Title: "Things Change"

Author: Hoodat Whatzit

Email: hoodatwhatzit@comcast.net

Status: complete

Category: episode tag, angst,

Pairings: none

Spoilers: Unnatural Selection (and indirectly for Fallen)

Season: Six

Sequel: none

Rating: PG

Content Warnings: none

Summary: A late night at the SGC after a particularly troubling mission helps Jack make an important personal decision.

Disclaimer: Stargate Sg-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.

File Size: 39 KB

Archive: Jackfic, Cartouche, Heliopolis, Others please ask.

Author's Note: My take on the when, why, and how of one of the most important developments in the characterization of Jack O'Neill that we've seen in just over six years. The two words in Fallen that sparked this story are an example of one of the reasons I love this show. Such a simple small part of a story that didn't have to be there for any reason other than to demonstrate just how far Jack has come since the show began. Feedback is as always appreciated.

"Things Change"

Jack's footsteps echoed through the deserted corridors as exited the elevator and walked towards the locker room. He was perversely pleased by the lateness of the hour. For once the usual briefings, reports, and various minutia of his position at the SGC that had delayed his departure had worked to his advantage.

His team was already busy elsewhere and he was alone.

So what if typing up his report had taken him longer than usual? It wasn't like he had intentionally avoided seeking out his team.

Besides… he suspected Carter, Jonas, and Teal'c had been looking forward to a bit of private time as well.

Jonas and Carter would be struggling to deal with his decision to leave Fifth behind, trapping him in the Asgard time bubble. Despite their misgivings, Jack knew he wouldn't hesitate if presented with the same choice again. The risks had far outweighed any possible benefits. They would understand… in time.

Jack had a feeling that their disagreement over the issue was not the only thing that had prompted him and his team to draw away from each other and seek out a night of solitude. His skin still crawled at the remembered feeling of First's hand sinking into his skull.

Jack pushed open the double doors and entered the locker room, flipping on the lights as he let the door swing shut behind him. The fluorescent lights buzzed softly. Their quiet hum normally went unnoticed- drowned out by the hubbub of teams coming and going. Silence was rare in here. The locker room was always the place to get the latest news, to hear the newest wild tales from units returning from off-world missions, to talk and joke among the only people on the planet who could understand or would even believe some of the things were part of the package deal of life at the SGC.

Under the mountain, their shared secret drew them all together.

Jack had served in the past with units in which the members had developed bonds and ties to each other that had been almost scary in their intensity. It was how you survived. SG1 was no different in that respect but never before had Jack seen an entire command develop a similar sense of camaraderie. At the SGC, everyone was on the team.

Under the mountain, secrets were hard to keep.

They didn't mean to pry but the grapevine at Cheyenne was an unusually hardy variety.

Any team returning from a mission and undergoing extra medical tests and longer than normal briefings would stir the hornet's nest.

Add SG1 into the equation and the buzz would really begin.

Throw in the fact that their latest mission was connected to sudden disappearance of the majority of the mountain's edible foodstuffs, including every single tub of Ben & Jerry's, and you've slapped a block of C4 on that hornet's nest and triggered the detonator.

Normally Jack would have obliged and regaled any interested party with stories that somehow grew in the telling. Not that anyone ever took his version of events seriously of course but entertainment was entertainment.

But his heart hadn't been in it tonight and so tomorrow morning General Hammond would be reading a report that was unusually thorough and precise… even for Jack O'Neill.

And here he was in the middle of the night in an empty locker room.

Jack pulled his locker door open and wondered how he was going to explain himself to the guard on duty on Level 11. At this late hour it would make more sense to bunk in his quarters for the night but Hammond had given them a few days leave and Jack was eager to get home.

He briefly considered changing into his civies but decided against it, opting instead to grab the black gym bag from the bottom of the locker. He'd just throw his spares in it and save himself the trouble of shucking the BDUs and getting completely redressed.

He dropped the bag at his feet and pulled the neatly folded khakis and black collared shirt off of the top shelf. His wallet still rested where he'd left it and he grabbed it as well, shoving it into his jacket pocket. He sat down on the bench and leaned over to tug open bag's zipper. Its soft rasp momentarily drowned the burr of the still humming lights.

The corner of the box caught his eye as he tucked the clothes into the bag. Only the letters "Va" were visible, the red yellow and black cardboard only slightly faded but mostly covered by the detritus that had accumulated in the bottom of his locker - a t-shirt with a ragged hole in one shoulder seam, a towel, a pair of tennis shoes one of which needed a new lace (he kept meaning to bring extra laces from home), and one sock. The stuff he'd forgotten.

Despite appearances, however, he hadn't forgotten the box was there. Quite the opposite in fact, but he usually didn't allow himself to think about its presence.

Without time for thought, Jack reached into the locker and pulled it out from underneath the ruined t-shirt. He placed it on the bench beside him and stared at it.

It had been some time since he'd last opened it during another late night visit. Most of the time it was enough to know it was there.

Tonight he needed more. He needed to reconnect with something other than the images that First had forced him to view over and over again.

He flipped open the lid of the cigar box and took a deep breath as he reached in and drew out a worn photo, one edge torn unevenly. Charlie- his hair still that impossibly bright blonde that it had been for the first several years of his life- captured in mid-stride, happily munching on a cookie and unaware of the camera. The kid had been a ham and a half who had loved to mug for the camera as the next picture Jack withdrew proved.

Jack's mouth curved into a small smile at the sight of his son, who couldn't have been more than two and a half, grinning hugely at the camera and naked as the day he'd been born.

A picture of the two of them together was next, complete with matching baseball caps. Charlie proudly displaying his baseball trophy, one arm draped around his dad's shoulder, his glove still on his hand. He'd been so proud of that trophy. Charlie had begged Jack to toss him endless pitches so he could practice his swing- not that Jack had protested much. He'd loved to watch Charlie swing. The boy had put everything he'd had into the effort with a seriousness most kids his age lacked. But when he really connected with a pitch, the somber would-be All-Star was instantly transformed by the exuberant grin and subsequent celebration into a little boy again.

Jack shook his head. Why was it always the worst moment that got dredged up out of his subconscious whenever aliens decided to go rummaging around in his brain? Why weren't they interested in Charlie's first steps? Or his excitement at catching his very first fish and his insistent pleas that he be allowed to keep it alive in the bathtub as a pet? Or his first home run? Jack knew the answer of course. He just didn't want to admit it himself.

First hadn't done anything new by using the memory of that day as a punishment.

Jack had locked everything away in a corner of his mind- the good along with the bad.

It shouldn't be any surprise that both Apophis and First had latched onto those memories as a weakness- a chink in the armor. It was the taboo subject. The closely guarded secret that wasn't secret at all. Jack was painfully aware of how topics of conversation would sometimes shift suddenly as he entered a room. You just didn't invite your team over to your house for your kid's birthday party when Colonel Jack O'Neill was in earshot.

Jack had to admit, though, that it wasn't as hard as it had once been. Things had changed. It still hurt - more than anything he had ever experienced or probably would ever have to face – but the memory didn't have the same power it had once had over his life. Its hold over him had weakened.

Maybe it was time to loosen the grip even further by not trying to hide from the memories.

Jack dropped the photos back into the cigar box and closed the lid. Clutching the box in his hands, he stood and strode quickly out of the locker room.

He met nobody during the trek back to his office and he wasted no time upon his arrival there. He yanked open the desk drawer and reached into the back for the roll of tape he knew was in there and once it was located he just as quickly turned on his heel and retraced his steps back to the waiting locker.

Two photos were chosen out of the many in the box. The first was one of Charlie's school pictures, with his trademark grin prominently displayed, and the second was the picture of the two of them together with Charlie's prized baseball trophy.

Jack carefully taped them into place on the inside of his locker door.

He considered his handiwork for a moment and finally smiled. Jack tossed the roll of tape into the locker and closed the door. He grabbed up the gym bag, slipped the cigar box inside, zipped the bag shut, and walked to the door.

Jack flipped off the lights as he pushed the door open and walked out, headed for the elevator and home.

* * * * *