4

Irrevocable Decision Part 1

"Alright people, that will be all…Dismissed."

General Hammond's appraising eyes observed Dr. Jackson and Major Carter push back their chairs from the large oak conference table almost in unison, their eagerness to escape the briefing all too apparent. He had noted, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, how no one throughout the briefing had made eye contact, apart from Teal'c; the remaining members of SG-1 had kept their eyes fixed firmly on their hands or on the table.

As Teal'c made to follow Daniel and Sam, the general's gaze returned to his 2IC who had made no move, his dark eyes following the Jaffa warrior as he exited the room. Hammond was all too aware of the carefully applied mask Jack was wont to apply to hide any feelings he may have and right now the general knew full well that mask was firmly in place.

"Do you have anything further to add, Colonel?" the general enquired softly.

For a split second the deep, sombre eyes flashed a message which was almost instantly concealed. However, the general hadn't worked with O'Neill for these past four years without knowing something was amiss, big time. Had something been omitted from the report he wondered, something the team had felt necessary to conceal? He shook his head, deciding it wasn't going to help matters if his mind went off at a tangent. Better to face what was before him here and now. He knew as much as anyone he decided, regarding the oft times unorthodox head of SG-1 and the wary look he had detected in the grey-haired man's eyes served to make the feeling in his stomach begin to simmer uncomfortably. He needed some Maalox, quickly.

As if reading his mind, the younger man muttered, "This won't take long, General."

Dark eyes bored icily into blue ones and General Hammond had to steel himself from actually shivering.

"I'm out of here, Sir."

The smaller, stockier head of the SGC smiled in relief.

"Don't worry, Jack. You've one full week of down time and, unless there's a direct threat to Earth's security, I'll make sure you get what you deserve."

"Not enough."

The general frowned at the sharp retort but excused it. He realized that this last mission with the Enkarans and the Gadmeer had put an enormous strain on his premier team and on Jack in particular.

"I reckon I can swing it to two weeks, Colonel, but don't think I'll make a habit of this." He was smiling to take the sting out of his words, standing and gathering his papers together. There was no reaction from the colonel. Maybe his intuition had been off and this was all just a matter of his flagship team getting a long and much needed rest.

"I'm not coming back, General."

And there again maybe it wasn't off.

Hammond stilled, not wanting to believe what he had heard.

"Jack, I know this was a tough one-."

"Tough one?" Jack's head shot up, his voice rising. "I nearly blew Daniel and the Gadmeer to smithereens!"

"It was a tough call, Colonel. You did what you thought was right."

"I f—cked up, General. End of story." Jack screwed his eyes shut, rubbing the heels of his two hands into his eyes, as he relived the moment when he had pressed the button to detonate the naquada bomb. The same bomb he had been forced to order his 2IC to make. He still felt like puking his guts out even now.

"You're tired Jack, two weeks from now you'll-."

"I'm not coming back." The black eyes burned with a despairing dejection.

Hammond faced his 2IC, shocked by the depth of emptiness in his gaze. His own shoulders slumped in defeat – a feeling he wasn't used to. Over the years he had been required to handle a furious and rebellious Jack O"Neill. He'd handled stubbornness, petulance, arrogance and childishness but never had he seen the utter hopelessness now revealed in all his 2IC's anguish.

"What about the rest of SG-1?" The general's voice was hollow with sadness.

Shaking his head bleakly, Jack answered, "They don't have a clue about this and for the moment that's how I want to leave it. I… I'll tell them in my own way."

"That's your prerogative son, but I hope you realise they-."

"General, permission to be excused!" Unable to bear even General Hammond's choice of address for him – he didn't feel like anyone's son right now – and unable to cope with any further sentiment without losing it completely, Jack shot up sending the chair he was on crashing backwards. There was too much rage burning within him; he had no wish to be absolved of the guilt he felt so keenly.

(Just over two weeks later)

"Does he think he can just walk out like that without so much as a by-your-leave?"

Teal'c frowned. "What is this 'by-your-leave' you speak of Daniel Jackson?" It was all too obvious that Teal'c's calm demeanour was at odds with the feelings of the remaining members of SG-1.

Daniel scowled, in no mood to explain the semantics of old English.

Sitting in the commissary nursing cups of coffee, apart from Teal'c who chose herbal tea, the three were enveloped in an aura of gloom.

"It means," explained Sam moodily, "that the colonel didn't ask permission to go."

Teal'c's head turned to the side as he thought this over.

"But he did, Daniel Jackson, – General Hammond-."

"He didn't ask us!" Daniel shot back vehemently. "All I got was a pathetic message on my answering machine."

"I also received a message on Chulak – it was," he paused, "unexpected."

Sam scowled. "You two should count yourselves lucky," she complained tetchily. "All I got was a terse note left on my computer, 'Maybe see you around some day, signed O'N.'" Her usual features had darkened as she recounted the message she had so recently found on her laptop as well as her race to see the general to try and understand what the colonel's message was meant to convey.

"I've tried phoning," she continued, "but his mobile's been disconnected."

"As has his home number," added Teal'c.

"Everything's been cleared out at his home and the place is up for sale," Daniel spoke with a constant note of surprise to his voice.

"He must have gone to the cabin," Sam muttered softly, trying hard to hide the desperate hurt she was feeling. It was okay for Daniel to show his emotions so openly but she...

"We must go and persuade O'Neill to return to the SGC," stated Teal'c calmly.

Both Daniel and Sam looked at him aghast.

"I have a feeling, and correct me if I'm wrong," said Daniel peevishly, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, "that he had his own good reasons for saying his goodbyes to us the way he did and it meant he didn't want to see us face to face."

"Why?" Teal'c's innocent question irritated the others at the table, forcing them to face the same gnawing question that had been eating away at them.

"Could it be O'Neill was hoping to evade the wrath of Major Carter?" The large Jaffa noted the shock on his colleagues' faces and continued, "Now that you are Level 4 in your hand-to-hand combat, would it now seem pertinent that he avoid disagreement?"

For a staggering moment both Sam and Daniel thought Teal'c was serious – then they remembered his own strange sense of humour – so much a reminder of Jack that it was painful.

"You may be joking, Teal'c, but right now a training session with the colonel would definitely meet a deep inner need!" And Sam had the gratifying picture in her head of kicking O'Neill butt big time.

And so it was that after further deliberation they decided to go, as a team, to beg General Hammond for extra leave and in turn had come banging on his cabin door.

But there was to be no face to face meeting they realized as they stomped round the cabin, and though Sam felt his presence keenly, she did not get the satisfaction of telling her former CO what she thought of his pitiful message and the fact that he hadn't had the decency to face her to say his goodbyes.

She has been furious though she tried her best to suppress it as she surveyed the land around, and only the final hard kick to the front door in any way pointed to the violently negative feelings she was harbouring within herself for a tall, grey-haired ex-air force colonel.

(Go to Part 2 - to be posted soon)