I never expected to see Jack O'Neill in my office.
Of course we knew each other. General Hammond may have been the one to select me for the position, but it was Colonel O'Neill who'd evaluated my training. He'd made it extremely clear that he didn't like the idea of a chaplain, but, since there'd been a sufficient number of requests from personnel, he knew the SGC had to have one. The fact that I could reduce Dr. Jackson's workload by taking most of the ancient Greek translations and some of the Sanskrit ones probably cemented my standing.
But, other than staff evaluations and "thou shalt be there" social functions to schmooze politicians, we didn't know each other. I daresay I know him better than he knows me, thanks to Dr. Jackson. Daniel. I see him fairly frequently these days. Not only have several SGC teams been following up on Cronus' power bases, we've also run into some references that imply Nirrti might have assassinated Aphrodite a couple of millenia ago.
Usually, as my supervisor, Daniel and I talk about where and how things were discovered. But since Daniel had some personal knowledge of Cronus from a diplomatic meeting here at the SGC from a little before my time, I got to hear some interesting stories about the SGC, SG-1, and Colonel O'Neill.
Lately, though, well, let's just say Daniel's been having a rough time of it. Thanks to some alien tech he's been left with a bad taste in his mouth vis-ˆ-vis psychology which means that I occasionally operate as his safety valve. I would say his pastor, but he's not of my faith nor any faith that the chaplaincy serves. Underneath, I'd say there's a belief in something greater than we are, but, like so many at this command, meeting beings who claim to have been gods has made him leery of accepting religion at face value.
O'Neill, on the other hand, took me quietly aside after my first week here and told me he thought having any religious representation on base was dangerous. If most of the people who see me are in my office due to a loss of faith or a fear of psychology, the ones that worry me the most are those who think the Tau'ri are supposed to be out in the galaxy promoting the one true god. Some, like Colonel Makepeace, thought that higher power was the US government, while others were in favor of promoting Christianity -- as if Christians were all alike and in complete agreement.
I respect Colonel O'Neill. He's clear about his expectations and beliefs. He terrifies me, but I respect him.
"So, do I call you madre?'
"Major, Reverend, Sheila, Doctor Pierce are all acceptable."
"No sense of humor, then."
"I have fundamentalist personnel telling me that I'm a disgrace for trying to be a minister because Jesus only selected male apostles. It's an area where I'm a little sensitive."
"See, that's what I like. You're completely straightforward. Textbook psychology, give me a little 'in' on your problems and maybe I'll tell you mine."
"Colonel. You walked into my office without an appointment. I have nearly fifty wall inscriptions that SG-14 found on MX3-558 to translate."
"How pressing are those inscriptions?"
"There was nothing else on MX3-558 to warrant our interest."
O'Neill looks at me, and I nod him to the chair on the other side of my desk. He starts to shut the door, and I ask him to slide the little card over to the other side of the track so that it reads "In conference."
"I've got to get one of those for my door," he says taking his seat. He looks around my office. "Ever use the sofa?"
"Why are you here, Colonel?"
"I know the regulations, but I need to know... what do you tell the general?"
"If I think someone is a danger to himself or others, I send a recommendation for a psychiatric evaluation to Doctor Fraiser and copy General Hammond. Otherwise, I have discretion. It would take a lot for me to violate a confidence."
Colonel O'Neill looks thoughtful. "Violate. Like violating regs?"
"It depends on the regulation. Conscience plays a large part. If I cannot in good conscience keep silent...."
He gives me an assessing look. "Give me an example."
"At my last command there were two incidents involving a senior officer having an affair with enlisted personnel. I turned one couple in because their relationship was affecting morale, constituted adultery on the part of the officer, and got the sergeant involved certain favors that were separate from both the command and their affair. He received a dishonorable discharge, and she was asked to resign her commission. The other affair was between two single people. They knew the regulations, and the officer requested reassignment. He made it clear that it didn't matter which one of them was reassigned. In addition, he neither granted special favors nor had them requested of him. In short, they were in love, but they weren't dishonorable in any way. I helped to counsel them and signed off on the request for reassignment."
"In other words the relationships don't bother you, but the consequences might."
"Exactly. In this command, I think those consequences could be magnified many times over." I've heard the rumors about O'Neill's caring more than he should for Major Carter -- most of the base has. So far, it's only a rumor and, if the few conversations that I've had are to be believed, completely platonic.
SG-1 has had a run of bad luck lately. Perhaps that's the reason he's here. Even those who don't believe -- or so I've always assumed of him -- sometimes need to rail against God.
"Why do people come to you?"
"Because I'm not medical. A visit to their chaplain doesn't go on their record. The military can be pretty backward when it comes to 'mental problems' in high security areas. And believe it or not, many people here have a deep belief. What they're facing in the field leads them to question their religious views and beliefs and, sometimes, themselves and their worth. Who better to listen to them or pray with them than the chaplain?"
"I'm not a believer."
"Fair enough, Colonel."
"I was. It seems a long time ago, now."
I nod and wait for him to continue. Sometimes, I'll have someone on the other side of the desk who doesn't speak a word to me the entire time they're in my office.
"What do you know about my last mission?"
"We were all elated when you came back."
"Teal'c and I were literally down to our last breaths. Everything was gone. I didn't come back to God."
I nod, then realize that in his pacing he's turned his back on me. "There's no reason why you should. If you truly have no faith, it's better that you face death honestly than try to bargain with someone you don't believe in."
I know better than to fill the pause. Several minutes pass.
"When Teal'c offered to kel-no-reem to conserve air, there were two reasons that I agreed to it. I figured it was like being a POW. Your first duty is to stay alive. Your second is to stay as healthy as possible. The third is to attempt escape. You can't do the third, if you've neglected the first two."
This time he's looking at me for an answer, so inclining my head is enough.
"So Teal'c's conserving air might give everyone back here enough time to plan our rescue -- let us escape our death." He's still looking at me intently to see if I follow him.
"I understand, Colonel."
The tension in his shoulders eases for a second, then he begins pacing again. "I'll never tell anyone else the second reason."
"You thought Teal'c might slip from life to death more easily. And he might not witness your struggle for your last moments of life."
Colonel O'Neill turns to me shocked. "You...know."
"I've been lucky, Colonel. I've never had to know in the bone that I was going to die within a finite amount of time. But I've heard stories from people of all ranks in the front lines, who've been behind enemy lines, or who are dying in hospitals. I have a faint glimmer of understanding for those last few minutes -- for the need for privacy in death."
He sits down and puts his head in his hands. "It took me a week to realize that I needed to talk to someone about this, and another week to decide you were my best bet. Then you just come out with it. I underestimated you."
"Don't be so certain of that. I truly can't know what you faced."
"You understand enough, I think."
"Thank you." From past experiences, I would have thought that this would be the moment when his mind lifted a little. With a believer this might be the moment when he asked me to pray for or with him, but Colonel O'Neill is still deeply troubled.
"When I say, everything was gone... I mean...I knew what was important to me. Whose face might come to comfort me in those last minutes where I fought to breathe."
So, maybe he's finally recognized his feelings for Major Carter. I'll help him with the reassignment paperwork or whatever he needs. "Go on."
"Teal'c and I were dying as brothers in arms, but he wasn't there, y'know. Not at those last few breaths. My only hope for Carter was that she wouldn't feel like she'd failed. For all her abilities, she really doesn't handle failure all that well. And my ex-wife was like a fond memory. Thinking of her had gotten me through months of imprisonment, and believe me I feared death there every single day, but now, I could barely remember her face.
"I hoped I'd see Charlie again, if there were an afterlife. I don't think you have to believe in God to believe that spirits are immortal. I mean, look at that Oma Desala chick. Not that I held out any hope she'd be pulling me to one of her higher planes. Teal'c maybe, but me?"
I couldn't tell if the sound that came out of his throat was a sob, a snort, or a laugh. Maybe it was all three.
Without looking at me, he continues softly. "Daniel. I wanted Daniel with me. I wanted him to hold me and be there when I left this life for whatever might be next. Daniel."
It feels wrong for me to be listening to him. Not because of "don't ask, don't tell" or because he outranks me, but because I've never heard another person so naked in their need. No wonder it took him so long to decide to talk. The courage it took for him to come here at all astounds me.
I finally find my voice. "Daniel's a good man. I believe he's a loving man. There's no shame in loving him."
"Shame. I'm ashamed of how I've been treating him these last few months; I'm not ashamed of how I feel about him. But..."
He just stops. When the pause finally feels too long, I prompt him. "But?"
"I think I offer something to this command and to SG-1. The only honorable way to love him is to retire, and that wastes what I have to give. We couldn't have saved the planet without all four of us. We complement each other, and I'm not the type to be modest. I know that I'm as necessary to the team as Carter's physics, Teal'c's knowledge of the enemy, or Daniel's ability to make nice and comprehend other cultures. How can I as an officer take away my services when I know they're needed?"
My prayers for guidance are silent. "Colonel, what is our oath?"
His answer is automatic, "To protect and defend the Constitution and the population from all foreign enemies." His lips quirk a little. "Domestic enemies belong to the FBI or the National Guard."
"You've done that for nearly thirty years. Unless you make general, at the end of thirty years, you're going to have to deprive us of your services."
"I'll be on the bill with some of those other officers who are in sensitive and necessary roles. I hit my thirty a month ago."
That pulls me up short. "Ah. Well, whatever decision you come to, I hope you'll include Daniel in the process."
"Even if I thought he could love me -- you know, physically the kind of love we had with our wives -- how can I tell him that yet another person who loves him has to leave him. No. Not leave him, but not be with him completely. He deserves more than that."
I'm still praying for guidance to help this man in the way he needs to be helped, but at the moment that way is murky.
Colonel O'Neill interrupts my reverie. "Does he ever talk about me? I know he comes to you sometimes, and I think it might be for more than your translations."
I smile a little. "Colonel, I can't even say yes or no to that."
"Because violating a little confidence might lead you to violate one of the big ones."
"Something like that." I hesitate. "I can say, since he's my boss where translations are concerned, I've learned that Daniel values honesty above everything else."
"May I ask what you think of 'Don't ask, don't tell?'"
"I think it's a mistake. Worse than the discrimination of kicking out gays was. At least that was an honest prejudice which could be fought. This is the equivalent of kicking fog."
"The UCMJ says I have the right to disobey orders that I don't think are lawful."
"Do you plan to tell General Hammond that you're going to violate that particular order?"
He looks at his hands. "No. But if I tell Daniel, I'm going to want more than conversation. If he can give me that, I'm going to take it."
I hear the unasked question. "As long as there's no evidence that your relationship is hurting the dynamic of the team or hurting this command, I have no reason to discuss anything with General Hammond."
"If you do see that evidence, will you come to me first? Let me file my papers?"
"I can see a couple of scenari that might make me go to the General first, but they'd be pretty extreme. I'll do my best to give you a chance to retire rather than face court-martial."
"I won't tell you how the conversation goes. If it goes well, it could put you in an awkward position."
"I understand, Colonel. There's one other issue. Do you feel you can trust Doctor Fraiser? Because consummating your relationship may, ah..."
When he looks up, Colonel O'Neill's smile is peaceful. He's come to terms. "Leave some physical indications?"
My smile answers his. "Exactly, sir."
"It will be one more thing to bring up with Daniel -- if he doesn't run in shock and horror. We haven't been as close as we were lately."
"You can use this office if you need neutral ground. My translation work takes me to the linguists' office rather than bringing him here."
"Thank you, Sheila. I don't think this is a discussion we should have anywhere near the mountain, but thank you."
I can feel the shift. He's ready to leave now. The burden has been lifted at least to the point that he can discuss this with Daniel.
"My door is always open, Colonel."
"In this context, feel free to call me Jack."
He's risen to leave, so I stand too. There's a moment of hesitation before he shakes my hand. Jack changes the status on my door before he goes out.
It's three weeks before I run into Daniel down in the linguists' area. He's searching out books on Phoenician dialects to take with him on some Tok'ra mission.
I've never seen any man look so radiantly happy.