Jack Michael Gallagher found himself wondering for the thousandth time, 'Why me?' He was sitting in the briefing room in the SGC at the Cheyenne Mountain facility along with three freshly graduated Lieutenants from the Academy. All three wondering what a lowly Cadet was doing there among them.
He knew what they were thinking, would be himself if he was in their shoes, it just didn't make it easier to deal with. He sighed as he realized that the last three years of his life had been far from easy.
"Something wrong, Cadet?" Lieutenant Bartlett asked. If Gallagher didn't know any better, he would think the Lieutenant didn't like him.
"No ma'am," Gallagher replied. If she only knew who she was sneering at, that self-righteous bitch, he though, just a little irritated. Okay, a lot irritated. Back off, Gallagher.
"Why are you here, anyway?" she said, her dark eyes flashing. "You're only in your first year at the Academy."
"I don't know, ma'am," he lied. "I'm just following orders."
"Maybe he's here as the towel boy, Ellen," Lieutenant Michaels offered. "What'd you do to get that duty, Gallagher? Insult the General himself?"
Don't do it, Jack, Gallagher thought to himself. He'd worked his ass off so that he would be sitting in this very spot and he wasn't about to blow it now. If he had to grovel, he would. Figure out a way to get revenge later.
"Just following orders sir." The ever polite and respectful Cadet, God how he wanted to wipe that sneer of their faces.
Inside he raged. Just when you think you have it licked, life kicks you square in the face. But he had his whole life to live over again and he wasn't going to screw it up now.
The others decided to leave him alone, although Lieutenant Lena Carrows was staring at him thoughtfully. He smiled at her then went back to staring at his hands when her thoughtful look turned to a frown.
Great, he thought. He let his mind wander as the silence filled the room once more. Remembering that day three years ago when he, himself and General Hammond sat down to decide on his fate. He supposed he should feel grateful they included him, being that he looked like a 16 year old, but he was determined to have a say in it. It was his life, after all.
"The Air Force is carving out a new life out there for you," Hammond said, his face showing the strain he was under. He didn't like any of this, Gallagher knew, but was keeping his thoughts to himself, or at least trying to. "They've accepted your choice for your new name. We can't have two Jack O'Neill's running around, especially with the same face."
"Thank you, sir," mini Jack replied. "I thought that my mother's maiden name would work." Out of the corner of his eyes he saw old Jack nod his head in agreement.
"You do realize that you will have to start from scratch," Hammond said, his eyes taking on a look Jack recognized from long experience. He was gearing up for a fight, Gallagher thought as he looked over at old Jack. Yep, he was thinking the same thing. Gallagher couldn't hide the smile as he realized what these two old soldiers were thinking.
"I understand, sir," he said with the smile still lingering on his lips. "I have a second chance at life and I am going to keep looking at it this way. I'll be back at the SGC before you know it, sir."
"That's great," said the Colonel. "As long as you know you will be starting from scratch, boot camp, the works. We can't have you just come in off the street acting as if you belong here. Not good for the morale, if you know what I mean."
Gallagher knew exactly what that meant. Yet, he'd done it before, he can do it again. He just didn't realize how hard it was going to be. High School wasn't as bad as the Colonel thought it would be. Gallagher smiled as he thought about the look on the Colonel's face when he dropped his mini-me off at the school's door.
"Are you sure about this?" he had said. "But it's high school!" And then the dawning recognition on the Colonel's face as Gallagher indicated the cute girls with his head. "Oh yeah, carry on!"
Gallagher wondered what was keeping the Old Jack. His orders were to show up here to meet "General" O'Neill along with his insufferable companions, the Lieutenants. Okay, so the blond one who was still studying him through veiled looks may be worth checking into, but the other two had gotten on his last nerve.
Back off, Jack, he told himself one more time. He had to tell himself that a lot over the last year. He had signed up with the Air Force before he even graduated from high school again. He had a plan and he was going to see it through. He belonged here at the SGC and he wasn't going to let anything get in his way, including his own sarcastic sense of indignation at having to go through this crap all over again, the professors, the older cadets, and now these self-righteous pricks looking at him as if he was a piece of dirt. Damn!
Back off, Gallagher.
It seemed that these words were etched into his mind, blaring every time he was treated like a kid or worse. It grated that he, the one who blew away Ra, Apophis, Sokar and even that bitch, Hathor was treated like an insignificant nobody. He had been on many black ops missions, leading several of them, been held prisoner by the Iraqis and the Goa'uld, and tortured more times than he personally wanted to remember. He couldn't count the number of medals he had received, a few for saving the planet and here he was a lowly cadet, starting all over again. Life sucks.
And then you move on. Gallagher rubbed the bridge of his nose as he wondered where his counterpart was. Wanting to get this over with as soon as possible weighed heavily on his mind. He didn't even want to think what it was he was going to be doing. Probably the towel boy, he thought sarcastically. What he wanted was to get back into the action. Three years of classes, with at least three more to go before he would be considered "ready" to face the enemy. The enemy he had fought for six years before Loki, that skinny gray bastard, got hold of him.
Anger welled up even hotter in him as he thought about that Asgard bastard. It was all his fault, the son of a bitch would have even let him die without a thought. Of course, the Colonel, strike that, the "General" took a long time thinking about whether he should live or not, but still, Loki hadn't given it a second thought.
Gallagher got up out of his chair, pacing as the anger swelled in his gut. He needed to get this out of his system and fast. God, he hated waiting.
"Sit down, Cadet," David Michaels snapped at him. Apparently, the waiting was grating on all of them.
Gallagher could feel the headache building even as he glared at the Lieutenant. Back off, Jack. "Sorry, sir," he said as he sat back down, erasing all emotion from his face. It was a trick he'd learned a long time ago and one that came in handy a lot lately. Show no emotion, get into no trouble. Well, it worked most of the time.
Footsteps announced the arrival of people and Gallagher smiled as he recognized the voices. Three years and he would know that voice anywhere.
"We have been working on new calculations to determine the validity of the fluctuations we encountered during the last activation. The storm on P4X-959 produced an energy that spiked through to…."
Gallagher smiled as her words trailed off. She had noticed him, recognized him and was caught off guard by the intensity of his gaze. It was Sam. Oh God, how he missed her. He would even sit and listen to her babble on about some techno-gizmo to her heart's content, just to spend a little time with her.
Back off, Gallagher. No stepping on toes, here. He stood and saluted along with his cohorts.
"Sam," he said. He couldn't take his eyes off of her.
"That's Lieutenant Colonel…" she began, returning the salute.
"Jack?" Daniel broke in. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too, Daniel. I'm doing well, thanks for asking." Jack wanted to burst out laughing at the look of utter surprise on his old friend's face. "Teal'c," he nodded while the Jaffa gave his customary bow.
"Oh… uh… yeah. Good. That's good to hear," Daniel said trying to get himself under control. "I'm just surprised to see you here. Something happened?"
"Dunno. I was just told to get my butt over here and report for duty," Gallagher said. "Lieutenant Michaels here thinks I'm here to be the towel boy." At least Michaels had the grace to look chagrined, he thought.
"I, too, am wondering why Cadet Gallagher is here," Michaels said. The jerk is actually looking down his nose at me, thought Gallagher. What the hell?
Back off, Gallagher, he repeated the mantra to himself. Think SGC,Goa'ulds, Carter….
"Ma'am," said the blond as she walked over to Carter. "I'm Lieutenant Lena Carrows. May I say that it is an honor to meet you? I've read all your papers on astrophysics and was particularly fascinated with your thoughts on wormhole technology."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Carter smiled. Oh did Gallagher love that smile and found himself wishing it was aimed at him. "I take it you are a scientist?" Great, Jack thought. Scratch Lena off the list.
"Yes ma'am," Carrows smiled back. "I majored in quantum physics and was honored to be among the chosen to have an opportunity to work with you."
"Well, I'm sure you will fit right in," Carter said. Her gaze moved on to Gallagher and he felt himself squirm under that direct look.
"Towel boy?" she said.
"I'm sure it was meant as a joke," Gallagher said with what he hoped was a smile. He felt like sneering right back at Michaels.
"Ma'am," Carter said.
"It is proper protocol to address an officer by her rank or by the term ma'am," she said looking straight at him. She was putting him in his place!
"Ma'am," he snarled. This was not going so well. "Begging your pardon, ma'am." He added emphasis on the word ma'am, just for spite.
Carter looked like she had swallowed a lemon as she stood there watching him. He couldn't tell if she was angry at him or embarrassed by what she just did. He was and will always be Jack O'Neill. He had been, was, her commanding officer for crying out loud.
"I may look very young standing here before you, but you and I both know the real me is still here and, begging your pardon again ma'am," there was that emphasis again. "But I hope you understand how hard it is taking that crap from you."
The silence in the room was deafening. Oh shit, Gallagher thought. I've done it now. Everyone seemed to be in shock and Carter's face was blossoming into a full blown rage. Crap! He decided that he really, really did not want to be here right this minute.
"Hello people!" yelled O'Neill as he bounded into the room. "Good to see every..one….. Okay what happened?" There was a lot of tension in the room and Gallagher's anger rose as he noticed O'Neill looking straight at him. Son of a bitch knows me too well.
Gallagher stood at attention with everyone else, except of course, Teal'c and Daniel. "Hello, General O'Neill." There was that emphasis on the word, General. What in the hell was the matter with him? "It's good to see you again, sir."
"Someone care to enlighten me as to why I feel like I just entered into enemy territory?" O'Neill asked, staring at each one in turn. "Daniel?"
Daniel went into overdrive. "Well, Jack. We …. uh…. well we were just surprised to see your mini…. uh Cadet Gallagher here."
"And……?" O'Neill was plainly going to get to the bottom of this and by the way he was looking at Gallagher, he had a pretty good idea who was at the root of the problem.
"And I was happy to see some familiar faces," Gallagher jumped in before Daniel was able to reply. "It had been awhile. Sir."
"I see," O'Neill said, plainly not getting it at all. "Carter?"
"Well, sir, I was just reminding Cadet Gallagher of his responsibility as a Cadet." She could put emphasis on words just as easily as the next person.
"Alright, at ease." Typical O'Neill, push it aside to work out later. They all sat down, Gallagher trying to ease the anger that was welling up inside of him. Back off. Back off.
"I see that you are all here and we might as well get this over with. Sorry, by the way, for being a little late. I try to get here on time, really I do. Something always comes up." The smile O'Neill gave to Lena Carrows seemed to add fuel to the already lit embers of Gallagher's ire.
"She's a scientist, O'Neill," Gallagher said before he even realized it was out of his mouth. Crap! He needed to get away. O'Neill wore the face Gallagher knew all too well. No emotions. Damn he was in serious trouble.
"Excuse me sir, may I ask why I was invited here, sir?" Gallagher said, desperately trying to change the subject. Back off, Gallagher. Back off.
"In due time, Gallagher." O'Neill's voice reflected the anger building inside his own heart. Great, Gallagher thought. Just peachy.
"Have you all been briefed about the SGC?" O'Neill asked, apparently deciding to deal with Gallagher later.
"The other Lieutenants and I have sir," Michaels said. "I don't know about Gallagher, though."
Gallagher just sat there looking at his hands, not daring to say another word. He can do this, he knew he could. Just get the anger under control. This was easier said than done, though. There they were all living their lives as if nothing happened. Here he was groveling to the very people he had commanded at one time and it was eating a hole in his gut to have to sit there and do it.
But he had a plan and he was not going to screw it up. The General had his future in his hands and right now his future looked like he would be digging latrines for a long time to come.
"Gallagher knows what's at stake," O'Neill said.
Gallagher looked up at the General and met his gaze head on clearly understanding the double meaning. "Yes sir," he said.
"We are a top secret facility as is evident in all the paperwork you had to sign swearing you would hand over your life if you reveal any of this to anyone," O'Neill continued. "We are fighting an enemy that only those who work here, a few people in the Pentagon and the President of the United States are aware of. This enemy is far worse and more dangerous, if that can be believed, than any you have ever heard of. You all have demonstrated the knowledge, ability and leadership skills that we need to win this war and with your help we will succeed in blowing those slimy, scum sucking snake heads out of the galaxy!"
With that he stopped and sat back, his arms resting on the folders lying on the table, gazing at each person in turn, seeming to linger a little too long on Carter, than moving on until he met Gallagher's.
"Now I know Cadet Gallagher just finished his first year at the academy," O'Neill said, his eyes boring into Gallagher's, "but his orders come from the higher ups and he will be spending his off time working here."
"May I ask what I will be doing?" Gallagher cut in. "There's a betting pool going on that I will be the towel boy." The smile he wore never made it to his eyes and he was still trying to tamp down his anger.
"Where have I seen that look before?" Daniel asked no one in particular.
O'Neill just frowned at the Archeologist and turned to speak to Gallagher. "Not the towel boy, Cadet. Keep up the attitude and I may reconsider…."
Back off, Gallagher muttered to himself. It was getting harder and harder to do as he stared at the face he had seen so many times in the mirror he used to look at. Damn it, it wasn't fair!
"Excuse me?" O'Neill asked, the astonishment clear on his face.
Had he said that out loud? "Sir?" Gallagher asked.
"In my office," O'Neill snarled. "Now!"
"Yes, sir." Crap, he was in so much trouble! What was he thinking of? Time to grovel, Jack.