Lonesome Road

By Vicky Ocean

---

‘Look down, look down
That lonesome road
Before you travel on

I'm weary of toting, such a heavy load
Trudging down, that lonesome road’

Lonesome Road by Nathaniel Shilket and Gene Austin

---

This was the first time Jack had been home in a week. There hadn’t even been an end of the world type crisis. Even so he couldn’t seemed to make it out of the mountain. Back when he was on SG-1 he used to wonder how it was that Hammond always seemed to be on base no matter what hour or day. It was, Jack had unfortunately found out for himself, because Hammond had spent ninety percent of his time there. Jack had Colonel Dixon as his second in command and Walter, bureaucratic genius that he was, to assist him, but still there was always something demanding his attention.

Even when he found time to go home, Jack discovered that he was reluctant to do so. He had the oddest feeling like he’d only been recently divorced. And that was stupid. He’d been divorced for almost a decade. Sara had long since remarried. She was part of another lifetime. Jack thought of her infrequently and no longer wished for her love and affections to be bestowed upon him again. He had long since decided she was much better off with her oh so boring insurance agent husband than she had ever been with Jack.

No, it wasn’t Sara he missed, but he couldn’t seem to put his finger on what it was that he did miss. His house just felt so lonely every time he came in the door. He felt silly for feeling that way. He’d been the only occupant of this house since he moved in shortly after the first Abydos mission and his divorce. There hadn’t even been the occasional girlfriend sharing the space. When you’re out saving the universe there’s not exactly a lot of time for dating. He’d always hated dating anyway. That was one of the great things about marriage. Marriage means you don’t have to date again and you have a wife to come home to at the end of the day or week or month or year. Not exactly fair to the wife, but Jack knew had been a selfish bastard in his marriage to Sara. Maybe this was his penance, a lonely home.

Jack didn’t even understand why he felt lonely. Maybe it was because he had been an only child, but he generally didn’t mind being alone. He relished it. It was safe. Easy. All his life he had sought out solitude when he was hurting, physically and emotionally. It was what had driven his wife away when Charlie died, his inability to do anything but lock himself in his son’s room attempting to numb his pain with booze and cigarettes and contemplating following Charlie into death. Sara had blamed his masculine pride and warrior code, but that wasn’t it. Not really. He just simply didn’t think sharing his pain with Sara would help either one of them. He knew he had a lot of darkness in his soul and he had never ever wanted to burden his wife with that. Jack wasn’t even sure how to share something like that. Sara always wanted to talk. Talking never helped Jack. Talking had never eased his pain.

If he was really honest with himself and Jack supposed he should if he was getting this maudlin…

If he was really honest with himself, he could pinpoint the exact moment this new loneliness had set in. It was the moment they pinned those damned stars on his shoulders. Jack had known he wasn’t cut out to be a general, but it had been an ego trip, not to mention his mind was still slightly scrambled from the Ancient download at the time. Accepting the promotion had not been one of his wisest moves. He should have told Weir and the brass to go to hell and stayed on SG-1 until he died in the line of duty or his knee finally gave out and he retired beside a beautiful lake with a dog named Homer and even possibly a brainy blonde.

He missed his team, his friends, his family. He had been naïve enough to believe being ‘The Man’ wouldn’t change his relationship with them. Carter had been so damn proud of him for making Brigadier General. He had basked in her proud smile every time she saw the stars on his collar. His enjoyment had been tempered by the ‘Generals’ and ‘sirs’ laden in her every sentence and the distance he was forced to increase between them because he couldn’t afford to be accused of favoritism.

Daniel had seemed to think that because his best friend was now in charge of the SGC that he could get anything he wanted. He wondered if Daniel even realized that Jack was now in charge of a whole base of people not just SG-1. For every little archeological mission and trip to Atlantis Jack denied Daniel, their friendship seemed to drift further apart.

Teal’c understood what Jack was going through. Being First Prime to a System Lord was pretty much the equivalent of being the Commander of the SGC. He offered his support and Jack valued his advice and experience. He just missed hanging out with his friend and exposing him to the weirder aspects of Earth culture.

In short, Jack missed his family. He missed sunny days cooking out in the backyard. He missed having a couple of beers after tough missions that turned into a lot of beers and a couple of shots. Daniel would pass out on the couch, though he mostly seemed to end up on the bathroom floor. Carter would claim the spare room sleeping in one of his old Air Force t-shirts that she had stolen for her use during SG-1’s first year. Teal’c would kel-no-reem in the living room. He missed cold winter nights with fire blazing away and the Tauri members introducing Teal’c to a must see movie. He missed the rainy days spent in chess tournaments with his team. He didn’t know why they all seemed to congregate at his house, but they had and now he just missed them. That’s why his house was so empty.

He didn’t like it.

---

Cassandra had always been fascinated by the windmills that turned above her village. She sat upon a high branch of a tree at the edge of the forest near her village. It was her tree. She would sit there for hours on end watching the twirling windmills and daydreaming.
She realized she must have lost track of time because the sky was turning into a dazzling array of red, orange and purple. She wondered why her mother hadn’t called for her yet. Surely supper was done by now. Cassandra decided she might as well head home before someone was sent after her.

The village was too quiet as she walked down the center street. People should have been milling about on their way home from the fields. Cassandra opened the door to her house to find it just as quiet as the rest of the village.

“Momma?” she called out but rec’d no answer.

A scrap of fuchsia cloth caught her eye and she moved around the heavy trestle table to see what it was. Her mother lay there on the floor by the stove. Her skin was covered in red sores.

“Papa!” Cassandra ran through the house to her parents’ bedroom. Her father was there with her baby brother in his arms, lying dead next to the crib.

Cassandra rushed out of the house. She burst into her sister’s home next door. “Penelope?” She found her sister and her new husband still in bed both covered in the ugly sores.

She ran out of the house and through the village, the windmills spinning lazily above her head. She ran through the fields until she came to the Chappa'ai. The shimmering blue filling the huge ring drew her towards it.

She stepped through and came upon a battlefield. Cassandra wasn’t bothered by the dead Jaffa. She was glad they were dead. She picked her way through the carnage until she was standing over the body of a small woman with bright red hair. Their was a huge charred whole in her chest. “Mom!” Cassandra turned and ran all the way back to the Stargate.

She stepped out onto her front porch. “Robin!” She called but she didn’t see her dog scampering across the yard as she normally did. She walked out to the street and found him by the mailbox. His little back broken, his ribs crushed, bleeding onto the asphalt. She rushed back up the steps and through the door.

Cassandra stepped out of the Stargate. She followed the path to a huge stone fortress. She opened the door and met no resistance. She moved through the winding corridors until she came to a large chamber. Firelight reflected on the gilt walls and blonde hair. “Sam!“ She stepped up to the dais. Sam lay there, her body bruised, bloody, and battered, in a pool of her own blood. On either side of her, equally abused and dead, were Daniel and Teal’c. She backed out of the chamber and ran back to the Stargate.

She walked out of the cabin toward the frozen pond. “Jack!” she called. Cassandra caught sight of a dark shape at the edge of the ice. She made her way through the pristine snow. Jack lay on the dock with half his head missing, alizarin crimson blood marring the virgin white canvas of snow.

---

Jack knew he should be in bed, but he couldn’t sleep and the blanket of stars was much more interesting than his bedroom ceiling. He wouldn’t have minded a couple of beers or maybe a glass or two of scotch. He knew in his rather morose mood he wouldn‘t be able to stop at one or two. It wouldn’t do for General O’Neill to show up hungover. So Jack contented himself with a little stargazing.

He had lost track of how long he had been sitting there wishing for a little alcohol and dwelling on thoughts that were best not dwelled upon. He heard the gravel crunching in his driveway. Odd, this time of night. He pulled his cell from his pocket to make sure it was on and he hadn’t missed a call from the SGC. Power on. Volume loud. No missed calls.

The car door slammed. Feet walked up the gravel path to his house. Someone opened his front door. Jack wasn’t concerned. They obviously had a key. A few minutes later the sliding glass door opened on the deck and someone began climbing the ladder. A happy little fuzzy red face appeared at the top of the ladder.

“Robbo!” Jack exclaimed and the dog scampered excitedly over to greet him and he gave Robin all the attention he wanted.

Jack glanced at Cassandra as she pulled herself onto the deck holding two beers in one hand. He gave her a questioning look. She was supposed to be spending tonight and tomorrow with Carter, before Jack and Cassie took their annual father-figure/daughter-figure cultural trip to Denver.

“You okay?”

She handed him a Guinness, but otherwise ignored him. She plopped down on the floor and leaned up against the rail, taking a long pull on her Budweiser.

Jack studied her for a few long moments as he petted the dog contentedly lounging in his lap. She looked slightly shell shocked and seemed to be sucking down her beer pretty quickly.

“Carter run out of beer?” he asked, curious about her sudden appearance.

Cassie shrugged noncommittally and stared up at the sky. “Nice night,” she commented, pointedly ignoring his concern.

“Yeah.” Jack agreed but he was beginning to get more than a little alarmed. “Carter know you’re here?”

“No,” she responded curtly avoiding his gaze by staring up into the night.

“Maybe you should call her,” he suggested knowing Carter would be worried even if they‘d had a fight. “She’ll be worried if she finds you took off with her car in the middle of the night.”

“She said I could use it.”

“O-kay…” This was like pulling teeth. “Whatcha doin’ here?”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

“So you just decided to pay an old man a visit in the middle of the night?”

“I didn’t want to be alone.”

That stumped Jack and he didn‘t know quite how to respond. “What about Carter?”

“She’s not home.”

“Oh?” Jack responded feeling the anger suddenly rise in him. If Carter dumped Cassie to go play with some stupid alien technocrap-

Cassie, recognizing the look on his face broke into his thoughts. “She’s not at the base, if that‘s what you‘re thinking. She’s in Phoenix.”

“What‘s in Phoenix?” he asked perplexed. “I thought the two of you were having your slumber party thing tonight and going dress shopping tomorrow.”

“We were, but Pete showed up-”

“She dumped you for Pete?” the anger surged back through him.

“Actually, she dumped Pete for me,” Cassie responded calmly taking a sip of her beer. “She forgot they had plans for her downtime. Pete’s cousin’s wedding. Pete wasn’t exactly pleased she forgot.”

“She’s had a lot on her plate lately. He should cut her some slack.”

“Err- well, I kind of got the impression it this wasn’t the first time.”

“He’s a cop. He should understand emergencies,” Jack took a sip of his Guinness. He was a little calmer, but still not exactly pleased that Carter had chosen Pete over Cassie. Carter taking Cassie shopping for a new dress to wear to the opera was just as much a tradition as Jack taking her.

“It was your standard straw and camel scenario, but my opinion is a selective memory loss.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“She didn’t exactly seem excited about being paraded in front of Pete’s family like a prized poodle.”

“Carter said that?”

“Not in so many words. You know how Sam is. She slaps a smile on her face and carries on like a good soldier. It’s just the impression that I got from Pete,” Cassie said more than a little anger clouding her voice, though Jack didn’t know whether the anger was directed at Carter or her fiancé. “He’s really excited about showing off his ‘hot’ fiancé. Kept talking about it.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Jack muttered, but it wasn’t quite under his breath as he thought. Cassie glared at him and cleared his throat. “But I understand what you mean. Carter isn’t exactly fond of the spotlight. Particularly if she’s going to be… paraded around like a… prized poodle, was it? Especially over her looks and not her genius brain.”

“She looked so unhappy that I almost told Pete she had plans to go with us.”

“Yeah, that would have went over well,” Jack snorted. He could just imagine it. ‘I’m sorry, Pete. I’m going on a weekend getaway with my CO and the girl we both think of as a daughter. We’re going to the opera in Denver like one big happy, cultured family. So screw your cousin’s wedding. I’m not arm candy.’ Yeah, he could so see that happening.

“Why not?”

Jack just rolled his eyes.

Cassie huffed a sigh, but thankfully moved on to another subject. “Guess it’s a good thing I packed my dress from last year just in case.”

“What? I thought it was against girl law to wear the same dress twice.”

“Girl law?” she laughed nearly inhaling her beer.

“Yeah, like no white shoes after Labor Day.” Jack sat his empty bottle down and stretched, careful not to dislodge Robin. “Tell you what, Cass. I’ll get Dixon to take over a day early. We’ll head up to Denver in the morning and spend the day shopping. Maybe catch a hockey game. Denver‘s at home tomorrow.”

Cassie stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief. “You want to go shopping with me?”

“It’s like watching Wild America. I’ll be Marty Stouffer and you be the cougar stalking it’s over priced prey.”

“Really?”

“Sure.”

She jumped up and gave him a quick fierce hug that made whatever agony involved shopping tomorrow endurable. “You’re sweet, Jack.”

“That is highly classified information. I don‘t expect it to get out.”

---

Cassie was grateful her dream hadn’t returned after she fell asleep in Jack’s guest room. She’d been having the same dream or variations of it for a while now and was beginning to take a toll. It seemed just talking to Jack, not even about the dream, put her at ease. It reminded her no matter what Jack would always be there and if she had learned one thing about him over the years was that he always kept his promises.

The next morning she awoke to the smell of Jack’s world famous beer omelet. After breakfast they dropped Robin off at Cassie’s old neighbor’s house and was then on their way to Denver. Before heading to mall, they dropped their luggage off at the swanky hotel near the opera house that they stayed at every year.

Jack dutifully followed her around from store to store in search of the perfect evening gown. Cassie was rather shocked that he offered no complaint. Though he did offer the occasional objection to some of the dresses she tried on.

“No,” he crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at her as she stepped out of the dressing room.

“Why not?” She examined herself in the three-way mirror turning around slowly.

“It’s too old for you.”

“Too old for me?” she questioned innocently even though she knew exactly what he was talking about. The dress was bright red with a deep V-neck in the front and back and side slits nearly to her hips.

“You’re just a l-“

You’re just a little girl.

He didn’t finish his protest, but she heard it clearly anyway. She felt a strange mix of comfort and irritation. “What do you think I should wear? Peter Pan collars with ruffles down to my toes?”

“Yes.”

“Jack, I’m nineteen.”

“You’re still too young for a dress like that. You couldn’t even wear a…” her gestured vaguely to her chest and flushed ever so slightly.

“A bra?”

“Err, yeah.” Jack looked all manner of uncomfortable and began to fiddle with a nearby display of purses.

It wasn’t often one saw Jack O’Neill flustered and Cassie couldn’t resist antagonizing him further. “You’re right, but they have these things now that stick on and hold you in place.”

“I don’t want to know, Cassie,” he grated out concentrating on examining a beaded purse.
She twisted around and examined the back of the dress and said thoughtfully, “I’d have to where a thong though.”

The purse fell from his numb fingers as Jack looked up at her sharply. “That’s it. Take it off. I’m sending you to a convent. Right now.”

“Geez, Jack, a little repressed are you?”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Cass, no man wants to believe that his daughter wears…” he gestured vaguely in the air again.

“Thongs?”

“Yes.”

“I still think you’re repressed. When was the last time you saw a woman naked?” Then she added, “Not in print.”

“I’m hungry. Let’s go eat.”

“You should really hide your Playboys better.”

“Go. Change.” He pointed to the dressing room. “That‘s an order.”

“Yes, sir.”

---

Jack draped the garment bag containing the new tux Cassie had convinced him to buy over the arm of the overstuffed chair. He settled down with a stack of magazines and a grande vanilla latte. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a chance to lounge around Barnes and Noble. He opened Scientific America to an article about black holes. Carter would probably laugh her ass off if she saw him. Though possibly not. She would probably give him that smug little twitchy smile that she got whenever he slipped up in his dumb flyboy act.

Cassie was still out shopping looking for the perfect accessories to go with her new evening gown. Jack had made it through finding the perfect dress and the perfect shoes, but he wasn’t sure he could make it through the search for the perfect jewelry, the perfect purse, and the perfect doodads to go in her hair.

Though he was forced to admit (though not out loud) that shopping with Cassie wasn’t so bad. She was a very strategic shopper unlike his ex-wife. Sara would buy a pair of shoes that were so bizarre of color that he knew there was no way that something would be out there to match them. Never the less, he would be dragged all over the mall and then she would find a shirt that might possibly match them. Then she would try it on and even though it matched and it fit she wouldn’t buy it. She’d drag him all over the mall again making sure she didn’t see anything she liked better. Of course, she never found anything she liked better. When she’d go back, someone else would have bought it and the whole damn cycle would begin again. Jack would try to be patient, especially if he’d just come back from a long mission. He half suspected that she had done it to punish him. If Charlie happened to be with them, which was rare because he hated shopping with his mother, Jack would take him to the arcade and they’d while away the afternoon playing video games and ski ball.

Cassie wasn’t like Sara. She shopped logically which in his experience was rare for a woman. She saw something she liked and it fit she bought it. There was no dithering. He liked that. So, shopping with Cassie wasn’t that painful, but eventually Jack got bored and handed over his credit card before retiring to the bookstore.

Jack tossed Scientific America onto the table. The article had been pretty off base from what the SGC had learned about black holes over the years. Carter would have a field day picking it apart. Next in his stack was Entertainment Weekly and from the looks of the cover it contained an interview with Matt Groening. He was chuckling over the article when something was waived in front of his face.

“Lookie what I got,” Cassie said behind him.

“If you’d hold still I’d be able to tell.” He grabbed her wrist and held it still long enough to examine the two pieces of paper she held in her hand.

“Watch it, grouchy, or I’ll find some hot young guy to escort me.”

Finally he plucked the tickets out of her hand. “Hockey tickets? Sweet.”

Cassie pushed his discarded magazines out the way and gave him a Teal’c worthy raised eyebrow at the Scientific America. He gave her an innocent look in turn. She plunked down on the table, setting her bags on the floor. “Do you really think you fool anyone?”

---

As Jack drove back to the hotel, he glanced over at Cassie. It seemed the day’s activities had worn her out. She was asleep in the seat next to him with her faced pressed up against the truck window. It had been nice to spend the day with her. Hell, it had been nice to spend a day without requisition forms, briefings about alien plants and obscure alien archeological sites, and unfathomable scientific chatter.

He missed having a life.

He missed the people in his life.

He missed Cassie. He missed their rainy day chess games. Not for the first time he wished she would have chosen a college a little closer, not way on the east coast. He hoped she would be home for Christmas, but she might be planning something with her friends. Perhaps he’d fly down to Savannah in the spring and spend a couple of days with her. Maybe rent a place on the beach. Cassie had always liked the beach. He remembered how excited she was the first time she saw the ocean. He suspected that even though the world class art school had offered her a scholarship, that the nearby beach had really been the real deciding factor for choosing the college.

He hated to think of the day when she no longer sought out his company and spend her vacations with him. He didn’t want to think of the day when she got too involved in her own life to continue their annual opera weekends. He was terrified of the day when she found someone and would no longer be his little girl.

Cassie moaned softly in her sleep, her head twitching against the glass. Jack had dealt with nightmares long enough to know what they looked like. “Hey, Cass,” he reached over with one hand and gave her knee a shake. “C’mon, wake up.”

Her head jerked suddenly, “Jack?” She blinked her bleary eyes a couple of times trying to focus on his profile in the passing streetlights.

“Yeah. You okay?”

She sighed heavily and leaned her head back against the headrest. “Yeah.”

“Nightmare?”

“I guess.” She said it in such a tone that Jack knew that it was more than a guess; it was true.

“Wanna talk about it?”

“No.” She said succinctly turning to stare out the window at the passing sights.

---

The next morning Jack and Cassie had breakfast at the hotel before heading to the Denver Art Museum. They wandered the museum for about two hours when they got separated. Cassie had continued to move on through the galleries when Jack had had stopped to more closely examine several fine examples of Arts and Crafts Movement pottery. Daniel would probably faint if he could see Jack peering intently down at the green vase with his hands safely clasped behind his back lest he actually touch the smooth glaze, as he was so tempted to. Jack straightened and gave the vase one last longing look. Perhaps it was time to break out the pottery wheel again. He gave a charming smile to the docent who had been glaring at him the entire time he had been studying the ceramics and left the gallery in search of Cassie.

He only gave the artwork a cursory glance. He and Cassie always spent at least a morning at the Denver Art Museum during their yearly trips. Shortly after Cassie had gotten settled on Earth, he had taken her to Denver along with the rest of SG-1. He remembered Carter and Daniel had been shocked that the man who played the dumb Simpsons obsessed flyboy actually suggested exposing the newly arrived aliens to higher Tauri culture. They’d all had fun that first trip and Doc Fraiser had always blamed Jack for her ruined carpet after he introduced Cassie to the world of art. After that initial trip the others hadn’t joined them. It had become something for Jack and Cassie to bond over: morning at the museum, opening night at the opera, and maybe a hockey game thrown in. Carter had always taken Cassie shopping for a new dress every year.

Every year except this year.

Jack found Cassie in one of the galleries housing the Edward Hopper exhibit. He didn’t immediately join her. Instead he took his time wandering about the gallery. He took a few moments to gaze at Hopper’s most famous work ‘Nighthawks’. Three lonely people sitting in a diner in the wee small hours sipping coffee, because their homes were likely even more empty, the desolate street outside the window. Jack knew those people. He had been them at some point and would likely be them again at a later point.

Not wanting to dwell on that thought Jack moved onto the next painting, but it did little to erase his unease. It featured a man sitting on the edge of a bed in a plain room, morning light streaming in the window. The man was grey haired and fully clothed, his head bowed in sadness or shame or both. A red headed woman, half clothed, was lying on the bed behind him facing the wall. Jack hated the fact that he had been there before, sneaking out by the early morning light, because for the life of him he could not remember the name of the woman with whom he had spent the night. He hated the fact that he was such a man. A man who no matter how hard he tried to ignore and suppress it occasionally got that desperate a little human contact and company. He didn’t even understand why he did it because those few moments of pleasure and comfort did little to assuage the guilt and even greater loneliness he felt the next morning.

He missed his wife. Not even Sara specifically. He just missed having someone to love and someone who loved him in return. He wanted someone to spend what was left of his life with. A one night stand, no matter how great the sex, couldn’t compete with that.

He turned his back abruptly on the painting and moved over to where Cassie was sitting on a bench taking in the artwork before her.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a Hopper painting.”

Jack stood behind her with his hands stuffed in his pockets and glanced around the gallery they were in. “You frequently stand naked in front of your window?” he asked, trying for a joke because there was no way he wanted to believe that she truly understood the isolation and emptiness that was evoked by so many of Hopper’s paintings.

Cassie gave a startled laugh that came out more as a cough. “No, Jack,” she told him more than a little patronizing.

He settled down on bench beside Cassie and looked at the painting she was intently staring at. A painting that was not a naked woman staring out a window. It was a movie theatre, the patrons all snug in their seats enjoying the movie. A woman dressed as an usher stood off to the side alone, one arm crossed defensively over her chest, her other arm bent so her head rested in her palm. She didn’t look happy. Alone in a room full of people.

“Are you unhappy at college?”

Cassie let out a long sigh. “Not really. I’m actually really enjoying it. But… It’s kinda weird. I’ve always felt a little disconnected. I used to not notice it so much but lately… I don’t know. It’s hard in a way. No one can know about where I truly come from. The life I’ve had since coming here is so different than what I would have had. I wouldn’t have leaned how to read or write. I would have been married by now and probably had at least one child. Not that I want that life. I like art school. I have some great friends. But I…” she trailed off, her eyes full of some unnamed sadness.

“What?” Jack questioned gently.

“I feel like my family’s falling apart. Mom‘s gone, Sam doesn‘t have the time for me that she used to…”

“Cass-”

“I know, Jack. I know she deserves to have her life. I know she’ll be there if I really need her, but I don’t want things to change.”

Jack reached out and pulled her into a hug. He murmured against her hair. “Me either.”

---

“Jack, would you ever drink a box of wine?”

He had just stuck a heaping fork full of decadently rich red velvet cake in his mouth. He allowed himself to savor the taste before he responded. He took a sip of his coffee and asked,
“What do you mean? Like a case of wine? I don’t think even I could drink an entire case.”

Cassie shook her head and stared at the dregs in the bottom of her wine glass. “No, wine that comes out of a box.”

“I don’t know about where you come from, but around these parts wine comes out of a bottle.”

“Nah-uh. Not always. It’s in these big plastic bag things packaged in a card board box.”

“Wouldn’t it taste plastic-y?” he asked before taking another bit of the cream cheese frosted confection that most definitely didn’t taste like plastic.

“Yeah.”

“And one would want to drink wine in this manner, because…”

“It’s a better value.”

Jack’s eyebrow shot up in confusion. “Wasn’t aware alcohol, especially wine, was about value. Well, unless you’re a college kid getting drunk the fastest and cheapest you can.” He looked at her slightly disturbed, “You’re not drinking this bizarre box wine are you?”

“No, Sam had some in her refrigerator.”

“Carter drinks wine that comes out of a box?” he asked, both eyebrows rising in disbelief.

“Pete buys it.”

“Ah.” Jack concentrated back on his desert, hoping Cassie would get the point that he was not willing to ruin a lovely evening by having another discussion about Carter and her fiancé.

“Don’t you think it’s weird how much she’s changed since Pete?” she persisted.

Jack sighed and set his fork down, such a desert deserved nothing less than his undivided attention. “Cassie, people change when they’re in a relationship. It’s about compromise. You should know that. You’ve had plenty of boyfriends.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Sam’s got a life. When are you gonna get one?” Cassie demanded.

“I have a life.” He so did not want to get into this. He just wanted to finish his cake and then sit in his very expensive box seat and watch one of his favorite operas.

“Give me the highlights then.”

“I’d have to shoot you.”

“When are you going to get a real life?”

“I don’t have time for a real life.

“You have to make time. Isn’t that what you used to tell Sam?”

Jack glowered, but didn’t verbally respond.

“You‘re not going to be in the Air Force for forever, you know. Don‘t you want someone to take fishing with you?”

“I’m thinking a dog.”

“Jack, I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

“Jack, please…” she whined.

“Do we really have to discuss this?”

“Yes, I want you to be happy.”

“I’m happy right now.” He wasn’t lying. He was happy sitting here in this fine restaurant with Cassie. He’d be a little happier for she would stop with the questioning and he could eat his cake.

“What about later? What about when you go home alone?”

Jack was exasperated and spoke a little harsher than he really intended. “It’s better than going home to someone who you have to lie to when she asks you how your day was or where you were. I‘ve done that before. And in all honesty, that is really what ripped my marriage apart.”

“Sam got clearance for Pete.”

“Because he was a nosey bastard and didn‘t trust his girlfriend.” Jack took a deep breath, “Look, Cassie, don’t worry about me I’ll be fine. Can I finish my cake please?”

---

Cassandra stood at the conference room window transfixed by the activity down below. The Gate Room was a hive of activity, teams continuously coming and going through the open Stargate. General O’Neill stood at the base of the ramp greeting every returning team and sending off every out going team. He smiled, laughed, and joked with the personnel coming in and out of the Gate Room.

It wasn’t right.

She sensed someone coming to stand next to her. She glanced over to find it was Jack. He was dressed in his offworld fatigues in contrast to the General O’Neill below in his blue BDUs and stars on his collar. The Jack beside her stood with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets with a serious almost sad expression on his face.

“It’s not right,” she said.

“No, it’s not,” he responded watching everyone come and go through the Stargate, but General O’Neill.

She turned her attention back to the window. Daniel was walking in through the blast door. He shook General O’Neill’s hand and the beaming General clapped him on the back in a manly hug. Daniel stepped back and began to glow. She watched fascinated as his body seemed to crack in the middle with a bright light emanating from the fissure. The two halves of his body fell away until there was nothing left but a glowing ball of light. The shimmering dancing light floated up to and through the Stargate.

She looked at the face of the man next her, but could no longer discern any emotion in the stony façade.

She was drawn back to the Gate Room by the sight of a contingent of Jaffa coming through the Stargate. Among them were Bra’tac, Rya’c, and two female Jaffa she assumed to be Rya’c’s wife and Teal’c’s girlfriend. Teal’c himself was just entering the Gate Room. Dressed in long Jaffa robes, he stopped in front of General O’Neill and clasped his forearm. She couldn’t hear what was being said but she imaged it was something about honor and warrior brothers.

Her eyes shifted to Jack, but his face was blank as he watched General O’Neill smile and wave goodbye as Teal’c joined his fellow Jaffa and left through the Gate.

Shortly after the Jaffa left, Jacob Carter emerged through the still open wormhole. He greeted General O’Neill at the base of the ramp and they both stood there waiting. Soon a woman in a meringue-like wedding dress and veil entered escorted by Pete.

Sam.

Sam lifted the veil and gave General O’Neill a hug. He said something and tugged playfully on her veil. She grinned at him and he returned it. The still grinning General shook Pete’s hand, before the couple made their way up the ramp without a look back. They stepped through the Stargate with Jacob.

Finally the wormhole disengaged. The Gate Room was suddenly empty of everyone even the unnaturally jovial General O’Neill. Jack suddenly moved from beside her. He left the conference room and she could hear him clambering down the stairs. Soon he entered the Gate Room. He made his way determinedly to the Stargate. He walked up the ramp and stood directly below the huge ring. He looked up with desolate eyes and met her gaze as she still stood at the conference room window.

“ ‘The comedy is ended.’ ”

The chevrons on the Gate lit up all at once and she could only look on in horror as the event horizon billowed out vaporizing Jack.

“Jack!”

---

Jack could never go to sleep easily after the opera. Long into the night his mind would still be full of music. He could only toss and turn so much. There was only so much tossing and turning he could take. He wearily climbed out of bed and quietly made his way out of his bedroom into the living area of the suite. He went to the mini bar, his hand initially starting for the Jack Daniel’s, but when he caught sight of the little bottles of wine he couldn’t help grabbing one. Wine out of a box what kind of crap is that?

Settling on the couch, he picked up the remote and flicked the TV on. He muted it and began flipping through the channels. Never seemed to be much on this late at night.

Oooh…

The Music Man.

He had fond memories of his movie lover mother taking him to see this. She used to take him to the matinee every Saturday when he was a kid. One of his first crushes was on Marian the Librarian, which a pop psychologist might use to explain his adult penchant for tall brainy blondes. His adolescent predilection, too. The first time he got suspended from school was because of a fight to defend Sally Malcolm’s honor on the playground. He won the fight, but Sally had kicked him in the shin for daring to presume that she couldn’t have defended her own honor. Then the towering, golden pigtailed girl decided that his effort was gallant and rewarded him with his first kiss.

He wondered what Sally was up these days.

He heard Cassie’s bedroom door open and turned his head to see her rushing across the room. She threw herself on the couch and against him. Her arms surrounded him tightly and she buried her face in his T-shirt.

“Cass, what’s wrong?”

A sob wrenched from her. “Don’t die.”

Jacks arms settled around her and with one hand he pulled her long damp hair from her face. “I’m not planning on it anytime soon.” He hugged her tighter and stroked her hair, but she was inconsolable. He just let her cry, soaking his shirt to the skin. He didn’t say anything, just held her. Sometimes that’s all you could do.

Eventually her tears ceased and she lifted a hand to wipe at her eyes and nose.

“You okay?”

“I guess.”

“Bad dreams?” he guessed.

“Yeah,” she nodded against his chest.

“You wanna tell me?”

She didn’t respond immediately. He waited and continued to hold her. He was beginning to think that she had fallen asleep when she finally spoke. “Everyone leaves me. I keep having these dreams where everyone leaves or dies. Even my dog.” She gave a hallow laugh before continuing, “Everyone leaves or dies except you. And then you die too.” She pulled slightly away from him so she could meet his eyes. “You always kill yourself because they left you too.”

Jack closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear to see the pain and loss on Cassie’s face. “I can’t say I haven’t been in that place before, Cassie. But I swear as long as I have you I’ll never be in that place again.” He hugged her tightly to him. “I promise I’ll never leave you.”

---

The next morning Jack was awoke stiff from having slept on the couch with Cassie clinging desperately to him as if he would disappear in the night. They didn’t mention what had transpired the night before. Cassie was her normal slightly mischievous self as they made their way back to Colorado Springs. They picked Robin up and headed to the airport.

They stopped near the final security checkpoint where Cassie would have to go on alone. “Would you mind if I stayed with you during Christmas break?” she asked.

“Course not. You know that,” he smiled, pleased that that she would be home for Christmas and that he wouldn’t have to be alone.

“Thanks, Jack. For everything.”

“Anytime.”

She moved to hug him and he wrapped his long arms around her. “I’ll miss you.”

“Me, too.”

She pulled away and picked up her carryon. “I had fun.”

“Always.”

She turned headed for the security checkpoint.

“Cassie!”

They both turned to see Carter running down the hallway toward them. She skidded to a stop and took a moment to catch her breath. “Our plane just landed, but I wanted to make sure I got to see you before I left,” she told Cassie.

“How was the dog show, Carter?” Jack asked shooting Cassie a slight smirk.

“It was a wedding, sir,” she replied looking a little confused.

“My mistake.”

“Where’s Pete?” Cassie asked, shifting her bag to the other shoulder.

“Getting the luggage. Cassie, I‘m really sorry we didn‘t get a chance to spend any time together and go shopping.”

“It’s okay, Sam. Jack took me.”

“He did?” Carter gave him an amazed look.

“We had fun didn’t we, Cass?”

“Yeah, except Jack wouldn’t let me buy the dress I really wanted.” Cassie leaned in to Carter and whispered loudly, “He’s a little repressed these days, Sam. You might want to work on that.”

Carter cleared her throat and blushed slightly. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Jack pretended not to hear any of that and gazed around at the crowd..

“Well, I guess I better go. Don’t want to miss the plane.” Cassie gave Carter a quick hug. “Bye, Sam, Jack.”

“Bye, Cass.”

“Bye, Cassie.”

They watched Cassie get swallowed up by the crowd and Carter turned to Jack with a suspicious look, “Dog show, sir?”

He shrugged and gave her a small devilish smile. “It’s what Cassie told me. Did you have fun?”

“Loads,” she responded which Jack translated into ‘I’d rather have spent the weekend on Ne’tu.’

“Well, next year you might think about coming with us. We had fun,” Jack gave her one last smug smirk. “See ya tomorrow, Carter.”

---

End

---

A/N : “The comedy is ended.’ is the last line of Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci.
The art mentioned can be seen at these links:
Examples of Arts and Craft Movement ceramics: http://www.cl.utoledo.edu/canaday/artsandcrafts/decarts.html
Nighthawks: http://www.artic.edu/artaccess/AA_Modern/pages/MOD_7.shtml
Excursion into Philosophy: http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/gallery/0,8542,1224160,00.html
Eleven A.M. (example of one of Hopper’ nude women at a window): http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/image.asp?id=5494
New York Movie: http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A2726&page_number=3&template_id=1&sort_order=1

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Well, I hope everyone enjoyed that. I had been tossing the idea of a Jack/Cassie bonding fic but being the lazy writer I am hadn’t gotten around to it. Thanks to who ever gave me this plot bunny.

My assignment:

Time frame: Any
Pairings: None specified
Plot: Cassie-Jack fic. The fic focuses on Jack's and Cassie's relationship. It needs to be drama (mystery, angst, or hurt-comfort). It should involve a nightmare somehow.