O'Neill paced around the perimeter of his temporary quarters, veering off around the Jaffa who stood silently and calmly near the door. The Colonel was sweating profusely. His involuntary grunts punctuated the silence of the room. He became more and more agitated as he paced; his movements took him closer and closer to the Jaffa before veering at the last second. He gritted out, "Get outta my way Teal'c. I've had enough Jaffa guards to last a lifetime . . . or six or seven." When Teal'c didn't move, O'Neill tried to physically push him out of the way. His weakened attempt did not even budge the huge, immobile warrior. This enraged the ill man and he began pounding fiercely against the sides of the padded wall.

"O'Neill. Cease! You will cause yourself injury."

"What the f--- do you care? You're really still in the service of Apophis. You're trying to kill me." He shouted toward the door, "Let me the hell outta here." Teal'c's attempts to keep O'Neill from harm were useless. From the hallway, General Hammond shouted, "Teal'c. It's time for you to come out of there." The door opened enough for the Jaffa to leave and was then quickly bolted from the outside.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Out in the hallway, SG1 sat on the floor throughout the night and part of the day while O'Neill raged himself hoarse in the protected room. The observers wondered if the protection was to keep O'Neill from harming himself or from harming them. The Colonel occasionally screamed in agony as he relived his torture. Those on nearby floors in the SGC could hear muffled shouts and screams, but, for the most part, everyone avoided the area. The SF's in charge of guarding the room tiptoed quietly around the worried teammates. The rest of the SGC was quiet as they all waited for the ordeal to be over. In the commissary conversation was hushed and kept to a minimum. The nursing staff and other personnel were watched surreptitiously for any signs that O'Neill was getting better. The watchers were disappointed when they saw a shake of the head accompanied by, "No change."

Janet would occasionally come to check on her patient – and his team. She ineffectually ordered, "You all need to get some rest." She saw pleading looks from Sam and Jonas as well as a questioning look from Teal'c. "There's nothing I can do for him. He hasn't responded to sedatives. It's as if his body is different and the medications don't act the same way. For all I know, it could be making his symptoms worse. I don't know how much more of this he can take." More quietly, she reflected, "I don't know how much more of this we can take."

Over the next hours, the volume of the Colonel's shouting lessened and sounded more hopeless. "Daniel! You have to end this!" The people in the hallway became silent as O'Neill's weakening voice called out to their missing team member. "End this. I can't go back in there. I can't goooo. . ." His voice trailed on the last syllable and then ended abruptly and forcefully. The listeners were startled by a muffled tapping. Janet's eyes opened wide and she pounded the flat of her hand on the door, "Open it, now!"

As they looked into the room, they saw O'Neill in an apparent seizure on the padded floor. After two minutes his movements calmed. Dr. Frasier kneeled at his side and held him as he came to. "Jack, it's Janet. You're at the SGC. You're OK." She turned to his team and ordered, "Talk to him."

"O'Neill, we are here."

"Sir, you're safe. It's OK . . . Jack."

"Uh, Colonel O'Neill. It's good to see you back."

They continued calling out soothingly as the minute hand moved a quarter of an hour. Gradually, O'Neill opened his eyes and appeared confused. "Wha--?"

Janet, still holding his head, responded softly, "Colonel, you've just come out of a seizure. How are you feeling?"

He looked at her and at his team. They were all eyeing him hopefully, but warily. He slowly answered, "I'm tired. Confused. Hungry." Janet appeared pleased by his last comment.

Everyone then looked at Jonas, who responded, "Ah, I'll go get something from the commissary." As he left, they all looked back toward O'Neill.

Janet studied him closely and gently. "Sir, how are you feeling?"

"You asked me that already." He winced as he swallowed. "My throat hurts." The onlookers gave each other meaningful glances.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jonas hurriedly entered the commissary during the dinner shift. The room silenced as they watched him approach the food counter. "I need a plate of food . . . to go."

Robert, the caretaker of the establishment, looked up, "Is it for . . .?"

Jonas breathily replied, "Yeah! Colonel O'Neill." The room erupted in cheers and smiles.

Robert's face broke into a large grin. "In that case, I have his favorite prepared. Give me a minute while I warm it up."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It was decided after a night in the infirmary that O'Neill could stay in his base quarters as long as he had nearby supervision. Dr. Frasier knew he would not want an audience for the nightmares that were sure to follow. Sam, Jonas, and Teal'c took turns sitting outside the Colonel's room the first night. As Teal'c came to take the last shift, he asked Major Carter, "Did O'Neill sleep well?"

She sighed heavily. "The longest period of silence lasted about an hour, Teal'c. He keeps waking up in a nightmare. I wish there was some way for him to know he's safe at the SGC while he's sleeping." Teal'c nodded his head solemnly. The pair stood in silence for a moment.

That silence was interrupted by muted shouting followed by a scream of "Noooo!"

Her voice broke. "It's been like this for the past couple hours. How is he standing this?"

"Major Carter. I do not believe he has a choice."

She nodded sadly. "Take care of him, Teal'c."

After his teammate turned the corner, Teal'c looked back toward O'Neill's door. He knocked quietly. The door abruptly opened and a disheveled Colonel looked out. "May I come in O'Neill?"

After a brief hesitation, Jack gestured for Teal'c to enter. "I'm not sleeping anyway. Yeah, sure. Come in."

While Teal'c remained standing near the door, Jack sat at the edge of his bed and sighed deeply. He placed his head in his hands and raised bloodshot eyes to look at his teammate. He gruffed, "Teal'c, would ya just sit down?"

The Jaffa inclined his head and sat in the only chair in the room. "O'Neill. What is disturbing you? You have escaped torture by a system lord. You do not need to continue torturing yourself."

O'Neill glared at the wall beside Teal'c and said nothing. He clenched his teeth firmly.

"It may help to speak of it." Teal'c waited in patient silence. He knew he could sit and wait for an answer for the rest of the evening.

O'Neill knew it too. "Damn it, Teal'c. I don't want to talk about it." His outburst was met with silence. He risked a look at the Jaffa and saw that Teal'c looked back at him calmly. Jack's gaze returned to the wall in front of him. He clenched his jaw in frustration knowing that the Jaffa would not leave him alone until he spoke. "Teal'c. I . . . ahhh" He swallowed. His voice cracked as he continued through clenched teeth, "I almost broke and told Ba'al what he wanted to know."

"But you did not."

O'Neill shouted, "I would have. It was just dumb luck that Yu attacked when he did."

"You blame yourself because you have found there are limits to your endurance."

O'Neill glared at his friend, then huffed. "No Teal'c. I'm well aware I have limits." He ran his hand through his hair and looked toward the floor. He quietly asked, "How do I know I won't break the next time? How can you trust me? How can the SGC trust me?" His head remained down.

"Do you not trust me O'Neill."

With his head whipping up quickly, O'Neill responded gruffly, "Of course I do. I trust you with my life."

The big Jaffa sat quietly for a moment before delivering his bombshell. "You trust me even though I broke and worshipped Apophis again." O'Neill looked up in surprise. "You should learn to forgive yourself as easily as you forgive others."

O'Neill sat in stunned silence as the Jaffa quietly left the room.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Robert Hall directed one of his employees to prepare another tray of today's vegetable. It seemed that all the SG teams were back at the same time and on duty. Days like these made him glad he had a number of employees to help with serving. Robert headed a NISH contract that provided food service for the SGC as well as NORAD. The main focus of the contract was to employ individuals with documented disabilities. NISH is a national nonprofit agency that assists community rehabilitation programs to obtain federal contracts. As long as there is a set percentage of employees with a documented disability and they meet the provisions of the Federal contract, Robert's non-profit organization remained in business. They had been providing food service for the SGC since before General Hammond commanded the base. He was glad to have the added perk of working with George Hammond again. It was a private joke between them that Robert was happy to 'serve' again with George. Though his military affiliation was known, no one other than the General and Janet knew how Robert had lost his arm; he wanted to keep it that way. To base personnel, he was an enigma. Though he was technically a civilian, it was OK to reveal mission information to Robert with the General's blessing. Though this was puzzling, it was not questioned.

Robert knew the importance of paid work for individuals with disabilities. After losing his arm during the Vietnam War, he came back depressed and despairing that he could ever be productive again. He certainly couldn't go back to his job on the shipping docks. In the VA hospital, he had received the assistance to go back to school and consider other types of work. He became a psychologist in order to give back what was given to him on his long, arduous journey back from being a POW in Vietnam. After completing his internship and practicing for a number of years, he decided that he was a doer, not a thinker. He decided to provide assistance to people with disabilities in a completely different format. After he won the contract with NORAD and the SGC, he never looked back. He was satisfied with his work coaching others to work in the food industry. Many of his former employees went on to work in the community in non-supported employment. The work was very gratifying – especially today. He looked on as Mick went to the back kitchen area to prepare more vegetables. Mick had a developmental disability and had lived in a sheltered environment all his life. After working for a couple years with Robert, Mick now lived in an apartment on his own with periodic supervision. Leona was serving food and bantering back and forth with the military customers. Who would have thought that the fearful woman with chronic depression and agoraphobia would blossom into the self-assured woman he saw today. A major reason for this change was the self-esteem she gained from returning to work.

Robert's musings were interrupted by unexpected silence. He looked around for the cause and saw Colonel Jack O'Neill walk quietly and, for him, timidly into the commissary. The cacophony of sound resumed as people shouted, "Sir, it's good to see you back." "We saved some food for you, sir." "Jack, son of a gun, it's good to have you back." Those who didn't speak were grinning broadly that the almost indestructible soldier had returned from hell's basement. Robert could tell O'Neill didn't like the attention; he looked like he was going to bolt for the door any second. Instead, he escaped to the counter to order food. Robert quickly relieved Leona in order to interact with Jack personally. "Jack, why don't you just tell me what you want and we'll bring a tray over to your table. Our special today is fish 'n chips." O'Neill shook his head and pointed to the burgers. He gave a tired and grateful smile as he walked to a table in the corner. It didn't escape Robert's notice that he put his back to the corner.

George Hammond had asked him to keep an eye on the returned Colonel and help in any way he could. Many of the SGC personnel had bent Robert's ear after bad missions. He almost felt like a bartender. O'Neill's teammates were included in that group. Robert had been distressed when Daniel died. He had come to admire and respect the archeologist. They had had many deep conversations regarding Daniel's inability to see his CO's military stand on issues. Robert felt the loss of the young man deeply after he died . . . or ascended. Either way, he wasn't here. He had tried to talk with the other members of SG1 about their feelings regarding their lost comrade. Sam and Teal'c and even Jonas came to him often. He never once heard from O'Neill. . . much to General Hammond's regret.

Robert had Leona prepare a tray of food for the colonel. He personally delivered it to the table. O'Neill grumbled a thanks. He didn't make eye contact, so Robert left him to eat in peace. Just as he started in on the pie, Jonas, Sam, and Teal'c came in to eat. Teal'c had a plate full of carbohydrates, Jonas decided on the fish, and Sam had her usual salad. O'Neill made room as his team sat with him around the table.

Not so secretly pleased to see him out of his room, Carter commented, "We didn't expect to see you here, sir." She sat across from him and reached over to get the pepper shaker.

"Yeah, well . . . Doc says I need to get back to normal before she'll put me on active duty."

Teal'c nodded his head in acknowledgement as he flipped open the cover on the ketchup. O'Neill turned to his left. "Got enough food there Teal'c?"

Jonas raised the cruet of vinegar over his fish. "Teal'c, I'll take the ketchup when you're done."

O'Neill turned his head back toward Jonas to make a comment, but his eyes widened and he focused intently on a drop of vinegar on the tip of the cruet that was facing him. He stood up abruptly and his chair went crashing to the floor. He flattened himself into the wall behind him with his arms outspread. He gave out a strangled gasp and said, "Don't!" His face screwed up in pain, his eyes widened in fear, and his breathing became rapid and ragged. While Jonas looked on in shock, Teal'c and Sam responded to his behavior. "O'Neill. What is wrong?" "Sir, you're safe. You're at the SGC." Sam looked quickly toward Jonas and ordered under her breath, "Get a medical team."

The Colonel didn't appear to hear them. He gave a long, agonized scream before collapsing to the floor panting – his eyes were wide and unfocused. Robert appeared suddenly and knelt by the fallen Colonel. "Jack. It's OK. You're at Stargate Command. You're here in the commissary. You just had a flashback." Jack's eyes began to focus on Robert's face as he continued. "Jack. You're at the SGC. It's okay. Your team is here with you in the commissary." O'Neill looked around at the anxious faces which included all the patrons of the eatery. He closed his eyes and swallowed. Robert kept his eyes on the Colonel as he ordered, "Don't you all have something better to do? Give us some air, wouldya?"

Just then, the medical team arrived with Janet at the head. "Clear out people." When they hesitated she spoke more loudly. "That's an order." Robert and Teal'c helped O'Neill to his feet. He stabilized himself with his back against the wall. He looked behind him and touched the flat wall with the palm of his hand. "The commissary." He sighed deeply before turning to walk out of the room. Janet shook her head to let the medical team know not to follow him.

Teal'c did not hesitate before following. "I will walk him back to his quarters."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Major Carter walked timidly up to General Hammonds office. She was still not used to reporting directly to him, but until the Colonel was reinstated to active duty, activities related to SG1 fell on her. She knocked softly while calling out, "Sir?"

Hammond was on the telephone. "I'll get right on that, sir." He waved her into his office and put up his palm to let her know he was almost done. "Right. We'll do that sir." He replaced the receiver on the hook. "Major Carter, what can I do for you?"

"General, I have that report you asked for."

"I'm going to get spoiled." He smiled. "I just asked for it this morning. It would have taken Colonel O'Neill at least two days . . . before I had to remind him again." He chuckled and waved her to be seated after her hesitant smile. "How are you doing with all this Major Carter?"


He frowned. "I heard about the incident earlier. How are you doing?"

Carter looked clearly uncomfortable with this line of questioning. She wanted to open up to someone about her feelings, but felt it was inappropriate to speak with either Teal'c or Jonas now that she had the responsibility as a team leader. She was not close to the other SG teams and felt like she would be betraying her commanding officer if she spoke of her doubts. Janet was also not an option since she controlled the Colonel's return to active duty. She didn't want to cause problems for Colonel O'Neill by revealing her doubts about him. The look on his face in the commissary had shaken her to the core. She had never seen the man with such abject terror and despair on his face. She started as she realized that the general was still waiting for an answer.

He sighed. "That bad."

She looked up with bleary eyes. "Yes sir. It's just that I've never seen him so . . . "

"Scared? Out of control?" He questioned.

"Yes sir. I'm not sure . . ."

"You're not sure you can trust him not to lose it in the field."

Sam looked up with widened, surprised eyes but did not respond.

"Sam, give him some time. He had the snot kicked out of him. It's not the first time and it probably won't be the last." He stood up and walked over to his wall of medals. "He makes it look like he's indestructible, but he's just as human as the rest of us. He'll need our help and support to get back to his usual . . . self."

Sam gave a weak smile and nodded her head. "Yes, sir."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

O'Neill pouted in his room for the remainder of the day and refused to go back out for dinner. His team left him alone. After the breakfast crowd left the following day, he bravely returned to the commissary. He cautiously and thoroughly looked around the room. Robert walked up to stand silently near him without being threatening. "You won't find any cruets. I put them all away."

O'Neill glared at him. He didn't like the fact that he was so obvious to the proprietor.

"We need to take this slow."

"How the hell do you know what I need." Jack was angry at his presumptuousness.

Robert pushed the shoulder with his empty sleeve toward Jack. "Do you think I lost this arm fishing?"

That got O'Neill's attention. It was legendary that no one knew the story – except, it was rumored, General Hammond and Dr. Frasier – and neither one of them was talking.

Robert gestured toward the corner table where O'Neill could watch the entire room. He yelled, "Leona, can you get the colonel a plate of breakfast?"

During the course of the next half hour, Robert related the story of his stint as a POW during the Vietnam war. His companion nodded respectfully upon hearing about the ordeal and interjected comments about his own similar experiences in Iraq. Robert finished his story. "The damage was so bad, the doctors had to amputate it. I haven't looked at a car battery the same way since."

"Do you . . .? Did you uh . . . have flashbacks?"

Robert responded with a huff. "Oh yeah! I know what they're all about. I bet you had some after Iraq."

O'Neill nodded solemnly. His eyes held a vacant look as he remembered some of the older flashbacks as well as his most recent incident reliving the torture in Ba'al's compound.

Robert called him back to the present. "How did you deal with them back then?"

Without hesitation, Jack responded. "I forced myself to face every thing that reminded me of Iraq, and . . . I spent a lot of time at my grandfather's cabin." He was clearly uncomfortable talking about his experience now that his story was the focus. Robert patted his companion's arm. "Come on, man. We've got some work to do."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

O'Neill began daily work with Robert to desensitize to objects that reminded him of Ba'al's torture . . . and to talk. They paired calming techniques with exposure to the objects until Jack barely flinched upon being presented with the items. After another successful day without incident, the pair took a coffee break. They sat in silence while each was lost in thought. O'Neill suddenly exclaimed, "I almost broke."

After a short period of silence, Robert replied, "I did break." He received an incredulous look from Jack. "After daily shock treatments for God knows how many days, I wasn't responding with the same . . . intensity. I guess they wanted more. If I didn't reveal information, they threatened to start the shock treatments on the only one of my teammates left alive." O'Neill looked at him in sympathetic horror. "After I told them what they wanted to know, they laughed and tortured him anyway. It showed me that I was powerless over what happened . . . over what happened to me . . . and over what happened to my teammate. None of it mattered. They were just sick." Robert and Jack sat in companionable silence – each lost in thought. "Well, I gotta get this place ready for the dinner crowd. Hey man, it doesn't look like we need to work on this anymore." At the look of disappointment from his companion, Robert responded, "But you can stop by any time to just shoot the breeze."

Jack responded with an easy grin, "I might just take you up on that, Robert."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Later that day, Jack walked into General Hammonds office. "Sir, you wanted to see me?"

"Yes Jack. Sit down." He smiled to soften the order. "Doctor Frasier tells me she is ready to release you to go home. She said you're fine medically – other than lack of sleep. Psychologically . . ."

O'Neill cut him off sharply. "Sir, I know Dr. Frasier probably wants me to talk to a shrink before I'm cleared, but . . ."

Hammond loudly cut him short as if he had not interrupted. "Psychologically, you are cleared for light duty after a week of leave time."

"Sir?" Jack wrinkled his brow in puzzlement.

"I believe I stated that quite clearly, Jack. Psychologically, you're cleared to return to work after a week of leave. So, are you going to go fishing on your time off?"

"Uh! Yeah. I suppose so . . . I haven't really thought about it. Yes. No . . . General, how can I be cleared for duty when I haven't seen a psychologist yet?"

Hammond smiled. "So Robert didn't tell you, did he?" At O'Neill's puzzled look, the general explained, "Robert is a licensed psychologist. You'd never know it looking at him." When Jack started protesting about being deceived, the general responded, "Jack, I trust Robert . . . with my life. He and I go way back. We were teammates in Nam. We were the only two who made it back alive after being captured and held for two months. I don't need an official psychological report. Robert's word is good enough for me. Now, get the hell out of here before I find something for you to do."

"Yes sir." Jack got up and walked dazedly toward the door. He stopped and turned just before reaching the door knob as a thought occurred to him. "Sir, why didn't you tell me you were a POW?"

Hammond responded with a grin, "If I told you everything about my career . . . I'd have to shoot you, Jack."

The SGC's 2IC mumbled, "Yes sir." He nodded once, then continued out the door numbly.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hammond and Robert left the base together later that night. "George, you up for a game and some brew?"

"Yeah! The usual place?" Robert nodded his head with a grin. All of a sudden, Hammond slapped him on the back and exclaimed loudly, "Guess that degree in Psychology helped after all. I'm sure glad you decided to open up a restaurant instead." George kept his hand on Roberts shoulder as they continued out of the mountain.

The End.