The next morning Jack and Cassie had breakfast at the hotel before heading to the Denver Art Museum. They wandered the museum for about two hours when they got separated. Cassie had continued to move on through the galleries when Jack had had stopped to more closely examine several fine examples of Arts and Crafts Movement pottery. Daniel would probably faint if he could see Jack peering intently down at the green vase with his hands safely clasped behind his back lest he actually touch the smooth glaze, as he was so tempted to. Jack straightened and gave the vase one last longing look. Perhaps it was time to break out the pottery wheel again. He gave a charming smile to the docent who had been glaring at him the entire time he had been studying the ceramics and left the gallery in search of Cassie.
He only gave the artwork a cursory glance. He and Cassie always spent at least a morning at the Denver Art Museum during their yearly trips. Shortly after Cassie had gotten settled on Earth, he had taken her to Denver along with the rest of SG-1. He remembered Carter and Daniel had been shocked that the man who played the dumb Simpsons obsessed flyboy actually suggested exposing the newly arrived aliens to higher Tauri culture. They'd all had fun that first trip and Doc Fraiser had always blamed Jack for her ruined carpet after he introduced Cassie to the world of art. After that initial trip the others hadn't joined them. It had become something for Jack and Cassie to bond over: morning at the museum, opening night at the opera, and maybe a hockey game thrown in. Carter had always taken Cassie shopping for a new dress every year.
Every year except this year.
Jack found Cassie in one of the galleries housing the Edward Hopper exhibit. He didn't immediately join her. Instead he took his time wandering about the gallery. He took a few moments to gaze at Hopper's most famous work 'Nighthawks'. Three lonely people sitting in a diner in the wee small hours sipping coffee, because their homes were likely even more empty, the desolate street outside the window. Jack knew those people. He had been them at some point and would likely be them again at a later point.
Not wanting to dwell on that thought Jack moved onto the next painting, but it did little to erase his unease. It featured a man sitting on the edge of a bed in a plain room, morning light streaming in the window. The man was grey haired and fully clothed, his head bowed in sadness or shame or both. A red headed woman, half clothed, was lying on the bed behind him facing the wall. Jack hated the fact that he had been there before, sneaking out by the early morning light, because for the life of him he could not remember the name of the woman with whom he had spent the night. He hated the fact that he was such a man. A man who no matter how hard he tried to ignore and suppress it occasionally got that desperate a little human contact and company. He didn't even understand why he did it because those few moments of pleasure and comfort did little to assuage the guilt and even greater loneliness he felt the next morning.
He missed his wife. Not even Sara specifically. He just missed having someone to love and someone who loved him in return. He wanted someone to spend what was left of his life with. A one night stand, no matter how great the sex, couldn't compete with that.
He turned his back abruptly on the painting and moved over to where Cassie was sitting on a bench taking in the artwork before her.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Hopper painting."
Jack stood behind her with his hands stuffed in his pockets and glanced around the gallery they were in. "You frequently stand naked in front of your window?" he asked, trying for a joke because there was no way he wanted to believe that she truly understood the isolation and emptiness that was evoked by so many of Hopper's paintings.
Cassie gave a startled laugh that came out more as a cough. "No, Jack," she told him more than a little patronizing.
He settled down on bench beside Cassie and looked at the painting she was intently staring at. A painting that was not a naked woman staring out a window. It was a movie theatre, the patrons all snug in their seats enjoying the movie. A woman dressed as an usher stood off to the side alone, one arm crossed defensively over her chest, her other arm bent so her head rested in her palm. She didn't look happy. Alone in a room full of people.
"Are you unhappy at college?"
Cassie let out a long sigh. "Not really. I'm actually really enjoying it. But… It's kinda weird. I've always felt a little disconnected. I used to not notice it so much but lately… I don't know. It's hard in a way. No one can know about where I truly come from. The life I've had since coming here is so different than what I would have had. I wouldn't have leaned how to read or write. I would have been married by now and probably had at least one child. Not that I want that life. I like art school. I have some great friends. But I…" she trailed off, her eyes full of some unnamed sadness.
"What?" Jack questioned gently.
"I feel like my family's falling apart. Mom's gone, Sam doesn't have the time for me that she used to…"
"I know, Jack. I know she deserves to have her life. I know she'll be there if I really need her, but I don't want things to change."
Jack reached out and pulled her into a hug. He murmured against her hair. "Me either."
"Jack, would you ever drink a box of wine?"
He had just stuck a heaping fork full of decadently rich red velvet cake in his mouth. He allowed himself to savor the taste before he responded. He took a sip of his coffee and asked,
"What do you mean? Like a case of wine? I don't think even I could drink an entire case."
Cassie shook her head and stared at the dregs in the bottom of her wine glass. "No, wine that comes out of a box."
"I don't know about where you come from, but around these parts wine comes out of a bottle."
"Nah-uh. Not always. It's in these big plastic bag things packaged in a card board box."
"Wouldn't it taste plastic-y?" he asked before taking another bit of the cream cheese frosted confection that most definitely didn't taste like plastic.
"And one would want to drink wine in this manner, because…"
"It's a better value."
Jack's eyebrow shot up in confusion. "Wasn't aware alcohol, especially wine, was about value. Well, unless you're a college kid getting drunk the fastest and cheapest you can." He looked at her slightly disturbed, "You're not drinking this bizarre box wine are you?"
"No, Sam had some in her refrigerator."
"Carter drinks wine that comes out of a box?" he asked, both eyebrows rising in disbelief.
"Pete buys it."
"Ah." Jack concentrated back on his desert, hoping Cassie would get the point that he was not willing to ruin a lovely evening by having another discussion about Carter and her fiancé.
"Don't you think it's weird how much she's changed since Pete?" she persisted.
Jack sighed and set his fork down, such a desert deserved nothing less than his undivided attention. "Cassie, people change when they're in a relationship. It's about compromise. You should know that. You've had plenty of boyfriends."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Sam's got a life. When are you gonna get one?" Cassie demanded.
"I have a life." He so did not want to get into this. He just wanted to finish his cake and then sit in his very expensive box seat and watch one of his favorite operas.
"Give me the highlights then."
"I'd have to shoot you."
"When are you going to get a real life?"
"I don't have time for a real life.
"You have to make time. Isn't that what you used to tell Sam?"
Jack glowered, but didn't verbally respond.
"You're not going to be in the Air Force for forever, you know. Don't you want someone to take fishing with you?"
"I'm thinking a dog."
"Jack, I'm serious."
"So am I."
"Jack, please…" she whined.
"Do we really have to discuss this?"
"Yes, I want you to be happy."
"I'm happy right now." He wasn't lying. He was happy sitting here in this fine restaurant with Cassie. He'd be a little happier for she would stop with the questioning and he could eat his cake.
"What about later? What about when you go home alone?"
Jack was exasperated and spoke a little harsher than he really intended. "It's better than going home to someone who you have to lie to when she asks you how your day was or where you were. I've done that before. And in all honesty, that is really what ripped my marriage apart."
"Sam got clearance for Pete."
"Because he was a nosey bastard and didn't trust his girlfriend." Jack took a deep breath, "Look, Cassie, don't worry about me I'll be fine. Can I finish my cake please?"
Cassandra stood at the conference room window transfixed by the activity down below. The Gate Room was a hive of activity, teams continuously coming and going through the open Stargate. General O'Neill stood at the base of the ramp greeting every returning team and sending off every out going team. He smiled, laughed, and joked with the personnel coming in and out of the Gate Room.
It wasn't right.
She sensed someone coming to stand next to her. She glanced over to find it was Jack. He was dressed in his offworld fatigues in contrast to the General O'Neill below in his blue BDUs and stars on his collar. The Jack beside her stood with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets with a serious almost sad expression on his face.
"It's not right," she said.
"No, it's not," he responded watching everyone come and go through the Stargate, but General O'Neill.
She turned her attention back to the window. Daniel was walking in through the blast door. He shook General O'Neill's hand and the beaming General clapped him on the back in a manly hug. Daniel stepped back and began to glow. She watched fascinated as his body seemed to crack in the middle with a bright light emanating from the fissure. The two halves of his body fell away until there was nothing left but a glowing ball of light. The shimmering dancing light floated up to and through the Stargate.
She looked at the face of the man next her, but could no longer discern any emotion in the stony façade.
She was drawn back to the Gate Room by the sight of a contingent of Jaffa coming through the Stargate. Among them were Bra'tac, Rya'c, and two female Jaffa she assumed to be Rya'c's wife and Teal'c's girlfriend. Teal'c himself was just entering the Gate Room. Dressed in long Jaffa robes, he stopped in front of General O'Neill and clasped his forearm. She couldn't hear what was being said but she imaged it was something about honor and warrior brothers.
Her eyes shifted to Jack, but his face was blank as he watched General O'Neill smile and wave goodbye as Teal'c joined his fellow Jaffa and left through the Gate.
Shortly after the Jaffa left, Jacob Carter emerged through the still open wormhole. He greeted General O'Neill at the base of the ramp and they both stood there waiting. Soon a woman in a meringue-like wedding dress and veil entered escorted by Pete.
Sam lifted the veil and gave General O'Neill a hug. He said something and tugged playfully on her veil. She grinned at him and he returned it. The still grinning General shook Pete's hand, before the couple made their way up the ramp without a look back. They stepped through the Stargate with Jacob.
Finally the wormhole disengaged. The Gate Room was suddenly empty of everyone even the unnaturally jovial General O'Neill. Jack suddenly moved from beside her. He left the conference room and she could hear him clambering down the stairs. Soon he entered the Gate Room. He made his way determinedly to the Stargate. He walked up the ramp and stood directly below the huge ring. He looked up with desolate eyes and met her gaze as she still stood at the conference room window.
" 'The comedy is ended.' "
The chevrons on the Gate lit up all at once and she could only look on in horror as the event horizon billowed out vaporizing Jack.
Jack could never go to sleep easily after the opera. Long into the night his mind would still be full of music. There was only so much tossing and turning he could take. He wearily climbed out of bed and quietly made his way out of his bedroom into the living area of the suite. He went to the mini bar, his hand initially starting for the Jack Daniel's, but when he caught sight of the little bottles of wine he couldn't help grabbing one. Wine out of a box what kind of crap is that?
Settling on the couch, he picked up the remote and flicked the TV on. He muted it and began flipping through the channels. Never seemed to be much on this late at night.
The Music Man.
He had fond memories of his movie lover mother taking him to see this. She used to take him to the matinee every Saturday when he was a kid. One of his first crushes was on Marian the Librarian, which a pop psychologist might use to explain his adult penchant for tall brainy blondes. His adolescent predilection, too. The first time he got suspended from school was because of a fight to defend Sally Malcolm's honor on the playground. He won the fight, but Sally had kicked him in the shin for daring to presume that she couldn't have defended her own honor. Then the towering, golden pigtailed girl decided that his effort was gallant and rewarded him with his first kiss.
He wondered what Sally was up these days.
He heard Cassie's bedroom door open and turned his head to see her rushing across the room. She threw herself on the couch and against him. Her arms surrounded him tightly and she buried her face in his T-shirt.
"Cass, what's wrong?"
A sob wrenched from her. "Don't die."
Jacks arms settled around her and with one hand he pulled her long damp hair from her face. "I'm not planning on it anytime soon." He hugged her tighter and stroked her hair, but she was inconsolable. He just let her cry, soaking his shirt to the skin. He didn't say anything, just held her. Sometimes that's all you could do.
Eventually her tears ceased and she lifted a hand to wipe at her eyes and nose.
"Bad dreams?" he guessed.
"Yeah," she nodded against his chest.
"You wanna tell me?"
She didn't respond immediately. He waited and continued to hold her. He was beginning to think that she had fallen asleep when she finally spoke. "Everyone leaves me. I keep having these dreams where everyone leaves or dies. Even my dog." She gave a hallow laugh before continuing, "Everyone leaves or dies except you. And then you die too." She pulled slightly away from him so she could meet his eyes. "You always kill yourself because they left you too."
Jack closed his eyes. He couldn't bear to see the pain and loss on Cassie's face. "I can't say I haven't been in that place before, Cassie. But I swear as long as I have you I'll never be in that place again." He hugged her tightly to him. "I promise I'll never leave you."
The next morning Jack was awoke stiff from having slept on the couch with Cassie clinging desperately to him as if he would disappear in the night. They didn't mention what had transpired the night before. Cassie was her normal slightly mischievous self as they made their way back to Colorado Springs. They picked Robin up and headed to the airport.
They stopped near the final security checkpoint where Cassie would have to go on alone. "Would you mind if I stayed with you during Christmas break?" she asked.
"Course not. You know that," he smiled, pleased that that she would be home for Christmas and that he wouldn't have to be alone.
"Thanks, Jack. For everything."
She moved to hug him and he wrapped his long arms around her. "I'll miss you."
She pulled away and picked up her carryon. "I had fun."
She turned headed for the security checkpoint.
They both turned to see Carter running down the hallway toward them. She skidded to a stop and took a moment to catch her breath. "Our plane just landed, but I wanted to make sure I got to see you before I left," she told Cassie.
"How was the dog show, Carter?" Jack asked shooting Cassie a slight smirk.
"It was a wedding, sir," she replied looking a little confused.
"Where's Pete?" Cassie asked, shifting her bag to the other shoulder.
"Getting the luggage. Cassie, I'm really sorry we didn't get a chance to spend any time together and go shopping."
"It's okay, Sam. Jack took me."
"He did?" Carter gave him an amazed look.
"We had fun didn't we, Cass?"
"Yeah, except Jack wouldn't let me buy the dress I really wanted." Cassie leaned in to Carter and whispered loudly, "He's a little repressed these days, Sam. You might want to work on that."
Carter cleared her throat and blushed slightly. "I'll see what I can do."
Jack pretended not to hear any of that and gazed around at the crowd..
"Well, I guess I better go. Don't want to miss the plane." Cassie gave Carter a quick hug. "Bye, Sam, Jack."
They watched Cassie get swallowed up by the crowd and Carter turned to Jack with a suspicious look, "Dog show, sir?"
He shrugged and gave her a small devilish smile. "It's what Cassie told me. Did you have fun?"
"Loads," she responded which Jack translated into 'I'd rather have spent the weekend on Ne'tu.'
"Well, next year you might think about coming with us. We had fun," Jack gave her one last smug smirk. "See ya tomorrow, Carter."
A/N : "The comedy is ended.' is the last line of Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci.
Unforunately this site doesn't allow me to post links, but if you're interested in seeing the art mentioned you can search for the follow:
Arts and Craft Movement ceramics
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
Excusion into Philosophy by Edward Hopper
Eleven A.M. by Edward Hopper (an example of one of Hopper' nude women at a window)
New York Movie by Edward Hopper
I hope everyone enjoyed that. I had been tossing the idea of a Jack/Cassie bonding fic but being the lazy writer I am hadn't gotten around to it. Thanks to who ever gave me this plot bunny.
My Jack-fic-a-thon assignment:
Time frame: Any
Pairings: None specified
Plot: Cassie-Jack fic. The fic focuses on Jack's and Cassie's relationship. It needs to be drama (mystery, angst, or hurt-comfort). It should involve a nightmare somehow.