Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author(s).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The concept of this fic, which was written for the Jackfic Word of the Month, Betrayal, came to me out of my desire to write something that was based in the present, but with the past interwoven throughout, sort of telling a story within a story. In other words, I was experimenting with the idea of telling a complete story in flashbacks, memories and dreams. I'm not sure if I was successful in this, and I would love it if you all could tell me your thoughts on whether I succeeded or not.
I want to thank the Jackficcers who helped me tremendously by providing comments, encouragement and ideas on how to improve this fic. Also thanks go out to Lynette for being my mentor throughout this story, whether she knew about it or not. Her comments and suggestions really helped me out a lot. And thanks go out to Teri of Texas who convinced me that this story could end the way I wanted it to.
I also want to send out a special thank you to my beta, Diane, who asked me a thousand and one questions about this story when she first read it, forcing me to do some major editing in order to clarify some points and hopefully making it less confusing. You are the best!
The floor of the cell that he had been dumped in was cold and barren and Jack was freezing. He was still dressed in the clothes he had worn while he lived as a slave on Hulmeshur, but shoes had been a luxury and the thin sandals he had been wearing when he was rescued had disappeared sometime during the trip back to Earth. Because of this he had been brought into the cell barefoot and he was still waiting for the shoes they'd promised him. He pulled his feet up on to the bed he was sitting on and wrapped his arms around his knees, hoping to conserve what little warmth he had left in his body.
He'd been back at the SGC for over six hours, ever since he had come back through the Gate kicking and shouting obscenities, pulling at the restraints that held his arms behind his back. He was not an animal, but try telling that to those jarheads who had come to `rescue' him. He was glad that they had finally rescued him from the hell he had been forced to go through during the last eight months, but the fact that he was still a prisoner didn't make his homecoming any sweeter.
Some homecoming, he thought sourly. They had brought him to this cell once the doctor had pronounced him well enough to leave the infirmary. The doctor's prognosis had been encouraging - aside from some burns and bruises, which had been treated, he was slightly dehydrated. Still, his condition didn't warrant having him strapped down in a bed in the infirmary when he could be walking around in a locked cell. They considered him a danger and locked him up to minimize the danger, but at least he wasn't tied down.
He looked around at his surroundings, realizing the irony of the situation. He was in a room that was divided down the middle with metal bars that created a wall to keep prisoners locked up behind it. A bunk bed was installed in the cell, while the other side of the room provided plenty of space for visitors to come in to visit without having to worry about getting their heads bashed in by the prisoner being held in the cell. In all his years at the SGC, Jack had never been on this side of the bars.
He was in the same cell Carter had been held in when Jolinar had taken her as a host and he remembered her pleas when she begged him to help her, as well as his determination not to give in. Would she do the same thing to him now?
Damn, it's cold! He found himself wishing that his jailors had thought to give him a change of clothes, but they were too busy fighting to keep him restrained to think of his comfort. He put his chin on his knees in an effort to stop his teeth from chattering, but nothing he did seemed to help. After a minute of hugging his knees to his chest, he reached over and grabbed the blanket from the end of the bed and proceeded to wrap it around his huddled form.
Once he got the blanket in place, he glanced up at the one-eyed sentry that watched his every move. It stared at him even now, monitoring his every movement, as well as every sound, as he sat there on the bed. Hell, it was probably counting each and every breath he took.
He glared at the camera mounted on the wall a moment longer, then focused on the door on the other side of the bars. There was someone standing guard outside of it waiting quietly and patiently for even the slightest hint of trouble. It was a way of life for these people to make sure their prisoners didn't get away. He knew the routine all too well and he even considered using that routine against them, but knew he would ultimately get caught. Even he couldn't win against these guys.
Someone should be coming to feed him soon and the first thing he planned to ask for was that they turn up the heat. Maybe he'd ask for a pair of those wool-lined slippers his grandmother had bought him for his birthday one year. They had come in handy when that blizzard hit. They were a hell of a lot warmer than the blanket he was currently huddled under.
He continued to stare at the door, praying it would open soon so that he could convince those idiots that there was no need for the freaking air conditioner to be on continuously. He hadn't been this cold since..., well, he couldn't remember how long. Maybe that time in Antarctica. Yeah that was definitely worse. He shivered again, whether from thinking about Antarctica or from his current predicament, he didn't know.
"Will you turn the fucking heat up?" he shouted at the camera. Someone had to have heard him, there was always someone monitoring the prisoners - when they had prisoners that is. He tried to pull the blanket tighter around him, but it was already at the point of nearly suffocating him.
He put his chin down on his knees again and started to rock back and forth, hoping that the movement would create some warmth. Okay, think warm places. Beaches, barbecues, Sokar's moon, Hulmeshur..., no don't think Hulmeshur, something else... beaches, yeah warm sunny beaches.
The door opened suddenly, interrupting his concentration on finding a warm, sunny beach. "Finally," he said as he watched an airman walk in carrying a blanket and was that shoes? Yes! He stared at the airman, not daring to move in case this was all a trick and the prizes would be taken away. He knew what people were capable of, so he waited to see what the airman was going to do.
The blanket and the shoes were set down on the floor just inside the bars of his cell. He stared at the items then looked up at the airman, who had backed out of the cell and closed the door, wondering if this was all a trick. Deep down he knew he should trust him, they were his people after all, but he had been betrayed too many times by people he had trusted to even give this stranger a chance.
The airman smiled at him and took a few steps back, while nodding his head toward the blanket and shoes. It's not a trick, it can't be a trick, he thought to himself. Give the guy a chance, already. He got up off of the bed, throwing the blanket off his shoulders and cautiously walked over to pick up the gifts, glad that the sensor that was present when Jolinar occupied the cell had not been turned on. He stopped just short of his goal and chanced a look at the airman again. It's not a trick, just give him a chance. With that thought clanging in his mind, he reached out and snatched the shoes from the pile and was pleased to see that a pair of socks had been sandwiched between the shoes and the blanket. He looked up at the airman again, then grabbed the socks and the blanket before heading back to the bed in order to put some distance between him and the other man.
Once he was on the bed, he looked back at the airman and smiled his thanks then proceeded to put the socks on. Oh yeah! He was sure he could feel his feet warming up already and he hurriedly put on the shoes to help in thawing them out.
"You're welcome," the airman said. "They've also adjusted the temperature for you. This room should start to warm up in a few minutes."
Jack didn't reply, he just grabbed the blankets and began to arrange them so that he was thoroughly covered from his head to his leather clad toes, which had been pulled up to his body again. It was comforting to be wrapped up like this, not only for the warmth, but also because it made him feel safe. He didn't even try to dwell on the logic of that thought, he just sat there in the cocoon he had built around himself and watched as the airman looked at him sadly before leaving the room.
Shame washed over Jack as he realized that the airman pitied him. He knew that what the airman saw was a grown man huddled under the blankets like a frightened child. He tried to pretend that it didn't bother him, even as he pulled the blankets tighter around him. All he needed to do was to wait for the room to heat up, then he'd be able to get rid of the blankets.
It took a while, but he soon began to feel the warmth and he decided to lie down to try to get some sleep. Maybe this time there won't be any nightmares. No dreams of fires and fears, stress and starvation, or of pain and betrayal. Maybe this time he'll dream of beaches and bikinis, or of fishing in a clear blue lake filled with bass and perch.
The quiet and the warmth that he was finally starting to feel did the trick and he closed his eyes in an effort to relax and sleep. He opened them when he heard a laugh that chilled him to the bone, despite the fact that he was lying there in a warm cocoon of blankets. He knew that laugh and he looked toward the bars of his cell to see Taria standing there with a big smile on her face and the keys to his cell dangling from her hand.
It was a trap, he knew it was a trap, but he had to trust her. She wouldn't sell him out again. Not after what she'd said to him the last time she'd helped him to escape. He had been caught and the punishment far outweighed anything Ba'al had ever done to him. Taria had told him that she would never cause him to go through that again, as the experience of watching his punishment had been too traumatic for her. It still boggled the mind when he thought about it. Too traumatic for her? He refused to even remember what those bastards had done to him, let alone dwell on it, and she was complaining about her own trauma?
He didn't believe her then, why did he believe her now? "I can't go with you," he said, as he got up and walked over to the bars of the cell.
"You wouldn't believe what I had to do to get these keys, Jack," she said with a frown. "We can leave this place. Go someplace where Handar will never find us. We can be free."
"No," he said with a shake of his head. "This is another one of your tricks, isn't it? What are you up to this time?"
"This is not a trick, Jack," she said urgently. "We must leave now. Please, before we are caught."
The thought of them getting caught had him trembling and he stared at her, not able to keep the fear from showing in his expression. He struggled to school his features so that nothing of what he felt showed in his face, but she wasn't concerned with that anyway, she wanted out of there. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along after her, her laughter ringing through his ears as they ran through the maze of their master's quarters. He realized where she was heading and he stubbornly dug in his heels as he tried to stop her, but she was strong, too strong. "No," he said, almost pleading with her. "Don't do this Taria. Stop!" But she wouldn't listen, only laughed as she pulled him through the throne room while taunting him with the words she threw at Handar, their master. "No," he tried one more time to stop this madness, but it was too late. His heart sped up as he realized that Handar had the lightening rod in his hands, and he felt his insides turn to jelly when he realized what was going to happen next. "No," he yelled as he struggled to get away from the guards who had grabbed him, holding him down so that he would be an easy target for Handar's wrath.
He yelled out in pain when the weapon touched his arm, fighting against the hands that were trying to hold him down. He needed to get away and he cursed the guards and that bitch, Taria, cursed them to everlasting damnation. He swung his fists and kicked out at the bastards, feeling a satisfaction when his punches and kicks connected with flesh and bone. He wasn't strong enough though, as he felt a pinch in his arm and realized that he was losing in a big way. He stopped struggling as a weakness came over him and he stared up at Taria, her blue eyes turning to brown as he watched. The face he was looking at wasn't Taria, after all. It was the face of the doctor at the SGC and he realized that it had all been a dream. A particularly bad one, but a dream nonetheless and he felt himself calming down, knowing it was probably the sedative that he was given.
"Don't want to sleep," he pleaded with the Doc. "No more dreams," he added sleepily. "God, please..."
"It'll be all right," she said soothingly. He heard her through the haze and grabbed her hand, holding on to it to give him something to concentrate on - he just needed to stay awake. He could feel the softness of her fingers as they smoothed the skin on his forehead and he tried to pull away from them, knowing they were trying to make him relax.
"Please," he begged, totally ignoring the fact that he would not have stooped to begging if he had been one hundred percent himself.
"I'll stay with you," she promised, as she continued her ministrations. "I'll make sure someone stays with you."
"Please," he said again, or at least he thought he'd said it. He couldn't be sure, as the darkness took over a few seconds later.
He woke the next morning from a dreamless sleep to find a pair of beautiful blue eyes smiling at him and he panicked thinking of the betrayal those blue eyes had inflicted on his soul. It took a minute to realize that it wasn't Taria he was looking at, but Samantha Carter, a member of SG-1 and a close friend. He couldn't help the smile that came to his face when he realized who was holding his hand and his relief was evident as he felt himself relax.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Okay," he said warily. He couldn't help but wonder why she was with him instead of in her lab or off saving the world again.
"Really?" she asked, as she smiled at him. "We've been worried about you."
"Really," he responded. He tried to move his other hand only to find that he had been strapped down to the bed. He tried to calm the panic that was building up in him again, while glaring at Carter accusingly.
"It's just a precaution," she said, having apparently interpreted the glare correctly. "You put one SF in the infirmary and took out a couple more the last time you woke up. We're not taking any chances here." The smile she wore on her face was warm and he thought he saw something that look like pride in her expression.
He didn't respond, just stared at her, waiting for her to release him. Her smile faltered and she looked at their clasped hands for a moment. "I can't take the restraints off. Not until we know you won't try to kill us all again." She stroked her thumb across his hand as she asked, "Will you tell me what's going on, please?"
He stared into her eyes, much more beautiful than that traitorous bitch, Taria. He didn't see any deception in them, but then again, he thought he could trust Taria once upon a time.
"You're closing down on me, I can see it," Carter said, as she gripped his hand tighter. "Please don't shut me out. What happened to you on that planet that is making you act like this?"
"Like what?" he asked, even though he wasn't sure that he wanted to hear her version of his shame. He knew he was acting like a frightened child, but he couldn't hide from the fear, the anger and the hatred that had taken up residence in his soul. It was there taunting him, haunting him and he just wanted to hide from it all. He just hadn't figured out where to hide yet.
"Please Jack," she pleaded. He knew she was only calling him by his first name to try to gain his trust and his confidence, but he had already been burned once, literally, and he didn't plan to let that happen ever again.
He just stared at her. He knew what the others were thinking, that he was a madman, holding court in his own mind and fighting off demons that didn't exist. She was pretty courageous sitting there with him alone in his jail cell, while the others believed the worse. Granted he was strapped down to the bed and there was a guard standing on the other side of the bars, but they both knew he could shred her to pieces with just words if he'd wanted to. He'd done it before when he had to pretend he was an unhappy old bastard that had taken to stealing alien technology from the Tollan. He had hurt her badly then, he could do it again.
Instead he turned his attention to the bunk above him, choosing to ignore her. How could he tell her what he went through when he couldn't even begin to think about it without falling apart? There was no way he was going back there, even in his memories, and it was a constant struggle, compounded by his nightmares, to not even think about that place. He was determined to put it all behind him.
She sighed when she realized that she wasn't going to get very far. He waited for her to get up and leave, but was surprised when she asked him if he wanted to play cards. He turned to stare at her in amazement, then raised his arm as far as the straps would let him, while at the same time nodding his head toward the binds around his wrist.
"If you promise not to beat the crap out of me, physically, that is, I'll let you go," she said with a smile. "I won't put you back into the restraints if you beat me at cards though."
"I promise," he said, staring at her smile. Carter's smile was nowhere near as cold as Taria's had been. Even after they had consummated their relationship, Taria's smile had lacked warmth of any degree. He should have realized then that the bitch didn't have a heart.
"Will I ever get to see you smile again?" Carter asked, breaking into his thoughts, morbid that they were. The question had shocked him as he knew he hadn't expressed his thoughts out loud, although now that he thought about it, he didn't think he would ever find anything to smile about.
"Maybe," he replied noncommittally. "The binds?" he asked, trying to lift his arm again.
"Oh sure," she said, reaching over to do the honors. She smiled at him again as she worked and he felt a measure of safety in her presence.
He sat up when he was finally released and he stared at her while he rubbed at the chaffing on his wrist. He could see she was becoming uncomfortable due to his staring, but he couldn't stop wondering what her ulterior motive for being there was. "What is it you want from me?" he finally asked.
"What?" she asked in surprise, looking up from the cards she had produced from her pocket.
"Why are you here?"
"I just want to spend some time with you, to try to help you," she said. "I was hoping you would open up to me and talk to me. Maybe tell me what's going on in your head."
He was back to staring at her again, wondering what had changed to cause her to think he would talk to her this time. He was notorious for not talking about his feelings or his fears even to his wife, what made her think he would be able to do so with her? Come to think of it, she rarely took the time to get him to talk.
"So what it'll be? Poker or rummy?" she asked, as she shuffled the cards.
Carter left several hours later, telling him that she would be back to see him soon. She had given up trying to get him to talk, as he knew she would, and they had settled into their game. It was nice having her there, though. She kept the memories away while she talked of her motorcycle and the recent acquisition from planet whatever. He let her talk, giving one-word answers whenever she asked him something and totally ignoring the questions that related to anything he had encountered during the last eight months.
He was alone now; the guard that had stood outside the cell the whole time Carter was there had followed her out. The good news was that they hadn't tied him back down to the bed, although he figured they would wait until he was asleep before getting those restraints out again.
He went back to sitting on the bed, wondering when they were going to let him out of there. He really hadn't done anything to warrant such treatment, just fought like a crazy man every time anyone came near him. He was okay with that now, couldn't they see that? The hours he'd spent with Sam Carter should be proof enough that he was no longer a danger to anyone. He just needed to play it cool. They would have to let him out if he could just manage to keep his cool.
At least it was finally warm in the cell. His body had adjusted to the heat of Hulmeshur after eight months of living in a climate that would have put the Sahara desert to shame. He was used to the heat and anything colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit had him shivering and his teeth chattering. It was just one more thing for the others to pity him for.
He looked up when the door to the room opened again to see the airman from the day before bringing in a tray with what he hoped was food. His stomach rumbled in anticipation and he uncoiled himself to get up off the bed. A second airman came in, but stood by the door and held his weapon ready in case their prisoner went nuts again. He had forgotten about their routine in his haste to get to the tantalizing smell that wafted from the tray. The airman opened the door of the cell and placed the tray on the floor, then backed away after shutting the door again. Something smelled fantastic and he had to force himself to stay calm. He needed to convince them he was still human, but the smell of food that was obviously something other than the gruel he had been forced to eat for the past eight months had him wanting to attack it with a vengeance. It took every ounce of willpower he possessed to calmly walk over to the tray, pick it up and take it back to the bed. He sat down and picked up the cover that hid the food from his view and almost shouted out in joy. Steak! Oh yeah, someone out there loves him.
He looked back out at the room on the other side of the bars to see if the airmen were still there. He would have attacked that steak if they had already left, but they stood there watching him.
"Thanks," he said, hoping that they would leave. "Wait. No knife?" What kind of cruelty was this? Give him a steak, but not the ability to eat it with any dignity.
"No knife. Sorry," said the airman who had brought the tray in.
He picked up the steak with his fingers, glaring at the airmen as he took a bite. They were no better than the guards at Hulmeshur with their cruelty and contempt. He took up the spoon, which was the only utensil he was allowed to use. Apparently his skill with throwing forks and hitting people between the eyes had become legendary. He grimaced at that thought - sarcasm just didn't seem to be the same when there was no one else around to appreciate it.
Someone had gone to a lot of trouble for him, he realized, as he dug into the baked potato with his spoon. This was not something one would normally find in a military commissary. He wondered if Carter had a say in this, or maybe it was Daniel. Either way, everything was delicious and he was saddened when he reached the bottom of the plate.
He put the spoon down on the tray when he had finished everything and sat back on the bed, leaning back up against the wall. "Please put the tray down on the floor where you found it," the airman who had brought the food told him. Anger welled up in him as he stared at the guards, the very people who had stood there watching, waiting for him to make a mistake. One little mistake could bring on the punishments again and this was not going to happen as far as he was concerned. He got up slowly, picking up the tray and carrying it over to the place where he had originally found it. The guards watched, ready and willing to pounce the first chance they got.
Once the tray was settled, he stepped back from it, not for a minute taking his eyes off of the airmen. Would they mess it up and say he'd done it? Balzor would have done it in a heartbeat. But Balzor wasn't here, he had to remind himself. These were his own people and he knew they wouldn't do something like that. Would they?
The tray was picked up and both airmen left the room after making sure the door of the cell was locked. Silence fell around him once again and he felt the tension build up inside him. Silence had only meant one thing on Hulmeshur, dread and a fear the likes of which he had never known until he had lived in that place for a few months.
What made him think of that? He had endured a lot of silence since coming back to the SGC. This was not the first time. He decided to dwell on that little mystery for awhile in hopes that he would forget the memories this particular silence was conjuring up.
Fortunately, he was saved from thinking about it too much because the door of the room opened and the doctor walked in, followed by Daniel Jackson, two male nurses and the SF who had been standing guard outside the door. He eyed the little entourage warily, wondering what they had in store for him this time. It didn't look good if the doctor felt the need to be surrounded by four men.
"How are you feeling?" the doctor asked. She was standing just outside the closed door of his cell and he wondered if she was going to come in. Judging by the nod she gave to his guard, she was.
"Hi Jack," Daniel said a little too cheerfully, as he stood next to the doctor, both looking at him with anticipation.
"Hi," Jack replied, not moving from his position on the bed. He sat there with his head leaned back against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest and one knee brought up, staring at his visitors, waiting for the bomb to drop.
"I see you've enjoyed your lunch," the doctor said, as the guard came forward to unlock the door. Jack brought his head up at that, but didn't move just yet. He had to be calm. If anyone needed to be convinced of his ability to stay calm so that he could get out of there, it was the doctor.
"I figured you'd like the steak," Daniel added with a shrug. "I had to practically browbeat the cook into making it for you."
"Thanks," he said, watching them warily.
"You're welcome," Daniel responded with a frown. "You okay Jack?"
"Yeah," he responded, wishing he knew what was going on.
"I just want to get your vitals and to check you out one more time," the doctor told him as she tentatively moved closer. Daniel was a little braver and came right over to sit on the bed next to him, smiling at him, albeit a little defiantly.
Jack didn't move when Daniel sat down, his eyes were trained on the doctor, watching her every move. He was afraid she was going to sedate him again and he tried to come up with an excuse to keep her from doing so. He sat calmly when she put the blood pressure cuff on him, although he panicked just a little when the band tightened on his arm. It reminded him of the vise that had him screaming in agony... Oh shit. Don't go there. Focus on the Doc. She was looking at him with concern, her face reflecting the terror he felt of the memories that had almost surfaced. She knew something was up and he tried to smile at her to show her he was okay.
"Jack?" Daniel said quietly. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he replied, still trying to stay focused on the doctor. "You done?' he asked her, hoping they would leave before he lost it and sacrificed the freedom he had been hoping for.
"Almost," she replied with a smile. He saw through the smile though. She wasn't going to help him, he just knew it.
"When can I get out of here?" he asked, watching the smile on her face dim as she looked to Daniel for assistance. That bitch, he snarled inwardly. She was just as bad as Taria.
"Just as soon as you can show us that you won't try to kill everyone who comes near you," Daniel supplied.
"You're near me now," he said, hoping they would see he was ready to face the world. "I haven't killed you yet."
"Well, you do have a point there, but they want to wait just a little longer to make sure you are absolutely okay."
"I'm okay. In fact, I'm better than okay. I am so ready to blow this joint," he said, trying to keep the desperation at bay. "Please Doc. I'm feeling much better."
"Just a few more days. That's all I ask," she said as she pulled a penlight out of her pocket. "I'm just going to look into your eyes for a minute, okay?"
"I'm ready to go now," he growled, as she shone the light into his left eye. He stared at the light, hoping that cooperation on his part would be the deciding factor, knowing deep down that it wouldn't be.
The light was now shining in his right eye and he knew without a doubt this woman was as heartless as Taria when she stepped back and shook her head. "Just a few more days," she insisted.
"What will a few more days hurt?" Daniel asked. "This will give you the opportunity to relax and..."
"I can't stay here!" Jack blurted out, desperation making an appearance anyway. "There's nothing to do and it's too quiet. The silence is deafening, which means they're... Daniel, I have to get out of here." Oh God, what was he going to do? What would it take to get through to them?
"You don't like the quiet?" the doctor asked. "I think we could have them bring a TV or a radio in here."
"Since when don't you like the quiet Jack?" Daniel asked with a frown. "You thrive on it. You are forever telling me to shut up, that I talk too much." He stared at him for a few moments, then asked, "Who's here when it's quiet?"
Jack didn't respond right away. He was too busy trying to erase the memories from his mind. "The guards," he finally said, as he pulled his knees up to his chest. "They didn't notice us if we stayed quiet and hidden. That place would be like a tomb when the guards came in. The door would open and every single person in the room would stop speaking and drop down to their knees in an instant, hoping and praying they wouldn't be noticed." He squeezed his eyes shut at that point, working hard on trying to think of something else, but the memories seemed to wash over him like a waterfall. "It wasn't long before the silence was broken by the screams," he whispered, before putting his head down on his knees.
He brought his head back up when he felt someone put their hand on his shoulder, only to see that the guards had found him despite his best efforts at staying quiet and not moving an inch. "No," he said as he tried to back up, but a wall stopped his movements.
"Get up," one of the guards demanded as he grabbed his arm. "It's your turn today."
He stood up and waited, knowing what was coming and dreading it. There was no use fighting it, in fact fighting them only made things worse. So he stood there waiting for the pain, hoping that this time he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream.
"Jack?" one of them said to him, while grabbing his arm. "What is it? Jack?"
The fear in Daniel's voice brought him out of his memories. He was back in the cell in almost an instant, trembling in fright as he stood there wondering what had just happened. Oh Christ, he was seriously deranged and in so much trouble, he didn't think he would ever see the light of day again.
"Jack!" Daniel said again. "Come on, snap out of it."
"Leave me alone Daniel," he snarled, suddenly tired of the whole scene. They were not going to let him out of there now. Jeez, he'd be lucky if they'd let him stay in this cell instead of installing him into the nearest mental hospital.
"I think you may benefit from talking with Dr. Mackenzie." the Doc said. Damn, it seems his luck had run out. Mackenzie would have him in that mental institution quicker than he could say "nutcase".
"No," he said. "I don't need to talk with Mackenzie. I'm fine, really I am. I just need a little more time. Away from here," he added for good measure.
"Dr. Mackenzie is more qualified in dealing with situations such as this," the doctor insisted as she walked toward the door of the cell. "I'll see what I can do to arrange it."
"No!" he yelled. "I won't talk to him. Daniel, talk to her. Make her see that this is wrong."
"It wouldn't hurt to give him a try," Daniel said thoughtfully. "You have to admit that there is something wrong here Jack. Mackenzie is trained in helping people deal with their demons."
"The way he helped you with yours?" he said, wondering how Daniel could forget his own stay in a mental institution. He realized he was heading down the right path when he saw Daniel's face grow pale.
"You can't deny you need help Jack," Daniel replied stubbornly. "Mackenzie may not be the best choice, but at this point, what do you have to lose?"
"Do you think he'll put me in the same room you were in?" he asked spitefully. Daniel reacted as if he'd been slapped. He stared at Jack for a moment then turned away to walk toward the cell door. He stopped and turned back, and Jack could see that his eyes had taken on a haunted look. Daniel opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again and settled on just glaring at him.
"I won't let it come to that," Daniel said quietly when he finally found his voice. Jack knew better though. Mackenzie could do whatever he wanted with his slaves... patients he corrected himself, struggling to keep himself in the here and now.
"You won't be able to stop him," Jack replied. Oh what was the use? His situation was just as hopeless here as it was in Hulmeshur. "Please Doc," he said to try one more time. "I just need to get out of here for awhile. Freedom is something I didn't have on that planet and I don't have it here. Please."
"Teal'c and I can stay with him," Daniel piped up in an effort to help.
"I'll talk with the General," she said. "I'll try to convince him."
Jack nodded at her, all the while fighting to control the urge to grab her and shake her. He knew she was just patronizing him. He could see it in her eyes. She didn't believe him and he was at a loss as to what he could do to convince her.
The nurses followed her out, leaving Daniel and the SF to keep him company. He wasn't quite sure what to say to Daniel, having already touched a nerve in his old friend. "I appreciate your help," he finally said.
"You might be a little premature here. Let's wait and see what the General has to say."
"Do you think he'll agree?"
"I don't know. You have been lashing out at people ever since you got back. Why are you doing that?"
What to say to this? If he admitted that he was reacting to flashbacks, Mackenzie would be dragged in. Acknowledging that he didn't know why, would guarantee Mackenzie being brought in. It was a lose/lose situation all around, so he kept his silence hoping Daniel would just drop the subject.
Daniel finally got the hint an hour later and Jack was glad when he'd finally left, defeated. That guy sure could be persistent, but Jack held on to his unwillingness to think about that place with both fists. Part of him was having a hard time dealing with the memories while the other part was terrified he would slip into a flashback and act out in anger. He was determined that he was not going to mess things up any more than they already were, so he steadfastly refused to cooperate. Now if he could only convince the doctor and the General of his sanity.
Daniel hadn't been gone 30 minutes when two guards came in and handcuffed him to take him to the briefing room to meet with the General, SG-1, and Captain Steven Gordon, the only other survivor of that fateful mission to Hulmeshur. It was the debriefing from hell, as far as Jack was concerned. They wanted him to tell them, in great detail, everything that had happened to him.
He did, up to a point. He was able to tell them about going to that planet with SG-8, of meeting with Handar to talk with him about an alliance and a treaty, then of the attack by Handar's guards during the meeting. He even managed to tell them all about his capture and subsequent stay in their less than hospitable accommodations, commonly referred to as the slave quarters. But he was unable to elaborate on his day-to-day activities for the last eight months. The memories of what they did to force him into slavery were tame compared to what they did to him when they had caught him after he had jumped at the opportunity to escape, not to mention the agony he experienced the few times he had been chosen as the entertainment when the guards were bored.
He cringed when he remembered the moment he had inadvertently given into the memories and found himself back at the courtyard in Handar's palace, watching the guards pull an old man off of a wagon and kick him near to death. He had stayed where he was, watching them, wanting to do something to help, but unable to, due to his fear. It was a weakness he regretted even now. He remembered fighting past the fear and going over to the guards shouting at them, taunting them with words filled with hatred and anger stopping only when they turned their attention to him. He was pushed down and he found himself laying face down on the table, staring at Carter who returned his stare with wide, frightened eyes.
He had blown it. He knew it the moment he was dragged up off the table and saw that the General had made up his mind. He was going to have to face Mackenzie.
God, he hated them all. The General, the doctor, even his friends, but mostly he hated Handar and his guards. He was now back in his cell, sitting down on the bed to keep himself from pacing. Depression settled in, as he pulled his legs up in the now familiar huddle, while closing his eyes and resting his head on his knees. Nothing had changed. He was still a slave, he realized, even here at the SGC. At least they wouldn't be beating the crap out of him, he reasoned.
Dinner was brought to him and he ate it, not even caring what the airmen thought of his behavior. He ate everything that was given to him and he was the perfect gentleman as he set the tray back down on the floor before going back to sit on the bed. The same old routine, he thought. Boring!!
The rest of the day passed by in a blur and he was exhausted by the end of it, despite the fact that there wasn't much to do in a jail cell. The majority of his energy was spent on worry and fear as he thought about his impending visits with Mackenzie. He knew from past experience that Mackenzie was good at his job, which meant that he would be forced to relive his imprisonment at Hulmeshur whether he wanted to or not.
He was just so tired. Sleep would not be good, mainly due to the nightmares, but more importantly he knew he would wake up in the restraints. He knew they didn't trust him. They were afraid he would hurt himself during one of his `episodes'. Hurt himself? What a crock.
He woke up the next morning to find Teal'c sitting on the floor next to his bed. This didn't surprise Jack in the least. In fact he wondered why the Jaffa hadn't visited him sooner. What did surprise him was the fact that Teal'c was the only one in the room. Maybe the guards figured Teal'c could take care of himself, he was certainly big enough for the job.
"Teal'c," he said to let his friend know he was awake. "Can you get me out of these restraints?"
Teal'c opened his eyes and turned to look at him with a solemn expression. "Good morning," he said with a slight nod of his head.
"Morning," Jack replied. He waited, but Teal'c didn't move. "The restraints?" he said as a reminder. Teal'c got up then and came over to release him. "Did I hurt anyone last night?" Jack asked as Teal'c unfastened the collar of the restraints.
"No, you did not," Teal'c responded, "Your dreams did not bother anyone since I was the only one who stayed with you last night."
"Thanks," he replied. There was nothing else he could say to that, so he resorted to silence while Teal'c worked on releasing him. He ended up remembering the dream he'd had that `bothered no one, but Teal'c'.
He had dreamed of the day that Handar had given Taria to him for his mate. Apparently, the slaves had no say so whatsoever in their lives, which Jack had found out the hard way. Even their mates were chosen for them. The dream had taken a different turn than what really had happened, as dreams were wont to do, and Jack found himself struggling with the guards when they'd grabbed him and forced him to his knees to accept a punishment for something Taria had done. Her laughter was the last thing he'd heard before the whip tore open the skin on his back. He had wakened at that point to find himself back in the darkness of his cell, struggling to get out of the restraints that were becoming another prop in his day-to-day hell.
He had been alone when he woke from that dream; at least he thought he had been. Teal'c must have just let him ride it out, figuring the restraints would be enough to keep him down. God knows he had wakened from enough nightmares in the past when they were camping off-world without Teal'c coming to see if he had survived those dreams. That was one of the things he appreciated about his friend. Teal'c didn't feel the need to try to coddle him.
Teal'c finally unlocked the last of the restraints and Jack got up to stretch. "Thanks T," he said, as he sat back down on the bed. "Now if you could only get me out of this place, I'd be all set."
"That is impossible," Teal'c said, stating the obvious. "You must remain here until Dr. Mackenzie agrees that you are well enough to leave."
"And that won't happen as long as I keep going back to Hulmeshur in my mind, will it?"
"No, it will not," Teal'c agreed. That's another thing he liked about Teal'c, he almost always told it like it was and spoke only when it was necessary.
"Now see, that's what I like about you Teal'c. You're a regular chatterbox. Talk all the time, never shuts up. Not as bad as Daniel, but close."
Teal'c didn't respond, just smiled as he waited for him to wind down, but Jack didn't want to wind down. Winding down meant sitting quietly, which in turn meant the chance of thinking of the past eight months. From there, he would probably end up kicking the crap out of the bed, thinking it was a bad guy while the people watching him through the camera would be thinking he had finally gone off the deep end. No, it was better if he just kept on trying to annoy Teal'c.
Teal'c must have seen it coming, because he turned toward the camera and gave a signal. The guard immediately came into the room and stood by the cell door waiting for further orders.
"Don't want to stay and keep me company Teal'c?" Jack asked, doing a great job of hiding his fear.
"It would please me to stay and visit with you," Teal'c responded. "I was told to summon the guard once you were awake." Jack just nodded at that. He had gotten used to the routine.
Teal'c stayed with him until his breakfast had arrived. They talked of the ongoing rebellion that Teal'c had played a major role in and of happier times. Not once did Teal'c mention Jack's recent experiences, which Jack appreciated with every fiber of his being. He had absolutely no intentions of even thinking about that place.
He enjoyed his breakfast of oatmeal and toast. The oatmeal brought back pleasant memories and he savored every bite, remembering the day Daniel and Carter stared at him with a mixture of astonishment and disgust when he'd inhaled a whole bowl of the stuff.
The airman who delivered the food and the guard who accompanied him just looked bored as they waited for Jack to finish eating. Jack spitefully took his time, mainly because he knew he could get away with it. He could get away with a lot of things here, he realized. A hell of a lot more than when he was back in Handar's domain. Damn it, couldn't one day go by without thinking of that place?
He finished his meal and placed the tray back down on the floor, glaring at the guards as they walked out and left him to face the silence alone. There had been a time when silence was a blessing, but that was in the past. He had a hard time dealing with it now.
It wasn't long before he got another visitor. Visitors were good, so long as the visitor wasn't Dr. Mackenzie. It wasn't Dr. Mackenzie, but this visitor was just as dangerous, as far as Jack was concerned. He watched warily as Captain Gordon walked into the room, stopping just outside the cell door. Probably feels safer out there, Jack thought to himself, as he waited for the Captain to say something.
"I wanted to stop by to see how you're doing," Gordon said.
"I'm still a prisoner," Jack replied.
Gordon nodded at that, his eyes taking in the surroundings as he struggled for words. Jack didn't feel the need to help him out; he just waited to hear what was on the Captain's mind.
"That was some battle," Gordon finally said. Jack just nodded, knowing which battle Gordon was referring to. "I barely got out of there alive," Gordon continued. "The Doc wouldn't let me come back with the rest when they went to back you all up."
"It's over with," Jack said, hoping to steer this conversation away from that planet. It was all he needed to start remembering something of that place for him to go ballistic again. "How's the wife?"
"Fine," Gordon said, his face showing his surprise. "Well, uh... she's fine. The marriage isn't doing too well, but she's fine."
"Glad to hear it," Jack replied. "Not about the marriage," he added in a rush. "I mean... I'm glad to hear that your wife is well." He gave up at that point and waited, as he couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Listen," Gordon said, "I... I want you to know that I was devastated when they brought back the rest of the team in body bags and then had you listed as Missing in Action. I wanted to go back to look for you, but the General wanted to wait until things cooled down there. Handar and his men were determined to kill anything that came through their Gate, and they almost succeeded with the guys who came to help in the battle we were fighting."
Jack knew first hand how ruthless Handar and his men were and he hated Gordon for bringing on the memories he had been trying valiantly to tamp down. The memories were flashing through his mind now, taunting him cruelly with images of the battle he had fought with SG-8 and of waking up from a blow to the head to find himself in a room full of people who were barely surviving. He tried to block out the memories of refusing to submit to the demands of servitude from Handar and his men when they tried to force him into slavery, and the agony he endured from the punishments he received when he stubbornly refused to give in.
He glared at the Captain as the memories of the past eight months crowded into his mind, fighting his resolve to keep them at bay. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, struggling with all his might to not give into the memories.
"Are you okay?" Gordon asked, his voice reflecting his fear.
"I'm okay," Jack replied, although he was really talking to himself. He opened his eyes to find Gordon staring at him, worry and fear showing up clearly in his features. This was a good sign, Jack thought as he stared back at his former teammate. He didn't go off on a tangent this time, maybe he really was getting better.
"I'm really sorry," Gordon said. "We didn't know if you were dead or alive, but we still..., oh God," he added with a sigh, "We left you behind. Every single person in this facility knows your feelings on that subject. I wanted to go back. I really did."
Jack wanted to respond to this, mainly because Gordon had hit a raw nerve with his words, but he worried that in doing so, he would be playing right into Mackenzie's hands by reacting in violence.
Knowing that he was going to be rescued was one of the things that had kept him going as he dealt with the guards, the pain and his fate as a slave. It wasn't until after several months of beatings and brutal punishments that he realized the truth of his situation and he ultimately gave in to their demands. He had been left behind and apparently forgotten.
"They had to practically tie Teal'c down," Gordon said, trying to smooth things over. "He was determined to go back there and kick ass until he found you."
Jack nodded, wishing Gordon would just leave. It was taking way too much effort to keep from punching the man in the face. He knew better than to do anything remotely violent, but Gordon was just making it harder to maintain this facade.
The tension between the two men finally got to Gordon. "Well, I'd better be going," he said, apparently deciding that now would be a good time to leave. "I have to be in a meeting in a few minutes."
Jack nodded again, still not trusting himself to speak. Gordon went to the door and knocked on it to have the guard open it for him. "I'll try to come back later," he said as he looked back at Jack, although both men knew that he wouldn't.
Jack went over to the bed and sat down heavily on it, leaning his head back against the wall. He closed his eyes as he tried to relax, hoping to chase away the dread and the memories that were floating around in his mind. The good news was that he hadn't reverted back to Hulmeshur and he hung on to that thought as he sat there in the silence, breathing deeply in an effort to make sure he relaxed.
Taria's laughter brought him out of his musings and he opened his eyes to stare out at the room on the other side of the bars. She wasn't there, this wasn't a dream, but he was sure he had heard her laughter. She did that a lot when they were together, despite the hardships they endured. She laughed at his jokes, when she did something silly or when he was hurt. He had come to love her at the beginning of their relationship, but she had destroyed him and any love he felt for her the day she turned on him to save her own skin.
"Don't go there," he growled, trying to fight off the memories that haunted him every time he turned around. He just couldn't seem to get rid of them. They waited in the shadows, waiting patiently until he let his guard down.
He looked toward the door when he heard the buzzer, knowing someone else was coming to visit. It was too early for lunch, so it had to be a visitor and he held his breath as he waited, worried that it was Dr. Mackenzie making his obligatory visit.
He just couldn't get a break, he realized, as Dr. Mackenzie walked in and stopped just outside the cell door. "Hello Jack," Mackenzie said with a patient smile. Jack just stared back at the psychiatrist with dread. This was so not good.
He spent the next hour and a half waiting for the doctor to get the hint that he didn't want to talk to him. The doctor was patient, Jack had to give him that. Mackenzie had asked questions designed to prompt Jack into talking about his time at Hulmeshur, but Jack continued to refuse to even think about that place. He just sat on the bed completely ignoring the man, even when Mackenzie told him he'd be facing a medical discharge from the Air Force if he didn't talk. Jack just shook his head at that. He'd faced worse punishments during the last eight months alone, a medical discharge was minor compared to the terrors Handar and his guards used to force him to comply.
"I can't help you if you won't let me," Mackenzie told him as the guard opened the door to let him out. "Talking about it and facing the horrors is the first step in dealing with this. I'll be back tomorrow."
Jack just nodded without responding. What Mackenzie didn't realize was that Jack was dealing with the horrors on a daily basis - every single minute of every single day. Dealing with the horrors only caused him to retreat into the memories of the past and Jack knew this couldn't be a good thing. Reliving the horrors was never a good thing.
He spent the next hour working on methods of distraction. He was alone and the quiet was threatening to send him over the deep end, so he decided to work on techniques he had learned to use in the past to keep his thoughts focused on memories other than the ones he knew would be his downfall.
He was successful to some degree, but he was still glad when the door opened again. He so hoped his visitor would be Carter, Daniel or Teal'c. They were his friends, after all. They wouldn't expect him to talk about the terror he experienced and he could always depend on them to help him. He stared at the door, wondering if maybe Mackenzie thought of something else to torture him with.
Jack's eyes widened and his mind shut down when he saw who it was. Apparently the General must have decided to pull out the big guns in an effort to help him get over this, because his visitor wasn't Dr. Mackenzie or his friends. He swallowed hard as he stared at the one man he had sworn he would never go to for help. There stood General Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill in all his glory and Jack felt the stirrings of genuine worry threading its way through his mind.
"You want to tell me what's going on?" O'Neill said as he stood outside the cell. Jack didn't know whether he was glad to see his counterpart or not. Although, he knew that if there was anyone who would understand him, it was the original Jack O'Neill.
He continued to stare at O'Neill wondering why he even bothered coming here all the way from Washington. Mackenzie would have been more than happy to pick Jack's mind apart to get at the memories he was trying so desperately to hide, but here was O'Neill instead.
"Well?" O'Neill prompted. Jack didn't know what to say to the man standing in front of him. He, himself, had been O'Neill up until the day he had been cloned by a renegade Asgard. Although very few people knew that O'Neill's clone had survived and was living and working among them incognito under the alias of Jack Gallagher, he still had some very big shoes to fill.
General Jack O'Neill wouldn't have given into slavery or to the demands of the brutal sadistic bastards that were determined to break him. General O'Neill wouldn't be sitting in a jail cell because of flashbacks that caused him to lash out at anyone who came near him. O'Neill wouldn't have to be tied down at night while he fought off the demons in his nightmares. Well he had news for all of them. Jack O'Neill was doing all that, no matter that it was the younger version of the General.
He was not O'Neill anymore, but that didn't erase the fact that he still had all the memories of the original O'Neill, who at the moment was motioning for the guard to open the cell door. The airman complied and O'Neill came over to the bed to sit down next to his clone.
"Why are you here?" Jack asked. He was genuinely surprised that the General would come all the way from Washington just to talk to him. He had always figured O'Neill would rather not be around his clone, if he could help it.
"General Landry called and told me you were in trouble. He asked me to come and talk to you," O'Neill replied as he gave him the once over. "You don't look crazy," he added.
"Well thank you," Jack responded with a small smile. "Looks can be deceiving though."
O'Neill nodded at him before saying, "So, what's going on? I hear you're trying to stay one step ahead of Mackenzie."
"Yeah," Jack said, glaring at the camera. "Is he watching the show?"
"No," O'Neill said with a frown as he, too, looked over at the camera. "Not that I know of, anyway."
Yeah right, Jack thought cynically. Mackenzie was probably foaming at the mouth to have the opportunity to watch O'Neill and his clone interact with each other. The very thought of that caused Jack to clam up. Apparently the guards at Hulmeshur didn't break his stubborn streak, he thought with some relief. At least he had something of his old self to fall back on.
"I'm waiting," O'Neill said with a trace of frustration showing through. "I came all this way to hear what you have to say and you clam up. The least you can do is tell me why I'm here."
"I don't know why you're here. I never was all that great when it came to mind reading. Maybe if you give me a hint..."
"Okay, I think I can help you out here. Let's start with Dr. Mackenzie. Does that give you an idea?" O'Neill ground out.
"Mackenzie," Jack snarled. He really did not want to talk with Mackenzie, mainly because the psychiatrist was way too good at what he did for a living. He knew the doctor wouldn't give up until the memories surfaced and were dealt with, but he also knew that he would end up in an institution if he couldn't control the flashbacks. No, he definitely did not want to talk to Mackenzie.
"Look Jack," O'Neill said, "I got a call telling me that they'd finally found you and brought you home, but you were violent and prone to fighting anyone who came near you. I was asked to come out here to talk to you, to see if there was anything I could do to help."
"I appreciate it," Jack responded. He knew that there probably wasn't anything the General could do, but he did appreciate the effort.
Silence filled the room as both men sat and waited for the other to say something. Jack debated on telling O'Neill about his problem, worried that if he did, O'Neill would berate him for giving into his fears. Hell, O'Neill would have done the same thing if he had been the one stuck in that place. They were one and the same, after all. Or at least they had been... Oh hell, what was the use?
"What's it going to be?" O'Neill asked. "You going to talk to me or do I leave you to Mackenzie?"
Jack didn't have much of a choice at that point. He had to choose the lesser of two evils, although he wasn't sure he was making the right choice. "I'll talk to you on one condition," he said. "Away from here with no one listening in," he added as he looked pointedly at the camera, then at the airman standing guard just outside the cell.
O'Neill stared at him for a few moments, then nodded his head. "I'll see what I can do," he said as he got up to leave. "I'll be back later."
Jack O'Neill was worried as he walked purposely toward General Henry Landry's office, although he couldn't help the memories that washed over him as he walked down the familiar halls of the SGC. This had been his home away from home for almost ten years, and he knew this place like the back of his hand.
The memories were only a slight distraction to what he was really experiencing. Gallagher was in serious trouble and Jack worried that if he took on the kid's problems, he would be forced to face his own. But Hank Landry had called him personally to ask for his help and Jack figured it wouldn't hurt to just come out and talk to his clone.
Now that he was here and saw for himself the defeated, haunted look in Gallagher's eyes, he wasn't so sure that this had been a good idea after all. Jack remembered way too many times when he had been in the same boat, and working with his clone was bound to bring back those dreaded memories, but at the same time, he couldn't turn his back on him.
He grinned at Siler as he passed by, shaking his hand and asking about his family. They exchanged brief pleasantries before Jack continued on his journey to talk with the current commander of Stargate Command. He knew he was going to have to do some fast talking to get his clone out of this facility and Jack began to come up with several reasons why he should get the kid out of there before Mackenzie moved in.
He reached the General's office just as Hank did and Jack wondered why he didn't just go up to the observation room to talk to Landry instead of all the way to Landry's office. Hank seemed to realize what Jack was thinking, because he said defensively, "I'm worried about Gallagher, Jack. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't making a mistake in calling you."
"He's my clone, for God's sake!" Jack exclaimed in exasperation, "Which means we are more alike than anyone could ever imagine. I wouldn't have hurt him, if that's what you were worried about."
"I didn't think that at all," Landry insisted. "I'm not sure I agree with the notion of releasing him though," he added, getting right to the point.
Jack wasn't fooled. He had used the same technique himself when he'd wanted to steer away from the topic of his own guilty feelings. "He'll be better off away from the cell," Jack said, as he watched Landry walk over to sit in the chair behind the desk. "Trust me. He won't stop being a prisoner if you keep him locked up."
"And what happens when he lashes out at a stranger or someone he knows?" Hank asked, looking pointedly at Jack.
"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," Jack responded stubbornly.
"Jack please," Hank sighed as he leaned his arms on the desk. "Put yourself in my shoes. He is a danger to himself and to others. I can't let him go free and then have to send out teams to drag him back here after he's tried to kill someone when he lapses into one of those flashbacks. I won't let it come to that."
"Neither will I," Jack said, knowing deep down that Hank was right. He looked down at the floor for a moment then back up at his subordinate. "Okay. I understand the need to keep him here, but we need to compromise on some things. First and foremost, because I will not settle for less, there will be no cameras or microphones or any other listening devices installed anywhere near us. No one will listen in on the conversations between me and Gallagher nor will there be any guards in the immediate vicinity."
"Now just a minute," Hank said, rising from his chair.
"Gallagher's identity is so highly classified, be glad that we included you in on it," Jack interjected. "What are the chances of others hearing about it through those devices you insist on having to monitor his every word? Teal'c can stay with me to help when things get rough," he added for good measure. "Gallagher trusts Teal'c, and Daniel, for that matter."
"I'll have the camera removed," Hank conceded. "But a guard will be stationed outside the room at all times. You just may need the help."
"Outside with the door closed," Jack insisted. All he needed was for one person to learn of something he did while he was in the Black Ops to really make life miserable for him.
"Agreed," Hank said. "I should warn you that Dr. Mackenzie has been screaming about this ever since I came up with the idea. He's not happy about a rank amateur coming in to do his job."
Jack grimaced at that news. "With all the time I've spent in sessions with that man, you'd think I would have learned a thing or two about getting someone else through this kind of stuff."
"In the mood he's in, I wouldn't push that particular button, if I were you," Hank said with a small smile.
"Understood," Jack agreed. "Do I have your word that there will be no interference from anyone, including yourself?"
"You have my word," Hank replied. "Under the condition that you come and give us regular updates on how he is doing and to confer with Dr. Mackenzie regarding his treatment."
"What?" Jack asked in disbelief. This was getting to be way too complicated for him to deal with. "And just how do I convince the kid to trust me if I am running to Mackenzie every time he tells me something?"
"Not every time, maybe just once a day," Hank said patiently. "You'll probably be glad for an excuse to get out of there anyway," he added. "Gallagher had to have been treated pretty badly for him to act like this. I know that there have been some dark days in your past, Jack. This may bring up some memories for you."
"Yeah," Jack conceded. "I'm aware of that. I'd like to get started as soon as possible. When will the camera be removed?"
"I'll get someone on it right away," Hank said. "In the meantime, I've arranged a meeting with Dr. Lam, Mackenzie and your old team members to meet with us in half an hour. They'll be able to bring you up to date with what Gallagher has said or done since we've brought him back. We can also talk about how we can make this work."
Jack just nodded. He wasn't as positive about this as he tried to portray to Hank, but he was determined to give it a try. He would have much rather done it outside the SGC, maybe at the cabin in Minnesota, but he knew Hank was right. Until they were absolutely, one hundred percent sure Gallagher didn't have a short circuit in the old brain cells, he was better off in a cell. It was just going to make Jack's job a little harder in getting the kid to trust him.
Dr. Mackenzie was going to blow a gasket any minute now, Jack thought, as he stared at the psychiatrist who was sitting across the table from him. They were in the briefing room, along with the other members of this meeting, trying to come up with a game plan they could all live with. Jack tried to keep Gallagher's best interest in mind, as he was the only one who knew the kid well enough to represent him.
Mackenzie had made it known to all involved that this was highly irregular and that he was lodging a formal complaint right then and there. Jack rolled his eyes, then smiled at Carter when he caught her watching him. She, in turn, brazenly smirked at him, telling him in her own way that she could totally relate to his feelings of aggravation.
Hank spoke up at that moment to bring the meeting back to the main problem. "I've already arranged for the cameras to be removed," he said, when he finally got everyone's attention. "General O'Neill has agreed to spend time with Lieutenant Gallagher in an attempt to find out what happened during the last eight months on Hulmeshur. Teal'c, the General has mentioned that you may be helpful in staying with them in case the Lieutenant gets violent. Are you agreeable with this?"
"I am," Teal'c said, which of course was no surprise to anyone in the room, but Jack supposed Hank figured he should ask anyway.
"Carolyn," Hank continued, addressing the Chief Medical Officer of the SGC, "What can you tell us of the Lieutenant's health?"
"He was slightly dehydrated when he arrived at the SGC," Dr. Lam responded. "He also had several burns and some bruises on his legs, arms and torso. His blood work showed no traces of an alien substance and all other tests came back negative. For all intents and purposes, he is generally healthy."
"Any new scars or marks on him that would indicate some kind of trauma?" Jack asked, figuring Gallagher had to have been tortured pretty badly for him to lose it like this.
"There are a few new ones, at least ones that I've never seen or treated. I can only assume they were acquired on that planet."
"What kind of scars?" Mackenzie asked, apparently getting over his anger in order to figure out how to help the patient he wasn't going to get a chance to speak to again.
"Mostly burns, but there were a few that looked like he had been cut. Several scars on his back and chest indicate that he may have been beaten with a whip. Again, I can only speculate as Lieutenant Gallagher absolutely refuses to answer any of my inquiries about them. I get the impression that he doesn't trust me," she added sadly.
"What makes you say that?" Mackenzie asked, his eyes taking on the look Jack had always hated when he'd had to talk to the psychiatrist. It was the one that gave Jack the impression Mackenzie was just patronizing him. Mackenzie was probably trying to give a different impression, but Jack couldn't get past the impression he had come up with.
Dr. Lam obviously took the look the way Mackenzie intended, because she opened up to him immediately. "I don't know. It's just that I feel like he is waiting for me to do something to hurt him. He watches everything I do, as if he expects me to turn on him. I can't explain it. It's just the way he looks at me. Like he's sure I'm lying to him."
"Perhaps you remind him of someone he was acquainted with at Hulmeshur," Teal'c suggested.
"I agree with Teal'c," Mackenzie spoke up, causing Jack's head to swivel around to stare at him. "You may be able to use this information to get Gallagher to talk," he said to Jack.
Jack just nodded before saying, "I'll give it a try." He continued to stare at Mackenzie for a few more seconds before turning to Dr. Lam. "Is there anything else you think I may need to be aware of?"
"No sir," she said, shaking her head. "Other than the fact that he wants to get out of that cell in the worst way, he is in good health."
"Colonel Carter," Hank took control again. "You spent some time with him the morning after he arrived here. What are your observations?"
"He didn't say much, a few words here and there," Carter answered. "As he did with Dr. Lam, he refused to answer any questions regarding his imprisonment on Hulmeshur."
"What did you talk about?" Mackenzie asked. The psychiatrist had calmed down a lot, Jack realized, and he was glad the doctor had pushed past his anger to concentrate on Gallagher's problems.
"Mostly about my motorcycle and the naquadah-powered photon laser we had acquired from P3C-877. That was strange in itself," she said with a small smile. "Gallagher usually runs the other way when I start talking about scientific technologies."
"Techno-babble," Jack butt in with a grimace, then grinned when Carter rolled her eyes.
"Anything else?" Mackenzie asked.
"Well, he kept asking me why I was there," she said. "He seemed to think that there was some ulterior motive for me to spend time with him. I tried to convince him it was because I was worried about him and that I wanted to spend time with him, but I don't think he believed me."
"Why not?" Jack asked. He knew for a fact that Gallagher had some deep feelings for the Colonel. He and Gallagher had been one and the same, after all. He just wished he knew what had been done to his counterpart to cause him to act like this.
"I'm not sure," Carter responded. "I got the feeling that he was happy to have me there, but at the same time he seemed to be distant. I can't explain it. I just got the impression he was holding back on something."
"Probably trying to rid himself of the memories," Jack mused. He realized his mistake the moment he noticed everyone staring at him. Damn, he'd said that out loud.
Jack?" Daniel queried.
"Daniel?" Jack said to stall his answer.
"I told you calling him in was a good idea," Landry told Dr. Mackenzie, who was staring at Jack with a calculating look.
"Speaking from experience, General O'Neill?" Mackenzie asked.
Jack found himself glaring at Mackenzie before deciding that a change of topic was sorely needed. "Did you get a chance to spend some time with Gallagher, Teal'c?" he asked his friend.
"Yes," Teal'c responded with a nod. "He was asleep when I entered the cell. I used the restraints to tie him to the bed as instructed by General Landry, then sat with him throughout the night. He woke during the night from a nightmare, but as he was in the restraints, he did not need my presence."
"Did he say anything during his dream that may indicate what happened to him on Hulmeshur?" Jack asked, looking for anything that would help him in his quest to bring his clone out of this funk.
"He called out to a person named Taria," Teal'c responded, his features showing a flash of an emotion that Jack couldn't quite make out. "He also mumbled a few words I did not understand before he woke from the dream."
"Did you ask him who Taria was?" Mackenzie asked, as he made a note on the pad of paper he had in front of him.
"I did not," Teal'c responded. Jack had to smile at this response. Teal'c would never think to intrude on someone else's private thoughts. Too many years of serving Apophis without questioning the motives and thoughts of the snake, while hiding his own thoughts of disgust and his traitorous beliefs, had effectively trained Teal'c in dealing with the silence and unspoken words of others. It was the one trait Jack admired in his friend above all else.
"Were you there the next morning? What did you guys talk about?" Jack asked. He could only hope that Teal'c would give him something to work with.
"He did not tell me anything of the past eight months," Teal'c replied, dashing Jack's hopes. "We spoke of the Jaffa rebellion, as well as the golf excursions we embarked on during the time loop." This was said with a smile and Jack grinned back at his friend, remembering some of the other pranks he had pulled during the months they were stuck reliving the same day.
"Golf excursions?" Landry prompted, obviously forgetting the reason they were all in the briefing room in the first place. "I read the reports that you and Teal'c wrote about that time, but I don't remember the mention of a golf excursion."
"It wasn't important enough to include," Jack said, his grin turned toward Carter. He'd never told her and Daniel everything he did during that time, and it was better that most of the stuff he'd done was left out of his report. He couldn't count how many times he was glad that General Hammond, Carter and Daniel had no memories of the things he'd said to them as they'd relived the same day over and over again. Frustration usually tended to make him say some pretty hurtful things.
"What were your impressions of the Lieutenant's well-being, Teal'c?" Mackenzie asked to bring the topic back to Gallagher's problem. Jack knew part of the reason for the change of subject was because Mackenzie suffered total frustration himself when he had tried to get Jack to talk about his thoughts and feelings regarding the countless weeks he'd spent reliving the same day. The doctor was still mad about that, Jack thought with a great deal of amusement.
"He appears to be healthy, although I could tell that he was experiencing some discomfort with the temperature. He assured me that he was comfortable, but I noticed that he shivered at least once while I was with him."
"The temperature on Hulmeshur often exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit," Carter spoke up in an effort to explain this behavior. "I'm sure that after eight months of living there his body would have adjusted to the heat. This would explain why he was freezing when he was exposed to the temperatures we take for granted. We currently have the thermostat set at 90 degrees, which may be extremely warm for you General."
"I'll dig out my bathing suit," Jack said jokingly.
"Good thing there won't be any cameras in there," Daniel mumbled loud enough for all to hear. Jack glared at his friend, who in turn gave Jack an innocent look.
"What?" Daniel asked with a small smile. Jack just shook his head at him, then turned his attention back to Carter who was also smiling at the antics of the two men.
"Couldn't we just give him some sweaters to wear?" he asked.
"Yes, I suppose we could," Carter responded thoughtfully. "I'll see what we can come up with."
"We also have some thermal blankets for you to use if you think it may help," Dr. Lam spoke up.
"Anything would help at this point," Jack said, wondering, not for the first time, what he was getting himself into. "Your turn Daniel," he said, causing Daniel to look up from his doodling. "I know you. You spent some time with him, didn't you?"
"Don't mind me people," Landry spoke up huffily from his seat at the end of the table. "I'm just here to moderate and to make sure things run smoothly. Feel free to ignore the fact that I'm here."
"Okay," Jack said to the General before turning back to the archeologist. "Daniel?"
Daniel bit his lip in an attempt to hide his smile and Jack watched as Carter ducked her head to hide her own amusement at her commanding officer's expense. As much as Jack loved to see her smile, he knew that paybacks were hell, so he turned back to Hank to apologize for his words. "Only kidding Hank. I'm just anxious to get this show on the road. Did you have something to say here?"
Landry stared at Jack for a moment before saying, "No sir. I just want to make sure you remember who is in command of this base."
Jack couldn't help the surprise he felt at the gall Hank Landry displayed. Jack had been a part of the Stargate program long before Landry even knew it existed, not to mention the fact that he was Landry's superior officer. He scowled at Landry before saying, "Just as long as you remember who your boss is."
Landry nodded his head in acknowledgement to Jack's statement, then offered his own apology. "It goes without saying," he said, trying to smooth things over.
Jack accepted the words then turned to Daniel, who was now watching the two Generals with interest. "Daniel?"
"I did spend some time with Jack... I mean Lieutenant Gallagher," Daniel said. "I went in with Dr. Lam when she needed to get his vitals and I could tell he was wary of us being there. I'm worried about him, Jack. He was acting very strangely. He was walking on eggshells, like he was afraid of us or something."
"Or of what you represent," Jack said thoughtfully. Gallagher wanted out of there and the only way out was through the General. "Does he realize what's happening to him?"
"Yes, I think he does," Daniel responded. "He spaced out while we were there and when he realized it, he was worried that Dr. Mackenzie would put him in a mental institution." He sent an accusing glare toward Mackenzie before continuing, "He was telling us that he didn't like the quiet and..." Daniel stopped then, gesturing with his hands and shaking his head while trying to come up with the words he needed. "All of a sudden he pulled back from us, then stood up and stared at the door. He was shaking and I had to say his name a couple of times to get his attention. It was like he wasn't even in the room with us."
"He was telling us about the guards on Hulmeshur," Dr. Lam spoke up, suddenly remembering the incident. "He said the people living there were afraid of the guards and that they would resort to silence hoping they wouldn't be chosen."
"He told us the silence would be broken by the screams of the chosen," Daniel added softly. "He's in pretty bad shape, Jack. I hope you can help him."
"I will," Jack said with confidence. He wouldn't admit it, but he was just as scared as his clone was. He was afraid that he was going to face a terror that would change his whole life forever.
"We have the security tapes if you want to get a better idea of how he's acting," Landry spoke up. "He had only one other visitor besides Dr. Mackenzie, but because of Gallagher's identity, I wasn't sure if he should attend this briefing. I didn't know if it would be brought up," he added almost apologetically. "I can have him brought here if you'd like to hear his story."
"Who was it?" Jack asked tiredly. This was not going to be an easy assignment.
"Captain Gordon," Landry replied. "He was with SG-8 when Gallagher was taken prisoner."
"I can just imagine how that went," Jack said dryly.
"Not well at all," Landry said with a shake of his head.
"I'll wait until I've seen the video before deciding whether I need to talk to him or not," Jack replied. "Well Doc?" he said to Mackenzie, "You going to tell me what Gallagher told you?"
"You know that I am bound by my ethical obligations to keep that information to myself," Mackenzie responded dismissively.
"Yet you want me to tell you everything he tells me in confidence," Jack snarled, the irony of the situation pissing him off.
"You are not bound by the oath I..."
"Whatever," Jack ground out in irritation. "You'll just have to take my word for it that I'm telling you everything."
"You want to help him General O'Neill," Mackenzie retorted. "I'll take what you give me and work with that."
Jack wanted to hit the man because he knew he was right. Damned idiot, he fumed. One of these days he was going to show up the psychiatrist and get the best of him yet. It was just a matter of time - or years, he realized with a renewed sense of aggravation. "Anybody else have something they want to add to this before I go in there?" he asked.
"Just be careful," Landry said. "He's learned to fight like a wild man while he was on Hulmeshur."
Jack turned an amazed look toward the General. The man couldn't be that nave about Jack O'Neill, could he? Landry grinned back sardonically and Jack realized that Landry knew very well that Gallagher probably learned those moves long before the Asgard cloned him. "I can take care of myself," Jack admitted wryly, then smiled at the General before saying, "I can honestly say I taught him everything he knows."
Jack Gallagher was pacing. He was nervous and he didn't even try to hide it from anyone. His counterpart had been gone for a couple of hours now after saying he would get him out of the cell, but Jack was worried that O'Neill was going to fail him on this. He was a prisoner and a likely candidate for the loony bin; he just knew O'Neill wouldn't be able to get him out of this hellhole.
He continued to pace even as he wondered if he was driving the people who were monitoring the camera crazy. He secretly hoped so. At least he wouldn't be the only crazy man on the base. He grimaced at the thought of being insane. He was terrified that he had finally given up, that Handar and his men had actually won. Don't go there, he told himself as he worried about losing it again.
Where was O'Neill? Surely it wouldn't take this long to convince General Landry that Jack was better off away from this cell. Jack continued to pace, finding some comfort in the movements. He had spent the last eight months working in the mines or the fields from daylight to dusk, not getting much chance to do anything other than toil at the tasks he was expected to complete. He was always too tired to do anything once the sun went down, although he did make time to enjoy Taria's charms when they had gone to bed. She was an attentive lover and he was glad for those times even as he cursed her for being the bitch she turned out to be.
He stopped pacing when he thought he heard the tinkling of her laughter. He'd always enjoyed hearing her laughter when he had first arrived in that place. No one really had anything to laugh about, considering the circumstances, but Taria was the type to enjoy life no matter what was thrown at her. She was thrilled when he was given to her as her mate, telling him that he was the only one who still had the desire to make jokes. He wondered now if she had ever loved him.
He looked around, half afraid he'd see her standing in the room. She was so pretty, he remembered. Her sky blue eyes had reminded him of Carter, even though she was much younger than the Colonel. Jack remembered the first time he saw her. She was talking animatedly with another woman and he was surprised to hear her laughter, sounding loud amidst the silence that enveloped that place. He was drawn to the laughter, but at the time he was more interested in finding a way out of there.
He smiled at her when she saw him watching her, then walked toward the outskirts of the camp he was being held prisoner in. He stayed well away from the fence, knowing from experience that it was electrified. There was a burn on his hand as a testimony to that fact. He walked along the fence looking for anything that would aid him in his escape. He knew that he would soon be rescued, but it didn't hurt to try to slip away in the middle of the night if he was given the opportunity.
He continued his search, then looked toward the camp when he heard the laughter that would eventually haunt his dreams. He smiled at her again thinking that he would definitely like to get to know her, just before he wondered if she could help him get out of there. Oh man, if he only knew then what he knew now.
He resumed his pacing as he reminisced about the early days of his imprisonment. Handar had summoned Jack to his quarters not long after his arrival to tell him in great detail all that was expected of him. He was expected to work on whatever they told him with no questions asked. They expected him to work and act like a slave, to never resist or balk when told to do something, and most importantly to never attempt to escape. There was nowhere for him to go, he was told, and the desert surrounding Handar's oasis was an unforgiving foe that would surely kill him if he did manage to get away.
Jack listened to all this even though he had no intentions of giving into any of their demands. Unfortunately, he had to learn the hard way that his intentions weren't always in his best interest. They had beaten him, subjected him to starvation and threatened to kill his mate if he so much as even thought of leaving their less than hospitable company. It was the thought of Taria's demise that kept him there, more so than the other threats. He had survived all of the above, but he couldn't be the reason for his lover's torture and death. He would never have been able to live with himself if he did.
Jack put a stop to his reminiscing when he realized that he was heading into territory better left untouched. He definitely didn't want to remember what happened to him when he and Taria did manage to make a run for it. He stopped pacing again and curled his hands around the bars of the cell, putting his head up against the cool metal, desperately trying to chase away the memories that were bubbling just beneath the surface. Oh God, he never wanted to ever go through that again.
He stayed that way for some time, calming himself with forced thoughts of fishing at his cabin in Minnesota. He hadn't thought of that place in awhile, he realized. He had given up on the thoughts of being rescued and had lived his days getting up when told to then retiring when told to, too tired to even think of anything but fulfilling his obligation of trying to get Taria pregnant to keep Handar and the guards off his back. They needed children to replace the older slaves and Jack was harassed daily because of his negligence in producing a future slave. It wasn't his fault, he reasoned. He was making love to her on a nightly basis and he knew he was more than capable of producing a child; at least he was before he was cloned. It didn't help when he had doubts about passing on his genes due to the fact that he was indeed a clone. Because of this, he didn't know who was more elated when Taria had finally become pregnant, he or Taria.
Jack grimaced when he thought about the punishment they'd both received after Taria had a miscarriage. It wasn't as if they wanted to lose the child, he thought with some heat. Taria had been so proud that she was finally going to be a mother and was thoroughly devastated when the bleeding wouldn't stop and even Jack couldn't console her, not that he really wanted to. He had lost any love he had for her when she had betrayed him to Handar and his guards.
He turned his thoughts back to Minnesota and happier times, wondering if he would survive this. It suddenly dawned on him that he had been remembering his imprisonment and he was still in the present. This thought caused him to smile as he let go of the bars and stepped back. He was getting better, he just knew it. Now all he had to do was convince O'Neill and Landry.
He went over to the bed to sit on it, wishing someone would come sit with him. Carter or Teal'c would keep the memories away with their talk of life, as they knew it. Daniel would even be a welcomed sight, especially if he brought a chess set or cards along with him. Anything was better than being left alone to dwell on his past.
O'Neill had promised to help him, he thought as he looked over at the door. Where was he? Jack hated waiting, it was never a good thing as far as he was concerned and O'Neill knew this. He sat there staring out at the room beyond the bars of his cell, wishing with all his might that the door would open.
He was shocked when it did, although he didn't get everything he wished for. It was only the airman bringing him his lunch. Jack stayed on the bunk while the airman and his companion went through the usual ritual of unlocking the cell door, setting the tray down on the floor, then locking the door before standing on the other side of the bars to wait for him to finish.
He sighed before getting up to go pick up the tray. Just once he'd like to see them do a dance or something to break up this monotony. He sat back down and began to eat, watching the guards warily as he munched on the sandwich. They seemed to be uncomfortable with his staring, which caused him to continue staring at them just for spite. Yep, he could get away with a lot in this place.
He finished his lunch, then drank the lemonade someone had thoughtfully put on the tray. It was something he had often dreamed of drinking during the long hot days he'd spent on Hulmeshur. Well, when he wasn't thinking about a cold, long neck bottle of beer.
The guards left him alone when he'd finally set the tray back down on the floor and shuffled himself back to the bed. This routine was getting old quick and Jack was really hoping that his counterpart would hurry up and get him out of this place. He lay down on the bed to try to relax, but he was too worried about impending nightmares to allow for that. The silence of the room, along with the heat and a full stomach, finally lulled him into sleep anyway.
Pain. Overbearing, suffocating pain was pulling at him, forcing him to give into the screams that ripped from his throat and destroyed the silence that permeated the room. It tore at him as he fought for breath and for relief. Neither was available to him at the moment and he bellowed out his agony at the men who were enjoying this way too much.
Jack struggled to sit up, but knew defeat as the clamp was tightened around his body, squeezing the air from his lungs while refusing to allow any air to come back in. He could feel the bones in his ribs crack under the strain while the pressure became unbearable and his vision dimmed due to the lack of oxygen. He was released suddenly, but he knew that once he was breathing steadily again the torture would be repeated. These guys knew what they were doing and Jack wished they would just kill him and get it over with.
"Jack!" one of the guards shouted at him. "Wake up! C'mon buddy, wake up!"
Jack opened his eyes to find O'Neill, Daniel and Teal'c standing over him. He panicked for a second, thinking that they were only illusions his mind had conjured up to help him deal with the torture, but relaxed when he saw the bars of the cell beyond his friends and remembered where he was. It had only been a dream, he told himself as his heart began to slow down, only a dream.
"O'Neill?" he asked, trying to wipe the cobwebs from his mind. Where'd he come from? He sat up suddenly when everything came back clearly to him. O'Neill was here to give him his freedom.
"Yeah," O'Neill said, looking a little relieved. "That had to be some dream," he added with enthusiasm. "Are you going to be okay?"
Jack nodded, watching for any signs of another betrayal. He had gotten his hopes up that he would be leaving this place. Would this latest dream cause them to change their minds?
"I am so ready to blow this place," he said in response. "When do we leave?" O'Neill didn't respond, but he didn't have to. Jack could see it in his eyes. "You son of a bitch," he raged, "You said you'd get me out of here."
"I said I would try," O'Neill responded as he tried to reason with Jack, but Jack couldn't let it go this way. He was going to lose it if he didn't get out of this rat hole.
"I can't stay here," he insisted. "I'm still a prisoner. I might as well be back on that planet."
"You still aren't one hundred percent ready to face the world, Jack," Daniel butt in, always the peacekeeper. "You're better off here than out there beating the crap out of everyone who reminds you of Hulmeshur."
"I can handle it Daniel," Jack insisted. "I haven't done anything to anyone since the other night. I'm much better and I'm ready to leave."
"What about what just happened here?" O'Neill asked quietly. Jack turned to look at him, wondering if he should ask what it was that just happened. He had been dreaming, surely he hadn't hurt anyone.
"It was just a dream," he said, worried now that it had been more than that. His friends didn't look like they had been hurt, but maybe... No, he wasn't going to give in to their wishes. He wanted out and he wanted out now. "Nothing more than that."
"It could have been." O'Neill just wouldn't give it up. Jack knew that his counterpart was going to try to smooth over his failure, but he couldn't let him. It was his sanity at stake here.
"You couldn't talk them into releasing me, could you?" Jack accused. He debated over the wisdom of hitting the bastard, but wisely realized it wouldn't do him a bit of good, not to mention give them one more reason to keep him locked up.
"No," O'Neill said. "I tried, but even I have to agree that you are better off here. I've made arrange..."
"That's easy for you to say," Jack interrupted. He wasn't interested in anything the General had to say anymore. He just wanted him to get him out of there. "It's not you sitting here."
"No it's not," O'Neill agreed. Jack waited for him to tell him that he had been kidding, but O'Neill kept his silence. There really wasn't much to say after that.
"Get the hell out of here then," he yelled, completely forgetting the fact that he was a Lieutenant and the man he was yelling at was a General. The worst they could do to him now was court martial him for insubordination. He just didn't care at that point.
"I came out here to help you and I plan to go through with it," O'Neill said with determination. "Teal'c and I will be staying with you to help you get through the worst of the memories..."
"I don't need your help," Jack snarled. He was just so tired of the disappointments he was destined to go through. He pulled his feet up on the bed and settled into the huddle he had become accustomed to since his arrival in this cell.
"Stop interrupting me," O'Neill demanded. "Just let me tell you what's on the menu before you tell me to go to hell."
"You mean I haven't done that yet?" Jack asked, his anger pushing him to say things he normally wouldn't have dared to do with a camera recording his every word. "Well, let me rectify that mistake. Go to hell General O'Neill."
The venom in his voice rattled O'Neill, Jack could tell, but at this moment in time he couldn't care less. He glared at O'Neill, who had sat down next to him, his face reflecting the rage that had settled in. "I've already been there," O'Neill snarled menacingly. "As you well know. And I'll tell you right here and now that the only reason I am letting you get away with that remark is because I can relate to the anger. I will not let it slide the next time, you understand me?"
"Considering the fact that I'm facing a lifetime in this cell, that particular threat doesn't have me shaking in my boots," Jack responded acidly. "You are just as bad as the others," he continued. "Tell me one thing, while doing just the opposite. I don't know - for some reason I thought you would be different."
"I tried Jack," O'Neill said, his anger easing up somewhat. "But I happen to agree with General Landry. We can't take the chance that you won't go ballistic on some poor unsuspecting soul."
"Fine," Jack said. "I get the point. I'm to stay locked up in this cell, waiting patiently for the day when I finally get over the urge to punch out this bed. What fun. So why are you still here?"
"I'm here to help you," O'Neill responded resolutely, although he was still angry. Jack hoped he would just take his anger and get out.
"We all are," Daniel jumped in.
"Help me? So when do we leave?" he asked stubbornly.
"When you are ready and not before," O'Neill responded just as stubbornly. "The camera will be taken out sometime today and Teal'c and I will be staying with you while you punch out the bed." He smiled when he said that, but Jack wasn't falling for it.
"I want out of here," he insisted. "We could go to the house. It may need to be aired out, but it would be better than this place. God Jack, don't make me beg."
He knew total frustration when O'Neill sadly shook his head. "We'll make do with this place," he said to placate Jack. "I'll even bring in some pictures to make it look like home."
Jack didn't respond. He had lost his freedom. All that work he had put into keeping his cool was for nothing. He put his chin down on his knees and stared out at the bars of his cell. Why had he even thought that O'Neill would be his savior? The man couldn't even free himself from his own demons.
"We'll get you through this Jack," Daniel said as he sat down on the bed next to him. Jack didn't respond nor look at his friend. He was so doomed. He continued to stare out at the bars while Daniel tried to get through his depression. "Whatever it takes, we are all here for you."
Jack closed his eyes as he heard Taria's voice filter through his thoughts, telling him that she would never do anything to hurt him ever again. He had wanted to believe her just as he wanted to believe Daniel and O'Neill, but he knew better. They had all betrayed him, giving him false hopes just to see him bleed when those hopes were dashed. Christ, how he hated them all.
"We will get you through this," O'Neill insisted, repeating Daniel's words as he stood up. "I'm going to go make the final arrangements for our sleepover. I'll be back in a little while."
Jack didn't move or even act like he'd heard him. He just sat there and stared out at nothing, listening to Taria's laughter ringing through his ears.
"Well, that went well," Jack said, as he and Daniel walked down the hallway away from the devastated Lieutenant. They had left Teal'c to stay with Gallagher until such time as someone came by to relieve him.
Daniel didn't respond to Jack's words and Jack knew it was because they were both feeling Gallagher's disappointment. They walked the rest of the way in silence, both reflecting on the events of the last half hour.
They had gone to give Gallagher the news only to find him thrashing and screaming in his bed, lost in a nightmare that had to have been worse than anything Jack had ever experienced. He wondered what his clone had gone through to have him gasping for breath while yelling at the top of his lungs. Jack wasn't sure if he really wanted to know.
They reached the security room just as Carter came out. She stopped when she saw them, then suddenly found the floor extremely interesting, but not before Jack had seen the look in her eyes that told him she was trying not to cry. He wanted to pull her into a hug to tell her that everything would be all right. "Carter?" he said as he touched her arm. "You okay?"
"Yes sir," she said, as she nodded her head. "It's just that.., well he hasn't moved from that spot since you left him there and I just felt..." she sighed, then clarified what they were all thinking, "He is so devastated. I could feel his disappointment even through the camera."
"He'll be okay," Jack told her, hoping to cheer her up somehow. "I promise."
She nodded at him with a brave smile and he gave her a quick hug anyway. They walked into the security room and Jack immediately searched out the monitor that was focused on Gallagher's cell. Carter was right, Gallagher hadn't moved from the position Jack had left him in, but Jack felt a measure of calm when he heard Teal'c talking to him, trying to bring him out of his disappointment.
"O'Neill and I will stay with you until the time comes that you will no longer need us here," he heard Teal'c say. Gallagher didn't respond, which didn't surprise Jack in the least. The man was his clone, an exact duplicate of Jack, complete with thoughts and mannerisms. Jack knew very well why his clone was sitting there closed up in his own world. What he didn't know was what caused the man to shut down like this.
"I wish I knew what he is thinking," Jack said quietly as he watched his clone through the monitor. What had happened to him during the last eight months?
"Now you know how I feel," Mackenzie spoke up from his corner of the room. Jack turned toward the doctor in surprise. He had never thought about Mackenzie's side of the struggle to find peace for the tortured mind. Jack had always been too busy fighting off the memories and images that Mackenzie insisted he face. He felt a new sense of respect for the man he had always avoided talking to at all costs. "The hard part is getting him to tell you," Mackenzie added.
"All I can do is try," Jack replied. He turned back to the monitor and watched as Gallagher finally uncurled himself from the huddle and lay down on the bed to stare up at the top bunk, ignoring Teal'c, which was easy to do as Teal'c was so quiet Jack sometimes forgot he was in the same room with him.
"Just don't force the issue," Mackenzie said. "These things need to be handled with patience and understanding. I'm sure you have the understanding part down, but..." Mackenzie stopped and grinned at Jack.
"I can be patient," Jack insisted. "Isn't that right guys?" he asked his friends, who were suddenly looking very uncomfortable. Carter shrugged her shoulders while giving him a sheepish look and Daniel suddenly decided that a speck of dirt on his boots was very interesting. "Never mind," Jack said with narrowed eyes as he stared at the traitors he had thought were his friends.
"Stubborn is more like it," Mackenzie said with the calculating look Jack hated so much. He chose to ignore the look, which is another thing he had learned to do so well, and went back to watching the monitor.
"What is it I need to do to get him to stop fighting the memories?" he asked, already knowing the answer. He had spent way too many hours with Mackenzie facing his own demons to not have an inkling of what to expect.
Mackenzie was apparently thinking the same thing as Jack because he sat there quietly, waiting for Jack to answer his own question. Jack had been down this road too often to give into Mackenzie's tactics. He just knew the doctor would use whatever he said against him in the future. So he turned back toward the doctor to wait for the answer, giving him a questioning look to prompt him into responding.
It was a battle of wills, one that Jack and Mackenzie had fought more times than Jack liked to admit. Mackenzie used this technique many times in an effort to get Jack to talk, but Jack was often too stubborn to give in and Mackenzie would more often than not give it up and try something else. They both knew what Mackenzie was doing - he was resorting to silence knowing that most people would feel the need to speak up in order to fill the silence. Jack rarely felt the need to fill in the silence and when it came to Mackenzie, it was more of the desire to not give in than anything else. So he clammed up, as he always did, and waited for Mackenzie to be the first to break the silence. Jack could definitely be patient when he wanted to be.
Daniel fell for Mackenzie's tactics - hook, line and sinker or maybe it was because he just couldn't stay quiet any more, which was more than likely the case, Jack thought smugly. Daniel talked more than his ex-wife did when she was in a room full of her friends.
"Asking him outright won't get you very far," Daniel said thoughtfully. "I know. I tried that. He refused to answer any of my questions regarding that place," he continued, sounding like he was a little put out. "Extremely rude if you ask me."
"Nobody's asking you Daniel," Jack said with a grin as he put his hand on his friend's shoulder. Daniel responded with his own grin and a shake of his head as he realized who he was talking about.
"You always were a stubborn son of a bitch," Daniel grumbled good-naturedly.
Jack's smile grew wider, but he knew he needed to get back down to business. "What do you suggest I do?" he asked Mackenzie again, hoping the guy would just answer the question.
"Take it slow," Mackenzie advised, "But be firm in getting him to talk about his experiences. Since he has already resorted to flashbacks, he's bound to experience more, so make sure you keep alert in that respect. Keep asking him what happened to him, but be patient when he doesn't respond right away. You, of all people, know that he won't give in so easily."
"Yeah," Jack concurred, as he nodded absently. What was he getting himself into?
"General O'Neill," Mackenzie said with determination. "I want you to reconsider having the camera removed. I assure you that no one, other than myself, will have access to the monitor and the film."
"No," Jack said resolutely. "There will be no cameras or any other recording devices in that room. And that includes listening devices."
"This is not up for negotiation," Jack snarled at the man. He wasn't about to let anyone in on his deepest secrets, especially not Mackenzie. Teal'c was the only one he trusted to keep those secrets safe.
"How can I be expected to effectively help you when I know that you will not be telling me everything?" Mackenzie countered. "That man's sanity is at stake here," he continued, as he pointed at the monitor. "I want to help him."
"As do I," Jack spit back at him. "But he will not tell me anything if he knows you are listening. Trust me on this."
"He doesn't have to know," the doctor said quietly.
Jack stared at the man for a moment, before asking in a deadly calm voice, "Is that what you do? Have hidden microphones recording your sessions with your patients?"
"No!" Mackenzie practically shouted, his anger finally making an appearance. "That isn't what we are talking about here. We are talking about that man's mental health. I can't help him if I don't know what's going on."
"You are just going to have to make do with what I give you," Jack replied smoothly. "No listening devices. Period."
Mackenzie just stared at him, but this time it was due to the defeat he was feeling. Jack knew it as sure as he was standing there. He waited while Mackenzie worked through his own disappointment, then nodded when the doctor growled at him, "I'll be waiting in my office for your reports." The psychiatrist then walked out of the room to leave them to make their final arrangements. Stalked out of the room is more like it, Jack mused.
"That went well," Daniel said to ease the tension that was still in the room. Jack nodded to let Daniel know he appreciated the effort, then turned to stare at the monitor that was showing him a broken man that could have just as easily been him. There was no denying the fact that Gallagher had been broken and Jack knew that he would probably have done the exact same thing had he gone through whatever it was that had destroyed his clone.
"Well, let's get this thing rolling," he said, as he turned to walk out the door. He wished he could feel as confident about this mission as he wanted to be.
He entered Gallagher's cell an hour later carrying a tray, followed by Carter and Daniel, who were also laden down with food. He glared at the two SFs who were standing just outside the door when he passed to let them know he had overheard their conversation, as they wondered what made Gallagher so special that General O'Neill came all the way from Washington to see him. Not to mention the cot, table and chairs that were being installed in the room outside of the Lieutenant's cell. The SFs had the grace to look chagrined and Jack decided to ignore their looks of bewilderment as he walked through the door.
Siler was on a ladder disconnecting the camera while Teal'c stood guard over the entire scene. Jack had to smile at Teal'c's actions. Teal'c liked Siler, as did everyone else on base, but he also had a close bond with Gallagher, who was sitting on the bed watching the goings on with a closed expression on his face. Teal'c must have decided that he would stand between the two if his help was needed in either picking Siler up off the floor in case he fell or being ready to deal with Gallagher in case he found himself in another flashback.
Teal'c bowed his head in greeting when they entered the room and Jack went over to put the tray down on the table. Daniel and Carter followed suit while Carter got busy getting the food ready for them all. Jack could almost feel like he was at home surrounded by his friends, if it weren't for the bars of the cell that had been left open now that a plan of attack had been determined. He had two sets of keys to the cell door just in case one got lost in the shuffle. That door was open now and was going to remain unlocked during the entire time, but it didn't hurt to have some keys around just in case.
Siler finished his task and quietly packed up his equipment and the camera to take with him when he left. Jack smiled at his friend before saying, "Thanks Siler. I do appreciate it. Hey, are you hungry?"
"No thank you sir," Siler said with a grin as he walked out the door. "I've already eaten."
Jack smiled after the Sergeant while Daniel walked into the cell to sit down next to Gallagher. "How are you feeling Jack?" he asked in an obvious attempt to reach his old friend.
"Good," Gallagher responded warily. He appeared to be sitting there without a care for what was going on around him, but Jack knew better. The guy was aware of every single sound and movement going on in the room and was trying to come up with a logical reason for the whole charade. Jack knew the routine just as well as Gallagher did and he was just a little fascinated to see himself from an outsider's point of view.
"We've brought all kinds of food," Daniel said. "Hope you don't mind that we're going to join you." This was said with a slight trace of pleading and Jack had to wonder about that even as he doubted his own ears.
"Sure," Gallagher responded. It was apparent to everyone that the man had gone back to the one syllable stage he had displayed when he first arrived at the base. Jack sighed inwardly as he realized, once again, he was in for a major battle.
"Well, let's get at it!" he exclaimed as he picked up a plate and began ladling food onto it. Daniel and Teal'c came over to join him, but Gallagher didn't move. "I know you are not expecting me to make you a plate," Jack said through a mouthful of his biscuit.
Gallagher got up at that point and walked through the door of his cell, watching Jack warily as if he expected to be tackled at any minute. This irritated Jack, as he had never given this guy any reason to make him think he would do something like that. He tried to hide his anger and must have been marginally successful as Gallagher walked up to him and grabbed the plate of food he had in his hands and said, "Thanks. I am a little hungry."
Jack nearly gave into his anger and hit the guy anyway, but he grinned instead when he heard Carter laugh, then saw Teal'c's smile. He shook his head at them all as he grabbed another plate to fill it up again, this time for himself. "Don't even think it Daniel," he growled, as he pulled his second plate toward his chest in a protective gesture when Daniel eyed it.
"I wasn't!" Daniel swore, as he smiled back at his friend. "I was looking to see what you had on it." This was said with an innocent smirk and Jack found himself backing away from his friend's sneaky grasp.
"Sure you were," Jack responded suspiciously. He put more food on the plate, then went over to sit next to Gallagher on the bed. "This is mine," he insisted as he pointed at his food. "You have your own."
Jack felt immense relief to see a smile appear on Gallagher's face as his clone nodded before taking another bite of the chicken he had in his hand. There was still some hope after all.
They ate their meal as they talked of days gone by. They were all careful to not mention anything that would even remotely remind Gallagher of his stay on Hulmeshur. This meal was meant to be a happy one and they were all determined to keep it that way.
Jack and Gallagher were quiet through most of it, although Jack did jump in to clarify matters when the memories painted him in a less than favorable light. And he couldn't resist the urge to retaliate by bringing up memories that even had Teal'c looking a little flustered. It was all in fun though, which is what they had intended from the start. The grueling test was going to start the next day if everything went their way.
Gallagher obviously didn't know the plan though, because he stayed quiet throughout the meal and Jack knew his clone was waiting for the inevitable and probably wondering when they were going to attack. Jack tried to tell him the game plan, but he wasn't sure if Gallagher was buying any of it. The man just sat there looking as if he was spooked and ready to run at the first opportunity.
Carter and Daniel left several hours later taking the empty trays and dirty dishes with them. They promised Jack that they were only a phone call away if he needed them and he smiled his thanks as he shooed them out the door. Gallagher was tired, Jack could tell, and he wanted the man to be ready for the next day.
Gallagher lay down on the bed while covering himself with the blanket. Jack had a hard time dealing with that blanket. He was wearing only his t-shirt and his desert khakis and he was still sweating. He knew he was going to be subjected to the heat, but Gallagher still acted like he was cold. Damn, Hulmeshur must have been sweltering.
They all settled down in the beds provided for them, Teal'c taking the upper bunk of Gallagher's bed, while Jack tried to get comfortable on the cot. He did have some qualms about Gallagher getting up and killing him while he slept, but Jack refused to use the restraints on his clone unless he absolutely had to. It was bad enough they were keeping him locked up in this jail. Because of this, he couldn't relax enough to fall into a deep sleep, although sleep did eventually take over.
He jumped up off the cot before he was even awake when someone called him a son of a bitch in a voice that would have raised the dead were they in a cemetery. Jack shook the sleep and cobwebs from his mind as he frantically tried to remember where he was and to figure out what was going on.
It was Gallagher who was doing the yelling and Jack realized the man was dreaming and not shouting at him. He hurriedly went over to sit on the bed next to his clone while Teal'c jumped down from the upper bunk to help out if needed. "Get away from me, you stupid son of a bitch!" Gallagher yelled, his rage apparent in his voice.
"Jack! Wake up," Jack pleaded, scared out of his mind at the rage being directed at the unseen foe. "C'mon. Snap out of it!"
Gallagher apparently didn't hear him because he began to whimper, which scared Jack even more than the rage. "Stop!" Gallagher demanded, his voice laced with pain and anger. "Please."
Jack had had enough of this and he grabbed Gallagher by the shoulders intending to shake him until he woke up. Teal'c yelled out a warning just before Gallagher's fist connected with Jack's chin, knocking him back off the bed and he landed on his backside when he lost his balance.
"Get the restraints," Jack ordered as he rubbed at the spot where Gallagher hit him. Teal'c had been way ahead of him though and was already trying to tie the man down. Jack got up and helped him to get the restraints in place, then sat down on the bed to wait for Gallagher to snap out of it.
Gallagher quieted down and Jack wondered if he had gone back to sleep. He pulled the blanket closer around his clone to ward off the trembling, but he realized that Gallagher hadn't been shivering because of the cold when he saw the fear in the man's eyes. "It was just a dream," Gallagher said defensively. "Nothing more. Just a dream."
Jack just nodded. He didn't know what to say to that. It was clear that Gallagher was fighting off more than the enemies in his dream. He was also fighting off the symptoms of insanity and Jack wished with all his heart he could just make everything better with the snap of his fingers. He gave Gallagher what he hoped was a reassuring smile as he sighed inwardly. He really did have his job cut out for him.
Jack woke up the next morning looking into the tired face of General O'Neill. This sight brought back memories of the dream he'd had during the night that had him begging for mercy from the guards one moment and staring into the angry eyes of his counterpart the next. Judging from the bruise the General sported on his chin as he sat there staring at him, O'Neill had every right to be angry. Oh man, Jack thought, would this never end?
"What happened?" Jack asked as he stared at O'Neill's face. "Did you and Teal'c get into a fight?" He tried to smile as he spoke, but he was too worried about the truth to put a whole lot of effort into it.
"Nope," O'Neill responded as he sat on the bed. "You and I did though."
"Sorry," Jack replied, wishing he hadn't asked in the first place. He waited for O'Neill to say something or at least release him from his bindings, but O'Neill didn't move. He just sat there waiting for God only knows what. Jack decided to just wait for the General to make up his mind and he focused on the top bunk to keep his mind off the memories of the dream that woke him a few minutes ago. It hadn't been as bad as the one that caused him to punch out his counterpart, but it still made him cringe with fear.
"Well, it was worth a try," O'Neill finally said as he got up to walk over to the sink that was on one side of the cell.
"What was worth a try?" Jack asked, then nodded at Teal'c who came into view. "Will you release me Teal'c?"
"Yes," Teal'c responded, as he came over to unlock the bindings.
"Mackenzie always tried it, so I thought I would," O'Neill said as he brought over a cup of water, offering it to him when he had been released. "You know, the silent treatment."
"Oh," Jack said, as he felt the stirrings of a genuine smile creep up on him. "He does have that technique down pat," he added, the smile making him feel a little better. "You'll need to work on your delivery just a tad bit more, though."
"I'll practice on the look he has on his face when he tries that stuff," O'Neill said, grinning broadly at Jack. "Who knows, that guy may just find himself looking for another job."
"Not likely," Jack replied. He was glad that O'Neill didn't hold anything against him, but he was also worried about what was in store for them during the next couple days, weeks or even months.
"I'll be fine Jack," he said, hoping to convince O'Neill that all this was not necessary. "I just need to get away from here."
O'Neill just shook his head, as Jack knew he would. He was stuck here and he might as well get used to that fact. He sat back against the wall, leaning his head back to work on getting his thoughts together, but brought it back up in shock when O'Neill asked him outright, "Who's Taria?"
Jack didn't respond right away. He just stared at his counterpart in surprise as memories of his mate ran through his mind. He remembered her laughter and smiles on the day they were given to each other and of the nights of steamy, glorious lovemaking that eventually evolved into the obligatory `let's get this over with' attempts to produce a child by the time he was rescued. He didn't even know what had happened to her once the members of SG-3 walked up and grabbed him to take him home. Even now, he wasn't sure he cared.
"Jack?" O'Neill prompted with determination.
"My wife," Jack responded dully. It bothered him in some way that he didn't know her whereabouts or if she was still alive. She was, after all, his mate. The woman he shared a bed with, who made sure he ate even when he insisted he wasn't hungry. She knew of his distrust and hatred of her, but she still tried to make it up to him, to atone for the agony she had put him through. "Damned bitch," he muttered as he tried to shake off the deeper feelings he had for her. She had betrayed him and here he was falling for her charms when she wasn't anywhere near him. He was definitely one sick puppy.
"Your wife," O'Neill repeated. "I take it you didn't like her?"
"I didn't have a choice," Jack ground out angrily. "I was a slave, Jack. If Handar proclaimed she was my wife, then by God, she was my wife. She was pretty and I was strong - just imagine the children we would produce," he continued sarcastically.
He stopped speaking then and tried not to dwell on the woman who had destroyed him with just one decision. But she had played a major role in his life for the past eight months and the memories just seemed to slip out.
"And she `was' pretty," he added, feeling the anger slip just a little, as he remembered the beginning of their relationship. "She was the only one in that whole place who could find something to laugh about. She just seemed to light up the darkness of that place and I have to admit I was glad when she was given to me." O'Neill and Teal'c were just sitting there letting him talk and Jack found that once he had started he couldn't stop.
"She helped me through some bad times at first when I wouldn't give in to the demands of Handar and his guards. They had some pretty harsh punishments for people who fought against being a slave. I'd survived worse, though." This was said with a sardonic look at O'Neill, who nodded his head in agreement. They both knew all about pain and agony, having spent some time visiting with the Iraqis during his Black Ops days and with a certain Goa'uld who had a penchant for knives, acid and anti-gravity experiments.
"Taria kept me going at first. She was determined that I would live so that she wouldn't be left alone to face the life of a widow. That ain't a pretty life, let me tell you," Jack advised sagely. "I thought she loved me," he continued, his face darkening as he thought about her betrayal. "Guess I was wrong."
He was not going to go to that place in his mind, Jack resolved determinedly. No way in hell would he ever go through that again. He was working so hard on warding off the memories he had been leading up to that he flinched when O'Neill called out his name.
"What?" he asked gruffly, as he glared at the General.
"Hello? Where were you?" O'Neill responded sarcastically. "You were telling us about your wife, then you spaced out. Are you going to finish your story?"
"No," Jack replied. "I'm hungry. Where's breakfast?"
"Probably still in the kitchen," Jack said with a small grin. "What did you eat while you were in Hulmeshur?"
"Steak and eggs, with pancakes and real maple syrup," Jack replied acidly. "I was a slave, Jack. What did you expect?"
"I expect you to tell me everything that happened to you while you were there so that I can go back to Washington to get lost in the Pentagon again."
"No one's keeping you here," Jack responded.
"Oh yes you are," O'Neill said evenly. He was starting to get royally pissed and Jack knew the signs when he saw them, but he really didn't care at the moment.
"Okay. You win. I'll tell you everything. I woke up in the morning, worked all day in the fields or the mines, whichever they decided for the day, and I went to bed at night. Whew! Am I glad I got that off my chest. You can go home now."
Jack realized that he may have pushed just a little too hard when O'Neill stood up with a look of such intense rage that Jack thought maybe he was still back on Hulmeshur after all and he was facing Handar's wrath. He trembled a little at that thought, but held his ground as he glared back at his counterpart.
O'Neill didn't say a thing. Jack knew it was because he didn't trust himself to speak, but that didn't ease the sudden apprehension that sprang up in his heart. He was so dead.
"O'Neill," Teal'c said from his observation point. "Perhaps you should go and see if our breakfast is ready. I will stay here to keep Gallagher company."
O'Neill shook his head, then went over to the table and grabbed one of the chairs to pull it back into the cell. He placed the chair in front of Jack, then sat down on it as he faced his clone. "I'm not going anywhere until you tell us everything," O'Neill insisted, the anger hidden as he stared at Jack with an emotionless expression. "Start talking," he demanded.
"I've got nothing to say to you," Jack replied.
"Is this the way you behaved while you were being held a slave?" Teal'c asked. Jack looked at him in surprise. What was this? The good cop/bad cop routine? Teal'c wasn't the type to pry, yet here he was getting up close and personal.
"Yeah," Jack responded. He continued to stare at Teal'c, daring him to ask something else. Teal'c just stared back stoically, which was worse as far as Jack was concerned. What was that guy thinking?
"Were you punished for your behavior?"
Jack didn't respond right away. He was surprised that Teal'c would push the issue and he could tell that O'Neill was surprised by the Jaffa's question as well. "Yes," he finally responded, wondering what Teal'c was getting at.
"Tell us what punishments were administered," Teal'c insisted, shocking both O'Neill and his clone. What the hell? Jack thought as he stared at Teal'c. He could understand if the question came from O'Neill, but Teal'c? Jack finally closed his mouth, as he realized that this was way too weird for him, thank you very much.
"Teal'c?" O'Neill asked in surprise. "You feeling all right there, T?"
Teal'c nodded his head as he answered O'Neill's question, "I am well, O'Neill, thank you."
O'Neill stared at Teal'c for a moment longer before dragging his stare to focus on Jack. "Well?"
"Well what?" He had decided to make them work for every last admission.
"What did they do to you?" O'Neill asked, exasperation making an appearance. "I've been told on good authority that it would be good for you to talk about it."
"Who told you that?" Jack asked to stall his friends. He was going to avoid this conversation if at all possible.
"Let me guess," O'Neill replied, apparently ready to take on his own game. "You were whipped, beaten and starved. Am I close?"
"Yeah," Jack admitted. That was only the beginning. As long as he didn't have to go through the worst, he'd be okay.
"Okay. Now we're getting somewhere," O'Neill said, as he rubbed his hands together. "What did they do to you when Taria betrayed you?" he asked.
Bastard, Jack thought nastily. "What makes you think she betrayed me?" he asked, stalling the inevitable. He just knew O'Neill wasn't going to give up until Jack had given up every last drop of blood.
"She did something to make you hate her," O'Neill responded with a shrug. "You talked about her as if you loved her, but you say you don't, so I just came up with a scenario. Tell us. What happened between you two?"
"Nothing," Jack insisted. He got up from the bed and began pacing, as he tried to calm his racing heart. He went up to the bars and curled his fingers around the smooth metal, just as he did the day before, hoping to find something to focus on other than the memory they were trying to force him to relive.
"I can't do this right now," Jack shouted in response. "I just... I can't do this, okay? Jesus!" he said, as he realized he was trembling again.
"Okay," O'Neill said, getting up from the chair to come over to him. "You don't have to talk about it right now. Let's focus on something else." He put his hand on Jack's shoulder to comfort him, but Jack was too wound up to accept the gesture. He pulled away from O'Neill, then turned his back to the bars and slid down until he was seated on the floor.
"I'll be all right," Jack insisted, hoping he was telling the truth. He sat there as he tried to calm his still racing heart and stared at the bed he had just vacated. Teal'c was standing next to the bed watching everything, while O'Neill stood where Jack had left him, waiting for his chance to make amends. "I'll be all right," he said again, in an effort to convince them, as well as himself.
"We'll be right here," O'Neill responded quietly. Jack could only nod his head to acknowledge that he had heard. He was suddenly very tired, but knew that this wasn't the end of it. He was facing a long day and he grimaced as he realized that this was not the end of his terror.
The next hour progressed much smoother after that, as Teal'c and O'Neill both left him and his memories alone. Jack was grateful for the respite even as he worried about the next time. And he knew without a doubt that there would be a next time. Jack had inadvertently given them the ammunition they needed to win this battle and he knew that it was just a matter of time before they destroyed him as effectively as Taria did.
He finally got up from his seat on the floor when Carter and Daniel brought in their breakfast. He tried to ignore the inquiring looks on the faces of his friends and the nod they'd received from the General in response. He found that he was a little angry that they were all conspiring against him, just waiting for him to make a mistake. The guards on Hulmeshur were the same way. One little mistake would have him wishing he had never been born.
Everyone in the room suddenly became quiet when he dropped his plate in his agitation. He felt the panic set in as he realized they were all looking at him. Taria came over to him to tell him that it was all right and stooped down to pick up the dish, but Jack knew there was no saving him now. The guards had seen everything and he felt the hatred seep into his being when one of them came up to grab his arm.
He was determined that he wouldn't go down without a fight and he swung at the guard in an effort to get away. He knew there was nowhere to go, but in his current state of mind he didn't care. He was destined for the vise anyway, why not give them incentive to kill him and get it over with?
He put up a good fight, but as he had come to learn, his best was never good enough. The guards overpowered him and he was strapped to the table with the clamps placed firmly around his chest. He lay there and waited for the pain, determined that this time he would not give them the satisfaction.
He waited, but nothing happened. The guards were talking amongst themselves, while one of them was saying, "We pushed him too hard. Mackenzie warned me about that, but I guess I didn't realize I was pushing." He scrunched up his forehead as he puzzled over the words. Mackenzie?
"You couldn't have known," Taria told the guard before coming over to sit on the bed and put her hand on his arm. Jack knew he'd blown it again when he realized that the woman sitting next to him was Colonel Carter and not Taria. Oh crap!
"I did it again, didn't I?" he whispered angrily. "Why am I doing that?"
"I don't know," she responded, as she pushed the hair off of his forehead. "We'll figure it out though. I promise."
He wanted to believe her, he really did, but how could he when they were all waiting to push the next button to set him off again? "They were going to use the vise," he said, thinking that if he told them what he experienced during the flashback, maybe he wouldn't have them anymore.
"The vise?" Carter asked, as she gave him a puzzled look.
"Yeah," Jack replied, as the others came up to hear what he had to say. "They had a different name for it, but I never could pronounce it right, so I ended up giving it a name that matched its use."
The others were quiet, waiting to see if he would finish what he'd started. He knew they were afraid to push him now and this thought made him feel better about them being there. They really weren't as heartless as he sometimes thought they were.
"Basically they put me on a table with clamps that went around my chest and pushed the lever that caused the clamps to squeeze until my ribs cracked and my lungs deflated. They released the clamps when my lips turned blue and waited until I was breathing properly again before doing it all over again. Nice people, don'tcha think?" This was said with a grimace, but he then had to smile when Daniel uttered the word, "Ouch!"
"Ditto!" O'Neill proclaimed as he, too, grimaced at the description.
"I hated it when they did that," Jack added, "But that was nowhere near as bad as..." he stopped, knowing deep down that this was the memory that drove him to the brink of insanity. He mentally stepped back from the memory and tried to smile at his friends. "Do you think you can trust me enough to release me so that I can eat?"
"Yeah sure," O'Neill said, as he stared at him with a thoughtful expression. Jack knew he was going to have a hard time hiding anything from O'Neill. That man knew him too well for Jack to try to pull the wool over his eyes.
Carter began to unlock the restraints while Daniel told him, "We've got eggs and pancakes. I tried to get the cook to throw in some steaks, but he is still mad at me for the last time I made him cook one." This was said with a guilty look, but Jack still remembered that meal with gusto.
"Don't encourage him Daniel," O'Neill snarled at his friend, causing Daniel to stare at him in confusion.
"Huh?" Daniel asked, obviously wondering what it was he had done this time.
"Just don't encourage him," O'Neill repeated and Jack realized that he was feeling better now that he was with his friends who didn't think he had totally lost his mind. Well, at least not completely.
He filled a new plate with food and took it back to the bed to sit down and eat, while the others crowded around the table to fill their own plates. Carter brought her food over to sit down next to him, which did a lot to help Jack get over the feelings of guilt in having given into the memories again. He hadn't frightened her away yet.
"What can you tell us about that place?" O'Neill asked as he sat down in the chair he had brought in earlier. "Besides the fact that it was hot and sweltering."
Jack didn't respond right away, he just took his time in chewing on the piece of pancake that he had in his mouth. They were all there eating while watching him, waiting for him to talk or to jump over the edge or whatever his crazy thoughts prompted him to do. He swallowed his food and stared down at his plate, knowing deep down that the sooner he talked, the sooner he would be released from this cell. He was just too afraid that talking about it would cause him to lose it for good.
He looked up to see that Daniel was sitting in the other chair, chewing on his food while waiting quietly for the answer to O'Neill's question. Daniel's silence was more expressive than his words could ever be. Daniel was the animated one of the group, always spouting off about what he perceived to be right, pushing the others to see things his way, and just generally focusing on righting the wrongs of the galaxy. Daniel's silence worried Jack and he wondered if maybe it meant that his friend had given up on him.
"You don't have to tell us anything that will send you into a frenzy," O'Neill insisted. "Why don't you start with what happened when you first arrived there?"
Jack brought his attention back to O'Neill. That guy was determined to break through Jack's armor and he didn't know whether he was happy with this thought or not. "I was knocked out during the battle and woke up on the floor of a room that smelled of rotten potatoes," he responded, thinking that it couldn't hurt to tell them about the beginning of his internment as a slave. "The people that were in the room with me just stared right through me as if I wasn't there." He smiled at this memory; he had tried everything to get through to the man who was sitting on the floor next to him. The man, who he had come to know was named Dargan, had been too lethargic to get up enough energy to even answer the stranger.
"I couldn't get out because the door of the room had been locked from the outside. So I tried to find another way out." He had been disappointed to find that there were no windows in the room, but he just knew that there had to be a way out of that place. "The fact that there were no windows hampered my escape, but I still held out hope."
He stopped speaking and looked over at Carter, who was sitting there watching him as she chewed on her own food. He was struck anew at how beautiful she really was. He had to give up on any thoughts he had of them getting together the moment he had come to terms with the fact that he was, for all intents and purposes, twenty years younger than she was. Not to mention he'd have to fight the original Jack O'Neill, so he had worked hard to push any feelings he had for her into the attic of his mind, where he stored all of his other repressed memories.
"The whole place was surrounded by an electrified fence that didn't have any openings," he continued. "I know, because I spent every spare moment looking for one. There really wasn't any need for an opening in the fence as the land on the other side of the fence was an unforgiving desert where even the insects couldn't survive. Handar had everything he needed inside the fence - water, vegetation and livestock were kept in the oasis he had taken over for himself. He had even built a palace in which to live the life of luxury in such an unforgiving environment." Jack frowned as he thought about the injustice of having to live in the rundown shacks with the rest of the slaves. "The slaves were forced to sleep in hovels that were barely strong enough to withstand a sandstorm, let alone keep out the other elements. Handar didn't care though. To him we were just commodities to keep his life happy."
"The guards came in not long after I realized I was stuck for the moment and took me to see Handar," Jack continued as he savored the eggs. "That guy is such an asshole, which I had already realized when he encouraged his men to continue the attack during the battle SG-8 and I fought. Anyway, he took great pleasure in telling me that I was officially one of his slaves and went into great detail in telling me what was expected of me." This was said with a grimace as he remembered Handar's description that slaves were not even considered to be human, just animals that survived only to make their master's life enjoyable.
"Life as a slave was hard," Jack continued, his food forgotten as he delved deeper into the memories of that hellhole. "We were not allowed to do anything unless we were given permission. We worked from daylight to dark in the sweltering heat of that place, which tended to drain me of the energy to even try to think of escape. But then again, I'm not one to accept life as a slave and tried to get out anyway." He smiled then when O'Neill grunted at that remark, but the smile dimmed as he continued to dwell on the past. "The guards knew how to handle those who refused to give in to their demands of servitude, and I was beaten and starved in their efforts to force me into their way of thinking."
Carter reached over to put her hand on his back and he grinned at her as she rubbed his back in an effort to ease his anguish. If she only knew the worst of it, he thought, as he remembered his food and took another bite to give him a minute to collect his thoughts before continuing his story.
"At first it was the standard punishments - you know, whippings, starvation, left out to bake in the sun, that sort of thing, but when they realized that I was a stubborn idiot, they decided to drag out the big guns and resorted to other punishments to get me to see things their way." Okay, he could do this. Just tell them what happened so that he could be released from this cell. Easier said than done, Jack realized as his fear moved into the forefront. He took a deep breath and continued, "The vise was just one of their toys. They also had a device that resembled a pain stick, except that it would burn the skin as it sent bolts of fire throughout my whole body. Oh man, that thing hurt!" he exclaimed, as he gave Carter his plate so that he could pull his feet up on the bed. "I called it a lightning rod because my skin would be charred where they touched me with it, just like the spot on a tree after being struck by lightning."
"Then there was Taria," he said to steer his memories away from the painful moments of his imprisonment in that place.
"His wife," O'Neill supplied for Carter and Daniel's benefit.
"Yeah, my wife," he snarled. "Handar was under the impression that his slaves wouldn't want to leave if they had a family to keep them there. So I hadn't been there a week before he told me that Taria was officially my wife and that we were expected to start popping out kids to add to the slave pool. I was also told that if I did manage to escape, she would be..." He stopped suddenly, realizing that his fear had increased ten-fold and he retreated into silence as he pushed away the horrors of his memories.
"What was she like?" Carter asked, in an obvious attempt to bring him back out. He looked up just in time to see O'Neill shake his head at her to warn her off, but Jack wanted out of this place and he made an effort to answer her question.
"She was young and pretty and she loved to laugh," he said, as he focused on memories of the woman he had come to love during the beginning of his relationship with her. "She was always smiling despite the miserable life we led. I always wondered how she was able to keep her spirits up amongst the misery in that place, but she did and her smile seemed to lighten the mood." He really did love her, he realized, as the memories of the nights they spent getting to know each other washed over him. He had resisted at first, worried that if he gave in, he would be signing his life away, but he wasn't as strong as he liked to believe when she turned to him in the night begging him to keep her safe while she kissed him and touched his soul with her smiles. Sadness filled him then and he put his chin on his knees to keep the horrors away. What had happened to Taria now that he was gone?
"She was a bitch," he growled out, resorting to the anger he felt at her betrayal to force himself not to care. She had put her own selfish needs in front of his safety in order to protect herself, and he had paid the ultimate price because of it. "The guards used us against each other to keep us in line," he added as he glared at the bars of his cell. "They figured that we wouldn't want to do anything to cause the other to suffer for whatever wrong we did. I remember them tearing the skin off of her back with a whip because I didn't bring in enough vegetables one day and Lord knows how many beatings I'd received because of her. They only hurt her once because of something I did though," he added with a wicked smile. "I couldn't let them get away with that and from that point on, they took their anger at whatever I did out on me." Jack remembered all too well the beating he'd received after he'd kicked the hell out of the guard who had the job of punishing Taria for Jack's sin. He had made it clear that they were not to hurt her because of him, and the guards respected that, if only because they didn't want to deal with his anger. The unfortunate guard had been laid up for three days after Jack got through with him.
"I'm not surprised," O'Neill said from the chair he was sitting on. Jack stared at him for a moment, but realized that O'Neill wasn't even looking at him. He was off somewhere in his own memories, remembering something that Jack didn't even try to dredge up. He was too lost in his own recent past to try to figure out what O'Neill was thinking.
Jack went back to staring at the bars, feeling Carter's gentle touch as she continued to rub her hand over his back. She had been doing that for some time now, he realized. It was comforting and he realized he was grateful once again for her being there.
"What happened to Taria?" Daniel asked, as he got up to take his plate to the table. Jack didn't respond. Instead he jumped up off the bed and put some distance between himself and the others in the room. He began to pace back and forth as he looked at them, trying to deal with his fears. The room was suddenly suffocating him and he wanted out. He had to get away from this place!
He stared at his friends while he paced, noticing that O'Neill stood next to his overturned chair, while Daniel had stopped in his tracks to stare at him with concern. Teal'c had also gotten to his feet, ready and willing to step in if his help was needed, while Carter was still sitting on the bed staring at him with a look of surprise on her face. All four of them were there for him, he knew, but he also knew he could easily lose their friendship with just one admission of his guilt.
"Jack?" O'Neill said to break the silence. "Are you still with us here?"
Jack nodded as he tried to smile even as he continued his pacing. "I just need to get out of here," he said, hoping it didn't sound like he was begging. Ah hell, why not beg if it would accomplish his objective. "What's the weather like up there?"
"Cold," O'Neill responded, "You'd freeze to death out there." He bent down to pick up the chair he had knocked over when he'd jumped up and he set it back to rights. "You'd definitely turn into a popsicle wearing those clothes," he continued, pointing at the linen pants and shirt Jack was wearing.
"What's wrong with my clothes?" he asked, as he looked down at himself. "They were definitely the rage back on Hulmeshur. Everybody wanted to be wearing them." He smiled then as he saw the relief in the faces of his friends, although he was still pacing. He was going to make it; it just took perseverance on his part, that's all. "Well, since I am stuck in this place with you guys, did anyone remember to bring a deck of cards?"
There were no more incidents of flashbacks during the day, which was a relief for everyone concerned. Gallagher avoided talking about the things that upset him the most, and Jack found that he was afraid to ask his clone to continue with the memories, worried that the guy would retreat into a place that even Jack wouldn't be able to reach.
He had stayed with Gallagher throughout the day, allowing Teal'c the chance to get out of there to relax, meditate or do whatever Teal'c wanted to do. Jack would get his chance to get away from the tension of that place when he made his obligatory visit to tell Mackenzie everything that happened while he was with Gallagher. Landry was right; Jack was looking forward to the chance to get out of there, if even for a little while.
It wasn't because of the tension in the air, or because of his own memories slipping through the wall he had built up to protect himself that had him wanting to get out of there. It was because he had come face to face with the real Jack O'Neill. He was seeing first hand what others saw when he had come back from a particularly trying time. He now knew the frustration of trying to get through the facade he had always hid behind, afraid to let others see the shame he felt toward his own failures as he remembered the doubts and the fears he held in his mind. Gallagher was Jack O'Neill and Jack knew without a doubt that it was going to take some doing to get the kid to talk about what was really scaring him.
The good news is that he now had an inkling of what it was Gallagher was hiding from. Taria was the key here and Jack wondered what could have happened to cause his clone to panic at the very thought of her betrayal. He knew himself well enough to know that there was more to this whole thing than a woman's betrayal, but getting that information out of a stubborn and scared Jack O'Neill was going to be a job in itself.
A change of clothes had been provided when Gallagher was allowed to take a shower and get cleaned up again. Jack wondered why they hadn't thought of this in the first place. No wonder the guy had been freezing when he had first been left in this cell. The clothes he was wearing worked well for someone who lived in a hot, dry climate, but they were much too lightweight for life in the SGC. Gallagher was now decked out in BDUs, complete with a shirt over a t-shirt and heavyweight pants. Carter had come through in finding a sweatshirt for him to wear when the room got too cold for him and at the moment Gallagher was wearing that thing, as well. The temperature of the room was now set at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and Jack was prepared to punch anyone who dared to suggest turning up the heat.
He and Daniel were sitting at the table quietly playing a game of chess, while Gallagher lay on his bed wrapped up in his blanket and trying to stay awake. Carter had left earlier saying that she would be back to eat dinner with them, but for now she had some work she wanted to get done. Jack tried not to show his exasperation with her and her workaholic habits, but she knew what he was thinking and had told him not to miss her too much, which caused him to smile at the time, as well as every time he thought of it. He truly loved that woman.
Daniel was trouncing Jack at chess, which seemed to be the norm lately. Jack was always surprised when he lost. "You cheated, didn't you?" he asked his friend as he tried to find a way to save the game anyway.
"How can anyone cheat at chess?" Daniel asked, as he pointed at the board. "Checkmate, Jack."
"You took advantage of the fact that I wasn't paying attention," Jack replied, which caused Daniel to stare at him in surprise.
"You weren't paying attention? How was I supposed to know? You always have that vague, blank look on your face."
This time it was Jack's turn to look surprised. "I do not always have a vague look on my face," he said indignantly, then realized that he had forgotten to add the word `blank' to his sentence and rushed on to clarify that point, as well. "And I'm not blank either," he added.
Daniel just grinned at Jack, telling him without words that he was not fooled for a minute. "Wanna play another game?"
Jack ended up only nodding at Daniel. He vaguely wondered where Teal'c was, as he should be returning anytime now. "General?" he heard Gallagher call out and he looked over toward the bed where the kid was last seen.
"Yo," he said in response, hoping that this was not one of those dreams. Jack's chin was still sore from the punch he'd received the night before.
"Do you think I could get out of here for just a little while? Just to the surface, that's all," Gallagher pleaded. "You can have me handcuffed and accompanied by fourteen guards, whatever you think. I just want to see the sky."
Jack didn't know what to say to that. His first instinct was to just tell the guy no and be done with it. But he heard the desperation in the man's voice, and along with his own desires to leave this place, he was hard pressed to deny him just a few minutes of freedom from the cell. He sighed when he realized that he really didn't have a choice. "It's not totally up to me," he said quietly.
Gallagher didn't respond, which surprised Jack. He had thought he was going to be bombarded with words and pleas from the kid. Instead he got this silence and Jack wasn't so sure he liked it. Had the guy totally given up on everything?
He turned back to the game Daniel had set up and tried to concentrate on making a move, but guilt was building up in him, making it hard to think of anything but Gallagher's request. What could it hurt to let him see the damn sky?
"I didn't get a chance to appreciate anything while I was on that planet," Gallagher said from his cocoon. He was lying on his side staring at them as he talked and Jack tried not to let the words sink into his mind. He was not going to give in, he thought with determination.
"I was too busy trying to stay out of trouble," Gallagher continued. "I had finally learned my lesson and did everything I could to keep the guards from noticing me. Bad things happened when the guards noticed me." He grimaced and Jack wondered again what his clone was thinking.
"At first I thought I was going to die from heat stroke," Gallagher said. "That place was like a sauna. I had a hard time breathing because of the suffocating heat, but I used to try and remember the trees and the clear skies of home to try to survive that heat."
Well it's about time, Jack thought with a grin, as he realized there was still some hope for his clone. The guy hadn't given up on anything yet. "All I can do is ask," he said to pacify the man.
"Do you remember that time you were stranded on Edora?" Gallagher asked suddenly, and Jack noticed that Daniel was now staring at him. Jack remembered all right, he just didn't want to continue with that memory. He now knew where his clone was heading and he resented Gallagher's intrusion for bringing it up.
"I loved those times when it was just me and that canoe on the lake," Gallagher said, not bothering to wait for Jack's acknowledgement. "There were no demands, no one wanting something from me, just the water and the boat and the sky to keep me company. Do you remember what you thought when you were out on that boat, Jack?"
"You're not going to get out of here until you tell us all about Taria," Jack countered, hoping to keep Gallagher from succeeding in his bid for freedom. It would have been a different story if the kid hadn't tried to use Jack's own feelings against him.
"Jack," Daniel spoke up in warning, the tone of his voice clearly telling Jack to be careful with the direction he was headed.
Gallagher glared at Jack, then turned on his back to stare at the top bunk. "That sky looked so much like Earth's sky," he continued, deciding to go on with the memory anyway. "It was the same color and everything. The only difference as far as I could see was that it was not the sky I had always taken for granted.
"So you liked looking at the Edoran sky," Jack said warily. "What's that got to do with your current predicament?"
Gallagher didn't respond, which Jack was starting to get used to. He no longer worried about Gallagher's sanity. That guy was as sharp as a tack and knew very well how to work his magic around people to get his way. Too bad he had tried to use that stuff on the one man who could see right through those tactics, having used them to his own advantage for as long as he could remember. "Is it my move?" he asked Daniel.
"Yeah," Daniel said. "Gallagher, did you happen to notice if there were any interesting artifacts in Hulmeshur?"
Where did that come from? Jack thought, as he and Gallagher stared with surprise at Daniel, who looked from Jack to Gallagher before asking, "What?"
"I wasn't looking for artifacts, Daniel," Gallagher finally responded. "A little thing like trying to survive and finding a way to escape sort of took top priority while I was there."
"I was just wondering," Daniel said with a shrug. "SG-3 brought back a small rock that had a symbol engraved on it, I just thought that maybe there were more."
Jack moved his pawn on the board, then looked over at Gallagher, who had suddenly got up and was pacing back and forth in front of his bed. Oh great, what set him off this time? "Hey, settle down over there," he said, hoping the kid wasn't planning on lashing out.
"Did the symbol look like a bell?" Gallagher asked, as he stopped pacing and walked over to the bars that divided the room in half. Jack got up from his chair and faced his clone, suddenly worried about him.
"Well yeah, I guess you could say it was shaped like a bell," Daniel mused, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a stone. "A warped bell is more like it. Why?" he said, excitement causing him to get up off his chair. "Have you seen it? Do you know what it means?"
"Yeah," Gallagher said, his hands tightly clenching the bars of the cell. "Where did they get it," he demanded with a snarl. Jack suddenly wished Teal'c was standing next to him to help him keep Gallagher from killing Daniel or himself. The guy certainly looked menacingly enough.
"I don't know," Daniel said quietly. "Patterson was showing me his treasure and I took it from him thinking it may be an archeological find. I can ask him if you want." Gallagher didn't respond, he just stood there clenching the bars as he stared out through them. "What does it mean?" Daniel asked.
"Nothing," Gallagher said, as he let go of the bars and stepped back. "Is that it?" he asked as he pointed at the rock Daniel was holding.
"Yes," Daniel responded, walking over to hand it to him. "It looks like an etching of some kind, but I don't recognize the symbol, although now that you mention it, it does look like a bell," he continued as he tilted his head to get a different view of the symbol.
Gallagher reached out and snatched the rock from Daniel's hand, then backed up even farther when he had the prize in his grasp. He stared at it for a moment before looking up with an angry expression on his face. "It's just a rock," he said, as he glared at Daniel.
He then looked directly at Jack, staring at him for a minute before saying, "You think I'm crazy don't you? I can see it in your face. You're thinking I should be locked up. You're wrong, you know. I just need to get out of this freaking cell." He was shouting by the time he'd finished and Jack could just tell that they were close to getting at the root of the problem.
"I don't think you're crazy," Jack responded patiently. "A little wound up maybe, but not crazy. Why don't you just sit down and try to calm down?" He started to walk over to his clone, but stopped short when Gallagher shouted at him.
"It could just as easily be you standing here," he yelled, his face gaining back some of the color it had lost when Daniel told him about the rock. "Don't think for a moment that you would never have given in."
"That thought never entered my mind," Jack snarled, losing his patience fast. "I've been there and done that, as you well know, so don't give me any of that crap."
"Jack..." Daniel said soothingly in an obvious attempt to smooth things over between the two men, but Gallagher had found another way to let off some steam.
"Oh sure," Gallagher growled, his face twisted in a sneer that caused Jack to take a step back. "You stand there with the stars they gave you for saving the world and what do I get for my efforts? Eight months on a lousy planet eating sand and forced to work as a slave to survive. You sat there behind a desk while I was left behind and forgotten!"
He stopped then; suddenly hearing his own words and realization dawned on his face as he stared at Jack. The door opened at that point and Teal'c walked in. The Jaffa seemed to take everything in with a glance, then walked over to stand by the cell door, conveniently putting himself between Jack and his clone.
"You were not forgotten," Jack said, trying to steer the kid toward safer territory. "We sent a team back there to look for you."
"Eight months later," Gallagher said, his voice quieting down, as he stared at Jack in horror. Jack was at a total loss in figuring out what was happening. He was losing control of the situation and he worried that Gallagher was going to give into his memories again.
"Gallagher," he snapped, "Don't you dare space out on me now. What's going through your mind?"
"Oh God," Gallagher said. He was retreating; Jack could see it plain as day and he decided that he was going to get to the bottom of this one way or the other. He just hoped he didn't screw up the other Jack O'Neill in the process.
"Gallagher?" he encouraged.
"That bitch betrayed me," Gallagher ground out, "Turned me over to them and I was... you have no idea what they did to me because of it." Jack was seriously concerned as he watched Gallagher struggle with whatever was going on in his mind. Gallagher's face was now the color of chalk and he seemed to be on the verge of hyperventilating. Jack's heart stopped when Gallagher suddenly looked at him with abject horror on his face. "What happened to Taria?" Gallagher asked softly.
Okay, Jack was now past seriously concerned. He was downright scared. Gallagher had gone over the deep end, there was no doubt about it now and Jack didn't know if he would be able to bring his clone back to the world of sanity. "Don't you know?" he asked tentatively, stepping closer to the man who shared his worst memories and had come out of those situations with some semblance of sanity. What had happened to push him to this?
"What have I done?" Gallagher asked, as he dropped down to his knees. He stayed there, staring at the rock he had in his hand, while the adrenalin raced through Jack's veins. He was terrified for his clone, and he didn't even have a clue as to why.
"I don't know," Jack said evenly, trying not to show his own fear. The man kneeling on the floor was Jack O'Neill and Jack remembered many times when he had felt like Gallagher did. God, why did he agree to try to help this guy? "Why don't you tell us?" he said, half hoping he wouldn't get an answer.
"I had to work in the fields that day," Gallagher responded listlessly, not having moved an inch. "Taria was sent out to work in the garden. We were not on the best of terms, but she always tried to make it up to me and I remember looking back at her to see her smiling at me." He stopped then, obviously lost in the memory. He looked away for a moment, then trained his sights on the floor. "That was the last time I saw her."
"What happened then?" Daniel asked as he came to sit on the floor next to Gallagher. Jack was suddenly glad Daniel was there with them. Daniel always knew what to say and was persistent enough, as well as possessing an understanding nature that was going to be a big help in dealing with this. At least Jack hoped so.
"SG-3 showed up and dragged me out of there," Gallagher said. He looked up at Jack and stared at him defensively. "I tried to go back for her, but they tied my hands behind my back and dragged me to the Gate. I tried to go back." Gallagher was back to staring at the floor again and Jack suddenly realized what was going on.
"Taria is still in Hulmeshur," Teal'c spoke up, voicing Jack's thoughts. No one responded to Teal'c's statement, they all knew what the problem was, but nobody wanted to be the one to say the words out loud.
"I got out of there," Gallagher said.
`I'm sure she's fine," Daniel said reassuringly. He put his hand on Gallagher's shoulder, but Gallagher didn't seem to realize anyone else was in the room with him.
"I escaped," he said again. "The guards used to taunt me with descriptions of what they would do to her if I escaped. I tried to go back for her, but Reynolds wouldn't let me." Jack was surprised to see that Gallagher's eyes were moist as he snarled out his hatred for SG-3. "They wouldn't let me and now she's dead."
"She could still be alive," Daniel insisted. "You don't know for sure that they would kill her."
"Torture and death," Gallagher replied. He was back to staring at the floor and Jack decided that he wanted out of there right that minute. He could feel the man's grief drifting through him and Jack knew from first hand experience what grief could do to him.
"I'll see what I can do to find out for sure," Jack said, wanting desperately to get away. He was being pulled in by Gallagher's depression and the Colorado skies would have been a welcome sight right about then. "Don't give up until you know for sure."
Gallagher looked up at him again, his emotions now firmly hidden as he snarled, "I left her behind to face torture and death."
"You mentioned that she betrayed you," Teal'c said, as he came over to sit down next to Gallagher and Daniel. "Would that not be reason enough to leave her there?"
Jack couldn't help but think that Teal'c was barking up the wrong tree, but he had to give the big guy credit for trying. Gallagher had been spouting off about his hatred for Taria ever since he had been forced to talk about her, why would he care what happened to her? Jack knew the answer to that question all too well, but he pushed his own fears aside as he went over to join the others on the floor. "Teal'c's got a point," he said, hoping to help Gallagher out any way he could.
Gallagher didn't answer and Jack sighed as he realized that it was too late. Gallagher had shut down - rolled up the carpet, locked the doors and pulled down the blinds. He had retreated into his misery and grief and Jack knew from experience that it was going to take a lot more than a determined General, a persistent Archeologist and a stoic Jaffa to get past the barriers of guilt Gallagher had erected to hide behind. That didn't mean that Jack was going to give up now. He was just going to have to find the right buttons to push in getting this guy to open up again and he already had a good idea of which buttons to start with.
"Just peachy," he said, as he gave Daniel and Teal'c a pained look. "Just when I get down on this floor, this guy clams up. One of you want to help me up?" he asked, as the other two stared at him in surprise. "No. Don't bother. I can do it," he said, when his friends made no move to help. "My knee's been acting up, but really, don't worry yourselves." He stood up just as Teal'c decided to act and he grinned at Teal'c before turning to Gallagher, "I'm going to go get cleaned up and have a talk with Landry and Mackenzie," he said, knowing Gallagher heard every word. "I'll be back in a little while." With that said, he indicated with his head for Daniel and Teal'c to walk with him to the door.
"Keep an eye on him," he advised quietly. "You can try to talk to him, but I wouldn't count on getting too far with him right now."
"We will," Daniel said with determination and Jack smiled as he put his hand on Daniel's shoulder.
"Just don't expect a whole lot out of him," Jack insisted. "Trust me on this, he's not going to be very cooperative."
"He'll be fine," Daniel replied loyally.
"We can't give up on him now. He just needs some time..."
"Daniel," Jack repeated, giving his friend a little shake to shut him up. "Do you remember how I behaved when we first met?"
Daniel started to say something, but then stopped and stared at Jack with understanding and sadness appearing in his eyes. He continued to stare while he processed his own memories. "Yeah," he finally said, looking away to watch the grief stricken, guilt ridden man who was still kneeling on the floor. "I remember."
"I've been where he's at right now," Jack said, remembering the anger, sadness and suicidal thoughts he'd experienced when his son had accidentally killed himself with Jack's gun. "He is not going to talk to you about this. I'll be back later and we'll deal with it then."
Daniel just nodded as he stared at Gallagher, while Teal'c bowed his head in acknowledgement. Jack knew he was leaving Gallagher in good hands, he just hoped his ideas would work. He really did like that kid.
Torture and death; the words were repeated over and over in Jack Gallagher's mind as he knelt there and stared at the stone in his hand, its smooth surface marred by the etching; while his thoughts took him back to the day that Balzor, one of the guards, had taunted him with those words. It was about a month after Jack had first arrived and he had been working in one of the mines when Balzor came up to him and prodded him with the whip he carried around in case the opportunity came up to hurt someone. Balzor was one of the more sadistic guards who enjoyed his job, especially when it came time to inflict punishments.
Jack had spent most of that morning helping two other men dig out a naquadah vein that had been found the day before. Handar had discovered that naquadah was valuable for many uses, although it was mainly used as an energy source to keep his palace cool and to keep the fence around his oasis powered. Because of this, the slaves were expected to bring in as much as they could find.
Jack didn't mind working in the mines, as it meant that he was not working outside in the sun. The mines provided some relief from the heat, although not a whole lot, but still enough to have him hoping he would be assigned to work there on a daily basis. He was careful not to let the guards know this though, they would spitefully make sure he didn't get a chance to ever see the shade if they thought he wanted it.
He was going over the plans for his escape in his head when Balzor came up to see if Jack and his companions had made any progress in digging up Handar's `gold'. Jack was grateful that they had, as he definitely did not want to deal with the guard's wrath. He knew all too well what that meant. "You all have done well," Balzor said, with a look of distaste on his face. "Handar will be pleased."
Jack continued to dig, knowing from experience what would happen if he stopped to acknowledge Balzor's words. He really hated this guy, but he was still working on a plan to escape and pissing off Balzor would definitely put a kink in his plans. It would be hard to run if he was laid up from another beating. So he continued to dig, hoping the guy would get bored and go find someone else to torment.
Balzor was bored all right, Jack realized, as the guard continued to stand there and watch them dig. Even after only a month, Jack knew the signs when he saw them and he wondered which one of slaves was going to end up being carried out of there. He pushed his shovel into the dirt, hoping that it would be one of the other guys this time, knowing himself well enough to know that he wouldn't let it come to that. He would step in to help and he cringed as he sank the shovel back into the dirt again. He could be such an idiot sometimes.
"Is Taria with child yet?" Balzor asked. Oh great, Jack thought. It turned out that he was today's target, after all.
"It's only been a couple of weeks," Jack said carefully. He did not want to ruin the plans he had made to get out of there. "We are definitely trying though," he added, trying to pacify the man.
"She is a beautiful woman," Balzor said thoughtfully. Jack stopped digging momentarily to look up at the guard. He so hoped Balzor wasn't thinking what it sounded like he was thinking. The very thought made Jack's blood run cold. He would kill the son of a bitch. Taria was Jack's mate, and although he didn't have a firm handle on what he felt for the woman, he was still extremely protective of her. She was counting on Jack to keep her safe and he didn't plan on letting her down.
He went back to digging, ever mindful of the whip Balzor was idly making circles in the dirt with. Balzor would be more than happy to beat the hell out of Jack, even if he had to make something up in order to do it, which he rarely did. The guards didn't need an excuse to punish the slaves. They just had to make sure that there were enough slaves around who were able to carry out the next day's tasks.
"It would be a shame to see that beautiful face marred," Balzor continued. "Do you know what happens to the family of a slave who tries to escape?"
Jack didn't allow himself to answer, he just continued to dig. The other slaves had warned him not to even think of escape, although he never was one to accept defeat so easily. He was determined to get back to Earth, no matter what it took, even if he had to take Taria with him to keep her safe. The stories and the rumors told of others who attempted to escape had most of the other slaves cowering in fear for even talking about it.
"I asked you a question," Balzor snarled, causing Jack to rethink his strategy of keeping quiet.
"I've heard from the others what would happen," he spoke up, if only to stay alive long enough to escape. Balzor had a reputation and Jack had learned the hard way that the guard intended to live up to that reputation.
"Torture and death," Balzor took great pleasure in telling him. "She would be tortured for days until she is no longer the person you know, then she would be killed in a slow agonizing way. And you would be made to watch, because we all know that there is nowhere for you to go." The evil smile he had on his face reminded Jack of the time he had been imprisoned in Iraq. A certain Colonel used to smile like that just before he tortured a young Major Jack O'Neill unmercifully for hours. Jack shook off that image to focus on the one staring him in the face.
"She would be screaming and begging for mercy, but I won't give her any," Balzor continued, "I will take great pleasure in hurting her. Of course, that will be after I take her to my bed. She'll love that," he taunted with a sneer. "I'll make sure of it."
Jack pushed the shovel into the dirt with a great deal of force, while angrily gritting his teeth in an effort to fight off the urge to smash the shovel into the man's face. He was so close to giving into his desire anyway, but he held on to his determination to take Taria and make a run for the Stargate, which was located in a fenced in area at the edge of Handar's oasis. Jack had figured out a way to get past the barrier that guarded the Gate, at least he hoped it would work, and he knew that he would need to be conscious if he was going to succeed. He bit his tongue to keep from saying anything to the guard, knowing deep down that his efforts were probably all in vain anyway. Balzor really didn't need an excuse to beat Jack into an unconscious state of mind.
"I'm not planning on escaping," Jack said, hoping that this was the right thing to say. He was pretty proud of himself at that moment. Normally he would have been saying something sarcastic, or to be honest, something really, really stupid. But here he was saying all the right words to keep the peace, just so that he could live long enough to escape. He continued to dig as he wondered if his words had been the right ones after all.
"I think that I would rather you did," Balzor said menacingly. "Handar will not honor my request to take Taria for myself. He thinks that if I did, you would not care about her and try to escape. Is that true?"
Wonderful. What to say to that? Jack was doomed no matter which way he answered the question. If he said Handar was right, Balzor would pounce on him for taking away something he wanted. If he told Balzor that he did care about Taria and not leave, he'd be punished for calling Handar a liar. Damn it, he just knew he wasn't going to get the chance to escape that day.
He had taken too long to answer. Balzor's whip snaked out and caught Jack on the back of his shoulder. He flinched in pain, then glared at Balzor before going back to the task of digging for the naquadah. "Is that true?" the guard asked again.
"Handar would not tell a lie," Jack said, as he buried the blade of the shovel into the dirt. He was incensed by now, fueled by the pain the whip had inflicted and by the total injustice of the whole issue. He continued to dig, knowing deep down that he had already blown it.
"I hope you try to escape," Balzor said. "I want to make you suffer in the worst way. But for now, I suppose I'll just have to enjoy hearing your screams, as I beat you for throwing dirt on my shoes."
Well damn. If he was going down, he might as well go down in a blaze of glory, Jack thought, as he took the shovel and swung it at Balzor's head. Jack was positive that the man saw stars, but that didn't even compare to what Jack ended up going through for that misdeed. Why did he have to be such an idiot?
Jack remembered very well what they did to him for hitting Balzor. The guard had come close to killing him in retaliation, but Handar couldn't afford to lose another slave, so Jack was saved from death yet once more, although he had been unable to move for a few days after the beating he'd received.
He wallowed in his sadness as he remembered Taria's efforts to help him get back on his feet as soon as possible after that beating. She was not allowed to stay with him during the day, so he was left to do for himself when she was working. But when she was able to find a few moments for him, she was there nagging at him to eat to gain back his strength, all the while kissing him and promising him everything if he would just survive this and stay out of trouble from that moment on. She needed him to live and he had a hard time denying her anything.
This was all before she turned on him, though. Jack tried not to think of what he went through because of her betrayal. It was definitely something that had changed him forever. He hated the fact that he couldn't bring himself to deal with that particular memory, but he justified his reluctance with the thought that he would probably end up killing somebody if he found himself in a flashback because of it.
He was avoiding the real problem, though. He had failed Taria, just as he had failed himself. He remembered the whispered promises that he would keep her safe and that he would never leave her. And even though those promises were made before her betrayal, he knew deep down that he still loved her and that she was dead because of him. He got up from kneeling on the floor to go over to sit on the bed, so lost in his grief and memories that he was alone, no matter that Daniel and Teal'c were still in the room with him.
Torture and death. He was staring at the floor again, dealing with the memories that seemed to flood through his mind. He remembered the smiles she would give him when she saw him after the long days of toiling at the tasks they had been assigned. She always seemed to be happy to see him, even though she knew he couldn't forgive her for what she did. She tried to win back his love anyway, snuggling up to him every night after their efforts to produce a child. He had shrugged away from her at first, but as time went by he just let her snuggle. What difference did it make one way or the other? He was honest with himself now to realize that he let her because he'd wanted it as much as she did.
"Jack?" Daniel said, having finally decided to butt in. Jack didn't answer his friend. What could he say? He had left his wife behind to deal with a fate worse than death. He had murdered her as effectively as if he was the one with the knife.
"Hey," Daniel tried again. "I'm sure that Taria is fine. Don't write her off yet."
Daniel didn't understand how things went down in that place, Jack realized. Balzor was not the only guard in Hulmeshur who loved to inflict pain and who wouldn't hesitate to kill if given the opportunity. Handar ruled that place with an iron thumb, even the guards knew their own limitations, but those guards were chosen for their ruthlessness and Handar would not hesitate to let them sacrifice a slave or two as examples to the others if it served his own purpose. His tactics were extremely effective and Jack truly believed that they would not have let his escape go unpunished.
"We'll find her," Daniel insisted. Jack knew better though. Taria, along with her smiles and love, was lost to him forever, except in his memories and Jack knew that with time, even those would fade. Anger moved in as he thought about his failure to find her to bring her with him. Colonel Reynolds had insisted that they didn't have time; his team was going to be slaughtered if they didn't go back through the Gate at top speed. They didn't understand Jack's reluctance to leave and Reynolds' anger took over when Jack began to fight them in their efforts to rescue him. He had personally grabbed Jack's arms to secure them behind his back in an effort to force him to go with them.
"Come on Jack, talk to me," Daniel pleaded. Teal'c came up to sit down next to Jack, but he was too upset to really pay too much attention to his friends. He had tried to go back, it was not his fault that he couldn't.
"Gallagher," Teal'c said, his voice projecting his concern. "O'Neill will do whatever it takes to find out what happened to your wife. You must have faith that we will find her."
She's dead, Jack wanted to tell them, but he kept his silence. He knew they were just trying to make him feel better, but he didn't know if he would ever survive this one. He remembered his thoughts of hatred for her during his stay in this cell and now knew that he had used those thoughts to keep him from facing his failure. General Landry had been shocked to see him being dragged back through the Gate, and was just as surprised to learn that Jack had wanted to go back. He told Jack that there was no going back to that place for anyone; in fact the planet was going to be locked out of the base's computers. Then he had been locked up in this cell, effectively cutting off any thoughts of rescuing his wife. Shame and hatred for himself washed over him as he realized that he relied on his anger at Taria to justify leaving her behind to face the torture Balzor promised would happen. He should have demanded that they let him go back.
"Can I get you something?" Daniel asked, trying another tactic to get Jack to snap out of it. Jack finally looked over at his friend, wondering why Daniel didn't just leave. "Water? Something to eat?" Daniel prompted, encouraged by the fact that Jack actually showed some interest in something other than the floor.
"I want you to leave me alone," Jack said, then went back to staring at the floor. "Both of you. Just leave."
"No," Daniel said.
"I will stay," Teal'c said just as stubbornly.
Bastards, Jack thought. He should have known they would stay with him. That was the game plan, after all. Get him to face his demons and all will be good. They'll all live happily ever after. Well, everyone but him.
He got up off the bed and walked over to the bars of the cell and leaned his head up against them, wishing he could see her one more time. He wanted to apologize for failing her, to see her smile and to hear her laughter. He wanted desperately to believe that she was still alive, but knew in his heart that he was not going to get any of those things and that he should just face it.
The irony of it all was that he had been so angry with her for her betrayal, only to find that he had betrayed her when he left her there to face her worst fear. "Son of a bitch!" he cursed, as he rammed his hand into the bars that separated the room.
"Do you feel better now?" Daniel asked from behind him. Jack couldn't answer, he just stood next to the bars as hot tears scalded his eyes. He let them fall, not even caring what his friends thought of him now. Daniel came up then and tried to comfort him with a touch, but Jack was beyond redemption. He jerked away and put more distance between them, needing to be alone.
"Leave me alone," he snarled, anger forcing the words out in a rush. "Just get the hell out of here!"
"We're not going to leave you alone," Daniel replied. "We'll all be here for you Jack. Whenever you are ready, we'll be here." With that said, he walked into the outer room and sat down at the table. Teal'c got up off of the bed, bowed his head at Jack to reinforce Daniel's statement, then walked over to the table to sit in the seat O'Neill had vacated earlier.
"I will join you in this game," Teal'c told Daniel.
Just peachy, Jack snarled silently. This was all he needed. They were not going to leave him alone. Granted, they had decided not to bother him with words anymore, but their presence in the room was still felt and Jack resented this just as much as he resented their faith in him. God save him from well-meaning friends.
He went over to the bed and lay down on it while he stared up at the upper bunk, still dealing with flashes of memories of Taria. He remembered waking up in the mornings to find her smiling at him before kissing him and pulling on his arm to make him get up before the guards found them. She had grown up in that place and had been taught all the right moves, words and techniques to keep the guards happy, which she passed on to Jack, teaching him everything she knew. Jack, however, had been raised to live free and he resisted everyone's efforts to make him a model slave, much to his wife's chagrin. She finally got her peace of mind though, when she turned him in.
This was so not good. Even though he believed with all his heart that he deserved whatever punishment those people could come up with to atone for leaving her behind, he just couldn't face the memories of the punishment he received because of her betrayal. He got up off the bed and paced in front of it, desperately trying to avoid thinking of his downfall. He had totally given in after that punishment, Handar and his guards had won. Jack had been too afraid of repeating that experience to even think of escaping again and had done his share of groveling, while doing his best to be the perfect slave so that they wouldn't notice him.
He hadn't been able to control the hatred he'd felt toward his captors, though. He hated them with every fiber of his being and he had let them know with his glares and the anger in his voice every time he uttered a word. Handar and his guards accepted this - as long as Jack cooperated with their demands, they couldn't care less whether he liked them or not. It did bother a few of the guards occasionally, but they had learned the hard way that while Jack was the model citizen, he still had a mean streak in him that would cause him to lash out every once in awhile. These outbursts were dealt with by the guards whenever Jack's anger and hatred overflowed, they still had their toys to fall back on after all, but they saved the worst punishment for escape attempts.
A knock on the door interrupted Jack's pacing and he stopped long enough to see what was going on. Daniel was at the door waiting for the guard to open it. Jack so hoped this meant that Daniel was leaving, but he had forgotten Daniel's determination when it came to helping out a friend. Daniel just spoke a few words to the guard, then turned to go back to sit down at the table, while the SF left the room. What the hell was that all about?
He glared at Daniel before going to sit down on the bed. As long as his friends left him alone, he'd be okay. Not likely, he grimaced, knowing that what he wanted and what he was going to get were two different things. He remembered how Daniel's logic broke through Jack's anguish and suicidal thoughts while on that first mission to Abydos, despite Jack's determination to not let him in. It had turned Jack's life around. And that was before Daniel had become a close friend. Jack just knew that Daniel was going to hound him to death.
And then there was O'Neill. Jack was honest enough with himself to realize that O'Neill was the bigger threat, the greater danger. Of all his friends, O'Neill was the one who worried him the most. That guy not only knew Jack better than anyone else, he also had access to Jack's mind, knowing what he was thinking and why he was behaving the way he was. Worse yet, O'Neill knew what tactics to use to break through the wall Jack had built up around himself and he was terrified that O'Neill was going to be successful in getting him to face his worst fears.
His worst fears included the memory of the agony he experienced when he had been caught and his anger grew as he realized that Taria would be facing that punishment. He just knew that they had put her through it to punish her for his escape. God, he hoped not. He wouldn't even wish that on a certain Goa'uld named Ba'al and Lord knows how much Jack hated Ba'al. But the thought of the woman he had grown to love during his internment as a slave going through something Jack wouldn't even wish on his worst enemy had him trembling in fear as flashes of memories flowed through his mind.
Focus on something else Jack, he commanded. Don't give in to those memories. He tried to listen instead to Daniel and Teal'c as they talked quietly amongst themselves. Oh great, he thought, as he overheard Daniel telling Teal'c what Jack was like when they had first met. This meant that Daniel was well aware of Jack's anguish and was probably already devising a plan of attack. This was all he needed.
What Daniel didn't realize was that Jack wanted to keep himself in the prison of turmoil he was hiding out in. He had left his wife behind to suffer a punishment that had driven him to the brink of insanity. There was no excuse for what he had done and he truly believed he should suffer. It was just a matter of convincing the others to leave him to his depression.
He looked down at the rock in his hand, the stone that he had tried to carve a bell into. Taria always had it with her, keeping it as a reminder of happier times between them. How did it end up here at the SGC? He continued to stare at the stone as memories of the night before he was rescued played out in his mind.
Taria had been snuggling up to him, with her head on his shoulder, as they lay on the bed that they shared. He had been trying to sleep, but his wife had other ideas. She was restless that night and he knew from experience that there would be no sleep for him when she was restless. "Go to sleep," he growled at her in the darkness. "We have a long day tomorrow."
She didn't respond, which was good as far as Jack was concerned. He really wasn't up to trying to be civil to her. He brought his head up to see what she was up to when she put something down on his chest. It was the stone that he had given to her a few weeks after they had been `married'. He brought his gaze to look into her face to see what she was thinking, but she was staring at the rock. What the hell?
"Do you remember when you gave me this?" Taria asked, the tremble in her voice telling Jack that she was dealing with some sadness.
"Yeah," he responded warily.
"You were telling me about the rituals the people of your world go through when two people are united in marriage." She picked up the rock and turned to look at him with a small smile. "You told me that I would have to make do with a bell, as a ring would have been taken from me the minute I put it on."
Jack couldn't help the small smile that graced his features. He remembered her happiness that he would even do something like that for her and she had promised she would never lose it. "It's just a rock, for crying out loud," he told her, too tired to even try to figure out why it was important to him that she still had that rock. He had treated her so badly over the past six months, why did she continue to love him?
"You loved me once, Jack," she said, as she laid her head back down on his shoulder. "It's all I have to remind me of that love."
Jack didn't respond to that, he just lay there in the dark and stared up at the ceiling of the place he was forced to call home. Times like these made it hard for him to hate her and he wondered, not for the first time, if he had already forgiven her, just too stubborn to admit it. He gave into the urge to hug her and he held her tightly, before saying, "Go to sleep, Taria." She nodded and he lay awake for a long time afterwards.
Daniel brought Jack back to the present by coming over to sit down next to him on the bed. "I've asked the SF to let me know the minute SG-3 gets back from their latest mission. I'll find out from Patterson where he got that thing," he continued, pointing at the rock Jack held in his hand. "Will you tell me what it means?"
Jack stared at the rock, wishing it was big enough for him to bash Daniel's head in. Why couldn't that guy just leave him alone? "Marital bliss," he said, hoping to pacify the man long enough to get rid of him.
Daniel wasn't the type to cooperate, it seems. "Seriously?" he asked, his eyes shining with delight. "That could be a tradition they brought with them from Earth." He stopped then and looked out toward the outer room before bringing his gaze back to Jack. "Jack... I'm sorry. I know how hard it is to deal with this loss, but I have to tell you that you may be jumping the gun here. She may still be alive and if she is, we will find her and bring her back here."
"She's dead Daniel," Jack snarled at his friend. "Don't you get it? They won't let her live. They have to set an example for the other slaves." He stopped and glared at Daniel, before adding, "She's dead."
"I didn't give up on Sha're so easily," Daniel said quietly.
"It's not the same thing and you know it."
"Maybe," Daniel said softly, "But then again it doesn't matter because you've already written her off. She must not have meant a whole lot to you."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Jack yelled, standing up to loom over the archeologist. "You have no idea what she meant to me and for you to sit there..."
"You hated her," Teal'c spoke up. He was standing in the doorway of the cell, ready and willing to step in if necessary. "You have told us this repeatedly."
Jack just stood there staring at Teal'c. His friends were ganging up on him. He knew it the moment Teal'c spoke up and he knew that he didn't stand a chance when they ganged up on him. "Get the hell out of here," he shouted at them. "I don't need this, okay? Just... get... out!"
The stubborn bastards didn't move. They were both determined to help him and Jack knew that they were in it for the long haul. He glared at them one more time before going to sit down on the floor in a corner of the cell, hoping to find a place where he could be alone. His anger seemed to be boiling over as he stared at the people who were determined to break him. "I never said I hated her," he growled.
Teal'c nodded to acknowledge the words, while Daniel stared at him with a thoughtful expression. Jack just wanted to get away. If he could just find someplace where he could be by himself, he could work through this. He resented the intrusions, but finding a way past those intrusions was not going to be easy, especially when he had his friends to deal with.
Jack closed his eyes at that thought. He was so doomed.
The hot shower did wonders for Jack. It caused the tension he had been carrying around to ease up a little; although he was still trying to shake off the terror he'd felt when Gallagher finally faced his demons, or at least one of them. Jack couldn't help but think that there was more to this than Gallagher's failure to save his wife, but until he managed to get his clone to tell him everything, he was at a loss as to what they were facing.
He walked down the familiar halls of the SGC, suddenly glad that he was here and not at the cabin in Minnesota or at Gallagher's house in Colorado Springs. Jack knew exactly what his clone was going through now, and he also knew that once this guy got over the initial stages of grief, he would start in on the suicidal thoughts; that is, if history repeated itself. There were a lot of things in that house that could be used as a weapon of destruction, which is why Gallagher was going to stay here until things settled down in his mind.
Jack really hoped history would not be repeating itself this time around. He had come out of it the last time swearing that he wouldn't allow himself to get to that point ever again. Those days were dark times for him and he had ended up destroying more than his self-esteem. He had lost everything because of his inability to deal with the guilt and shame, including his wife, Sara. She had always been his rock, the light in the window showing him the way home when his life was spiraling out of control. She had left him to deal with her pain alone, because he couldn't be there for her. Face it O'Neill, wouldn't be there for her.
Anger built up in him as he thought about those days when he'd let down the one woman who had always been there for him. She was the one who stayed at home waiting for him to return from wherever the Air Force took him. She was there when he returned from Iraq, a broken down shell of a man, and she was the one who brought him back out into the world, her love giving him the ammunition he needed to deal with his failures and to move on.
Then Charlie had pulled that trigger, an event that changed their lives forever. Sara was in just as much pain as Jack had been in, but he couldn't see it through his own anguish. It had been his turn to help her through a dark time and he blew it with his own selfish needs. He had pushed her away and in doing so, he had effectively pushed her out of his life.
Jack stopped walking to stare out at nothing, knowing he had to shake these thoughts from his mind before he met with Dr. Mackenzie. The hallway was empty and for this, Jack was grateful. He took a deep breath, then continued walking down the hall at a slower pace, hoping to give himself some time to calm down, all the while wondering if the thoughts of his failure at marriage had been brought on by Gallagher's problems.
God, Jack didn't even want to think about what Gallagher was going through right now. The man had left his wife behind to face certain torture and Jack knew better than anyone what that thought had to be doing to his clone. He had to be hating himself as thoroughly as Jack had hated Frank Cromwell, the son of a bitch who had left him behind in Iraq. Jack wasn't so sure if he still hated Cromwell, but he had gained a healthy respect for the man who had risked his life to save the world from being sucked up into a black hole and who had ultimately given up that life in an aborted attempt to help Jack.
Cromwell had tried to explain his actions for leaving Jack to the mercies of the Iraqis, but Jack was not willing to listen. He had hung on to his hatred; refusing to believe anything other than what he had convinced himself for all those years. He now wondered if Gallagher was going to ever forgive himself.
He continued walking through the corridors of the SGC, as he worked on calming down. He ended up in the empty briefing room, staring out at the Stargate and wondering what possessed him to even think about helping Gallagher out of this mess he had gotten himself into. He felt like he was in way over his head and he just knew that if he continued working with Gallagher, the kid was going to end up dragging Jack down with him.
His thoughts were interrupted by Hank, who had come up to join him. "Everything going okay Jack?" he asked.
"Yeah," Jack replied with a forced grin. "Just admiring the view."
"Nice view," Hank responded. "So how did it go in there?"
"Okay I guess," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. "Gallagher definitely has some problems he needs to work through."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"How you are handling all this?" Hank asked, as he waved airily at Jack's bruised chin.
"Just peachy," Jack replied, hoping that none of the panic he had felt while he was watching his clone fall apart showed through his demeanor. "The man caught me off-guard." He smiled then and asked the burning question that was on everyone's mind. "Did SG-3 file any mission reports on their trip to Hulmeshur?"
"Yes, they did. They almost didn't make it back; Handar's men were swarming around the gate twenty minutes after they had arrived there. They had a hard time finding the Lieutenant and when they did, he fought them every step of the way." Landry shook his head at that, then said, "I have to tell you that I was surprised when he insisted on going back."
"Didn't he tell you why he wanted to go back?" Jack ground out. The man had wanted to go back for his wife. How could anyone deny him that?
"He came through that gate fighting his rescuers," Landry responded, "And when I confronted him, all he could do was demand that I let him go back. From the way he was acting, I thought he may have been compromised by an alien entity. I followed protocol and had him put into a cell until we knew for certain he was who he said he was."
Jack couldn't argue with that logic. Landry did do the right thing, but he was still angry on Gallagher's behalf. "He wanted to go back for his wife," he said angrily.
"What?" Landry exclaimed. "I didn't know he had a wife."
"From what I gather, his escape guaranteed her death. He's been dealing with that ever since he got back."
"God," Landry breathed. "No wonder he's been lashing out at everyone he meets." His expression turned thoughtful, then added, "There was no mention of a wife in any of the reports which leaves me to believe that the members of SG-3 didn't know of it either."
"I want to read those reports," Jack told him. "And I want to talk with Reynolds and his men as soon as possible."
"They're off-world right now, but should be back tomorrow afternoon," Landry replied, as he turned toward his office. "I'll let you know the minute they get back."
Jack nodded, then turned to look at the Stargate. That thing had caused him more problems in the last few years than anything he had ever encountered in his entire life. He sighed, then followed Landry into the office. "I'm also going to need to contact my Aide in Washington. Do you have an empty office I can use temporarily?"
"There's one right next to Mackenzie's," Landry said, with a small smile.
"That's not even funny," Jack growled in response.
The grin on Landry's face became broader before he said, "He really isn't all that bad."
"It's obvious you haven't spent much time in his office," Jack said dryly. "Do you have those reports?"
"Yes," Hank responded with a small laugh. He rummaged through a pile of folders until he found the ones he was looking for and handed them to Jack. "There's an office just down the hall that you can use. It's not very big, but it's also not being used."
"It'll do," Jack said, grateful for anything at that point. "Thanks."
Jack spent the next couple of hours making phone calls and reading the reports written by the members of SG-3, reporting what went down while on the mission to find Gallagher. Landry was correct in that there was no mention of a wife. Reynolds' report indicated that once they had arrived in Hulmeshur, they were able to slip through the barrier and had immediately gone in search of Gallagher. They had met several people while searching the area, but the natives were all too scared to even talk to them. One woman finally gathered up the courage to stop and talk to them, and it was she who told them where they would find their missing comrade. They managed to grab Gallagher and tried to get back to the Gate, but their efforts were hampered by Gallagher's refusal to leave with them, not to mention the fact that Handar's men were swarming around the Stargate. SG-3 had to resort to laying down ground fire, causing Handar's men to scatter for cover, while Patterson made a run for the DHD to dial home. Reynolds finally had to tie Gallagher's hands together to drag him through the Gate, which was a trial in itself, considering the fact that the man had fought them every step of the way.
It was Patterson's report that gave Jack another piece of the puzzle. Patterson reported that the woman who helped them find Gallagher gave him a small stone with something etched on it, telling him that she wouldn't need it anymore. This had to be the stone that had set Gallagher off, and Jack was determined to find out exactly what that rock meant to his clone.
He sat at that desk for a long time after reading through the reports, trying to figure out exactly what was going on with his clone. The man had been through a lot, but Jack knew that he had been through much worse. Living as a slave for eight months had to have been tough, miserable even, but not enough to cause him to lose it over a small stone.
There were way too many mysteries in this whole mess for Jack to even try to wrap his mind around. What had happened to Taria? What role did the stone with a bell etched into it play in this whole sordid affair? What was Gallagher so afraid of? Too many questions with not enough answers were giving Jack a headache.
Well, might as well get this over with, he thought, as he got up to leave the office. He didn't go directly to Mackenzie's office, though. He somehow found himself standing at the door to Carter's lab, watching her as she worked. She was too involved in her laser photo thingy to notice that he was there and he grinned at her tenacity when it came to figuring out how the various technologies that entered her lab worked.
"Carter," he said, to finally gain her attention, smiling when she jumped and turned to face him.
"Oh, you scared me," she accused, her hand held over her heart.
"Sorry," he replied, still grinning at her.
She smiled back at him as she shook her head. "How are things with Gallagher?"
"Good, I guess. I think we may have had a small break through." He stopped then, not sure how to tell her what his clone had gone through.
"Yeah?" she replied, her expression clearly telling him that she was waiting for him to elaborate.
"Yeah," he said, as he put his hands into his pockets. He wasn't sure why he'd ended up here, although he supposed it might have something to do with the fact that he hadn't had much time to spend with her since his arrival from Washington. "According to him, Taria is in danger of being tortured and killed because he escaped from that place."
"What?" she asked in surprise.
"He tried to go back to get her, but didn't quite make it," he responded with a shrug. "He left her behind."
Carter didn't respond right away. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at him with a look of horror on her face, as she took in what he was saying. "He must be devastated," she finally said. She stared at him for a moment longer before saying, "Do you think they would hurt her?"
"Dunno," Jack replied. "He seems to think so. Can you contact the Tok'ra or the Asgard to see if they can send a ship out there to find out?"
"I'll try," she said, her expression telling him that she would do more than try. He smiled at the determined look on her face. There was not a doubt in his mind that one or the other was going to come through for them, even if she had to go to them to plead her case.
"Give `em hell, Carter," Jack encouraged with a crooked smile.
She smiled back at him, before saying, "Yes sir."
As much as he would like to continue this banter, he knew it was time to face the piper. "Well, I'm off to see the wizard," he responded, still grinning at her. "Hopefully Mackenzie will have some tricks up his sleeve that will help me beat some sense into my clone."
"You mean `talk' some sense into him, don't you?"
"Well, if you insist," he said dejectedly, then gave her another smile when she laughed.
She didn't respond to his remark though. They ended up staring at each other, while Jack entertained the notion of telling her how much he'd really missed her. He even thought of finally telling her what he felt for her. He had cared a great deal for her over the past several years - feelings that at times would be so strong that he wondered if he should just chuck it all, his career and reputation, just to be able to say she belonged to him.
But he didn't tell her. Instead, he reached over and touched her face, tracing the line of her jaw with his finger, deciding at that point that he would indeed tell her. Even though she was still technically in his chain of command, he figured the world owed him more than the stars he had on his uniform. He just needed to convince a certain President of this, and Jack was reasonably sure Thor would be more than happy to help out. With that thought running through his mind, he gave her a smile that he hoped was filled with promise, then turned and walked out of the lab intending to get his visit with Mackenzie out of the way, if only for his own peace of mind.
The grin faded as he neared Mackenzie's office. He really didn't know what Mackenzie had planned for him and this worried Jack as he stood outside the psychiatrist's door. In all reality, they should only be discussing his clone, but Jack knew that meant he was expected to deal with his own past in an effort to get through Gallagher's problems. This was definitely not something he was comfortable with.
Okay, he could do this. He straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath then knocked on the door. "Come in," Mackenzie called out. "General O'Neill," he added, as he stood up to welcome Jack. "Come on in. Have a seat."
"Thanks," Jack said, feeling every bit of his nervousness. "Am I keeping you away from your patients?" he asked in a last ditch effort to find an excuse to leave.
"I agree that working here at the SGC can be traumatic for many people, but most of them are able to deal with the stress," Mackenzie responded with a smile. "Besides, most of my patients see me in my office at the Academy Hospital. I've made arrangements to be here every afternoon for you and the Lieutenant - and my SGC patients, as well." This was said with a smile, guaranteed to put most of his patients at ease, but Jack's mind immediately went into self-protection mode, while red flags started waving frantically as he became guarded and tense.
"Lieutenant Gallagher opened up a little," Jack said, in an effort to get the ball rolling away from his own turmoil. Mackenzie took the hint and sat back in his chair, ready to give Jack his full attention. This caused Jack to squirm a little in his seat. It was certainly not a record; Jack normally started squirming the minute he showed up. The fact that he was somewhat calm up until the moment Mackenzie turned professional on him made him feel just a little more in control.
"What did he tell you?" Mackenzie asked, appearing almost nonchalant in his actions.
"It seems that he had a wife while living in Hulmeshur," Jack replied, knowing full well that Mackenzie's nonchalant attitude was just a show, to put him at ease. "He's dealing with the fact that he left her behind to face torture and death." Aha, Jack thought, as Mackenzie tried to hide his surprise.
"He told you this?" Mackenzie asked in a voice that matched the nonchalant attitude - the guy was good, Jack had to give him that.
"Yeah," Jack responded, wondering what was so surprising about the revelation.
Mackenzie apparently got himself together, as his features slipped back into the nonchalant attitude. "What brought on that bit of news?" he asked, as he made a note on the pad of paper he had on his lap.
"Dunno," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders. "I think it had something to do with a rock Daniel had taken from a member of SG-3. Gallagher got really upset when he saw it."
"Upset? What did he do?"
"He just got antsy," Jack said, trying to remember everything that had happened in the cell that day. "Oh, and he started yelling at me about God only knows what." Jack remembered very well what it was Gallagher had been yelling at him about, he just didn't think it was something Mackenzie had to know.
"What was he saying when he yelled at you?" Mackenzie asked.
Jack frowned at Mackenzie, wondering what he was thinking. He knew it wouldn't hurt to tell the doctor everything Gallagher had said, but he just could not get over the feeling that Mackenzie was analyzing him right along with his clone. While this didn't sit right with Jack, he still wanted to help Gallagher, so he made a conscious effort to work with the man. "He thought that I had already condemned him as insane and was a little angry that he had been left behind." He stopped for a moment, debating on whether he should continue, then decided it may help Gallagher if he did. "He also told me that I would have been in the same shape he is in if it were me in his shoes."
Mackenzie raised an eyebrow at that statement. "Would you have?" he asked quietly.
"Hell yes," Jack responded quickly. "I've been there and done that, and Gallagher knows it. I guess I have a reputation for being a hard nose and Gallagher must have thought that stuff went straight to my head."
"Pretty big shoes to fill," Mackenzie agreed. "He has to earn that reputation all over again. It must be hard to live up to. You do know that rumors are flying around this base faster than an alien plague about his relationship to you. I've heard everything from a nephew, to long-lost son to grandson."
"Grandson!" Jack sputtered indignantly. "Who thinks he's my grandson?" The nerve of some people, he raged inwardly, before realizing that it was a reasonable assumption. He found himself grinning back at Mackenzie, then nodding his head, "If he starts calling me Grandpa, your services won't be needed at all," he promised with determination. "He'll need the services of a chaplain."
"I'll be sure to pass that on if I get the chance," Mackenzie said with a smile. "In the meantime, we should get back to discussing his problems."
"Sure," Jack said, still a little incensed. "His attitude changed from calm to stormy within minutes after Daniel asked him about the rock," he continued, determined to get Gallagher's problems back out in the open. `I mean, one minute he was talking about seeing the sky and the next, he was pacing back and forth and yelling at me about being left behind and forgotten."
"Forgotten?" Mackenzie asked, as he stopped writing on his pad of paper to look up at Jack. "He thought he had been forgotten?"
"Yeah," Jack answered warily. He was back on guard again, wondering where Mackenzie was going with his thoughts.
The doctor went back to writing his notes, while asking Jack, "How does he feel about being left behind and forgotten?"
What was this? "How should I know?" Jack asked, his eyes narrowed as he watched Mackenzie, who totally ignored the evil looks sent his way - by a General, no less.
"Was he angry?" Mackenzie asked, seemingly unaware that he was about to get his ass kicked.
"From the way he was yelling at me," Jack responded, "I'd say he was royally pissed."
"Why do you think he thought he had been forgotten?"
Jack didn't answer the psychiatrist. He had a feeling that there was more behind the questions than Gallagher's thoughts on being left behind. "What is this?" he asked, watching the doctor carefully.
Mackenzie stared back at Jack with his patented patronizing look firmly on his face. "What?" he asked.
Jack got up from his seat, knowing he was better at thinking while on his feet. "This isn't about Gallagher, is it?" he asked the doctor, as he loomed over the desk. "What are you trying to pull?"
"I'm trying to help him, General O'Neill," Mackenzie replied evenly. "To the best of my ability, that is."
"I see," Jack said, and he really did understand. Mackenzie was trying to prove a point and Jack was determined that it wouldn't make a difference. "Things would go much easier if you were talking to him directly, wouldn't it, Doctor Mackenzie?" Jack asked, as he sat back down to face the doctor head on.
"Of course," Mackenzie said, not the least bit ashamed that he had been caught in a devious, underhanded trick. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you have, General."
"I've known him a lot longer than you have," Jack responded spitefully.
"Which may work to your advantage," Mackenzie conceded, causing Jack to stare at him with surprise.
"Excuse me?" Jack asked sarcastically. "Did my ears deceive me?"
"I must admit that I am surprised that you were able to get him to face his fears so soon," Mackenzie said, ignoring the sarcasm. "You and I normally have to meet for weeks, sometimes months before you finally admit to what's really bothering you."
"Yeah, well it's only one of his fears and I'm not so sure it's the worst one," Jack admitted. "Something happened to him that caused this breakdown - something bad. I just need to dig a little deeper and get through his grief and depression to find out what it was."
"Grief can be pretty devastating," Mackenzie added, thoughtfully. "You mentioned that his wife had been left behind. Is this where the grief comes in?"
"Yes," Jack answered, having calmed down quite a bit. For a minute there, he'd been worried that Mackenzie had been trying to get into his clone's mind by going though Jack's. "Apparently, the family members of slaves who escape are brutally tortured and murdered. Gallagher is convinced this is what happened to her. From what I gather, he put up a fight in an effort to go back for her."
"Which explains why he was fighting his rescuers," Mackenzie theorized.
"Yeah," Jack replied. He fell silent, at that point, having nothing else to add to Mackenzie's words.
"Has he had any more flashbacks?" Mackenzie asked, apparently deciding to move on.
"Yes," Jack responded warily. They were now heading into what Jack considered unstable territory and he immediately tensed up again.
"What happened?" Mackenzie prompted when Jack didn't elaborate.
"I had been pushing him to tell me about Taria and what had happened between them," Jack responded. "He got extremely upset, but he insisted that he was okay. I left him alone for a while after that, then he joined us for breakfast when Carter and Daniel brought it in. Next thing I knew, he was fighting to get away from us." He watched as Mackenzie wrote some notes down on the pad, then continued when the doctor looked up at him. "He dropped his plate, then threw a punch at Daniel, who had gone over to help. It took all four of us to restrain him," he added.
Silence took over when Jack finished speaking. Mackenzie appeared to be thinking, while Jack had run out of words to say.
"Did he say anything during this flashback?" Mackenzie finally asked.
"No," Jack responded, as he tried to think back on that episode. "He just used some language that would have made my drill sergeant proud," he added with a crooked grin. Mackenzie looked up from his notes and grinned back at him. It was apparent the man had his own memories of drill sergeants.
"What happened then?" Mackenzie asked to get back on track.
Jack shrugged, then told him, "He calmed down and snapped out of it, then told us what the guards in his flashback were planning to do. They were going to put him in a torture device he called a vise and he went into great detail, telling us exactly what was involved in the punishment." Jack couldn't help the grimace that flashed across his features when he spoke those words. Those guys must have been extremely sadistic to want to put someone through that.
"What else did he tell you?"
"He told us about his wife, his life in Hulmeshur and what they did to him to force him into slavery. Not a pretty story."
Mackenzie nodded at Jack, as he continued to take his notes. Jack had always wondered what it was the psychiatrist wrote down during their sessions. What key words was he looking for?
"Any other flashbacks?" Mackenzie queried, as he looked up at Jack.
"Nope," Jack replied. "Well, he did wake up swinging during a nightmare last night," he said, as he stroked the bruise on his chin with his fingers. "Took me off-guard," he added defensively.
"Uh huh," Mackenzie said, giving Jack a slight grin. "Did he tell you what the dream was about?"
"I didn't ask," Jack admitted. "It scared the hell out of him, though."
"Why do you say that?"
Jack didn't respond. He was remembering the hopelessness he felt as his clone lay there in the restraints, dealing with the demons in his nightmare, as well as the demon called insanity.
"He had to be restrained," Jack finally said. "He was fighting to get away from whatever he was dreaming about. It had to be bad for him to wake up yelling." Jack just couldn't bring himself to telling Mackenzie about the anger and the pain his clone expressed during that nightmare. The man actually whimpered!
"General O'Neill," Mackenzie said, as he stared directly into Jack's eyes. "What do you think Lieutenant Gallagher is hiding from?''
"Something bad," Jack replied with confidence. "It has to do with Taria and whatever it was that happened between them."
"Was it worse than what Ba'al did to you?" Mackenzie asked, as he continued to watch Jack carefully. "Worse than what you went through during your imprisonment in Iraq?"
"This is not about me," Jack said in a voice that was clearly warning Mackenzie to back down.
"Gallagher has those memories, General O'Neill. I'm merely trying to determine..."
"What's wrong with Gallagher?" Jack interrupted, trying to steer this conversation away from his own inadequacies. "Why is he having these flashbacks?"
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," Mackenzie replied, as he continued to watch Jack's every move. "It's a condition that affects people who have been involved in a highly stressful or traumatic situation. The patient usually avoids talking about, or even thinking about the event. He will also show signs of anxiety, meaning that he will be on edge and easily angered. It's up to you to get him to open up and talk about what happened to him. Of course, counseling - with a professional, such as myself, General O'Neill - is an excellent option, and one I am hoping you will convince Gallagher to take advantage of."
"He just needs to talk about what's scaring the crap out of him?" Jack asked, thinking that this was too easy. Of course, now that he thought about it, getting the younger version of Jack O'Neill to talk about his feelings and fears really wasn't such an easy task.
"Counseling and medication have worked wonders in treating this disorder," Mackenzie said warily. Jack knew exactly what the doctor was thinking. This guy knew better than anyone what Jack thought about medications.
"We try this my way first," Jack said resolutely. "No drugs."
"I believe you may succeed in this," Mackenzie said grudgingly. "What are you planning to do?"
"Talk to him," Jack replied, thoughtfully. "Of course, I'll have to get him to listen to me first, but I can be as persistent as Daniel when I want to be. Actually, between Daniel and me," he went on, "Jack Gallagher doesn't have a chance in hell."
Daniel and Teal'c had respectfully kept their distance from Jack's corner of the cell. He was sitting there with his eyes closed and his head leaned back against the wall, trying to justify his self-hatred. This solitude didn't last though, and he opened his eyes when he heard the door open. It had to be either Carter or O'Neill come to torment him and he felt the anger swell through him as he sat there with his fists clenched. Why wouldn't they just leave him alone?
It was Carter, he realized, as he heard the murmur of her voice when she spoke with Daniel and Teal'c. He didn't turn to look toward her though, hoping that if he ignored her, she would leave him alone.
"Gallagher?" she said, dashing his hopes into a thousand pieces, while she came over to sit down next to him on the floor. "I'm sorry about Taria. I know how much you cared for her."
"Thanks," he responded curtly.
"I've put in a call to the Tok'ra and the Asgard to ask them for help in finding her for you." She tilted her head to the side, trying to get him to look at her. "They'll find her."
If only that were possible, he thought dejectedly. He brought his knees up so that he could put his chin down on his crossed arms, while he stared out at the wall on the opposite side of the cell. He was determined to ignore her.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked. He could tell that she was definitely uneasy with his silence, which was what he wanted. Now if she would only take the hint that he wanted her out of his sight, he'd be one happy camper.
"Will you please talk to me?" she prompted. "Please?"
He never could ignore her when she begged, so he turned his head to give her his full attention. "What do you want me to say?" he asked.
"Well," she said, with a look on her face that said she was even more uncomfortable now that he had decided to talk to her. "Tell me about Taria," she said, with a small smile.
"There's nothing more to tell," he responded, as he turned his gaze back to the wall on the far side of the room.
"Yes there is," she said determinedly. She was gearing up for a fight, but Jack had thirty years of hiding from the pain similar to what was pouring into his soul. It was too hard to tell anyone what he was thinking or feeling, mainly because he knew no one else could possibly understand the ache and the anger coursing through his veins. They would say something that was meant to make him feel better, and then expect a response that told them their tactics worked. Some petty words from him to ease their concern and to make them feel better that they had `helped' him. If they only knew they were just making things worse.
"You said she loved to laugh," Carter continued to speak, still trying to break through his silence. "She must have been a ray of sunshine for you."
"Yeah," he responded bitterly. Life was determined to kick him in the gut and it seemed that Carter was going to help it out. He continued to stare out at the other wall, seething with resentment as he waited for her to leave. He wanted them all out, but apparently his wishes meant nothing to these people.
"Why are you so angry with us?" Carter finally got up the nerve to ask. "How could I have prevented this? Daniel, Teal'c and I had nothing to do with any of this, yet you are taking it out on us."
"You're here, aren't you?" Jack growled, deciding to make an effort to force her to understand, knowing deep down she wouldn't understand anymore than Sara did. "All I need is to be left alone so that I can sort through this, but will you guys let me? No. Not even for a minute. I'm stuck here with my `well-meaning friends', forced to pretend that everything is hunky dory when in reality it isn't." Damn it, now Carter had that hurt look on her face, adding guilt to his already growing list of things to make him feel like an ass. "Taria is dead," he continued, as his eyes grew moist thinking of his loss. "She's dead, Carter."
"Torture and death," Daniel said, as he came over to join them on the floor. Teal'c, apparently not wanting to be left out, sat down next to Carter. Panic took over as Jack realized that his appeals for peace were largely being ignored. "What will they do to her?" Daniel asked, genuinely wanting to know.
A whole hell of a lot, Jack thought, as he glared at the far wall.
"Gallagher?" Teal'c prompted when Jack didn't respond, but Jack wasn't going to cooperate. He jumped up from his spot on the floor and walked over to the bed, eyeing his companions warily.
"What part of `alone' don't you guys understand?" he asked, as he stood by the bed as far from them as he could get. His friends didn't get up to follow him, but they continued to sit there watching him carefully. "I won't fall apart this time," he insisted, knowing exactly what they were thinking. "I refuse to give into the flashbacks." No one spoke, but they continued to watch him and this alone was making him nervous. "Please, just leave me alone for awhile. Please?"
"I wish only to help you," Teal'c said, from his seat on the floor. "I admit that I do not know what you were like before we met, but I do know that you are an honorable man. You would not have left your wife if you had the chance to save her."
"But I did," Jack responded softly. He still couldn't get past the horror of what he had done.
"Was it your intention to leave her there?" Teal'c asked, apparently trying a different approach.
"No," Jack spat out. "I tried to go back for her. They wouldn't let me."
"Perhaps the reason you failed is that you did not want to go back for her," Teal'c said, his expression giving away nothing of what he was feeling. No condemnation or anything, just stating a thought.
"Teal'c!" Daniel exclaimed, while Jack just stood there as his anger dissolved into shock. How could Teal'c think such a thing? But then again, why wouldn't he think that? Jack had been trying to convince himself that he didn't care about Taria ever since he had been locked up in this cell. Teal'c just saw his anger and made an assumption, although Teal'c should know by now not to take things so literally.
"You were angry with her and had told us this repeatedly," Teal'c went on, as he got up off of the floor. "Perhaps you wanted to leave her there."
Jack still didn't respond to Teal'c's accusation. Maybe the man was right. Taria would have served as a reminder to all that he had wanted to leave behind. Memories of the fear, the agony and the hatred would have eventually faded away, but Taria's presence would have kept them fresh. Maybe this was why he didn't kill Reynolds so that he could go back for her.
"Well, I for one don't believe it," Carter said, as she got up and came over to stand near him.
"Neither do I," Daniel said. "You loved her, didn't you?"
"Yes," Jack said quietly, having finally found his voice. And he did love her. She had been there for him even after he had turned on her, making her life even more miserable than was possible. He turned away from his friends as he tried to reconcile his thoughts as to whether or not he left her there on purpose.
"Gallagher," Carter said, as she came up to him and grabbed his arms to force him to look at her. "Did you want to leave her behind?"
He brought his gaze up to hers and stared into the blue eyes that were so much like Taria's. "No," he replied, as he realized that he would never have wanted Taria to go through any kind of torture, no matter how angry he was at her. "No," he said again, his voice stronger this time. "I would never have willingly left her or anyone else behind."
"Then that's what counts," she said, giving him an encouraging smile. "In the meantime, we'll do everything we can to find her. We just have to wait for the Asgard to contact us."
"Sounds good," Jack responded, knowing that this was what she wanted to hear. He sent her a weak smile, hoping she would take it for the lie that it was, then moved to sit down on the bed. "I'm a little tired," he added, looking for an excuse to send them away. "I'm just going to lie down for awhile, maybe take a nap."
"Uh... sure," Carter replied, the uncomfortable look back on her face. "We'll just let you sleep. I'll be in the outer room if you want to talk, or if you need something. Okay?"
"Yeah," he responded, not quite sure why he did. So much for ignoring her, he thought.
"Gallagher," Teal'c said, his features finally showing some emotion. "It was not my intention to upset you further. I was merely trying to help you understand your actions. I am in agreement with Colonel Carter and Daniel Jackson in that I do not believe you would have deliberately left your wife behind."
"Thanks," Jack replied, with a nod. "I appreciate it." There really wasn't anything else he could add to that, so he sat there on his bed waiting for his friends to follow through on their efforts to leave him the hell alone.
Teal'c bowed his head at Jack's words, then followed Daniel and Carter out to the outer room. They sat down at the table, quietly talking amongst themselves, and Jack had to admit that he was glad they were there, even as he fervently wanted them gone. Their mumbles kept the silence away, which was a good thing.
O'Neill showed up sometime later pushing a cart that was loaded with trays of food. "Look what I confiscated," he crowed, as he pushed the cart over to the table. "I figured it would be easier to carry all this food on this thing since you guys weren't around to help me." This last was said with a hint of accusation, and Carter immediately set out to apologize.
"Sorry about that," she said, with a sheepish smile. "I came to see if I could help Gallagher."
"Will I be allowed to go topside?" Jack spoke up from his bed. Everyone turned toward him, their surprise evident in their expressions.
"Actually," O'Neill said, with what could only be described as a guilty look. "I forgot to ask."
"I want out of here," Jack insisted. "I am still a prisoner and I haven't done anything to warrant this kind of treatment. You have no right to keep me locked up."
"Where would you go?" O'Neill asked,
"My house," Jack responded in a rush. "It has its qualities, privacy being at the top of the list."
"No," O'Neill said, as he turned his back on Jack and began transferring some of the trays from the cart to the table.
"What do you mean, no?" Jack asked in a voice that was filled with the promise of extreme violence.
"N-o," O'Neill spelled. "It means that you are not going to get what you want. You are way better off here, so here you will stay."
"I want out of here, O'Neill," Jack said menacingly. He got up from his seat on the bed and walked out of the cell toward his counterpart. He tried to sidestep around Teal'c, who had decided to put himself in Jack's way, but it was apparent that Teal'c was not going to let him pass. "Move it, Teal'c," he growled.
O'Neill saved him from having to hurt Teal'c by walking around the Jaffa and facing Jack head on. "I am not going to let you out of here until I am absolutely positive that you won't head straight for the nearest gun so that you can blow your brains out," O'Neill announced with determination.
"I won't blow my brains out," Jack insisted, surprised that O'Neill would think such a thing. The fact that the thought had crossed his mind meant nothing, at least not yet.
"I hope not," O'Neill responded. "I swore - we swore that we would never go through that again."
Jack was floored. He stood there in shock as he realized what O'Neill was saying. Grief came close to destroying him when his son had died and he had nearly taken out an entire civilization with a nuclear bomb to atone for the sin of not being there when Charlie had found that gun.
"It would be just me, Jack," he said quietly, hoping to convey that he would never again entertain the thought of hurting anyone else in an effort to take his own life.
"Which is exactly why you are going to be staying here for a while longer," O'Neill responded with determination. "Hey, check this out," he added, his whole demeanor changing within a heartbeat. "Sometimes being a General pays out big time." He removed the lid off of a tray with a dramatic flair and announced, "Ribs! I just hope I am long gone from here when Landry finds out," he added, his smile dimming just a bit. "He'll probably try to take the price of these babies out of the Homeland Security budget."
"Nice," Gallagher said, impressed despite himself. He had bigger issues though, and he squared his shoulders as he said, "I am tired of being a prisoner. I'll swear on everything I own that I won't try to kill myself. I just need to get out of here."
"Tell me what happened when Taria betrayed you and you'll be out of here within a couple of days," O'Neill replied. "We've got salad and everything here. Come on, dig in."
Jack didn't move. Neither did Teal'c, who had apparently read him correctly. Jack was extremely close to killing O'Neill and he clenched his fists as he fought off his impulses. He could feel the intense rage racing through his veins, but he knew that if he acted out on those impulses, Teal'c and Daniel would have him in those restraints faster than he could spit.
"Okay then," Jack said, as calmly as he could while he tried a different tactic to get the solitude he so desperately wanted. "I'll stay here, but I just need some space to work through this. Come on, Jack. I just need to be alone for awhile." O'Neill didn't respond right away, and the minutes ticked by while Jack waited for his counterpart to say something.
"I'll think about it," O'Neill finally said, as he turned toward the table, effectively dismissing the subject.
Anger roiled in Jack's gut as he stared at O'Neill's back. "Well hell. Don't I feel special?" he snarled, causing O'Neill to turn back toward him, his own anger evident in his face. "I'll be waiting anxiously for your decision while you `think about it', General!"
"Come and get some of this while it's still warm," Carter spoke up, obviously trying to smooth things over.
"I'm not hungry," Jack responded, as he continued to glare at O'Neill.
"Look," O'Neill said, reaching over to put his hand on Jack's arm, which Jack angrily snatched away, "I'll arrange for us to get out of here for awhile, but we will be staying on base. It's the best I can do, okay?" It was not okay, but Jack considered this a victory of sorts, so he nodded his head warily. "Come on," O'Neill insisted. "I know you like ribs. Dig in."
"It looks delicious," Daniel said, as he began to load up his plate. "Hey Sam, looks like Jack brought us some desserts. Two guesses on what he brought."
Carter responded with a few guesses, but Jack really wasn't interested in the small talk. He turned back toward his bed, flopping down on it when he reached it and threw his arm over his eyes. He was well and truly stuck in this cell and those people over there were intent on making things better for him. All he needed was to get out of this place.
"Hey," he heard O'Neill say as he pulled up a chair to sit down next to the bed. "In all the excitement of having ribs for dinner, I forgot to ask how you are holding up."
Jack sighed before pulling his arm away from his eyes so that he could look at his counterpart. He ended up on one elbow, staring at the only person in the room with the power to free him. "You of all people should know why I need to get out of here, Jack," he said, as he stared into O'Neill's eyes. "I just need some time." It didn't even matter that he was begging now. He had to find some place where he could deal with the whole thing.
"What will you do if you are allowed to leave here?" O'Neill asked, his expression telling Jack nothing of what he was thinking. He didn't have to; Jack already knew that O'Neill was thinking Jack was going to head straight for a gun to pay for his role in Taria's death.
"I was not responsible for Taria's death," Jack answered with conviction. "This is not the same as with Charlie. I didn't kill her." He had come to terms with his guilt and realized that it wasn't his fault. Reynolds was a different story, however, and Jack had spent some time working out a scenario to kill that bastard, or at least kick his ass all over the galaxy.
O'Neill didn't respond right away, he just looked down at his hands and Jack could see him emotionally wrestling with something. When he looked back up though, his expression showed nothing of his own turmoil. "I'm glad to hear that, although I do have to wonder if you are telling me the truth just to get your way." He stopped speaking for a moment as he stared at Jack with a calculating look, then went on, "Tell me about that stone."
"What stone?" Jack asked carefully. He had a new agenda now and that was to convince O'Neill that not only was he sane, but he was well enough to leave this place. He was not the basket case these people encountered when he'd first arrived on base, in fact he was much stronger emotionally, as well as physically.
"The one Daniel gave you," O'Neill responded quietly. He gestured toward the outer room where Daniel, Carter and Teal'c were standing around the table watching the events unfold in the cell and Jack felt the resentment building up in him. Now he was a freak show.
"It's just a rock," Jack said stubbornly.
"Tell me about it," O'Neill insisted.
Jack had a couple of options here, but he knew that if he was going to convince O'Neill that he was finally well enough to get out of this cell, he would have to come face to face with his past. With this in mind, Jack sat up on the bed and leaned up against the wall, gathering up the strength to get this over with. He reached into his pocket to pull out the stone, turning it in his hand as he contemplated the words he would have to speak.
O'Neill sat quietly waiting for the story of the rock, while Carter came over tentatively, with a questioning look on her face. Jack nodded at her and she smiled before coming to sit down on the bed next to him.
"It's just a rock," Jack said again, as he geared up to tell them about the wedding present he had given to his wife. Daniel came over and nudged Carter to get her to move over so that he could sit down next to her, while Teal'c pulled up another chair and sat down next to O'Neill. There was no way he could jump up and run even if he wanted to, and he couldn't help but wonder if this was their intention.
"Taria and I rarely had a few minutes alone, other than when we went to bed at night," Jack began, as he stared at the rock. His mind took him back to the early days of his imprisonment and he smiled as he remembered Taria running over to give him a hug. "Taria was so beautiful. Her eyes were like yours," he said as he looked at Carter. "They were as blue as the sky and full of life." He shrugged, then with a sheepish grin said, "Too poetic, huh?"
"No, not at all," Carter said, as she leaned over to touch his arm. "Thank you."
He smiled back at her, then turned his attention back to the stone as he realized that he was never going to see his wife's smile ever again. "It was during one of the rare times when we were allowed to work in the same area. We were both assigned to work on clearing an irrigation ditch and I was telling her about the rituals we go through when someone gets married." The symbol on the stone seemed to call out to him and Jack began tracing the etching as he continued his story, "I told her about the flowers, the rings and the wedding bells. She was fascinated, to say the least."
"Are you going to tell me that this is not the archeological find of the century?" Daniel asked. Jack stopped reminiscing to look over at Daniel, whose expression told of his disappointment.
"Yeah," he responded, actually feeling bad for breaking Daniel's bubble. "I etched that bell into the rock. I'm reasonably sure the Archeological Society won't be so interested in a rock I tried to carve a bell into."
"Why a bell?" Carter asked.
"She had never heard of a bell and I had a hard time trying to explain it to her." He stopped at that and held up his hand, palm up with the stone in the middle to give his friends a better look at it. "So I drew one for her in the dirt. I could tell that it was just a picture for her, so I left it at that. Not to mention that Balzor, one of the guards, came by and threatened to beat the crap out of us both if we didn't shut up and keep working." This was said with a grim smile, before continuing, "But I had found this stone and I figured that I would carve a bell into the flat surface to give to her as a present."
"The stone belonged to Taria?" O'Neill asked, with an unreadable expression on his face.
"Yeah," Jack responded warily. Something in O'Neill's voice put Jack on edge and he wondered what was going through the old man's mind. It couldn't be good. "I figured that the guards wouldn't take a rock away from her. And she was so happy when I gave it to her. She swore she would never lose it," he said, as he wondered once again how it ended up in the SGC. "I worked on that every chance I could get, which wasn't often, but I managed to carve on that thing during meal times and during the few times I was allowed to sit for a minute."
"She gave it to Patterson," O'Neill said quietly, causing Jack to jerk his head up to look at him.
"What?" he finally said. This was not possible, Taria had it the night before he had been rescued, telling him in her own way that she was going to keep it with her forever. O'Neill took a few minutes to answer and Jack's pulse began to race as a myriad of emotions roiled through his mind. "What do you mean she gave it to Patterson?"
"I took the opportunity to read the mission reports," O`Neill replied. "From what I gather, they had a hard time finding someone who had the guts to tell them where to find you. One woman finally came up to help." He stopped to give Jack a forlorn look before saying what Jack was afraid he would say, "She told them where to find you. She gave Patterson that stone saying she wouldn't need it any more."
Jack didn't respond. He couldn't. He was trying to wrap his mind around the whole issue of Taria putting herself into harm's way by helping him to escape. She was the reason their first escape attempt failed and here she was helping him, knowing what her fate would be if he did escape without her. "No," he finally said, his mind refusing to let him believe it.
"The woman wasn't described in any of the reports," O'Neill went on, "But if that stone was hers, it stands to reason..."
"No," Jack said, a little more forcibly.
"She knew what would happen to her if you escaped," Carter said, her voice trembling slightly as she realized the horror of what was unfolding. "But she helped them anyway. She must have really loved you."
"Yeah," Jack said automatically. He was still in shock at what he had learned. Taria had helped him and now she was dead because he wasn't strong enough to go back for her. He held the stone tightly in his fist as he pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Maybe he wasn't strong enough for anything.
Jack O'Neill stood in the doorway of the cell watching his clone deal with the news of his wife's last act of love. It had been hard to see him break down like that; almost regressing into the man he was when he had first been brought back through the Gate. The hardest part of watching Gallagher go through this was that Jack remembered way too many times when he had felt like his clone did, totally devastated and with his belief system turned upside down.
Carter had taken it upon herself to stay with Gallagher, trying to help him as much as possible. She had pulled him into her embrace, holding him while he worked through his feelings. Jack knew himself well enough to know that Gallagher was simply letting her hold him like that. Sure enough, Gallagher pulled away from Carter to give her a small smile before turning his gaze toward the bars.
"Dinner's on," Jack said, hoping to pull Gallagher out of this funk. "It's probably cold by now, but it should still be good."
Teal'c bowed his head before walking toward the table in the outer room, while Daniel got up to follow him. Carter and Gallagher stayed where they were, but Jack figured they should get something to eat before the big showdown, which would be soon if he had anything to do with it. He was tired of being on this emotional rollercoaster.
"Come on, you two," he insisted. "I had to do some fast talking to get the cooks to make these. Are you going to let all that go to waste?"
"No sir," Carter said, as she got up off the bed to walk over to the table. Gallagher kept his seat though, which was trying Jack's patience.
"Well?" Jack prompted, as he watched his clone carefully. He so hoped that guy wasn't going to fall apart again. Once was enough for Jack to have to go through.
"I'm really not hungry," Gallagher finally responded. He looked despondent, but that was to be expected, considering the news he had just received. At least Jack hoped it was only sadness.
"Suit yourself," Jack said, hoping that if he didn't push it, the kid would get up and get something anyway. "You are going to miss out though."
"Did you talk to Patterson?" Gallagher asked, stopping Jack from his trip to the table to finish his meal.
"They're off-world right now," Jack responded. Gallagher seemed to be taking this calmly - too calmly given his reactions to everything else up to this point. Maybe the O'Neill spirit had finally kicked in and taken over.
"When are they expected back?"
"Just wondering," Gallagher answered with a shrug. Jack stared back at his clone while his inner sirens were blaring. Although Gallagher seemed to not have a care in the world, there was an underlying menacing tone in his voice. Jack had a sinking feeling that Gallagher was planning on killing the members of SG-3.
"You won't get to see them," Jack said, having made the decision right that moment. "Is there anything you want me to ask them?"
Gallagher sat there on the bed staring at Jack, his expression showing nothing of what he was thinking. Jack was suddenly very worried for Reynolds and his men. If he was smart, he should be worried for himself, as well. "I just want to thank them for saving me," Gallagher finally spoke up, and Jack almost laughed in the man's face.
"Right," he responded, not believing him for a minute. "I'll make sure to pass that on," he said, as he went over to the table to get his share of the feast. "I had a talk with Mackenzie," Jack said calmly before looking back at his clone. "He wants you to talk to him."
"No," Gallagher responded. "It's not gonna happen."
"Just give him a chance," Jack said, knowing he was talking to a brick wall when it came to this subject. He knew very well how hard it was to talk to someone who was determined to drag out every last detail of the horrors he had faced. Being forced to talk to someone he couldn't trust just made him clam up and made the process of healing even harder for both parties.
"What did you tell him?" Gallagher asked, as he got up from the bed to come over to the bars of the cell.
"Just the stuff you told me," Jack said with a shrug. He was deliberately trying to keep things light, knowing he was treading in dangerous waters.
"Like what?" Gallagher asked, the angry tone in his voice a contradiction to the calm look he had on his face.
"Pretty much everything you told me about your life in Hulmeshur and the fact that you are dealing with the loss of your wife," Jack replied, before turning his back on Gallagher to walk the rest of the way to his destination. There really wasn't any use to sugar coat the news.
"Did you tell him about the flashbacks?" Gallagher asked, and Jack couldn't miss the worry coming out in waves.
Gallagher didn't say anything, choosing to stare at the table instead, then looking back up to ask, "I take it you talked him out of sending me to an institution?"
"That never came up," Jack answered honestly. He had spent nearly two hours with the psychiatrist relating everything that had happened during his stay with his clone. Well, almost everything. Jack was not about to give Mackenzie anything that could possibly, even remotely, have anything to do with his own feelings. "He did say that there are some drugs out there that could help."
"I hope you told him what he could do with those drugs," Gallagher grumbled.
"Yeah, I did," Jack said, as a smile came to his face. "But he told me that the drugs were not suppositories. They were not made for that use and wouldn't work on him anyway." His grin got wider, as Daniel choked on something he was drinking and Carter laughed. But the full smile on Gallagher's face, the first real smile since he had been brought back to Earth, was what made Jack's day. "There will be no drugs," he insisted.
Gallagher nodded his head, still grinning at Jack's joke. He was standing next to the bars of the cell, staring out through them, and Jack suddenly wondered why Gallagher rarely came out of the cell. The door was always left open, giving Gallagher free rein to walk about both sides of the bars, but he only came out to get food. His own smile faded as he contemplated this thought. "You know," he said, as he watched Gallagher's face, "You don't have to stay on that side of the bars all the time. This door stays open and unlocked for a reason."
Gallagher's smile had left completely by the time Jack finished what he was saying. "I come out there sometimes," he said defensively.
"No you don't," Daniel spoke up, coming to stand next to Jack. "You're right," he said, turning to look at Jack, then back at Gallagher. "He rarely comes out."
Gallagher stood his ground, his face clearly showing his unease. "What difference does it make?" he asked, as the unease look turned into resentment. "Either way, I can't leave this room. I'm still a prisoner," he accused, while glaring at Jack.
"Yes, you are," Daniel said, realization dawning on his face. "And you're making sure you stay a prisoner."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Gallagher snarled, curling his hands around the bars. He stood there, clenching the bars tightly as he glared out through them. "I want out of here."
"You still blame yourself," Teal'c spoke up, walking toward the cell. "You have from the moment you came back through the Stargate alone."
"Yeah, so what of it?" Gallagher ground out. Jack could see the panic in his clone's eyes and he worried that they were pushing him too far again. "That doesn't mean I want to stay a prisoner."
"Good," Carter said, brushing past everyone to walk into the cell and grab Gallagher's arm. "Because you will be getting out of here soon," she added, as she tried to pull him out of the cell. "Come on," she insisted, as she tugged harder on his arm, "The General brought us some cake and a whole pie. The cooks spoil him outrageously," she added conspiratorially, then gave Jack a meaningful look as she passed him on her way over to the table.
Jack took the hint and was even in full agreement with her. Gallagher's self-imprisonment was one subject they didn't need to hash over. He followed her over to the table, then told them, "I ran into Colonel Mitchell in the hallway on my way here."
"Oh yeah?" Daniel asked, completely forgetting Gallagher's self-imprisonment tendencies. "When did he get back?"
"About an hour ago," Jack said with a grimace. "Man, can that guy be persistent. He's determined to find out what's going on in here." The grimace turned into a small smile, as he thought about the Colonel's determination to get what he wanted. "He pestered me all the way over here to find out why we are holed up in this cell."
"What did you tell him?" Daniel asked, as he reached for his plate.
"What did I tell him?" Jack asked, with a raised eyebrow. Daniel should know him better by now.
"Oh," Daniel said with a nod, "Forgot who I was talking about for a minute there," he said, waving his hand airily. "What was I thinking?"
"He doesn't need to know about any of this," Jack told them, hoping they would remember that when Mitchell got a hold of them. He knew these people though, and shrugged as he realized he didn't need to worry.
"Did he bring back the plans for the naquadah accelerator?" Carter asked eagerly. "He was supposed to be on P4S-536 only in a supervisory role, but he promised that he would try to get the plans to the accelerator so that we can begin building our own." Her eyes shone with excitement as she continued, "The plans are rumored to detail the flow of current that actually makes..."
"Carter!" Jack exclaimed, to put a stop to what he just knew was going to be a long-winded explanation on how this new acquisition worked. She stopped in mid-stream and gave him an apologetic look, which prompted a nod from him. He looked over at Gallagher and saw that he was thinking the same thing Jack was - some things never change.
The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful as Jack and his friends shared their companionship. Gallagher did join them in eating dinner, but he was still aloof, preferring to keep to himself, which was fine with Jack. As long as he didn't go off on a tangent, everything would be fine.
Darkness and silence enveloped Jack as he tried to move his arms in an effort to ease some of the discomfort he was dealing with. The feeling of claustrophobia washed over him while the walls threatened to close in. He was definitely uncomfortable, but at least he wasn't facing the terror and the pain that lay beyond the walls of the box he was imprisoned in.
Jack knew well enough that this was only a temporary feeling of safety. His peace would be shattered soon enough when the aching pain moved into his joints and muscles, while he crouched in the box that he had been jammed into, a box only big enough to allow him minute movement. Add to that the heat of the desert sun beating down on the box, which made him feel like he had been stuffed into an oven, and he was destined to be extremely miserable.
Someone banged on the outside of the box and Jack yelped when his arm came in contact with the side of the hot wall of the box. The banging continued, causing his head to throb with each pounding blow. He refused to respond or make any noise to let them know he was there, knowing that if he did, they would pull him out and start beating on him and right now, he was much better off in the box - at least until true misery took over.
The pounding continued, waking Jack up from the dream and he groaned as he sat up to hold his head in his hands. "Stop with the pounding, will ya?" he growled, before looking up to see what all the noise was about.
"Something wrong, General?" Gallagher asked, as he whacked a spoon against a metal bar of the cell.
"Yes," Jack snarled. Gallagher hit the bar with the spoon again, causing Jack to jump up and go over to his clone to snatch the spoon out of his hand. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
"Have you thought about letting me go topside yet?" Gallagher asked with an evil grin. It was apparent that the man had decided to aggravate Jack to death until he gave in.
"I told you I would take care of it," Jack snarled angrily. That kid was so ready to get his ass kicked.
"Why not now?" Gallagher pressed. "There's no time like the present."
Jack didn't answer, he just went back over to his cot, sat down heavily on it and put his head back into his hands. What he wouldn't do for a couple of aspirins.
"Shall I send for some coffee, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked from his seat at the table. Jack just nodded, wondering if he should just kill Gallagher and put an end to all of this. "Tell them to bring some aspirins with them."
"Make the arrangements now," Gallagher encouraged fervently. "Come on, Jack. Please?"
Jack knew that there couldn't be too much harm in letting this guy out for some air, he had been doing a lot better. In fact, judging by his behavior this morning, he was slowly becoming his old self again. Jack ran his hand through his hair, before sighing and nodding his head.
"Yes!" Gallagher said enthusiastically, as he grinned back at Jack.
Jack got up and went over to the door and knocked on it to alert the guard, then told him what he needed, aspirin being at the top of the list. The SF nodded and left to do the General's bidding while Jack turned his attention back to his clone. The guy was pacing as he tried to control the anticipation of actually getting the chance to go outside.
"It won't be long now," Jack said, and Gallagher nodded as he continued to pace. "I want to make sure you realize that we won't be leaving this base," Jack stressed, wanting to make sure Gallagher knew the rules. "We're just going out for a little walk, that's all."
"A little walk," Gallagher repeated as he smiled at Jack. "Thank you."
It took a while, but the SF finally came back with the goods that Jack had requested, then waited just inside the door for them to get ready to leave. Jack immediately grabbed the aspirins and took two of them, which he chased down with a gulp of his coffee. He then took the jackets from the pile and handed one to Gallagher, while he and Teal'c put their own coats on. Three more SFs showed up while Jack pulled the plastic handcuffs from the pile. He turned to look at Gallagher, who took one look at the handcuffs then shook his head as he backed away.
"It's a necessary evil," Jack said, as he waited for Gallagher to make up his mind.
"You don't need those, sir," Gallagher responded, making Jack proud of his clone. Gallagher knew the rules of the game, and he played the game well, reverting into the role of a soldier when others were around.
"I think I do," Jack said, giving Gallagher a knowing look. "Look, do you want to go or not?"
"I won't try to run," Gallagher insisted, as he stared at the handcuffs.
"Yes you will," Jack told him. "It's what I would do."
Gallagher finally looked up at Jack, giving him a surprised look. Jack returned his stare, still waiting for his decision. Gallagher's surprised look turned into a full-blown glare as he stuck out his hands so that Jack could bind them together.
"Let's go," Jack said when he'd finished. They made quite an entourage as the group made the trek down the hallway toward the elevator. Jack and Gallagher walked next to each other, with Teal'c staying close behind them, while two of the SFs led the way and the other two pulling up the rear. They made it all the way to the elevator before Jack heard someone calling him.
Jack sighed, then gave Gallagher a meaningful look before greeting Colonel Cameron Mitchell. "Mitchell," he said, "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing sir," Mitchell responded. "Lieutenant," he said, as he nodded at Gallagher who nodded back warily. "Hey Teal'c. I missed you at my `Welcome Home' party." This was said with a smile, and Jack knew he was kidding, but then again, was he?
"Did you leave your home?" Teal'c asked gravely.
"No, not really Teal'c," Mitchell responded with a grin. "What I meant was, I... well, I thought you and the rest of SG-1 would be around when I got back from my little stint on P4S-536. You know, to welcome me back."
"Welcome back," Teal'c replied.
Jack grinned at Gallagher, then told Mitchell, "We've got someplace to be. You'll understand if we don't..." He left the sentence hanging, trying not to be rude.
"Oh... oh sure," Mitchell said, obviously wanting to hang around to find out what was really going on. "You sure you don't need any help?" he asked, as he gestured toward the SFs.
"We're fine, Colonel," Jack insisted. He then stared pointedly at the Colonel when he didn't leave right away.
"Okay then," Mitchell said, having run out of reasons to hang around. "I'll be going now."
Jack just nodded his head, then turned to Gallagher and rolled his eyes when Mitchell finally turned and walked back the way he came. "I don't envy Landry," he told his clone.
They made it to the entrance at the top of the facility without any more disturbances and Jack was glad to see that the weather was trying to cooperate with this little excursion. It was the end of March, which meant cold, windy days, but at least the sun was shining and there were very few clouds in the sky.
Gallagher stopped walking when he had a clear view of the sky, and he looked up to stare at the vastness of it. Jack stood next to him, feeling the exhilaration flow through him as the wind made its presence known.
He gestured for the SFs to stand down, then grabbed Gallagher's arm to pull him along. Daniel came out of the facility at that moment, having followed them out, but stopped next to Teal'c, realizing that Jack and Gallagher needed this time to talk.
"You cold?" Jack asked, as Gallagher shivered violently.
"Just a little," Gallagher responded. He continued to stare out at the scenery as they walked away from the guards. They walked a short way, until Jack stopped and put his hand on Gallagher's arm to stop him from straying too far from the SFs.
"This is far enough," Jack said, when Gallagher gave him a questioning look. They stood there in silence for a few minutes before Gallagher spoke up.
"It's cold," he said, still staring out at the trees. "I used to wish for this while I was living on that planet." Jack didn't know how to respond to this, so he kept his silence as Gallagher took in the sights. "Not as cold as Antarctica," Gallagher admitted.
"You don't know the half of it," Jack responded, half-heartedly. "I spent several months there. Granted, I was in stasis, but still..."
"Oh yeah, I forgot," Gallagher said, with a smile. "Actually, I was thinking of that time when the Stargate malfunctioned and I almost died there. Now that was cold!"
Jack had to agree with him on that one. He grinned at Gallagher, then asked, "Are you ready to go back inside?"
"No," Gallagher responded stubbornly. "Not yet."
"Okay," Jack said. He stood there waiting for Gallagher to get his fill, knowing it may take a long time before the guy would actually admit that he was ready to head back to his cell, but he waited anyway.
"Jack," Gallagher said, as he stared out at the mountains in the distance. "Do you remember when we came back from that prison in Iraq?"
Oh crap, Jack thought with a feeling of panic rising inside his mind. "Yeah," he finally said warily, "Although I do my best never to think of that time."
Gallagher turned to look at him then, watching him closely. "I feel like that now," he said quietly.
Jack couldn't respond. He just stood there next to the only person in the entire world who knew exactly what he had gone through, and stared blankly at him, watching as the wind played havoc with his hair. The guy needed a haircut, Jack thought, as he tried to make sense of the memories and stray thoughts that were running through his mind.
They continued to stare at each other until Gallagher finally said, "It's different this time, though. I don't remember ever going through flashbacks like I've had over the last couple of days. It's scary because I think that maybe I've finally gone crazy."
"No," Jack finally spoke up, as he shook his head. "You're too strong for that. Mackenzie says you just need to talk about what scares you the most, and you won't have the flashbacks anymore."
"Really?" Gallagher asked, with a skeptical look on his face.
"Yeah... well, I think that's what he said," Jack admitted. "He did say that once you spill your guts, you are well on the way to recovery."
"Mackenzie always says that," Gallagher replied, a grin forming on his face.
"I know," Jack laughed. "It's become his trademark." He stood there for a few seconds longer, then told his clone, "Your lips are turning blue. You ready to go in yet?"
Gallagher looked back toward the building, dread clearly visible in his features. "Yeah," he said with a heavy sigh, "I guess it's inevitable, isn't it?"
"Let's go," Jack said, as he tugged on the man's arm. "Maybe we can avoid Mitchell this time."
The ride back down to the cell seemed to go a lot faster than the ride up, and dread threatened to suffocate Jack as they got closer to their destination. He looked over at O'Neill, hoping to come up with a reason to stall their arrival, but knew deep down that he didn't have a chance in hell. He sighed instead, when the elevator doors opened up to let them out.
Jack's heart began to speed up as the adrenalin raced through his veins when he saw all four members of SG-3 walking toward him from the direction of his cell. Anger coursed through him and he lowered his head, trying to think of a way to get to them before the SFs stopped him.
"Stand down," O'Neill told him quietly, but Jack was beyond listening to the General. He clenched his fists as he stood there, ever on the lookout for his chance to destroy the men who were responsible for Taria's death.
"Reynolds," O'Neill said, as he positioned himself in front of Jack. "I wasn't expecting to see you until this afternoon."
"General O'Neill," Reynolds responded politely, as he came to attention along with his men. O'Neill nodded at them to put them at ease and Reynolds continued with his explanation, "We had the opportunity to come back early. General Landry informed me that you wanted to speak with us, so we came to see you right away."
"Well thank you, but this might not be a good time," O'Neill told him, as he put a restraining hand out toward Jack, who at the moment was considering his options.
"I understand sir," Reynolds said. "Should we come back later?"
"I'll hunt you down," O'Neill felt the need to say. Reynolds nodded and started to move away. Jack saw his opportunity slipping away from him and took matters into his own hands by pushing past O'Neill and wrapping his hands around Reynolds' neck. There was nothing but blind rage racing through him as he squeezed his fingers around the man's throat, wanting nothing more than to make this guy pay for the torture Taria was put through.
"Jack!" O'Neill snarled as he grabbed one of Jack's arms to pull him off of the Colonel. Jack was not about to let go though, and he struggled harder to kill the bastard as O'Neill and Teal'c, who had grabbed his other arm, pulled him away. Jack kicked out at Reynolds in frustration, but his captors were determined to stop the attack and he found himself held back by Teal'c who had laced his arms around Jack's bound ones.
"Let me go," he growled, as he tried to free himself from Teal'c's grasp.
"Stand down," the General ordered, and for the first time, Jack realized that all four SFs were aiming their guns at him. They lowered their guns, but they were still ready and willing to knock some sense into him if the opportunity arose again.
"You're welcome," Reynolds snarled at Jack, who then made another attempt to get free of his restraints. Reynolds was rubbing his throat and Jack kicked out at the son of a bitch again, just for spite.
"Teal'c, take him back to his cell," O'Neill demanded.
"No," Jack yelled angrily, as he was dragged off toward his cell. He struggled to get away from Teal'c, but Teal'c was much stronger and Jack finally gave up, as he stood next to the door to wait for one of the SFs to unlock it.
"That was unwise," Teal'c stated, as he continued to hold on to Jack while the SF opened the door. Teal'c pulled Jack inside, then let him go. Jack just stood there, glaring at his so-called friend, watching as the guards walked out and shut the door.
"Damn it," Jack swore, as he stood there breathing heavily and glaring at Teal'c. "I almost had him."
"Killing him will not bring your wife back," Teal'c responded sagely.
"Ya think?" Jack snarled sarcastically, anger coursing through his veins. What did Teal'c know about it?
"Of this I am certain," Teal'c responded stoically.
Jack just glared at him, then held his hands out saying, "I'm behind locked doors again, Teal'c. Will you release me?"
Teal'c stared back at him for a moment, then went to the door to knock on it. The SF came in and Jack watched with narrowed eyes as Teal'c told him to cut the plastic handcuffs off. The guard, being a much more cautious man, called to have one of his friends come in to cover Jack while he cut off the strips. Jack stood there waiting for his hands to be released, all the while feeling the hatred pour into his soul at the injustice and humiliation of this whole mess.
The guards left him and Teal'c alone once more and Jack went over to sit down on his bed, closing his eyes as he leaned back against the wall, trying to calm himself down. The peace didn't last long though, as the door opened and O'Neill came in, glaring at Jack while at the same time starting in on him.
"What the hell were you thinking?" O'Neill thundered. Jack stood up to face his counterpart, needing to be on his feet to deal with this. "He is a superior officer and you just attacked him!"
"He's responsible for Taria's fate," Jack said, hoping to make the General understand the pain he was going through.
"He is no more responsible than you are," O'Neill snarled. "I've calmed him down, but he has every right to press charges, and if he does, there is nothing I can do to help you. God!" he exclaimed, frustration showing up right along with the anger, "What the hell am I going to do with you?"
"He wouldn't let me go back," Jack insisted stubbornly. "I could have gotten Taria out of there!"
"You don't know that," O'Neill said angrily. "And I don't care what your reasoning is, you had no right to attack him."
"Whatever," Jack snarled back. He knew O'Neill was right, but he couldn't get past the fact that he wanted to destroy that bastard. "Did he tell you anything?"
"Just that you are an ungrateful son of a bitch who is going to be facing a court martial real soon," O'Neill ground out, still angry at Jack's stupidity. "I've got Daniel talking to him now. Hopefully he'll talk Reynolds out of the court martial threat."
"Look," Jack said, realizing the futility of making the original Jack O'Neill understand, "I'm sorry about what happened out there. I just... I couldn't let him get away with what he did. I'm sorry."
O'Neill stood there, staring at him for a moment, before turning away as he pushed both hands through his hair and stared at the wall. "They think this is just one more indication that you are crazy," he said, as he turned back toward Jack. "Are they right?"
"Hell no!" Jack responded indignantly. "I'm not crazy." He felt the blood drain from his face as he realized the implications of what O'Neill was saying. "Jack listen, I wasn't lashing out because of a flashback," he said, panicked at the very thought that he may have blown it in more ways than one. "I knew who he was and why I was trying to kill him. I'm doing much better."
"Nice job in proving it to everyone," O'Neill said sarcastically. "Mackenzie is probably already gloating over this."
"You know, I'm having a hard time believing this shit," O'Neill said, the anger coming back in spades. "I mean, I can't believe I would ever do anything that stupid. This proves that you are not me."
"Yes sir," Jack agreed, as he stood there taking the heat. O'Neill was right, Jack was an idiot. All that work he had put into proving to them all that he was better, and he pulls a stunt that flushes all that hard work down the drain. He couldn't control his anger, and now he was paying for it. What the hell HAD he been thinking?
"Let's just hope Daniel can do his magic with them," O'Neill said. Jack could only nod his head, as he stood there waiting for his death sentence. O'Neill just glared at him once more, then walked over to the table and took a drink of the coffee that was sitting on the table. He grimaced, as he stared into the cup, "It's cold," he said dejectedly. "Nothing's worse than cold coffee."
"Yeah," Jack responded, his own thoughts pulling him back down into the depression that seemed to always be hovering around him. He sat down on the bed and stared at the floor, his mind dwelling on his failure.
He was so lost in his depression that he didn't even bother to look up when the door opened. Daniel and Carter's voices filtered over to him as they spoke with the General and Teal'c, but Jack still didn't care. He finally looked up when Daniel came over to sit down next to him.
"Hey," Daniel said, leaning into his arm to nudge him in an effort to emphasize that he was there. "You screwed up again."
"Yeah," Jack said, turning back to stare at the floor. Daniel waited, but Jack had nothing else to say, so he kept his silence.
"Will you tell me why you attacked Reynolds?"
"It doesn't matter now," he replied, knowing in his heart that the words were the truth in its simplest form.
"It mattered at the time," Daniel said, trying to get through to him.
"Yeah," he agreed. A fat lot of good it did, he thought bitterly.
"Patterson described the woman who gave him the stone," Daniel tried again. "She fit the description you gave of Taria."
Jack wasn't surprised by this news. He had come to terms with the fact that Taria had given her life for his - a dead woman wouldn't need a reminder of a husband who had left her behind.
"Jack? You know, don't you, that it's rude to ignore people."
He turned to look at his friend, surprised by his remark. "I'm not ignoring you. Not yet, anyway."
"Well, you sure could have fooled me," Daniel replied, with a slight smile.
"I just don't have anything to say," he said, his gaze going back to study the floor.
"Taria must have loved you very much," Carter said, as she came over to join them, her voice taking on a wistful tone. "She helped you to escape."
"She turned me over to the guards," Jack said, voicing his thoughts as he remembered his first escape attempt.
"What?" Daniel asked, while Jack found himself staring at the confusion on Carter's face. "What are you talking about? She told Reynolds where to find you."
Jack didn't respond right away. He could feel the panic rising as his mind took him back to that first escape attempt. He could still remember the fear on her face as she screamed to attract the guards' attention. "God," he said out loud, his own fear increasing ten-fold.
"Gallagher," Teal'c said, as he came over to stand next to the bed, "You would do well to tell us about it."
"I'm not sure that I can," Jack told him. He stared into the calm face of his friend, wondering if Teal'c really understood that talking about this would bring on memories of a punishment that had destroyed Jack's very soul.
"We're right here," Daniel said, as if that made all the difference in the world.
"I'm not going anywhere," O'Neill announced, pulling up a chair.
Jack watched as they all gathered around him, effectively ganging up on him again, not giving him a chance of even thinking of doing what he wanted to do, which was to forget this conversation had ever come up.
"She turned you over to the guards," O'Neill prompted.
Jack just glared at his counterpart. "You're a jerk, you know that?"
The grin that showed up on O'Neill's face seemed to fuel the wrath building up within Jack. "I've been called worse," the General said, with a shrug. "So why did she turn you in?"
Jack just stared at O'Neill, trying to get rid of the memories that had moved in and taken over, but his efforts were in vain. He scowled as he remembered Taria's eagerness to leave that place behind, only to turn on him at the last minute. "I had figured out a way to get past the barrier in front of the Stargate," he said, giving into the memories. "We had made plans to leave one night, and we almost made it." The night air had been cool after a long, hard day of toiling under the sun, but Jack hadn't been the least bit tired as he and Taria silently made their way across the compound. "She was so excited about leaving that place, or at least I thought she was." This was said with venom, as her screams of innocence echoed through his mind.
"We made it to the Gate and I was working on getting through the door of the barrier, when all of a sudden Taria started yelling and screaming, begging me as loud as she could not to try to escape. I was shocked at first, but then I tried to shut her up." Her eyes were wide and full of fear as she tugged on his arm to pull him away from his work. "It was too late though. The guards came running and I was dragged off to face Handar."
He stopped then, panic making him want to jump up and run from this place, but he'd have to knock someone over to do it. He pulled up his knees instead, curling up into a ball as he fought off the memories that wouldn't go away.
"It's okay," Carter soothed, her hand rubbing his back in an effort to calm him. "You're here with us. It's okay."
Jack just shook his head. It would never be okay.
"Just tell us what happened," O'Neill insisted. "Get it out in the open. We'll be right here, just in case you... well... you know. Daniel, are you sitting on those restraints?"
Daniel moved to look for the restraints and Jack had to smile as he stared at O'Neill, wishing that he could be as strong as O'Neill believed he should be. He knew well enough the expectations he had of himself. O'Neill had to be harboring the same expectations.
His gaze moved on to Teal'c, who smiled encouragingly at him. "You once helped me get through something similar to this, Gallagher. I will not leave you to deal with this on your own."
Jack couldn't respond, he wasn't sure what to say to such a heartfelt statement. He hugged his knees tighter to try to control the trembling that had taken over, as he turned to look at Daniel. Daniel would do anything to get Jack through this, he knew, but Jack was afraid that once he took that plunge, even Daniel wouldn't be able to help.
"You can do this, Jack," Daniel said with confidence. "Not a doubt in my mind."
Yeah, Jack thought bitterly. He brought his gaze back to O'Neill, then said, "Handar was pissed, to say the least." The panic was racing through him in waves and Jack suddenly realized that he didn't need to worry about going crazy. His heart was racing so fast, it would surely burst and kill him on the spot.
"Tell us what happened Jack," Carter said, the warmth in her voice calming him a little. "What did Handar do?"
"He started out by yelling at me," Jack said, knowing he was stalling the inevitable. The memories had invaded his mind, spilling out from the box that he had stored them in, filling in every nook and cranny of his consciousness. There was no way he could avoid them now. "Then the guards dragged me over to a table that was shaped like a cross. I had seen it before, but didn't know what they used it for. I wish I had never found out," he said in a near whisper.
He took a full minute to pull himself back out of the memories and continued telling his companions what happened. "They stripped me down to my shorts, then tied me down on the table. Then they started making little cuts into my skin, starting with my arms and legs and working up to my stomach and chest. I couldn't believe it. I mean this was it? Here I was thinking it was too horrible to even talk about and all these guys did was cut slits into my skin." He stopped to take a deep breath, then continued, "I should have known they weren't going to stop there. A couple of the guards went over to a cabinet and pulled out some bowls and brought them over to me. I have to admit that's when I really started to worry."
Carter took his hand into hers, but Jack was so far into his memories, this barely registered in his mind. "Taria was forced to watch and they had brought in the other slaves so that they could watch, as well. What better way to set an example?" he said bitterly, as he remembered watching the others file in, their faces reflecting the sadness and defeat they had long since learned to live with.
"The bowls were filled with leaves from a plant that grew plentiful in the garden. Taria had told me that Handar used the leaves as a filter when he wanted to make wine." He stopped speaking once again, staring off into nothingness while his friends waited patiently for him to continue.
"They took the leaves and began sliding them into the slits they had cut into my skin. By the time they'd finished, the leaves had released their poisons into my bloodstream." Jack squeezed his eyes shut at that point, hoping to erase the visions he had of Taria's tears, as she stood there watching his pain. "It wasn't too bad at first," he continued, his eyes opening to see O'Neill staring back at him. "It started out with a stinging sensation, but it wasn't long before true agony set in. My whole body was burning and I couldn't get away. It was like that acid Ba'al used when I was his prisoner," he continued, willing O'Neill to understand. "It started out just burning the cuts, but then moved on to consume my whole body." O'Neill's expression showed nothing of what he was thinking, but Jack knew he was remembering the incidents. How could he forget?
"After awhile, the pain seemed to dull and I was relieved that I had survived it," Jack said, the words coming out on their own now. He had already started down this path; he might as well finish the story. "But they weren't done with me and I remember trying to get free of the binds long enough to kill every last one of those guards when they pulled the leaves out, only to replace them with fresh ones." He was back to staring at the bars, as his mind took him back to Handar's throne room, remembering the anger and helplessness he had felt while he writhed and groaned in the restraints as the pain became excruciating. The groans of pain soon turned into screams when the substance attacked the already sore nerve endings throughout his body.
"The skin around the cuts had become tender and inflamed, so that by the time they replaced the leaves the third time around, I was practically screaming from that alone. But that wasn't the only thing I was dealing with," he said quietly. His mind had pulled out the memories of the hallucinations he had gone through as he fought off the agony. "After awhile, I started to see and hear things that scared me and is probably what finally drove me over the edge."
"What kinds of things?" O'Neill asked, pulling Jack back out of his memories for a minute. Jack stared at his counterpart, trying desperately to grab onto some of the strength O'Neill possessed, but Jack had gone too far for that now.
"Everything from glowing eyed snakes to ants biting at my skin," Jack told him wearily. He smiled grimly, then said, "If I remember correctly, Taria was the Wicked Witch of the West in one of them." The smile disappeared as he remembered her showing him a handful of leaves, laughing and taunting him in the face of his pain. He knew that this had only been a hallucination - he also remembered her being forced to watch him the entire three days he had been tortured.
"They never let up," he said, wanting to get this over with. "For three whole days, they replaced the old leaves with new ones, never once allowing me any relief. They came in shifts to make sure I never got that relief," he snarled, anger taking over completely. "When they were finally done with their fun, I was taken to my bed and left there with Taria for her to `take care' of me." God, the anger was rolling through him in waves now as he remembered her pleas for his forgiveness. He had laid there on his bed for three more days, dealing with the after affects of the torture and hallucinations, and his absolute hatred of the one woman who had betrayed his heart and soul.
"It was too much for me," he continued, begging O'Neill with his eyes to understand. "I couldn't go through that again, ever, and I just... I did whatever they told me to do, whenever they told me to do it."
O'Neill nodded, as he reached out to put his hand on Jack's shoulder. "I don't blame you," he said gravely. "Smartest thing you've ever done."
"Anytime I even thought of escape, panic would set in," Jack continued, although he wasn't really sure why. "I just couldn't do it."
O'Neill nodded and Jack felt a measure of calm working its way through his mind. Apparently O'Neill didn't share Jack's thoughts of his weakness of giving in. "I couldn't totally let go," Jack admitted wryly. "I was their slave in mind and spirit, but they still had to use the vise and the lightening rod occasionally. Man," he grimaced, "I can be really stupid sometimes."
O'Neill grinned, as he sat back in his chair, "You won't get any arguments from me on that one."
Jack smiled back weakly, then put his chin down on his knees and closed his eyes, still thinking about the torture he had endured. He brought his head up though when he heard Taria's laughter filling the room and he opened his eyes to look around for her. "Jack!" she called out to him from the other side of the bars. "Come see what I've found."
Jack could only sit there and stare at her. What was she doing here? "Taria?" he said, as he stared at her in disbelief. Her smile got even wider and Jack uncurled himself from the huddle he had been sitting in and got up to walk over to her, pushing past O'Neill to get to her.
"Aren't they beautiful?" she asked, her dark hair falling about her shoulders, as she held up her arms for him to see what she had in her hands. "Mother says they bring health and happiness to those who believe in such things."
"Your mother doesn't believe in such things does she?" Jack asked, knowing full well the answer. His mother-in-law was the epitome of depressing thoughts and she was always spouting off dire warnings that doom was just around the corner. Jack always wondered where Taria got that spark of radiance from, certainly not her mother.
"No she doesn't," Taria responded, her face scrunched up in an effort to frown, even as she smiled out at him. "I keep trying though," she added with a sigh. Jack couldn't help the grin that came to his face as he stared at his wife. She was so beautiful and full of life, the very thing this place needed. He stared at her as the afternoon sun brought out some of the highlights in her hair, and he smiled thinking of the softness of her hair when it brushed against his skin during their lovemaking.
"What do you have there?" he finally asked, as he looked down at the handful of leaves she was showing him. "Weeds?"
"No Jack," she said patiently. "Not weeds. They are from a plant called porate and they are used to make medicines that will cure many illnesses. They are hard to find," she said, as she looked down at the leaves. "Our master will be pleased."
"Well, we definitely don't want to upset `our master'," Jack responded nastily. Taria looked up at him, a real frown taking over her features as she glanced around to make sure no one had heard him. "You must be careful of the way you speak of him," she demanded quietly, turning to walk toward a group of slaves. "The guards expect nothing less."
"Whatever," Jack grumbled, as he followed her down the path. The night would be soon upon them and Jack was anxious to get out of this hellhole. Tonight was the night they were going to leave this place for good.
"Hurry," she whispered back at him, as she picked up her pace. "We must not make them wait." Jack just nodded as he rushed past her and grabbed her hand, pulling her along after him in the darkness that had fallen over the landscape. He knew that they needed to hurry, to keep quiet until he could get the Stargate activated, and he crouched down when he reached the door of the barrier, pulling out the tools he needed to get it open.
"Jack," Taria whispered, as she crouched down next to him. "What if they catch us? What if we cannot get away?"
"Shh," Jack stopped working long enough to say, "We won't get caught," he added in a whisper. "Just, please be quiet."
She nodded at him, then stood up as he went back to getting the door opened. His blood ran cold when Taria suddenly started yelling at him, pulling on his arm to make him give up on this insane idea of escaping. "Jack, please stop. We cannot escape from this place," she pleaded desperately. "Please, we must go back now. Please."
"Shh," Jack said again, giving up on his task of opening the door to concentrate on shutting Taria up. "What is the matter with you?" he asked, as he grabbed her arms to give her a little shake. "Do you want to bring the guards down on us?"
"Jack," she said, her voice trembling, as the tears rolled down her face, "Please don't do this. We will be caught if you continue. Please stay here with me."
Jack was in shock as he stared at his wife. What had changed? She had been so excited about running away, and now she was begging him to stay? "No," he said vehemently, as he shook his head. "We have to get out of here."
"You there, stop!" one of the guards demanded, and Jack just stood there gripping Taria's arms as he stared into her face. He couldn't believe that she had done this, alerted the guards to bring them running. His eyes never left her face as the guards grabbed him and pulled him off of her. He continued to stare at her, watching the tears stream down her face as she tried to silently make him understand. Her face haunted his mind even after he was dragged away from her and taken to see Handar. And he watched her as the guards tied him down to the table and began cutting into his skin. She had betrayed him and he would never forgive her.
The agony of the torture was excruciating. Jack struggled mightily as he tried to escape from the pain by jerking his arms and legs in an effort to release them from the straps that bound him to the table. When that didn't work, he began arching his back and pulling even harder at the binds that held him, desperate for release. The pain came in waves and he resorted to demanding his release only to be laughed at while his body was eaten by the burning fire that seemed to course through him.
The pain was consuming his every thought, every action and he struggled to escape it any way he could, but the guards knew exactly what they were doing. Just when he thought he could stand the agony, they came over to pull out the stale leaves, only to replace them with fresh ones that took his misery to a much higher level.
He suffered for several hours, resorting to hoarse screams when his willpower to keep the screams at bay broke down. The guards continued to replace the leaves, causing him extreme agony as the wounds had begun to fester and became sensitive and tender to the touch. It hurt when they removed the stale ones, only to become excruciating when they put in the new ones.
Taria stood watching him the whole time. They forced her to stay there to watch and her sobs only seemed to make his hatred for her grow. The others were allowed to leave in order for them to go about their duties, but Jack had gotten to the point of not even caring if anyone was watching or not. He had been reduced to a crying, pitiful, screaming mass of pain by the end of the first day, and an audience was the least of his worries. His bravado had left him almost from the minute they had inserted the fifth or sixth set of leaves. He was far past caring what the others thought of him by that time.
The hallucinations moved in slowly, pelting his mind with images of snakes and dragons, while he writhed and moaned in his restraints. The hallucinations continued to take over, and it wasn't long before Jack had trouble separating reality from the constant barrage of images and people that floated through his vision. There were a few times when he didn't even know who he was, as he laid there begging for mercy from his tormentors.
But mercy was something these people didn't know existed. Three long days of constant, burning, agonizing pain, along with hallucinations and paralyzing fear took its toll on Jack's mind, body and spirit and he woke up on the fourth morning barely able to function. Taria's face hovered over him, dark circles underlying the blue darkness of her eyes, and she stared at him with a worried expression that had taken over the smiles she used to give him whenever she saw him. "Jack?" she murmured, as she reached over to push the hair off of his forehead. He jerked away from her touch, anger at her betrayal seething in his mind, while he steadfastly refused to listen to her promises that she would never do anything to cause him to go through that again. She didn't have to worry on that account, Jack thought grimly. He had no plans whatsoever of ever going through that again.
He lay quietly, listening to Taria as she spoke softly to him, telling him that she loved him and that she had to do what she did. Her words meant nothing to Jack. They were just words meant to soothe his soul, but only served to fuel the anger that had built up and completely consumed him. He hated that lying bitch!
He felt himself calm down, despite his anger and he stared up at Taria, watching her as she sat there talking to him. His world seemed to shift though, and confusion clouded his brain as Taria's features shifted into those of Samantha Carter. She was still talking to him soothingly, and Jack looked around to see that O'Neill was sitting in the chair next to his bed, his head hung down as he stared at his hands. "Jack?" he said, causing O'Neill's head to jerk up.
"Hey," O'Neill said, relief showing up clearly in his eyes. "You're back."
"Back?" Jack responded with confusion, not quite sure what was going on. "Where did I go?" he asked, as he tried to bring his hand up to cover his eyes. That was his intention anyway. The restraints holding him down on the bed wouldn't let him follow through on that movement.
"I don't know. You tell us," O'Neill said. He then got up off the chair and nudged Carter to get her to move so that he could sit down on the bed next to him. Carter complied and O'Neill sat down heavily as he stared at his clone. "I'll admit that I thought you might have finally taken that last dive over the edge."
"Over the edge?" Jack asked, as panic threatened to take over. He had done it again, gave into those damn memories and now he was definitely going to end up in an institution. Damn it, this shit was never going to end. "Get me out of these restraints," he growled at O'Neill, while he pulled and struggled to find his own way out.
"Nope," O'Neill said casually, but Jack knew that this was just an act. The man was on the brink of panic himself, just too damned stubborn to let anyone else know it. Jack knew it as sure as he was lying there and he couldn't help the resentment flowing through him as he thought about it. O'Neill wasn't facing a lifetime in an institution. What did he have to be afraid of?
The answer hit him square in the face. O'Neill was afraid of the very same thing Jack was afraid of - insanity. Despite O'Neill's wishes, and Jack's for that matter, they were one and the same. If Jack could succumb to the evils of insanity, it stood to reason that his counterpart could just as well. If pushed hard enough and far enough, the infallible Jack O'Neill could be a viable candidate for the loony bin and this was, and always had been unacceptable. Insanity was something they had fought against every single time they went through something that endangered their minds, and Jack realized that these flashbacks were just the tip of the iceberg - the ultimate enemy, as it were.
"I'm not crazy," Jack insisted, staring into O'Neill's eyes, willing the General to believe him.
"No, you're not," O'Neill agreed. "Not yet, anyway."
Jack couldn't help the small smile that showed up on his face, "Do you really believe that?' he asked.
"Yep," O'Neill responded, reaching over to start unlocking the binds. "You know me. I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it."
"Yes, you would," Jack grinned. "This is me you're talking to. Remember?"
"O'Neill stopped what he was doing to look up at Jack. "Oh yeah," he said thoughtfully, with a small nod. "I forgot for a minute there."
Jack sat up when he was finally released and smiled warily at Carter, as she stood next to the bed watching him. He turned to look over at the other side of the room and found Daniel and Teal'c both standing there watching quietly. He nodded at them, which prompted a small wave from Daniel. "You scared us for a little while there," Daniel said.
"Speak for yourself," O'Neill piped up, as he sat back down on the side of the bed. "I knew he was going to snap out of it."
"Of course you did, Jack," Daniel said in a patronizing tone as he walked over toward them. "Never doubted it for a minute."
Daniel didn't make it to his destination though. The door opened after he had taken a few steps, and he turned to see what was going on.
"Excuse me, General O'Neill, sir," the guard said as he stepped into the room. "Colonel Mitchell would like a word with you."
"Tell him I'll be right out," O'Neill said dismissively. The guard nodded, then turned to leave, but was thwarted from delivering the message when Mitchell walked in and began his spiel.
"No need," Mitchell insisted, as he stopped and turned his attention to O'Neill. "General sir, the Asgard have sent a message and I volunteered to deliver it to you."
O'Neill just stood there in the middle of the room, staring incredulously at the Colonel and Jack could feel the anger heating up the room. "I'm going to kill Landry," O'Neill finally said.
"What's going on?" Mitchell asked, the innocent look on his face not fooling Jack for even a minute. "Are we having a party?"
Apparently O'Neill wasn't falling for it either because he snarled out, "Carter? Can I have this man court martialed for interrupting a private meeting?"
"No sir," Carter responded with a shake of her head.
"How about for sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong?" he growled.
"No sir," she said again, her expression telling everyone that she was clearly feeling sorry for Colonel Mitchell.
"You're the smart one," O'Neill said, as he sent a glance toward Carter before turning his glare on to Mitchell. "Think of something." With that he stormed past Mitchell and walked out the door leaving the rest of the room's occupants in complete silence.
Jack watched as Mitchell sent a pleading look toward Daniel who just shrugged and gave him an `it's your problem now' look. It was apparent that Carter and Teal'c were not going to be any help either, so Mitchell squared his shoulders and turned to follow the General out.
"He doesn't like being out of the loop," Carter told Jack, in an attempt to break the silence. "He reminds me of you and the General in a way."
"Yeah, well don't tell Jack that," Daniel advised sagely. "It may not be the right thing to say, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah," Carter said nodding her head vigorously. "I think I'll keep that to myself." She then came over to sit down next to Jack, while a smile lit up her face. "You are going to be just fine. Just don't ever do that again."
"Yes ma'am," Jack said, hoping he'll be able to keep his word on that. "I'll do my best."
"Good," she replied, "That's all I ask." Her smile dimmed, then disappeared altogether while she stared into his eyes. "You scared me pretty badly this time. I was afraid you wouldn't come out of it."
He stared back, wishing he had something to say that would calm her fears. He had loved her once, perhaps still did, and he wanted nothing more than for her to be happy. But he knew that his troubles weren't over, not by a long shot, so he sat there and took her hand in his, squeezing it to tell her in his own way he would do his best. "I refuse to let it drag me down, okay?"
"Okay," she said, a smile gracing her features once again.
The door opened again, and O'Neill walked in, a little calmer than the way he had left the room. Jack figured Mitchell had to be feeling like a heel right about now.
O'Neill ignored Jack's questioning look as he headed back into the cell to sit down on the chair that he had vacated earlier. He sat there for a second, then sighed when he realized everyone was waiting.
"Good news, General?" Carter prompted, finally breaking the silence.
"The Asgard have agreed to help," he said, as he watched Jack carefully. "We're going to finally find out what happened to Taria."
Jack O'Neill sat behind the temporary desk he'd been given, staring off into space and tapping out a steady beat with a pen held loosely in his fingers. He had come to this office shortly after telling his friends the news about the Asgard, knowing that he would find some tranquility in an office very few people knew was being used.
His thoughts had gone back to Gallagher and the man's reaction to the news of the Asgard's help. Jack didn't quite know what he had expected from his clone, but the calm nod of Gallagher's head gave him pause. It was almost as if Gallagher didn't care one way or the other. Jack knew better, of course, but it still bothered him that his clone had given up.
When pressed, Gallagher insisted that Handar and his guards would have tortured and killed her. It was the only way to keep the slaves in line. But Jack had countered that argument with an argument of his own. He brought up a few instances in the past where he hadn't given up on someone he had cared deeply for, including the three others in the room with them. There had been at least one instance throughout the years when he had thought each one of his friends had died, Daniel more times than he cared to count, but he had always held out hope that they would somehow survive. Carter's battle with the entity that had taken her mind hostage inside of a computer was just one instance when Jack was sure she was lost to them. In fact he had shot her twice with a Zat, knowing it would kill her. For all intents and purposes, he had killed her and he still remembers the agony he went through for that decision. But she had lived through it and this is what he was trying to convey to his clone.
Gallagher took this argument into consideration, and finally nodded at Jack, acknowledging that he was right. "But it's been at least five days, Jack," Gallagher said sadly, as he thought about the woman he had left behind and what she must have gone through. "We may be too late."
"Maybe they just tortured her," Carter speculated. "Maybe she's still alive. You did say they needed slaves to work for them. She might still be alive."
"Yeah," Gallagher agreed half-heartedly. They were finally getting through to him, but Jack sensed that there was something else holding Gallagher back. For someone who was supposedly the `same person' as him, Gallagher was a mystery to Jack. He contemplated his clone's reaction even now, as he sat at the desk waiting for his Aide to call him back.
Maybe he was expecting too much from the kid. After all, Gallagher had once been Jack O'Neill. Yeah, their experiences over the last several years were widely different, but Jack figured they still had the same thought processes, still believed in the same principles and still relied on their shared past experiences. This anger and self-hatred Gallagher harbored over leaving someone behind was proof that they still thought alike.
Another thing that stayed the same was their respective fears. Jack was well aware of his reputation of getting through the worst situations, fearlessly facing down System Lords and surviving against all odds. But the truth of the matter was that he really wasn't so fearless. He'd been scared out of his mind way too many times; it just never served a purpose to show that fear. Fear is a weakness that gives the enemy an advantage and Jack had always been too determined to ever give anyone an advantage over him.
The pen stopped its insistent rapping when Jack thought about the fear that had him in its grip during Gallagher's last flashback. He'd seriously thought that Gallagher had finally lost his mind when his clone pushed his way past him to walk out to the outer room and began talking to someone who wasn't there. The words were jumbled - talking about somebody's mother one minute, then going on about guards and escaping the next. He and Teal'c had cautiously gone over to Gallagher to lead him back to the bed, and Jack had to admit that he was surprised when Gallagher let them.
But Gallagher had definitely given in to his memories. He just lay there with his eyes open, staring out at something only he could see. He eventually closed his eyes, as if asleep, but then all hell broke loose as Gallagher lashed out, barely missing Jack when he swung out at his phantom tormentors. They finally got him restrained, only to have to deal with the man's silence, as he calmed down again. The silence didn't last long though, and Jack watched helplessly as Gallagher fought off his tormentors and his captivity by twisting and straining to get out of the restraints. They had no choice but to watch, as Gallagher did his best to fight off the pain and the horrors of the hallucinations his mind had brought back from the past. His body had arched and bucked, straining against the straps of the restraints, all the while yelling curses and demanding his release.
It had gone on for hours. Jack had tried to bring him back by talking to him, even yelling at him, trying to get through the memories that had taken complete control of his clone, but Gallagher didn't respond to anything Jack said. It was hard to watch him go through it, but Jack couldn't leave Gallagher to deal with it alone. He had made a promise and he meant to keep it. Besides, he was determined to stay with him to the end, hoping against hope that Gallagher would come out of it. He had to come out of it, because Jack wasn't so sure he could live with the thought that insanity could actually take over the mind of Jack O'Neill. God, that would be the ultimate horror.
Jack didn't know what to expect when Gallagher finally calmed down and just lay there staring at Carter, who had taken her turn in talking to him. Her voice seemed to calm him more than the others, so Jack had decided that when the going got tough in the future, he was sending Carter in.
He had almost fallen off his chair when Gallagher called out to him. The relief flowing through Jack was a welcome feeling, pushing the fear and tension away so that he could relax slightly. They weren't totally out of the woods yet, but the fact that Gallagher was able to win this important battle made Jack feel a little better.
Now all they had to do was to find out what happened to Taria. Jack wasn't sure what he wanted to find on that issue. What would they do with her if they found her alive? From what Gallagher described, life on that planet was miserable for the slaves and Jack knew his people well enough to know that once they got there, they wouldn't just settle on freeing only Taria. That meant trying to come up with a location where they could put these people, Earth being the last place Jack would consider. Then there was the task of assigning SGC personnel to educate the refugees on how to live their lives in freedom. From the sounds of it, these people had been so oppressed; they wouldn't be able to function without someone telling them how to survive on their own.
Jack looked up when there was a knock on the door and he nodded at Reynolds and Peterson, gesturing for them to enter.
"You wanted to see us, sir?" Reynolds said, as he stood on the other side of the desk.
"Yes," Jack replied, as he watched for any signs of hostility from the Colonel. "Have a seat," he invited casually. It couldn't hurt to try to get on their good side. The two men sat down, but Jack could see they weren't as comfortable as he would like them to be. "Tell me what happened on Hulmeshur," he added.
"Doctor Jackson tells me that Lieutenant Gallagher wanted us to rescue his wife, sir," Reynolds responded, getting right to the point. "I admit that I had no idea that was what he was trying to do when he resisted our rescue attempt."
"He didn't tell you why he wanted to go back?" Jack asked.
"He was happy to see us at first," Reynolds replied, "But as we got closer to the Gate, he kept telling me that we couldn't leave yet, that he had to go back to get someone. He didn't say who, other than a name, but by that time we were in some serious trouble. All I wanted to do was to get my men back safely."
Jack just nodded. He had been in the same predicament Reynolds had been in and he still regretted some of the decisions he had made during those times. But the damage was done; now it was up to him to figure out a way to fix things. "You met with his wife," he told them, "Didn't she say why she was helping you?"
"No sir," Reynolds said. "I was surprised when she came forward with the information we needed. No one else would talk to us."
"Did she ask you to take her with you?"
"No sir. She just said that we would find him in the fields at the far end of the compound."
More mysteries to add to this whole mess, Jack thought, as he stared at the two men. Why did she want to be left behind? "Patterson?" Jack said, bringing his attention to the other man.
"She gave you a rock. Did she tell you what it was?"
"No sir," Patterson responded nervously. He was fairly new, never having really met the `legendary' Jack O'Neill and Jack had to grimace at this thought, which of course made Patterson more anxious to please. "She handed me the rock, telling me to `take it because she didn't need it anymore'."
"Did she say why she wouldn't need it?" Jack asked, wishing this guy would just relax. This was not the first time he had encountered this attitude. His meeting with Captain Gordon was the most recent experience. Gordon had come right out and told him that it was an honor to meet with him, and why it was such an honor. It made Jack feel special, but it also made him feel like a fraud. He certainly didn't feel like a hero.
"No sir," Patterson said. "We were in a hurry, so I just thanked her and took it with me. I didn't think to ask."
"She didn't tell you to give it to the Lieutenant?" Jack asked, wondering just what had been going through that woman's mind. Why would she just give a keepsake to a total stranger?
"We were in a hurry, sir." Patterson responded. "I just thought it might be something Doctor Jackson would be interested in. I took the rock and thanked her, then hurried to catch up with the rest of my team."
Silence filled the room as Jack sat there trying to piece together that mission in his mind. Why didn't Gallagher just tell them the woman he wanted to go back for was his wife? Would it have made a difference? Jack knew that if he had been in Reynolds' shoes, he probably would have done the same thing. The safety of his team had always been his first priority. He looked up to see Reynolds watching him warily, ready to defend himself at all costs.
"Calm down, Colonel," Jack said with a slight smile. "No one is blaming you. I'm just trying to get a better understanding of what went down. We're planning a return trip - with the help of the Asgard - and I want to know what we're facing."
"Yes sir," Reynolds said, seemingly more relieved. "Uh... sir? Considering the circumstances, I've decided not to press charges against the Lieutenant. Doctor Jackson made a very convincing argument, and I have to admit that I understand the reasons behind the attack."
Jack was surprised, as well as just a little pleased. "I'm sure the Lieutenant will be happy to hear that, Colonel. He's already regretting his actions."
Reynolds nodded, then said, "If I may be so bold, sir. May I ask why you are so intent on helping him? Is he a relative?"
Jack stared at the Colonel, knowing it was time to make a decision on this issue. Mackenzie had told him about the rumors, but Jack had hoped he could avoid adding another lie to his overly secretive life. He sighed when he realized that he was better off in telling those lies. Rumors can turn nasty. "Yes, he's a relative, a cousin on my mother's side. His father and I were really close, so I had to come and see what I could do to help him through this. Then he pulls a stunt like that," he added, as he pointed to the bruises on Reynolds' throat, "Which makes me want to disown him."
"I'll survive," Reynolds commented with a grin. Jack grinned back at the Colonel. Hopefully this will set everyone straight and they could all move on. "My men and I can be ready if you need us to go on the second rescue mission," Reynolds added.
"Thank you, Colonel," Jack replied, with a nod of his head. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Yes sir," Reynolds said, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one. Both men got up to leave and Jack watched them as they walked out, his mind already back on Gallagher's problems.
He vaguely wondered when his Aide was going to call him back, then sat back with a start when a bright light filled the office. His friend, Thor, showed up in a blaze of light and Jack couldn't help the smile that took over his features. He and the Supreme Commander of the Asgard had become great friends over the years and Jack was always pleased to see him - even when Thor would pluck him out of the middle of something to transport Jack up to his ship. Giving Thor a hard time for it was something that was expected each and every time, so Jack made it a point to bitch and complain for at least a minute. The fact that the bitching and complaining made Jack feel like he had more control over his comings and goings had nothing to do with it, or so he liked to think.
"Greetings O'Neill," Thor said, as he sat down in a chair next to the desk.
"Thor, old buddy!" Jack exclaimed, extremely happy to see his friend. "What's up with the Asgard these days?"
"We are doing well," Thor responded calmly, "If that is what you are asking."
"Yes," Jack said, remembering too late that it was always better to speak plainly to the Asgard. Americanized terminology wasn't widely used in Thor's galaxy, although Thor was getting better at understanding him. "Thanks for agreeing to help us. I really appreciate it."
"It is my honor," Thor replied humbly. "I understand that your clone is in need of our assistance. We are deeply indebted to you both and would be glad to assist you in your rescue mission."
"Good," Jack said, "Because we really need a way to get onto a planet without getting killed the minute we go through the Stargate and your beaming technology would work wonders. The Prometheus is unavailable to us at the moment and we were hoping you guys would be able to help us out now, instead of later."
"Shall we get started?" Thor asked, and Jack had to smile at the willingness of his friend.
"Yeah, just let me get a team together."
"I need to be a part of the team," Gallagher insisted, when Jack told him about the mission. "Those people know me. They would be more inclined to talk to me than to strangers."
"In case you haven't noticed," Jack replied, just a little exasperated, "You are being held prisoner for your own good."
"Well, it's not like I'm going to hurt someone, besides I know who to look for - and `where' to look, for that matter. I have to do this, Jack."
"Why?" Jack asked, realizing that there was something Gallagher wasn't telling him. "You don't have to be anywhere."
Gallagher didn't answer right away. He stared thoughtfully at Jack for a moment, then looked around, seeing who else was in the room. "I just have to go," he eventually said, as he brought his gaze back to stare at Jack again.
Jack wasn't so obtuse that he couldn't see that his clone didn't want to broadcast his reasons, even if his audience were the people he trusted with his life. But if they were going to do this, they needed to do it now. "They are going to grab as many of the slaves as they can," he told Gallagher to try to pacify him. "Chances are they'll grab Taria."
"I can go down to the planet to make sure all the slaves are accounted for. I know these people, Jack. If nothing else, I can calm them down when they are suddenly transported to an alien craft."
"Not this time," Jack said, wondering at the worry that was nagging at him. Gallagher was afraid of something, perhaps of what he would find out, and Jack realized that he was more attuned to his clone than he wanted to admit to when it dawned on him that he was reacting to Gallagher's anxiety.
"Give us a minute," Jack said to his former teammates, who were standing around waiting for the go-ahead to take on Handar and his guards.
"Sure," Carter said, as she nodded her head. She turned her head and smiled at Daniel, who also took the hint.
"We'll just be outside," Daniel said, as he followed Carter to the door. Teal'c bowed his head and followed his friend's lead, leaving Jack and Gallagher to talk privately.
"What's going on?" he asked his clone when they were finally alone.
"Nothing," Gallagher responded warily. "I just want to go with them."
"There's more to this than you're letting on, isn't there?" Jack asked. Gallagher just stared at him rebelliously, refusing to give up the real reason why he `needed' to go on this mission.
"They are more than capable of getting the job done, with or without you," Jack said. "You don't have to worry about anything."
"What are you going to do with the slaves once you free them?" Gallagher asked, abruptly changing the subject. Jack saw through the subterfuge almost immediately. Gallagher was definitely hiding something.
"I have Walter looking into other planets that would be ideal for them to live on. They'll be fine."
Gallagher nodded his head, then said, "Am I going to be allowed to go with SG-1 or not?"
"Not," Jack said. He could be just as stubborn as his clone when he wanted to be.
They glared at each other for a few minutes, Gallagher finally giving in when he realized that Jack's approval was needed if he wanted to be included in on the mission. "Look, I just want to get out of here. You can't keep me locked up in here forever. I just want out."
"What if you have one of those flashbacks while you are there?" Jack answered, trying to reason with the man. "We can't take the risk."
"I won't," Gallagher insisted quietly.
"You know that for sure?"
Silence fell over the room once more as Gallagher tried to come up with the right words to say. Jack could see him struggling with his thoughts, searching for the magic words that would effectively sway the General. It would take a lot, they both knew, and Gallagher sighed when nothing came to mind. "I have to do this, Jack."
"Why?" Jack asked, thinking he would give the man a chance to explain. Actually it was because he was anxious to hear the answer.
Gallagher sighed again, then walked over to the bars of the cell, grabbing the bars as he stared out at nothing. Jack immediately went on the alert, but it soon became apparent that Gallagher just needed something to focus on, a trick Jack had used more often than he cared to admit.
"When you first told me that the Asgard were going to help us find Taria, I was all set to go kick some ass, but then...," he stopped and stared at Jack, his face showing nothing of what he was feeling. "But then," Gallagher continued, "I got scared. I mean, what if I get caught? I can't go through that punishment again, Jack."
Oh Christ, Jack thought. He now knew exactly why his clone needed to go on this mission. He was too damn stubborn for his own good and letting this fear take over is something neither one of them would live with. Gallagher needed to prove to himself, and now Jack, that he was much stronger than that. He needed to prove that Handar and his men hadn't totally broken him. He needed to show them that he was the better man.
"I have to go on that mission," Gallagher insisted. "I'll come back here and spend the next two months in this cell if I have to, but I have to go on that mission."
Jack stared at his counterpart, knowing deep down what he should do, but he still had the safety of his former teammates to think of. "No flashbacks?" he asked, already knowing he had made up his mind.
"The flashbacks didn't start until I was here at the SGC," Gallagher replied, as he let go of the bars to face Jack. "And I'm willing to bet that they were brought on by my guilt of leaving Taria behind."
"What if she is dead?" Jack asked, trying to make Gallagher understand his reluctance.
"They are my friends, as well," Gallagher replied, effectively answering Jack's unasked question. "I wouldn't put them in that position if I thought I might be endangering them."
Jack just stared at his clone, weighing his options. He understood Gallagher's need, and could totally sympathize with him, but the kid wasn't out of the woods yet, if Mackenzie was to be believed. The psychiatrist had been in his glory when Jack told him of Gallagher's last flashback, but he had also warned Jack that this was only the first step in dealing with the problem. Gallagher was nowhere near being cured.
"General?" Gallagher asked, pushing for a decision. But Jack still had his reservations. He stared at his clone as he dealt with the thoughts and memories of his own making, memories of past instances where others thought he had been an unstable, emotional wreck, and how he had been determined to prove them all wrong. This was basically the same, with the only difference being that it was his clone going through it, and the little fact that debilitating flashbacks were involved this time.
"Am I going to be able to join SG-1 on this mission?" Gallagher asked, impatience making an appearance. Jack smiled, as a thought came to mind and he nodded his head.
"Alright!" Gallagher exclaimed happily, then said, "Do you know how hard it is for me to have to practically beg you for something? I mean I used to be you, and now I'm reduced to begging for little favors. Where's the justice in that?"
"Well don't get too comfortable with your status," Jack said; now feeling bad that he was going to throw out a condition to go with his approval. "I'm only agreeing to this because I know you will agree to talk to Mackenzie in exchange."
The smile on Gallagher's face turned into a full-blown glare and Jack knew that a storm was brewing, but Gallagher was through the worst of it and Mackenzie really was much more qualified to handle this. Jack could stop worrying about screwing up his clone and if he was lucky, be able to spend some quality time with Carter.
"I'm not going to talk with Mackenzie," Gallagher snarled.
"Why not?" Jack asked, hoping to pacify his clone one more time. "He already knows everything that's happened to you. All you have to do now is give him hell if he starts talking drugs and answer his questions - this is the easy part. You've been through this enough times before with plenty of psychiatrists to know what happens next. You keep telling him what he already knows until you've convinced him that you are better, and you're home free. Piece of cake."
"Piece of cake," Gallagher grumbled, and Jack's smile grew wider as he realized that Gallagher was going to give in. Gallagher finally smiled back, having realized that Jack was right. Now that he was better, he was well prepared to give Mackenzie a run for his money. "I'll talk to Mackenzie," he conceded. "After we get back. I've gotten my hopes up that maybe Taria is still alive - how can I help myself with you spouting off that she is - and Mackenzie will come in handy if she isn't."
Jack didn't know what to make of this statement. "You want her to be alive?" he asked tentatively. He still didn't know one way or the other if Gallagher hated his wife or not.
Gallagher stared out at the room beyond the bars, toward the spot where he had last `seen' his wife. Jack was still spooked by the memory of Gallagher calling out to a woman who wasn't there to anyone but him. "She tried her best to get me to forgive her," Gallagher said, his gaze taking on a faraway look. "Most people would have given up and ended up hating each other. But she couldn't live like that, I guess. She never stopped loving me and did whatever it took to make me love her again." He turned to look at Jack, then said, "By the time I was rescued, I often wondered if I had forgiven her, just too stubborn to admit it."
"I was determined to go back and get her," Gallagher answered, telling Jack what he wanted to know. His gaze went back to the outer room, "And now I'm ready to forgive her and to listen to her reasons for her betrayal."
"Well let's get to it then," Jack said, walking over to slap his clone on the back. "Thor can be so impatient. I can't tell you how many times he just plucks me out from whatever when he wants to see me."
"I remember," Gallagher said, with a knowing smile. Then felt the need to insist, "No handcuffs this time. I mean it, Jack. I walk out of here a free man."
"No handcuffs," Jack agreed, knowing that his clone was well on the road to recovery. How could he have ever doubted it?
Walking out of his prison without handcuffs felt like a victory of sorts and Jack Gallagher wanted to celebrate, but he knew this was not the time. He had a mission to take on, one that would solve many of the questions that were still running rampant through his mind. He was about to find out what happened to his wife, but just as important to him was that he was going to be able to face his worst fear head on and he was determined that he would survive that encounter with his sanity intact.
The SF standing guard outside his door was one of those who had held a gun to his head earlier in the day when he'd attacked Reynolds, and Jack couldn't help the grimace as he remembered that folly. The grimace turned into a glare when the SF took one look at Jack's unbound hands then sent an inquiring glance toward the General.
"Not to worry," O'Neill told the guard, as Jack tamped down on his anger.
"Yes sir," the SF responded, although he still watched Jack warily.
"Lieutenant Gallagher will be going with you after all," O'Neill told his friends. Jack was able to calm down when he saw the smiles on the faces of his friends. Carter was practically beaming as she stared at the General.
"Yes sir," she said, then turned to Jack and added, "It will be like old times."
Jack just nodded at her, not so sure he liked the implications of that. He had gotten used to working with the members of SG-8, although half the team was dead, he reminded himself sadly.
"Mitchell will be in his glory to have all the original members of SG-1 together," Daniel said quietly to Carter, who nodded her head and grinned back at her teammate.
"I heard that Daniel," O'Neill said.
"It's been his dream from the very beginning," Daniel said, smiling broadly at Jack. "You have no idea how hard he pushed to get us all together again."
"Oh, I have a very good idea," O'Neill responded with a frown, as he turned to walk down the hallway toward the elevator, "Probably just as much as he's pushing to find out what's going on with Gallagher."
"Colonel Mitchell can be very persistent," Teal'c stated, with a slight frown.
"No kidding," O'Neill said, apparently in full agreement with his friend. "He's showing you up, Daniel," the General added, with a small smile. "You're gonna have to work a little harder on that reputation of yours."
Speaking of reputations," Daniel said, the smile on his face turning into one that was downright wicked. "I've been hearing some rumors about you being a grandpa."
This got Jack's attention. "A grandpa?" he asked his counterpart, wondering just what the General had been doing all these years. O'Neill didn't answer; instead he looked like he was going to throttle Daniel.
"Yeah," Daniel answered him instead, truly enjoying this whole conversation. "Didn't you know that you are his grandson?" he asked.
"No," Jack said, trying to work through his confusion. He couldn't help the huge smile that broke through the confusion when he finally realized what was going on.
"Don't... even... think it," O'Neill growled out, as he stopped to set them all straight. "I've already told Reynolds and Patterson that you are my cousin on my mother's side. Your Dad and I were really close, got that?"
"Got it," Jack said, grinning like a fool. "You're my cousin - although now that you mention it, you do look a lot like my grandfather."
"My cousin," O'Neill reiterated. "If you want to live to see Thor, I suggest you keep that in mind."
"Yes sir," Jack responded with a laugh, as he followed the General down the hallway. He couldn't stop grinning as he thought about how he could use this information in the future. O'Neill so had it coming.
"Will you be joining us on this mission, General O'Neill?" Colonel Mitchell asked when they were all standing in the Gate room.
"Not this time," O'Neill responded. "Apparently, we are going to be bombarded with refugees. I'm going to help Walter find some place for them to stay."
"I think it would be great to have all of SG-1 together on one more mission. You know, for old time's sake," Mitchell said, his expression telling everyone he was determined to make this work.
"No can do," O'Neill said, then turned the subject to the mission that was going to finally give Jack some peace. "Now remember, you go in and grab those people then leave. No heroics."
Jack just nodded. He was prepared to do whatever it took to free the slaves, no matter what. He reached into his pocket, feeling the smoothness of the stone that connected him to a woman who was hopefully still alive on a planet on the other side of the galaxy.
"Gallagher," O'Neill said forcibly.
"Sir?" Jack responded, looking up to see O'Neill staring at him.
O'Neill stared at him for a few seconds before telling him, "Good luck." Jack stared back, knowing what the General was really telling him. Jack hoped that it wouldn't come to him disobeying a direct order, but he knew that if push came to shove, he would do whatever it took to get those people out. Apparently O'Neill knew this, as well. Jack couldn't help but be just a little resentful that his counterpart really did know him too well.
"Thanks," he replied quietly. O'Neill nodded then pulled Carter aside to talk to her privately. Jack watched them for a few minutes then smiled. He was secretly hoping the two had worked through their differences and were now a couple. He hadn't really thought about it before, especially considering his own problems that he had been working through this past week, but he now hoped they were an item. It'd be about time.
"Lieutenant," Mitchell said, as he came up to stand next to Jack. "Glad to be back in the saddle again?"
"Yes sir," Jack responded. He was so ready to get out there.
"It's a good thing you're going with us," Mitchell went on. "I'm sure you'll know where all those people are hiding."
"It's not the slaves you need to worry about, Colonel," Jack replied. "The guards are the ones who won't hesitate to kill you on the spot."
Mitchell just nodded. He knew the odds as well as the next man. "I take it that you're feeling better?" Mitchell asked, and Jack immediately went on the defensive.
"Yes sir," he said again, wondering what Mitchell was thinking. The news that Jack had to be dragged back to Earth and of trying to kill Reynolds had to have traveled through the SGC by now. Not to mention the fact that Jack had lashed out at everyone he'd met since coming back. Everyone on base had to be wondering just what was going on with Lieutenant Gallagher.
"Not very talkative are you?" Mitchell asked, still trying to make conversation.
"I'm feeling much better," Jack said, his expression clearly telling the Colonel to back off. He just wasn't up to dealing with this stuff.
"Uh... sure," Mitchell replied, then added, "Lieutenant," in a tone that gave Jack a clear indication that he was bordering on insubordination as far as the Colonel was concerned.
Jack decided right then that it would be in his best interest to tone down his responses. "I'm just anxious to find my wife," he said, hoping that Mitchell would be a little more sympathetic if he was reminded as to why this mission came about in the first place.
"We'll find her," Mitchell said. "If she's alive, that is."
Jack could only stare at the man in surprise. It's no wonder O'Neill liked this guy so much, he thought, as he watched Mitchell walk over toward Daniel and Teal'c. It seemed that Colonel Mitchell had a penchant for stating the obvious, no holds barred. He grinned as he watched Daniel nod at something Mitchell said, then turned his attention to the stone he had pulled out of his pocket. She was still alive. She had to be.
"You guys ready?" O'Neill asked, as he came over to stand next to Jack.
"Let's do it," Mitchell responded.
O'Neill nodded then turned toward the window where Landry was watching the show. Jack watched as Landry touched the Asgard communication device he had in his hand, then waited for the brilliant light to fade away.
Hulmeshur looked different from his vantage point as he looked out through the window of an Asgard ship, but Jack knew that nothing had changed. He stared out at the planet that had been the source of his misery for the last eight months and he couldn't help the fear that settled in his stomach as he thought about what he was about to do.
"Let's get this show on the road," he said, his face showing nothing of the fear that threatened to suffocate him.
Daniel was way too perceptive in these things though, and he came up to him to offer his support in the turmoil running through Jack. "We'll find her," he said, the warmth of his friendship seeping in and melting some of the fear that had Jack in its grip.
"I hope so," Jack responded. The others came over to stand next to him and they were transported through space to the one place Jack had at one time hoped to never see again. They were in the middle of the compound of Handar's oasis, guns automatically raised and ready to destroy anything that posed as a threat.
No one was around, but this didn't worry Jack. Judging from the sun, which was hanging low in the sky, it was almost time for the evening meal and Jack knew that the slaves would be gathered at the building that served as a dining room during meal times, waiting for the slop that Handar allowed them to eat. Jack pointed toward the direction they needed to go and Carter nodded her understanding. She took over at that point, motioning for the others to split up and make their way toward their destination.
Jack stayed on the path, walking stealthily hoping that he wouldn't be caught. He could see Daniel and Carter dodging detection by running from one shack to the next, as they followed him to his destination. He didn't bother looking for Teal'c and Mitchell; he knew that they were there.
Jack had almost made it to the building when he saw Dargan, one of the slaves he had befriended while living there. The man stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed Jack, his face growing pale as he realized who it was he was seeing. "Dargan," Jack whispered, "What's the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Jack?" Dargan whispered back. "What are you doing here?" he asked, looking around to see if any of the guards were nearby.
"It's good to see you too," Jack answered, as his teammates came up to join them. "I've come to get you all out of here," he said, while he searched his friend's face for any clues as to Taria's fate. "Everyone."
"Are you mad?" Dargan asked, his eyes now reflecting the fear that Jack had seen there at least once a day since he had first met the man.
"I got out," Jack said, "So can you. Tell me, where's Taria."
Dargan didn't respond. He just stared at Jack with sadness, and Jack's heart stopped. Oh God, he thought, as he realized that he was too late. This is not happening.
"Jack," Carter said softly. "If we're going to do this, we have to do it now."
"Yeah," Jack said automatically, but he still stared at Dargan, hoping for some indication that he had made a mistake in his interpretation. "Dargan? Where's Taria?"
"You have to leave here now," Dargan insisted, having come to a decision. "You know what will happen to you if the guards find you."
Jack could only nod. His fear had moved into high gear. Damn it, he thought, as he tried to calm himself. "Not this time," he said out loud, determination forcing him to push the fear aside. He was going to free these people if it was the last thing he did.
"Is everyone in there?" Jack asked, as he pointed to the dining hall.
"Almost everyone, including the guards," Dargan answered, anger making a rare appearance. "You have to get out of here."
"I'm not leaving without all of you," Jack responded stubbornly.
"And just how do you plan to get us all out of here?" Dargan asked. "No one has ever escaped from here."
"I did," Jack said, refusing to let this guy put a damper on this mission.
"All of us?" It was clear that Dargan didn't believe a word Jack was telling him, but Jack could tell that he was starting to get through to the man.
"Every last one of the slaves," Jack insisted, staring at his friend. "Let's go," he said, as he turned toward the building.
"Taria is still alive," Dargan said, causing Jack to whirl around to stare at him.
"What?" he finally asked, his heart pounding as he stared at his friend.
"She's in there," Dargan admitted, pointing toward the dining hall. "They have not put her through the torture yet, although they will."
Jack could only stare at Dargan, while a whirlwind of emotions rolled through his mind. Taria was alive? He was heading toward the building before he even realized it, his feet moving of their own accord.
"Gallagher!" Mitchell hissed, as he ran toward Jack to stop him, but Jack was determined to see for himself if Dargan was telling the truth. He got to the building, then put his back to the wall, waiting for his teammates to catch up, his heart racing as he thought through his options. His best bet would be to just barge in with the rest of SG-1 backing him up, shooting their weapons in the air. The slaves would automatically drop to their knees the minute he busted down the door - it was something they had been conditioned to do, thanks to the guards. Once the slaves were on the floor, the guards would be easy targets.
Mitchell looked rebellious when Jack whispered his plan to them, but Carter agreed with Jack. Mitchell trusted Carter's judgment, which was a good thing, but still had Jack feeling a little of the old resentment that he had to give in to someone who had far less experience than the battle worn Jack O'Neill, now known as Jack Gallagher. Not for the first time, Jack felt a true hatred for a certain Asgard named Loki.
Jack shook off the resentment and held up three fingers, using them as a countdown to let the others know when to act. Dargan came up to stand next to Jack, prompting Jack to whisper, "Stay out here until I tell you, okay?" Dargan nodded and Jack folded his fingers down, one by one. The moment he put the last finger down, he jumped up and rammed his foot into the door, causing it to bang open.
Mitchell and Daniel turned from their positions on either side of the door and began shooting their weapons into the air, while Jack and Teal'c moved in and began to systematically shoot the people who were still standing. As Jack had predicted, the only ones standing were the guards and four of them were killed before anyone knew what was happening. The other three guards that were in the room managed to get behind a table and were returning fire with their own weapons.
"There are a total of twelve guards," Jack shouted out to his teammates. No one responded, but they didn't need to. Jack knew they were probably already on the look out for the ones who were missing, the very same guards who had more than likely heard all the shooting and were coming to investigate.
The three guards who were cornered and trying valiantly to defend themselves were finally eliminated and Jack wasted no time in looking for his wife. He and Daniel walked among the people who were still cowering on the floor, picking them up and talking to them, telling them that everything was all right and encouraging them all to move over to the far side of the room. Dargan came in and joined the others, but Jack barely noticed him. He had found Taria and he could only stare at her as she stood there next to her mother, staring back at him.
There were no smiles for him this time, but this is not what brought on the anger that was racing through his soul. Her face and arms were covered with bruises, and although she continued to stare at him, she seemed to be almost afraid of him. "Taria," he said, as he started to walk toward her.
She stood there and watched him as he came closer, and he stopped when he was close enough. "You're coming with me," he said, wishing he knew if she was happy to see him or not.
"Why did you come back?" she finally asked.
"I came back for you," he responded. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the stone that had meant a great deal to her, and looked at it before handing it to her. "This belongs to my mate," he said, as he grabbed her hand and placed the rock in her palm. "Do you still want it?"
She was crying now, her tears streaming down her face. Jack wanted to grab her and hold her, but was afraid she would push him away. He waited instead, looking back toward the door when he heard some shots being fired outside the shack. "Taria?" he said, turning back to focus on her. She nodded at him, as she wrapped her fingers around the rock tightly and Jack pulled her into his arms for a quick hug. "We have to move quickly," he told her, then stepped back to make his speech. "We have some friends who are going to help us free you all," he said loudly to the slaves that were still kneeling on the floor. "They are going to transport you using beaming technology, which means you are going to suddenly find yourself somewhere else. Don't be afraid, just stay calm and I'll join you in a little while. Is everyone here?" he asked, as he looked around trying to ascertain if anyone was missing.
"No! We can't leave here," Neatha, Taria's mother insisted. "We will be caught and punished. Do you want us all to go through the hak'tran?"
"You will be safe," Jack responded, memories of his own experience dealing with that punishment flashing through his mind. "The guards will not be able to find you. I promise."
"Your promises mean nothing to me, Jack," his mother-in-law snarled back at him. "You left my daughter here to be punished. It was only because..."
"I didn't want to leave her here," Jack responded defensively. "I wanted to take her with me, but..."
"But you didn't!" she hissed, anger flashing across her features. "It was only because of my insistence that she might be with child that has spared her from the torture our master was prepared to inflict upon her."
"With child?" Jack asked, the surprise at this revelation causing him to turn to stare at his wife. She stared back at him with fear and something else Jack couldn't quite identify. "You're pregnant?"
"I told our master that she might be," Neatha said, "And he has decided to forestall the torture for her to either give birth or to start bleeding, whichever comes first."
"Thank you," Jack said, as he stared at his mother-in-law, deeply grateful to her for keeping Taria safe until he was well enough to come back for her.
Neatha stared back at him, calming down as she saw the gratitude on his face. "I did not think you would come back for her," she said.
"She is my mate," he responded, smiling at Taria. "I couldn't let her go through that..."
"Lieutenant!" Colonel Mitchell's voice broke through the reunion, which caused Jack to turn to find his `commanding officer' standing at the door, waving at him to get a move on. Jack nodded, then turned to address the others in the room, "This is Daniel. He's going to go with you and will help you. Don't worry," he added, when the others started making noises that reflected their fear, "You will be safe. Just go with Daniel." He then turned to give Taria a quick hug before telling her, "You're going to be safe now. Go with my friend."
She continued to stare at him, which was making Jack extremely nervous. What was wrong with her now? He didn't have time to worry about it though, and he headed toward the door to go help Carter and Teal'c. He was stopped by Dargan, who told him, "If this is all true, you must help Padral. He is being held in the throne room. Our master is punishing him for being disobedient."
"The throne room?" Jack asked, fear creeping up into his soul. That was the one place he had hoped to avoid at all costs.
"He is being punished for not being able to work throughout a whole day. He was sick, but... well you know that we are not allowed to be sick." This was said with a sarcastic snarl, followed by a guilty expression as he looked around to see if any of the guards had heard him.
"I'll find him," Jack said, hoping that he would be able to get Thor to do the honors for him with his beaming technology. "Go with the rest of them. Go!"
Dargan nodded, then went to join with the others. Jack finally made it to the door and took a cursory glance out before stepping outside. He saw Colonel Mitchell standing next to a building and ran over to join him, all the while on the lookout for Carter and Teal'c. He made it to his destination only to see Mitchell waving at someone behind him, telling whoever it was to go back to the building. Jack's heart dropped when he saw that it was Taria who had followed him out.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" he snarled at her, fear for her safety making him want to shake her. "Go back with the others."
"You're going to get yourself killed," Mitchell added, obviously thinking his words would be the ones to get her to understand.
"Jack please. I must tell you something," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist and holding him close. "Please."
"Now is not the time," he responded, pushing her away. "Go back! Now!"
"Too late," said a voice that Jack recognized from the past. He stiffened, then got a grip on his emotions before turning to face his former tormentor.
"Well, if it isn't my old friend, Balzor," Jack said, hanging on to the bravado he hoped would get him through this. Balzor and two other guards were peering out at them from some trees, their weapons aimed at both him and Mitchell.
"We were never friends, slave," Balzor snarled, "Although we do have something in common." Taria whimpered, as she stepped behind Jack, using him as a shield from the venom aimed her way. The leer Balzor sent toward Taria, along with the fear emanating from his wife gave Jack an indication of what Balzor was talking about. Jack determined right then and there that he was going to be the one that would kill the overbearing bastard.
"Put down your weapons," Balzor ordered, but Jack was no longer a slave and Balzor's word had no affect on him whatsoever. He stared at Balzor defiantly, as he worked out a scenario to follow through on his intention to destroy that particular guard.
"I don't think so," Mitchell responded casually, too casually. Jack couldn't help but be impressed by the calmness the Colonel displayed. "Why don't you guys put your weapons down so that we can have a nice talk?"
"Put down your own weapons, or I may be forced to kill this woman instead," Balzor said, as one of his companions stepped back to grab Carter and pull her to the front of the group. From Jack's viewpoint, Carter's hands were bound behind her back, and he cursed when he realized that they were in trouble. He could only hope that Teal'c was out there somewhere just waiting for an opportunity to save his teammate.
Balzor didn't seem to be too worried about Teal'c, because he aimed his weapon at Carter's head, then demanded, "Do as I say!"
Jack and Mitchell did as they were told, but Jack couldn't let it end this way. "The slaves are being taken away even as we stand here," he said, with a wave toward the dining hall. "The light beams you see coming out of that building means they are already gone. You've failed, Balzor. Handar will be very displeased with you."
"You are lying," Balzor announced, his expression telling Jack that he was in for some major torture. "You will pay for your insolence."
"Let these people go," Jack said, hoping to reason his way out of there. Fat chance of that happening - the extent of Balzor's vast intelligence could be stored in a test tube. "It's me that you really want. I'm here, do what you will, but let the others go."
"No," Balzor answered, the evil smile Jack had learned to hate showing up on the guard's face. "You all will face Handar and I will be the one to punish you.
"We have reinforcements coming to back us up," Mitchell spoke up. "You won't get the chance to hurt any of us."
"Not even this lovely woman?" Balzor asked, just before he produced the lightening rod and rammed it into Carter's side.
She screamed out in agony at the same time that Jack poured his outrage into one word, "No!" he yelled, running toward Balzor, intending to kill him right then and there. He didn't get the chance, as the sound of a staff weapon ripped through the air. Jack stopped when he saw Balzor stiffen, then fall forward, dropping the lightening rod as he fell.
Carter had fallen with Balzor, but Jack didn't stop to help her. He reached down and grabbed the lightening rod and jammed it into Balzor's stomach, watching angrily while the guard writhed and screamed in pain as he lay there dying from the staff weapon blast. But there was no compassion for the man as Jack continued the torture, waiting patiently for the bastard to draw his last breath. Carter had other ideas though. She rammed into him, forcing him to stop, and he looked up at her as she stared at him with tears streaming down her face. He could totally relate to those tears, knowing how much that thing hurt. "Don't lower yourself to his level, Jack," she said shakily, as she tried to breathe in between the words. He could see that she was still feeling the effects of the lightening rod when she stiffened, while squeezing her eyes shut, and he wanted to jab the bastard with it once more, just for spite. "Please," she said, when the spasm passed.
He nodded at her, then noticed that Mitchell and Teal'c had effectively taken care of the other two guards. Mitchell didn't say anything, but Jack knew he must be thinking that Jack's little display was totally out of line with the duties of an officer of the United States Air Force. He should have made sure the other two were taken care of before taking on a personal vendetta against that guy. He stared back at Mitchell, then said, "I knew you two wouldn't let me down."
Mitchell didn't respond, which worried Jack a little. Mitchell was staring at him with a calculating look on his face, but Jack knew that now was not the time to get into this. He went back to where Taria was kneeling in the dirt and he reached down to help her up. "Come on," he told her gently. "You're going to have to come with us. Taria?" he asked, when she didn't look up at him.
"I didn't have a choice," she said, as she stared at Balzor's body. "Our master told him that he could have me now that you were gone. I think I would have rather gone through the hak'tran," she said with a glare on her face. "He beat me every night when I wouldn't let him near me." She rubbed her arms as she folded them over her chest, "I had no choice."
"I know," Jack said, hoping to ease her fears. "I lived here for eight months, remember?" She finally looked up at him, and he gave her a small smile telling her that they would get through this. She nodded at him bravely, prompting him to give her a hug before telling her, "We need to get Padral. Do you know where he is?"
"Yes," she said, nodding her head even as she tried to control her trembling. "He is in the throne room. Our master is forcing him to go through the feasting."
"The feasting?" Mitchell asked, as he looked around, ever on the lookout for more of the enemy. Jack was liking this guy more and more every minute.
"He is denied food for days while being forced to watch others enjoy their meals." Jack said, as he turned to lead the way. "The delicious smell alone is enough to drive a saint crazy. It isn't a pleasant experience, believe me."
"Oh I believe you," Mitchell said, the grimace on his face displaying his thoughts on that subject. Jack just grinned as he grabbed Taria's hand to pull her along with him.
They moved along the path stealthily. After doing the math, Jack realized that there were still two more guards out there, not to mention Handar and two of his sons, who were old enough to help defend the compound. This was a threat that they could deal with, even with Carter trying to forestall the tremors and spasms that took over occasionally. "That stuff will go away soon," he told her, knowing that they hurt just as bad as when the lightening rod was sending out the bolts of excruciating pain. "It gets easier as time goes by." Carter nodded at him and he gave her an encouraging smile to let her know that he would be there for her if she needed him to grab on to.
"Thanks," she said, trying to smile back at him. "You weren't kidding about the charred skin," she added, as she grimaced.
"Are you going to be all right, Sam?" Mitchell asked. The concern on his face was real, and Carter responded to it immediately.
"I'll be fine," she said, as they moved into position outside of Handar's palace. The building was huge and Jack couldn't help but compare it to the hovels the slaves were forced to live in. He shook off the old resentment and focused his thoughts on the mission at hand. He was determined to get Padral out of there with minimal damage to any of his friends.
They crouched down next to a gazebo-like structure that served as a courtroom when Handar wanted to be outside while passing judgment on one of the slaves. It was here that Jack had been sentenced to a severe beating when he had whacked Balzor in the head with that shovel.
But it was the throne room where Handar could usually be found when he wasn't sleeping. It was a well-ventilated room that held the cool air in, making it the most comfortable room in the entire palace. This was the room where most of the punishments were carried out, and it was the room where Jack had lost the battle with his determination to not give in.
They moved into the palace quietly, Jack being extremely nervous that they had made it as far as they had without any more problems. Because of this, he had his P-90 ready, just in case they came up on an ambush. He was also worried for Taria, who was clinging to his jacket now that they were near the palace, but he was afraid to leave her alone out there. She would be an easy target for the enemy to grab in a hostage situation, which would leave the members of SG-1 completely vulnerable.
It was when they got to the throne room that Jack finally understood the enemy's strategy. They had barricaded themselves in that room, the one room where they could withstand a standoff for days, even weeks, if it came to that. Jack smiled grimly at that thought. He wasn't going to let it to come to that.
Handar was sitting on the floor behind a makeshift barricade and Jack steeled himself against the anxiety that washed over him when he saw the man. It was a fear that had manifested during that three day marathon of agony he had gone through, and Jack was determined to conquer the fear, as he stood there staring at his former `master'.
"We aren't going to kill you, Handar," Jack said, feeling Taria's fingers digging into his waist as her terror caused her to hunt for safety. "All of your slaves are gone. No one is left, but you and your family. You are going to have to do all the work you forced your slaves to do in order to survive."
"You are lying!" Handar shouted, his face turning blotchy red with anger. Jack knew that look and would have been feeling extreme terror just a few weeks ago, but not now. Now, he was completely confident and triumphant as he thought about Handar's future.
"They're all gone," Jack insisted, the smile on his face growing as he saw Handar's face become pale. "You're on your own."
"You will not do this," Handar growled, apparently thinking he was still in complete control of Jack's life. "You and your mate will be punished for this misdeed."
Jack stood there for a minute, staring at Handar, before saying, "Umm... no. I don't think so. In fact, we are going on a little trip." He smiled at his former `master', relishing in the knowledge of what he was going to do. "Enjoy your life Handar." This last was said with a flourish as Jack held up his own Asgard communication device. He pushed the button and watched the astonishment and despair appear in the old man's face as Thor responded to Jack's call.
He and the rest of his companions found themselves in the middle of complete silence on Thor's ship. Every single slave that had been brought up was on their knees, silently waiting for something to happen. Some of them looked up when Jack shouted at Thor, telling him to lock onto Padral, who had been tied up approximately 5 feet from where Jack had been standing in the throne room. The frightened and weak slave showed up a minute later, falling to his knees - whether it was from weakness or from conditioning, Jack couldn't tell.
"Jack! Thank God!" Daniel exclaimed when the light cleared. "These people are terrified and absolutely refuse to trust me on anything."
"Calm down, Danny," Jack said, relief that he was no longer in the throne room making him feel just a little giddy. "We'll get them settled in. I want to make one last check to make sure we have everyone, because Handar is definitely going to do this on his own. I refuse to believe otherwise."
"I just hope that no other unsuspecting soul goes through their Stargate," Carter said, as she worked on getting her vest off without doing more damage to the wound in her side.
"The Stargate," Mitchell said. He and Jack stared at each other for a brief second, before they both shouted, "Thor!" at the exact same time.
"I will take care of the Stargate," Thor responded calmly. Nothing seemed to ruffle the little alien, Jack thought, with a grin.
"Colonel Carter is injured," Teal'c announced. "May we use your medical facilities?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," Thor responded, walking over to Carter to give her a once over. "Follow me please," he told her.
"It's just a burn," Carter said, obviously not used to all the fuss made over her.
"Okay Sam, what happened to you this time?" Daniel asked, as he turned into a mother hen right before Jack's eyes. Yep, Carter was going to be just fine.
Jack smiled as he watched his friends walk away, then turned his attention to the people who were still on their knees, but curiously peeking up at him. "Everything is going to be okay," he told them, reaching down to help the nearest person to stand. "You are no longer slaves." He was heartened to hear some of them grumbling, so he continued in this vein. "We are not in Handar's domain anymore and there is absolutely no way he will ever find you. You are all safe."
No one spoke, but Jack knew that he was getting through to them. "We have everybody, right?" he continued as he worked through the crowd, helping others to their feet. "Look around you, is everyone accounted for?" He grinned as the people dutifully looked around, but he had the feeling this was all for show. They had already accounted for their families and friends before he even showed up. They may have been slaves, but they were also a tight knit community.
"Where are we?" Taria's father got up the nerve to ask. "What is this place?"
"You are on a spaceship," Jack responded, feeling that it was better to lay it all out to them honestly. "The little gray men are friends and they have agreed to help us free you from your life of slavery. This is just temporary though. I have some friends who are looking for a place for you all to live your lives in freedom."
"Freedom," Dargan said, his expression taking on the look of a dreamer. "I remember when you told me of your life as a free man," he said, causing Jack to stare at him in surprise. He always had the impression that Dargan thought his words were fairy tales. "Oh, I know I used to scoff at your stories," he added, seeing Jack's surprise, "But I was listening. I never thought I would ever see it, though."
"Freedom doesn't exist," Neatha said to add in her own two cents. Typical, Jack thought with a wry grin. This woman would find fault with anything.
"Oh Mother," Taria said with a sigh, as she went to stand next to Neatha. "Will you try to believe in it, please?" She had that look on her face that used to make it almost impossible for Jack to say no to her during the early part of their relationship, but Jack knew that her mother had become immune to it over the years.
"There is no such thing," Neatha insisted, and Jack suppressed a sigh. Some things never change. The good news was that the slaves had relaxed now that it was only Jack and Mitchell in the room with them. Mitchell apparently put them at ease just with his presence alone. Jack knew that in all reality, it was probably because they trusted Jack, who wasn't afraid of Mitchell.
"Freedom exists, Neatha," Jack said patiently. As long as the others believed in it, it really didn't matter if this woman didn't. She would have to give in sooner or later.
"I can vouch for freedom," Mitchell said, apparently feeling left out. "Not only does it exist, but it comes with a whole lot of responsibility." Jack gave the man a questioning look, which prompted Mitchell to rethink his words. "I'm just saying," he said, sheepishly. Jack just shook his head as he turned to grin at Dargan. They had a lot to talk about.
They arrived at the SGC a day later in a brilliant flash of light. Actually there were several flashes of light, but the fact that he was home free made Jack want to shout. He kept his cool instead; it wouldn't do to act like that in front of his counterpart, who was ambling into the gate room with his hands in his pockets and a big smile on his face.
"I see you all had a successful mission," he said, with a grin.
"Yes sir," Colonel Mitchell responded, his own face split into a wide smile. "You missed out on all the action."
"No need to rub it in, Cameron," O'Neill said grumpily.
"Sorry sir," Mitchell said, trying to look like he meant it.
"What are you still doing here?" Jack said, interrupting his companions. "I thought you couldn't wait to get back to Washington so you could `get lost in the Pentagon again'."
"I thought I would hang out until you got back to see if you screwed up," O'Neill said, after a moment's hesitation. "Besides, I aim to make sure you honor your word about talking to Mackenzie."
Jack supposed he deserved that, but he couldn't help the glare he directed at the General. "Yes sir," he grumbled.
O'Neill smiled broadly at Jack, then looked over at the refugees who were all huddled in a tight group, looking as if they were scared out of their minds. It was no wonder, what with all the SFs standing around, Jack thought belatedly. He had forgotten to prepare them for what they would face when they got here.
"So," O'Neill said, "Which one of these beautiful ladies is Taria?"
Jack grinned at his wife, as she tried to melt into her mother's shadow. They hadn't had a chance to talk, but Jack was so grateful that she was alive that he already felt a kindred spirit with her. She didn't smile back, but he was hopeful that he would soon be the recipient of the smiles that had haunted him for the last week.
"Well?" O'Neill said, as he nudged Jack's arm. "You have talked of nothing else for the past week. Which one is she?"
"It's apparent that I inherited all the charm," Jack told O'Neill sarcastically. O'Neill just grinned and Jack knew when his chain was being yanked. He grinned back, then went over to take Taira's hand and pulled her over to meet his counterpart. "Taria, this is General O'Neill. General, this is Taria."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," O'Neill said, taking her hand in his. "I've heard a lot about you."
Taria gave him a little curtsy, too afraid to lift her gaze to meet the General's eyes. O'Neill looked at Jack, who just shrugged and said, "We have a lot of work to do. They've lived their entire lives in extreme oppression."
O'Neill nodded, then said, "We've got a team lined up to help them adjust to their lives of freedom. They need to make a visit to the infirmary first, then we can take them to their new home."
Jack nodded at that, as it was what he'd expected. "What about Taria?" he asked tentatively.
"That's up to you," O'Neill said, as he smiled at Taria. He gave Jack one last look, then turned his attention to his old teammates, "Okay, who got hurt this time?" he asked, his gaze on Carter. Jack rolled his eyes when he realized that O'Neill already knew.
"Come on," he said to Taria, as he took her hand. "We might as well get down to the infirmary to get this stuff over with." She turned to look at him, then nodded, her expression telling him that she trusted him completely. This made Jack all the more determined to have that talk with her real soon.
The infirmary was clearing out slowly, but surely. Jack sat on a bed waiting for the last of the refugees to be released from the Doc's care. Padral was in the bed next to the one Jack was sitting on, tucked in and hooked up to machines that filled the room with their insistent beeps and sounds. It had taken Jack a good half hour to convince Padral that he was not being hooked up to some torture device and it didn't help matters any when a nurse inserted the needle for Padral's IV. Silence that had always preceded the screams on Hulmeshur spread through the room at a rapid pace and Jack couldn't help the tremor of fear that crept through him as the silence became complete, broken only by the nurse's soft, soothing words of comfort as she prepared the needle.
Jack had sat on the bed, clutching the sheets with his fists, wishing that he was back in his cell. This odd thought was what broke through the old fear and caused him to force himself to get to his feet and go over to his friend, calmly telling Padral that this was just a temporary thing. The needle was only going to hurt for a second, but that it was going to provide him with the nourishment he needed to survive the effects of the feasting. Padral didn't say anything to Jack's words, but it was Dargan who came up and provided Padral with the words that calmed him. "You have not been tied down," he said. "You can get up anytime you want."
Jack sat back down on the bed and pondered his reaction to that silence. There was no way in hell that he was going to tell anyone about it, especially O'Neill and Mackenzie. Instead he sat quietly as the doctor and her staff continued to poke and prod the slaves... refugees, he amended. Most of them had been checked out and released to the rooms that were provided for them until they could be transported to their new home. But there were a few left and since Jack had been ordered to be the liaison for both sanctions by General Landry and by the unspoken actions of Handar's former slaves, he was still here.
"Hey," Carter said, as she came up to stand next to him. "How is he?" she added, nodding her head toward Padral.
"He's going to be fine," Jack responded. "Doc says that she wants to keep him here for awhile, just to make sure he's going to be okay." Carter nodded at that, and Jack had to ask, "How's the burn?"
"The Asgard were able to heal most of it," she replied, her smile easing some of the tension running through him, "But Doctor Lam still insisted on checking it out. I'm pretty sure it's going to leave a scar."
"General O'Neill won't mind too much," Jack mused, knowing it wouldn't distract him in the least; he just knew that his counterpart wouldn't care either. Carter just gave him a secret smile, which lightened Jack's mood tremendously. Yes, he thought contentedly, it's definitely about time.
"I'm going home," she finally said, breaking the companionable silence they had found themselves in. "Will you be alright?"
"Yeah," he responded. "I'm hoping that I'll be able to say the same." This was said with a hopeful look sent her way, but somehow he knew better.
She just shrugged, then told him, "You'll have to clear it with General Landry."
"And Mackenzie," he added resignedly.
"We put in a good word for you," Daniel said from the doorway. He had apparently been there long enough to hear what they were talking about. "It looks promising. There were no flashbacks or lashing out on that planet, and nothing since you've been back. I think they might be willing to let you try."
Jack couldn't help but look at Carter, as he remembered cold-heartedly torturing a dying guard. Carter shrugged her shoulders once more, then offered her sympathy. "You're probably going to be needed here until the refugees go through the Gate," she said, obviously chalking that event up to another Jack O'Neillism.
Jack nodded, giving her a sad smile. He should have known that they wouldn't believe that he was miraculously cured. Hell, he didn't even believe it, but he also knew that he had to get away from this place. Doctor Lam came into the room at that point, leading Taria by the hand, and Jack squared his shoulders, determined to prove to them once and for all that he wasn't going to screw things up this time.
"We're running out of blankets," the Doc said, as she smiled at Jack. He didn't really see her smile though, he was mesmerized by the one Taria gave him when she saw him. His whole being seemed to focus in on that smile, and he continued to stare at her as she came over to stand next to him. It was the first one she had given to him since he had gone back for her and he wondered at the emotion that roiled through his soul.
"We've turned up the heat in the rooms they are staying in," the Doc was telling Carter. "I sure hope you've found a planet that has a warm climate."
"Not as warm as Hulmeshur," Carter admitted. "But I think they'll be comfortable."
"This clothing has helped," Taria said shyly. Jack tilted his head to get a better look as he gave her the once over from her head to her feet. He grinned as he took in the sight of her standing there in a sweatshirt that was way too big for her and the green pants that would have normally been right at home on a soldier. "I am not as cold as when I first came here," she felt compelled to add.
"Just as beautiful as ever," Jack told her.
She turned to look at him, gazing into his eyes and Jack had the feeling that she was looking for something. "Does this mean that you have forgiven me?" she asked.
Jack couldn't respond. He stared at her as dark memories ran through his mind, memories of pushing her away, of snarling hurtful words at her every time she tried to explain why she betrayed him and of the nights of coldly going through the ritual of producing a future slave. He remembered her tears and her determination to win back his love. He watched as her expression grew sad when he didn't answer, but he needed time to sort through all this.
"Well, I think it's time I got out of here," Carter said, grabbing Daniel's arm to drag him out with her.
"Uh... yeah, me too," Daniel said, taking the hint. "I have some translations that I want to tackle."
"Daniel," Jack finally spoke up, realizing that he was in a quandary, "We need some place to talk. Some place private?" he asked, hoping Daniel would be the one to get him out of the SGC.
"That cell you were staying in is the only place without a camera," Daniel replied, looking a little worried for even bringing it up.
"No way," Jack snarled, anger making him jump up off the bed. "I don't ever want to see that place again!"
"It was just a suggestion," Daniel said, holding his hands up in an effort to calm Jack with a gesture. "Maybe you should talk to Jack. He might be able to help."
"All right," Jack agreed, working on calming down. "Where is he?"
"Whatever you decide," Doctor Lam said, "Do it elsewhere. You're upsetting my patient." Jack couldn't help be reminded of Janet Fraiser, the woman who turned into a harridan when it came to taking care of her patients. Doc Fraiser was gone now, Jack thought sadly, but here was someone who was doing a great job of following in her footsteps.
"Yes ma'am," he said, smiling audaciously at her. She, in turn gave him a surprised look, which turned into a relieved smile, causing Jack to wonder what was going on with the woman.
"Jack?" Padral spoke up for the first time, his anxiety clearly coming out in waves.
"You're going to be okay," Jack told him, realizing what Padral must be thinking. "This woman and her people only want you to get well. I promise that they won't hurt you."
"What if they want to stick me with that... whatever that thing was," Padral whispered, his fear increasing as he realized he was going to be left alone with the strangers.
"They're called needles," Jack said patiently. "They only use them if... Doc," he said, as he turned toward Doctor Lam, "Are you guys going to be sticking any more needles into him?" It would be better if he didn't lie to his friend.
"No," she said, bestowing her best bedside smile to Padral. "If we need to inject anything, we'll use the IV."
"See?" Jack said, trying to ease Padral's concerns. "No more needles. Just sleep and let the medicine help you. Okay?"
"Medicine?" Padral asked, his fear turning into awe. No slave had ever been allowed medicines when they were sick.
"Yeah," Jack said with a grin. "Real medicine. I keep telling you that you aren't a slave anymore, don't I?' Padral nodded, but still looked alarmed when Jack moved away from his bed. Jack sighed, then decided to play his ace. "Look Padral, I need to talk to Taria. You know, to work things out?" Jack knew his technique was working when understanding dawned on Padral's face.
"It is time that you did," Padral agreed heartily. "Go!" he said when Jack didn't move right away. "Have that talk."
"You will be all right here by yourself?" Taria said, having found her voice.
"Yes Taria," Padral replied. "Go."
Jack nodded and took Taria's hand in his. "First we have to find some place private," he told her. "Daniel, where's O'Neill?"
Gallagher was angry. Spitting mad was more like it, Jack thought, as he watched his clone sulk, but there really wasn't any help for it. Despite the man's arguments and convictions on the subject of his mental wellness, they both knew he just wasn't ready to be allowed to leave the base. Of course, getting Gallagher to admit it was a whole different story, one that Jack wasn't willing to wrestle with.
"I've not had any flashbacks for a couple days now," Gallagher growled, still not willing to give up the fight. "I was able to face Handar and I'm still among the sane. Give me a chance."
"You are not leaving this base until Mackenzie gives you the all clear," Jack declared, already tired of this argument. They were in Jack's temporary office, each standing on either side of the desk, facing off. "He's probably home eating dinner right about now, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow. Besides, I've been staying at the house, so where would you go to get away from everybody? That place is a mess, by the way. Dust an inch thick on everything. It was never that way when I lived there."
"Who are you kidding?" Gallagher asked, astonishment taking over his features. "I know you remember coming home from that little trip to Edora and what that house looked like when you got back."
"That was different," Jack responded; back pedaling big time, "I was..."
"Same thing, O'Neill," Gallagher broke in with a sardonic grin.
"Whatever," Jack grumbled, not so sure he liked it that Gallagher could pull that stuff with him. "I've asked Carter to come help me clean it up for you."
"Oh, so that's it," Gallagher said angrily. "You just want to be alone with her. You can't keep me here just so that you can spend some `quality' time with the Colonel."
"I can keep you here for any reason I want," Jack snapped back, his own anger finally cresting. "Take your pick. She agreed to help me clean the place up, that's all. We're doing you a favor."
"You can't just come in and take over," Gallagher said, still trying to hang onto the anger that was going to help him get his way, or so he thought. But Jack could be just as stubborn and he steeled his resolve to keep his intentions intact.
"That house had been mine for years; I only signed it over to you because I figured you'd need it." Damned, ungrateful wretch, Jack thought as he glowered at his clone.
"And because I worked just as hard for it," Gallagher claimed.
"I was the one who worked hard for it," Jack insisted. "And you know I hate it when you pull this stuff."
"Which is why I do it every chance I get," Gallagher admitted wryly.
Jack couldn't come up with a witty remark to that, so he just stood there glaring at his clone. Gallagher glared back, and Jack decided to use what little ammunition he had to get his payback. "You're going to have to get the clearance from Mackenzie. You can talk to him tomorrow."
"C'mon Jack," Gallagher said, resorting to wheedling, in an effort to get his way. "I just need someplace private to work things out with my wife. It's a little hard to talk out our problems with at least ten other people listening in."
"I'm sure Mackenzie will be very understanding when you tell him that tomorrow," Jack responded, wishing he could help the kid.
"You are the most stubborn, mule-headed..."
"Am I interrupting anything?" Landry asked, as he knocked on the door. Jack cringed as he realized the door had been open the whole time; anyone could have overheard their conversation. Granted this part of the base was deserted, especially at this time of the evening, but still, there was no excuse.
"No sir," Gallagher said, as he glared at Jack, while at the same time coming to attention. "I was just telling the General..."
"I heard what you were telling the General, Lieutenant," Landry said with a smirk. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who agree with you." Gallagher grunted at that remark, while Landry added, "At ease, Lieutenant."
Gallagher relaxed, although he was still sending glares toward Jack. Jack couldn't help the thrill of victory that raced through him, even if the victory had come to him in the form of Hank Landry. Gallagher wasn't going to be able to continue with his battle, and for this Jack was grateful.
"What can I do for you Hank?" Jack asked, as he started to gather some papers on his desk. If he worked it out right, he could leave with Landry, making it impossible for Gallagher to continue with his argument.
"Just checking to see if you needed anything before I left," Landry said. "Good thing I did," he added, a mischievous smile playing across his face. "It was very interesting listening to you two fight amongst yourselves."
"Look, Hank," Jack said, suddenly self-conscious about his conversation with Gallagher, "This is pretty much between Gallagher and me. There's no need to make a big deal out of it." Landry nodded and Jack sighed. "I'm all set," he added. "I was just leaving."
"General Landry," Gallagher said, apparently deciding to tackle a new opponent. "I am no longer a danger to anyone, sir. No flashbacks, no lashing out at anyone - I'm doing much better. Request permission to go home and to get back to my life?"
"I wish I could help you, Lieutenant," Landry responded, "Really I do. But I happen to agree with General O'Neill. The clearance will have to come from Doctor Mackenzie."
Gallagher didn't respond, he just stood there and stared at Landry for a moment, before turning to look at Jack. Jack hated to see the resignation on Gallagher's face and he actually felt sorry for him, but he couldn't give into this. Not until he was absolutely sure there would be no repercussions in allowing Gallagher to leave. He had been pushing it when he let him go to Hulmeshur as it was.
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," Landry said, trying to ease the way. Gallagher just nodded, but Jack knew that trouble was brewing. The angry, resigned look was still there and Jack could only hope that the 30-plus years of military training would keep Gallagher from saying anything that would be deemed as insubordination, at least to General Landry.
But Jack had forgotten his own persistence when it came to begging. "I can be ready to go in a heartbeat, sir," Gallagher insisted. "Just say the word."
"Not this time, Lieutenant," Landry said.
"I'm already dressed, all I need to do is to grab a jacket, and I'm out of here," Gallagher said, apparently not ready to give up.
"Lieutenant..." Landry began.
"I'll go straight home. General O'Neill can take me there. He's going there anyway," Gallagher continued, as if he hadn't even heard Landry. "I'll stay there the whole time. Scout's honor." Landry just stood there, staring at Gallagher with surprise and Gallagher took this as a positive thing. "Just say the word," he added hopefully.
"No Lieutenant," Landry said, a small grin plastered on his face. Gallagher looked crestfallen for a second, but had gotten his second wind and opened his mouth to continue, but Landry beat him to it. "No!" the General repeated.
"Yes sir," Gallagher grumbled, knowing when he was beaten.
"You know, George Hammond warned me about this when I talked to him about taking Jack O'Neill's clone into my command," Landry told them with a shake of his head. "I have to admit that I didn't believe him when he told me that I would have my hands full."
Jack had to smile at that while Gallagher's expression became angelic. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, sir," Gallagher said innocently.
Jack rolled his eyes, than grinned at Landry. "Better you than me," he said. He well remembered the last time that he had tried to get his way with General Hammond using the same technique Gallagher used. It didn't work that time either.
"Thanks," Landry retorted dryly. "I'll remember this display of sympathy when I put in the requisition to take the price of those ribs out of your budget."
Jack stared at him in surprise, then put on his own innocent expression. "What ribs?" he asked, knowing full well that Landry was flat out of luck if he thought he would be able to finagle that one. "Surely you aren't talking about that dried up piece of meat the cook tried to convince me was a slab of ribs?" He shoved the rest of the papers he was going to take with him into his briefcase and strode out from behind the desk, intending to leave the base. He was looking forward to spending time with Carter, even if most of it would be spent dusting and airing Gallagher's house out.
"One and the same," Landry replied, turning to follow him out.
"General O'Neill," Gallagher called out, and Jack stopped to give him a questioning look. "Please sir," Gallagher said, his expression hopeful as he stared at Jack. "Give me a chance."
Jack almost gave in. He knew better than anyone what it took for Gallagher to beg, but he also knew that it really wasn't up to him. Gallagher was military and there were certain rules and protocol that had to be followed. "I would if I could, Jack," he replied, willing his clone to believe him. "You know that."
Gallagher didn't respond right away. He stood there staring back at Jack, while the hopeful look faded and angry resentment took over. "Yes sir," he finally said.
"I'll stop back by tomorrow before I leave for Washington," Jack told him, hoping to ease the resentment. "Maybe I can help you convince Mackenzie." Gallagher didn't respond and there really wasn't anything else for Jack to say, so he nodded at his clone then walked out into the hallway and headed down toward the elevator.
"I guess I'll be seeing you in the morning," Landry said, having followed Jack out of the room.
"Sometime tomorrow," Jack responded absently. He was experiencing extreme guilt, and he knew it was all because of that one word. "Please," Gallagher had said, and Jack knew deep down that it was desperation that had came straight from the heart, or even deeper. Damn him, Jack thought angrily, as he tried and failed to push the guilt away. That son of a bitch knew exactly which button to push.
"Are you all right, Jack?" Landry asked, and Jack took a mental step back to force his emotional upheaval to the background, at least until he was alone.
"Yep," he said, his expression clear of any discomfort. "It's been a long day."
Landry nodded, and took the hint, leaving Jack alone while they waited for the elevator to take them up to the parking level of the base. Jack was grateful for this, but he still kept his thoughts in check until he was totally alone. It wouldn't do to let anyone know that he had almost given in to a Lieutenant.
The old house wasn't nearly as bad as Jack wanted Gallagher to believe. He had stayed there while Gallagher and SG-1 were on Hulmeshur and he had opened several windows, despite the fact that it was still March. That place was so in need of airing out.
There were plenty of memories of events and occasions that had transpired during the years when he had lived there to keep him company and Jack had tried to deal only with the happy ones while he swept out the cobwebs and cleared out eight months worth of dust in the kitchen and bathroom. He hoped to get the rest of the house cleaned up before he retired for the night, at least get a good portion of it done.
Jack was in the middle of vacuuming the back bedrooms when Carter came up behind him, yelling over the noise of the vacuum to attract his attention. He couldn't help smiling when he saw her standing there in the hallway, her hair mussed up from the wind and her smile lighting up her face. They were going to have their own talk, he thought smugly.
"I knocked, but you must not have heard me," Carter informed him. "I heard the vacuum and decided to come in anyway."
"I'm glad you did," Jack said, as he switched off the machine.
They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds, until Carter spoke up, "I see that you've been busy."
"Yep," Jack responded. "There's dust all over the place." He stared at her for a moment, then pointed at the bags that she had in her hands. "What'd you bring me?"
"Dinner," she replied. "I hope you like lasagna?"
"After all these years, you have to ask?" Jack said, grabbing the bags as he came up to her and kissed her cheek. He grinned at the look on her face, then headed for the kitchen. "Does it need to be warmed up?"
"Um... no. I don't think so," she said. She followed him into the kitchen, and Jack set out to get the food ready. Thank God he had already cleaned the kitchen.
"Let me help," Carter said, as she opened one of the bags, pulling out the salad. "I didn't know if you had any dressings, so I grabbed some when I picked this up."
"Smart move," Jack said, suddenly remembering the junk he had tossed when he cleaned the refrigerator out. "I can provide the beverages, though. You want a beer?"
Carter nodded and Jack went to retrieve them. He showed her the bottles, holding them over his arm as if he were a waiter. She smiled at that, and Jack placed them on the table with confidence. So far, this night was going great.
They ate their dinner as they talked of their jobs and of the events of the last week. Jack started to tell her of his guilt at leaving his clone at the base, but couldn't figure out a way to say it without giving away too much of his own feelings, so he stayed quiet on that subject. Besides he was going to make it up to the kid tomorrow by brow beating Mackenzie into releasing him.
It was after dinner that Jack made his move. Carter was rinsing the dishes so that he could put them in the dishwasher, and he was watching her, thinking of how beautiful she really was. He took the plate she had handed him, but he put it on the counter so that he could turn her to face him. She looked at him curiously and he smiled at her before taking her face into his hands and kissing her soundly. Oh yeah, he thought, when she returned the kiss. This was working out perfectly.
He finally pulled back to look into her eyes, relishing in the desire that was staring back at him. She wanted him, he could tell, and this did a lot in bolstering his courage. All those years of wondering if she felt the same way about him that he did about her, seemed to melt away as she pulled him in for another kiss.
"Hey Sam," he said, when they finally stopped for air. She smiled at him, as she moved out of his arms, stepping back to put some space between them.
Okay, so maybe things weren't going so great after all, he thought.
He watched her as she struggled for the right words and Jack schooled his features, waiting for her to tell him to take a hike. This was happening to him way too much for his peace of mind, he thought angrily. He waited though, giving her the opportunity to do it her way.
"I'm sorry," she said, giving him a small smile, "I just... it's just... well, I've wanted this for so long, and for it to happen now, well, I am a little overwhelmed." This was not quite what Jack had expected, but since it was such a better scenario, he kept his silence, waiting for her to finish what she started. She stared at him, seeming to wait for him to say something, but he reached out and grabbed her hand instead, slowly pulling her over to him, as he gave her a warm sensuous smile. She resisted slightly, but not for long and Jack kept it up until she was back in his arms again.
"What can I do to make it easier for you," he whispered silkily, as he released her hand and wrapped his arms around her waist. The desire was back in her eyes, full force, causing Jack to smile at her as he realized what she was thinking. "Tell me," he pleaded softly.
"I suppose if you kiss me again, it might make things easier," she said, giving up the fight.
He did what he was told, holding her tightly as their passions ignited. All those years of holding back, Jack thought grimly, even as his hands slid along her skin as he made his way up under her shirt. This was definitely worth the wait.
"Did that help?" he asked, in between kisses.
"Definitely," she responded, as she reached for the buttons on his shirt. "I think I can deal with this." She kissed him again, then asked, "Will there be any problems, since you are my boss's boss?"
"Nothing I can't handle," he assured her, determined to win that particular battle. Being here in her arms was what it was all about, and now that he had it, he wasn't giving it up for anybody. Damn the consequences.
"Good," she mumbled, as she helped him get her shirt off. She really was beautiful, he thought once again. It was the last coherent thought he had for a long time, but Jack was far past caring.
Yep, the wait was definitely worth it.
One of the conference rooms in the SGC had been converted into a common room for the refugees and Jack Gallagher had elected to join them in their temporary home. He was no longer confined to the jail cell that had been his home for the last week, but he was still a prisoner as far as he was concerned. Visiting with the people he had learned to accept as his own made his stay at the SGC a little easier. At least he wasn't considered a lunatic by these people.
The others had loosened up now that they weren't dealing with strangers, and Jack felt comfortable for the first time since he had been rescued. He was around people who understood his fear and anxiety; he didn't have to hide this from them, although he tried to anyway. Years of hiding his feelings from the world had been ingrained in him and he wasn't about to change now.
The tables and chairs had been removed from the conference room, making space for more comfortable furniture that included some cots for those who wanted to take a nap. The cots were currently being used by three small children who were sleeping soundly, despite the low rumblings of the adults in the room. Most of these adults were sitting on the floor in a circle, trying to come up with a plan and to rationalize their existence now that they were free. Of course, there were the few who insisted that they weren't free yet; the guards outside the door were proof of that.
Jack just sat there in the circle, surrounded by his friends, and listened to them work their way through this mess. He had given up on trying to convince them that they were free, as it wouldn't make a difference while they were kept locked up in this room.
Taria was there by his side, speaking up occasionally to air her views. They still hadn't had their chance to talk and Jack was getting impatient. It was important to him now to find out exactly why she had betrayed him. Granted, this was something he should have listened to when she had tried to tell him all those months ago, but Jack had decided that it was better late than never.
That talk was going to have to wait, however. Dargan was telling the story of when Jack first arrived in Hulmeshur and Jack felt it was his obligation to set the record straight. He did not trip over a shovel and land face first in the pile of manure that was used to fertilize the garden. He had been pushed, by Dargan no less, narrowly avoiding the pile of droppings, and only got some on his arm. There was some good natured arguing over that event, with some of the others joining in, until the room was filled with laughter as other stories were told.
This was something that they rarely had the opportunity to do, as life on Hulmeshur nearly drained the energy out of the people who lived there, well at least the slaves who lived there. This sitting around, telling stories and generally enjoying themselves was as foreign to these people as Thor's spaceship was. The people had been too tired and too scared to have any fun out of life, and Jack didn't want to ruin this opportunity for them now. So he sat with them and listened to their stories and to Taria's laughter, the sound of which had taunted him during the past week while he tried to pretend he didn't care about her.
Jack couldn't help staring at her as she laughed, reflecting on the memories that had haunted him during his stay in that cell. He smiled back at her when she sent him one of those smiles, thinking that she was still as beautiful as ever. But there was still her betrayal hanging over their heads and Jack was determined to at least listen to her explanations.
It was several hours later before Jack finally got the chance he was waiting for. Most of the other refugees had gone to their beds, while the few who remained had settled down on the cots or the floor of the conference room. Jack and Taria had retreated to a corner of the room, both knowing that this was her opportunity to explain her actions. But she didn't say anything. She just sat there staring into his eyes, searching his soul for something, and Jack knew that she was looking for his forgiveness.
They sat there in silence, until the suspense was threatening to strangle Jack. "Why didn't you ever give up on me?" he asked, needing to know the answer to this question just as much as he was determined to hear why she betrayed him.
He had surprised her, he could tell. "What?" she asked in confusion.
"You never gave up on me," he said again. "I hated you and literally made your life miserable, but you continued to love me. Most people would have given up, but you didn't," he added, looking for the answer in her eyes. "Why?"
She didn't answer right away, but Jack could see that she was struggling to find the right words. He didn't blame her, he well remembered snarling at her to shut her up whenever she tried to talk to him before. He took her hands in his and waited for the answer, hoping it would help heal the hurt that still raged inside his heart. "I love you, Jack," she finally said. "I had hurt you so badly and all I wanted to do was make the hurt go away, but I didn't know how." She stopped at that point, reaching out to place her hand on his face, while staring into his eyes, then continued. "I wanted to make it up to you."
Jack didn't know what to say to that, so he kept his silence as he processed her words. She had loved him, even though they had been forced on each other. She had grown to love him - just as he had learned to love her, until her betrayal destroyed it all.
"I was wrong in what I had done," Taria continued. "But you have to understand that I was afraid. I had seen them coming and I knew they would find us and I was... I panicked, Jack. I didn't want to go through the hak'tran. I remember seeing someone go through that when I was a small child, and I have been taught to avoid it at all costs." Her eyes took on a pleading look and Jack was drowning in them. She looked away at that point, staring at the wall behind him before continuing, "I thought that if they saw me begging you not to leave, they would spare us." She brought her gaze back to him, with tears glistening in her eyes and told him, "I was wrong."
"Yeah," Jack finally said bitterly. He had suffered immensely for his escape attempt, still was for all intents and purposes, and it was all because she had panicked. Anger swept through him as he remembered the agony of the torture he had gone through.
"Jack?" she said worriedly. Jack turned to look at her, wondering at the fear in her voice, then felt a measure of calm easing through him as something she'd said clicked into place.
"They had already seen us?" he asked, his mind racing with thoughts as the implication of what she had said started to sink in.
"Yes," she replied, as she nodded her head. "I saw them coming and I knew they would find us." This would explain the sudden change in her behavior, anxious to escape one minute then begging him to stop the next. Jack was beginning to understand her motives, despite the anger that was still churning just beneath the surface.
"Why didn't you tell me that they were coming?" he ventured to ask. Maybe they could have slipped away until the guards passed.
"There was no time," she said, desperation creeping into her voice. Jack heard the desperation, but still needed to hear it all before deciding on his next course of action. "The guards were nearly upon us when I first saw them," she added. "Please Jack, please understand."
Jack tried to ignore the tears that were now streaming down her face, as he dwelled on the story she was telling him. Her explanations all fit, he was just having a hard time with the total forgiveness part. Damn it, he was just being stubborn in admitting the fact that he had already forgiven her.
"Taria," he said, as he looked away. He was unable to look into her eyes at that point, but he knew that he had to make her understand his reluctance. "That punishment nearly destroyed me. It took away that part of me that kept me strong." He looked back at her, watching as the tears poured down her cheeks. "I hated them for taking that away and I hated you for letting them."
"I couldn't stop them," she insisted. "You have to believe me, Jack. I..."
"I believe you," Jack rushed to tell her, "You wouldn't have been able to stop them anymore than I could, but you did turn me over to them and I hated you for that." She didn't respond and Jack couldn't stand the tears anymore, so he pulled her into his arms to give her a hug, hoping it would be enough.
They sat that way for a few minutes, each working on what they could say to mend their broken relationship. It was Taria who finally broke the silence, saying, "I knew that you hated me and why you hated me. I had hoped that you would eventually understand and forgive me, but you would not even listen to me. Every time I tried to tell you what happened, you turned me away." Jack wasn't ready to apologize for his behavior, so he kept his silence. Taria apparently decided to continue on anyway. "You hated me and I understood that. Your hatred hurt me very badly, but it was a punishment that I deserved. I had hurt you and you were punishing me. I really do understand."
What the hell? Jack pulled back from the embrace to stare at her in shock. What was she talking about? He had never thought about using his anger to deliberately hurt her, in fact the anger was more of a shield to protect himself against future betrayals. He had been determined to hang onto his anger and hatred to keep from trusting her again. But now that he thought about it, maybe it was a subconscious effort to hurt her for what she did. Oh hell, this was crazy. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked her.
"I could not let your anger destroy you. I needed you to be there with me. I wanted a child to prove our loyalty to our master." Jack couldn't help the grimace that graced his features at that statement. "I thought that if I continued to love you," she continued, "You would eventually forgive me so that we could be happy again." She stopped then and stared at the buttons on his shirt. "I admit that I sometimes believed that to be a hopeless cause."
"What? That I would forgive you or that we could be happy again?" Jack asked, already knowing the answer.
"Both," she said, as she looked back up into his face. "There were times when I thought maybe you had forgiven me, but then..." she sighed, then said, "I still love you, Jack."
He didn't answer her. Instead he cupped her face in his hands, then kissed her softly, wanting to know if she really meant those words. She kissed him back, and Jack deepened the kiss, taking everything she offered, all the while demanding more. He ended the kiss reluctantly and smiled at her before saying, "I love you too. I think that I always have, just too ornery to admit it."
She smiled back at him, but still had to ask, "Ornery? I am not familiar with that word."
"Mean and stubborn," he clarified, then grinned when she nodded her head in agreement.
"Definitely stubborn," she said. "I thought that they were going to have to kill you in order to make you a slave. You absolutely refused to give in."
"They won in that respect," Jack growled angrily, remembering his fears while living in that environment.
"Did they?" Taria asked, causing Jack to stare at her in astonishment.
"Well yeah," he responded sarcastically. "All it took was three days worth of constant, agonizing pain and I was a model citizen."
"You were never a `model citizen', Jack," she responded patiently. "Dargan and Padral kept trying to guess how long it would be before you earned another punishment for being willful." She smiled at him through her disapproval and continued, "Mother was sure you'd be dead before the rains came. I knew better though. You were too stubborn to die."
Jack couldn't help it. Her smile was contagious and he grinned at her words. "Well, I'm glad your mother had faith in me," he said. Taria rolled her eyes and Jack's smile grew wider.
"I love my mother, Jack, but she can be so stubborn," Taria said. Her expression changed into one that was thoughtful, as she said, "Although, she did save me from the torture I was destined to go through."
"Taria," Jack said, as he pulled her into his embrace again. "Tell me what happened the day I was rescued."
She stiffened in his arms for a moment, then settled in to do some more explaining. Jack waited for her response, wondering what she had been thinking that day when the strangers came looking for her mate. Most importantly, he wanted to know why she had given Patterson that stone.
"I saw them coming and at first I was afraid of them," she said, as she laid her head on his chest. He sat there quietly and listened to her words as she told him what she had done. "They were asking about you and I was afraid that they had come to kill you. But they were wearing the same clothes that you had on when you first came here and I thought that maybe they were your friends. No one would talk to them, though. They were all too afraid to talk with the strangers." Jack nodded his head at those words. He knew the rules just as well as the other slaves.
"I am not sure why I decided to talk to them," Taria continued. "Maybe it was because I thought they could be your friends, but I do remember hoping they had come to rescue you. So I went up to them and told them that I could help them." Jack waited for her to continue, but she was lost in her memories. He stroked her hair as he waited for her to finish her story, relishing in the companionable silence they had found themselves in.
"Hey," he said after awhile. She brought her head up to look at him and Jack realized that she had her own demons running around in her mind. He could see the self-incrimination in her eyes and he had a sudden desire to chase her doubts away. "What happened next?" he asked her instead.
She shrugged, then answered, "They took you home."
"What about the stone?" Jack asked, frustration making an appearance. Was she doing this on purpose?
"Oh," she said, suddenly remembering that part of her conversation with the strangers. "I knew they wouldn't take me with them. I was just a slave. No one cares about a slave. But I wanted you to... I was hoping you would want to have something to remember me by. So I gave it to one of those men. Besides, I knew I would be killed because of your escape." She gave him a guilty look, then said, "I regretted giving it to him after he left."
A surge of anger had raced through Jack when she made her statement that no one would care about a slave, only to be replaced with a feeling of sadness as he thought about her loneliness after his escape. At least she had the rock to cling to when her loneliness had engulfed her while he was with her. He pulled her back into his embrace once again, hanging on tightly to her in an effort to chase away the sadness that was hovering over them. "I'm glad that your mother was able to keep you safe until I got back."
"I still cannot believe that you came back for me," she said in an awe-filled voice. "I really thought you hated me."
"I couldn't let you go through that," Jack responded honestly, "No matter how I felt about you. I fought off my rescuers so that I could grab you to take with us, but they wouldn't let me go long enough to find you."
"I am just a slave..."
"Stop that!" Jack snarled, sitting back to force her to look at him. "You are no longer a slave. You are free to be whatever you want to be, and I don't care how lowly we were made to feel, we are still people who are worthy of more than just a glance or an order. We are not the animals that Handar insisted that we were. Do you understand?"
She nodded at that, her eyes wide as she stared at him with shock. It had been just a statement, a lie that she had been told all her life, and Jack's reaction must have surprised her. He knew that he was going to have to work hard to get Taria and the others to believe in him and in themselves.
"Look," Jack said, feeling foolish for reacting so violently. "I'm sorry. It's just hard for me to accept your beliefs when I know them to be false."
"Now you are calling me a liar," Taria said, her eyes narrowing as she stared at him.
"Yep," Jack said with a grin. "And with enough time, I'll be able to prove it to you. In the meantime, I have something better to do." He didn't give her a chance to argue with him, instead he kissed her with all the passion he could muster, leaving them both breathless when he finally pulled back. "Too bad we couldn't find someplace private," he told her.
"What will happen to us now?" Taria asked, effectively stopping Jack from kissing her again.
"We take it one day at a time," he responded, wondering at the anxious look she was now giving him. "The others will be taken to a place where they can live out the rest of their lives in freedom. You could go with them if you wanted to." Jack tried to keep his voice neutral when he said that, but even though he wasn't quite sure what he wanted to happen from this point on, he knew that something in him was debating on keeping Taria with him.
"You will not be going to this place?"
"I may go to see how everyone is doing, but not to live there. My place is here helping to defend this planet from the bad guys."
She didn't say anything else and her silence was scaring Jack. What was she thinking? Did she want to stay with him or not? She probably didn't want to be separated from the family and friends she had lived with all her life and Jack had hurt her badly. Why would he think she would forgive him so easily? It was because she had forgiven him for it already, he rationalized. She just needed time to think, and so did he.
"Would I be welcome to stay here with you?" she finally got up the nerve to ask, effectively cutting into his time to think. Jack couldn't help but wonder at the elation that flowed through him. He was not supposed to give in so easily.
Oh to hell with it. "Yes," he responded with a smile. "But I want you to realize that it will be hard going for awhile. You won't get to see your mother or your friends for months on end, maybe even years. I'm gone for days, sometimes even weeks, and you would be alone until I got back. Life as a military wife can be lonely for some."
"I would have our child to keep me company," she said shyly.
"Our child?" Jack asked warily.
"Doctor Lam tells me that I am six weeks pregnant." Her smile lit up her face as she announced, "I am going to have a baby."
"A baby," Jack repeated, not so sure how this affected things now. A few weeks ago, he would have been ecstatic because the news would have gotten Handar and the guards off his back. But now that he was free, a child seemed like a permanent leg iron in his life. "A child," he said again, smiling now as he thought about what he could teach this baby as it grew to adulthood in freedom. He looked at Taria to see doubts marring the smile she had on her face and he gave her a broad smile, knowing that this child was going to make it to adulthood if he had anything to say about it. He was determined that he wouldn't make the same mistakes he'd made with Charlie.
The doubts melted from Taria's eyes as she took in his smile and Jack hugged her tightly, too tightly as she protested his treatment of her. He loosened his hold on her, but didn't completely let her go. "We're going to make it," he told her with a good deal of conviction in his voice. "We're definitely going to make it."
She smiled back at him, then kissed him fervently. Jack knew that they were in for some rough times, but he was determined to make the best of it. He had survived slavery, beatings and a punishment that had nearly destroyed his mind, body and soul, and if he could survive that, he was pretty sure he could survive marriage and fatherhood again. It just took perseverance and he figured he still had a lot of that left.
All he needed to do now was to convince O'Neill and the powers that be that Taria could be trusted to live among Earth's population. O'Neill had already hinted that Taria's fate was up to Jack, now all he had to do was find out exactly what the General was talking about when he'd said that. Another battle, he thought, as he smiled at Taria. He already had the ammunition, he figured, as he put his hand on her stomach. He was so looking forward to using it.
The next morning came early for Jack and he yawned as he sat up from his makeshift bed on the floor of the conference room. The refugees had been waking up with the dawn from the time they were old enough to be put to work, and old habits seemed to die hard for them. Still, the rumbling of voices as they went about their morning routine was not what had wakened him. It was the tickling sensation on his ear that had him batting at the offending creature. He finally opened his eyes to find one of the children sitting next to him, drawing circles on his ear with a feather that must have come out of a cushion or a pillow. The little boy's eyes widened when Jack growled at him, then giggled when Jack tickled him back.
Taria sat up at that point, gracing the child with one of her beautiful smiles and Jack wondered again how she was able to light up a place with her smiles, while the rest of her people were still too afraid to even speak up.
He didn't dwell on that subject too long. Breakfast was being brought in and he couldn't ignore the irony of the situation, as the food brought in were MRE's, probably the easiest way to feed the multitude of people currently residing in the converted conference room. They were fed gruel in Hulmeshur and were fed gruel, in the form of MREs, in this place. Granted the MREs were meant to resemble something other than gruel, but the taste was the same, as far as Jack was concerned.
Breakfast was nearly over when General Landry came in to talk with the refugees. The chattering among them stopped immediately and Jack couldn't help but notice that while some of the slaves fell to their knees, all eyes were fixed on the floor. Even the children knew better than to make a noise. The General commanded respect, as was his right due to his position in the military, and these people recognized that in him. They were afraid of him because of the power he wielded over those in his command, and Jack supposed it didn't help matters any when he had immediately jumped up to greet the General as he walked in. But it couldn't be helped, as he was still in the military, not to mention the fact that after thirty years of military training, it was almost automatic.
General Landry noticed the fear, and his expression showed his unease at the thought that he was scaring the crap out of a room full of civilians. "Lieutenant," the General said, in an obvious appeal for help, "Would you tell these people that I'm not going to hurt them?"
"Yes sir," Jack responded, while trying not to grin, "Although they may not listen to me on this. Maybe if you lose the SFs..." he suggested warily, as he indicated the two airmen who had accompanied the General. Landry seemed to understand what Jack was implying and nodded at the guards to dismiss them. They left immediately, leaving Jack and the General standing there while the others stayed where they were, waiting quietly for the General to declare his intentions.
"Lieutenant," the General said, as a reminder.
"Yes sir," Jack said again. He turned to his friends, then told them, "It's okay. This is General Landry, he won't hurt you, in fact, he wants to help you." He went over to the General and put his arm around the man's shoulders in an effort to prove his point, causing Landry to turn to stare at him. Jack grinned at the General's uneasy expression, enjoying the man's discomfort, as he turned back to his fellow ex-slaves. "He won't hurt you."
Dargan nodded, then stood up to assert his new found freedom. "Stand up," he demanded of his family and friends. "We are no longer slaves and we can fight back." Jack smiled at him encouragingly while the General gave Dargan a relieved look. "What is to happen to us now?" Dargan wanted to know.
"We have found a place for you to live in peace," Landry said, very much back in the saddle again now that the others were beginning to stand up. He shook off Jack's arm, while giving him a look that dared him to try that again, then continued with what he had come there to say. "The place we are sending you to is basically an agricultural environment, but it is deserted, giving you all time to learn to defend yourselves and to create your own community. We have a team set up to help you through any difficulties you may encounter while setting up your governing regulations"
He stopped at that point, as he stared at all the blank looks he was receiving from those brave enough to look at him. Jack took pity on him, mainly because the others were now staring at Jack to get an interpretation of what the General had just said. He grinned at Landry, then turned to his friends and said, "They found a place where you can have your own farms and we'll send along some people to help you build your homes, as well as to help you learn to create a place where you will no longer live as slaves." He saw some nods as the people realized that they were not going to be dumped in with another master, then told them, "You are free to work your own farms and to live your lives without fear of punishment."
"We will provide you with food and medicine until you are able to produce your own," Landry said, eliciting a murmur among the people in the room. Jack smiled as he remembered Padral's reaction to the news that he had been given medicine for his ailment. Medicines were a rarity in Hulmeshur and considered a commodity too valuable for a slave. His smile disappeared as memories of being treated like an animal raced through his mind. Handar knew that total control was only accomplished by belittling the people he was trying to control. Teaching his slaves that they weren't fit to be in the company of humans was accomplished through pain, fear and constant put-downs. Jack did not envy the personnel who would be responsible for helping the refugees to build their new lives. It was going to be a constant struggle to break through the lifetime of oppression they had been forced to live.
Taria came over and took Jack's hand in hers, picking up on the anger he was trying to deal with. He smiled at her, then turned to the others. "You are free to live your lives the way you want to," he said, determined to convince them that they were going to survive this. "Any way you want to."
"Our master took care of us," Neatha spoke up, surprising Jack with her words. "Why would anyone else want to help a slave?"
"He took care of you?" Jack asked, surprised that she would defend that bastard. "Where is your brother now?" he asked, knowing that he was deliberately hurting her, but he had to make her understand. "Handar could have saved him. He had the medicine that would have healed him, but he wouldn't share any of it. Not to mention that he would have willingly killed your daughter without any remorse whatsoever." She stared at him as he spoke, her eyes moist and Jack's anger cooled as he realized that she really didn't know any better. She had been lied to all her life. "He told me that his slaves were no better than animals," he said, hoping to convince her with the truth. "You are not an animal, Neatha. You are not something that should be treated like dirt. You are a human with thoughts and feelings, and you deserve to be treated like one." Neatha didn't respond, nor did anyone else. Jack hoped it was because they were processing his words and realizing that he was right.
Dargan was staring at Jack with a look filled with determination. "We are free," he declared with a small smile, while some of the others nodded their heads in agreement. Jack smiled at his friend, believing for the first time that these people really did have a chance. And he already had a good idea who was going to lead them into a prosperous future. Dargan was already showing signs of being a great leader.
"You are definitely free," General Landry said, sounding relieved that the spotlight was off of him. "It will be hard going at first, but once your homes are built and your crops are harvested, things will get better." He glanced at Jack, then went on to tell the others, "We will be transporting you all to your new home in a few hours. You'll be traveling through the Stargate, along with the food and materials you will need to start building your homes."
"Will it have a roof to keep out the rain?" someone in the group asked. Some of the others laughed, and Jack grinned, as he thought about the hovels they were forced to sleep in. They were not very sturdy, and although he had not lived there long enough to experience the rainy season that the slaves dreaded, he could just imagine the rain seeping into the one he had called home.
"It will have a roof," Landry assured him with a smile. "We'll send for you when my people are ready to leave. Lieutenant," he said to Jack, as he moved to leave the room. "You and I need to talk and you have an appointment with Dr. Mackenzie this morning. Follow me."
"Mackenzie?" Jack asked, his mind racing with ideas on how to avoid that meeting. "Sir, I think I should stay with these people in case they have any questions."
Landry wasn't falling for it, Jack realized, as dread built up inside him. "They'll be fine," Landry insisted, giving Jack a knowing look. "Let's go."
"Yes sir," Jack grumbled. He gave Taria an apologetic look, then followed the General out into the hallway, where the SFs were waiting.
"That was quite an experience," Landry said, conversationally, as he led the way, leaving the SFs to stand guard over their guests. "It's been awhile since my presence scared a room full of people." He grinned as he said that, then went on to clarify, "I think the last time was when I walked in on a group of airmen who were setting up a practical joke on their commander. They didn't think they would get caught."
Jack had to grin as he remembered the times he had set up his own practical jokes. "You get used to it, sir," he said, "I can't tell you how many times we were thought to be gods because we just happened to come through the Stargate. It used to embarrass the heck out of Daniel."
"I can't imagine Dr. Jackson being embarrassed about anything," Landry said, as he glanced at Jack. "He has learned to take everything in stride." Jack just nodded his head; Daniel had come a long way since the early days of the Stargate program. "You, on the other hand," Landry continued, "Have always had things under control."
Jack didn't respond, not quite sure what to say to that. Landry stopped walking and stared at Jack, his eyes narrowing, as he waited for a response. "Yes sir," Jack said, still at a loss as to what he was supposed to say to the man.
"You're going to make me drag it out of you, aren't you?" Landry asked, confusing Jack even more. What did this guy want?
Jack shook his head, as he said, "No sir. I just don't know what it is you want me to say."
Landry stared at him for a moment, then turned to continue down the hall. Jack followed him, still wondering what was going on. He hated being in the dark like this, especially when it was a General wanting something from him.
"I had hoped that you wouldn't be as difficult as Jack when it came to getting information out of you," Landry said, as he used his card to summon the elevator. He grinned at Jack, then said, "I have no idea why I thought you would be different."
"If you would just tell me what it is you want to know," Jack said, exasperation working its way into his voice. "I'd be more than willing to give you an answer."
"Only if it's something you're willing to tell me," Landry said knowingly, as he stepped into the elevator. Aggravation was taking over and Jack squelched the desire to strangle the man. He just knew that the General was doing this on purpose. He waited quietly, determined now to prove the General right and be as difficult as Landry professed him to be.
Landry grinned when he saw Jack's expression. "You've got that look on your face," he said, turning back to stare at the elevator door, "The one that says you're tired of this game."
Jack could only stare at the General with astonishment. This was just a game? "You've been taking lessons from the Goa'uld, haven't you?" he asked, trying to keep the anger out of his voice. "A few of them were masters at playing mind games."
"No, you have it all wrong," Landry hurried to tell him. "I'm not playing around here; I genuinely want to know how you have been handling things during the last week. General O'Neill is not very talkative when it comes to things like this, and Mackenzie values the vow he took when it comes to telling me what I want to know. Are we going to have problems like this in the future?"
The elevator door opened at that moment, giving Jack the opportunity to keep his silence. He decided to give himself a few minutes to think, as he stepped into the elevator, hoping to ease some of the anger that was pushing at him to brain the guy. Instead of giving in to the urge to tell the General where he could put his accusations, he put his back to the wall of the elevator and stared at the closing doors, working on calming down.
Jack couldn't blame the General for assuming that he was a loose cannon, but it still irked him that he had let it get to the point where he couldn't be trusted. Landry gave him a look that was clearly meant to prompt Jack into answering, and Jack knew it would be in his best interest to respond. The man was a General, after all.
"No sir," Jack ground out, still trying to tamp down on the anger. "I'm doing much better."
"I'm glad to hear it," Landry said, as he turned to glance back at Jack. "I have a job for you when Mackenzie clears you for active duty." He turned back toward the front, leaving Jack to stare at his back with surprise.
"Nothing like getting back into the thick of things again?" Jack asked, his expression hiding the tension that had moved in.
"If at first, you don't succeed," Landry said, with a wry grin.
"My sentiments exactly," Jack said, remembering the time he'd said those words to General Hammond. "I had learned to appreciate that phrase when Teal'c and I suffered through that `time loop'."
Landry turned to Jack giving him his full attention, and Jack immediately went on alert. Something was brewing, he could just tell. "Teal'c mentioned that you two talked about the golf excursion you took part in during those days. I must admit, that I was surprised when he'd said that. There had been no mention of a golf excursion in the reports you and Teal'c wrote."
"It wasn't important enough to include," Jack said, wondering if he could get into trouble after the fact. General Landry was a stickler when it came to the reports that showed up on his desk. Maybe he was going to get reamed over an `incomplete' report years after the report had been filed. He wondered at the look of shock on Landry's face, even as the doors of the elevator opened to let them out. "Sir?" he prompted, as he walked over to hold the doors open for the General.
"That's exactly what Jack said," Landry said, his voice seemed to be filled with awe. He shook his head, then retorted, "Like I said, only if it's something you want to tell me."
Jack prudently decided to keep his mouth shut at that point, and followed the General down the hall toward the man's office. They got there to find Colonel Reynolds waiting for them. Oh crap, Jack thought, as he realized he had been set up. This was so not good.
"Good morning Colonel," Landry said, in greeting. "Glad you could join us."
"Good morning, sir," Reynolds said to the General, although his attention was on Jack. "Lieutenant," he added.
"Sir," Jack replied, striving for calm. With one word, this guy could have Jack breaking rocks in a Federal penitentiary, and now that his life wasn't too screwed up, he had no desire to end up in one. "May I take this opportunity to apologize for my behavior the other day," he added, knowing that this was what the whole meeting was about. Jack knew without being told that Landry wanted this cleared up, and Jack was more than willing to get the ball rolling. After all, he had been wrong in attacking the Colonel. "I'm sorry, sir."
"By rights, you should be sitting in a jail cell right now," Reynolds growled, clearly making a valiant effort in showing Jack the error of his ways. "You should be thanking Dr. Jackson that you aren't."
"Yes sir," Jack said humbly. He had learned the art of groveling over the past several years. His lessons in this ancient art form began the moment he had entered the Air Force Academy, as he dealt with those who saw him only as a Cadet and not a full-fledged Colonel who had saved the world from aliens more times than he liked to remember. He planned to put those lessons into good use with Colonel Reynolds.
"I assume you know the penalty for attacking an officer?" Reynolds asked, apparently thinking that more words were needed in making sure Jack knew exactly what his crime had been and the punishment for said crime.
"Yes sir," Jack responded, starting to get just a little aggravated. He had apologized, what more did this guy want? The Colonel didn't recognize the aggravation, or ignored it, as he continued to rant at Jack for a few minutes more, which Jack tuned out after the first minute. He already knew this stuff, he had just forgotten it in his rage and hatred toward the man he had thought was responsible for Taria's death.
"Just make sure you never do it again," Reynolds finally said in a threatening tone, bringing Jack out of his memories of that day in his cell when he had realized what he had done. He didn't know if he would ever get over the horror of leaving someone behind to face a torture he was back to hiding from, now that he had told his friends of it. He squared his shoulders, as he focused on the Colonel. "It won't happen again, sir," he said, his words laced with a double meaning that only Jack understood.
"I'm sure the Lieutenant has seen the error of his ways," Landry said, probably as tired of the ranting as Jack was.
"I hope so," Reynolds said, still a little peeved that Jack had attacked him in the first place.
"I really have," Jack insisted. This stuff was getting old fast and Jack was hoping the Colonel would find someone else to yell at.
"I'm glad to hear that your wife is safe," Reynolds said, surprising Jack with the abruptness of the change of subject and mood. All that ranting and raving apparently got the anger out of his system.
"Thank you, sir," Jack replied. "I was really worried about her. I feel better now that she is safe."
"You do understand why we couldn't go back for her at the time we found you, don't you?"
"Yes sir," Jack replied, his anger coming back in spades, which he was able to hide behind the expressionless mask he had acquired sometime during his lifetime. No need to rub it in, Reynolds, he thought snidely.
The General must have seen the warning signs, or maybe he'd had enough of the whole scene. "Thank you, Colonel, for coming here to clear the air of that unfortunate incident. Now, if you'll excuse us, the Lieutenant and I have some business that needs to be taken care of."
"Of course," Reynolds replied. He left the room and Jack got a grip on the anger boiling inside of him. It was done and over with. It was time to move on.
"Let's talk about your wife," Landry said, to get the rest of the meeting out of the way. Jack nodded warily as he watched the General's expression for any signs of bad news. "Have a seat," Landry said, indicating the chair with a wave of his hand.
Jack did as he was told, despite the unease flowing through him. What he wanted to do was to run. He was going to be forced to make a decision, one that would not only affect him, but the lives of Taria and their child and he wasn't sure he was ready for that. Better to get this over with though, he thought, as he briefly wondered if the decision had already been made for him.
"General O'Neill and I have been making some phone calls, based on an assumption that you may want her to live here with you," Landry said, as he sat down in his chair. "The general consensus of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is that she not be allowed to stay on Earth, given her heritage and the fact that she could inadvertently let the wrong people know that she is from another planet." He stopped at that point, then beckoned for someone out in the briefing room to enter. Jack shook his head with a resigned grin when he saw who it was. O'Neill walked in smiling broadly at them, then asked, "Did I miss anything?"
Jack waited quietly while O'Neill and Landry walked through the pleasantries, desperately pushing away the old feelings of inadequacy that sprang up as he watched his counterpart laughing and joking with his peer. O'Neill was a General, and Jack wondered how it would feel to be in his shoes. He ended up staring at his hands, wondering at the jealousy that was coursing through him. He had thought that was all behind him, at least during the last couple of years when he was struggling to make a new name for himself.
"Everything okay, Jack?" O'Neill asked, causing Jack to look up.
"Yeah," he said, as he stood up from his seat in order to be on the same level as everyone else. "What's the final verdict?"
"Depends," O'Neill replied evenly. "What's the question?"
"Taria," Jack responded. O'Neill didn't respond right away, so Jack pushed a little harder. "General Landry tells me that the powers that be are against having her stay here."
"She is from an alien planet," O'Neill said, pointing out the obvious. "They are concerned that she won't keep the national secret a secret."
"So she goes off with the others," Jack said, doing a great job of hiding his disappointment. Maybe it would be better this way.
"I didn't say that," Landry spoke up. "I just said that the Joint Chiefs would prefer that she not be allowed to live here." Jack stared at him curiously, trying to figure out what the man was telling him, and Landry took pity on him. "Apparently Jack here, called in some markers," he clarified.
"Not necessarily some markers," O'Neill said, trying to deflect the attention that was now on him. "I merely reminded them who you used to be and how many times you helped save this piece of rock we live on." Jack could only stare at the original O'Neill in surprise, which caused the original to fidget, now that he had been caught. "I had a moment of weakness," he said, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Yeah," Jack said, nodding his head as he continued to stare at O'Neill. The man was full of surprises. Jack knew O'Neill was feeling a little embarrassed over having been caught helping someone, but even though he could relate, he still needed clarification of what exactly Taria's status was. "So she can stay?"
"Yes," O'Neill said, sobering as he stared at Jack. "I was listening when you were yelling at me in that cell," he added.
"I yelled at you a lot, Jack. Which incident are you referring to?"
O'Neill smiled at him, but didn't answer; leaving Jack to wonder what he had said to prompt his counterpart into helping him with this. The only thing he could think of was when he mentioned the fact that O'Neill was rewarded with the stars on his uniform, while Jack had been left in Handar's care.
"Have you come to a conclusion as to whether or not you want her to stay?" O'Neill asked instead, clearly wanting to know the answer to this.
"Yes," Jack responded. "We talked about it last night and we both agreed to give it a try."
"Good," O'Neill said. "I'll get the red tape started."
Okay, now this was way too strange for Jack to even try to contemplate. "That's it?" he couldn't help but ask. "You're not going to make me beg, grovel or threaten to beat the crap out of you? Be still my heart," he added sarcastically, not quite believing it was going to be that easy.
"That's it," O'Neill insisted, anger, amazement and amusement flashing across his features. "I just needed to make sure that this is what you wanted."
This was way too easy. "What's the catch?" he asked suspiciously.
"If I were you, I'd take it and run with it," Landry advised.
"No catch," O'Neill responded. "Well, besides the fact that she has to stay here at the SGC for a few months to learn as much about our culture as she can. The higher ups feel that it would make her adjustment into our society much easier if she had some one-on-one teaching."
"No catch," Jack repeated, still having a hard time believing it.
"None whatsoever," O'Neill responded with a smug look. "She stays."
"Okay then," Jack said, as he made the conscious decision to follow Landry's advice, "I'll just go give her the good news."
"Hold up a minute," O'Neill said, and Jack waited, knowing that there had to have been more to it than just getting the red tape started. "Did she tell you why she gave that stone to Patterson?"
"Yeah," Jack said, surprise clouding his mind as he wondered what this had to do with the red tape. "She said she gave it to him to pass on to me. Apparently he didn't `hear' that part." This was said with a little heat, as Jack still harbored some anger toward the Marines who had forced him to leave Taria behind, despite what he'd told Reynolds.
"Why didn't she ask them to take her with them?" O'Neill asked. Apparently the man had been doing some thinking on this subject.
This could be dangerous, Jack thought, as he stared at O'Neill. "Well," he said, as he glanced over at Landry, before turning his attention back to O'Neill, "She figured they wouldn't want to help a slave." O'Neill nodded at that, and Jack hoped he wouldn't push it. If they thought that Taria may not be emotionally ready to handle the world, as they knew it, she may be forced to live with her mother after all.
"Slaves aren't worthy enough unless there is a value attached to their heads," Landry said, causing both Jack's to stare at him in surprise. Landry looked from one to the other, before shrugging his shoulders and saying, "One of my professors said that when we were discussing the Civil War."
"You can remember that far back?" O'Neill said, grinning at the now glowering Landry.
"You don't have too much room to talk," Landry snapped back, then grinned when O'Neill's smile grew wider.
"I'm still young at heart," O'Neill said, prompting an undignified snort from his clone. Jack knew from experience the hardships and tragedies the General had gone through. They would never be young again, no matter how young he personally looked. But then again, they did have that `just a big kid' reputation to live up to. He grinned at O'Neill who was apparently thinking the same thing, judging by the wicked grin he had on his face. "Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" O'Neill asked innocently.
"No sir," Jack replied, deciding that tact was his best option at the moment. That wicked grin made him just a little uneasy. "I guess I won't have to play my ace after all," he said, in an effort to change the subject.
"What ace?" O'Neill asked, rising to the challenge.
"I'm interested in hearing this myself," Landry said. "It's not everyday I get to see Jack O'Neill in action."
"I am not Jack O'Neill," Jack insisted fervently at the same time that O'Neill snarled, "He is not me."
"My mistake," Landry said, holding up both hands to ward off the evil looks he was receiving, at least from O'Neill. Jack was still a Lieutenant, and knew better than to antagonize the General, although the glare he wore on his face belied that fact. He just directed the glare toward his counterpart.
O'Neill stood there staring back at Jack, giving him a questioning look when Jack didn't enlighten him. Jack briefly thought about making O'Neill beg for once, it would be just desserts, but he knew the man would simply walk away. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Taria's pregnant."
"Congratulations Jack," Landry said.
"Hey, that's great!" O'Neill agreed, with a great deal of enthusiasm and a huge smile. Jack tried to hide his own grin, but gave up in the end.
"Thanks," he said, as he smiled back at the original Jack O'Neill. "I had hoped that bit of news would help me convince you that Taria belongs here."
O'Neill's smile disappeared as he stared at Jack with a thoughtful frown, which prompted Jack to wonder what was going through that guy's head now.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," O'Neill replied, which was not the correct answer as far as Jack was concerned. He was tired of being the insignificant one whenever he was around General O'Neill. O'Neill had the power of his position to fall back on, while Jack was low on the totem pole. Just once, he wished he could get the best of the man he used to be.
"Okay, fine," Jack said. "Whatever." He turned to Landry and said, "Sir. I'd like to go and tell Taria of your decision." Landry nodded, and Jack turned to leave.
"I'll walk with you," O'Neill said.
"I can find my way on my own," Jack replied, still a little irritated with the man.
Jack shrugged then turned to lead the way. O'Neill followed him out, walking along side him as they made their way toward the elevator. "Are you sure that this is what you want?" O'Neill asked as they waited for the doors of the elevator to open.
Jack turned to stare at O'Neill in surprise. "Yes," he said. "I've given it a lot of thought, and this is what I want."
"It's just that you were so angry with her," O'Neill said. "Admit it. You hated her, didn't you?"
Jack didn't answer right away. He was too busy dealing with the raw feelings that he still felt on this topic. "Yes I did," he confessed. "For awhile there, I hated her guts."
O'Neill was working on something, Jack could just tell. He didn't ask, though, just stood there in silence as they waited for the elevator to arrive.
O'Neill finally decided to just say what was bothering him. "Forgiveness doesn't come easy for us," he said, as he stared at the closed doors of the elevator. "Especially when we've been betrayed."
Jack nodded at that. He remembered the hatred he carried around in his heart and his battle to hang on to the hatred, while refusing to give in to Taria's efforts to win him back, only to find himself wondering many times if he had forgiven her, just too stubborn to admit it.
"Frank Cromwell tried to make me understand why he did what he did," O'Neill said, as he stood there still staring at the elevator door.
"I remember," Jack responded quietly. He remembered all too well Cromwell's expression as he was being pulled into a wormhole that led to a planet being destroyed by a black hole. His expression reflected total defeat. Not only was he going to die on that planet, but he was never going to be able to get the opportunity to make Jack understand why he had left him behind all those years ago. It had been important to Cromwell that Jack understand, but Jack wouldn't let go of his anger long enough to listen to Cromwell's reasons, let alone understand them.
"I should have listened to him," O'Neill said sadly, voicing Jack's thoughts.
"Yeah," Jack agreed, as the doors of the elevator opened. He got in and watched as O'Neill pushed the button to take them to their destination. "Uh... Jack?" he said, as panic began to set in. "You pushed the wrong button. The conference room is not on that level."
"No it's not," O'Neill replied with a grin, causing Jack's anxiety to increase. "Mackenzie's office is though," he added wickedly.
"I really should go talk with Taria," Jack said. "She's anxious to know whether she'll be allowed to stay here."
You'll have plenty of time to tell her after your visit with Mackenzie," O'Neill responded. "In fact, I can tell her for you. Don't worry about a thing."
"Just peachy," Jack grumbled, as he watched the numbers on the display panel decrease. "The words `mental institution' never came up when you and Mackenzie were talking about me, right?"
"Not once," O'Neill promised. He glanced over at Jack, then told him, "You're not crazy, Jack. He has no reason to send you to that place."
Jack nodded, not really believing the man. O'Neill had never experienced flashbacks that had left Jack feeling totally alone and helpless to stop them from happening in the first place. "He's going to want me to give him every last detail about my feelings and what happened to me while I was living in Hulmeshur," Jack said, trying to ignore the fear that was racing through his mind. "I'm not sure that I can give him what he wants."
"All you can do is try," O'Neill insisted. "He's good at what he does, Jack. He'll help you get through this. Just give him a chance."
"That's easy for you to say," Jack said. "You're not the one who is facing the `Demon Chaser'."
Jack grinned when O'Neill laughed. "I had forgotten about that," O'Neill said, still grinning at the memory. "What was that shrink's name?" Jack shrugged, as O'Neill continued, "I couldn't believe it when he told me that it was his mission in life to chase away the demons of the mind." He shook his head, then added, "Like he had any."
"That guy wasn't one of the better shrinks we had to talk to," Jack had to agree. "Long on ideas and short on brains."
"Mackenzie is good at what he does," O'Neill said again, and Jack had to agree with him, especially when compared to that other Bozo who had tried to convince Jack that the trauma he was dealing with was only a figment of his imagination that could be conquered if only Jack would realize that it was a figment of his imagination. God, that guy was such a jerk.
The doors of the elevator opened and Jack knew that it was time to deal with this unpleasantness and get it over with. He stepped out and turned to see that O'Neill hadn't followed him out and was, in fact, pushing another button. "Coward," Jack accused, as the doors of the elevator closed. O'Neill just smiled at him and Jack found himself grinning as he realized that he didn't blame that guy one bit.
He walked down the hall toward the office that Mackenzie used when he was on base and tried to calm himself so that he could deal with whatever Mackenzie threw at him. Mackenzie was in, Jack realized with dashed hopes, and called out for him to enter when he knocked.
"Have a seat," Mackenzie said, as he pointed at the chair in front of his desk. "Would you like some coffee?"
"No thanks," Jack responded, with a shake of his head. He just wanted to get this over with.
"I want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me," Mackenzie said, surprising Jack. "I know how hard this is for you."
"Yeah, well I didn't have much of a choice, did I?" Jack responded, as he sat there tense and guarded.
"I was under the impression you agreed to this," Mackenzie said, his expression carefully neutral.
"It was part of a deal," Jack admitted. The tension was getting to him and he just wanted out. "Can we just get started?"
"Of course," Mackenzie said, as he grabbed his pen and pad of paper. "Let's start at the beginning."
"The beginning?" Jack replied. "Well, let's see. I was born in Chicago... that's the Windy City, you know out there in Illinois? Anyway..."
"Hulmeshur," Mackenzie said, interrupting what Jack had hoped would be the best stall tactic in his career.
"Hulmeshur," Jack said with a resigned sigh. "Are you sure you don't want to hear about my childhood traumas?" he asked, still giving the stall tactic the old college try.
Mackenzie just shook his head as he stared quietly at Jack. The psychiatrist had that patient look on his face, and Jack thought about continuing with his rambling just to piss the guy off. If nothing else, it would wipe that expression off of his face. Jack always hated the patronizing look Mackenzie plastered on his face every time they sat down to talk.
"Tell me about your capture," Mackenzie prompted, probably thinking that this would be the easy part, especially since Jack had willingly given up this information when he had his debriefing.
"I was knocked out during the battle and when I woke up, I was in a building with a bunch of other people," he began. "They were being held there to keep them away from stray bullets and from being rescued. Handar didn't want to lose any slaves to the strangers who had come through the Gate."
Mackenzie was writing something down and Jack didn't even want to know what the psychiatrist picked up on. "I was taken to see Handar not long after I had wakened and was told what was expected of me," Jack continued. "Do as I am told, when I am told, no questions asked and no trying to escape - standard slavery orientation material."
Mackenzie smiled at that, then asked, "I take it that you didn't follow the rules?" Jack nodded, prompting Mackenzie to ask, "What did they do to you when you refused to be a slave."
Jack couldn't help the sigh that escaped from his soul. He didn't want to do this, especially with Mackenzie, but he knew he didn't have a choice. The one thing he wanted more than anything was to leave the base and get back to his life, the one he had to rebuild from the ground up after he had been cloned. The only way to do this was to convince Mackenzie that he was better. So he made the effort to cooperate and give the man what he wanted and was successful to some degree. He told Mackenzie of the punishments he had dealt with and of the long days working in the fields and in the mines. He told him of the relationships he built up with the other slaves and with Taria. And he gave Mackenzie the reasons he fought off his rescuers and why he had to go back. Jack managed to avoid telling Mackenzie of his thoughts and feelings when he had believed he had been left behind and forgotten, as well as refusing to talk about his escape attempt and subsequent torture session when he was caught, even when Mackenzie came right out and asked him about it. Jack was not ready to talk about that experience just yet, especially when he was afraid he'd have another flashback if he did.
"General O'Neill told me what happened to you when you got caught trying to escape," Mackenzie said. "I already know about it, why won't you tell me about it now?"
"If you already know what happened, why do you need to hear it again?" Jack asked, hoping to bypass this whole thing altogether.
"I think that this is the experience that brought on your flashbacks," Mackenzie said, surprising Jack. "You need to deal with it and put it behind you. I can help you with this, Jack. But you have to be willing to let me."
"I thought they were brought on by my guilt of leaving Taria behind," Jack mused out loud.
"It could be a combination of both, but we won't know for sure until we've worked out everything that has happened to you while you were in that place."
"I've been through worse situations," Jack said, as he watched Mackenzie carefully. "Why is it I've never experienced flashbacks before?"
"There are no set rules to be followed when it comes to this disorder," Mackenzie replied. "Most people are able to handle the stress that comes with the traumatic event. From your behavior whenever we sit down to talk, you are the type that has to be in control of your feelings and your actions. This factor, alone, makes you an unlikely candidate for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet, you are suffering from it," Mackenzie added when Jack opened his mouth to discredit his statement. "General O'Neill tells me that you believed you had given up and gave in to your captors."
"Yes, I did," Jack admitted with a snarl.
"You were vulnerable at that point," Mackenzie continued. "Add on to your belief that you had given in and lost the control you normally hang on to with the fact that you left your wife behind to die at the hands of your tormentors..."
"Flashbacks," Jack finished for him.
"In your case, yes."
Jack just sat there, taking it all in and wondering where to go from here. He remembered the conversation he had with Taria when she told him in no uncertain terms that he had never given in to his captors. Yet, Jack believed with all his heart that he had. He couldn't help the small smile when he remembered the anger and hatred he held for Handar and his guards and the punishments he went through when the anger and hatred flared up. Maybe Taria was right. He hadn't truly given up, he just let them have their way in order to keep the peace.
That just left the fear he had of escaping.
He looked up to see Mackenzie sitting there patiently waiting for Jack to work through his thoughts. The man was way too good at what he does, Jack thought, with a wry grin.
"Are you ready to tell me what happened when you escaped?" Mackenzie asked, when he saw Jack's grin.
Jack just stared at the man incredulously. "No," he said with determination. "Not yet," he added, as he got up to pace. He'd been through it once already and all it brought on was a flashback from hell. There was no way in hell he was going to end up in an institution.
"Then tell me about being left behind and forgotten," Mackenzie insisted.
"Isn't my hour up yet?" Jack asked instead.
Mackenzie shook his head, then told him, "I've set aside the whole morning for you."
"No you didn't," Jack responded, knowing full well the guy had never done anything like that before. Jack had been surprised when Mackenzie spent a whole hour and a half with him when he first got back from Hulmeshur and here this guy was saying he had set aside the whole morning? Not likely.
"I had thought about it," Mackenzie acknowledged. "That one-on-one 24/7 session you spent with General O'Neill helped you more than my weekly one hour sessions ever did. You're very lucky that you have a support system like that. Your friends wouldn't give up on you no matter how much trouble you gave them."
"What makes you think I gave them any trouble?" Jack asked, as he sat back down in the chair. He had successfully steered the conversation away from the subject he was still hiding from and he relaxed somewhat with that thought.
"I've known you for years, Jack," Mackenzie said, "I've been trying to get you talk about your feelings and traumas long before you were even cloned. You gave them a hard time."
Jack couldn't argue with that, so he sat there waiting to be set free. He wondered what it would take to convince Mackenzie to release him from his confinement on base, and he looked up to see that Mackenzie had resorted to silence. Oh great, Jack thought, he even has that patronizing look on his face. He grinned as he remembered O'Neill's efforts at trying this technique and decided to give into Mackenzie's tactics. "Are you going to recommend that I be released from my imprisonment here?" he asked, enjoying the look of shock on Mackenzie's face.
"I've been giving that some thought," Mackenzie answered, as he visibly pulled himself together. "You are much stronger, emotionally, which may be a great deterrent for the flashbacks." He stared at Jack critically, then said, "I can see that you are more in control of your thoughts and feelings, based on your actions today."
"So I can get out of here?" Jack asked, trying to control the excitement building up in him. Mackenzie could still say no.
"Let's get through the rest of this meeting," Mackenzie replied, warily. "I would like to hear a little more about your life on Hulmeshur before I make that decision."
"I won't have any more flashbacks," Jack said determinedly. This guy was starting to get on his last nerve.
"Then you have nothing to worry about," Mackenzie answered amiably. "Tell me about your thoughts of being left behind and forgotten."
The noise stopped immediately when Jack O'Neill walked into the conference room. He had decided to visit with Taria to hear her thoughts on whether or not she really wanted to stay with his clone and he ended up walking into the `Twilight Zone'. The silence was deafening, while every single person in the room stood stock still as they waited for Jack to make his intentions known. This was so not good, Jack thought, as he shut the door behind him.
"Hello everyone," he said, with a broad smile, hoping to ease their fears. "How are you all holding up? Do you need anything? Just let me know if you do and I'll make sure you get it." His efforts seemed to be working, because one of the men looked up and stared at him with just a little defiance in his expression.
"I am Dargan," the man said, as he stood up a little straighter. "When will we be allowed to leave here?"
"Soon," Jack promised. "Probably within the next couple of hours." He looked around and saw Taria sitting on a cot near a wall, and his smile grew wider as she stared back. He nodded at Dargan, then walked toward Taria, but stopped when he was just a few feet away from her. "My name is Jack O'Neill," he told her, just in case she had forgotten. "I'm Jack's cousin. I want to thank you for taking care of him and keeping him safe." She didn't respond, but he could see that she was surprised by his words. "Thank you," he said again.
"It was my pleasure," she finally answered warily.
Jack waited, but she didn't add on to her statement, so he tried again to get to know her a little better. "I was hoping we could have a little talk before Jack gets here," he said, in an effort to get things moving. She nodded and Jack sighed inwardly as he realized he was going to have to be the one to keep this conversation going. He really wasn't all that great when it came to conversations. "Congratulations on the baby," he told her, saying the first thing that came to mind. Bull's eye, Jack thought, as she beamed at his words.
"Thank you," she replied, her smile lighting up her features. At that moment, he could see why Gallagher had fallen in love with this woman. She was gorgeous. He sat down next to her, as she continued. "This baby will be born in freedom and I am happy that my mate wants us to live here with him," she added, effectively answering Jack's unspoken question. He had come here to determine what it was Taria really wanted.
"Are you sure that this is what you want?" Jack had to ask. He didn't think she really knew what she was getting into. She was marrying a military man, someone whose comings and goings weren't entirely of his own choosing. "There will be times when he is gone for days, sometimes weeks. It could get awfully lonely."
"Jack has told me of this," she said, her expression taking on a look that almost rivaled Mackenzie's patronizing look. Jack had to grin at this thought. It looked so much better on her. "But I want to stay with my mate and I can live with the loneliness," she added.
"Can you?" Jack asked, wondering if he should tell her of the loneliness his wife, Sara, had dealt with. He remembered all too well the aching loneliness he himself lived with when she had left him all those years ago.
"Yes," Taria responded resolutely. "I have lived with a loneliness so deep that I sometimes thought that I would not be able to survive it, and this was while I lived with Jack." She stopped and stared at him for a moment, her eyes taking on a haunted look and Jack realized that she was a kindred spirit in terms of dealing with total loneliness. "I will be able to live with being alone while he is away because I will have his love to keep me company. I did not have that before." She smiled broadly at him then, and said, "And I will have our child to take care of. I will survive the loneliness, Jack O'Neill. I have done this before."
He grinned at her, as he realized that she was right. She was definitely going to make it. "You can call me Jack," he said.
She frowned, and Jack had a sudden desire to find something to bring back her smile. "Jack said that your name is General," she ventured, causing Jack to wonder at that statement, then remembered when his clone had introduced them.
"General is just my title," he clarified, then told her, "My name is Jack."
"General Jack," she said, as she watched him fearfully. He nodded at her, and she smiled at him again, making him wish he was a few years younger and she wasn't married to his clone. But then memories of his night with Carter flooded his mind, and thoughts of Taria were pushed out of the way, making room for the real love of his life.
He smiled back at Taria though, then looked toward the door when it opened. A nurse and one of the refugee's came in and the others, who had gone back to whatever it was they were doing before Jack had come in and scared them half to death, went over to welcome the man. Jack grinned and shook his head as he realized that the others had accepted that he was no longer a threat and had relaxed while he had been talking with Taria. He turned back to Taria to see that she was back to watching him again.
He grinned at Taria as they sat there, and he learned a lot about his clone as they talked about the man she had been given to. He stayed there until Gallagher showed up; watching as Gallagher smiled back at his wife and Jack knew that their relationship was going to survive. He hoped it would be for a long time.
Jack Gallagher walked down the corridor from Mackenzie's office when his hour was finally up and set off to look for Daniel or Teal'c in order to have someone accompany him when he left the base. Mackenzie had agreed to set him free as long as he had someone to stay with him. Jack didn't care, he just wanted out to feel the wind through his hair and to see his house again.
He ended up in the conference room instead, finding Taria with his counterpart laughing at something O'Neill had said. The others were milling about and Jack grinned when Padral came up to him and slapped him on the back, congratulating him on finally seeing the light and making up with Taria. Jack just grinned, then told Padral where he could put his congratulations, causing Padral to laugh as he walked over to talk with his friends.
Jack shook as head, then headed over to join Taria and O'Neill. "I see you two have met," he said, wondering at the smile Taria gave O'Neill. Apparently O'Neill didn't give off the aura of power that Landry did. No one seemed to be afraid of him.
"General Jack has been telling me of the wonders of your world," Taria said, as she turned her smile on him. Jack smiled back at her, then turned his attention on to his counterpart.
"Wonders of our world?" he asked, suddenly very worried about what O'Neill could have said.
"Yeah. I've told her all about hockey, pizza and beer," O'Neill replied with a grin. "Just the good stuff. I haven't had a chance to tell her about the mediocre stuff yet."
"Oh," Jack said, putting on a relieved expression. "And here I was worried for a second there."
"I am very happy that I will be allowed to stay," Taria said shyly, as she grabbed Jack's hand and squeezed it in hers. "I would like to see this world that my mate spoke so highly of."
"Your husband," Jack corrected her, smiling at her confusion. "Mate just sounds weird when you say it that way. I am your husband and you are my wife."
"My husband," Taria dutifully repeated.
"Did you guys have a ceremony?" O'Neill asked with a frown. His face brightened as he said, "We can have one here. A wedding ceremony with the works." His smile dimmed when a thought came to him, "That is if you want to be married," he added.
Jack nodded, while Taria asked, "Will there be wedding bells? Jack has told me of the rituals the people of this world go through when they are wed."
O'Neill's expression sobered as he stared at Taria. "Yes," he said. "There will be wedding bells if I have to import them from somewhere." He smiled at her then, and told her, "I promise."
She grinned back and Jack realized once again how much he loved this woman. They had been forced on each other, but she had always been there for him no matter how badly he treated her. She never gave up on him and this meant a great deal to Jack, as he watched her interact with the original Jack O'Neill.
Her betrayal had forced a wedge between them that Jack had never wanted to remove, his anger driving the wedge in deeper every time he thought of it. But then she had been willing to die a slow and tortuous death to give him the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world - his freedom. He didn't know if he would ever be able to repay her for that one act of love.
She was not the only person he owed a great deal to. O'Neill, Carter, Daniel and Teal'c all played a major role in freeing Jack from the demons that had followed him here. He was on the road to recovery and he knew without a doubt that he wouldn't be where he was at today, if it wasn't for the friends who banded together to help him through it. He smiled at that thought. He was going to be okay and he was determined to make life wonderful for his wife and their child. He placed his hand on Taria's belly. Oh yeah, he was so looking forward to that.
"So Grandpa," he said with a grin at O'Neill. "Will you give the bride away?"
O'Neill gave Jack a wicked grin, then said, "If you call me that again, there won't be anybody to give her away to."
"All right, already," Jack said, still grinning at his counterpart. "I was just kidding." Taria was looking from one to the other, worry etching her features and Jack felt bad for marring her day. "He won't hurt me," Jack told her, "He's really just a big teddy bear. Nothing to worry about."
She nodded at him, then asked, "What is a teddy bear?"
It was good to be home, Jack Gallagher thought, as he pulled into the driveway of his house. He had just gotten back from a week long mission to P2-something or other and was anxious to see his wife. He'd only been gone a week, but he still worried about her being alone. He found her in the kitchen of their home and Taria was looking as beautiful as ever with her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing a pink sweatshirt over a pair of blue jeans. He couldn't help but smile at the sight of her as she was trying valiantly to get a spoonful of baby food into the mouth of their five month old daughter, Gina.
"Hello beautiful," he said, then grinned at her when she looked up and smiled. It was the same smile that she had always given him whenever she saw him, and it always warmed his heart.
"Jack!" she cried, as she came over to welcome him home. She smelled of cinnamon, he thought, as he greedily returned her kiss.
"Have you been baking again?" he asked her, then hugged her once more before going over to grab his daughter to give her a hello kiss, as well.
"An apple pie," Taria responded smugly. "It's going to turn out good this time," she insisted, and Jack hid the grimace by giving his daughter another kiss, as he remembered the last time Taria tried to make that dessert.
"Did you help her make it?" Jack asked the baby, as he put her back into her highchair. Gina cooed back at her father and Jack reached over to tickle her. "No? Oh man, we are in so much trouble!"
"That is not funny, Jack," Taria said with a pout. "Carolyn told me what went wrong the last time and I made sure to do it right this time." Jack gave her an encouraging smile, hoping she was right. He was grateful as he thought about Carolyn Lam's willingness to take Taria under her wing in order to help her to adjust to life on Earth. Between Carolyn, Sam Carter, Cassandra Fraiser and Jack's own "foster family", the Garretts, Taria had an army of people all willing to help her to adjust. Of course, Karen Garrett and her family thought they were helping Taria adjust to life as an American, but the end result was the same. Taria had successfully integrated into the role of an American housewife and their marriage was still going strong.
Jack went over to the oven to take a peek at the pie that must have just been put in. It looked safe enough from his viewpoint, but looks could be deceiving and he decided to wait until the time came to taste it before passing judgment.
"I made it for General Jack," Taria told him as she went back to spooning food into Gina's mouth.
"Jack's coming here?" he asked, trying to control his shock. "What's he coming here for?"
"He has some business at the base and I invited them over for dinner. I knew you wouldn't mind," she said innocently.
"Great," Jack grumbled. This is just what he needed - O'Neill coming to give him hell over whatever he could make up. O'Neill just loved to flaunt the fact that he was the original, the one and only.
"Sam's coming with him," she said, apparently ignoring Jack's grumbling. "We're going to go shopping for baby clothes tomorrow. I thought I might buy some things for Gina while I'm out."
"Doesn't she have enough to wear now?" Jack asked, watching as a glob of food landed on the baby's bib when she spit it out. "Cut that out, you traitor," he warned. The baby just cooed at him and Jack grinned back at her.
"I think she is done," Taria said, as she wiped the baby's face and picked her up to hand her over to Jack. He accepted her gratefully, then took her with him as he headed for the living room.
"When are they supposed to get here," he called out resignedly. It had been a year since Jack was rescued from that hellhole called Hulmeshur, and although he was extremely grateful to his counterpart for his role in Jack's recovery, he still cringed whenever they got together.
"They should be here in a few hours," Taria replied from the kitchen. She came to join him a few seconds later and sat down next to him on the couch, leaning her head on his shoulder, as she reached up to play with the pendant on the slender golden necklace that she never took off. Jack smiled as he watched her absently rubbing the pendant, shaped like a bell, which he just had to buy when he saw it. "You are going to be nice to him, aren't you?" she asked.
"Me? Nice? Uh... sure, I guess," Jack responded, half-heartedly. Taria frowned at him and Jack grinned at her to let her know he was kidding. "I'll be nice. Just keep an eye on him around Gina though," he warned. "That guy will steal her heart right out from under us without either one of us knowing it." Taria smiled at that and Jack had to add, "I'm not kidding. He has a way with kids."
"Just like you," she told him. "You two act more like brothers than cousins. Like two peas in a pod."
Jack pulled back to look at her in surprise. "Two peas in a pod?" he asked. "Where did you hear that expression?"
"Kelly used it when she was talking about her boyfriend and his brother." She squirmed a little, then told him, "I had to ask her what that meant. I hate it when I don't know something."
"Don't worry about it," Jack told her. "Kelly knows you are not from around here. She understands." Taria nodded at that, while they both fell into a silence punctuated by their daughter's coos and playful sounds. Jack used this time to dwell on Kelly Garrett and her family, as he sat there on the couch with his newest family.
Jack wasn't quite sure why he deserved them, but he acquired families almost everywhere he went. No matter what the circumstances were, he came out with a new addition to the spider web connecting him to the various friends and people who have inducted him into their circles. There were his buddies during his career with the Air Force the first time around, his wife, Sara, and their son, Charlie, and then the original members of SG-1. They had all become a major force in his life and he mourned his loss when he was cloned into a 16 year old replica of O'Neill.
The Garretts were the first people Jack had befriended when he found himself back in high school again after a thirty year absence. Sean Garrett and Jack had become best friends, and Sean's mother, Karen, immediately took a liking to Jack and made it her mission in life to become a `second' mother to him, despite his insistence that he didn't need her. He finally reconciled himself to the fact that she was his friend, and he let her have her way, especially after her son's death. Jack did not like to dwell on that event, as he still felt responsible for his friend's death, even after all these years.
He had continued to keep in contact with the Garretts throughout his years at the Air Force Academy and the subsequent years while he was stationed at Cheyenne Mountain. Karen Garrett and her daughter, Kelly, were the first people he thought of when it came to introducing his wife to the general population of Colorado Springs. He knew the women well enough to know that they would jump at the chance to help a newcomer to the country learn the ways of this society. Taria was going to be, and in fact had been, in good hands.
The phone rang just then, bringing Jack out of his musings. Taria got up to answer it, seeing that Jack had his hands full with a sleeping baby. He continued to sit there as he listened to his wife's end of the conversation, then grimaced as he realized who she was talking to.
"I'm looking forward to seeing you again, General Jack," she said into the phone. "I've made a pie for you." There was silence, then he gave Taria an innocent look when she glared at him and said, "I know what I did wrong with the last one. Who told you about that pie?" she asked, still glaring at her husband. "Oh. Well Carolyn should have told Sam that I've figured out what the problem was. I'm sure that you will like this one."
Jack laughed at her while she ended the call, and she decided to just ignore him as she went back into the kitchen. This was also something different about his beautiful wife. She had learned to be more aggressive in her actions, realizing that freedom also meant that she didn't have to take crap from anybody. He liked this about her, even when her aggressiveness really came out in their arguments. It meant that she was going to survive this world if something ever happened to him.
This thought brought on a frown and he shook his head to clear away the dark thoughts this brought on. He had no intentions of dying, but his luck was bound to run out sooner or later. Jack couldn't help but hope it was going to happen later, much later if he had anything to do with it. He had a daughter to raise.
He got up from the couch and put the baby down in her playpen to finish out her nap, while he headed for the bathroom to take a shower. He didn't quite make it to his destination. He took a detour through the kitchen instead, and grabbed his wife around the waist as he pulled her in for another kiss. She knew what he wanted and tried to remind him that she had to get dinner ready for their guests, but his insistent kisses convinced her otherwise. The shower could wait, Jack thought, as they made their way to the bedroom instead.
The visit didn't go as bad as Jack originally thought. O'Neill and his new wife, Samantha Carter, acted as if they were still on their honeymoon, although the baby Sam was carrying seemed to contradict the honeymoon stage. Jack had to smile when he thought about O'Neill becoming a father again. The man was way too old to be fathering a child again, but technically, so was he.
The apple pie turned out great, much to Taria's relief, and Jack was proud of her accomplishments. She had come so far in adapting to her new life, and her willingness to learn more about her husband's world, only made things go easier for her.
Jack and his counterpart moved into the living room while Taria and Sam cleaned up the kitchen, using that opportunity to make plans for their shopping trip. Jack knew he was much better off not knowing the plans. Even though he was now earning a Captain's salary, he still worried about his wallet.
He settled in one of the chairs while O'Neill confiscated the other one, as he sat down to play with Gina. The baby adored O'Neill from the moment he first picked her up, and Jack wondered if it was because her father shared the same DNA as the man holding her. Maybe a bond already existed between them. Then again, maybe it was because he always did have a way with kids. Jack decided that he really didn't care at that moment, and he grinned when Gina laughed when her `uncle' tickled her.
"Didn't think you would ever be a father again, did you?" O'Neill asked.
"Actually, I figured I still had a lot of years left," Jack responded. "I wasn't going to rule that out, just yet." He frowned as he remembered those months as a slave when fathering a child was expected of him. "I was definitely trying to get Taria pregnant while I lived in Hulmeshur," he added angrily. "It was either become a father or be punished for failing to please my `master'," he snarled. The anger that memory brought on surprised him. He had thought he was over that chapter of his life. He smiled weakly at O'Neill while shrugging his shoulders, then said, "I'm glad I'm over that stuff."
"Sure you are," O'Neill said, apparently not believing it either.
Jack grinned at his counterpart then said, "What about you? You're about to become a new father and you're old enough to be a grandfather."
"I resemble that remark," O'Neill complained with a grin. He stared at Jack for a moment, then said, "Actually, I'm looking forward to it. And I will do a better job of it then I did with Charlie."
"Yeah, me too," Jack responded, his thoughts drifting off to his son's death. He was determined to keep that memory alive, if only to save Gina from the same fate. He wanted to make sure she grew up to adulthood. "I've made it a habit to lock up my gun the minute I get home," he said, hoping to give O'Neill some ammunition to help his own child grow to a ripe old age.
"I'm already doing that," O'Neill said smugly. "Seems like we are on the same page here. Great minds think alike."
"Especially when they are the same minds," Jack added sarcastically. O'Neill just grinned at him, then smiled down at Gina, who was quietly playing with the buttons on his shirt.
"We've been lucky," O'Neill said, as he grasped Gina's hand in his. "We've been given a second chance in life, more so in your case," he said, giving Jack a knowing look, "And we should do everything in our power to do it right this time." He kissed the top of Gina's head, then looked over at Jack. "There's no excuse for screwing it up again."
"None whatsoever," Jack agreed. He stared at his counterpart for a moment, then asked, "So do you guys know whether it's a boy or a girl?"
"A girl," O'Neill responded happily, "A little one with Sam's personality, brains and good looks."
"You know this already, do you?" Jack asked.
"Yep. I won't accept anything else."
"Yes you will," Jack said, feeling it was his duty to set the man straight. "What are you going to name her," he asked, just a little curious about the subject.
"Well, we're still discussing it," O'Neill said, losing some of the smugness. "Sam wants to name the baby after her mother, but I was thinking more in line of something less traditional. Something like Martha or Mary, or something like that."
Jack could only stare at the man incredulously. Surely he hadn't changed that much over the years. "Martha?" he retorted. "No way! I know you, Jack. Martha is not even close to the top of the list. What's this really all about?"
O'Neill was grinning broadly at Jack, apparently deciding to let him in on his secret. "Actually," he said, in a near whisper. "I like the name she had picked out, but I have to grumble about something don't I? I mean, isn't that what husbands are for? To give their wives grief over what to name the kid?"
"Oh yeah," Jack responded, as he nodded his head in agreement. "We can't let them think they have total control over us," he added, conspiratorially.
"Damn straight," O'Neill agreed. "It's about time you realized that."
"I already knew it, my friend," Jack said, as he thought about his own life with Taria. His situation was a little different than O'Neill's as Taria was raised to be subservient, while Sam had been raised to be her own woman, and her training through the Air Force and subsequent rise through the ranks to Colonel only proved her worth. Taria was only just now learning that she could get away with a lot more than giving in totally.
The women chose to join them at that moment, and the talk turned toward current events and other things. Jack enjoyed the company, despite his earlier misgivings, and he joined in, relishing in the companionship he shared with them. The only thing that marred the visit were his memories of that week he spent locked in a cell as he battled the insanity lurking quietly in the back of his mind. He kept the memories at bay, determined to not let them spoil his time, but he did wonder what brought them on. He and Mackenzie had their last session six months ago and Jack had moved on with his life, pushing any thoughts of that chapter of his life into a recess of his mind that held all of his other repressed memories. He supposed it was O'Neill's presence that brought on the memories this time, but Jack was determined to lock them away again. He smiled at something Sam said, even as he remembered the moment he had wakened from a flashback to the sound of her soothing voice as she tried to bring him out of it. He owed her a great deal, as well as Daniel, Teal'c and even O'Neill, and he could only hope that someday he would be able to repay that debt. Until then he would survive anything the Goa'uld, Ori and anything else he encountered out there, so that he could raise his daughter and her siblings, if any happened along.
"Anybody want a beer?" he asked, as he got up to get one for himself. O'Neill nodded and Jack stopped long enough to lean over Taria, "Keep on eye on him," he advised, as he indicated O'Neill with his head. O'Neill looked at him curiously, while Gina was snuggled up and falling asleep on his lap. "I think he's already taken her heart. Next thing you know, she'll be spoiled rotten."
The others smiled at that, as Jack went into the kitchen. "She's mine until she needs a diaper change," O'Neill called out. "You can have her back when that happens."
"Gee thanks," Jack responded dryly, as he grabbed the beer and gave one to O'Neill. "Although you'll have your own diaper duty in a few more months," he insisted.
O'Neill faked a grimace and Jack sat back down, then smiled at Taria, thinking of her reaction to the news he'd given her when they were lounging in bed earlier that day. General Landry had approved his request to allow them to travel through the Stargate to visit with Taria's mother, and Taria was ecstatic. It would be the first time in a year that they had the chance to do this, and he knew it was time. Gina will finally get to meet her grandparents.
From the reports that had been relayed to the SGC regarding the former residents of Hulmeshur, Jack knew that they were surviving and were doing well. It was no surprise to Jack when he heard that Dargan had taken on the unofficial role of leading his people to a prosperous future.
Their homes had been built and their farms were finally showing signs of flourishing. The last year had been tough for them, but the SGC hadn't abandoned them once their homes had been built. Supplies and personnel were sent to help the ex-slaves plant their crops and to provide sustenance while they waited for the fruits of their labor to mature. The slaves were not totally incapable of taking care of themselves, much to the surprise of one of the technicians sent to help with the planting of the crop. The slaves had lived in an oasis in the middle of the desert, where water was scarce during certain times of the year and they were able to teach the technician a thing or two about irrigation issues.
Jack knew how much this trip would mean to his wife, but now, given the memories he had been fighting all evening, he was worried about making the trip. What memories would surface while he was among the very people he lived with on Hulmeshur? He decided not to worry about it now, as O'Neill was staring at him thoughtfully, obviously wondering what was going on with him. It bothered him that they were so in tune with each other's emotions, although he should be used to it by now. He grinned at his counterpart, then turned his attention to what Sam was saying, hoping O'Neill would take the hint. He did and the rest of the evening was spent in enjoyable companionship.
He was back with his family again, a family that had survived, despite the hardships, betrayal and pain they had gone through. Jack knew from experience that there would be more trials and hardships in his future, but he also knew that he had a very good chance of dealing with those problems as long as he had the support and help of his friends. He grinned as he thought about Mackenzie's words when he told Jack that one of the reasons Jack was able to work through that time so quickly was because of the fantastic support group determined to help him, and Jack was grateful to them.
He was a survivor. He had survived a parachute accident, imprisonment in Iraq, being tortured to death several times by a maniacal false god, and torture, betrayal and insanity in a hellhole called Hulmeshur, not to mention a multitude of horrors the Goa'uld were able to dream up. What could be worse than all that?
Jack fervently hoped he would never find out.
He smiled at his sleeping daughter, as she lay in O'Neill's lap. He was going to be around to be holding his own grandchildren in his lap, if things went his way. And things were going to go his way, he determined. He wasn't going to accept anything else.
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