Author's notes: I am grateful to CeeKay Sheppard for editing this story.
Acts have power. Especially when the warrior acting knows
that those acts are his last battle.
But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat.
He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.
"With all due respect, sir, if General O'Neill finds out about this, you're toast," Lieutenant Ford mused, staring through the bars of the cage.
"I didn't think of the General at that moment," said Major Sheppard, looking annoyed. "Besides, they do have something in common."
"Efficiency in disposal of those who doesn't amuse them?"
From the height of the control room General Jack O'Neill observed the regular Atlantis supply convoy, disappearing in an orderly fashion beyond the gleaming surface of the activated Stargate.
"Isn't she adorable?" The guest of Stargate Command - the Japanese ambassador, an elfin lady in a gorgeous national outfit - handed her downy white cat to the general.
"Yes." Jack smiled uneasily, and accepted the animal with a clear 'I'd rather do something else' expression on his face.
He thought that fluffy ball must once have landed on its face, and saw white cat's hair all over the sleeve of his uniform. The cat gave the general a contemptuous look, twisted out of his hand, and landed on the floor with the soft thud. Jack crouched to pick up the animal, but it turned around and, holding its tail high, darted out of the room.
"She is going to get lost! She is so fragile!" cried the Japanese lady.
"Sorry. Nothing to worry about – it's confined..." said Jack reassuringly. Looking down, he saw the small fluffy ball far below, proceeding with considerable speed toward the activated Stargate. "Somebody, catch the damned cat!" he yelled, running out of the room. He knew perfectly well that they could not afford to reopen the gate to Atlantis until the next week.
Convoy officers looked around in confusion as the cat dashed among them and disappeared beyond the gleaming surface, following the last container of supplies.
"Holy crap!" Jack roared and ran after the animal through the gate, the shiny surface dissolving behind his back.
Jack picked himself up from the floor and looked back with displeasure. The Gate shut down almost immediately. Until the next week. Oh, well... he could still make sure this week was well spent.
"Did you see... a cat?" he asked Dr. Weir, who gazed at him in disbelief.
"Little fluffy thing, bushy tail, yellow eyes?"
"And may I ask, what kind of imbecile brought a cat here?" Dr. Rodney McKay inquired irritably, walking into the Stargate hall.
So far, all attempts to catch the damned animal were in vain - it darted down corridors, avoided hands, and placed a few painful marks upon various body parts of the potential captors.
"General O'Neill, I don't think your cat is... recoverable anymore..." The uncertain voice of Lieutenant Ford on the radio made Jack grimace.
"That's an interesting way to put it," he responded sarcastically. "What do you mean?"
"Sir, it ran into the cage..."
"The cage, sir. The occupied one..."
Jack observed the scene, trying not to think about the international embarrassment, which awaited him in a week's time.
"Sir, it just ran through the force field. And it works in only one direction - it keeps stuff in…" Ford uttered apologetically.
Out of the two occupants of the cage, the cat seemed to feel much more at ease. The Wraith was crouching in the far corner of the cage, both of his deadly hands pressed to the floor. The cat sniffed the air, sniffed the floor, made couple of soft steps towards the prisoner, and sniffed the floor again. The Wraith was following the animal progress intently. The cat made few more gentle steps. The Wraith reached with his long slim arm, claws outstretched. The cat came close, sniffed at the very end of the Wraith's index finger talon, and brushed her little face against it, purring softly.
"Damned thing almost took my eye out, and now look at it!" complained Ford in amazement.
The Wraith retrieved his hand, frowned and drew himself up to his full height. The cat came closer. The prisoner stepped back and hissed. He was cornered and clearly uncertain about the situation.
"What is the meaning of this?" he asked irritably in his hoarse voice.
The cat came close and started to brush her side against the Wraith's leather-like overcoat, still purring.
"It's a cat," explained Jack, surprised that the ill-fated animal was still alive. "You know... Cat. You stroke it, it purrs. It's... comforting... Oh, you wouldn't understand, anyway."
The Wraith bent down and scooped up the animal in one flowing motion, bringing it close to his face. O'Neill winced and looked away.
"Yes..." whispered Ford expectantly, Sheppard grimaced.
Much to their surprise, the cat did not strike. She moved gently, balanced herself, and walked along the prisoner's long forearm, aiming for the shoulder. She jumped up with a quiet rustle of little claws against the leather, pushed herself under the Wraith's silky hair, around the back of his neck, emerged on the other shoulder, and walked down along the other arm. The Wraith absentmindedly turned his hand palm up to support her progress. The cat stepped forward, her velvety paws right upon the deadly slit on the prisoners palm.
"This feeling is the most peculiar," noted the Wraith, his head cocked to one side.
"And now can I have my cat back?" demanded O'Neill. "You, what's your name..."
"Major Sheppard calls me Jack." The Wraith smiled wickedly.
"Does he indeed?" The general raised his eyebrows.
"Sir, I swear, I didn't mean any offence..." John Sheppard looked utterly embarrassed, his ears glowing red. "I didn't think of you then... I just... I'm sorry..."
"Oh, well... Can't be undone." O'Neill shrugged. "After all, it's a nice name. I like it. And how about this cat..."
"No," rasped the Wraith.
"Boys, I need the damned thing back," declared O'Neill.
"No problem," replied Ford. "We'll stun him, that's all."
"I will destroy this animal before you do so," growled the prisoner, baring his pointed teeth in an evil smile.
"Than I will stun you anyway and nail you to the wall like a scarecrow," said O'Neill. "With the large nails. It's your call."
The prisoner snorted, the cat is sitting calmly in his folded hands.
"Wait," rasped the Wraith.
He was standing at the back of his cage, the cat is still in his hands. He looked at the people blocking the open cage door, at the stunner in Ford's hands, but didn't make any attempt to move.
"This weapon was designed to knock out a human..."
"You are much heavier. The little one will die."
To everybody's surprise, he crouched and placed the animal on the floor.
"Go." A long finger nudged the cat in the ribs. She did not move.
"I said, go." A stronger nudge, velvety paws slid on the bare cell floor. The cat dug her claws in and held her ground.
"Very well, little one..." The Wraith scooped her up and turned his back on his captors. "Take her. I will not resist." He moved his hand full of cat behind his back, towards the people, carefully looking away.
"Right," said O'Neill, stepping forward.
"Careful, sir!" exclaimed Sheppard.
At that very moment, the cat struck. With low growl she dug all her teeth and claws into the hand of the unsuspecting Wraith. He yelped (more in surprise than in pain) and dropped the animal on the floor. The cat gave everybody a disapproving look and retired to a distant corner of the cage.
"Your behavior is most unwise, little one," noted the Wraith seriously, licking his palm. "They will kill us both."
"That does it." O'Neill stepped out of the cage. "Put the field back on. Let them both rot. And by the way, Jack, aren't you supposed to kill everything that moves?"
"Her life-force will not sustain me. She poses no threat. And I do not kill for pleasure," replied Jack the Wraith calmly.
"That does it!" O'Neill stormed out of the room.
Despite Sheppard's confident prognosis (namely "the little demon will get hungry, and nothing will keep her away from the kitchen") cat managed to stay free the entire next day. And the next one. And the next…
Sometimes she announced her desire to leave the Wraith's cage with quiet meowing, and the guards could not find the heart to refuse her the freedom. Amazingly, she could see the protective field (at least, she never slammed at it from inside). She avoided people, disappeared into unknown depths of the city, and every time came back running, covered in something that looked like cobwebs. The guards didn't try to catch her anymore; even the general had apparently given up on that.
On the fourth day, Jack O'Neill walked into the cell. The Wraith prisoner was lying flat on his back, his overcoat unfastened, the cat as a small fluffy heap curled up on his bare stomach.
"Hello, General." He greeted the visitor with an almost genuine smile, without changing his position. Then he added, in reply to the unspoken question, "It is too cold for her on the floor. And little one is easing my hunger - her life-force is very comforting, even if it is of no use to me." The Wraith pondered over the last statement for a moment and concluded, "I am glad that it is so. "
"Me too," said Jack O'Neill. "In couple of days I'll have to go, and I need to take Fluff Ball with me."
"It is against her wish," noted the Wraith flatly.
"It's a cat, for crying out loud! She can't talk. How do you know what her wish is?"
"She can talk. And it is not her fault you would not listen."
The cat opened her yellowish, Wraith-like eyes, and Jack was amazed to realize how similar both creatures were: white-haired, short-nosed, sharp-toothed, claw-armored opportunists.
Is it really the cat's fault if she is forced to kill her prey? thought Jack and mentally groaned, Next thing you know I'll have an excuse for the other one too…
"This is not my cat," he began again. "This cat belongs to another person. And that other person would like to have it back."
"One living creature cannot belong to another, but by the power of mutual sympathy."
"I am not going to be lectured on the virtues of mutual sympathy by a Wraith!"
"As you wish." The prisoner was looking at the ceiling. "The little one had no freedom there. It was… like living in the cage. I can sympathize with that…"
The cat lowered her head, purring softly, nosed the Wraith's bare chest, and licked it with its small rough tongue.
Jack O'Neill stumbled into the cat by the sheer luck. She was hunting. Head down, downy butt up, slight balancing motion before the jump. In a split second she leaped into the air and landed claws first upon her pray – an enormous tarantula-like creature. In a blink of an eye, the body of the spider disappeared in her mouth, segmented legs dancing in agony around her face.
"Somebody is getting careless," said Jack quietly.
The cat looked at him, wild-eyed, and backed off. He advanced.
They were on a balcony very high above the raging ocean. The stubborn little beast had nowhere to go. The end.
General O'Neill was surprised at the feeling of triumph that stole through his body. Perhaps he would feel the same way, if, after the long hunt, he could corner the Wraith... capture it alive, chain it, toss it in an indestructible cage. Sweet, shameful satisfaction, to see the flash of despair in the wild eyes of a trapped predator.
"Come to papa," said Jack, and advanced a little more.
In a crazy leap, the cat landed on the metal rail surrounding the balcony, slid, and with feline grace regained her balance. Jack advanced. The cat inched back along the rail, until her hind paws trembled on the very edge.
"No way to go, ah, little traitor?" Jack triumphantly reached with his hand.
For many years General Jack O'Neill felt agonizing embarrassment thinking about this moment. And rage for feeling guilty. And countless times he tried to convince himself that it was just a wind gust, a stupid accident. And he couldn't forget what he saw...
The small white cat, mouth still full of spider, retracted her little claws. As if in a dream, Jack saw in slow motion her weightless body pushed by the wind, her velvet paws sliding on the bare metal, over the edge, falling, falling, falling, a tiny ball of white fluff, a lonely snowflake disappearing among dark waves far below. And he heard the distant, desperate and unbearably sorrowful cry of the caged Wraith.