CONTENT LEVEL: 18+
Warnings: strong language
Spoilers: Stargate the Movie, Children of the Gods, The Devil You Know
Summary: Seemingly unconnected events change O’Neill’s life forever.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
Archive: JackFic, Heliopolis
Author’s Notes: Seemingly insignificant, random acts of life have long fascinated me. Perhaps there is no such thing as an insignificant act. Many thanks to Charli Booker, beta extreme.
Find out the cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause.
Shakespeare - Hamlet
He was hanging onto consciousness - barely. In this circumstance that concession fell more on the curse side of the fence, rather than the blessing. The sharp shards of concrete bit into his bare shoulders, bespeaking the shoddy quality of workmanship. He wished that he could work up the energy to feel the tiniest measure of good old Yankee superiority of master craftsmanship and quality materials, even if that was a load of crap. But haughtiness, like so much else, had failed him over the past few days and God only knew that although the bastards had used shitty materials to build this place called a detainment center, those materials were more than worthy of his feeble attempts at escape.
The last session had been brutal. And that thought was worthy of the title ‘oxymoron’ if ever he’d heard one. Was there such a thing as non-brutal torture? Not here, in this place, with these people. Long arms wrapped around his chest in a mockery of comfort as he squeezed his eyelids tightly, vainly attempting to create a dam against the flood trickling out one tear at a time.
He couldn’t give in, had to fight or he was lost. Forever. Hanging on when everything inside screamed the impossibility of rescue. When his screams shredded his resolve like silk and their laughter poured salt on the wounds of his humanity, he had known hopelessness. Like the hairs they had delighted in plucking, one by one from his body, a single thought of hopelessness could be razed, could be tolerated. But as the torment continued, strand-by-strand, thought-by-thought, whimpers of failure became battle cries proclaiming his defeat.
His empty belly ached with self-contempt. The cuts, the burns, oozed hatred. He was wrong. The bastards had proven it. Over and over. He had been cocky, self-assured, undefeated, chosen to be part of the best of the best. Living, breathing the creed. Honor, duty, God and country - where were they now? Oh God, where are You now?
His wife, his child, his freedom, his hope - all myths. His reality was here - now - like the raw wound at his hairline marking the beginning of the end of life. The unspoken promise, more sacred than his wedding vows, the vow which bound him to his team was shattered. He had been left behind. Wounded, dazed, helpless, hopeless as his team pulled away, and the hands of the enemy had opened wide in anticipation of welcoming him into their midst. And he had been dragged into a stage of Hell that Dante could only imagine. A stage in which he played the hero and the fool, like Virgil searching for the lost Dante in a destiny which carried him into the arms of misfortune. These arms that took all from him, except his life, and laughed while doing it. Laughed when he begged to escape through death.
The crumpled flag lay stained, torn, and discarded, his blood disgracing the colors he had sworn to protect. They had used it in their torment until even this most precious symbol of freedom had mocked him and turned against him.
And now he was to be moved. Away from this place that would forever haunt his dreams and into what could only become a waking nightmare. And in a moment of realization, he recognized that this would be his last hope for salvation. In that moment, if they could, they would come for him - his team. It was a chance. His only chance.
Silence, buried beneath everyday sounds of the street, covered his presence. He was a ghost, a wisp of deadly vapor, sent with one purpose - one mission: to fulfill a promise, to complete an assignment.
In the chaos of the street life, he went unnoticed on his rooftop perch. Curiosity was a commodity which was as scarce as water in this land of desert. Civilians had long ago learned the penalty for a sympathetic glance. They were as trapped in their own hopelessness as the shackled man in his sight. A dozen paces stood between the truck and the prison. Its open maw waiting with greedy desire to devour her latest victim. A dozen steps - too long a journey to allow it to be completed - too short to be made alone. No mistakes. It was a chance. His only chance.
His finger curled, squeezed gently, tightened. One tap, a single shot, a single bullet, and a promise was kept. The man crumpled two paces from doom, two paces in his final steps into Hell, his brains decorating his captors’ uniforms like badges of honor, medals, marking their failure and his success. One shot and his mission was complete. He has finished what the enemy has begun. He allowed himself one sigh of bitterness, one taste of bile before slipping into callous professionalism and sliding behind the guise of duty. No one gets left behind.
“Mission complete, sir. The target has been greased.” He spoke in a detached fashion which fooled none of them.
“Well done, O’Neill.” It was a poor balm. “You did the only thing possible, son. We couldn’t get him out, and we couldn’t leave the poor bastard there. He knew too much. We couldn’t let them continue to interrogate him. You know the drill. They would have killed him eventually. Slowly. You know that. You did him a favor.”
“Yes, sir.” The words were true, and yet that didn’t make them any easier to swallow. A bitter pill that left a vile aftertaste. A stain which no amount of patriotic rhetoric could cover. A necessary deed so dirty it became impossible to cleanse your soul. A mission of mercy that left you with memories so dark, you hated your victim for the scar he had left on your life, for the fact that you had been the one to fulfill the promise. Guilt so deep that you could only look at your own child and see this man’s. You could only comfort his wife and know that you were the author of a chapter in her life called ‘Widowhood.’ Until death do us part. And because of your bullet, it had. You could only hold your own wife and pray that she’d be spared the same fate, but because of what you did, her pain was a given and the chances of her escaping the same lonely chapter were slim.
Orders - Ordinary, innocuous, routine.
“Hey, Jack, ready to go? Warner said the chopper’s lifting in ten, and Colonel mentioned something about your ass and a mountain of spuds if you hold things up. What’s so important it can’t wait until we get back?”
He purposely ignored his buddy, chewed on the tip of the pen while staring at the even handwriting of the letter lying on the rough blanket of his bunk. It was his lifeline to another part of his life. A part of his life that was clean and good, vainly, and didn’t belong in the middle of a desert tainted by the stench of secrecy and killing and destruction. It was a part of his life where learning to ride a bike and hitting a home run had the power to bridge an ocean and lead him home.
“Cromwell, you and O’Neill quit playing with yourselves and haul ass for that chopper!”
“Yes, sir. Just double checking our gear.” He waited stiffly until the door banged shut before crossing the room and backhanding the long leg swinging from the top bunk. “You heard the man, Jack. Let’s go.”
A heavy sigh translated to capitulation even as Jack folded both letters, matching their creases with superstitious care. His long fingers brushed away the stray grains of ever-present sand from the cleanliness of her words. The Van Dyke altar accepted his offering, and as he closed it with a reverence rarely expressed openly, he shifted his gaze to meet that of the impatient man standing next to the bunk. A master chameleon - the new mask was donned and in that moment he transformed from husband and father, vicariously sharing their lives through the power of her words, to professional operative, a shadow trained to sabotage and destroy, escaping into the night with the welcome rush of adrenalin coursing his veins.
Heavy boots hit the floor, stirring the dust. Cromwell’s customary frown softened. “Everything okay back home?”
“Yeah, Charlie and Mike are building a fort in the backyard. Mike says the kid’s got a real feel for the tools for his age. Sara said she can’t keep him out of that tree.”
“The big one in the back?”
Jackgrinned and nodded ruefully. “Yeah, he fell out last month and scared the shit out of her. She thought he’d split his skull. He won’t quit climbing though. Stubborn kid. Sara’s threatening to cut the damn tree down.”
“Wonder where he gets it? Sounds just like his old man.”
“Yeah.” Pride leaked from the seams of the simple answer. “She wants me to tell him to stop climbing.”
“Won’t do any good.”
The grin broadened. “Nope.” As he grabbed his gear, he reverently touched the cover of the cigar box before laying it carefully in his footlocker. “Let’s go, Frank. There’s a ‘munitions dump with our name on it, and I want to get back and finish the letter.”
“I wouldn’t put it past Stewart to order them to embark without us.”
“No such luck, Bud. The old man’s not gonna let us sit this one out. No one gets left behind.”
Another day. Another self-proclaimed mission to stay alive. Another fight not to give in to the inevitable.
Some men dreamed of the basics - food, water, a day in which fear wasn’t a constant companion. Some awoke hard and aching, longing for the embrace of wives and lovers before shriveling into reality. Some lay with empty-eyed stares no longer capable of carrying them beyond the walls of this place. For them it was already over and they were simply waiting for their bodies to accept what their souls already knew.
He sat wedged into the corner, a shadow providing a veil of comfort although it was habitually rent by their actions. Slowly, he gathered the shreds of darkness around him, covering the facade of the man he had once been, covering the reality of the man he had become.
Humanity abandoned to the whim of men who had none. Bleakness which crept from the walls like mold and spread to his very self. Hopeless and haunted, his eyes were the only part of his being he could mask, and even they betrayed him with more frequency each passing day, each passing minute.
He’d waited for his team to return. Watched as the chopper rose and left him wounded and at the mercy of the enemy. Watched as his best friend made the decision to leave him behind. And at that moment, a new enemy was born.
Control was a fickle mistress. A flirtatious whore whose offerings came with a cost. Whose lips parted, promising sweet temptations that left you groveling for a glimpse of her wares. In the shadows where he hid, he fought on a battlefield created for one against an army. Waging for supremacy against an enemy called control. This enemy, like an onion, filled his life with its pungency. Now, as each layer was peeled away, he mourned its loss. Control over his body went first as the guards delighted in his screams. Control over his environment drained away the day he was transferred to the prison. A dozen paces. A slow, lingering walk. And yet no merciful bullet freed him. Control over his thoughts as he realized his fate, and recognized those of his wife and child. He clung to self-control not to take the path of so many around him. To struggle beyond the walls of this place and dare to dream of tomorrow for one more day. And for that he fought to the very core of his existence.
It wasn’t food, water, or safety of which he dreamed. It wasn’t his wife’s embrace or the sight of his son’s innocent face. It wasn’t wide fields and clear lakes rippling with fish. In his dreams, he had control; the ability to do what others had failed. What Frank had failed. He dreamed that he could protect himself. He dreamed of a single bullet.
Nightmares - sweating his way through repetition, through an inescapable reality that no one should have been forced to live through once. Trapped within his own mind as the blows fell; hearing his own cries echo against the grunt of the guard as he swung the pipe. Feeling their eyes burn into the very core of his thoughts. Feeding on desperation like a starved hound beaten back to the very edges of Hell.
His eyes snapped open and he lay there drenched in the odor of his own fear. Palms pressed flat against the damp sheets allowing him entrance to this reality. Praying that just this once he could regain control before he woke his wife and he was forced to bear the humiliation of the failure he had become through her attempts to comfort him.
He waited, staring into the darkness, too fearful to risk closing his eyes and invite an encore he has no intention of soliciting. He could only hope he is strong enough not to yield to his body’s demand for sleep. It was a risk he could not take. An unlocked door in which he invited his captors to carry on unchecked.
He was home, theoretically safe and yet, his captors still yielded power over him, succeeding in producing fear and panic. They still controlled him. They had the power to eradicate the safety net his wife’s love had woven, leaving him blindfolded, walking a tightrope of despair and self-doubt with the knowledge that one misstep was all that stood between him and madness. They had the power to form an impenetrable barrier between him and his son so that he could not risk sullying a child’s innocence with the filth of his touch. They had the power to force him to avoid his own reflection for fear that he would see beyond the scarred skin and haunted eyes. They had the control.
How long? Would he ever become even a hint of the man he once was? Not only had they taken his freedom, but they had taken his identity - the man he once knew was gone, leaving in his place this stranger. A stranger he didn’t want to make the effort to know.
The weight of darkness pressed in around him and he listened to her soft breath assuring him that for the moment he had only his own fears to deal with. He was deeply ashamed that he could only be grateful he didn’t have to see his own fear reflected in her eyes. Be grateful he didn’t have to lie there stiffly impotent, shying from her touch in the knowledge that he was hurting her, but powerless to escape beyond the walls they had erected in his mind.
His own mind betrayed him and dragged him back. Back to a place where humanity was a fleeting ideal that had no place in this reality. Biting his lip, he struggled against the images of his own past pounding his mind. Control, a whisper of hope. The only chance he had to survive and move forward.
Panting softly, he pulled open the drawer and in the moonlight was comforted by the dim gleam of the barrel. Control was only inches from his hand. Tracing the cool metal, he grounded himself in the reality that the nightmare was over.
Life is life. His Grandma had always said that. You rarely got a second chance on things you should have done differently the first time. He was too busy with the daily ups and downs, too busy to stop and review the ramifications of any single conversation.
“Charlie! Sorry I’m late. I stopped to get you something.”
“Where’d you get that?”
“Jeff Eisen gave it to me. It’s just a water gun.”
“That doesn’t matter.”
“You have a gun.”
Because I said so, dammit! Because I know what they can do. Because I’ve used them to blow a hole in a man’s head; a man whose only crime was being left behind to be captured and killed slowly. Because it became my job to speed up his death, and this baseball glove can’t hide the fact that his blood is on my hands, staining my soul. Because I know how fragile life is, and how one bullet can tip the scale irreversibly. Because you are the only clean, innocent thing I have ever had a part in creating, and I’m a selfish son of a bitch who wants that tiny part of me to remain pure - to remain untouched. Safe.
“Charlie . . . Charlie! Where are you going?”
“Well, wait a minute. I got you something. Come on, we’ll play some catch.”
There’s always tomorrow. A second chance to make things right. Time to explain . . . to say he was sorry. Time to fix tiny cracks before they shatter something priceless. There’s always time for another hug, another wrestling match on the living room rug, another chance to explain his fears . . . to explain why he said no. But in order to do that he had to admit those fears to himself, and that in itself was the wellspring of fear. Fear that his son would see him as less than a dad should be. Fear that he was right. Fear that he would taint their relationship with stains from his own soul.
There’s always tomorrow. A second chance to make things right.
Until there isn’t.
He’d pulled the trigger, dammit! Just as he’d pulled the trigger on the disagreement with his son. He was responsible. Maybe, if he could have explained to Charlie. Told him why. But his son couldn’t know because he couldn’t tell him; couldn’t stain his soul with knowledge of his father’s sins. He couldn’t explain to Charlie about his fears. He couldn’t give him an answer to his question. ‘Why?’ he’d asked. He was asking himself the same damn thing. ‘Don’t you understand, son? It’s because of what I’ve done, who I am, that I can’t bend. Can’t allow you to play with a harmless toy like the other kids. You have to trust me.’ But he hadn’t said it.
He hadn’t explained to his son why he’d brought the gun into the house in order to give him a sense of control after it had been ripped from him. He hadn’t dwelled on why he had brought it home in a long time. If, at first, it was his lifeline, a tangible link on the road back to sanity, it had long ago just become an object - part of his life, something that was there.
Now, as he sat in the self-induced twilight of depression in his son’s room, he no longer had the audacity to think of it as just an object. It was the object that had taken his son from him. It was the object that could end his own miserable existence.
It was too late. He breathed in the irony that it was the object that symbolized control which had proven how little he had. A bullet started a domino effect of actions and thoughts, a chain of feelings and emotions spawned half a world away. This had to be where the last domino fell.
And yet, he had no right to follow his son in death. Their paths were detained to separate between Heaven and Hell.
Salvation through suicide. He would not give himself permission to pull the trigger, but he could follow orders to do so.
“You have your orders.”
And so he led his men into the unknown, knowing he would not return. Knowing West had used him, used his grief and guilt, but also knowing he was using West. He would have death with honor although he deserved none. He would finalize his own personal mission and save Sara the pain of finding another bullet-riddled body. He would have the control.
He stepped into a world beyond the stars - beyond belief. He was ready. All that stood between him and the completion of his mission was getting his men home. That and a dweeb named Daniel Jackson, a civilian asshole who may have figured out how to make the Stargate work, but who didn’t understand the simplest concept of following orders.
“I wouldn’t feed that thing.”
“It's got a harness; its domesticated.”
And then the ticket to getting his men home was gone. Gone except for a trail in the sand on an alien planet. Being dragged by a hairy-assed what’sit, making his job harder with every passing sand dune.
Hiding next to an alien kid with dreadlocks, hiding from a god, hiding the truth from his men, hiding from himself. Shit. Watching the kid’s eyes widen with excitement because of a damn lighter. Doesn’t he know his life could be snuffed out as fast as that flame? “Yeah, it’s pretty fabulous. You keep it.”
The kid’s alive with curiosity. He’s a slave, for God’s sake. Doesn’t he know the pointlessness of his life, of anyone’s life? Look at him. He’s happy. An ignorant kid sweating his life away, drop-by-drop, in a mine, at the whim of a sun-god. And he’s happy. Doesn’t he know?
He was going to kill him. Him and everyone else on this benighted planet. All these ignorant, happy people. He was going to follow orders, detonate a bomb, and blow them all away, and the kid sat awestruck, fascinated by a lighter.
And Jackson was just like that kid, Skaara. There was an innocence in him, covering up a core of steel. A determination to thumb his nose at the worst life could throw at him and plunge ahead. It was that straightforward screw-the-regs attitude that made Jack want to nail his civilian ass to the floor. And made him dig inside a dried up well of emotions and share what no one was supposed to know. What no one else would have dared to ask.
would have accepted the fact that no matter what happened, you would not be
going home? Don't you have people who care about you? Do you have a family?”
“I had a family. No one should ever have to outlive their own child.” No one should kill his own child.
“I don't want to die. Your men don't want to die, and these people here don't want to die. It's a shame you’re in such a hurry to.”
Damn him. Damn him to Hell for trespassing where he had no business. Damn him for caring about the kid, these people, . . . and a burned out shell of a man. What gave Jackson the right, when he didn’t care about himself? His kid was dead. You’re fucking right he was in a hurry to die!
Fighting a god - fighting himself. Killing a god - saving himself. Baptized in the heat of battle beneath the surface of rebellion.
“You sure you wanna do this?”
“Yes, I'm sure.”
“You gonna be alright?”
“I'm gonna be alright. How about you?”
“Yeah, yeah, I think so.”
“Tell Catherine this brought me luck.”
“I will. I'll be seeing you around, Doctor Jackson.”
was going home.
Sometimes he thought about Daniel. About the people of Abydos. About Skaara. Sitting alone at night, staring up at the stars, he sometimes wondered if Daniel had found happiness.
Random acts changed your life - others’ lives - and sometimes you never even knew it. Daniel had unlocked the secret of the Stargate, stepped through and found love. And in the process, he’d handed Jack the will to find the courage to live.
She was gone by the time he came home. The house was empty, not physically - Sara had left all their stuff. All the stuff except for those things that really mattered, and there was no bringing those back. They were gone forever. And without them, a full house was empty.
He understood. He’d left too and forced her to stand there and watch. Her way was a hell of a lot less cruel. Her way was quick and clean - an amputation. A clean shot to the head. A mercy killing of a relationship that was already dead.
And so he had retreated into a cave where he could find his way through the maze of grief. So he could continue the path he has begun with those first tentative steps on Abydos. Daniel had been right. ‘It's a shame you’re in such a hurry to die.’ He had been in a hurry, but he’d found his way back, not into the light, but into the darkness lined with stars. And a planet where he’d left a civilian geek behind.
‘No one should ever have to outlive their own child.’
sometimes there was no other choice. Sometimes you had to go on - a day at a
time, hell an hour, or a minute if that was all you had to give. But he'd made
it. He hadn't forgotten, not often anyway. He'd never forgive, but he had moved
In the chaos of life, he'd gone unnoticed on his rooftop perch. As he had nearly every night for the last year, he looked through the telescope into the purity of darkness. And he thought about Abydos.
"Colonel Jack O'Neill?"
"I'm Major Samuels."
"Yes, sir. I'm the General's executive officer."
"Wanna a little piece of advice, Major? Get re-assed to NASA. That's where all the action's gonna be. Out there."
There was a brief silence, which was too soon buried beneath the Major's young, self-assured voice. "I'm under orders to bring you to General Hammond, sir."
Of course, he was. Jack squinted into deep space, seeing long lost faces.
He was a ghost, a wisp of deadly vapor, sent with one purpose - one mission: to fulfill a promise, to complete an assignment.
Out there where the dominos would continue to fall.