All human wisdom is summed up in two words – wait and hope. — Alexandre Dumas, père
General Hammond gathered his notes from SG-1’s debriefing and tucked them into a folder before standing and draining the lukewarm remnants of coffee in his cup. He carried the folder with him into his office to lay it on a corner of his desk as he settled into his chair. O’Neill’s impatience had been palpable throughout the meeting, and Hammond completely sympathized. After all that had happened, to be suddenly forced to wait on account of bad weather had to be frustrating, and Jack O’Neill was never the type to take frustration well. The general found himself almost as anxious as his 2IC for the storms on P2A-870 to let up so that SG-1 could get on with the search for Colonel Cromwell. Losing people in the line of duty was an unavoidable fact of military life, but for the moment, Cromwell’s status was “missing in action” and Hammond sincerely hoped he would be found alive and returned safely to Earth. The sooner, the better for all concerned.
Over the months since Hammond had first learned of the decision taken by the Pentagon to place three Special Ops teams on standby in case of a foothold situation, and of the identity of the commanding officers of each team, he’d never once considered asking to have Cromwell and his men reassigned. For one thing, Cromwell didn’t deserve that sort of negative reflection on his record. From all reports, the man was extremely good at what he did; likewise the men in his command. For another, as of his first briefing on the Stargate Project, Cromwell would have been made aware — if he hadn’t been already — of O’Neill’s presence at and position in the command structure of the SGC. Some inner sense prompted the general to consider that at the very least, affording him the potential opportunity to balance the scales with regard to O’Neill would be kinder than having him removed from this assignment. Of course, it was to be fervently hoped that there would be no need ever to use the external teams at all, but if a crisis arose, the possibility of having someone as capable as Cromwell leading the reinforcements might not be a bad thing. O’Neill might have his issues with the man, but Hammond had faith that should his 2IC ever be in a situation where he was forced to deal with his former teammate, he would manage to do so appropriately.
But that didn’t mean he was going to ruffle O’Neill’s feathers ahead of time by letting him know that Cromwell was assigned as part of their backup plan. He’d kept the information to himself for months, hoping it would never become an issue. By the time he became aware it might be about to be one, he’d been whisked away aboard a jet for a face to face meeting with his commander in chief, leaving events to play out however they might in his absence.
On returning to the SGC after his unplanned trip to Washington for an all-night session with the President and the Joint Chiefs, Hammond had found the two men face-to-face in the Control Room. Indeed it was Cromwell in command of the strike team. A little grayer, perhaps, but there was no mistaking that stocky build and piercing gaze. Drawing closer, the general noted that something in those eyes was different now. The bleak despair visible across a steakhouse table over three years earlier was gone, replaced by a grim determination. This was truly a man on a mission, Hammond realized; one that went far beyond anything the Pentagon had sent him here to do. God help him. The general meant that thought as sincerely as he’d ever meant anything in his life.
Brazening his way through the situation, he’d addressed Cromwell as though the two had never met, the Special Ops colonel snapping him a salute and responding in the same innocent vein. And when, moments later, Cromwell volunteered to remain behind in the Control Room with O’Neill to set the auto-destruct, Hammond knew he had no choice but to accept the man’s action. To do otherwise would not only risk letting O’Neill know that he suspected there was something wrong between the two officers, but would also send the message that he considered one or both men incapable of laying aside their differences and handling the current crisis in a fully professional manner. Not to mention that he had no desire to deprive Cromwell of the opportunity to at least attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of his former friend and teammate. If volunteering to face along with him the danger of setting and then hopefully outrunning the auto-destruct before it destroyed the Stargate and a portion of the surrounding base might do anything to rehabilitate their friendship, then Hammond was certainly not going to stand in the way. Besides, if there were an outside chance that Captain Carter could come up with a better solution — unlikely as he’d thought it at the time — then he needed her topside and working on it. That left O’Neill and Cromwell as the only two officers present in the Control Room itself who could be left to set the auto-destruct. He wasn’t about to put a call out through the entire base to find someone to take Cromwell’s place. O’Neill would just have to cope.
Of course, Carter had indeed devised a better solution, though it put the two colonels in an even trickier situation, and in the end resulted in Cromwell’s loss through the misbehaving wormhole. Whatever had happened between his leaving the two of them alone in the Control Room and Cromwell’s fall was something the general could only speculate on, but clearly, O’Neill was keen to find his former teammate and rescue him. From his 2IC’s demeanor, Hammond inferred that this was not only a matter of professional duty, but a personal desire as well. Now if only the weather on P2A-870 would clear and let him get on with it, they would all breathe easier.
Jack O’Neill leaned back in his office chair, stretching his arms above his head, until pain across his shoulder blades reminded him that he still had healing injuries. Grimacing, he yanked open his top desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of ibuprofen, shaking three tablets from the bottle and swallowing them dry. Returning the bottle to the drawer, he paused, his eyes drawn to the coin sitting on the corner of the desk, next to his mouse pad. Frank’s coin. He picked it up, force of habit prompting him to rub it between thumb and forefinger — ‘for luck’ — as he’d always done with its twin during the years he’d carried it. Tucking the coin into his palm, he pulled the drawer out a little more and rummaged around in its farthest recesses with his other hand until his fingers closed on the item he sought. He drew out a length of chain the same as the one holding his dog tags. From this one depended not a set of tags, but a small leather pouch not much larger than the coin itself, with a zippered opening. It had been hiding in his desk since he’d first taken up occupancy of this office upon his permanent assignment to the SGC, having traveled here in a box of the sort of personal odds and ends no office seemed complete without but half of which were rarely if ever used. A couple of similar pouches lived in the back of a different drawer at his house, one of them holding the twin to the coin he’d found on P2A-870. This one, however, was empty, and O’Neill unzipped it, placing Frank’s coin inside and closing the zipper again. He slipped the chain over his head, tucking the pouch inside his T-shirt to lie flat against his chest.
He shut the drawer and glanced at his clock. In another twenty-five minutes, the control room techs were due once again to query the MALP left on P2A-870. The previous two queries had only confirmed that the storms were still going on. According to the MALP’s camera, their little camp near the stargate was taking a real beating from the rain, its tents flattened and water pooled in every dimple of the ground. And that was at the top of a hill. O’Neill wondered what kind of effect the incessant downpour was having on the streams he and his team had encountered in the woods, not to mention the river they fed. He wouldn’t be surprised to find major flooding once they returned to the planet, and he sincerely hoped that Frank had found shelter on some sort of high ground. Damn this storm, anyway.
It was nearly lunchtime, and with any luck, this time the MALP would tell them that the rains had abated and SG-1 could return to the planet and resume the search for Frank. If that was going to happen, he might as well grab a sandwich while he waited out those remaining twenty-five minutes, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to find time to eat again for a while. Pushing himself away from the desk, he unfolded his lanky frame from the chair, wincing at the twinge in his right knee, and headed for the commissary.
Arriving, he discovered he hadn’t been the only one to have that thought. The other three members of his team were already present and in line for food. He joined them, collecting a nod of greeting from Teal’c, and quiet ‘hellos’ from Daniel and Carter. Having obtained their meals, the four retreated to a far table.
Daniel was the first to speak. “Do you think the rains will have stopped this time?”
O’Neill eyed him over a ham sandwich. “How would I know?”
“Even a storm that big has to blow itself out sometime,” offered Carter, picking at a plate of chicken salad and greens. “It’s been several hours, so hopefully it’s run its course.”
“What concerns me is that those woods are likely to be flooded,” O’Neill said. “There were a lot of little streams in there. We’ll be lucky to be able to even use the trails.”
“Indeed there will likely be some flooding,” agreed Teal’c, “but anyone in the flooded areas will have moved to high ground, including your friend. This may make the search easier.”
“If we can get to him,” said O’Neill darkly. He fell silent, addressing himself to his lunch so as to be finished by the time the techs were due to dial the gate and take weather readings from the MALP. Following his lead, his teammates did likewise.
A half-hour later, they stood in the Control Room, watching as the gate was shut down. The storms on P2A-870 continued unabated. If anything, they’d grown more intense as the morning wore on. O’Neill walked silently from the room. Reaching the corridor, he drove his fist against the wall with a muffled curse, the physical pain serving to distract him for a moment from the feeling of utter helplessness that threatened to envelop his mind. Feeling eyes on him, he glanced up in time to see one of Janet’s medical techs paused at the intersection of the cross corridor, watching him curiously. “If you tell Doc you saw me do that —”
“Do what, sir?”
“Yes, sir.” The tech nodded and continued on his way.
A polite cough came from behind him, and O’Neill turned to find Daniel watching him, a sympathetic look on his face. “Jack…” he began.
“I know. ‘It has to stop sometime.’ Right?”
The archaeologist appeared uncomfortable. “Well, yeah.” At his team leader’s look, Daniel blinked, pushing up his glasses. “Listen, Jack, I know this is difficult for you. I know how it feels to want to go out and find someone you’ve lost, and to not be able to do it right away.”
The colonel took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Of course Daniel understood, if anyone did. “Thanks, Daniel.”
<— Chapter 15 – On Familiar Ground