[Moments of Adoration]
The opening bit of this popped into my head en toto one evening. I had no idea where it would go, but I knew it couldn't be good. I was right. On that note, I hope you like it. Thanks, as always, to Cal and Michelle.
Jack sat up, struggling with the blankets and the remnants of sleep. Eyes - wide, blue, familiar eyes - had stared at him, watching him.
"What's wrong?" Nora murmured sleepily, tousled head poking out of the blankets.
"It's... nothing. Just a dream. Go back to sleep." She did, immediately drifting off, but Jack didn't take his own advice. Rolling out of bed, he padded to the window. Stars patterned the expanse of night sky. Stars he knew nothing about, other than what Nora told him.
He dreamed about them sometimes, weaving her stories into his own attempts to understand why he was here.
Those eyes, though, they were no dream fabrication. They were real. Important.
He was remembering.
Jack swirled the juice pulp in the bottom of his glass. "Caleb thinks winter will be early this year."
Nora paused, creating a small lull in the now- familiar sounds of breakfast preparation.
She never let him help.
"Caleb always thinks that. Everything is the end of the world with him." Nora shrugged. "When you came through the-"
Everything stopped. The remains of the juice sloshed, then stilled. Nora stood in the center of the kitchen frozen, clutching a pot and wooden spoon.
He liked Nora's eyes. Wide and green and bright like her stars.
But not right. Not blue.
"Maybe. I don't know."
He did, though. Blue and eyes and water and sky. The Stargate.
His name. Jack.
Jack O'Neill. Colonel, United States Air Force.
He drained the glass, gagging on the pulp as he pushed away from the table. The chair legs screeched loudly on the tiles. "I... I need... to go..."
"... out. For a while."
He remembered blue.
Jack sat up shivering, a sudden cold sweat soaking his shirt. Daniel had blue eyes. Daniel. Daniel was...
... glasses, geek, pain in the ass, brilliant.
He was out of the bed, across the room, before he realized it. Once again at the window, staring at the stars. The wrong stars.
It wasn't a dream. Daniel was real. Daniel was important.
Jack's head fell forward, forehead resting against the cool glass while his stomach twisted.
He should be happy. He remembered.
The problem was those weren't Daniel's eyes watching him.
He felt Nora settle on the porch steps behind him. Her strong fingers dug into his shoulders.
Usually it soothed him. Not today, though.
Probably not ever again.
"What are those?" She leaned forward, resting her chin on his shoulder. Pointed to the shapes he'd carved in the dirt with a stick. "They look like symbols from the pedestal."
"You remember what they do."
He did. Oh God, he did.
"The symbols represent points in space." The words tumbled free, quick and breathless. "And the Gate uses that information to create an inter-dimensional conduit between itself and another Gate. You walk through one Gate, come out the other, and voila."
It sounded so simple.
Nora's hands slid from his shoulders to clasp around his chest. She smelled like the dark green grass and heat and cinnamon. "But don't you still have to travel the distance between the Gates?"
"Sort of." He looked around the yard, gestured to the plum trees that bordered the property. "Think of space like one of those plums. The Gates create a hole that lets us crawl the shorter distance through the plum like a worm, rather than making us go all the way around on the surface."
Nora laughed, her breath warm and sweet against his cheek. "I'll never look at plums the same way again."
Jack shrugged. He felt that way about a lot of things.
"It's a stupid metaphor."
"How many worlds have you been to?"
They lay in the grass, skin flushed and damp, legs tangled. Nora's fingers worked absently through his sweat-soaked hair while his stroked her hip.
"A couple hundred." Jack shifted, suddenly uneasy as her tongue trailed along his collarbone. "Don't."
She jerked back, staring at him. "Oh. Did... you remember... you... have someone."
But he didn't.
"No, it's... nothing like that. I just... I had a son. He died. My wife... well, we, she..."
Nora placed a finger against his lips. "I understand."
He wished he did.
But not Sara's. Not Charlie's.
Jack took a deep breath against the sudden ache in the pit of his stomach. "I don't have a family like that anymore."
"But there are people. Important people."
"You miss them."
Too much. The weight of her against his chest was too much and he couldn't breathe.
"What's going to happen?"
The breeze picked up, and Jack's skin prickled against the chill. "I don't know." But he did. And so did she.
Nora pushed away from him, shivering as she sat up and pulled on her shirt. Her eyes were on the stars.
"I think Caleb's right," she said before she walked into the house.
Jack didn't follow.
He dragged a finger across the surface of the event horizon, watching it ripple.
He wondered why it was blue.
"You're not coming back."
Nora. Standing behind him, resolute, and for a second Jack saw someone else. Another woman who cared for him when he was lost.
Maybe... He let his mind fill in details: dark hair, rough hands.
Brown eyes, not blue.
Nothing was right anymore.
Jack slung the rucksack over his shoulder. Nora had made him lunch. "No. But..."
She held up her hand. "I know. You're grateful, you will always think of me..."
But he wasn't sure he would. And it bothered him that it didn't bother him, that he couldn't even muster any regret at leaving her behind.
He didn't think he was like that.
"You deserve better."
"Yes." Her smile was sad, but a smile still. She knew. She always had. "Go home, Jack."
Daniel swept the brush over the engravings. Short, sure strokes lifted the dust away. It choked him, but that was okay. He liked the dry tickle in his throat, the coarse texture when he ran his tongue along his teeth. He even liked the prickling scrape behind his eyelids when he blinked.
Simple things with causes, effects, solutions. Feelings he could explain away without digging too deep.
Those were few and far between these last few months.
Practiced flicks of his wrist sent more dust spiraling, revealed more tablet. He stared at it blankly. At first, he'd welcomed these excavation missions. The long stretches of thinking about anything but those first gut-wrenching weeks of waiting and loss and hope that just kept cycling over and over and never really ended, no matter how tired he was.
Now, though, he found it all tedious. Meaningless.
Everyone told him it would get easier.
He frowned at the engravings. Something about farming. That one meant "grain". Or maybe "cattle".
He slammed the brush down. The wooden handle cracked. "What?!"
Teal'c stood in the arched entrance of the temple. "Colonel Wendell sent me to get you. They are recalling us."
For Christ's sake. He was never going to finish this. "Why?"
"General Hammond..." Teal'c hesitated. "He said it was about Colonel O'Neill."
A familiar figure sat slumped on a bed, Janet and General Hammond standing on either side. Not looking at the bed, its occupant, or even each other.
"Oh my God. Jack."
Legs sprawled, arms tight across his chest, Jack looked up. "Daniel. Teal'c."
"You..." Daniel pulled off his glasses. Rubbed at the dust scratching his eyes.
It doesn't get easier. Ever.
Jack shrugged. "Reports of my death, yadda yadda yadda."
Daniel staggered against the bed next to Jack's, leaning against it, fingers smearing dark streaks across the painfully white sheets.
A strong, warm hand settled on his shoulder, anchoring him. "We have been... distressed at your absence, O'Neill."
"Distressed..." Daniel's fingers dug into the fabric. After all the waiting and loss and hope, it burned. "Where the fuck have you been, Jack?!"
He didn't understand his anger. Jack was here. Jack was alive. Jack and...
Loss and hope.
His eyes wouldn't stop itching.
"Jack, where's Sam?"
Janet closed her eyes. General Hammond stared at the floor.
Teal'c's fingertips dug into his skin.
And Jack. His jaw tightened. A wash of helpless rage twisted his lips into tight pale lines. A cold panic filled his eyes.
"For Christ's sake, I don't know anyone named Sam!"
Jack watched Mackenzie rub his thumb along the side of his pen. Neither of them wanted to be here.
"You said you always remembered your name."
Hard stone against his back. A twisting, shearing pain in the center of his skull. Hands stroking his face.
A harsh voice, his voice, croaking "My name is Jack" over and over - a frantic mantra he clung to like it was the only thing he had left.
"Yeah. Then I had this dream, and it all started coming back."
"But not how you got to the planet. And not about Major Carter."
But there are people. Important people.
"No." He wished his head would stop throbbing.
"Tell me about the dream, Colonel."
Water. Sky. Eyes.
Daniel watching him. Frantic. Hoping.
Jack, where's Sam?
"It's... nothing. Just a dream."
Go back to sleep.
Mackenzie tapped the pen against the side of his hand. "Do you want to help Major Carter?"
I don't know anyone named Sam.
"I don't... I mean, yes, but..." Jack tugged at his shirt. The weight against his chest was too much and he couldn't breathe.
"Then tell me what happened."
What's going to happen?
"I don't know!" He was on his feet, across the room, resting his head against the cool metal.
He wished he could see the stars.
"Fraiser said there was damage. From a hand device."
"Not the sort of damage that would explain your very specific memory loss, Colonel." Still tapping his damned pen against his skin. "Something happened. Something that made you suppress your memories of it. And her."
You... have someone.
Jack splayed his fingers against the wall, pressing until he felt the joints crack. "It's not like I did this on purpose."
He wasn't like that.
"What if you did?" Mackenzie asked, gentle and soft and relentless. "Somehow you escaped and she didn't."
"I... I don't leave people behind."
You're not coming back.
"Sometimes there's no choice, Colonel. There are times we are forced to do the things we'd like to think we're incapable of doing. You of all people know that."
He did. Oh God, he did.
"Sometimes," Mackenzie looked down at his hand, and the pen stilled. "We have to learn to look beyond the act, beyond what we hope we are. Being perfect, being ideal isn't hard, Colonel. It's facing yourself, and moving on, when you fail that makes or breaks a person."
You will always think of me.
"Tell me about the dream, Jack."
Maybe. I don't know.
He remembered blue.
"Eyes," Jack said, numb and cold and his head still hurt. "Blue eyes..."
He hated blue.
His house smelled musty.
After a week Fraiser still didn't want to let him go, but when Jack casually mentioned to Daniel that going home might help him remember, it had taken exactly thirty minutes before Daniel was bundling him into a car.
Some things never changed.
Now, all he really wanted to do was finish his beer, take a shower and sleep, but Daniel had other ideas. He sat down across from Jack.
"Can we do this later?" But Jack took what Daniel shoved across the kitchen table at him. A picture.
A woman. A wash of blue.
"Jesus." He dropped the picture as if it burned, launching out of his chair.
Over and over and he can't make it stop.
His head snapped up, almost slamming into Daniel's chin. He was pressed into the corner, and Daniel stood in front of him, fingers digging into his arms. "Jack, what's wrong?"
"She's..." Never made a sound like that. Wet and broken and hollow and he begged her to stop, please God stop it, and always those wide blue eyes watched him.
Watched him leave.
Oh God, no.
His legs gave out and he slid to the floor, dragging down Daniel with him.
They never left him alone now, Daniel and Teal'c. He couldn't remember a day where one or the other had been out of his sight for more than a few minutes.
He knew what they were thinking.
There might have been a few minutes where he thought it too.
Jack slid the card key he'd stolen from Daniel through the lock. It wouldn't be long before one or the other came looking for him.
The lab still sounded the same. Looked the same.
Some things never changed.
Sometimes everything did.
He sat in her chair, stretching out his legs. His fingers found the crumpled edge of the picture he now kept in his pocket.
He never looked at it.
There were still blank spots. How he'd escaped. Why. How he'd gotten to Nora's planet. Fraiser said he might never get that back.
Deep down, he was glad. There were things he didn't want to remember. Things that woke him up in a cold sweat every night.
He didn't like to think he was like that.
But he was.
Footsteps scuffled in the doorway. Daniel and Teal'c. "Jack, thank God. We've been looking all over for you."
"Uh, yeah." Jack shifted in the chair, waiting for the scolding.
It never came.
"The Tok'ra... Jack, they found Sam."
She lay on the bed, skin pallid around fading bruises. Jacob stood across from him, cradling her bandaged hand.
"I left her."
"I know." Jacob placed her hand on the sheet. Her fingers were so pale they were almost indistinguishable from the fabric. "She told me."
She'd watched him leave.
He remembered that.
He wished he didn't.
Jack sat on the edge of the bed, his hand almost touching hers. Close enough to feel the heat of her skin.
He looked up. Jacob was halfway to the door. "She doesn't blame you."
No, she wouldn't. She wasn't like that.
Jacob glanced back at the bed. "I don't know."
He dreamed. Of grass and heat and plums. Of stars and Charlie.
Jack felt a flutter against his fingers and woke to a wash of blue.
Jack slid his fingers along her face. Following the tears. "Carter, I..."
Left you behind. Forgot you. Did everything wrong. Can't say I'm sorry enough can't make it up to you can'tbreathecan'tbreathe....
"...I'm not what I thought I was."
She did. She knew there was no ideal. Just him. Trying.
She always had.
Something broke loose inside him. His head fell forward, forehead resting against her cool skin.
A hand stroked his face.
He loved her eyes. Wide and bright like the stars.
Pale fingers pressed against his mouth. "I understand."
Always watching him.
Jack didn't. He wasn't sure he ever would. But maybe it wasn't the end of the world.
He knew these stars.