn't been able to figure it out?" O'Neill asked Teal'c quietly.
"She has not," Teal'c replied grimly.
"What exactly is the device supposed to do?" O'Neill had some vague idea that they might be able to replace the broken device with something that performed the same function.
"It allows two people to share their thoughts and emotions," Geraint said quietly. "It is used in healing, and is also an integral part of our Joining Ceremony."
"Ah, I see," O'Neill nodded. So much for the replacement idea.
"Perhaps Jon and I could have a look and see if we can't be of some help?" Mac offered.
Aliani smiled. "You are most welcome to try, Angus-kin-Jonathon, and Jonathon-kin-Angus, but first I'm sure you would like to assure yourselves that the remainder your associates are also in good health."
"Yes, we would, Elder Aliani, thank you," O'Neill agreed immediately. "Ensuring their welfare, and facilitating their return to Earth is our primary objective."
"As is proper, Jonathon-kin-Angus," Aliani nodded approvingly. "It nears the time for the noon repast. Might I suggest that we reconvene after you have eaten. Shall we say in two of your hours?"
"That would be fine, thank you," O'Neill smiled. There was definitely something about the Morwynn that he found himself instinctively liking.
"Guard Im'hal will escort you to the dining area," Jaque and the other Elders stood and made their way from the chamber.
Carter and the rest of SG-15 entered the dining area through the southern entrance a few moments before Guard Im'hal led his charges in through the northern entrance.
"Hey, Teal'c, Daniel," she smiled in greeting. "We were starting to think you'd got yourselves lost," she teased gently before she realised that they'd returned with two additional members in their group. Her first impression was that they must be from the SGC, given their uniforms. Her second impression was that she was hallucinating. She strode quickly over to the group, leaving SG-15 to straggle along in her wake.
"Hey, Carter," O'Neill waved in greeting, a huge grin on his face at her expression. "How're you doing? Oh, you haven't met my brother, Angus MacGyver, have you?"
Carter stared, stunned, from one brother to the other. "Ah, your brother....ah...no, Colonel, I haven't...uh, MacGyver? Did you say MacGyver, Colonel?"
"I thought I did," O'Neill looked bemused and turned to MacGyver. "I said MacGyver, didn't I, Angus?"
"That's what I thought you said, Jon, yes," Mac nodded, enjoying the joke. "Teal'c, is it your impression that Jon said MacGyver?"
"It is indeed, Mac-kin-O'Neill," Teal'c confirmed readily, a twinkle in his eye the only indication of his amusement.
"I think that it's confirmed then, Jon," Mac nodded to his brother.
"There you have it, Carter. I definitely said MacGyver," O'Neill smirked at the dumbstruck Major.
Doctor Fletcher, the leader of SG-15 walked quickly up to Mac - O'Neill was partially concealed from his line of sight by Teal'c.
"Colonel O'Neill! It's good to see you! I hope you've come to take us home!"
"That would depend on whether or not we can get the broken doohickey fixed, wouldn't it, Doctor Fletcher?" O'Neill stepped out from behind Teal'c, as he replied, causing Fletcher to jump back, startled, as he gawked at the brothers in shock. The rest of SG-15 had reached them, and O'Neill and Mac took delight in teasing them about their reaction to the two brothers.
Irritated by all the good-natured banter, Daniel swore under his breath and headed off towards the dining table.
O'Neill watched him go, a sad, worried expression in his eyes. He still believed that there was something wrong, that Daniel wasn't completely responsible for his actions and attitude towards him. Unfortunately, he was alone in his belief, and there was no evidence to give even a shred of credence to his theory. He sighed heavily as he returned his attention to Carter and the others.
"Hey, Carter, one thing has been bothering me since we found you," he began, moving over to stand with the Major and Teal'c.
"Why we didn't advise the SGC that we'd made contact with the locals?" Carter guessed.
"That would be it, yeah," O'Neill nodded.
"The ruins were a two day hike from the gate, and with only Teal'c and myself to provide security for SG-15, I decided that it would be better to keep everyone together until we had a better understanding of the situation," the Major gave her answer confidently, without even a hint of uncertainty.
O'Neill smiled and nodded. "Thought it must have been something along those lines. No other choice, really."
"No, Sir," Carter smiled, inwardly pleased that the Colonel agreed with her actions.
"Okay, then. I believe someone mentioned food?" O'Neill headed over to where the others were already preparing to eat.
O'Neill and Mac, accompanied by Carter, returned to the Council Chamber after lunch. Having had time to go over everything that the Major had tried so far in her attempts to get the device working again, the brothers weren't sure exactly what they could offer, except perhaps for different perspectives. Maybe that would be enough to inspire Carter to come up with the solution.
After meeting briefly with the Council, Guard Im'hal had accompanied them to the temple where the device was kept.
O'Neill stopped abruptly when he got his first look at the machine, an amused grin lighting up his features.. "It looks like a big Lego Discman, Carter!"
Carter smiled. "Hadn't thought of it like that, Sir, but you're right."
"So what exactly did this Mortimer guy do to it?" Mac wanted to know, drawing closer to examine the device, but not touching it yet.
"As far as we can tell, he accidentally knocked it and it fell apart. He put it back together, but it no longer worked."
"So, obviously it's not back together properly," O'Neill observed with a shrug, his gaze wandering idly around the temple, "and no one seems to have the template."
"That's about the size of it, Colonel," Carter shrugged. "Unfortunately, we hadn't videoed in here before Doctor Mortimer's accident, so we don't even have a visual of what it looked like before the accident. All we have is a sketch that one of the Morwynn provided so we know the approximate shape. Daniel and I spent our first week here trying to figure it out, along with the others, without any luck."
"It's a pity the pieces aren't marked to show how they fit together," O'Neill grimaced.
Mac had been silently studying the machine as Carter and O'Neill had been talking. At O'Neill's final words, he looked up, an excited gleam in his eye. "Maybe they are!"
The others immediately moved over to join him.
"How so?" O'Neill asked, curious.
"I think the colours of the blocks is the key," Mac told them both.
Carter shook her head slightly, not enjoying shooting down his theory. "We've tried various combinations of the colours, various patterns, without success."
"Well, it was a thought," Mac shrugged.
"And a good one, too, Angus, especially since the colours look the same as the ones that form the pattern on the DHD base," O'Neill noted absently, concentrating on the device.
Carter and Mac just stared at him for a long moment, a grin slowly forming on their faces. "We need to go and get video footage of the design - " Carter began excitedly.
"Ah, actually, no, we don't," Mac cut her off with a smile.
"But, Mac, it could be the key!"
"I agree, Major, but Angus is right," O'Neill grinned at her confusion, then decided to take pity on her. "In my pack you will find several lovely, glossy, colour photographs of the design - and my pack is a hell of a lot closer than the DHD."
"True, Sir!" Carter grinned and headed quickly from the temple to the sleeping area where they'd stored their packs.
Once they had the pictures, it was the matter of an hour or so before they had the device ready to test. O'Neill had let Mac and Carter take the lead in assembling the machine, deciding that he could best serve by acting as a spare pair of hands.
"Okay, let's get it back onto the pedestal and then go and find the Elders and see if they can test it. If you grab that end, Jon, I'll get the other," As Mac picked up his end of the device, he unknowingly pressed the activation switch.
Carter could only look on, concerned, as Mac and O'Neill's faces were each lit by beams of soft blue lit emanating from the device. They stared at each other, eyes widening in surprise.
For just a moment, it was as if O'Neill and Mac shared one mind. Thoughts and feelings came through clearly.
This is so cool, Jon! Mac grinned delightedly.
Oh, yeah. Way cool! O'Neill had always found his brother's enthusiasm contagious.
A sense of warmth and familial love flowed gently over both men.
Just as suddenly, the beams disappeared as Elder Aliani, seeming to appear from nowhere, reached out and switched the device off. Mac and O'Neill each gave a slight shake of their heads, as if awakening from a daydream.
"Are you two okay?" Carter asked anxiously as she helped them set the device on the pedestal.
"Ah, yeah, I think so," O'Neill nodded.
"I'm good," Mac nodded as well, returning O'Neill's smile.
"So, does that mean it works?" O'Neill turned to Elder Aliani with a grin.
"Indeed it does, Jonathon-kin-Angus. You three have exceeded our expectations with your success in our test."
"Test?" O'Neill's eyebrows disappeared up under his hair.
"It will be best if I explain to everyone at the same time," the Elder smiled as she walked quickly from the temple. "Please assemble your people in the recreation area. I will summon the Council and we will meet you there."
"What happened to you two when the machine turned on?" Carter asked quietly while they waited for everyone to assemble in the recreation area.
"It was amazing," Mac shook his head in wonder. "Just for a moment, I knew exactly what Jon was thinking and feeling."
"And I could tell the same about Angus," O'Neill confirmed with a grin.
"And?" Carter prompted, her eyes alight with curiosity.
"And it's nice to know that the machine works," O'Neill said smugly. He'd discuss what had happened privately with Mac later if necessary. What he had learned through the device was interesting, although hardly earth-shattering or even all that unexpected, but it was fun to tease Carter.
Once everyone was assembled in the recreation area, Elder Aliani held up her hand for silence.
"You are to be congratulated on having passed the test that we set you," she smile at each of the assembled men and women. "The test was twofold - intellectual and moral. Intellectual in that you would discern what needed to be done to reassemble the device, and moral in that you accepted the responsibility to repair the damage that you had apparently inadvertently wrought."
She paused and looked toward the original group from the SGC. "You are to be congratulated further in that you accepted our conditions and did not attempt to win your freedom through violence. We have long held hope that the Tau'ri would display such maturity, and it gladdens us that you have justified our hope for you."
"That your eventual rescuers," Aliani smiled warmly at O'Neill and Mac, "would also act with the same maturity and responsibility is most pleasing. You are all free to go. It is too late in the day for you to begin your journey back to the portal. You are of course welcome to rest overnight in the quarters that you have been using. We will look forward to your future visits, but for now, please join us for a celebratory meal."
The dinner that the Morwynn provided was exquisite, and the mood at the table was amiable and relaxed. Aliani had taken the position at the head of the table, with O'Neill on her right, next to Mac, then Carter, then Jaque, and several members of SG-15. To her left were Daniel, Teal'c, Fletcher, Chiahn, and the remainder of SG-15, and Melwyn, with Geraint at the opposite end of the table.
Conversation flowed easily, although Mac noticed that O'Neill was a little more quiet than he usually was.
"And will you all be among those who continue contact with us? Representing your Earth and the Tau'ri, as well as the Rebel Jaffa?" Aliani asked as dessert was served.
"I hope so, if it's possible," Carter nodded.
"Ah, well, I can't speak for Angus, but I doubt that I will be returning. This was a sort of one-off deal to track down the missing team. I'm no longer part of the SGC." O'Neill
"But this is unacceptable, Jonathon-kin-Angus!" Jaque exclaimed in surprise.
"As if he'd have anything to offer this world!" Daniel snorted derisively.
"Doctor Jackson has a point," O'Neill shrugged, his expression closed, not meeting anyone's eyes. "I'm just a retired grunt. There are a whole lot of much more interesting people for you to meet. If you'll excuse me," he made to leave the table, but Aliani placed a gentle hand on his arm. O'Neill flinched away from the contact, but stayed seated, one hand coming up to wipe wearily over his face, head bowed.
Mac studied his brother anxiously. Whilst he was aware that those at the SGC who knew the full story of Jon's last mission assumed that his avoidance of contact was as a direct result of the assault, only Angus knew the truth. He knew that his brother had already dealt with the rape, and hadn't even had a nightmare about it since before he'd turned up at the cabin. No, Jon was avoiding contact because he didn't think that he deserved it. A very tactile person, it was Jon's way of punishing himself for being as worthless as Jackson had apparently convinced him he was. DAMMIT! Jon really had come a long way during the four weeks they'd had together at the cabin, and now that asshole Jackson seemed determined to undermine the gains he'd made, pushing him back into avoiding eye contact and flinching away from physical contact.
Suddenly seeing red, MacGyver fixed Jackson with an angry glare, and made to rise from his seat. "I don't know what your problem is, Doctor Jackson, but back the hell off or so help me - "
Jaque cut him off, placing a restraining hand on his arm before turning to Daniel. "You confuse me, Doctor Jackson. Surely you must realise that for Jonathon-kin-Angus to have successfully utilised the Ancients' knowledge that was downloaded into his mind required, at the very least, that he have a high level of intellectual ability?"
"How did you know about that?" O'Neill was startled, to say the least.
"Your experience is obvious to those who recognise the signs." Aliani told him quietly.
"Oh, please!" Daniel voiced his disgust. "MacGyver and Sam solve a problem and O'Neill hitches a ride on their knowledge, and now you think he's some kind of genius? I don't think so!"
"Enough!" Aliani's voice rang out sharply, cutting off any further discussion.
Chiahn turned her full attention on Daniel, a curious expression on her face. "Your mind is clouded unnaturally, Doctor Jackson."
"What?" Daniel was suddenly on the defensive.
"There has been tampering with your mind, Doctor Jackson," Aliani fixed him with her unwavering gaze.
"What kind of world do you come from that this is done?" Melwyn demanded of the scientist leader of SG-15.
"It's not. I mean, any sort of mind control is illegal on our world!" Fletcher sputtered defensively.
"And yet, it has been done to Doctor Jackson." Geraint pointed out, a concerned expression on his face.
"What are you talking about?" O'Neill stood to face them, his protective instincts for the man he still thought of as his friend kicking in with a vengeance. "What makes you think that Doctor Jackson's mind has been tampered with?"
"We can sense it, although it was not apparent until you came to this place, Jonathon-kin-Angus." Aliani had also risen to her feet and taken a half step toward O'Neill.
"Beats me, Sir, but Daniel has certainly been acting differently since you arrived. More tense, kind of angry all the time, and he's even worse when you're actually physically nearby, Colonel."
"No one has tampered with my mind!" Daniel snarled, angrily throwing his napkin onto the table.
"But indeed they have, Doctor Jackson." Chiahn contradicted him gently but firmly.
"But why would they do that? What could they hope to gain?" O'Neill voiced what the other SGC people were thinking.
Aliani stepped closer to O'Neill. "I believe that their ultimate target was you, Jonathon-kin-Angus."
"I'm hardly important enough to warrant the kind of effort that would take." O'Neill shook his head in denial.
Aliani reached up and gently cupped O'Neill's face in her hands. "You cannot deny your destiny, child, nor your place in the scheme of things."
O'Neill's facial expression was eerily blank, and he made no move to pull away, although faint tremors wracked his body.
"Jon!" Mac stood abruptly, his chair falling with a crash, Teal'c and Carter were also standing, alarmed by what was happening.
"You are safe here with us," ignoring Mac, Aliani spoke quietly to O'Neill, her voice low and melodic. "Rest now, child. Release your burdens and sleep."
O'Neill's eyes drooped closed, his expression more peaceful than it had been for months, and he would have fallen if not for Im'hal, who had moved silently into place behind him while Aliani spoke. The huge guard effortlessly caught him before he even came close to hitting the floor.
"Your brother's heart is heavy with sorrow and pain, Angus-kin-Jonathon. He will be taken to a place of healing and rest. You may accompany him, if you so desire," she nodded to Im'hal, who cradled O'Neill against his chest as easily and gently as if he were a child as he carried him carefully from the room, closely followed by a very worried Mac. "Much, but not all, of his pain may be traced directly to what has been done to Doctor Jackson's mind," Aliani moved around the table toward Daniel as she spoke.
"Oh, right, so it's all my fault?" Daniel spat the words out viciously.
"I did not say that," the Elder fixed Daniel with a stern look. "No, Doctor Jackson, it is the fault of whoever affected your mind."
"Then if I'm the one with the problem, why the hell are you falling all over yourselves to look after him?" Daniel demanded petulantly, flicking his gaze toward the door through which Im'hal had taken O'Neill.
"Because, despite the suffering in his mind and heart, Doctor Jackson, despite the hurt you seem to be intent on inflicting on him, Jonathon-kin-Angus risked all to come to the aid of you and your companions, not knowing what he dangers he might face here in his search. He would, in fact, still give his life for you if it was required. Yes, even for you who have deliberately hurt him so badly. He is clearly a man of honour, and he is also the only reason that you and your companions were permitted to encounter our people at all," Aliani locked gazes with Daniel as she spoke.
"I don't understand - Colonel O'Neill wasn't even with our group when we first came here," Carter was puzzled.
"Until recently, we had not felt that the Tau'ri were ready for contact, but the Nox, the Asguard, and even the Tollan had all spoken most favourably about the one you call Colonel O'Neill. It gave us hope that if even one among you had earned their respect, then the Tau'ri might at last be coming of age. Thus it was that when we realised that you were indeed Tau'ri, we allowed you to locate us. Understand me well, we will do whatever is necessary to aid him, for he is vital to the survival of your race and others." Geraint told the group, stunning them into silence.
Before anyone could respond, Aliani reached out suddenly and pressed her fingertips lightly to Daniel's forehead.
Daniel writhed as if in agony for several moments, his eyes screwed shut as though he were in pain. "Oh, God, help me! This isn't me! Help me, please!" he gasped suddenly, his breathing as ragged as if he had just completed a hard training run. His eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed into Teal'c's waiting arms.
The others were shocked into silence once again at what had occurred.
Carter was the first to speak. "Can you help him?"
"I believe so, but he will need your support once he recovers. The guilt his true self feels about what he has done to his friend is immense. Jonathon-kin-Angus will also need your support, and that of his brother."
"Whatever it takes," Carter nodded, her expression worried but determined.
"Indeed," Teal'c nodded.
The Elder smiled. "We have heard of the legend that is SG-1. The closeness, the familial bonds between you all. It is pleasing to see that what we have heard is indeed true. Our hope for the future of your race grows stronger. I, of course, include the Free Jaffa in that hope, for your destinies are intertwined."
Aliani led then to a room in the temple, where they found Mac sitting in vigil beside the bed where Im'hal had placed O'Neill.
At Aliani's direction, Teal'c laid Daniel down on the next bed while Im'hal left the room, returning a few moments later with the device that they'd fixed earlier that day.
Placing the device on the small table between the two beds, Aliani activated it. Immediately, she was bathed in a brilliant blue light emitted by the device. As the others watched, the light spread out to cover Daniel and O'Neill as well.
Daniel looked around him in wonder. The room he found himself in was small and cozy. A fire burned cheerily in the fireplace, with two large comfortable chairs arranged in front of the fire. Walking forward, he settled himself into one of the chairs with a contented sigh, allowing the peaceful ambience to wash over him.
What do you wish for, Daniel Jackson?
Looking around, he saw that Aliani was standing between the two chairs, studying him closely.
I want to be me again, Daniel sighed, but I don't know how. And I want my friendship with Jack back, but I know that's not possible. I've said and done too many things to hurt him - things that he didn't deserve, but that I can't undo or unsay. I'm afraid it's too late to repair the damage.
It's not too late, Danny, not if you don't want it to be, Jack was suddenly sitting in the other chair, long legs stretched out toward the warmth of the fire, his dark eyes full of anxiety as they met Daniel's.
Aliani smiled at both men as she reached out and gently laid a hand on each of their foreheads. Warmth and peace flowed over them, and they found themselves drifting off into oblivion.
When next they became aware of their surroundings, Aliani was gone, but they were still stretched out in the comfortable chairs in front of the fire.
They used my own guilt against me, Daniel sighed. All the guilt I'd built up inside from Shau're right up until Reece, they turned it into something ugly and directed it at you. They used me to hurt you. God, Jack, how can you ever forgive me?
Nothing to forgive, Daniel. What happened wasn't your fault.
How can you forgive me so easily after everything I said to you, and yet you can't forgive yourself?
Because you haven't done anything that needs forgiveness, Daniel.
Neither have you, Jack. They used your guilt, too, your regrets over decisions you've had to make, things you've had to do, things that were beyond your control. You've done nothing that needs to be forgiven, either, Jack.
You have no idea of the things I've done in the past, Daniel, O'Neill told him despondently. If you did, you'd know that you're wrong about me.
I know you, Jack. I don't need to know any details about your past, because I know you. And I know that you would always act according to your sense of honour, and that's enough for me. Why can't it be enough for you? Why do you always have to hold yourself responsible?
That's just who I am, Daniel. It's who I've always been.
Daniel's laugh rippled like quicksilver through their link. Never thought I'd ever accuse you of being the responsible one, Jack!
O'Neill's grin was like sunlight breaking through the clouds after a storm. Shut up, Daniel!
How can I ever ask you to forgive me for what I said about Charlie? Of all the things that happened, that's the one that I just can't get past.
It wasn't you, Daniel. It was whoever did this to you. I meant what I said - there's nothing to forgive.
So, are we good, Jack? Daniel's anxiety was palpable.
Yeah, Danny, we're good. And we'll be even better after we nail the bastards that did this to us, Jack's expression turned fierce as he finished speaking.
Amen to that.
Both Daniel and O'Neill were more than a little shocked to discover that two days had passed since the celebratory dinner. Time had no meaning to them while they'd been under the device's influence. Teal'c, Carter, and Mac had taken shifts to sit in vigil over them while they were unconscious, so that they were never truly alone. The feeling of being watched over and protected had been something that they'd both been aware of, they realised when they discussed it later.
The Elders insisted that they remain another day and rest before heading back to the Stargate. Both felt drained of energy and readily agreed. They spent the time alternating between sleeping and strolling through the town accompanied by Mac, Teal'c and Carter.
By the next morning they were all eager to return home, especially knowing that Hammond and the others at home were worrying about them.
"Well, we'd better get going - it's a fair hike to the gate," O'Neill remarked after they had taken their leave of the Elders.
"I think we can assist you with that, Jonathon-kin-Angus," Jaque smiled mysteriously. "Fare well, all. We look forward eagerly to your next visit with us." The Elder waved his hand and suddenly they were back at the gate.
"Now that is a good way to travel!" Mac exclaimed delightedly.
Before they returned through the gate, SG-15 were sworn to secrecy - no one was to know that the Morwynn had discovered and rectified what had been done to Daniel, or that O'Neill and Daniel were once again on good terms. The scientists went along good naturedly. While not as overt in their hero-worship as Doctor Felger, many of the civilian scientists were more than a little in awe of SG-1, and the members of SG-15 were secretly quite excited to be even a small part of a covert operation with their heroes. Felger would be green with envy!
"Welcome back, everyone," Hammond was positively beaming at the group which had returned through the Stargate. Even Daniel pushing past the SFs and virtually storming from the gateroom couldn't dampen his obvious joy at seeing his missing people back safe and sound.
"Thank you, Sir," O'Neill flashed his trademark grin, mirrored - rather unnervingly for those who hadn't seen it before - on Mac's face. "All present and accounted for, General."
"What happened, Major?"
Carter flashed a grin at O'Neill before responding. "Oh, you know, Sir, the usual. Someone - not Daniel this time - touched something they shouldn't have, it broke, we fixed it - eventually - and then the natives decided they liked us, especially Colonel O'Neill. We made some new friends, and then we came home."
"I'm looking forward to the debriefing, Major," Hammond chuckled, "but for now I think you should all head for the Infirmary for your post-mission examinations. We'll set the briefing to commence in two hours, people."
The group began to drift towards the doorway, handing off their armament to the waiting Technical Sergeants as they went.
Murphy's Bar - Colorado Springs
O'Neill sat in a corner booth of the dimly lit bar, drinking steadily, avoiding contact with anyone other than the waitress who he had already tipped enough to ensure that she saw to it that he was never without a drink.
The waitress - Annie - had obviously taken a liking to O'Neill and had tried to engage him in conversation early on in the evening.
"Drowning your sorrows, Honey?"
"Like you wouldn't believe," O'Neill had nodded, his expression bleak.
"Things can't be that bad, can they?"
"Have you ever had a best friend? One who you trusted with your life, and then had them not only let you down, but laugh at you while they did it?"
"No, can't say that I have," Annie shook her head.
"Makes you wonder if it's all worth the effort anymore, y'know?"
"If you say so, Honey," Annie patted his shoulder in sympathy.
O'Neill smiled weakly up at her when he flinched at the contact. "Look - Annie isn't it?"
"Annie, you seem like a nice person, and I really don't want to offend you, but I'm not real good company tonight, okay?"
Annie smiled sadly at him. "I understand, Honey. But I'm real good at listening if you change your mind, `kay?"
"I won't, but thanks."
It was about half an hour before the bar was scheduled to close that O'Neill asked Annie to call him a cab. There was no way that he was sober enough to drive himself home.
Standing, he wove his way unsteadily to the men's room while Annie picked up the phone.
She'd been just about to send one of the barmen in after him when he emerged, still weaving, but otherwise okay.
"Thanks fer lookin' after me, Annie," he smiled somewhat sadly and tucked a twenty into the pocket of her apron when she told him that his cab was waiting outside. Neither of them noticed the man who reached for his cell phone as O'Neill staggered through the door and into the night.
Three men were waiting inside his house when O'Neill got home. He'd tried to fight them off, but was obviously handicapped by the amount of alcohol in his system. By the time they had him subdued and tied up on the floor of his lounge room they been joined by the man from the bar who'd called to let them know O'Neill was on his way.
Two of the men dragged O'Neill onto one of his dining setting chairs, and stood on either side, holding him down. They began to question him, mainly, he noted, about the Ancients' repository of knowledge, but he remained silent, glaring angrily at them.
"This is a waste of time. Let's get the hell out of here. Everything's set up back at base. He'll tell us what we want to know once we get the drugs into him."
Now gagged, O'Neill was manhandled up and out the back door, around the side of his house, where a black van had been parked as close to the house as possible.
The drive took around forty minutes. The van pulled around the back of a warehouse and in through a set of large sliding doors, which were closed as soon as the van had cleared them.
The two men who'd closed the doors joined the others at the van. They helped to carry O'Neill, who seemed to have passed out, over to where a table and several chairs had been set up. O'Neill was dumped into a chair, only the chair arms keeping him from slipping down onto the floor. There were several minutes of heated discussion over whether the amount of alcohol in O'Neill's blood would help or hinder the drugs that they were going to administer.
"The hell with it! Tie him to the chair and let's get started. Someone get some water - he'll come around soon enough when we dump it on him."
"That would be most unwise," Teal'c's deep voice sounded from the shadows within the warehouse.
Twelve fully armed SGC people suddenly emerged from cover, their weapons pointed at the six men who had abducted O'Neill.
One of his abductors tried to use O'Neill as a hostage and was more than a little shocked when a suddenly unbound and sober O'Neill twisted easily out of his hold and proceeded to force him down onto his belly on the cold cement floor, arms held painfully tightly behind his back.
"You were drunk! I checked and you were downing those bourbons all night!"
"Yes, well, I guess I just hold my liquor better than you'd thought," O'Neill smirked.
Teal'c had volunteered to be the one to question the men, which General Hammond had agreed to with a knowing smile.
The interrogations had yielded a great deal of information about what had been done to Daniel. The device they'd used, and the instructions on its use, had been recovered from the warehouse, along with a laptop that Hammond had turned over to Carter.
Teal'c's questioning of the men had yielded both expected and unexpected information. The ultimate target of the operation, as they'd expected, had indeed been O'Neill. It had come as a shock when they learned that the device had also been used on O'Neill while he'd lain unconscious in the Infirmary after the mission to P4T 117. A nurse who had been temporarily assigned to the SGC as relief for another nurse who was on leave had been on their payroll.
Hammond had immediately arranged for the woman to be picked up, but she knew nothing other than that she'd been paid a great deal of money to use the device on the Colonel. It had reinforced his feelings of failure and lack of self-worth. They'd wanted him isolated from the SGC and vulnerable so that, when he suddenly disappeared, no one would think that he hadn't gone off on his own. They'd been after the knowledge of the Ancients, not believing that the Asgard had completely removed it. None of the men would say who they'd been hired by. There was also the possibility that they didn't really know.
The device used on Daniel and O'Neill was certainly of alien origin, and Carter speculated that it may have been part of the NID operation that the Colonel had foiled. Given that there were no records of what had been bought back, it wasn't impossible, and did seem to be the most likely scenario. They'd known they hadn't rounded up all of the conspirators, but had had to be content with shutting the operation down.
One thing that had puzzled O'Neill was why they hadn't made a move on him when he'd been at his cabin. The answer turned out to be simple. When they'd found out that O'Neill wasn't alone at the cabin, they'd investigated and found out that his visitor was associated with the Phoenix Foundation, and they'd been concerned that if he disappeared along with O'Neill too many questions would be asked, so they'd decided to bide their time and wait until they could get O'Neill on his own.
The questioning had continued throughout what remained of the night until late the next evening.
"From what we've been able to find out, they work for a private concern, not for the NID or the government," Carter was frowning at the results of the research she'd done on her computer.
"And they're not talking, so I guess that's as far as we're going to get with this," O'Neill shook his head, frustrated.
"I think we've managed to send a message, though, Colonel. They'll certainly think twice before they try something like this again," Hammond was just as frustrated, but decided to try and ease the Colonel's mind.
"I hope so, Sir."
"What about the device?" Hammond turned to Doctor Fraiser.
"I regret to inform you that the device seems to have been irreparable damaged during our testing, Sir," Fraiser managed to keep a straight face, but only just.
"Well, that's a shame, but I'm sure it couldn't be helped," Hammond smothered his smile with difficulty.
"He has the hangover from hell, Sir, but I think he'll be just fine, although I'm keeping him in the Infirmary one more night just to be sure."
O'Neill grinned mischievously. It had been the perfect solution. Insisting on being a part of the operation, Mac had impersonated O'Neill, getting drunk at a bar, making it appear that he would be more vulnerable to an attack. They'd made the switch in the bar when Mac had woven his way to the men's room where he'd changed clothes with O'Neill before the Colonel had left in the cab the waitress had called for him. Daniel had waited half an hour then brought Mac back to the SGC. Considering that Mac usually didn't drink, he'd handled his assignment pretty well.
With the culprits safely locked away in holding cells, the debriefing was really only a matter of dotting i's and crossing t's, given the planning that had gone into the operation in the first place. Nevertheless, O'Neill breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief when it was over and he could head home after checking in on Mac. He wasn't alone in his relief and the room cleared in short order, leaving only the Colonel and General Hammond still there.
O'Neill paused just short of the doorway and turned back to the General.
"Something on your mind, Colonel?" Hammond barely restrained himself from crossing his fingers.
"Ah, General Hammond, Sir? About that retirement...?"
O'Neill sighed contentedly as he took a long sip of his beer then leant back to stare up at the stars. It had been a long, and definitely less than pleasant journey, but he finally felt as though he was home. It was irritating that they hadn't found out who was behind the whole debacle, but he guessed he'd never know. If he did, he'd certainly pay them a little visit...
A frown flickered across his face as the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Godammit! What now?
"Hello, Jack," there was no mistaking that smug drawl.
"Hello, Harry," O'Neill sighed.
The Next Night - Senator Kinsey's residence - Washington DC
Senator Robert Kinsey looked up in irritation as a noise disturbed his concentration. He'd ordered that no one disturb him when he'd come upstairs after an early supper with his wife. His eyes narrowed in anger as he identified his unwelcome visitor.
"You've got a damned nerve showing your face here, Colonel," Kinsey snarled, wondering how the hell the man had gotten past security to gain access to the office, which was located on the first floor of his palatial home..
"I'll only say this once, so try to pay attention. You want me, you come after me. Do not mess with my family," O'Neill leaned over the desk menacingly.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Colonel O'Neill," Kinsey smirked.
"I can't prove it was you, Kinsey, but I will make you this promise. Mess with my family again and there won't be enough of you left for them to make an identification."
It was the complete lack of emotion in O'Neill's voice, his matter-of-fact delivery that really scared the Senator, although he'd never admit it.
"I've had enough of you and your threats, O'Neill," Kinsey turned and hit a button on his desk - one that he'd had installed after the Colonel's previous visit. "You'll be sorry - " he broke off when he turned back to find no sign of O'Neill. What the hell?
The security guards who answered his summons found no evidence that O'Neill had ever been there. Kinsey dismissed them with an irritated wave of his hand and threw himself into the chair behind his desk, a vague sense of unease beginning in the pit of his stomach. A flashing message on his laptop screen drew his attention.
`There's nowhere you can go that I can't get to you'
Cold sweat beaded on Kinsey's forehead and a shiver ran down his spine. The message hadn't been there when he'd ushered the security guards out of his office.
The Next Saturday, O'Neill's Home - Epilogue
Hammond sighed as he looked around at the people who had gathered at the Colonel's house for the barbecue. Teal'c was handling the grilling, under O'Neill's watchful eye, all the while receiving tips and advice from Ferretti. Cassie, Fraiser, and Carter were chatting easily with MacGyver, who would be officially joining the SGC, heading a new research team.
"So, you mean to tell me that you go on about having to `MacGyver' things to get them to work, and you never took the time to actually look the guy up? You never tried to find out a bit more about him, like maybe what he looked like?" O'Neill paused in his supervision of Teal'c to tease Carter.
"Um, well, no, Sir," Carter blushed. "I guess it never occurred to me."
"Shame on you, Carter," O'Neill laughed.
A thought suddenly occurred to the Major and she stared hard at her former commanding officer. "So, Sir, if you're identical twins, and Mr MacGyver is a recognised genius..."
It was O'Neill's turn to look uncomfortable. "Yeah, well, he got all the brains, I guess."
"As if, Jonathon!" MacGyver scoffed. "You were the one who actually completed his doctorate, and that masters', not me!"
"Doctorate?" Daniel asked curiously, eyes gleaming. "Did you just say `Doctorate'? And `Masters'?"
"Doctorate in Astronomy, and a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering," MacGyver responded before Jack could. "He never finished the Linguistics one."
Crap! O'Neill began to look around for possible escape routes.
"Linguistics? Just how many languages does Jack speak, Mac?" Daniel leaned forward, more than a little surprised.
"Ah, hello! Still in the room here, Daniel!" O'Neill waved his hand at Daniel to try and gain his attention.
"Um, last count I think it was five apart from English. Italian, Gaelic, Russian, Arabic, and Spanish. That's right, isn't it Jack?" Angus turned to his brother, an innocent expression on his face.
O'Neill gave up with a heavy sigh. "Eight now, Angus. You can add Ancient, and Goa'uld, although I doubt that they'd count towards the Masters, and Latin. No, wait, nine. I picked up Norwegian during the year I was retired, after Abydos the first time."
"You speak Goa'uld?" Daniel shot a hard look at O'Neill.
"Indeed, Daniel Jackson, O'Neill was a most apt pupil," Teal'c told him matter-of-factly.
"Why thank you, Teal'c," O'Neill grinned.
"You are most welcome, O'Neill," the Jaffa gave his trademark slight bow of the head, eyes twinkling mischievously.
"And Ancient?" Daniel's eyes seemed in danger of pooping out of his head.
"You did teach Teal'c and I Latin and Ancient during the time loop thingy, Daniel. I told you about that," O'Neill rolled his eyes in mock annoyance.
"There's nothing in your records about your Doctorate, Sir," Carter took pity on Daniel and decided to change the direction of the conversation.
"All the work leading up to the Doctorate was something to do when I wasn't on a mission, or when I was recovering from an injury," O'Neill's thought flashed back over the years. His progress towards his Doctorate hadn't involved a relatively short period of dedicated study, unlike Daniel and Carter. It could be measured in long painful years, in broken bones, internal injuries, bruised and bloodied flesh, and, sometimes, just plain physical and emotional exhaustion. Sara had been desperate at first to find ways of distracting him when his body was too weak to do the things his restless mind insisted on. Finally, in desperation, she challenged him to fulfil his dream of learning about the stars that he gazed at so longingly. "Apart from the Aeronautical Engineering, none of it was done as part of any Air Force program, and it's not like I ever took it any further," O'Neill shrugged, then fixed the Major with a mock stern glare. "And you looked into my classified personnel records exactly when, Carter?"
"Oh, um, well, I wanted to know more about who I'd be serving under before I got to the SGC, Sir."
"Uh huh," O'Neill kept up the glare, hoping to divert her attention from him. No such luck, however.
"Wait a minute! I remember reading several post-doctoral research papers by a Dr J. J. O'Neill when I was investigating stellar drift so that I could modify the dialling program after we got back from Abydos! And another paper on solar flares when I was doing some research for General Hammond!"
Double crap! O'Neill actually cringed. "And? So? Therefore?" he tried to bluff his way out of it, even though he realised it was hopeless.
"Sounds like you have some explaining to do, brother-mine," MacGyver was laughing hysterically at the trapped expression on his brother's face.
Hammond shared a contented smile with Fraiser. SG-1 was whole again, and they had gained a valuable new SGC family member in MacGyver. All was definitely right with their world, at least for now.
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