There were words Jack never said. He had no reason to say them when he was deployed to places he tried not to think about, no one to say them to after he retired, and no right to say them once he joined the Stargate Program. He had seen the words on the lips of wives or girlfriends, in the eyes of children.
He found them on his tongue when they opened the gate and he watched people he cared about—people he loved—go somewhere he couldn’t follow, not anymore, not again. He found them against his teeth when he picked up the phone in his too-big office in a city he hated always hated to hear names of people who would never walk back through the gate, whose tags had been brought back, or hadn’t been, because sometimes there wasn’t even that much left, because choices had to be made, and they never wanted to leave anybody behind, but the living should always choose the living.
He chewed them with his too-expensive food that tasted like ashes in his mouth because nothing tasted quite right when he didn’t know if they were safe. He drank them with his beer, sometimes too much when something was going wrong, when the people he cared about were in danger and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
He thought them to the children playing in parks he passed on the runs that were more like jogs because damn it, but his doctors were probably right that he needed new knees. He repeated the thoughts to their parents, who wouldn’t be walking into the unknown situations through the gate but the known situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever new hellhole needed people with guns and not enough will to live to know that their lives were worth something while they were still breathing. Because he had seen what that did to Sarah, to Charlie, to Carter, and they needed to raise more Carters, but God, he wanted to spare them that pain.
He pressed them behind his lips when in bed with her, because he knew she didn’t sleep on the ship, like he hadn’t slept on missions, not really, because there were people relying on them, and she was curled against him now, both exhausted and tense like she forgot during her time on the ship how to relax, how to breathe. And he couldn’t bear to wake her, because no matter that he wanted to see her looking at him with eyes that should not be that blue, he wanted more for her to live. He would give anything for her to live, but he couldn’t, because if she lived to the loss of all else, it would be no life, not for her, and he would have lost her anyway. And perhaps because he didn’t love her enough, or he loved her too much, that he would not give up the world for her.
He felt them when listening to Daniel. Daniel, who he had broken; Daniel, who had become a soldier because he had no choice. Daniel, who he had watched turn angry, his hair being cut short as he lost bits of Sha’re and Skaara and Abydos and gave his life too many times for a world that would never know
He breathed them around Teal’c, who had given up his life for a world he hadn’t known. Teal’c, who kept fighting, older than any of them would ever live to be, wiser than any of them would ever be, who kept fighting because he wanted not only a free world but a good one. Teal’c, who knew and said nothing because he knew just as well that speaking the words out loud wouldn’t solve anything.
He wrote them on resignation letters he shredded as soon as they were finished, love letters he burned. Because the words had to go somewhere or he would tear himself apart from the inside out, and shredded or burned, they couldn’t do anything.
There were words Jack never said. Because it wasn’t something he could ask of someone, no matter how much he loved them, no matter how much he wanted them to be safe. Because that wasn’t a position he had the right to put anyone in, especially not the people he cared about.
Because he was afraid that, one day, they might say yes.