Disclaimer: Neither Stargate SG-1 nor Highlander is mine.
Author's note: Knowledge of the relevant fandoms shouldn't be necessary to follow this story, as I've tried to provide enough background on the relevant universes as the story unfolds. However, for those who have seen the shows, most of the adventures referred to here are canonical – main plot aside, the main exceptions for Stargate relate to Jack's background in NORAD, and the storyline around the Goa'uld Lanthos. The story is set in Season 7 just after Orpheus. Similarly, the Highlander storyline postulates a history for Joe and Methos after the series ends, and ignores the subsequent film.
CHAPTER ONE: JACK
Major Dr Janet Fraiser USAF, Chief Medical Officer of Stargate Command, looked up from her desk and stared at the clock, willing the hours to move faster, the minutes to fly. It was nearly midnight, normally one of the quietest times in her domain.
So far, so good, she thought.
No seriously injured airmen returning from off world, no annoying Colonels pestering her...."
Janet focused in on the constant gentle hiss from the air conditioning system, the hum of the lights, and the whirrs and clicks of the medical equipment. At this hour in the secret base deep below the officially recognized part of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, the only sounds were mechanical. The manmade interventions essential to preserve the human life that teemed within the concrete and metal bunkers of a former Titan missile silo were functioning normally, she assessed.
Janet brought her eyes back down to the page of the file she was reading. The night shift always tended to drag, she reflected, even here, in Stargate Command, Earth's frontline defense facility in the war against the Goa'uld, the evil parasitic race who dominated the galaxy. But slow was good, she thought.
"If you let me out, I could go and torture some geeks upstairs rather than your nurses," a voice suddenly interjected into the silence.
Janet nearly jumped out of her chair. She looked up to see Colonel Jonathon (Jack) O'Neill lolling against the doorway, and giving her his cutest, most ingratiating smile.
"Sorry to startle you," the Colonel said, not looking in the least apologetic.
"Hurrumph," she replied, pretending to clear her throat as she got over her momentary fright.
"You're supposed to be asleep in your quarters, Colonel," she said severely, glaring at him. He grinned back.
The night shift was quiet in the SGC, Janet reflected. Except when the Colonel was injured. This was the Colonel's eighth visit to the infirmary in the last three days. That she knew of - after all, she had taken downtime, even if he clearly hadn't.
Each time he visited he begged for clearance to return to work, even if only to light duties. Each time, she fobbed him off, urging him to go and rest - sleep even - in his quarters.
Instead, he had drifted around the base, spending his time annoying his team in their offices, pestering her nurses and junior doctors, and generally making a nuisance of himself. She was just about ready to give up the cause and let him out. But she wasn't going to give in without a fight.
"Can I give you something to help you sleep, Sir?" she said sweetly.
"No, thank you Janet," he replied a little too brightly. "I've had more than enough of your pills and magic potions. I'm wide-awake now and feeling much better, thank you very much. I just need something to do. Other than tormenting your nurses, of course. All it needs is for you to clear me for duty," he replied pointedly.
"Well in that case, in the interests of retaining my staff, let me have a quick look at you," Dr Janet Fraiser replied, glaring at him in disapproval. "Although why you can't just try and sleep at this hour of the night, or rather morning, I really don't know," she added.
"I'm a night owl, Janet," he replied. "You know that."
Jack tried to gauge whether the petite red haired doctor was buying his act.
He knew her real concern wasn't his physical wounds.
But whether he was ready for duty or not, he was bored out of his brain. He had been in the infirmary long enough to finish all his stray paperwork, clear his email in-box, and finish all his old reports while still confined to bed. Within a day of his release from the infirmary, he had run out of busy work. This was now Day Three.
Of course, lack of something to do wasn't the real problem, he admitted to himself in the privacy of his thoughts. He wasn't going to be able to rest or sleep until he could prevent anyone snatching him from whatever he was doing without notice, and beaming him into some new torture. And for that, he needed clearance.
But if Janet realized he wasn't sleeping at all, there was no way she would ever clear him. It was a Catch-22 situation.
"So why are you so keen to get back to duty anyway?" Janet Fraiser demanded as she pointed him to a bed in the infirmary, and pulled a curtain closed around them. It seemed a pointless courtesy given the absence of anyone else in the vicinity.
"You usually do your best to get out of light duty shifts, which is all you'll be able to do if I clear you," she continued.
Jack suppressed a wince as Janet started doing her usual poking and prodding routine.
"Well, what with all the missions over the last few months, I'm behind on my rostered days with NORAD, and so I want to catch up before the General realizes," he replied. "I'm still waiting for the day when we can come up with a better cover story for us than Deep Space Radar Tracking research. Fighting alien parasites that take over human bodies and pretend to be Gods, and Deep Space Radar Tracking just don't seem to have a whole lot in common!"
Janet was looked at him skeptically.
"Besides," he added quickly. "Ferretti was telling me they have a new cool tool for chasing satellites in orbit - just like a video game he claims."
Video games! Janet thought. Well, that figured. As she wound the pressure cuff around his uninjured arm, the Colonel lapsed into silence.
Unusual, she noted. Normally Colonel Jack O'Neill bordered on being hyperactive. Still, maybe he was finally tiring. She started unwinding the Colonel's bandages to look at his wounds.
Mind you, she reflected, Jack's excessive energy levels probably stood him in good stead. The Colonel was, after all, the second in command of a busy and growing command. Although most of the planet's population remained in ignorance of the fact, Earth was at war. And despite his frequent complaints about paperwork, she knew he was a capable, decisive administrator who got through in an hour what General Hammond's backup staff took a day over.
But it was fieldwork, she knew, that was his first love. In his late 40s, the tall, handsome Colonel was old to still be on active mission status in any kind of covert ops team, let alone one that involved traveling through the portals called Stargates that provided virtually instantaneous links to planets across the galaxy.
For Colonel O'Neill was the leader of the team that generally took the first leap into the unknown, to the new planets they found and visited through the Stargate. And his team, SG-1, remained the Command's premier team. They easily outperformed any of the other of the SGC's 22 teams when it came to gleaning intelligence, making new friends for Earth, and finding technology to aid Earth's fight against the galaxy's dominant life form, the Goa'uld.
SG-1 – Colonel O'Neill, Major Dr Samantha Carter, Dr Daniel Jackson and Teal'c - were also leaders in another, somewhat less desirable regard: injuries. None of them were strangers to Janet's domain - Daniel virtually owned a bed in her infirmary, and the Colonel was a frequent visitor in his own right.
Jack really hoped his claims about Ferretti and video games wouldn't bounce back on him. For the truth was, Jack O'Neill, publicly certified scientist hater, with a well-known allergy to techno-babble, loved his occasional shifts in NORAD's Space Control Center.
The shifts had originally been set up to help keep him up-to-date with both the personnel and operational procedures needed to sustain his cover if necessary. And with the 'visit' to Earth of the Goa'uld system lord Apophis' ships intent on destroying them, it had been decided that NORAD's space threat detection program needed someone in the know on duty 24/7. The SGC personnel, with their need for a cover story, had been a perfect match. Not that he had embraced the idea wholeheartedly at first.
As Janet continued her ministrations, Jack felt his thoughts drift back in time.
Several years earlier
"But Sir," he said resentfully to General Hammond, "Why do we need to establish a cover story with another program that is itself top secret? Can't we just claim to be NORAD staff?"
"Don't be difficult, Jack," the General replied, his Texan accent to the fore. "You know how it works. Everyone gossips. The NORAD people know only too well that I'm not in their command structure and neither are you. Having our people rotate through up there to test out new techniques is a perfect way of establishing the credibility of the deep space tracking cover. And we do have a few things to test out!"
Jack glared across at his portly commanding officer. "Sir, even if I accept that, why do I have to do shifts in NORAD? Shouldn't we keep it to the active scientists, or at least the junior officers? I've got enough on my plate as it is."
Jack leapt out of the chair and started pacing around the room. He grimaced. "I'm not even pulling my weight with gate room duty at the moment, since I'm off-world so much, let alone covering all the things I should be doing as your 2IC."
"That's not an issue Jack. Having my 2IC as head of an active mission team means I can justify a staff officer or two to cover for you, and do some of the routine work of running the base. It works just fine."
Jack avoided the General's eyes and focused on his balding pate instead, as the General continued. "I need you to be free and available to take over from me when I want to go see my grand-daughters, or have to go to Washington. I rely on your advice on managing our allies and on strategy against the Goa'uld. And you do an excellent job on personnel selection and management."
Jack winced. He'd been momentarily flattered at the comments on managing their allies and strategy, but personnel management was not his favorite task. And some of his mistakes had had catastrophic consequences.
He turned back towards the General, and prepared to launch his next argument. Before he could start though, the General started talking again.
"This is not negotiable, Colonel. You need to maintain verisimilitude on your cover as much as any of us, and your presence will make the whole thing more credible. Given that you are off-world so much, I can hardly factor you into the Gate Room duty roster on a regular basis anyway."
It was true that monitoring the Stargate for unauthorized visitors, and if necessary locking them out using the titanium-based iris, was a 24/7 task. He wasn't about to give up though. The truth was, NORAD still held some bitter memories for him.
"But Sir," he said, "It's NORAD. I'd really rather not..."
The General interrupted him. "Let me make it clear, Jack that your most important job as my second in command is liaising with NORAD and the other conventional forces that we might need to draw on in the event of a Goa'uld invasion. The odd shift in NORAD will help you maintain those links. Besides, most of your former colleagues have moved on."
Including your former CO, Jack heard in his mind, even though the General didn't say the words aloud.
"Anyway, now that we're putting up our own satellites and monitoring system, my back-up needs to be rated for the Operations Center, and you're the only one here at the moment with the right qualifications to do that. Hell, you're far more qualified for this than I am."
Jack had given in at this point, touched by the General's confidence in him – after all, the General had read his file. And in his heart, Jack knew that the General was right. His PhD had been in astronomy, working at one of NORAD's ground-based optical surveillance sites, the telescope based in Hawaii. And along the way, he'd picked up more than a few computing skills - he'd written a lot of NORAD's current tracking software. His background had been why he was based in Colorado Springs in the first place, before the first Stargate mission, after he had retired - or rather been retired from Special Ops - after Iraq. He'd even headed up Space Command briefly. Not that he wanted his team to ever discover this, Jack reflected.
Mind you, it had been fun to play dumb when it came to computing. Pretending that astronomy was just one of his hobbies had been a bit harder. Sometimes he wondered just how he had managed to blindside Carter so successfully – she was after all an astrophysicist herself, albeit a theoretician. Perhaps Carter actually did believe that his home telescope was there so he could spy on the neighbors!
He had even gotten away with being able to work the 50" telescope in instrument mode they had needed to verify that General Hammond's message's times were solar flares, when the Gate had sent them back in time to 1969, without her asking any difficult questions.
Jack drew out the memory. SG-1 had been transported then to the base's past as a missile silo in the middle of the cold war. Back in time, fortunately, to a Cheyenne Mountain where a then Lieutenant Hammond had been on duty, waiting to receive a note from his future self asking him to help SG-1. A note that had given them two times. He had been able to use a telescope to confirm that the times were for solar flares, enabling them to find the Gate's location in that time-period, and use it at the right moment.
So despite his protests, the General had quietly arranged for Jack to do the necessary training, and then be tested for accreditation as the senior officer of the watch in both NORAD's Space Control Center and in NORAD's nerve center, the Cheyenne Mountain Combined Command Center, the hub of the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center.
Despite himself, Jack had quickly regained his interest in playing with the toys upstairs. The satellites, telescopes, radars and other goodies directed at the sky had been too big a temptation to ignore, notwithstanding all the doohickeys he got to play with around the galaxy.
All too soon, as the General had obviously expected, Jack had moved from resentment to enjoyment of his occasional shifts. He had made several friends among the diverse, multi-national and multi-service staff, and soon found himself drifting up top more and more often, particularly on the many weeks when his team was out of action because one or other them were injured.
At first, his off shifts up there had been just to hang out with friends when things were slow down below, or Daniel and Sam had chased him out of their offices once too often. Then, he had found himself drifting up just to test out the odd idea.
Now, somehow or other, he had become just as bad as Sam with her reactor, or their archaeologist-cum-linguist Daniel with his translations and artifacts – obsessive and compulsive.
The scratchings of her pen on the chart sounded eerily loud in the silent infirmary as Janet considered what to do. Colonel O'Neill certainly looked much better than he had the last time she had seen him.
All the same, it was far too soon for him to go back on duty. It was less than a month since a mad alien – the Asgard scientist Loki - had kidnapped the Colonel. Loki had been convinced that the Colonel's unique genes could save his race from extinction. So he had cloned O'Neill in a botched attempt to cover his tracks, and used him as a lab rat. The Asgard – in the form of his friend and ally, Supreme Commander Thor – had helped rescue his clone and deal with Loki.
But then, only a few days later, the Colonel had been beamed up to Thor's ship – only to find it had been captured by the Goa'uld Lanthos. Lanthos had tortured him unmercifully, resulting in his current injuries. O'Neill had, of course, saved the day yet again – but there had been a cost, and the Colonel was paying it now.
Still, she thought, while his wounds were obviously causing him some pain, they were healing well, and his vitals were close to normal. It was his mental health that she was more worried about: had the Goa'uld slave symbols branded into his arm also been etched into his soul?
If it had been any other patient, she wouldn't even have considered clearing him just yet. But Jack O'Neill was not normal. He had survived so much - the tragic death of his son, divorce, being swapped into someone else's body, being lost in time, being mind washed, being turned into an old man, tortured. The list just went on. He'd even died a few times.
Normally, he bounced back incredibly quickly. She was worried about the effects of his latest adventures though. Everyone, after all, had their limits.
On the other hand, he did need something to occupy him: even at the best of times, the Colonel was not an good patient. Oh well, she thought, a quiet shift in NORAD would at least keep him occupied. And it was a reasonably safe environment where other people would be around him. Surely he couldn't do much harm to himself as an observer in Space Control, watching man's left behind debris floating above the Earth?
"Well, your wounds are looking pretty good, Colonel, and your blood pressure and temperature are pretty well normal. You can leave the bandages off for now. And much as I feel responsible for the lives and safety of scientists everywhere, on this occasion, they will have to take their chances," Janet said.
"And at least if you are going up to NORAD you can destroy their equipment instead of having Sam blame me for you pestering her because you are bored," she continued.
"I hereby declare you fit for light duties, in the interests of all of our sanity. But no more than four hours at a time, and make sure it really is LIGHT duties. You don't look like you're resting enough."
"All right Doc," he replied, "I'll try not to let any satellites drop on your car."
"Go away, Colonel" she replied with a grin, "I've got real patients to see - patients who appreciate what I can do for them."
Smiling in triumph at his success at getting the medical clearance he needed to do an a duty shift in NORAD, Jack gave her a mock salute, and headed towards the lifts towards the publicly acknowledged - though only marginally less secret - parts of Cheyenne Mountain.