Reality Bites

Author: Neiths-Arrow

Pairing: None

Rating: T

Genre: angst, episode tag

Spoilers: First two seasons

Warnings: kinda dark; may be disturbing

Synopsis: Just another day at the office for our Colonel

AN: Written for Jack Alpha-Bits on LJ. Thank yous to Diane for dusting off her beta cobwebs - any remaining errors are mine. Did I mention that I don't own Stargate? I'm also not profiting from this story in any financial way.

0/0/0/0/0

Colonel Jack O'Neill was surprised by how quickly the hallucinations started. He kept his eyes pointed forward and avoided looking at anything too closely. It was creepy enough through the corner of his eye.

He thought he had prepared himself for the experience, but when he saw Hathor standing behind Sam Carter, he slid slowly to the floor. The visual detail wasn't a surprise, but he hadn't expected his other senses to join in quite so willingly. As she advanced on him, the ribbon device attached to her hand clinked slightly, and he thought he caught a whiff of her perfume. In an effort to minimize reaction, Jack curled himself into a ball, but couldn't help the involuntary response as he tried to kick her approaching Jaffa out of the way. He managed to slow the kick down until it was an ineffectually slow movement in space. He repeated to himself, 'This isn't real. This isn't real.'

Doctor Fraiser sat helplessly on the floor in front of him as a Goa'uld symbiote slithered toward her. On the wall beyond, a giant winged bug waited patiently for a victim in which to deposit its DNA. Jack had to force himself not to react to any of it. He wanted desperately to grab the snake and choke the life from its slimy body. But for all he knew, he might be strangling a member of the SGC. He vowed that he would not react – no matter what he perceived to be real. He looked up briefly at the people sitting in the observation deck. Completely ignoring the Asgard visitors in the background, he looked into the eyes of Daniel. An understanding passed between them – from Jack an apology, and from Daniel reassurance that all would be well.

Jack understood that Carter was unaffected by the hallucinations. He would hold onto that piece of knowledge and trust that she would get their collective asses through yet another disaster. His own judgment was suspect due to the onslaught of disturbing sensations and paranoia. If only he could keep his thoughts clear. But they were clear enough to know that he would have to sit this one out. He caught a quick flash of Reetou in the observation room above his head, but he chose not to shout out a warning. The effort to hold back his reflexes took a massive amount of energy and he found himself sweating profusely. His respect for Daniel grew; his friend had held off madness for much longer than Jack thought he could do on his own - especially since Jack didn't have as far to go to get there.

Jack clenched his teeth in restraint as the bitch queen proclaimed his 2IC as the future recipient of a newly matured symbiote. The oblivious major babbled about her immunity while a flashy snake with red, beady eyes entered her neck. Her eyes glowed briefly and her voice deepened, but she didn't miss a beat, that Carter. Oh no! She was going to get her point across.

Hathor grabbed Jack's attention as she leaned down to run her gold-covered hand in a cold, metallic caress down the side of his face. Oh yeah! Good old sense of touch was joining the party. Sense of smell had been an early arrival. Her breath still smelled like she hadn't eaten in ... well ... centuries. He tried not to look into her eyes, but they drew him in. He remembered his helplessness while strapped to the Cryo chamber table. 'Don't go there, O'Neill. This can't be happening. Remember, you pushed that slimy, slithery slut into a deep freeze - literally. She. Is. Dead. This isn't real.' He pounded his leg in time to the mantra as if to hammer it into his body.

Hathor's voice had a deep, resonating tone as she grabbed his face and smiled evilly. "Colonel O'Neill. This time . . . you will not escape us. After the blending is complete, you will pledge your loyalty . . . to us." Her eyes sparkled in delight at the thought. "Then you will watch your friends die, through your own eyes . . . and by your own hand." She reached into the X on the Jaffa's belly and grasped a flashy, writhing symbiote from within. The snake wrapped itself in an obscene caress around her arm as she moved it closer. Jack's breathing quickened. He closed his eyes to minimize the impact, but the images continued. At this point, he didn't know what was hallucination and what was memory. He could clearly see the beady eyes and the open red maw surrounded by razor sharp teeth. He felt the slimy snake as it slithered across his chest. He could almost taste the blood as the tactile hallucinations triggered his memory of being taken. Like before, there was nothing Jack could do. He was helplessly immobilized by the fact that there was nothing there to fight.

Hathor firmly grasped his face to turn his head so that his neck was exposed. He shuddered as he kept his head rigid and tried to stay in reality. He couldn't stop the protective reaction as he covered the back of his head with his hand. It was an ineffectual attempt to stop the memory of his implantation. Jack swallowed down a scream of defiance, rage and white-hot pain as the snake forced its way into his neck. He would not go down without a fight. He would protect his team and his free will with every cell and every thought.

Jack had never told anyone that the worst experience was what followed the initial invasion. Something foreign trying to invade your body was nothing compared to the incursion of evil taking place inside ones own skin. Jack was immobilized with terror while the symbiote forcefully cleaved through the soft tissue in his back and neck. He could actually hear the damage as razor-sharp tendrils infiltrated the connective tissue under his skin to travel up his neck on the way to his skull. The sound completely obliterated any other sensation and triggered an urge to heave. 'It's not real. It. Is. Not. Real.' Jack banged his fist against his leg to accent each word in the hopes that it would penetrate the delusions that were pushing out reason.

Dr. Fraiser screamed in terror as Sam advanced. "No! You're a Goa'uld! Stay away!"

"I'm not a Goa'uld, Janet. It's me- Sam. I'm your friend."

The exchange helped the Colonel refocus, but the internal sensations quickly overwhelmed him again. Jack covered his head and rolled over so that his back was facing all the other occupants of the room. It would take everything he had to fight the onslaught of hallucinations and memories, and the last thing he wanted was to be observed while he slowly went bonkers.

As the fake symbiote entered his head, the whispers began. "O'Neill."

Jack's chest tightened as he fought the adrenaline that quickened his breathing. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly. 'This is not real.'

The whisper was louder now. "O'Neill. Where are you?"

While Carter and Dr. Warner talked about separating blood plasma, Jack's hold on reality slipped away. Like before, he felt like he was hiding in a multi room house. The symbiote searched each room and slammed the doors closed in an attempt to corner Jack in his own mind. It was only a matter of time before the snake opened the correct door. Jack curled into a smaller, tighter ball on the floor. In a full flashback now, he relived the awful tickling conversations that took place in his mind when the symbiote attempted to take control. It was no comfort to the man that his consciousness was no longer aware Machello-induced hallucinations - any more than it was aware of reality. All that was left was unpleasant memory.

"O'Neill, it is only a matter of time before you lose this battle. You will submit to me."

Jack felt his stomach clench in fear as he lost ground inch by inch in this impossible battle for control.

The voice taunted, "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

He flinched as he relived the Tok'ra's advice to fight it. How the hell was he supposed to fight something he couldn't see – something that was inside his own body? At that moment, he felt an awareness that was not his invade his thoughts. This was it. This was showtime. Jack tensed in preparation for a battle he didn't know how to fight. As he pondered his next action, the symbiote began raping his mind. As soon as it tried to infiltrate his thoughts, Jack jumped to another experience - another mood - another memory. The symbiote's consciousness followed closely behind. At first, the snake was left behind, but it started to gain momentum and mirrored his thoughts. Jack increased the randomness and managed to outrun capture, but he was tiring. 'Damned quick freeze, hurry the hell up!' His stomach hurt from the depths of his breathing.

In the distance a firm touch on his shoulder pulled him back to reality. He followed the motion as his body was turned over since it was definitely better than where he had been. As he rolled onto his back, Jack saw Sam Carter hover over him. Her face was normal, but her body had grown an extra head and the hard crusty shell of a Reetou. Even though she was a sight for sore eyes, he couldn't help his exclamation, "You look terrible!"

"Thank you Sir. I need to give you a shot. Will you let me do that?"

Her voice sounded normal enough. In her hand, she held a syringe, but the bug now hovering over him looked like it was much more prepared to puncture a hole in his skin. Its iridescent wings moved so fast they were almost invisible. He could feel the air movement as its stick-like appendage hovered over his shoulder. The sharp point dripped blood and gore. Jack let out a small whimper of resignation as he nodded his assent to Carter - he had vowed to trust her through this. He grimaced at the irony - he was a victim of his own imagination. It took everything he had not to pull away or attack as the alien appendage sank into his shoulder with a sharp pinch. He kept his mouth closed to avoid screaming in disgust and fear.

Carter moved away, but left both the Reetou and the giant bug behind. He thought, 'Hey Carter, why don't you take your friends with you? Especially since you can't see them.' The Reetou was the first to leave. It faded away as if someone moved the TER in another direction. Jack's facial muscles loosened in hope that the ordeal would be over soon. The bug faded away to be replaced by a bland view of ceiling tiles. Machello's voice came out of nowhere, "You have been released from your Goa'uld captor." Jack flinched at a sharp jab in one ear and an experience similar to a gush of warm water released after swimming. It took a moment for him to register that the three pools of snot were the things that had caused the insanity. Jack moved back quickly lest the buggers decided to jump back into his head.

Jack surreptitiously looked around the room to make sure all of his visitors were gone. His shoulders noticeably relaxed when he saw a frazzled Frasier and a cool Carter as his only roommates. He breathed a heavy, "Whoa!"

0/0/0/0/0

Major Carter completed her part of the briefing with General Hammond and allowed Janet to explain the medical aspects of the events. Everyone was now calm, but it had been dicey for a while. She didn't think she would ever forget the unfamiliar expressions she had witnessed on both the Colonel's and Janet's faces as she leaned over to inject them. She shuddered to think what would make such unflappable officers display that level of emotion. The only time she had seen the Colonel so shaken was . . . was after he had been released from the cryogenic chamber. 'Oh God! He probably relived that experience.' She shot a quick look toward his down-turned head. Sam knew him well enough to know that he would never tell them what he saw. Besides, she was too smart to risk his reaction if she dared to ask.

"Is there anything else?" General Hammond's slow Texas twang interrupted her thoughts.

Daniel blurted out, "Yes! I'd like to know what you both saw?" He divided his attention between Janet and Jack.

Sam's eyes widened in shock and expectation. Leave it to Daniel to dare ask what everyone else was afraid to ask. She would thank him later.

As he had throughout the debriefing, Teal'c sat with an expression of bored indifference.

For his part, Jack didn't want his personal demons to see the light of day. He also didn't want any more sessions with MacKenzie. He'd had enough after the Hathor incident and had barely squeaked through the mental fitness examination without some forced leave time. The last thing he needed was more time to think after that experience. Work helped him to forget . . . most of the time. His wry grimace was interpreted as surliness by the others in the room.

Dr. Fraiser quieted a sense of panic at the question. Though her experiences at the SGC were bizarre, frightful, and sometimes horrific, her box of memories held many other horrible experiences - experiences that had helped her to earn her assignment to the SGC. No, she didn't want these horrors to see the light of day.

O'Neill caught Doc Fraiser's eye. He hadn't missed the flare of panic that had flashed through her eyes after Daniel's question. With the one quick look they sealed a pact. Neither would reveal their personal hells for public viewing. Without looking towards Curious Daniel, Jack responded, "Nothing new to write home about. Same old, same old." He then looked to his CO for dismissal. As far as he was concerned, the event was over. But at the same time, he wondered what had gotten Dr. Fraiser's panties in such a wad. He hadn't been so out of it that he missed her reaction to what she saw. Maybe later, over a Guinness or two, they could swap stories in private. Maybe.

The End