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).
Category: Drama, Action/Adventure, Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Crossover (NCIS)
Spoilers: Ummm....none really
Season: Season 7, immediately before Heroes
Sequel/Series Info: N/A
Content Warnings: Some language, non-graphic non-con
Summary: Sometimes the past is echoed in the present
File Size (kb) : 75
Author's Note: As ever, un-beta'd - all mistakes belong to the author. Contains unauthorised references to ideas put forward in `Research' by M H E Priest, and `Hard Candy Colonel' and `Resonance' both by Cjay - definitely recommend you read these first, if for no other reason than they're great! Feedback always welcome.
"What do you think, Gunny?" Captain Griff spoke quietly, not wishing for their guards to realise that either he or the Sergeant were conscious again after their last `interviews'.
Master Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs quickly ran through what he'd just been told. It was a risky plan, but it was better than anything that he and the Captain had been able to come up with in the five days they'd been held here in this godforsaken prison. "I think it might be our only chance, Sir. We need to do something now, while we're still physically able." Not like the poor bastard in the cell next to the Captain's, he thought sadly. Ironic that the man had been the one to devise the plan, complete with details of the layout of the prison and the schedule followed by the guards.
"Just don't ... leave me behind." A weak voice came from that very cell. "Please."
"Major - " Griff started to speak, but the other man cut him off, shifting position with obvious pain until he was able to make eye contact with the two Marines.
"I'm not ... expecting or asking ... you to take ....me with you, ... Captain. We all ... know that ... I'd only slow you ... down - fatally." The Air Force Major's eyes were deep brown pools of agony. His face was swollen and bruised, his lips split and dry, and there were several deep lacerations on his forehead and gaunt cheeks. Even speaking hurt almost beyond belief. "Just don't ... leave me ... behind."
The two Marines exchanged a long look. They knew what the Major was asking them to do.
"You have my word, Sir." Griff assured him in a barely heard whisper.
"Thank you." The Major's voice was little more than a painful breath.
Gibbs had a sudden thought. "Sir, are there any other military prisoners being held here?" If there were, they'd have to try and get them out.
"Not any more," the Major's oddly flat tone spoke volumes. "The last ... one was ... executed ... just before ... you two ... were brought here."
Any further discussion had been interrupted by the arrival of four guards. They stopped outside the Sergeant's cell, eyeing him in a way that made the battle hardened Marine distinctly uncomfortable. He'd heard all the rumours about this kind of thing, sure, but the fact that it looked as if he was going to experience it first hand made his heart pound and sent his stomach into spasms of barely controlled nausea.
While Gibbs was warily eyeing the guards, the Air Force Major somehow managed to push himself up into a sitting position, propped painfully against the rear wall of his cell. Gibbs didn't even want to think about what it had cost him to do that. Whether he'd intended it or not, his movement attracted the attention of the guards. With a final lewd glance at the Sergeant, all four moved on to the Major's cell.
"Ah, Major, I had not allowed myself to hope that you would be awake so soon after our last encounter," Malik, the leader of the guards, seemed inordinately pleased that the Major was conscious again.
The Major said nothing, refusing to even look in Malik's direction.
"Your ridiculous defiance continues to try the Commander's patience, American fool. He is very displeased with you," Malik advised him with a truly evil smile.
"Gee, I'm just so ... very sorry to ... hear that," the Major's tone dripped with sarcasm. Despite his scathing tone, it took every ounce of control he possessed not to flinch as one of the guards unlocked his cell and the four of them quickly crowded him even further into the corner.
"I imagine that you will be, Major. Very sorry indeed," Malik smirked as his men moved in even closer. The look in the guards' eyes left the Major in absolutely no doubt about what was about to happen.
"Oh, crap." Showing the guards that he'd been conscious had been a spur of the moment decision, intended to try and keep them away from the Marine Sergeant. The Major had been a target of the guards since he'd arrived - they seemed to have a definite thing for tall, slender Westerners. The Commander didn't let them get to him too often, keeping it as a punishment when he was especially pissed off and wanted to humiliate him. He hadn't really thought it through when he'd moved to distract the guards, but, on reflection, he decided that it didn't matter what happened to him any more, not if the Marines kept their word, and at least he would have spared the Sergeant the experience. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the thought that he might be able to turn the situation to the advantage of the two Marines. He held on to that slim hope as the guards began to drag him towards the centre of the cell.
Gibbs and Griff could only watch in horror as the Major tried desperately to fend the guards off. Perhaps if he'd been fit, he might have stood some small chance, but the man had been a captive now for four months, the manacles on his ankles and wrists attached securely to the floor of his cell by long chains. As the highest ranking officer they'd managed to capture so far, they weren't about to risk losing him, and the deprivation and torture he'd suffered during the last four months meant that he hadn't stood a chance against four fit men, especially hampered as he was by the chains. Griff and Gibbs had resolutely looked away to try and grant the man at least a sliver of dignity. Both knew that if they'd been in the Major's position they wouldn't have wanted anyone to witness what was happening. Through it all, the Major remained eerily silent, with only the occasional muffled gasp of pain escaping his battered lips.
Finally it was over. Having taken their time, and apparently enjoyed themselves immensely, the guards prepared to leave, readjusting their clothes and refastening their pants, laughing and sneering derisively at the bloodied figure of the man they'd abused and violated. Gibbs and Griff had steadfastly kept their eyes averted, not wanting to add to the Major's humiliation.
A sudden commotion caused the two Marines to look towards the Major's cell, despite their resolve not to do so.
"Jesus Christ!" Griff could hardly believe what he was seeing.
Incredibly, the Major had somehow made it to his feet, stepping up behind the nearest guard, hands grasping his head and twisting it viciously before the others recovered enough from their surprise to intervene. There was no mistaking the sharp crack that signalled a broken neck. In the ensuing melee, none of the three surviving guards noticed that the Major had snatched the keys from the dead guard's belt and slid them through into Griff's cell.
As he vainly tried to protect himself from the ferocious beating the three guards were meting out in retribution for their dead colleague, the Major's last thought was that at least he'd spared the two Marines the distasteful task of putting him out of his misery. Knowing that they had a chance - to escape, to live - was definitely something worth dying for.
It was nearly eighteen hours before the Major showed any signs of regaining consciousness. The two Marines weren't sure if that was a good thing or not. His injuries were horrendous, and returning consciousness could only bring pain.
"Easy, Major," Griff laid a soothing hand on the man's shoulder, shocked when he suddenly found himself flat on his back, the Major's arm bearing down hard across his throat.
Just as suddenly, the pressure was gone and the Major collapsed painfully down onto his side. "Oh, crap. Sorry, Captain," his voice was barely a whisper.
Griff pushed himself unsteadily back up to his knees. "You Special Forces guys are scary, you know that, don't you, Major?" he asked lightly, rubbing his throat gingerly with his hand.
"Yeah, So I've been told." the Major's smile was faint, but it was there.
Griff watched as he took in his surroundings, absorbing the fact that they were in a small cave and noting that Gibbs was several yards away, near the entrance, keeping watch.
"You're a fool, Captain," the Major said softly, his eyes flashing angrily as he met Griff's gaze. "Bringing me with you will... only get the two of you ... killed. Goddamned Marines!" he shook his head in disgust.
"You asked us not to leave you behind, Major," Griff told him, his expression bland.
"I know damned well... what I fucking asked you, and ...so do you, Captain!" the Major snapped bitterly, forcing the words out before curling up into a small agonised ball on the rough floor of the cave as the pain from his injuries overcame him. "Fucking jarheads!" he groaned.
"We love you, too, flyboy!" Griff grinned over at Gibbs, heartened by the fact that the Major had enough fight left in him to insult them. They'd been afraid that he'd die on them. Hell, he probably still would, but at least it wouldn't be in that stinking prison. "Now that you're awake, it's time to put a little more distance between us and Club Med."
Gibbs and Griff helped the Major to his feet. They were travelling at night in order to use the additional cover that darkness afforded, and to avoid the debilitating desert heat during daylight hours.
"How the hell ... do you expect ... me to do this, Dave?" the Major was panting with effort, Gibbs' supporting arm around his waist the only reason he was still standing.
"Just one step at a time, Jack," Griff flashed him a quick grin as he led the way out of the cave. "Just one step at a time."
It took them five more nights to get across the border into Kuwait and safety. During that time the two Marines had learned a little more about the emaciated Air Force Major as they helped him to walk, sometimes carrying him when the pain overwhelmed him and he passed out. Incredibly, the Major had been able to teach the two Marines a thing or two about desert survival - adding to their own expertise about where and how to find water, as well as explaining how to set snares to trap small animals so that they could keep up their strength. More importantly, as long as he could see the stars overhead, the Major could unerringly tell them which direction they were heading.
Back in the prison, the Major had refused to share more than his first name with the two Marines. They'd put it down to the fact that he was Special Forces - Black Ops, in fact - something they'd learned from the head guard, not the Major, and they were notoriously secretive. It was only once they'd escaped that he'd explained about how he'd made the mistake of sharing personal details with one of his fellow inmates not long after he'd first been captured. The other man had used that information against him, trading it to the Commander of the prison for a hot meal - ultimately all for nothing since the man had been executed a few days later, his usefulness to the Commander at an end once the other prisoners learned about what he'd done. He'd taken an incredible risk in trusting Griff and Gibbs with the escape plan that he'd devised, they realised.
Now that they were free, the Major opened up a little more, although at first he was still somewhat guarded with what he told them. Understanding, the two Marines had talked about their families, their careers, their hobbies - anything and everything to take their minds off the fact that the odds of them reaching safety were so small that they'd need a microscope to see them, and the inescapable evidence that the Major was weakening rapidly, what little strength he had draining away a little more each day thanks to the fever that raged through his body.
They'd even talked about how they'd come to be `guests' of the Iraqis.
The two Marines had been part of a reconnaissance patrol along the Iraqi border. They'd been ambushed when they'd been redirected to assist a downed Kuwaiti pilot. Despite the fact that the war was `officially' over, tension in the region was still high, and border skirmishes were a common occurrence. The pilot had been dead when they'd reached him, shot by the same Iraqi patrol that had taken them captive after killing the other four members of their squad.
The Major's story was a little different. His Special Forces team had been betrayed, attacked shortly after they'd been inserted on a reconnaissance mission a week before the US had declared a cease-fire. The Major had managed to get a wounded team mate to the gunship that had been diverted from another mission to extract them, but had been hit when he'd laid down covering fire while the wounded man was dragged aboard the helicopter. He'd watched in disbelief as the helicopter had taken off, leaving him behind to face the nightmare of four months in captivity. His captors had delighted in informing him that the war was over, but that he would never be going home.
Neither Marine could fail to hear the bitterness in the Major's voice as he spoke. "So much ... for not leaving ... anyone behind."
"How do you know you were betrayed?" Gibbs was curious. "Couldn't you just have been unlucky?"
"Heard the ... guys that ... caught me ... arguing about ... how much shit ... they were going ... to be in ...for wasting the tip off ... and not getting ... more than one ... prisoner. Apart from that ... I think the ... fact that the Commander ... knew a whole ... lot more about ...me than he ... should have, including ... what Special ... Forces team ... I was in ... pretty much gave it away," the Major's smile didn't reach his eyes. The Commander had taken great delight in using the information that he could only have gotten from an insider to try to impress upon him how alone and forsaken he really was.
"So what's your call sign, flyboy?" Griff asked, trying to lighten the mood by changing the subject. "All you Special Forces guys have one, don't you?"
The redirection had the desired effect when the Major grinned, "Star Dog."
"Weird name, even for a flyboy," Gibbs teased him gently.
"Yeah, well, what ... can I say? My CO ... found out that ... I have a Masters ... in Astronomy, and ... he thought ... it was ... an appropriate ... call sign," the Major shrugged, groaning when even that small movement sent shafts of agony through his body.
Gibbs glanced out of the entrance to the cave they were currently sheltering in. "Sun's just about down."
"Time to move, Major," Griff helped him to his feet as gently as he could. "Easy now. Just one step at a time, Jack."
It suddenly occurred to Gibbs one night, as they struggled to get the Major up a particularly steep incline, that the man had been more forthcoming because he felt the need to reach out for human companionship, and the reason for that need was that he didn't think he was going to make it, despite the fact that he doggedly refused to give in. If Gibbs was absolutely honest, he didn't think the Major was going to make it, either, but he was as stubborn as the Air Force officer when it came to refusing to give up. Besides, he owed the Major big time for what his sacrifice had spared him from back in the cells, even though, by unspoken agreement, neither man would ever discuss what had happened.
Finally, they'd stumbled across a friendly Kuwaiti patrol and been whisked away to the nearest American field hospital By then, the Major had been barely alive. The two Marines had recovered quickly, citing the Air Force Major as the architect of their escape - he'd been able to provide them with valuable intelligence about the layout of the prison and the movement of the guards, even given them the outline of an escape plan, which they'd been able to implement when he'd managed to distract the guards and get the cell keys to Griff. Once they'd finished their initial debrief, they'd gone to check on the Major, only to find that he'd been airlifted out for medical treatment. They'd been pretty worried about him - he'd become completely withdrawn after they'd been picked up, refusing to speak or to respond when others tried to speak to him, and they knew it wasn't because he wasn't physically able, despite his poor condition. Try as they might, they hadn't been able to contact him again. Special Forces had closed ranks around him like an impenetrable shield. All their enquiries about Major O'Neill yielded nothing. They didn't even know if he'd ultimately survived his injuries.
SGC Training Area, Colorado, 2003
"So, Vince, Dave, how badly are we going to beat up these jarheads?" Jack O'Neill grinned as he flicked his Intar to full power.
Dave Dixon burst out laughing at the look in Marine Colonel Vince Reynold's face.
"Oops, sorry, Vince - forgot we weren't all flyboys here," O'Neill smirked. "So, anyway, you realise that we have a lot at stake here, right?" he continued a moment later. "We can't let a Major, a Lieutenant, and three Sergeants get the drop on three Colonels, now can we?"
The three Colonels - two USAF and one Marine - had agreed to help the team leader of SG-2 with a training exercise for his team, three of whom had only just joined the SGC. To that end, the Colonels were wearing Jaffa armour - helmets currently retracted - and carrying staff weapons which were modified with Intars - meaning that they would only stun. The intensity could be varied, but the worst they would do was knock someone out for half an hour or so if the victim suffered a prolonged burst.
"Crap! How the hell do the Jaffa stand wearing this stuff day in and day out?" Dixon whined, shifting his shoulders to try and get the armour to sit more comfortable.
"Maybe that's why they're always cranky?" Vince Reynolds said wryly, clearly as uncomfortable as Dixon.
In contrast, O'Neill looked perfectly at home in the cumbersome gear, but then, he'd worn it for extended periods on several missions when it had been necessary to blend in with real Jaffa. He'd never admit it to Dixon or Reynolds, but he'd been seriously creeped out and uncomfortable the first time he'd worn Jaffa armour and helmet - on the mission to rescue Teal'c's wife and son from Chulak.
"Suck it up, guys," he grinned nastily. "We've got an SG team to go and play with."
The other two Colonels visibly brightened at the thought.
Helmets now in place, the three Colonels split up to outflank the SG team, which was performing a reconnaissance `mission' in a section of the secluded and very secure training area used by SGC personnel. Communicating only with hand signals, the three moved into the warehouse scenario, senses alert for the five Marines they were there to attack.
O'Neill was frankly suspicious of the lack of any movement from the warehouse which dominated this part of the training area. Something was so not right about this. Signalling the other two to hang back, he crept forward, senses hyper alert for anything unexpected. He was nearly to the corner of the warehouse when he saw the booted foot sticking out from several barrels just ahead of him and to his left. As he drew nearer, he picked up on something that he had certainly not expected to encounter here of all places - the stench of blood and charred flesh that usually accompanied staff weapon injuries. Reaching his objective, his eyes confirmed what his nose had told him to expect. The body was that of Lieutenant Tim Harper, 2IC of SG-2, appointed to the SGC barely a week before. The Lieutenant had taken the full force of the blast in the chest. He hadn't stood a chance.
Swearing softly to himself, O'Neill moved behind cover and retracted the helmet of his uniform, reaching into to the collar to retrieve the radio he'd clipped there earlier. "Reynolds, Dixon, we've got a problem here. Harper's dead - looks like a staff blast. I haven't seen the rest of SG-2 yet. Dave, change frequency and get some help out here, then head around to the back of the warehouse and check it out. Vince, you take the right side of the warehouse. Pincer movement, recon only until we find out what the hell's going on. And Dave, don't forget to tell them that we're out here dressed as Jaffa. Both of you keep your helmets down so that can see it's us. Confirm!"
"Reynolds, aye, Sir!"
O'Neill clipped the radio back onto the inside of the collar. "C'mon, Griff, be safe. Please be safe!" he muttered as he moved cautiously forward.
Major General George Hammond was furious.
"What the hell happened, Colonel?" he demanded, glaring at the man before him even though he knew he was not to blame.
"Reynolds, Dixon, and I arrived at Training Area C as arranged, to simulate a Jaffa attack on SG-2. We'd begun to move in when we noticed that things weren't quite right. I had Reynolds and Dixon hold back while I moved in to investigate. I found Lieutenant Harper's body at the south western corner of the warehouse. He'd been killed by a staff weapon blast, Sir. I instructed Dixon to contact the SGC for assistance then join Reynolds and myself in checking out the area. Reynolds found Sergeant Harris' body just inside the eastern entrance to the warehouse. I found Sergeant Tierney unconscious further inside the warehouse. He's in the Infirmary undergoing surgery at the moment, General. Doctor Fraiser will advise when we can speak to him. Dixon came across Sergeant McNeill's body at the northern entrance to the warehouse. There's been no sign of Major Griff as yet, Sir, although we found his hat and weapons just outside the northern entrance. The SFs are still looking. It looks like the attack was carried out by Jaffa, probably five or six judging by the tracks around the site." O'Neill paused before continuing. "General, it's possible that Major Griff has been taken to a ship in orbit around the planet. I've got Johnson going over satellite recordings to see if there are any energy emissions to back up that theory and also to locate the ship if it's still in orbit."
"Thank you, Colonel," Hammond sighed. Three good men dead, one badly injured, and one missing. Bad enough. But for it to have happened on Earth, within five miles of the SGC, was a nightmare. "The NID will also be investigating. A team of their agents will be arriving within the hour."
"With respect, General, given that the rest of my team isn't currently available, I'd like to bring in an external investigator - external to the SGC and to the NID, that is, Sir." Teal'c was offworld visiting Bra'tac, Daniel was offworld with SG-10 at an archaeological dig, and Carter was at the Alpha Site upgrading their naquadah generators and computer systems.
Hammond studied his 2IC in silence for a long moment before responding. "I'm assuming you have someone specific in mind, Colonel?"
"Yes, Sir," O'Neill nodded. "NCIS Special Agent Gibbs, Sir."
Hammond was surprised. "And the reasoning behind your request, Colonel?"
"For anyone to know that SG-2 would be in the training area today the information had to have come from inside the SGC. We need an impartial investigator to find out who the mole is and I don't believe that the NID really meets that requirement, Sir. Then there's the possibility that whoever snatched Griff and took out his team may not be targeting Griff because of his association with the SGC. Prior to coming to the SGC, Griff was involved in Black Ops missions on and off for a number of years before he came here. Some of the missions he was involved in could easily make him a target for, shall we say, unfriendly foreign interests. While I don't think it's the most likely scenario, we can't afford to ignore it. We need to explore every angle, Sir, and even then, we still obviously have a security issue that needs to be addressed."
The General covered his surprise at O'Neill's knowledge of more details of Griff's history than he himself had access to - O'Neill's background contained even more Black Ops than Griff's, and his security clearance was higher than any other officer of Hammond's acquaintance, himself included. O'Neill had recommended Griff for assignment to the SGC based on past experience with the Major. Even Hammond had no knowledge of what that past experience was. "Fair enough. I'm curious as to why Gibbs in particular?"
O'Neill shrugged. "Two reasons, Sir. One, Gibbs actually knows Griff - he was a Master Gunnery Sergeant in Griff's recon team, so he'll have a head start as far as insight into the kind of work Griff has done and who might be interested enough in him to snatch him. Two, Gibbs is a straight shooter, Sir, and I trust him a damned sight more than the NID, even if we did, ah, have a few issues the last time our paths crossed," O'Neill had the grace to look a little sheepish.
The incident O'Neill referred to had involved the death of a Marine in the SGC infirmary after someone had tampered with a shipment of drugs. There had been several deaths at Academy General Hospital as well, since a supply of the tainted drugs had been mistakenly directed there as well. O'Neill himself had come close to dying, having been given the drugs to assist in his recovery from injuries acquired on a mission with SG-1. Hammond had assigned O'Neill to protect the interests of the SGC during the NCIS investigation onto the Marine's death. The Colonel had duped Gibbs and his team into thinking that he was a burnout, and had then proceeded to conduct his own investigation. Needless to say, Special Agent Gibbs had been less than impressed, especially when Daniel and one of Gibbs' people had been put in harm's way during the course of O'Neill's investigation. Once it was all over, and since the ultimate target of the attack had turned out to be O'Neill, Gibbs and he had reached a grudging understanding. O'Neill had respected the progress that Gibbs and his team had made despite being handicapped by having no information on the true function of the SGC, and therefore not being able to even come close to establishing any motive for the attack - one of the fundamental requirements for any successful investigation. Then, too, O'Neill had seen the former Master Gunnery Sergeant in action a long time ago and had been impressed, although he was unsure whether Gibbs had made the connection. He suspected that he had.
Jethro Gibbs - no one called him Leroy and expected to live - looked up in surprise to see a man standing in front of his desk. He hadn't really expected to ever see the man again, and certainly not so soon after the last time.
"Colonel O'Neill," he drawled the name, leaning back in his chair and continuing to study his visitor, "what brings you here to Washington on this lovely Spring morning?" He was just a little miffed that the Air Force office had made it to his desk without him noticing, but he'd die before admitting it.
"Business," O'Neill stated, his eyes flicking around the NCIS office as if he was assessing risks and threats.
Which is exactly what he was doing, Gibbs realised with a small internal smile. O'Neill's past meant that he'd had to hone those sorts of instincts in order to survive, and they weren't something that could be turned on or off at a whim once developed. Gibbs had been on the fringe of Black Ops himself many times, and acknowledged to himself that the Colonel's instincts were not that different to his own.
"Is there somewhere we can talk?" O'Neill had finished his examination of his environment and now gave Gibbs his complete attention after nodding briefly in recognition towards DiNozzo and Todd.
"Sure," Gibbs nodded, "step into my other office." He led the way to the elevator. O'Neill paused to drop his cover onto Gibbs' desk but retained his briefcase as he followed after the agent.
DiNozzo came over to sit on Todd's desk. "What the hell is he doing here?"
The two watched as Gibbs indicated for O'Neill to precede him into the lift.
"Apart from looking awfully good in his Class A's?" Todd grinned up at DiNozzo. "Beats the heck out of me."
"What is it with women and guys in uniform?" DiNozzo wanted to know.
Todd just laughed, gesturing to the tall Colonel. "If you can't figure it out after seeing that, you never will, Tony." God, it was so much fun to stir him up! That the Colonel was certainly very nice eye candy in his dress uniform and seemed completely ignorant of that fact was just a bonus.
Once they were in the elevator, Gibbs leaned over, pushing the button for the basement forensic laboratory, then flicking the emergency stop button after the doors had closed. "So, what's up, Colonel?" he asked, leaning back against the wall and facing the tall Air Force officer.
"We have a situation at the SGC with one of our teams - one of our Marine teams." O'Neill was pleased to note that he now had the agent's complete attention. "Three are dead, one is in the Infirmary in critical condition, and the team leader is missing - we're assuming that he's been abducted, but there's little or no evidence as to who or why."
Gibbs pushed himself off the wall, anger flashing in his piercing blue eyes. "Exactly when and where did all this happen, Colonel O'Neill, and why wasn't NCIS informed immediately?" Marines, and anything pertaining to them, were the jurisdiction of the NCIS.
"Four hours ago, in the training area adjacent to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, Agent Gibbs, and I am informing you now." O'Neill's tone was cold. "It's only at my recommendation to General Hammond that you have been included at all. Under the Joint Services Agreement, anything pertaining to the SGC falls under the jurisdiction of the Air Force and the NID," O'Neill fairly spat the acronym out, Gibbs noted with interest, "as mandated by the President, so we don't actually have to tell you anything."
"And yet, here you are...?" Gibbs resumed his previous position leaning against the elevator wall, apparently at ease, but blue eyes like ice as he glared at O'Neill.
O'Neill's gaze was equally hard, brown eyes darkening until they appeared almost black. "I'm here because I do not trust the NID to have the interests of the missing Marine Major as their highest priority. It wouldn't even surprise me if they'd done this themselves."
"And you do have this Major's interest at heart?" Gibbs drawled, seeking more information.
"As 2IC of the base, all personnel, but especially the field teams, come within my purview, as does base security," O'Neill stated flatly.
There was something about the Colonel's eyes, though, that told Gibbs this was something more. "It's personal for you, though, isn't it, Star Dog?" He'd used the call sign deliberately, wanting to see O'Neill's reaction. It wasn't quite what he'd expected.
O'Neill's features relaxed, and he permitted himself a small grin in acknowledgement of the name from his past - a past that few knew the full details of. "Wondered if you'd twigged to it, Gunny." The Colonel had recognised Gibbs the moment he'd set eyes on him at the SGC, but he hadn't been sure that Gibbs had made the connection. Mind you, given his physical condition at the end of his time in the prison, even Sara hadn't recognised him when she'd finally seen him.
Gibbs nodded slowly. "Took me a while," he admitted, "but based on the little information about you that my team actually managed to access during our investigation, I thought it might have been you." He hadn't been sure that O'Neill would appreciate any reminder of the circumstances of their first encounter all those years ago. O'Neill hadn't exactly been at his peak when they'd first met, and might have found the memories painful, to say the least, so he'd said nothing at the time. It had also been a factor in Gibbs acceptance of O'Neill's act as a burnout, although he'd never admit that to anyone, least of all the man standing facing him. The Colonel's talent for misdirection and disinformation was impressive, and Gibbs still smarted a little at how skilfully O'Neill had played him and his team. Gibbs shook himself, bringing his thoughts back to the present. "You didn't answer my question, Jack - this is personal for you, isn't it?"
"And I think it will be for you as well, Jethro," O'Neill informed him quietly. "The missing Marine Major is Dave Griff."
Gibbs stared at him in shock for a long moment. When he finally spoke, his words took O'Neill by surprise. "We tried to find you, you know. To check that you were okay."
O'Neill shrugged, "I didn't know that. Thanks, but I wasn't really, ah, well, you know, all that able to keep in touch for quite a while after we got out. Not to mention the fact that the bastard that sold us out in the first place decided that he'd be a whole lot happier if I was dead."
"You knew who it was?"
O'Neill shook his head. "Not until he tried to kill me. All I knew was that it had to be someone on the base - someone I knew, and who knew me."
Gibbs nodded. He understood. "So, how do you want to do this?" Time to get back to the business at hand.
"First I need to see your Doctor Mallard, and then pay a visit to Abby," O'Neill leant over and flicked the switch to set the elevator in motion once more. "We can talk more after that."
"You're going to owe me, Jack."
"I'm sure you'll think of some way for me to repay you, Jethro," O'Neill grinned.
"Actually, I already have," Gibbs smiled enigmatically as he led the way out of the elevator.
`Ducky' Mallard looked up as Gibbs entered his laboratory followed by a tall Air Force officer.
"Jethro! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your company? And you've brought a visitor!" Mallard smiled in greeting, then looked more closely at the officer. "Colonel Jonathon James O'Neill! It's a definite pleasure to meet you at last." The hand he held out was quickly taken in a warm, firm handshake. The doctor had been intrigued by O'Neill since he'd read his medical file - he was very interested in getting to know a man who had survived against almost insurmountable odds. All too often people who had been through what O'Neill had endured in Iraq ended up dead.
"Doctor Mallard, you seem to know more about me than I know about you," O'Neill smiled in return.
Mallard's sharp eyes met his appraisingly, "Somehow I doubt that, Colonel."
"Perhaps," O'Neill merely grinned. He'd used his contacts to find out as much as he could about the doctor before he'd arrived at the NCIS offices.
"So, what brings you to my lair, Colonel?"
"Jack will do just fine, thanks, Doctor," O'Neill informed him, reaching in to his attach case and withdrawing a folder and a rectangular Styrofoam box, sealed with tape and bearing the biohazard symbol. "Doctor Frasier - the CMO at my base - would be grateful if you could analyse these tissue samples and verify her findings." He handed the file and package over to Mallard.
"Then you must call me Ducky, Jack," Mallard smiled. "What exactly am I looking for?" he moved across the lab and placed the items on a clear bench.
"Doctor Frasier didn't confide in me, Ducky," O'Neill shrugged, "I'm only the delivery boy, and then only because I had to be in Washington for a meeting."
"Is this related to that other matter?" Gibbs wasn't sure if O'Neill wanted Mallard included.
"No, the meeting was, but this is just my cover for being here. Ducky's cleared to be in on most of this, along with the rest of your team, and Abby, of course, but no one else. Some of the information you'll be provided with is strictly for your eyes only, though. That isnot negotiable."
"Oh, hey, Jack! Great to see you again!" Abby bounced up off her chair and over to where Gibbs and O'Neill stood in the doorway to her lab. "And may I say that you are looking mighty fine in those threads, Colonel, Sir!" She favoured him with a very appreciative look and a saucy grin.
"Settle down, Goth-girl," O'Neill grinned at her cheekiness. "It's good to see you, too. Mind if I use your computer for a moment?"
"Sure, go for it," Abby ushered him over to her terminal.
"Sweet," O'Neill was barely seated before he began typing, entering data. "You know that if you ever tell Carter or Daniel that I did this I'll have to shoot you, right?"
"Are you still playing dumb, Jack?" Abby was amused. She'd managed to hack into his file enough to know all about his academic achievements, which she'd teased him about once she realised from conversations she'd had with Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson that they had no idea how qualified their `dumb' Colonel really was. O'Neill had paid for her silence with a couple of hacking programs that he'd written.
"Yeahsureyoubetcha," O'Neill grinned. "You'd be surprised what people will let slip when they underestimate you. And I've been doing it so long now that it's too late to change. Besides," he paused to grin up at her, "Carter and Daniel do so love to be the ones to come up with all the bright ideas - all I have to do is give 'em the occasional nudge."
"They'll drop to it eventually, you know," Abby shook her head, grinning. "You have so got to let me know what happens when they find out."
"I doubt that I would be in any condition to do that - Carter will probably shoot me, and Daniel would probably help her."
"True," Abby laughed. "So, Jack, what exactly are you doing with my computer?"
"Setting up a secure link to my computer back at the base. We need to be able to communicate once I get back there, and normal channels are just a little too accessible for my liking."
Major Griff had been missing for three days and the NID had so far failed to come up with anything of use.
"No surprises there, Sir," O'Neill rubbed his face wearily.
They did have one piece of information that they'd jealously guarded from the NID. Sergeant Tierney had briefly regained consciousness the morning after O'Neill had returned from Washington, where he'd had to give a report on the incident to the Joint Chiefs. Tierney had been able to confirm that they'd been attacked by six Jaffa. It had taken them several seconds to realise that they were real Jaffa, and the delay had proven costly. Ignored after he'd been hit, Tierney had vaguely heard one of the Jaffa shouting orders before he'd lost consciousness.
"Do you remember what he said, son?" Hammond had asked, his voice gentle. There was still a chance that the Sergeant wouldn't make it, and the General didn't want to pressure the younger man unduly.
"I think so, Sir," Tierney nodded. "It was in Goa'uld, and I didn't understand it. He said `Jaffa, Kree! Mokshru telmet! Mokshru O'Neill!' as far as I can remember, Sir. I'm positive that one of the words he said was O'Neill',"
Hammond glanced at his 2IC before returning his attention to the Sergeant. "You've done well, Sergeant. Now rest and concentrate on getting better."
"Yessir..." The Sergeant's eyes were already heavy with sleep.
Once outside the Infirmary, Hammond turned to O'Neill, who, he realised, looked more than a little tense. "Colonel, I want you to find out what that Jaffa said. Ask one of the linguists - "
"No need, Sir," O'Neill interrupted quietly. "He said `Jaffa, attend! Bring me the leader! Bring me O'Neill!'"
Hammond wasn't sure what shocked him more - the fact that O'Neill had been the real target, or the fact that his 2IC spoke Goa'uld.
Seeing the look on Hammond's face, O'Neill smiled very faintly. "I don't know much of the language, Sir, but I've heard those particular phrases a few times before. Teal'c was good enough to provide the translation a while ago when I asked."
Before Hammond could say anything, the klaxons started blaring. He and O'Neill hurried to the control room.
"What have we got, Sergeant?" Hammond strode quickly to where Sergeant Harriman sat at the console.
"It's SG-3's IDC, Sir."
"Open the iris," Hammond headed for the gate room, the Colonel only a few steps behind him.
Colonel Reynolds and his team stepped through the wormhole right on schedule. "The scientists' camp has been established on PC5 797, Sir. SG4 relieved us with no problems."
"Very good, Colonel. Send your team on to the Infirmary for their post mission exams. We'll debrief in two hours. Right now, though, I'd like to see you and Colonel O'Neill in my office."
"Yes, Sir." Reynolds handed his weapons off to the armoury personnel and followed the General and O'Neill out of the gate room.
Once they were in the General's office with the door closed, Reynolds spoke up quickly. "Sir, before we begin, I have a message from the Tok'Ra. An operative made contact with me in secret just before we headed back here."
"Go ahead, Colonel," Hammond waved both Colonels towards the chairs in front of his desk as he took his own seat behind it.
"Yes, Sir. The operative, named Clerron, came to me in private while I was conducting a final perimeter check of the base camp. She advised that the Tok'Ra have learned that Ba'al has a Tau'ri captive, specifically someone from the SGC, taken from Earth. She also advised that the information that enabled his capture came from within the SGC," Reynolds hesitated before continuing. "Sir, the Tok'Ra believe that the wrong person was taken," he glanced uneasily at O'Neill, "and that Colonel O'Neill was the intended target."
"We'd already pretty much figured that out, Colonel," Hammond informed him grimly. "Do they Tok'Ra know where Major Griff is being held?"
"Yes, Sir," Reynolds reached inside his vest and removed several folded sheets of paper, handing them to the general. "Here's everything that Clerron gave me."
"The Colonel asked me to give you this, Gunny, for regular maintenance," an airman handed Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Gibson a slender but heavy case, several feet long, with a combination lock. "He asked if you could give it your personal attention. Oh, and he said that the case is unlocked, Chief."
Gibson hefted the case onto his workbench and lifted the lid. "Nice."
Inside the case, resting securely in a velvet covered foam rubber mould, was a sniper rifle, broken down into several pieces for storage. While the rifle was an older version of the weapons currently favoured by the military for sniper work, the case also housed two state-of-the-art scopes - one of which was for night vision. The rifle was obviously well cared for, and just as obviously had seen a fair amount of use. It was the weapon of an expert, and in itself was almost a work of art. Gibson couldn't help but admire the craftsmanship even as he acknowledged that the sole purpose of this weapon was to kill from a distance. Judging by the two scopes, from a very great distance.
"Was there any other message, airman?" Gibson asked as he carefully extracted the pieces of the rifle from the case and laid them on the bench, on a piece of soft cloth that he'd placed there for protection.
"Yes, Gunny. The Colonel requested that you not touch the sights."
"Fair enough," Gibson nodded as he began the task of cleaning the storage gel from the metal components as the first step in preparing the rifle for use.
"Uh, Gunny?" The airman asked a little hesitantly, staring at the rifle. "Was the Colonel, uh, I mean, did he ever - " the airman broke off, hoping he hadn't overstepped the line when Gibson fixed him with a hard stare.
"The Colonel's sniper rating is `master', airman. I don't believe that he achieved that rating solely through practice on a range, do you?"
"Uh, no Chief. Excuse me," the airman beat a hurried retreat.
Gibson smiled at the young airman's expression as he beat a hasty retreat. It was funny how snipers were viewed, even in the military, as somehow different, mysterious, perhaps even sinister. He guessed that it had something to do with the fact that, rather than taking on an enemy in a pitched battle, snipers hunted their targets calmly, meticulously, some would even say cold-bloodedly, without the heat of battle to fall back on as an excuse for killing. The Colonel had unknowingly added yet more fuel to his legend at the base.
Allowing his thoughts to wander while he worked on the rifle, Jethro Gibbs reviewed his progress to date. The NCIS agent had been undercover at the SGC for three days now, and had dedicated part of that time to getting acquainted with the SGC and it's personnel. It was part of Gibbs' operating procedure that he evaluated and observed the environment where he was conducting an investigation as though it was another personality in the situation. He regarded it as a fundamental requirement if he was to understand how and why the various players he came across during his investigations reacted and interacted. The SGC was somewhat unique in his experience, but not because of the incredible and highly secret nature of the work conducted there. It was the vibe of the place, to borrow a term that Abby used frequently. Major General Hammond was a natural leader, inspiring the trust and confidence of those under his command, and none more so than the Colonel. While there were eight lieutenant and full Colonels currently assigned to the SGC, there was no doubt in anyone's mind who everyone meant when they said `the Colonel'. He'd heard the expression used frequently during his time on base, sometimes fearfully, a few times in irritation, but mostly respectfully, even affectionately. He wondered if O'Neill really understood how the SGC personnel viewed him, the place he held in their esteem. Somehow he doubted it. O'Neill could be an opinionated, frustrating, son of a bitch, but he was one of the most genuinely self-effacing people that Gibbs had ever met. It just never occurred to the Colonel that he was anything special - O'Neill would automatically deflect any such description to Major Carter or Doctor Jackson, given their acknowledged genius.
The NCIS agent snorted, amused at his thoughts. Special. Such a simple word to describe a very complex man. O'Neill put his team, the personnel at the SGC, even the vast unknown population of the Earth before himself. From the mission reports he'd read, even those O'Neill met offworld - some not even remotely human - came before himself in his order of protection. It was O'Neill who had instilled and reinforced in every man and woman serving at the SGC that no one ever got left behind if it was even remotely possible to save them, and even if it wasn't, the Colonel would move heaven and earth to try. After Iraq, Gibbs could certainly understand O'Neill's attitude, and the Colonel certainly led by example.
And then there was his team. SG-1 had set the standard for all other teams to follow - not an easy task considering the quirky mix of personalities that comprised the team. Perhaps that was what made them so good at what they did. Such vastly different component parts, each valued for their uniqueness, each a part of a whole that somehow was far greater than the sum of the parts. There was no way that what essentially amounted to a combat team should have been able to defy the odds and remain intact for nearly seven years. True, Jackson had been absent for nearly a year - although, from the information that he'd managed to glean from talk around the base, perhaps Jackson hadn't been quite so absent as it had appeared. Nevertheless, for a combat team to have the same personnel for so long not only defied the odds, it also went against procedure, which discouraged allowing a unit to stay together long enough to form the obviously strong bonds displayed between the members of SG-1. Procedure stated that such bonds were dangerous, detracting from the effectiveness of the team in perilous situations where actions could not be permitted to be dictated by emotions, and procedure, in the case of SGC SG teams at least, and SG-1 in particular, was so very, very wrong.
To understand exactly how and why the SGC functioned as well as it did, sometimes achieving incredible victories against insurmountable odds, you needed to understand Hammond, O'Neill, and SG-1. Certainly the ideas might come from Carter, or Jackson, or any other personnel, either individually or cooperatively, but Hammond, and O'Neill in particular, provided the environment where those who came up with ideas or theories, however bizarre, knew that they would be considered for their merits, not just dismissed out of hand. Which was pretty good going for a guy who said he had a problem with scientists.
Quickly assembling the rifle now that it was cleaned and oiled, Gibbs dry-fired several times to check the trigger action. It was ultra sensitive and smooth. Sweet.
Carefully placing the weapon into a carry case designed for use in the field, Gibbs slotted the two scopes into the custom made pouched on the case and sealed everything up after including five boxes of ammunition that he'd made up to O'Neill's specifications earlier in the day. Locking the case in a weapons cabinet, he headed out of the armoury. It was time to act. The delivery of the rifle to him for preparation had been the signal that he and O'Neill had agreed on.
Actually, the timing was perfect as far as Gibbs was concerned. He now knew the identity of the mole that the NID had placed within the SGC, so that part of his assignment was complete.
"A training mission?" Colonel O'Neill was not a happy camper. "General, Sir, couldn't someone else - "
"Colonel, you have your orders," Hammond told him firmly.
"Yes, Sir," O'Neill sighed. "Can I at least take Teal'c with me?" The Jaffa had returned from his visit with Master Bra'tac earlier in the day.
"Yes, you may," Hammond nodded.
"Permission to go and make ready, Sir?" O'Neill sighed heavily.
"Granted, Colonel. You leave in three hours," Hammond dismissed him with what looked suspiciously like a smirk.
O'Neill snapped off an irritated salute before turning on his heel and striding out of the control room.
O'Neill headed straight to the armoury after leaving the control room.
"Sergeant Gibson, a word with you, if I may?"
"Certainly, Colonel O'Neill." Gibbs nodded agreeably.
"I understand there was something you wanted to ask me about the rifle I had delivered to you earlier?" O'Neill had received Gibbs' request for a meeting a few minutes ago.
"Yes, Sir. If you'll step this way, please?" Gibbs led O'Neill through the Armoury to a storage area where they could speak without worrying about being overheard.
"What have you got?" O'Neill got down to business immediately.
"The name of the mole," Gibbs stated simply. "Technical Sergeant Ian Norris."
O'Neill's eyes narrowed in thought. "It fits," he nodded, "he's only been here three weeks, and he was certainly on my list of likely suspects. Good work. I'll let the General know. He'll handle it from now on."
O'Neill hesitated, then nodded. He owed Gibbs the truth. "We've located where Griff's being held, but there's a problem."
"And what would that be?"
"It's offworld. One of the System Lords has a camp set up on a planet where he's forcing the prisoners there to mine for naquadah. One of our allies has confirmed that Griff arrived there two days ago. We plan to send in a small surgical strike team and get him out."
"So, when do we leave?"
"`We', Jethro? You've never been offworld, never come up against Jaffa before. I don't - "
"I'm going. I've come this far and there's no way I'm not seeing it through, Jack. Absolutely no way."
"Okay, I understand that, but I had to make sure you knew what you were going up against," O'Neill hadn't really expected any other reaction from Gibbs. "So, I guess you'd better gear up - ostensibly it's going to be a training mission for several new staff - that's how we'll cover you going. In reality we'll 'gate to a safe world then hitch a ride with the Tok'Ra to where Griff is being held. Teal'c is going with us, and we'll meet up with SG-3. I'll need you to bring my rifle with you in your pack - there's no reason for me to take it on a training run, and I have a feeling I'll be needing it."
"What are you going to do with the real trainees?"
"We'll bundle them off to the Alpha site," O'Neill shrugged. "They'll be safe there."
SG-3 had left to begin reconnaissance of a potential site for a new science outpost about an hour before O'Neill, Teal'c and the new personnel assembled in the gateroom for their offworld familiarisation mission. The `team' consisted of O'Neill, Teal'c, Gibbs, in the guise of Chief Master Sergeant Gibson, three lieutenants, and two more sergeants. Since they were to be offworld for several days, all of their packs were bulging with equipment.
O'Neill ran an assessing eye over his charges and sighed.
"All ready to go, Sir," he turned to face the General, who was observing from the control room.
At a nod from Hammond, Sergeant Harriman began the dial up sequence.
When the wormhole was established, Hammond leaned toward the microphone. "Colonel O'Neill, you have a go."
"Thank you, Sir," O'Neill saluted sloppily. "See you in a few days." He turned to face the assembled team. "Okay, campers, on to Oz. T, you have the six. The rest of you follow me." Without waiting for any response he turned and walked up the ramp.
"That's right," Technical Sergeant Norris whispered into the `phone. "I can confirm that O'Neill has just gone to PT5 331 with a group of newbies and the Jaffa. He'll be there for three days." He listened for a few moments, before nodding. "Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." Another pause while he listened. "No, I don't believe that anyone suspects me. I'll be in contact again as per the schedule, Sir." As he hung up the `phone he suddenly sensed that he was no longer alone.
"I don't think you'll be contacting anyone for a very long time, Norris." General Hammond glared at him, flanked by three SFs.
The General watched as Norris was taken into custody by the SFs and marched off to the holding cells. Gibbs had been spot on with his identification of the mole, he thought to himself. One less thing to worry about. Now all he had to do was hope that O'Neill and the others could get Griff back.
A glance at his watch told him that O'Neill had only been gone for thirty minutes, even though if felt like longer. God, he hated waiting.
As soon as everyone was through the wormhole on PT5 331, O'Neill lost his bantering faade.
"T, dial up the Alpha Site. Gibson, you wait with me," he looked over at the remaining five members of his `team', "the rest of you will be heading to the Alpha Site as soon as Teal'c finishes dialling."
"Uh, Colonel, Sir," one of the lieutenants spoke up nervously, "ah, what's going on?"
"Slight change of plans, campers. Sergeant Gibson, Teal'c, and I have something we need to take care of. You five," he gestured to the lieutenants and the other two sergeants, "will be going to the Alpha Site to continue your training."
The lieutenant would have spoken again but O'Neill cut him off quickly.
"Ah! Ah! I won't tell you any more, so you may as well just go quietly!"
As soon as the five newbies had disappeared through the gate and the wormhole had disengaged, O'Neill asked Teal'c to dial up the address of the planet where they would be meeting their Tok'Ra contact. A few minutes later, the area around the PT5 331 gate returned to silence, as if it had never been disturbed at all.
Colonel Reynolds' eyes narrowed as the gate activated. "Let's just take cover until we're sure our visitors are friendly."
He and the rest of SG-3 took cover behind the ruins of a structure about thirty yards away from the gate platform and waited to see who was coming to visit them.
They all relaxed when Teal'c emerged, followed by a Marine sergeant they didn't know, and then O'Neill.
"Hey, anyone seen any jarheads around here?" O'Neill called out cheerfully towards the ruins.
"Shut up, Jack!" Reynolds signalled to his men to follow and broke cover, moving over to join the three new arrivals at the DHD.
"Now, Vince, be nice!" O'Neill smirked.
"So, Jack, who's your buddy?" Reynolds ignored O'Neill's comment, turning to stare at Gibbs.
"Actually, I think you met him a couple of months ago. NCIS Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, you remember Colonel Vincent Reynolds?" O'Neill waved a hand vaguely between the two men as he performed the introductions. "So, how soon before we can expect to hear from the Tok'Ra?"
Before the Marine Colonel could reply, the seven men were surrounded by transport rings.
On the Tok'Ra Tel'tac
Startled by the sudden change of venue, Gibbs stared around the cargo bay even as O'Neill headed for the pel'tac to see exactly which Tok'Ra they were dealing with.
"Jacob, Selmac! Glad it's you!"
Gibbs heard O'Neill's voice and followed it to see who he was talking to.
"Who's the new guy, Jack?" Jacob asked when he spotted Gibbs behind O'Neill.
"NCIS Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, Major General Jacob Carter - retired - and Selmac of the Tok'Ra," O'Neill performed the introductions.
"NCIS?" Jacob was obviously surprised.
"Long story, Jacob," O'Neill shrugged.
Gibbs moved closer, his expression a little wary. He'd heard about the Tok'Ra, but still found the whole idea of sharing bodies more than a little unnerving.
"General Carter," he said in acknowledgment.
"Welcome, Agent Gibbs," Selmac answered for both of them.
Gibbs jumped at the strangely amplified voice. "Ah, thank you, er, Selmac."
O'Neill merely smirked at Gibbs reaction before turning back to Jacob.
"So, Jacob, how long until we reach the planet?"
"Around seven hours. You may as well grab some rest while you can. I'll let you know when we're closer."
True to his word, Jacob roused the group when they were still about a half hour out from PX0 121. They spent the remainder of the journey finalising their plans.
"The trick will be keeping the Jaffa pinned down so that we can get in, find Griff, and get out again," Reynolds observed.
"I can set up on one of the hills around the compound and provide covering fire," O'Neill pointed out as he finished assembling the sniper rifle that had been secreted in Gibbs' pack. "Ideally, we could really use a second shooter on the other side of the compound."
"I think I can help there," Gibbs' smile was almost feral as he drew a second rifle bag from his pack.
Arriving in the early hours of the planet's morning, Gibbs and O'Neill quickly moved out to set up on opposite sides of the compound. At Jacob's signal, the two snipers began systematically taking out the Jaffa stationed around the compound. They managed to account for half a dozen guards between them before the Jaffa could find cover. After that, targets became harder to locate, but by then the others were inside the slave quarters searching for Griff, who'd been worryingly absent from the bedraggled line of prisoners herded off to begin their day in the mine.
O'Neill dispatched a Jaffa who had been foolish enough to break cover just as Reynolds' voice came over the radio.
"We've got him. He's unconscious, but I think he'll be okay. Preparing to move out now."
"Roger that," O'Neill responded immediately. "We've got the mine entrance covered, but watch yourselves."
"Confirmed. Moving out now."
Normally, snipers were accompanied in the field by spotters, who performed the dual roles of identifying targets and watching the sniper's back while he was concentrating on making his shots. Lacking targets in the compound now that Reynolds and the others were nearly to the cover of the trees, O'Neill swivelled his upper body slightly, bringing the scope of his rifle to bear on Gibbs' position.
The hairs on the back of Gibbs' neck stood up in warning moments before he sensed a presence behind him. Laying the rifle down carefully, he turned his head slowly, looking over his left shoulder and straight into the business end of a staff weapon.
Even as several options flashed through his mind, the Jaffa's head jerked back and he crumpled silently to the ground, a thin trickle of blood running down his face from the neat, red hole that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the tattoo on his forehead. The bullet that created the hole could only have come from one place. Touching his forehead in an abbreviated salute in acknowledgement of O'Neill's assist, he picked up his rifle and sighted in on the compound once again.
"We're clear!" Reynolds voice once again came over the radio. "Teal'c is in position."
"Roger that," O'Neill replied. "Gibbs, keep `em pinned down. I'm heading back."
"Confirmed," Gibbs answered quickly. In combination with Teal'c, it would be up to him to cover O'Neill's withdrawal and keep the Jaffa in the compound pinned down.
Only the double click on his radio warned Gibbs that he was about to receive company. Damn, but O'Neill was good!
"Pity we can't do anything for those other poor bastards," he noted as he drew back from the ridge and out of sight of the compound before standing.
Sniper rifle slung across his back, O'Neill removed his left hand from his P90 to withdraw something from one of the pockets on his vest.
"Funny you should mention that," the Colonel drawled even as he pressed the button on the detonator.
Teal'c watched with satisfaction as the two guard towers on the far side of the compound exploded, sending several Jaffa hurtling through the air to crash heavily onto the hard packed dirt. A split second later, a further explosion took out the guard post at the mine entrance.
He laid down steady covering fire with his staff weapon as prisoners poured from the mine making for the cover of the trees on the opposite side of the compound to his position. Several of the prisoners snatched up the weapons of fallen Jaffa as they made their escape, heading for the location of the Stargate. With the Jaffa in disarray following the Tau'ri attack, they stood a fair chance of getting away. If nothing else, Teal'c decided, they would at least die free. Swinging his staff weapon to the right, he continued to cover Gibbs and O'Neill's withdrawal.
Jacob brought the tel'tac in for a soft landing about twenty yards from the Stargate. The planet was uninhabited, with only a few uninteresting ruins to indicate that anyone had ever lived there.
"Take care of yourself, Jacob. That goes for Selmac, too," O'Neill shook Jacob's hand with a warm smile.
"You too, Jack," Jacob smiled. "I wish I could drop in on Sam, but I'm already behind schedule for a mission."
"I'll be sure to tell her you said hi," O'Neill grinned then took his leave, heading into the cargo area where the others were waiting.
"Okay, Vince, you and your guys head out and dial up. Gibbs and I will take care of Dave."
As Reynolds led his team out of the tel'tac, Gibbs and O'Neill moved into supporting positions on either side of the battered Major, more than a little relieved to note that he'd finally regained consciousness.
"Ready to go home, Sir?" Gibbs asked his former CO with a gentle smile as he carefully helped him to his feet.
"Gunny? Gunny Gibbs?" Griff stared at him through bleary eyes.
"None other, Sir," Gibbs confirmed as he carefully lifted Griffs arm and drew it across his own shoulders, his other arm slipping around the Major's waist in support.
"Just like old time, eh, Dave?" O'Neill teased him lightly as he mirrored Gibbs' actions on Griff's other side. "Can you walk at all?"
"I'll try, Jack," Griff nodded painfully.
"Easy now. Just one step at a time, Dave," O'Neill murmured quietly to him as he and Gibbs helped him to walk through the narrow tel'tac hatch and in the direction of the Stargate. "Just one step at a time."
The interrogation of Sergeant Norris had revealed that the NID had apparently used a device stolen from area 51 to sell the information that O'Neill would be in the training area without the rest of his team to Ba'al. Hammond brought O'Neill, Gibbs, Reynolds, and Teal'c up to speed after the debrief on the mission to rescue Griff, once the rest of Reynolds' team had headed to the Infirmary for their post-mission checkups.
"So, what did they get in exchange for me?" O'Neill wanted to know.
"They were apparently promised schematics for the gravity device," Hammond told him. "Not unexpectedly, Ba'al never delivered."
"Sweet," O'Neill grimaced, thinking of the three Marines they'd lost due to the NID's treachery, to say nothing of the injuries to Griff and Tierney.
"Colonel Reynolds, you and your team will be on two days downtime as soon as Doctor Fraiser clears you."
"Thank you, Sir," recognising the dismissal, Reynolds wasted no time in leaving the briefing room.
Once Reynolds had left, Hammond turned to Gibbs. "Thank you for your work on this, Agent Gibbs."
"You're welcome, Sir," Gibbs smiled. "I must say, it's been, ah, interesting."
"I'm sure it has," Hammond smiled in response. "Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance."
"Well, Sir, now that you mention it, there's a small favour that I'd like to ask..."
It was qualification time at NCIS. Tim Magee was more than a little anxious - it was his first time, and he'd heard all the horror stories about how tough it was.
"Relax, Newbie. I know the m.o. of the guy who sets the course and the scenarios backwards. It'll be a piece of cake if you stick with me," DiNozzo was, as always, supremely confident.
Gibbs came striding into the office, his usual Starbucks coffee firmly clasped in one hand, a small overnight bag in the other. "Everyone ready for training?"
"Piece of cake, Boss," DiNozzo smirked.
"Really? A little overconfident aren't you, Tony? I don't recall you doing so well last time," Gibbs favoured him with an amused stare.
"I got through!" DiNozzo said defensively.
"Yeah, well, this will be the third time I've done this, Boss. Third time's the charm, don'tcha know."
"Uh huh," Gibbs just smiled and took a long sip of his coffee.
"So, where's Gunny Harris set things up this year?"
"Harris was unavailable. I've asked someone else to set things up. Told them not to hold back. Actually, I ran through it yesterday evening."
"How'd you do? Any hints or tips?"
"I'd be the wrong person to ask, DiNozzo. I failed it," Gibbs smiled evilly.
"You failed it?" DiNozzo squeaked, the colour draining from his face.
Magee looked ill.
"Oh yeah. The first two times, anyway. Didn't make it ten minutes into the scenario the first time before I got `killed'," Gibbs told him happily. Of course, he wasn't about to mention that he hadn't been anything close to happy at the time. "It's a really excellent scenario. You're gonna love it DiNozzo."
The fourth time DiNozzo got `killed', Gibbs had managed to make it to the safe area and provided covering fire for Todd and Magee.
DiNozzo staggered back to the rest area and threw himself onto the grass, groaning loudly. "Godammit, this is a no win scenario, Boss! At least one of us is always gonna get `killed' the way this is set up!" he complained bitterly. "In the real world, we'd find another way. God knows how many people we're up against - I still haven't even seen anyone yet!"
"Then you just haven't been looking in the right places, have you?" A low voice said right next to his ear.
DiNozzo yelped and rolled away from the unexpected voice, coming to his knees facing the intruder, who remained where he'd crouched, his features hidden by a balaclava.
"I know that voice!" Todd looked surprised.
The stranger dragged the balaclava off and gave her a cheeky grin, his greying hair sticking up in unruly spikes. "Hi guys! Are you having fun yet?"
"Colonel O'Neill!" Todd grinned back. "Well, since I've only been `killed' twice so far, I guess I'm doing okay."
"Cool! Then you're gonna love the next part. We're going to change the scenario around a bit - you four will have to stop me from reaching the target."
"Oh yeah!" DiNozzo's grin was feral. "Now, that I'm looking forward to!"
Gibbs merely exchanged a knowing look with O'Neill. Somehow, he doubted that DiNozzo was going to enjoy this as much as he seemed to think he would.
It took them three attempts, but finally Gibbs and his team succeeded in stopping O'Neill from reaching the target zone, although not without DiNozzo and Magee being `killed'.
The debriefing session at the end of the qualifications testing was lively, to say the least.
Ba'al's Home World
Ba'al was in a foul temper. Once again O'Neill had slipped through his fingers. That the Tau'ri continued to elude him was intolerable.
"My Lord," one of his Jaffa entered the throne room, dropping quickly to his knees, head bowed subserviently.
"My Lord, data received from one of your long range probes has revealed Tau'ri on Tarris. The probe was destroyed, but not before transmitting images that indicated that the Tau'ri were investigating the ruins."
Ba'al considered the information in silence for a long moment. "Send four patrols. One is to ring down to the planet and keep the Tau'ri away from the gate. Hold the other three back until the Tau'ri send reinforcements. If - and only if - they send SG-1, and O'Neill in particular, ring the remaining three patrols down onto the planet. The only outcome I will accept is O'Neill here, kneeling before me. Do not fail me, Jan'til."
"It will be as you command, my Lord!"
Ba'al dismissed Jan'til with a disdainful flick of his hand, already planning how he would take his revenge again and again on the Tau'ri who had dared to escape him.
"With respect, Sir, I'd like to request some leave. Two or three weeks should just about cover it, Sir," O'Neill had followed the General into his office at the end of the briefing on Bregman and his film crew.
"Request denied, Colonel," Hammond fought the urge to smile. "You've just had two weeks off playing with Gibbs and his people, and your name was on the list of people that Mr Bregman was most interested in interviewing."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud, Sir! You know how bad I am with stuff like this!" O'Neill tried not to let his desperation show. He so did not want to be in anyone's home movie. "Surely it would be better for everyone if I just quietly went off to Minnesota and did some fishing?"
"That would be a no, Colonel," Hammond wasn't going to budge, and they both knew it. "Bregman and his crew will be here in less than an hour, and you will make yourself available to take part in the documentary. Are you clear on that, Colonel O'Neill?"
"Crystal, Sir," O'Neill conceded defeat. "Permission to be excused, Sir?"
"Granted, Colonel. Just make sure you're available to be interviewed by Mister Bregman."
"Only if he can catch me," O'Neill muttered as he headed for the office door.
"Nothing, Sir," the Colonel beat a hasty retreat, already thinking about potential hiding places that he could use while the film crew was on the base. The trick would be to hide whilst not looking like he was hiding...
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