The last person Catherine Langford expected to show up at her door was Jack O’Neill.
She knew she did a poor job of hiding her surprise when she greeted him. “Colonel O’Neill?” She frowned at the man’s implacable expression, his dark aviators hiding any hint of humanity, and she wondered why he’d tracked her down.
She had but briefly seen (and spoken to not at all) the colonel after his return from Abydos. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say he’d even been avoiding her. Not that she minded. She had not hit it off with the hard-nosed colonel, and the less interaction she had with him, the better. The mission report told her all she needed to know about what happened on Abydos.
Part of her blamed Jack for Daniel dying on the planet. It was Jack’s job to get everyone home, and he’d failed.
It was easier to blame Jack for letting Daniel die than to blame herself for getting Daniel involved in the first place.
What followed was a silent stand-off. Jack looked constipated, while Catherine grew more annoyed with his head games as the seconds ticked by. Military. Even in his civilian clothes, Jack screamed ‘military’ from a mile away.
“Did you want something?” she finally asked, her tone terse.
A flicker of something crossed his face, a twitch of his mouth, and his rigid stance faltered. “I have something for you.” But he said nothing more.
The evasive bullshit had Catherine’s short fuse down to the quick. “Now, look, I don’t know what kind of cloak and dagger nonsense this is, but I get enough of it from General West without you coming to my home to show me how much authority you have here. I’m not interested in you flexing your muscle over the lowly civilian contractor. I’m not impressed, and I’m not intimidated. So if that’s all this is…”
“No, I –” Jack’s voice cracked and he stopped.
Catherine did, too. The catch in his throat snared her attention like the gleam of a golden artifact peeking through the sand. It wasn’t the bluster she was used to from Jack O’Neill. It sounded like real emotion.
Jack dipped a hand into his jacket pocket and looked first left down her street, then right.
Catherine tried not to roll her eyes and slam the door in his face.
“Could you come with me, ma’am?”
Catherine sucked in a breath to give him a tongue-lashing.
Again, the incongruity of genuine emotion (well, an emotion besides anger, at any rate) from Jack gave Catherine pause.
Against her better judgment, she grabbed a jacket and joined him on the porch. “Colonel O’Neill…”
“Not here,” he said quietly. Then he gestured toward a car parked on the curb.
Catherine gave Jack a leery look. Everything she knew about this man told her not to trust him. And yet…
Yet there was something about him now, something different from the man who’d left through the Stargate, that brought her up short and made her instincts say ‘wait… just… wait…’
So she went with him. She got in his car, sat through a painfully quiet twenty minute car ride with him, and didn’t do more than raise her eyebrows when he pulled into a cemetery.
When they both got out, she was far more curious than she was annoyed.
Jack began to stroll, seemingly without direction, and Catherine took up alongside him.
For several minutes, they meandered amid tombstones without a word. To Catherine, it felt a little too poignant. Daniel was the ghost between them. She could almost feel his presence haunting her.
The words were softly-spoken, but they were dropped like an anvil.
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned to look at him. “What?”
Jack looked aggrieved that she had stopped, took her gently by the elbow, and prompted her to keep moving.
Catherine let him guide her around a tree before she said lowly, “The report said he was killed. The report said the site of the gate was nuked.”
Catherine’s mind was reeling. “Why?” Then she gasped. “Oh god, you left him.”
Jack probably cut a look at her (it was hard to tell behind his sunglasses), then he scanned the cemetery. They were apparently the only living people in it today. “You remember Sha’re?”
The name was vaguely familiar from reading the mission report. “A native woman on Abydos, if that part of your report was true.”
“It was. Daniel married her.”
“Excuse me? He did what, now?”
“He chose to stay behind with her.”
Catherine was flabbergasted. But she also couldn’t say it was completely out of character, either. She’d hardly known Daniel any more than Jack had when he unlocked the Stargate and went through it. Maybe he was the kind of person to fall in love in a week. She certainly knew he’d had nothing on Earth to come back to.
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Daniel Jackson was an archaeologist, and from the way the mission report described it, the world was a living throwback to ancient Egypt. And Jack had left Daniel on it.
Catherine let out a deep sigh. “Thank goodness for that.”
Jack turned his head to look at her.
Catherine looked up, sheepish, and shrugged. “I felt awful for dragging him into this mess and getting him killed. I’m glad to know I didn’t.”
“No, ma’am. In fact, Daniel would thank you for getting him involved.” Jack drew to a stop and Catherine followed suit.
Jack took another careful look around the cemetery, then he reached into his pocket. “He wanted me to give this back to you… he said it brought him luck.” He laid the coiled Eye of Ra pendant in her palm.
Unexpected tears pricked at her eyes.
“If not for that necklace, we might have been stoned by the natives,” Jack said. Then he deadpanned, “Though now that I think about it, probably not. I don’t recall seeing any rocks.”
Catherine traced a finger over the etched lines of the pendant, then she looked up at Jack with a frown. His expression was unreadable, but that didn’t matter. “You have a sense of humor.”
“Occasionally,” he answered, face still unmoved.
Catherine snorted. “Dry, though.”
A smile cracked Catherine’s face. “Well, how about that.” She looked down at the pendant and marveled at the distances it had traveled. It seemed such a tiny, unremarkable thing, but it had changed the course of history more than once.
Jack shifted tensely, and Catherine took heed. She folded her fingers around the pendant and tucked it into her pocket. She looked up at Jack and narrowed her eyes thoughtfully.
Jack, stone-faced, stared back.
“Take off your sunglasses,” she said on impulse.
Part of her expected him to refuse. To scowl and snarl some crap about military protocol and the never-ending quest to look cool and dangerous.
Instead, Jack’s expression twitched in puzzlement, then he reached up and plucked the sunglasses off without complaint.
It was the first time since he left for Abydos that she’d really looked him in the eye… and she had to say, he wasn’t quite the same man she’d seen before. He was changed. In Catherine’s opinion, for the better. He looked like there was life behind his eyes – deep and buried, but there. Before, looking Jack O’Neill in the eye had been eerily like looking into the face of a dead man.
“A lot more happened on that planet that you’re not telling me, didn’t it?”
A flicker of warmth sparked in his gaze before he shut it down. “Yes, ma’am.”
Catherine rubbed her thumb over the pendant in her pocket as she thought about Daniel. Was he just as changed by the experience? Would seeing Daniel Jackson now be like seeing a different person? “Do you think he’s happy?”
A hint of a smile tugged at one corner of Jack’s mouth. “Yes, ma’am. I do.”
Catherine closed her eyes in staggering relief. “Good.” It felt like the cover stone of the Stargate had been crushing her, and knowing Daniel was alive and well lifted that weight from her. She could breathe again. “Thank you for telling me, Colonel.”
Jack paused. “Ms. Langford, you know you can’t breathe a word of what I’ve told you to anyone.”
“Please,” Catherine scoffed. “I’ve been dealing in top secret military matters for years. I know the drill.” She regarded him a moment. “And I also know you had no reason to tell me Daniel’s okay. It could only put you at risk.”
“Yeah, well… Daniel seemed to think you can be trusted.”
He wouldn’t have given Jack the pendant to return to her, complete with a message, if he hadn’t.
“And you trust Daniel’s opinion?” That would be a shocking new development, as well.
Jack seemed to be torn between annoyance and respect. “Yes, ma’am, I do.”
“I hope one day you’ll tell me everything.” Because it sounded like the mission report didn’t even scratch the surface of what happened on Abydos.
“Maybe,” Jack answered ambiguously.
Catherine knew better than to press for more.
“Come on, I’ll take you home,” Jack said lowly, and with an outstretched arm that never touched her he herded her back toward the car.
Catherine went gratefully, her spirit lighter for the tiny weight in her pocket.
She had not expected her day to include a visit with Colonel Jack O’Neill, but she was infinitely glad that it had.