Jack hadn’t slept in three days.
He knew it didn’t look like it, because he was, if he were to be honest, a damn good liar, and he had drunk more coffee than he probably should have, given the way his fingers were trembling. But he was exhausted, and it was getting to the point where caffeine wasn’t quite acting as a functional substitute for sleep.
Not that that was going to stop him from trying to make it.
The first time he had the nightmare after SG-1 got back, he was unsurprised. It had been a while, but the dreams popped up every once in a while, usually—predictably—when he was stuck in a situation like what had just happened.
But sitting on the sidelines, waiting, it was…harder than he had ever thought possible. And this time, with it being the exact mirror of the previous situation, it was something he had hoped to never live through.
And yet, when he slept, he did, only this time, SG-1 wasn’t trapped in a secret base, they were being held by Ba’al, forced up against those nets and killed, again and again, Daniel, Teal’c, Carter, and they were screaming and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
They were dying, and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Jack looked up at Daniel, who was standing in the doorway of his office. “Thanks.”
“No, really.” Daniel shook his head. “Have you gotten any sleep at all since we got back?”
“Yes.” Cumulatively, about three hours. Not that Daniel needed to know that. Daniel walked in and dropped down in the chair on the other side of Jack’s desk. “Come right in.”
Daniel smirked at him. “Thanks.” After a second, the smile dropped from his face, and he asked, “Have you convinced Sam yet that you think she’s good enough for the position?”
“Yeah. The day of the President’s little shindig. Look, Carter’s the most qualified person for this job. She would have had command of a team years earlier if we hadn’t needed her on SG-1.” And he and Hammond had both worried that keeping her in the 2IC position for so long was a bad idea, was hurting her career. But in choosing between protecting the world and protecting her career, the world had come first.
“I’m not the one you need to convince of that.”
“Has anyone said anything?” He had the clout now to actually do some damage to people who thought badmouthing a superior officer just because she was a woman was a good idea. And he had ways to do it that wouldn’t tie it back to Carter.
Daniel shook his head. “Not that I’ve heard, not in the SGC. Everyone who’s worked here for longer than about fifteen minutes loves Carter, or at least knows we need her. But she doesn’t get that.”
Because Carter had never seen how valuable she was, not really. “What do you think I should do? Should I talk to her?”
“Teal’c talking to her right now. Or, you know, staring at her until she gets it.” Daniel sighed. “Did you really think we were captured by Ba’al?”
“Yes, Daniel. I did.” And it had scared the ever-loving shit out of him.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” He was always fine. He was the Head of Stargate Command. He had survived torture in Iraq. He had survived torture at the hands of Ba’al. He was fine.
“You don’t look fine.”
“Daniel. If you don’t have anything you need, get out of my office. I have work to do.” By which he meant continuing to stare at mission reports until what was written on them resolved into actual words.
“Just saying, Jack—maybe you should talk to someone. And don’t look at me like that. We all need to go through psych evals, and I know you can fake your way into passing yours, but maybe you should really…talk to someone.”
Yeah, right. “Did you talk to someone about all of your…stuff? Dying, ascending, Sha’re, whatever?”
Frustration crossed his face, and Jack knew he had him there. “No, but—”
“Exactly.” Now maybe Daniel would leave him alone about this. It wasn’t like he didn’t have enough to worry about, trying to keep this command afloat, without having to confide in someone about his feelings along with it. And he knew from experience that it didn’t help. He just sat there silently while the shrub asked questions about how being tortured made him feel—how did the shrink think it made him feel?—and then made up some BS about dealing and having his wife to go back to and wanting to do his part. Not that he had Sarah to go back to anymore, but at this point, an empty house was probably better. Nobody to wake with his screaming, nobody to accidentally hurt.
Daniel sighed again. “Fine. At least come to the commissary with us. We haven’t gotten a chance to eat together since the mission.”
He could do that. And he wanted to see Carter—and Teal’c—anyway. He didn’t get to see them nearly enough anymore. “As long as there’s cake.”
A grin lit up Daniel’s face, and it made Jack realize just how tired Daniel had looked, too. He was their commanding officer, their friend. He should notice these things. “There’s cake.”
Perfect. He stood, shutting the cover of whatever mission report was sitting on the top of his ever-growing stack of paperwork. Who could possibly need this much paperwork? “Let’s go.
Carter and Teal’c were already sitting at their usual table in the commissary when the two of them arrived; Carter with her usual blue jello, Teal’c with what looked like the entire contents of a refrigerator. People popped up when he walked in, and he waved them back down, grabbing his food and taking a seat across from Carter.
She shot him a small smile. “Good to see you, General.”
The sound of that sent an uncomfortable chill down his spine; he still wasn’t sure he liked that title. “You can just stick with ‘sir’, Carter.”
Her smile grew into a grin. “Yes, sir. Daniel manage to pull you away from your paperwork?”
“Ah yes, paperwork.” All of the paperwork he hadn’t been doing. “You know me and my love for…paperwork.”
Teal’c looked gravely at him. “I did not believe you enjoyed paperwork, O’Neill.”
It took him a second, he was so tired, and then he said, “Was that a joke, Teal’c?”
Something almost like a smile crossed Teal’c face before he turned his attention back to methodically devouring the mountain of food on his place. Daniel slid in next to Jack, grinning at them. “Look, the gang’s all here.”
“That we are, Daniel Jackson.”
That they were. They were there, safe and whole and not being tortured by Ba’al. And as long as they had more days like this, maybe he could survive this command, after all.