Jackfic Archive Story

 

Hope Reborn General Jack Year Three - Part Sixteen

by Flatkatsi

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).




Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself. ~Francis C. Farley

Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall. ~Larry Wilde

What would we find when the door opened? That's if it did. How many times lately had I used my spare key and gone hunting through the house, to find Jack sitting motionless staring into space as if he didn't know or care where he was, or curled up on his bed, the pain obvious even though he denied it?

Sam knocked again, and gave me a concerned look.

"Give him a minute. He might be lying down." I felt the need to reassure her as my own worry grew. She nodded. We all knew how long it took the previously agile man to achieve something as simple as sitting up and getting into his wheelchair.

The door remained closed and the house silent.

Maybe I shouldn't have insisted he go to the SGC Christmas party, but he couldn't keep hiding himself away from the world forever. He had seemed to be enjoying himself, but it was difficult to tell what was going on in Jack's mind lately. One minute he was upbeat and positive, the next bowed under a crushing depression that we could do little to lift.

Had I done the right thing?

God - I shouldn't have left him alone. I should have stayed with him - made sure he was all right. How could I have gone off like that? Had another hour or so of partying been that important?

What if he...?

He'd tried it before, been so close to taking his own life. He had sworn to me that he wouldn't do that again, but there was no way I could pretend he was thinking rationally at the moment.

Months - months of feeling like I was clinging to a lifeboat while a storm raged around me, not having any idea what would happen next. Months of it...

The image of Jack lying dead washed over my mind with the force of a tsunami.

I pounded on the door, the wood reverberating with the blows.

"Jack!"

"Just a minute! Hold your horses!"

I fell back, for a split second stunned that someone I had already thought dead was yelling back at me - and sounding quite annoyed about it. Then everything slid into place and I was once again standing with my two friends waiting for the door to open.

"What is your problem? Not enough of the neighbors knew you were visiting? Wanted to give them a head's up?"

Jack's familiar face appeared as the door opened slowly, his smile belying his gruff words.

"Sir?"

"Yes, Carter?"

Jack had that 'I'm so innocent' look, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It was an expression I hardly remembered - one I hadn't seen for ages, and I had to smile.

"What's that?"

"What's what?"

I decided it was my turn. I pointed to the rather large bandaid adorning my friend's head and the already purpling bruise surrounding it. "That." I poked my finger towards the damaged area and got the reaction I'd expected - he flinched.

"Oh, this? Just a bump." He pushed back, retreating a couple of feet. "Come on in - you're letting out all the warm air. Oh, and merry Christmas." He seemed to throw the last comment out as an afterthought.

We moved into the hallway, shucking our coats, hats and gloves as we did so. Teal'c took them and put them into the hall closet - not asking permission. We had become so used to treating Jack's house like our own since this all started that it had become instinctive.

Jack had already disappeared towards the living room and Sam took the opportunity to mouth a quick few words at me.

"He seems cheerful enough."

I grunted an acknowledgement, not wanting to show just how off-kilter his mood had made me.

We both followed Teal'c down the hall, only to be stopped by his wide back as he came to an abrupt halt.

"What has transpired here, O'Neill?"

I took another step and stopped again - this time in surprise.

The room was filled with tree.

Not the upright, in the corner, Christmas tree that had been so neatly positioned when I had collected Jack last night, but a downed tree, its branches spilling out over the carpet as if it had been felled, decorations askew - except for one...

We all turned as one, staring at our once commander.

He grinned and pointed.

"I got the star on the top."

xoxoxoxoxoxo

General O'Neill was grinning and the sight made me happier than I could have imagined. The tiredness that had been an ever present companion for the past week lifted and I smiled back.

He was battered, dirty, and unshaven, but he was undefeated. For a minute I was back on one of our offworld missions, the major and the colonel sharing our triumph over the enemy.

Daniel was looking puzzled, but I could see the light of comprehension in Teal'c eyes and the tightness around his lips which I knew concealed the beginnings of an answering smile as he caught my gaze.

It was obvious when you looked at all the evidence, but only General O'Neill would have thought of it.

He had always had a rather unique way of solving problems.

I pictured his frustration at not being able to reach the top of the tree. How he must have felt when that happened. . . my heart went out to him, but I kept the smile foremost, not wanting him to mistake my concern for pity.

The coffee table was pulled over to where the base of the tree still was, a chair lying on its side next to it. I imagined the effort it had taken to position them and winced at the image of the general pulling himself up onto them. His legs were causing him so much pain, even though he tried to hide it. I looked for the evidence of his next move, knowing I would find it. Yes - there, concealed in the branches, circling the trunk, was a rope, its brown loop positioned halfway up, at about the height a man sitting on a chair perched on top of a coffee table could reach.

If you can't reach the top of something, what do you do?

You bring it down to your level.

Once the tree was lying on the carpet, it would have been no effort at all to carefully position the decoration at its very tip.

I wondered if he had fallen from the chair, or if one of the branches had scrapped him as the whole thing came tumbling down. It didn't matter. The achievement was what was important.

He had got the star on the top of the tree.

I turned, wiping my eyes surreptitiously with my hand.

Damn the man! I had been so angry with him last night - putting us all in the position of having to lie to protect him, of having to hide what he had done. It went against everything I tried to be, every part of my own code of honor. But I had seen what pain General Ramsey's actions had caused - not only to O'Neill and all those anonymous faces over the years, but to a woman I still considered my best friend. I let my resentment at Janet's death excuse what General O'Neill had done.

But I had still been angry.

Now that anger was submerged in a wave of affection, and part of my mind resented the fact.

Sometimes I felt I was as mixed up as the general.

How dare he - the man I saw as a rock anchoring me to reality, the man that grounded me when I let myself get carried away by the pure beauty of science - how dare he be the one to crumble.

He was the consummate soldier, my ideal of how a leader should behave.

How dare he.

At first I kept expecting these last months to be a ruse on his part - some sort of undercover operation to expose the traitors in our ranks. Then we found out about Keith Marsden. And the truth.

Even now I wondered if the general was still hiding things from us. He is a private man, and what had already been exposed had almost been enough to break him.

I thought it had. I should have known better.

He had used that anger and done what he'd seen as necessary. He had to live with the consequences now and last night had seemed content to do so, but I didn't know if I could.

Damn, but I resented being put in this position. If it were anyone else...

And therein lay the crux of the matter. I would conceal the truth, lie for him if need be, not because it was the right thing to do, but because I cared far more for this infuriating man than I should.

He was sitting, pine needles caught in his clothes, sap from the tree streaked across his face, and looking as pleased as punch.

"I think I better look at that cut, sir. It could do with a proper clean."

He nodded, but kept smiling. "Yeah, sure."

"This was a pretty stupid thing to do. You could have really hurt yourself, Jack."

I saw the momentary flash of anger in his eyes at Daniel's words, gone almost before it registered.

"Well, I didn't, did I?" I thought he was going to say more and was surprised when he turned his attention to Teal'c. "Could you both get it back up for me? Hopefully none of the decorations are broken - it came down pretty slowly. I'll be back in a minute." He gave me another blinding smile. "Won't I, Carter."

I didn't answer, merely taking the handles of the wheelchair and pushing it out of the room.

I could understand why Daniel had felt the need to say that. Of any of us he had been the most affected by what was happening to the general. There was something underlying Daniel's actions that I couldn't discover - something that scared him so much that he seemed to alternate between not wanting to let the general out of his sight and staying away from him as much as possible. Whatever it was, it terrified him. The look of panic on his face when the door hadn't been opened quickly enough today had completely thrown me. For a second I had thought Daniel had seen a ghost, he had become so pale.

I pushed the bathroom door open and guided the wheelchair through, trying to focus on the current crisis, instead of overanalysing something I probably had only imagined.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

I picked up the small table and placed it over to one side out of the way. Daniel Jackson wasn't moving, instead he was staring in the direction in which O'Neill and Colonel Carter had gone as if he wished to follow.

It was only after I righted the chair and moved it also to the side that he turned, looking at me as if not sure what to do. Perhaps he was reconsidering the wisdom of his remark to O'Neill.

The last thing O'Neill needed now was to be told he couldn't or shouldn't have done something. He needed to take back control of his life, and if pulling a tree down was what it took then I for one was pleased.

I bent and grasped the tree trunk, casting my eye as I did so over the numerous colourful baubles still attached by their flimsy cords to the branches. I knew O'Neill held some of these decorations in great regard, holding the history of his family as they did, so I wanted to be sure of not causing further damage.

I lifted, a little taken aback by the weight of the fir, but sure I could right it without help.

"Wait!"

I stopped, uncertain as to the reason Daniel Jackson had halted me. I was holding the tree at an unnatural angle, and I strained to prevent it from falling back to the floor. To my surprise my teammate dropped to his knees, pulling at something hooked under a bottom branch. I caught a glimpse of faded red paper.

The drawing O'Neill's son did of the minor deity Santa Claus.

Shaking hands untangled the cord and carefully flattened the bent paper, with a delicacy of touch he normally reserved for precious artefacts. I watched, concerned that if the paper tore, my friend would tear with it. He had felt O'Neill's illness more keenly than anyone. He hid it well, especially from O'Neill himself, but I could see he had almost reached breaking point. I was worried that soon there may be another victim of the sho'vlak, one O'Neill was too caught up with his own problems to see.

Together, we set the tree back on its base and Daniel Jackson had just repositioned the all important decoration when O'Neill and Colonel Carter re-entered the room, O'Neill sporting a much more professional looking bandage than he'd had previously.

He stopped in the doorway, looking up, and gave another broad smile.

"Thanks, guys. Looking good."

"Indeed." I could say no more for fear of exposing my true feelings.

O'Neill's wounded soul deserved some small piece of succour. I had seen his discomfort at the gift of the star. He was a man not given to outward signs of emotion and these last weeks had weakened him spiritually as well as in the obvious physical way. It had been explained to me that the medication he was taking left him vulnerable, uncertain, and unable to keep the control he had spent his life building up like a high wall to hide himself behind.

He did not seem to realise that years ago he had knocked down a small section of that wall and built a door through which only a few people could pass. We privileged few did not judge, for we had already seen what was hidden behind the faade.

O'Neill kept his secrets within, secrets that I understood well. He was my brother, much more so than by blood and although we rarely shared those secrets, I knew he understood as well as I.

I did not judge him, for to do so would be to judge myself.

This was something I had feared O'Neill had forgotten these past weeks.

He was no less than he had been, in fact if anything he was more than once he was, for he had faced his demons and won.

I could find no fault in that.

Looking at him now, smiling and relaxed, I wondered if he had, at last, understood the lesson that had been taught - that a truly good man cannot be defeated by anyone except himself.

I followed his gaze to the star at the top of the tree, a shining symbol of something that had been lost and was found once more.

xoxoxoxoxoxo

Everything was perfect - well, almost. My friends were sitting in front of the roaring fire, each with the cup of eggnog I had made, munching on the cookies Mrs O'Reilly sent over via her grandson. Teal'c had a snowman by the arm, and was delicately nibbling off the frosting. He liked to eat them that way - go figure. Personally, I liked the bells - the white and red frosting was thickest on them.

The atmosphere was relaxed - the tensions that I had sensed in each of the three people in front of me were still there, simmering below the surface, but whatever the problems were, they seemed to have put them aside for the moment. Daniel was probably obsessing about the Ori as usual, but at least he wasn't jumping whenever I moved, although he did seem a little out of sorts. For once Carter appeared to be thinking of something other than the doohickies she had to leave behind at Area 51, and Teal'c had stopped giving me piercing and meaningful looks that I couldn't for the life of me interpret.

Perhaps it would be easier to break the news to them than I had thought.

I took another mouthful of my own special batch of eggy goodness, wishing it was fortified the way the others' were.

"You appear to be more cheerful than has become normal, O'Neill. Is there some news you wish to impart."

Yes! I almost punched the air, but held myself back, knowing the sudden jerk would do nothing good to my knees.

I now had the perfect opening.

"Well...ah...yes, as a matter of fact, I do."

Perfect opening Jack. Use it. Grab it with both hands and run with it.

They were all looking at me, their expressions showing varying degrees of impatience.

"You see...I had a...last night...I...Did you know the President has far too many Christmas parties?"

"I did not, O'Neill. Nor do I see its relevance to this conversation."

Carter must have thought she had the answer.

"Have you been invited to Washington, sir?"

"That's great, Jack. You could stay with General Hammond - no, wait - his apartment has too many stairs. Never mind, we'll work something out. Maybe I should come with you - make sure, ah..." Daniel stuttered to a stop as I glared at him, my mood darkening.

"I haven't been invited to Washington. I've been asked to go much further than that."

"You intend to vacation in Australia again, O'Neill? I have heard it is very warm at this time of year. It may ease some of the pain in your legs."

"Oh for crying out loud! I'm not going to Australia, or Washington. Thor's taking me home with him."

Du'h! Now I sounded like a pet dog. I sat up straighter and wrapped what little remained of my dignity back around me again.

"I've been asked by the President to take on the role of temporary ambassador to the Asgard."

They just sat there. Daniel's eyes were blinking rapidly behind his glasses as if he was doing an unconscious imitation of Thor.

Carter leaned forward, her hand brushing against my left knee. "How long for, sir? How long will you be gone?"

"I don't know. There aren't a lot of details." Then I realised I had forgotten one very vital piece of news. "The best part is - Thor says he can fix my legs." I poked my tongue through the gap where my tooth once resided. "I wonder if he can fix this too. Might as well go for a complete grease and oil change."

"That's great!" Daniel's enthusiastic voice overrode whatever the others were trying to say. He jumped to his feet, his drink slopping over the edge of the glass as he dropped it carelessly on to the table. "When are you leaving? What are you taking? Do you want help to pack?" He stood, his arms wrapped around his torso as if he was trying to keep the heat in.

I eyed him suspiciously. Call me perceptive, but something wasn't right here. He was much too anxious to see me gone.

"Maybe you should pack some personal things, sir? Who knows how long you will be gone. Would you like me to take down any of the photos?"

Carter too?

My good mood was melting away, leaving that dark void I had become so use to.

"I'm going in a day or so, and no, I don't need help packing - thanks for the offer." I rubbed my hand over my eyes in a show of tiredness that was only partially feigned. "Look, guys, can you lock up when you've finished? I think I better get to bed. I didn't get much sleep last night."

I didn't listen to their half-hearted protests as I made my way to the bedroom.

The bedroom door didn't close behind me, instead it bounced back off the large figure that must have soundlessly followed me up the hall.

"What is it, T? I really need to get some sleep."

"Allow me to assist with your ablutions, O'Neill."

Okay - that just sounded wrong. I shook my head. "Thanks, but no thanks. I can still do some things for myself."

"Of that I am aware, however I shall wait and assist you into bed."

I admitted defeat, agreeing wearily. A quick trip to the bathroom and I was ready. I held my arm out to him and he took it, lifting me effortlessly and helping me to position myself under the covers.

"Thanks."

"You are welcome, O'Neill."

I waited and so did he. I knew it had been too easy.

"You were upset by Daniel Jackson's and Colonel Carter's reaction to your news."

I nodded, seeing no reason to hide the fact. "They seemed awfully anxious to see the back of me."

"Do not deceive yourself. Their pleasure was not happiness that you were leaving. It was relief."

"Relief?" That I would be gone - out of their lives? What?

He didn't answer directly. "This time has been hard on us all, O'Neill."

Yes, I knew that. And? I waited.

"Both our friends have been greatly concerned for you, especially now with your disability." He gestured towards the wheelchair he had carefully placed beside the bed for my easy access. "To know you will be healed takes a great burden from them."

Burden? Was that how they saw me? As a burden?

"And you? How do you see me?"

"You do not need to ask."

"Maybe I do."

He inclined his head. "Very well. I see a man no different than the one I have known for years. But I also see a man afraid to see how he has affected those around him, for fear the burden will be too much."

Damn cryptic comments. Teal'c was beginning to sound horribly like one of those know-it-all glowy beings. And what was it with these burdens? What did Daniel and Carter have to worry about? I was the damaged goods here, not them.

Carter wasn't even around any more. She had taken the job at Area 51 and left, without so much as a backward glance.

Except she had come back. She had come back to be with me for Christmas, and she didn't look any more rested than she had when she left. In fact she looked like crap. Like she had been worrying the whole time she was away.

As for Daniel - sure, he looked a bit frayed around the edges as well. Like he had too much on his mind. I had put it down to the Ori and his run-ins with that Vala woman. She was enough to make anyone a bit fragile.

But he had been hovering a bit more than usual - ever since...My gaze shifted to the closet. I didn't have to open it to picture my pistol, locked in its box and hidden away.

Oh hell. In all the commotion of finding out exactly what Ramsey had done to me and planning my revenge, I had forgotten.

I had forgotten what Daniel had told me - what he had remembered from his time as an ascended being. In the mixture and turmoil of my own emotions, strung out and barely coping, I hadn't realised what he must have been thinking - how close to the edge I had been.

Damn it. Suddenly the worried looks and the obsessive need to be near me took on an all too awful meaning.

I groaned, rubbing my face on the pillow.

I had been too wrapped up in my own misery to see the signs in the others. Now, as I looked at Teal'c, I could see that even he had aged far more in the past months than in all the time I'd known him. There were fine lines under his eyes where once the skin had been smooth, and he lacked that spark of energy that made him seem unstoppable.

"Get them in here, T. Now." I know the order was barked, but I didn't care. I needed to fix this.

They didn't take long to come. Standing next to my bed, I could see the telltale brightness in their eyes and the forced smiles.

"You do know we don't want you to go, right, Jack?" Daniel took a step closer as if afraid. "But if it means you will be able to walk..."

"It's worth it, I know." I nodded. "And you won't need to worry about me. Thor will keep an eye on me, make sure I don't get into any trouble."

I watched the tension fall from him at my words. It didn't need to be spelt out. There was no way Thor would let me do something stupid.

"And it isn't forever, is it?" Carter crept up on his other side. "You'll be coming back and forth - visiting?"

I nodded. I hadn't thought of that, but there was no reason I couldn't. It wasn't like I was exiled or anything.

"Sure. I'll be back. And I'll make sure I come see you. Who else would be able to tell you what those Ancient doohickies are for?"

Her face lit up and she smiled, one fat tear rolling down her cheek.

"Aw, heck, come here." I opened my arms and she fell into them, resting her head on my shoulder for a moment. I gave her a hug, my cheek brushing the top of her head, then she sat up, blushing.

"Sorry, sir."

It was Daniel who spoke. "Don't be silly, Sam." Then I had an armful of archaeologist. "Look after yourself. We'll miss you."

And he was gone - back up and standing next to Carter, his arm around her shoulder. They were both smiling - wide genuine smiles that warmed something inside of me.

Teal'c gave me a knowing look and for once the meaning was clear. He approved.

"Merry Christmas, O'Neill."

**********


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