The hot, sweet scent of the lush grasses cooked up from the ground in the hot sun. Insects buzzed at the tops of tall stalks busily gathering nectar from nearby flowering plants. An occasional distant insect loudly sounded its mating call as the symbiotic relationship between insect and plant continued. A warm breeze ruffled the tall grasses in a sports stadium wave of cheering that rumbled flowingly from one end of the field to the other. Tall bushes tottered as they got to the end of their reach and gently snapped upright to be pushed away again by the persistent wind. The surrounding tall trees beckoned the two travelers closer in their towering watch over the scenery. O'Neill looked deceptively calm as he almost silently walked through this bucolic environment, but he was primed to trigger lightning reflexes to point his P-90 at any danger. His unarmed companion trudged behind with equally quiet stealth. The two men mirrored silent moves of caution as they sought high vistas from which to view more of the unfamiliar landscape.
As the hours passed, their movements grew less cautious. The lack of evidence of any man-made danger reduced the need for the exhausting vigilance needed whenever performing recon of new planets. Though he knew the man behind him could take care of himself, the leader of this search for friend or foe took his role as protector seriously. He contemplated giving the man a weapon, but quickly dismissed the idea. As time went on, the noises from his companion began to become louder and more frequent. The sound of a clumsy stumble behind him caused the Colonel to shoot a quick glare to the culprit. His companion mouthed a silent and completely insincere, 'Sorry' before signaling with a benevolent wave of his hand that he was ready to proceed. Jack slowly withdrew his glare as he returned his gaze to the potentially hostile environment in front of him.
It became obvious after hours of recon that they were the only people in the immediate vicinity. They had found no evidence of recent habitation and O'Neill's anger at his situation grew. It didn't help that the reason for their situation had started to become much more vocal as time passed and their hunger grew. They had silently agreed to turn around and walk back to their original camp, but the three-hour trek of the area meant that they had a long walk back. Jack's P-90 now hung loosely from the strap over his shoulder as the threat of danger was reduced.
"So Jaaack! Why do you have a cat hanging around your house?" Maybourne smirked with pleasure when O'Neill spun around quickly at the non-sequitur. Harry was quite pleased with himself that he had gotten a reaction out of the unflappable airman. He continued with a pseudo simpering voice. "You know . . . you really should keep your back door closed." He continued with a roughening tone. "Those pesky felines have a way of getting right in there. You know what I mean?" The annoying man had corkscrewed his fist across his chest in punctuation. "I think the furball's actually been in your house a couple times . . . that I know of." His head waggled quickly side to side in pleasure as he revealed this tidbit of information. He had an unending source of intel obtained by spying. These were the moments of pleasure that he lived for. Since childhood, the renegade Colonel had learned that he could get attention by privately sharing information that shouldn't be shared in public. He had also learned that people would do a lot of things for you to keep that information quiet.
Jack continued his perusal of the bushes in front of him – seemingly unaffected by the conversation. The tightening of his hand around his P-90, however, revealed a bit of the agitation he was feeling.
This motion wasn't overlooked by the ever-observant Maybourne as he smirked. His oily voice continued at a slow, simpering rate. "Wellll, since you don't actually own a caaaat, I guess you won't mind this." Before continuing, Maybourne smirked behind his companion's back. "Your neighbor came up to me the other day – you know, that old man next door? Barnes is it? Well, anyway, he told me he thought he ran over a gray cat with his car." He got Jack's attention as the airman swiftly turned around with dangerous eyes fixed on the traitorous Colonel. "Jack, I asked him what the cat looked like." Knowing that he had Jack's full attention, Maybourne pantomimed the old man's response as a dead cat with tongue lolling out of its mouth.
Jack sneered in annoyance, but continued to glare in disbelief at his annoying companion.
Maybourne continued. "I told him, 'No, what did it look like before it died?'" After a pause with a completely straight face, Maybourne pantomimed a cat screeching with claws up.
Jack turned around in disgust and stalked away.
He missed the self-satisfied grin of pleasure that started and remained on Maybourne's face. Harry reveled in the fact that it wasn't easy to get such a rise out of the goody-two-shoes airman. He placed a tick mark on his virtual scoreboard. Belatedly, he realized that he would be quickly outpaced, by O'Neill's longer gait. He scurried after the retreating back.
Harry settled back into the ground breaking pace about five feet away from O'Neill. He quickly caught his breath – a fact that he knew annoyed O'Neill further. A wicked smirk visited his face before moving on to his usually slack expression. "Hey Jack! Did you hear about the little girl who cried to her daddy? She said, 'Daddy, daddy, Fluffy is dead.' He told the little girl, 'That's okay. Fluffy has gone to heaven.'" Maybourne had placed both hands together in angelic grace. "The little girl asked her daddy, 'What would God want with a dead cat?'"
"If you throw a dead cat out of a car window, does it become kitty litter?"
After two hours of really, really bad dead cat jokes, Jack O'Neill turned around and exploded. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that you shouldn't annoy someone who's carrying a loaded weapon?" O'Neill was almost to the point of shooting . . . something to relieve his annoyance. But he didn't want to waste ammo on this pestilent, pesky, penile, pri--. . . . wait, that was redundant.
Maybourne's tone was silky smooth as he raised his hands in mock supplication. "Jaaaaack! I'm just trying to lighten up the mood here." His lip curled with mocking humor. "You aren't offended, are you? I mean, why would you be? It's not like you have a cat? Right?" Maybourne looked up innocently into the intense brown eyes boring on him menacingly from three feet away. After the moment passed, Harry breathed a relieved sigh as his irate companion turned and continued on his way. Harry had lost that one.
Though upset at himself for losing his cool, Jack was glad for the silence. If only it would continue. He had time to ponder whether Harry really knew about the existence of Oscar. Despite the goading, Harry had yet to produce any proof of his knowledge. Jack's thoughts turned to food and the encroaching night. It might take Carter a while to figure out where they were, so they better get comfortable for the long haul. If he was going to be stuck on a planet somewhere, at least it was lush. Though not exactly teeming with game, he had already spied evidence of both predator and prey. They would just need to figure out how to trap them without using up their precious supply of ammunition.
Jack didn't want to give the pesky Maybourne any of his projectile weapons, but he had allowed the weasel to get away with stealing one of his grenades when they first crashed down onto this planet from the portal. The smaller man had somehow snagged the grenade while they were wrestling in the grass as they first arrived. Jack didn't want to leave the disgraced airman weaponless since the SGC had made sure he was stripped clean before they let him into the underground facility. Though O'Neill suspected Harry had a more hidden stash on his person. He wouldn't expect any less from the former Special Forces Colonel.
While Jack was thinking about their survival, Harry decided to try a different tactic. He knew the airman would never admit to the weakness for a cat. "You know, I kinda remember a gray cat from the second year when you went undercover in the NID." He couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice as he remembered Jack's duplicity. The worst part was that he had actually fallen for it. Hook. Line. And sinker. Maybourne was a man who prided himself on his ability to read people. It had saved his life on more than one occasion. Growing up in a tough neighborhood as a short, skinny runt had made it necessary to know his enemy and use any weakness to his advantage. But he had come to admire the Colonel in front of him for his steadfast belief and adherence to a code of conduct. It was refreshing after his dealings with so many crooks disguised as politicians in DC. And though uncomfortable, Harry felt compelled to earn the respect of Colonel Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill. He just didn't know how. So he offered, "You know, Simmons was in on that one. He wanted to do something pretty nasty to that cat to send you a message." He gave a sly, quick glance to the back of Jack's suddenly hunched shoulders. "But I wouldn't let them do that to Oscar. His name is Oscar, isn't it?"
Jack stopped suddenly and whirled around to face the errant Colonel with a menacing look. His rough voice crackled with anger. "What the hell do you want from me, Maybourne?" Jack's murderous, blank stare was intimidating.
Harry stopped and raised his hands quickly in surrender. "Hey, hey, hey! No need to get upset about this one. I told them it wouldn't do any good. I knew we would lose you for good if you ever found out who did it." He looked up into Jack's still glaring eyes. Harry's face wore a shy smile as he explained, "But, I made the little guy disappear for a while . . . just in case." Jack blinked in surprise and lessened his aggressive stance. Harry continued apologetically for having pushed Jack to this point. "No harm, no foul."
After a moment of silence, Jack looked away and back quickly before quietly voicing, "Thanks." His eyes looked anywhere but at the weasel Colonel. Lest the moment get too tender, Jack continued, "Come on, we have to get back to camp before it gets too dark. It'll take at least another hour to get there."
As they continued their trek back, Harry couldn't resist. Something evil inside him just had to do it. "Did you hear about the cat who ate a ball of yarn? She had mittens."
Jack sighed stoically, but consoled himself that at least the content of the jokes had changed for the better. This was going to be a long wait until they were rescued.
Jack bid adieu to his new buddy. Their time on the planet and the adventures they had shared had caused the two to bond in that unexplained way of men who used to hate each other. Like survivors of a shipwreck, they had overcome numerous challenges to their ingenuity – challenges not encountered since their roughest Special Ops training on Earth. Somehow, the drugged anguish, accidental injuries, and unrelieved pain had transformed the two former enemies into "buddies." Jack marveled that he was actually going to miss the guy. Somewhere along the way, he realized that the quirky SOB's company had become welcomed after a month with no one to talk with. Though he loved solitude, there was a limit. As he was walking out of the Tel'tak on a newly healed leg, he called out, "Hey! Take care of yourself."
Harry looked startled but grinned gratefully at the friendly parting shot. He waved a tired hand from the Tok'ra plinth. He had only undergone one session with their healing device, but it was enough to begin the return to health he would need to survive . . . out there. As Jack turned around, Maybourne called out, "Hey Jack! Take good care of Oscar. He sorta grew on me." He corkscrewed his fist across his chest. "Ya know?"
Jack smirked knowingly and nodded, then continued out to the waiting Stargate without another word. He was finally going home.
Shortly after Jack's return home from his forced vacation, old Mr. Barnes from next door engaged O'Neill in a friendly conversation. "Hey Jack, ya hear they finally caught that old gray cat that's been tormenting the neighborhood all these years. Just after you left on your last trip. They hauled him away to the Pound." The old man looked almost wistful as he commented, "I'm gonna miss that ole cat." Jack said quick goodbyes before tearing out of the driveway in his big green truck.
Mr. Barnes didn't agree with his wife that the gray cat should be put to sleep. But he knew better than to protest outright. He hadn't stayed married for 56 years without knowing when to keep his mouth shut. So he did the next best thing to rescuing the critter on his own. Sometimes he brought food over to the healing cat when the Colonel was out on another of his trips. He wondered where the military man disappeared to for weeks on end. Oh well. No use pondering what he'd never know. He shrugged while gladly watching the back of the green truck disappear down the street.
Jack hunched down in the cat room at the local animal shelter and stopped suddenly before one of the lower cages. Petulant green eyes looked accusingly at him through the grid of silver bars. Compared with the other cats in the room, it was obvious that Oscar would not have been adopted. The large scarred head, torn ears, and ferocious glare couldn't compete with the fluffy friendliness of felines in the other cages or the frisky, frolicking kittens in the larger cage at child height. As a result, the Tom was placed in a lower cage that was harder to see into. The lower height was also easier for handlers who had to wrestle with uncooperative animals. Jack suspected the animal had put up quite a fight when placed in the cage. Evidence of the struggle littered the inside. The newspaper base layer was shredded and the side of the plastic litter box was scarred from the frantic feline's frenetic efforts to free himself. Jack looked at the label on the cage. His low groan almost sounded like a growl.
Oscar's fur was huffed up and hot with anger and betrayal. It was about time Warm Tall came to get him. He was beginning to get worried that he would never get out of this stinking hole he was trapped in. He knew he should never have trusted humans. The metal house with the free food seemed too good to be true – and it was; he would never be fooled by it again . . . if he ever got out of this predicament. Oscar looked pointedly at the clasp that opened the cage, and then he looked up into his friend's face. Maybe the human would get the hint. Not for the first time, he wished he had paws like humans so he could open things like cans and more importantly, doors. He lowered his head with disappointment when the human rattled the cage door, but it didn't open. Oscar quietly growled his frustration. He would have to wait until his friend figured out how to open the cage. If only he could communicate to him how he observed others opening it.
Jack marched up to the office to begin the process of freeing the stray from captivity. Time was pressing since the place closed at 5pm and it was already 4:50pm. There was an irate man in front of him. The large, stocky man was pacing in front of the desk of a small, placidly unaffected animal control officer. Jack gave the pacing man the name of Bruno while the small, but cocky, spectacled officer he named Barney Fife. Said weasel obviously liked the power he exerted over the bigger man and he flaunted it nervously with his nose raised superiorly.
Bruno, meanwhile, menacingly pounded on the desk as he shouted, "I want the damn dog. We already established that he's mine." He was leaning forward with both fisted hands encroaching upon Barney's desktop.
The self-righteous dog officer smirked, but fluttered his hands anxiously through his paperwork. Civility guaranteed his safety from the much bigger patron, and he had the upper hand. For all the times he was bullied by such . . . bullies, he intoned, "It's not our problem if you can't keep your dog inside the yard like the law requires." He hoped the ape before him understood the emphasis on the word 'law.'
Trying a different tactic, Bruno leaned back to stand on his feet at a less threatening distance. He crossed his arms and admitted, "It wasn't my fault. One of the kids opened the gate by mistake." He almost whined, "Come on, man. Let me have my dog. I'll make sure he doesn't get out next time." His face was much friendlier as he cajoled.
Unconsciously, Barney unfolded his arms and his face closed down into a stern mask. "I'm sorry." Though he wasn't. "We can't let him go until you promise to neuter him. We have a problem with strays and people like you contribute to all the animals we have to euthanize every year."
Bruno boomed, "No one's touching my dog's nuts!" His tightly fisted hands were back on the desk.
Jack rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief as the argument continued. He efficiently flipped the protective cover off his watch and noted that five minutes had gone by. The tag on Oscar's cage said that his 30 days were up tomorrow. Jack busied himself by looking around the facility in the remaining time that he had. Barney was winning the argument and it appeared that the contracted veterinarian for the city would get another animal to neuter. By the time closing time arrived, Barney was finalizing the unsuspecting dog's scheduled operation. As Bruno left, Barney suddenly remembered to look for the man who had been waiting, but found an empty room instead. He shrugged indifferently. He would be back. The only way to get their precious animals back was through good ole Barney.
Jack scratched his head thoughtfully. He had a meeting in the morning with the new Russian team. If that wasn't irritating enough, he was now under the gun to get to the animal shelter to quickly retrieve Oscar and then get to his meeting. He pondered requesting time off from his CO. After all, he had just returned from a month-long mission. But the General had insisted that he needed the ranking SG team leader to make sure the Russian team followed protocol when out on their own. Jack sighed in frustration while scrubbing his head furiously. His hair was much shorter after a much-needed haircut and the feel of the bristles were a somewhat calming sensation on his palm. His hand suddenly stilled mid scrub as a thought crossed his mind. A devilish smile crept across his face. He sat in silence while he planned his strategy.
Ironically, only a cat or other nocturnal animal could see the black clad figure stealthily slinking around the buildings in the woods behind the animal shelter. The place was secluded from its nearest neighbor by a mile. No one wanted to live near the loud raucous barking – no one except the caretaker slash animal control officer who lived on the premises in a small house trailer. He was busily preparing a late-night snack when the dogs began to bark loudly. He frowned and turned up the volume on his old black and white television. The classic television show Lassie was featured in an all-night marathon of episodes on one of the local stations. He hadn't seen the show in years. Anticipating good stories with a lot of morality, he turned up the volume and settled in for a relaxing night alone.
Jack easily picked the lock on the office door to gain access to the inner cat room. The barking dogs couldn't be helped. He would just have to hope that Barney would think it was a natural occurrence. The Special Ops officer didn't want to risk turning on a light, so he relied on memory and the really cool infrared glasses he had in his hidden stash of home tools. You never knew when you might need to pull a job on the sly. He easily made his way to the back room and leaned down to the lower cage. Once again, he envied the feline ability to see in the dark without the need for awkward special equipment. He unlatched the cage and reached inside. Oscar picked that moment to scream his rage and frustration.
Barely hearing his movie over the barking dogs, Barney decided to investigate what sounded like a scream of pain. Remembering the irate dog owner, he reached for his pistol. He had only had to fire the gun once in response to a rabid dog, but he was always ready for anyone who tried to break into the facility. He took his title of "officer" seriously and practiced target shooting often. He certainly had plenty of time and room to practice out here in the middle of nowhere.
The animal control officer crouched down and opened his door carefully. He stealthily crunched his way across the gravel to the source of the ruckus. He thought he heard a noise coming from his office. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his keys. He awkwardly fumbled with the gun in his other hand as he tried to stop the rattling of metal against metal caused by his shaking hands. He found the keyhole without too much trouble and quietly opened the door. Barney lost control of the door when he accidentally kicked the bottom of the door making it crash into the chair used as a doorstop. He cringed and hunched further. Deciding that a lit room would be better than a dark room, Barney flipped on the switches quickly – hoping to startle anyone inside. He heard more noises coming from the back of the building, so he ran and hid behind the doorway. He wondered how the television detectives stilled their racing hearts. He could barely hear anything over his own heaving breaths. Grabbing his handgun with both hands, he turned into the doorway and saw . . . nothing.
He giggled nervously in relief. There was nowhere else for anyone to hide in this building . . . unless, they were in the bathroom. His eyes widened and he turned quickly while swinging his gun behind him. He slammed the bathroom door open to find . . . nothing. Sheepishly lowering his pistol, Barney went back to investigate the source of all the original disturbance. There it was. The old gray cat that was scheduled to be put to sleep was eyeing him with intense hate. The animal still hadn't forgiven him for removing him from the bottom cage and swapping places with another cat from an upper cage. It hadn't been easy for either of them, but it was something that Barney did to ease the guilt. The new cage was a palace compared to the lower abode. He always placed the animals that were scheduled for euthanasia into luxury accommodations with more room and the best food. It was the least he could do for the poor critters.
"Hey there fella. Are you doing okay?" Piercing green eyes of hate met his. As the human moved closer, he was met with flattened ears and a threatening hiss. This didn't change Barney's opinion or resolve to provide comfort to the death row inmate. He knew the wild animal was just reacting to his forced captivity – a captivity that had lasted for over a month. Actually, he was supposed to have already put the animal down, but Barney fudged on the date. The rough animal kinda grew on him. He admired the strength and resolve in the face of hopelessness. It was a trait that the mousy officer admired. Barney sighed with regret. He had hoped that someone would come to claim the critter at the last hour. But it was too late. The vet would pick him up along with the dog scheduled to be neutered first thing in the morning. With a gentle tone, he said, "Get some sleep." He pondered staying up with the critter, but his heart couldn't take it. He had already had to put so many animals to sleep during his tenure as animal control officer. With a heavy sigh, he closed the door to the cat room and left the building. As Barney locked the outside door, he didn't notice the dark figure watching him from the roof above.
Jack had his glove off and sucked his bleeding finger. How the hell could he have known that, instead of Oscar, the lower cage had been occupied by an ill-tempered Siamese with a thing for hands? He shook his head and waited for Barney to settle back in front of his television. After a short wait, Jack let himself down skillfully from the roof on the distant side of the building in order to lessen the noise. He waited patiently as his heart beat strongly with excitement. It had been years since he had done a solo mission and he realized that he missed it. Even though his team would have been welcome on this one, he didn't know how he could explain to Hammond how he risked taking two aliens and an AF major on a mission to rescue a cat. He didn't think his CO would understand that Oscar was now part of his team. An insane image of Oscar wearing a green cammo hat flittered through his mind. He shook the thought away. It was time to get back to his rescue mission.
After a brief search for his feline friend's new cage, Jack undid the latch on Oscar's door. He reached in gingerly only to have his hand butted with a large grey head. He grasped surely onto the skin at the back of Oscar's neck and then placed him into his backpack. He gave the feline a couple pets before almost completely zipping up the bag. He quickly donned the carryall and retraced his steps to get out of the building. This part went much more smoothly. On his way out, he considered rescuing the dog due to be neutered the next day, but dismissed it since Barney already had the owner's address.
Jack opened up the sack as he closed the door of his truck. He carefully placed the bag in his back seat before starting up the huge engine of his F250 truck. He breathed a heavy sigh of relief before putting the truck into gear to drive home.
Oscar peered out of the sack, but decided to settle back into the shelter. It had brought him good luck so far by getting him out of the hell-hole. Plus, it smelled just like Jack. He thought back to the events of the past hour. It had been close. When Jack had reached for him in the other cage, Oscar decided to call out loudly to get his attention. He had feared the pansy Siamese with the attitude would get to go home with Jack, so he shouted out his protest. But all that was behind him now. With the beginnings of a very happy purr, Oscar rode home in luxury.
The house was dark when Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas arrived. Jonas' face held the perpetual smile of someone who was about to experience his first Stargazing party. His enthusiasm wasn't dimmed as he asked, "Major Carter? Maybe we have the wrong day."
Sam looked at him unbelievingly as she responded yet again. "No Jonas. We don't have the wrong day." She rang the doorbell again and followed it by louder knocking. "Maybe he's out back." She gestured for her teammates to follow her around the side of the house. It was obvious that there was no activity in the backyard. Sam cautiously approached the sliding glass door closely followed by the smiling alien. They both peered inside to an empty house. Sam rapped on the glass sharply.
They were intent on listening through the door, when Sam noticed that Teal'c was no longer with them. In fact, he was nowhere in sight. She nudged Jonas and they returned to the front of the house. There they found Teal'c waiting patiently as Jack O'Neill debarked from the truck, which he had pulled into his extra-large garage. They could hear the ticking of the hot engine as it cooled – letting them know that he had just returned. The Colonel was pulling out a backpack from the cab behind the driver's seat.
It didn't appear that he knew they were there because he jumped when Teal'c boomed, "O'Neill!"
"Argh!" Jack put his free hand over his heart. "Don't do that."
Teal'c looked unrepentant. "Are you attempting to steal into your home, O'Neill?"
Jack looked at the expectant faces of the rest of SG-1. Jonas' smirk irked him more than usual . . . probably because he had been caught. "Oh yeah!" Suddenly realizing why they were there, he continued, "Hey! We're going to have to take a rain check on tonight's shindig. I have . . . other plans."
It didn't appear that they were going to let him get away that easily. Carter was the first to ask the obvious. "Sir, why are you dressed like that?"
Jack looked down at himself while holding the bag away from his body. He acted surprised by his totally black attire. "Oh! These old things. I was just on my way back from . . . uh" He waved his hand in the air airily.
Carter was giving him a dubious look. Whatever he was about to say, she wasn't buying it. "Sir, you look like you've come back from a mission . . . without us." Her voice managed to accuse an unearned mistrust.
At that moment, the bag that was dangling midair decided to squirm. Sharp claws punctured the side of the nylon backpack and a furry face appeared momentarily from the unzipped opening. Jack quickly shuffled the backpack closed. That only intensified the squirming and a loud, but muffled yowl emanated from within.
Three pairs of inquisitive eyes moved from the bag to O'Neill's face. His quick mind tried to come up with a plausible explanation, but he gave up. His team knew him too well. "Ah hell!"
Over a couple of warm beers and Mountain Dew for Teal'c, Jack reluctantly shared his adventure. He unconsciously stroked Oscar's back before seeing the result of his actions on Teal'c's face. Apparently, they didn't have cats on Chulak. Carter was grinning widely as she caught the look between the two. It wasn't often that they got one over on her CO.
Though not oblivious to the goings on, Jonas decided to educate his fellow alien. "Teal'c. I've recently learned a lot about the affection humans seem to have for pets. In fact, just tonight, I was watching Lassie."
Jack smiled tightly, "Ah, good show."
Sam decided to change the subject back to her original inquiry. "Sir. I still think you should have called us." He responded with silence and a raised brow that hinted at 'dumb blond.' She looked around at the two aliens and realized the trouble they would have gotten into if caught. She rethought and eagerly changed tactic. "Well, you should have called me, sir." Her voice trailed off as she realized how it would have looked to be caught breaking and entering with her CO. She mouthed a quiet, "Oh!" and looked down to the floor.
Knowing that he had won this argument, Jack decided it was safe to change the subject. "So, what new classic TV shows have you both watched?" Jack took great amusement in their exposure to Earth culture and did his best to supply them with a suitable play list.
While lying in bed later that night, Jack reviewed the day's events. He closed his eyes with regret as he faced an ugly truth. With a heavy heart, he made a reluctant decision for the following day.
Hammond was surprised when the silver-haired Colonel leaned uncomfortably into the office.
"Sir, do you have a minute?"
Hammond's curiosity was piqued after the airman closed the door behind him for privacy. The general was already expecting a visit from Jack, but he though it would start with an outraged burst due to the scheduled meeting with the Russians later in the day. The closed door was a puzzle since the Colonel usually didn't care who heard what he had to say. The wizened general questioned, "Colonel?"
Twisting a pencil from Hammond's desk nervously between his fingers, Jack stated, "Sir, I'd like to take a couple of days off." Since he got no response, he clarified, "For personal reasons."
Hammond's frown and pursed lips demanded further explanation. He knew the airman wanted to avoid this meeting with the Russian's, but he better have a damned good reason for doing so.
Jack knew that vague wouldn't cut it this time, so he clarified, "Sir, I need to take . . ." With a deep intake of oxygen for strength, he continued, ". . . my cat to the vet." He winced while waiting expectantly for his CO's response.
George was a little stunned. He had always pictured Jack as a dog person. He blurted out slowly with his Texas twang, "I didn't know you had a cat, Jack."
"Yeah! I, uh, picked up a stray." O'Neill adjusted his collar in discomfort. " . . . a while ago."
Hammond had to clench his jaw to keep the smile from taking over his face. His family had a long history with felines. Knowing cats, it was more likely that the stray had picked up the airman rather than the other way around. Knowing that any further conversation on the topic would only increase the airman's discomfort, the general decided to move it along. "You've certainly earned some time off, Colonel. Why don't you take the rest of the week off? I'm sure I can get Reynolds to meet with Zukhov."
"Thank you sir. Uhm. I just wanted you to know that I'm not doing this to get out of the meeting sir. I really do have . . . a cat." The last word came out as a sigh – almost as if the seasoned Colonel had just recently come to this awful conclusion.
"I believe you, son. I don't think you'd make something like this up."
Jack's only response was a half grimace and half smile, but it didn't reach his eyes.
Hammond stood up to signal the end of the meeting. "Good luck Colonel. Oh! And get Harriman in here on your way out."
"Yes sir." Jack paused outside the door. Accomplishing this major hurdle did nothing to alleviate his apprehension. If anything, it increased.
Jack slowly pulled his truck into a parking spot and shut off the engine. He sat for a long time in thought. A sound in the cage behind him startled him out of his revelry. Looking back, he saw Oscar lying on his side systematically washing and chewing his front paws. Wide, green eyes glanced up trustingly before they slowly blinked. Wetting one of his paws with his mouth, he rubbed the side of his face clean from ear to nose. The loud, trilling pulse of a contented purr filled the cab.
The sound of the purr drove a spike of guilt through the airman. It didn't help that he already felt an uneasy sense of betrayal. Jack turned to look at the front door of the veterinarian's office. Some primal, unspoken, male code dictated that one male did not betray another's manhood. He had started to talk this over with Teal'c, but realized that his decision was already made. He just wanted approval from another man for the choice. Jack continued to sit. He needed another minute to think this through.
Oscar wondered what they were doing here, but the moving glass house was warm, and he trusted the human. The carrier was strange, but he didn't sense any danger from it. The cat had been used to hardship most of his life, but he could get used to luxury. He wondered if he would be carried around in the royal sedan chair all the time. He fixed his trusting gaze on his companion and wondered again at how lucky he was to have such a friend.
Jack pointedly ignored the trusting look and heaved himself up before he lost his nerve. "Come on Oscar. The sooner we get in . . . /gulp/ . . . the sooner it'll be over."
"You're doing the right thing Jack." The former military veterinarian had his arm on Jack's shoulder as he ushered him out of the back room. "Your options are to keep Oscar indoors or continue to allow him freedom without the danger of fathering more unwanted kittens. It's much more humane to have this surgery than it is to put down more animals. A cat that has been a stray for as long as Oscar would hate to be caged in." Both men shared a knowing look.
Jack was relieved to have the opinion of the veterinarian – he was a former military man that Jack respected. As he walked out the door, Jack was startled to see Bruno. They guiltily avoided eye contact and both men moved on. Jack only hoped that Oscar would recover and that his personality would remain the same.
Author's Note: My beloved kitty of 17 years passed away at the end of September. Though these last two chapters were already written months ago, I didn't have the heart to review them until this weekend. We are moving on and expecting new kitties to grace us soon. The neighborhood cats have been auditioning outside the patio door for the past month. They are such creatures of opportunity. (smile)