Brigadier General Jack O'Neill stared disbelievingly at Sergeant Siler as he used a fire-extinguisher as a weapon against Dr. Lee's „little" plant. How could this week possibly get worse?
The recent days had been horrible. The impending presidential visit had sent the whole base into a frenzy as they tried to make sure all protocols were in place. Then he had to contend with the two stubborn asses from Amra who really got on his nerves. Meanwhile the quickly growing plant that certainly had been dubbed „Audrey" by Dr. Bill „Seymour" Lee was invading all of the SGC.
The final straw was being told two hours ago that SG-1 was missing. On their first mission without him. He didn't know whether he would have been able to prevent whatever had befallen them if he had been with them, but at least he would have been with them! Damn!
Two days ago he had started to write a letter to General Hammond. He wasn't sure if he would ever really mail it, but if felt good to talk about things. There was no one else with whom he could – or would – have talked. And his team was – ah, crap.
He only listened half-heartedly to Dr. Lee's rambling while starting to think about possible scenarios. But all of them had the same end: SG-1 was gone, without a trace, disappeared, vanished, out of sight. Nada, zero, zilch.
Suddenly the klaxon blared and announced the return of SG-3, SG-10 and SG-12. Jack left Dr. Lee and his plant to their own devices and went to the gate-room. Colonel Reynolds came out of the door and reported immediately.
"You were there to watch their backs!" Jack tried to stay calm. Yelling would serve no purpose at this point.
"Yes, sir. Colonel Carter insisted we secure the Gate."
As Jack started to answer Walter's voice announced over the intercom, "Unauthorized incoming wormhole."
Jack sighed and walked to the ramp. The ear-deafening alarm tortured his already pounding head. But nothing happened until he turned to give Walter a questioning look. Jack felt the hairs on his neck stand up and at that moment he knew exactly who would be standing there.
Someone he never wanted to see again. Just when he thought things couldn't get worse…
He turned to see the shimmering hologram beginning to take form.
Jack's hands turned cold and he struggled against the urge to just run out of the room. But that wasn't an option and so he turned to the defense that always served him well: sarcasm.
"Stand down, boys," he called out to the marines who had their weapons ready. Then he turned to Ba'al, "And what do you want?"
"I have your friends."
„And?" Jack motioned to him keep going.
"I propose an exchange."
"Not what – whom."
"I'll transmit a Gate address. You will send him to me if you want to see your friends alive again."
"Let me think about it."
"You have one day."
"Is that, like, one Earth day, or..." Before Jack could enumerate any other days, the hologram vanished as quickly as it had come.
Jack sat in the lockerroom and tried to compose himself. He stared at his trembling hands. The conversation with Ba'al had sapped his strength. The holograph had seemed so real that he had had the crazy urge to attack it.
He had hoped never to see this face again. And now after he had, all the memories he had buried away came back. Not wanting to give in to them he had fought his way through the talk and tried to irritate and annoy Ba'al.
No one seemed to have noticed anything though. Jack's voice hadn't faltered at all. But after Ba'al had vanished he had to use all of his self-control not to turn tail and run out of the room.
And now he sat here and didn't even know how he had gotten here. Automatically he had sought refuge here which was illogical since at any moment someone could come through the door. But this would be the last place they would look for him.
He still changed here although being a general he no longer needed to. But he needed the feeling of still being a part of the team. Even if he was lying to himself. In this room many discussions had taken place, both silly and serious ones. Jack almost was glad that his team wasn't here at the moment. They would've known that something was wrong. Of course they wouldn't have said anything since they knew that he never discussed such things. Not voluntarily with them and certainly not willingly with anyone. It was enough that he had had to endure McKenzie's intrusions to be declared fit for duty again.
So they would not ask but their expressions were clear. Carter and Daniel would have concerned faces and then exchange helpless looks with each other. And even Teal'c, who understood the warrior mentality, would look thoughtful. And Jack would ignore all of their looks and talk about anything else instead. Till finally someone – usually Daniel – cornered him and Jack either got mad or didn't say anything more at all.
He knew they meant well, that they only wanted to help. But he just couldn't do it. Couldn't and didn't want to. The memories hurt too much to let them come in the open again. Still he appreciated that they never gave up. They always tried again.
The only one with whom he hadn't felt the need to pretend with at all had been Fraiser. He hadn't talked much to her either but since she was his physician she knew things about him that no one else knew with the possible exception of Hammond. And she always had been there for him at the right moment and had a cool hand and a soothing word when he had awakened from still another nightmare in the infirmary.
Under her care he had felt safe and had seen no need to maintain the façade of the always cool colonel. He had thanked her without words, because he wasn't able to find any. She had understood him nonetheless. Instinctively she had known when it was better to stay imperative that he remain on base and when she could let him go back to the quiet of his own house. She had trusted in his ability to heal himself.
But if she thought it was necessary, she would appeal to his conscience. There were few people he accepted a severe lecture from, but she had been one of them. Besides that he missed their bantering. She never had been taken aback by his sometimes flippant attitude but had countered with humor instead. He doubted that he ever would have that kind of relationship with the new doctor.
Jack sighed, then stood slowly. He couldn't hide in here forever. Responsibility called and SG-1 still was missing.
Jack pressed himself against the wall, his breath coming in gasps. He had been on his way to Camulus but had come back to his office for something he had forgotten. He came just in time to hear Colonel Reynolds say to Gilmor, "He was tortured, killed, and brought back to life using a sarcophagus more times than you would care to imagine. SG-1 never gave up then, and General O'Neill won't now. There isn't a man or woman on this base that would."
Then the two of them had left his office, luckily proceeding in the other direction. He had remained in the shadows, well out of sight. Thank you very much, Reynolds, for reminding me! I almost had forgotten about it!
It took a while till his breathing became normal again so that he finally could go to meet with Camulus. Reynolds had stated the facts in military way without revealing any detail but Jack saw it all again in technicolor. Would it ever be over?
It happened almost two years ago now and he had thought that he had finally left it behind. But Ba'al's appearance had brought it all back. And maybe now Carter, Daniel or Teal'c were suffering the same fate. Caught by Ba'al, tortured, killed and brought back to life again. Again and again. And he be damned if he would sit idly by and do nothing.
Jack shook his head to shake off his thoughts and opened the door to the room where Camulus was held. He would do all what was necessary to see his team come through the gate again.
O'Neill felt how he was shooked by someone. "What? Oh, God," he suddenly rose and wiped a hand over his tired eyes.
"Sorry to wake you, sir." Gilmor.
Jack tried to see his clock in the dim light. "Feels like it's been ten minutes."
"Yeah, it has. There's an incoming wormhole – Ba'al wants to talk."
Jack sighed. Did the bastard never give up?
Gilmor came with him. The way to the gate-room seemed unreal in the green emergency lightning. Dr Lee's plant had invaded the main power supply. But Ba'al seemed unaffected. He did look a little impatient standing there, though.
"Ba'al – sorry to keep you waiting. Just took a little nap."
"The deadline has passed."
"Yeah, look, we're having a little technical difficulty here."
"Are your friends' lives meaningless to you?" The goa'uld sounded astonished. Obviously he hadn't expected this reaction.
"Hey! This is not a stall tactic. I would have called you sooner but we can't dial out at the moment."
"Well, I'm not really sure. Here's some irony for you: Carter – would have this thing fixed like that." Jack clicked his fingers once, then turned and called out to the Control Room, "No offense there, Siler."
"Uh, none taken, sir," came the answer over the speaker.
"Good. - So, why don't you just send her on through. Before you know it you'll have old Camel-ass back in your grubby little mitts."
"You dare mock me." Ba'al seemed to be in rage. Jack had been able to wipe the smile off his face finally.
"Ba'al, c'mon, you should know ... Of course I dare mock you," he added for good measure.
"You have one more day." With these words Ba'al vanished, and Gilmor asked, "Is it really wise to provoke him?"
Jack looked at him for a long time. "It's what I do," he finally said. Then he wearily went away.
Tired and exhausted Jack came back to his quarters. He doubted that he would be able to sleep after this encounter but wasn't able to do anything else to distract himself either. For two days he hadn't slept now and if Doc Fraiser still had been around, she surely would have chained him to one of her beds by now. She wouldn't have been intimidated by General O'Neill any more than by Colonel O'Neill. But Dr. Brightman seemed not to know how to handle him yet. He hadn't exchanged more than a few words with her up to this point.
Jack lay down on the bed fully clothed and stared into the darkness. He was afraid to close his eyes, he feared the things that waited there for him. He could've gone to the infirmary and ask for something to help him sleep but that only would have precipitated more questions.
So he tried to find rest by pure will-power. Finally he could not prevent it any further and closed his eyes, exhausted.
Jack dreamed, but it all seemed so real. He only had vague recollections about Daniel showing him a way to escape. But it had to be a dream. He was here, wasn't he? Could the vividness of it be due to his trips to the sarcophagus? Who could know all the possible side-effects from those damnable things?
Jack was back in his cell where the floor could become the wall and vice versa. He was back and he did not know what was worse: being in Ba'al's torture-chamber and everything he did to him there or waking up in this cell and waiting for the next round. And they let him wait, oh yeah. They gave him plenty of time to think. He had told Daniel that he was at the end of his rope. And he had been serious about that. He couldn't take any more of this.
He had stopped counting how often he had died. It didn't matter any longer. With every death another part of him died too. Daniel had tried to help but he couldn't or didn't want to help in the way Jack demanded and so they went round and round. And then there was the endless circle of torture, dying, awakening and torture. And Jack knew that endless really could mean endless here.
It wasn't the pain that wore him out. He had had enough of that in his life, he could handle it, to a certain degree. But in all the botched missions before (and Iraq had been the worst of them) he had known one thing for sure: His enemies would try to break him by every possible means. But as long as they wanted something from him, information or other things, he could be sure they would not do anything permanent.
There had been a few times when he had yearned for death but his captors stopped short of finishing the job. Still if he had really wanted to, he would have found a way to end it all. His Irish pigheadedness had always prevailed and prevented him from acting. But Ba'al had taken that decision making ability away from him too. It didn't matter what Jack wanted, and that was Ba'al's point. A short sojourn in the sarcophagus and voilà, ready for the next round of torture and dying.
This was the experience Jack would not wish on anyone: To see a knife flying towards you, to follow its path and to feel the hit right into the heart and having Ba'al's malicious smile as a last memory.
And to know that in a few hours all of this would start again. It felt a little like the days in the time-loop but at least he had had more fun back then. He had no strength left at all. It could take weeks, even months till his team found him here. If ever. No one knew where he was, even he had no idea what planet he was on. He blamed Kanan. The Tok'ra snake had abducted him. Kanan had to have known that it would be a suicide mission and still he had gone ahead with it, dragging Jack into it as well.
Jack still lay at the bottom just where they had dropped him. Then he heard the noise of the opening door. He rose reluctantly and leaned against the wall. Since his first unwitting encounter with the wall, he had learned to deal with the disorientation of literally getting the rug pulled out from underneath his feet.
He shook his head to clear it when he was grabbed by the two wannabe-bodybuilders. They were a whole head taller than him. Jack wasn't exactly small, and he was used to being taller than most people. He especially liked towering over men like Kinsey and Maybourne. But here, he felt small and helpless. Resistance was useless; they would simply drag him through the corridors. So he tried to keep step with them.
Soon they were there, much too soon, and again he was stuck in an uncomfortable position on this damn magnetic wall. If Carter had been here she surely would've told him that the wall wasn't exactly magnetic but instead it was a matter of gravity but he didn't care right now. Magnetism worked for him.
With a little effort, he was able to turn around and look Ba'al full in the face. If it was the last he did, he would look into his tormentor's face. He owed himself that much. Till the end of his days. But somehow Jack doubted that the end would come anytime soon.
But amazing enough Ba'al didn't look at him, but to the door as if he waited for someone. Jack followed his gaze. When the door opened he groaned inwardly. They brought in a woman. The woman that was Ba'al's slave and also Kanan's lover as Jack well knew. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. Her terrified eyes held Jack's for a moment before she forced them back to Ba'al.
He smiled (did he always wear that smug, ingratiating smile?) and nodded to his servants. At the next moment Shalan was stuck to an identical wall as Jack, opposite him. Jack felt a knot in his stomach. He took a deep breath but didn't say anything. He just looked at Ba'al.
Ba'al enjoyed the moment a little longer till he finally said, „Since you weren't exactly co-operative I want to try a new tactic!"
Jack had to watch helplessly as he then took out the bottles with the acid. Ba'al took one and levelled it onto Shalan. The drop hit her right in the chest and her scream resounded in Jack's ears for a long time. He closed his eyes for a moment. Had it sounded like this when he had experienced this burning feeling for himself? When he opened his eyes again Ba'al had turned towards him.
"I know everything. I know, why Kanan came back. And now she will suffer for it."
He continued to burn holes into Shalan's skin while laughing grotesquely. Finally she only whimpered and Jack's mind raced. How had Ba'al heard about this? He had never said anything. Suddenly he went cold: Daniel. He had told Daniel about it in a weak moment.
Ba'al, the son-of-a-bitch, must have hidden microphones in his cell. Jack cursed inwardly his carelessness but it was too late now. He had made a mistake and someone else had to suffer for it. Jack had fallen for the oldest trick of the world and he hated himself for it. He had endured all of the torture sessions without uttering a single word and then Daniel stood before him and looked at him with blue eyes and Jack spilled his guts. Well done. His instinct to mistrust all had failed him.
He couldn't even be sure now if the whole Daniel-thing only was an illusion, maybe arranged by Ba'al to find out the one thing he never wanted to reveal. But it had felt so real. Jack really had believed his old friend had returned to stand by him. Could anyone else besides Daniel have had the conversation with him? He did no longer know what to believe.
The wall that held him suddenly turned and he fell into the deep, he fell and fell…
… and awakened with a scream.
He sat bolt upright in the bed, heavily breathing and stared into the darkness without seeing anything. For a brief moment he thought he was blind. Why was it so dark? It never had been dark in the sarcophagus. His heart hammered in his chest and cold sweat covered his body.
It took a while till he knew where he was. The red light on the wall that indicated the location of the alarm-button told him. He forced himself to take deep slowly breaths and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He was glad that the walls deep down here were made of concrete. Obviously he hadn't alarmed anyone. He didn't want to see anyone right now.
He went to the sink and splashed cold water into his face. Then he stared into the mirror. He saw a tired face with dark circles under the eyes. The last few hours had deepened the furrows of his brow even more. Jack turned away. He could no longer stand it.
When would this all be over? When?
Then it was over. SG-1 was back in one piece. Jack just had been on his way home when the word came. Dr. Brightman had ordered him to take a break. Even while changing, the names of his friends had haunted him, their nameplates staring back at him from their lockers in the locker-room. He did not know how Dr. Brightman could believe that he would be able to get more rest at home than here but he had followed her orders.
It was at moments like this when he missed Fraiser the most. Her sympathy, her friendship. She had been the soul of the SGC and now that she was gone the place seemed cold and empty to him. Strangely enough he even felt a greater kinship with her now than before. Only now could he understand how it must have been for her all the years. To just wait and hope that they would come back home unharmed, always expecting the worst and not being able to prevent it. And always to make the impossible work, even when it seemed hopeless.
Just when he was about leaving the mountain the alarm had come. Full of hope, he had run to the control room and then had to make the grave decision of choosing between the lives of SG-1 or the welfare of the whole world. Not an easy task but finally he ordered the iris opened.
And then they had stood before him, unharmed. They just hadn't found the exit of the maze. And even now Jack was unable to show his true feelings. He wasn't able to show his joy about their return just like he had refused to show his fear before. Instead he had asked about the success of the mission point-blank and then was disappointed when he heard the answer.
Then the thought occurred to him: Get used to it, Jack. It will be like this from now on. Them out having fun and him watching and waiting. For the last two years Fraiser had threatened that he would have to get a desk job because of his knees sooner or later.
Every year Jack had promised her solemnly that he would do all of his exercises on a regular basis and that he would take care of himself. The last thing he wanted was to bring his team into any dangerous situation because he had gotten too slow.
That was the reason he finally had accepted the post as the commander of the SGC. So he could still be a part of if all and remain close by. Even if it wasn't the same anymore. Instead of a P-90 he now fought with a fountain-pen. His enemies were a constant growing pile of files and a few guys at the congress that wanted to slash his budget.
And yet Carter had been right when she said, "If you don't take the job, we could end up with someone much worse." He told himself that he had better get used to it, otherwise he wouldn't make it through every single day. If his country needed him to serve behind a desk, then so be it.
Jack, wearing his blue class-A-uniform, left his office to greet the president.
On his desk lay the letter to George Hammond.
The last words were, "Never mind."