Author's Note: Written for the word, "Frustration", which is the Jackfic Word of the Month for May 2005. Better late than never, I guess. :) This story is completely written, with a total of 6 chapters and I'll be posting the rest of the chapters over the next few days.
Special thanks go out to Diane for her beta talents. I depend on her, I tell ya!
Reflections of the Past
The temple was huge. The walls seemed to go on forever and Daniel Jackson was having a field day analyzing the symbols that adorned the multitude of panels. The panels were layered in a pattern along one side of the room, while the other walls were adorned with pictures and stone. Jack O'Neill watched his friend as he peered closely at a symbol, move back to take a picture, then move back in for another look. The guy was in his glory, Jack knew, and he hated to take him away from all this, but they had a deadline to meet and it was time to head back home.
"Come on Daniel," he said, " Hammond's expecting us. When the General speaks, we listen."
"Just a minute," Daniel responded absently. Jack seriously doubted that Daniel had heard a word he'd said, but he had learned over the years that Daniel would come around if the right words were used to light a fire under his ass.
"Now, Daniel!" he commanded. Daniel didn't bother responding this time, he just stepped back and took another picture. "Daniel," Jack said a little louder. "Time to move out."
"Okay," Daniel said, as he wrote something in his notebook, then peered closely at the panel he was studying. Jack grabbed Daniel's arm, intending to physically drag the archeologist out of there, only to stop when he heard a noise coming from down the corridor that led from the room.
"What was that?" he asked, as he peered down the hallway with his gun at the ready. Carter and Teal'c were already outside, ready to head home, leaving Jack to try to convince Daniel to leave this treasure chest of goodies, so they were not the culprits. Jack couldn't see anything past the lighted hallway, but experience had taught him that this didn't mean a thing. The noise could be brought on by any number of creatures. And the weird part of this situation was that the natives were deathly afraid of the darkness in this place, so any noise coming from the dark hallways seemed to be out of place.
Another noise came from the same direction the first one had, echoing throughout the building and Jack's curiosity got the best of him. The temple was supposed to be deserted; at least that's what the natives had told him. No one wanted to be in a temple that was rumored to be cursed. According to local legend, the walls of the temple would close in if they ventured past the main room and they would be lost forever. Daniel hadn't even blinked at that bit of mystery. Apparently, this was old news to him, having run across similar beliefs in his vast travels. He had promised the locals, most vehemently, that he would stay only within the main room, seeing as this room had more than enough fodder for his perusal.
Jack knew better than to flaunt the superstitious beliefs of the natives. He had learned the hard way that they were sometimes correct in believing this stuff. But there was that noise again. Something was down that hallway. He gripped his weapon tighter, squinting his eyes in an effort to get a glimpse of whatever it was making the racket.
"I'm going to check it out," he told Daniel, who nodded his head, not taking his eyes off of the panel in the wall. "Daniel," Jack said insistently, although it was to no avail. "Daniel," he shouted in frustration. Daniel finally looked over at him, and Jack pointed toward the direction where the noise came from. "I'm going to check it out," he said, to let him know of his intentions. "I'll be right back."
Daniel nodded again, then looked down at the notebook in his hand, before going back to studying the panel. Jack left him at it, walking across the room toward the hallway. "Wait. Jack," Daniel called out, causing Jack to stop and look back at his friend. "Don't leave the main room," he warned.
Jack nodded, then said, "I won't." He tread softly as he headed for the hallway, quietly trying to find out what was down there.
The main room was lit up by scattered fires that burned continuously in little pits built into the floor. The locals made sure the fires never burned out, as it was believed that complete darkness would swallow their world if they did. But the hallways were left alone, which made seeing anything past the glow of the fires impossible.
"Stay within the light."
Jack remembered the words spoken by one of the elders as they had walked into the temple, but someone was down there; someone, or something. He pulled out his flashlight, turned it on and aimed it down the hallway, hoping to catch sight of whatever it was making all that noise. He gripped his gun tighter, ready and willing to defend himself with every single round he had in the clip.
Another noise, much louder this time, and Jack took another step toward the hallway. That one sounded human, almost like laughter, and his curiosity was definitely peaked. "Anyone down there?" he called out.
Silence. Something was not right, but Jack didn't think it was a good idea to wander down that hallway. He took one more step forward, curiosity demanding to be resolved, then decided that maybe he didn't want to know after all. It was too late though, as the ground beneath his feet began to rumble and shake, prompting Jack to look around wildly. What was going on? He was sure that he was still in the main room. Horror rushed through him as he noticed that the toe of his boot was technically in the darkness of the hallway, and he swore he would never again berate Daniel for touching something he shouldn't have. He pulled his foot back into the light, but the damage was done. The floor shifted and Jack started to slide forward, landing on his rear when the floor slanted downward.
"Jack!" Daniel called out, but Jack could only focus on trying to stay put. He hurriedly turned around so that he was on his stomach and reached out to grab onto something to keep from sliding into the darkness. Daniel had come to the rescue, but not quick enough and Jack cursed when his hand slid out from Daniel's grasp.
"Daniel!" he yelled, as he slid down the floor toward complete darkness. Movement stopped abruptly when he landed roughly, pain shooting up his legs from the fall and he couldn't keep his balance, no matter how hard he tried to stay on his feet. He sat there in stunned silence, as the ceiling closed back up on him, shutting out the light from the fires as it did so.
"Daniel?" he yelled again, wondering where he was and how he was going to get out of this predicament. He had lost his flashlight during the fall, and he fell to his knees hoping to find it close by. The place he had landed was in complete darkness though, and he resorted to feeling around on the ground, relying on touch alone, to try to find it. He gave up after a few minutes and sat on the floor, clutching his gun tightly, while listening hard for any sounds to give him an indication of what was going on.
But all he heard was an eerie silence. He tried to relax in an effort to calm his fears and to get his bearings, but because sight was definitely out of the question, he tried to concentrate on using his other senses to help determine what the hell was going on. The room he was in smelled old and musty, much like the cave near his grandfather's house where he used to play when he was a kid. His ears picked up on the silence, listening for anything to help him find a way out. But the silence was deafening, marred only by the steady pounding of his heart. It took him a few seconds to realize that the pounding was not coming from inside, and he sat up straighter, listening with all his might. He tried to pinpoint the sound, at least determine where it was coming from, but the noise seemed to be coming at him from all sides.
"Daniel!" he said into his radio. He didn't get a response, but he kept trying anyway, hoping someone would hear him. He finally gave up after a few minutes to sit quietly as he wondered what exactly had just happened to him. He must be in a basement or something similar to one, because he had slid down the slanting floor. Which meant Daniel should technically be right above him. "Daniel?" he shouted again, aggravation taking over. "Get me outta here!"
Silence. Either Daniel couldn't hear him, or he had left to go get Teal'c and Carter. Somehow Jack didn't think Daniel would leave him. Daniel could be so stubborn when it came to things like that. He'd keep on trying, and Jack figured he'd better do what he could to help Daniel get through the barriers.
With that thought running through his mind, he stood up and stretched his arms upward, hoping to push up on the ceiling, or at least make a lot of noise by pounding on it with his gun. He wasn't able to touch it, so he rammed his gun upwards, a triumphant smile making an appearance when it clanged on something solid. He continued to bang on the ceiling, while coughing and choking on the dirt and dust that rained down on him. "Daniel! What's taking you so long?"
Still more silence, and Jack was seriously getting worried. He banged on the ceiling one more time, then went on alert when he heard a noise coming from a different direction. He gripped his gun, aiming it toward the direction where the sound came from, straining his eyes as he desperately tried to see past the darkness. "Hello?" he called out. "Anybody there?"
Silence and darkness reigned once more and Jack was starting to get pissed. He kept a tight grip on his gun as he called out, "Daniel! Teal'c? Where are you guys?"
"Jack?" That was Daniel! Jack was sure of it. The voice came from the same direction where he had heard the noise a few minutes ago, so Jack took a few tentative steps in that direction, walking carefully to avoid any obstacles. He reached around with his arms until he touched the cool, rough sides of a wall and he sidled over to it in order to have something solid to follow. He moved cautiously, never taking his hands off of the wall, ever aware of stepping on something, or worse, off of something. He had only taken a few steps when a light appeared at the end of the hall he had found himself in, causing him to stop and bring his gun up again.
"Hello? Daniel? Is that you?" All he got for his efforts was the sound of a child's laughter, sounding out of place in the dark, dampness of his surroundings. He stood there, taking in the sights and the sounds, wondering what he should do. He looked up at the ceiling, but the area where he was standing was still bathed in darkness. He couldn't tell if there was a door or a way out, and he suddenly remembered his flashlight. The light from down the hall barely reached the area where he was standing, but he turned his attention to the floor and finally saw his flashlight lying against the wall a few feet from where he stood. He would have eventually stepped on it if he had gone a little further. He grabbed the flashlight and was pleased to see that it still worked when he turned it on.
The flashlight revealed nothing extraordinary about the ceiling. No doors, crevices or cracks could be found and Jack gave a frustrated sigh. He had fallen from that ceiling, there had to be some indication of a trapdoor somewhere. There had to be.
He finally gave up when he heard what sounded like someone talking down toward the end of the hallway. This decided it for Jack. There were people down there, surely they would know the way out. He turned off the flashlight and put it away, while at the same time hitching his gun up so that he would be able to start shooting the moment trouble came along. The hallway wasn't that long, but with Jack moving cautiously, it still took him awhile to get to the end. Silence had taken over sometime during the trip down the hall, causing him to tread softly. His instincts had kicked into high gear, and Jack was focused totally on his surroundings. Nothing slipped his attention, not even the dust and dirt that trickled down from the ceiling as he passed, telling him that it had been awhile since anyone had been down this hallway.
He stopped when he got to the end of the hall. The hallway made an abrupt turn to the right, but Jack knew better than to just walk blindly around the bend. He put his back up to the wall on his right, waited a moment, then turned slightly until he was able to peek around the edge of the wall. He was amazed by what he saw. The hallway led into a room that was walled with mirrors. There were mirrors everywhere, along with what seemed like a hundred Jack O'Neills peeking around a corner. What the hell?
He straightened up and found himself staring at the wall on the other side of the hallway in wonder. Now he was in a freaking carnival fun house! A regular House of Mirrors. He shook his head, then turned back to look into the room, but all he saw were all the Jack O'Neills lurking about inside the mirrors. No bad guys or monsters, which told him it was fairly safe to enter.
He took another look down the hallway he had just come down, debating on the wisdom of leaving that area. But he heard what sounded like somebody grumbling from the direction of the mirrors. The grumbling sounded familiar to Jack, and he found himself smiling as he remembered his grandmother grumbling about having to clean the fish he and his grandfather had caught and brought home when he was younger. She hated that job, but did it anyway, grumbling and complaining the whole time. The sounds coming from the room of mirrors sounded like his grandmother when she was up to her elbows in fish guts.
"I should make the pair of you do your own cleaning," the voice said, causing Jack's smile to vanish. Holy crap! The woman even sounded like his grandmother, Irish accent and all. "You want to eat, you do the nasty work." Jack stood there, trembling in fright. It couldn't be his grandmother. She'd been dead for almost 30 years now.
Get a grip, O'Neill, he chastised himself, as he tried to bring himself back into reality. You are on another planet here. He took a deep breath to calm himself, then turned abruptly to enter the room, aiming his gun toward the mirrors. He was alone, save for the hundreds of other O'Neills aiming their guns at each other – or toward him, as the case may be, and he was glad that they were only reflections.
"Hello?" he called out. He had heard the voices after all. There were people around there somewhere and Jack was determined to find them and get the hell out of that place. "Anyone here?" He stared into the mirrors, watching as the other Jack O'Neills looked back at him with a mixture of exasperation and confusion, along with just a touch of fear on their faces. The faces were reflecting his own feelings, and it was a bit unsettling to see the real Jack O'Neill looking back at him. Jack usually hid his feelings fairly well, yet here he was showing his fear to anybody who cared to look. Not good, especially since he had the distinct feeling he was not alone - the voices and the fact that his instincts were screaming at him that he was being watched, told him that much.
Getting out was the most important issue, so Jack shook off the feeling of being watched as he strained to hear more voices, but silence had taken over once again. He walked further into the room, looking for anything that would give him an indication that people actually were around. Finding nothing but mirrors, he decided to go back to where his journey started and wait for the rescue party.
A room full of mirrors could be tricky, he realized, when he couldn't even find the hallway he had just come from. It was just there, not five minutes ago, and panic set in as he realized that the entrance had disappeared. "How is that possible?" he asked out loud, as his eyes scanned across the mirrors in the room. "Where's the damn door?"
"Watch your language, young man!" The voice had come from behind him, and Jack swung around with his gun at the ready.
"Mom?" he said, disbelief warring with his panic. No one was there, but the woman's voice sounded so much like his mother, that Jack half expected her to be standing there.
He tried to see past his reflections in the mirror, hoping to find someone, anyone, to prove he wasn't losing his mind, but no one appeared. The mirrors blurred for a moment and Jack suddenly noticed that there was an opening in the mirrors. This was probably the way out, he realized. He didn't move though, as fear had him rooted to the spot. He didn't really believe in ghosts, but damn it - first his grandmother, then his mother? Something was definitely not right here, and Jack was worried about what he would find if he went through that door.
It's the only way out. Jack knew this, but his instincts were buzzing. He took a deep breath to strengthen his resolve, then cautiously moved toward the opening. The gun in his hands was a familiar friend, and he pulled it up, with his finger ready to pull the trigger at a moment's notice. The other Jack O'Neills in the mirrors mimicked him, each and every one of them standing alert and tense, waiting for Jack to make his move.
He did. He moved through the opening in the mirrors, moving slowly only to stop dead in his tracks when he entered the next room. Horror spread across his features as he stared at the mirrors that lined the walls of this room, much like the room he had just left. Only this time, the images reflected back at him were not just of him, but also of other people. People that Jack knew, or had once known, and he stood there staring at them, his eyes widening as he watched his father smile at him from the man's favorite chair.
"It's about time you showed up, Jack," his old man said. Jack just stared at the mirror, while a distorted image of Jack's own reflection standing next to his father stared back at him. The image was of a younger version of Jack, his hair showing no signs of the gray that was sprinkled liberally through the hair at Jack's temples. Jack stared at the scene in the mirror, while bringing his hand up to run his fingers through the gray hair, watching as his reflection flaunt the laws of nature by grinning wryly at Jack before going over to sit down in a chair next to his father.
"What is this?" Jack asked. "Is this a movie? Or maybe a flashback. Yeah, maybe it's a flashback. I probably got a concussion or something when the floor dumped me into this carnival ride, right? It's the only explanation…" Jack knew he was rambling, but he hadn't run into anything this strange since that time he woke up in Hathor's cryogenic chamber, confused and believing he had been revived in the future. No, he thought, as he shook his head. This was definitely stranger than that.
"What are you going on about now, Jack?" This came from a mirror on his left, and Jack turned to find his father standing over a very young child, while baiting a hook. The child looked back at Jack and smiled, dimples showing up in his cheeks. Oh my God, Jack thought, as he realized who the child was. Jack had a picture of this scene in a photo album somewhere up in his attic. He remembered clearly the day the picture was taken. He and his father were going fishing and Jack had just come back from looking at the biggest fish he had ever seen in his young life. The fish had been caught by a neighbor and Jack couldn't wait to tell his father about it. His uncle had taken that picture, although Jack couldn't remember the last time he had laid eyes on it. Why was this scene being played out in the mirror?
It wasn't the only scene being played out. Dozens of Jack O'Neills from various times in his life stared back at him, all in different scenarios and all grinning at him. They stood next to parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins, each one reflecting a happy memory from Jack's past.
"He's just a child, Johnny," Jack's grandmother said from behind him. He swiveled on the spot and saw her sitting in a rocking chair with a five-year-old Jack sitting on her lap. "You can't expect him to understand what's going on."
"I'm not a child now," Jack felt it was his obligation to remind her. "Tell me what the hell's going on here."
"Jonathan O'Neill!" his mother admonished from a mirror a few panels down from his grandmother. "Where did you learn to talk like that? I ought to wash your mouth out with soap." The eight-year-old Jack standing next to her looked up at her with a guilty look, just before his mother reached down and pulled him into a tight hug, holding him close to her heart. "I'm just glad you are okay. You could have been killed by that maniac."
Jack grinned at the memory that scene dragged up. He had almost been hit by a car that came flying out of nowhere, scaring his mother half to death. He had yelled out a curse word to the driver, too shaken to realize that his mother had ran to his side and was standing right next to him. But it was worth it to have her arms around him. Jack had always loved it when his mother held him like that.
Similar scenes played out in the mirrors that surrounded Jack, while memories raced through his mind as he went from one panel to the next, and on and on until he was getting dizzy from turning around in circles. These were all happy memories and Jack's fear had lifted by the time he had stopped his wanderings, as he felt safe here among his loved ones. He wondered at the wisdom of letting his guard down, even as he smiled at a teenage Jack and his cousin sneaking into his aunt's house to steal a fresh baked pie that was conveniently left out on the kitchen table.
All this was great, but Jack knew that all good things came to pass. Even though he was enjoying the scenes being played out, he was going to have to leave eventually. The problem now was that, just as in the last room, he couldn't find a door or an opening in the wall.
"One of you guys wanna tell me which way is out?" He could only hope that they would tell him the secrets of this place. But nobody seemed to be listening to him. They all continued to play out the scenes of his life, ignoring the real Jack O'Neill. "There's a way in, there has to be a way out."
He continued to scan the mirrors as he spoke to himself, trying to see if there was an opening. It was hard to do, as the mirrors still reflected images of him and of the others. It was just that everything that didn't belong to the scene in a mirror was smaller and distant. But it still made finding an opening extremely difficult. Jack finally resorted to going up to a mirror and pushing on it, feeling the cool, smooth glass against his fingertips as he tried to find a latch or anything that would indicate it would open. He finally found the opening when he pushed on the image of his father in the armchair. Both his father and the younger Jack smiled approvingly at him as the panel moved to allow him to exit.
"It's been great!" Jack said to the images in all the mirrors in the room. "Really. Absolutely peachy. But time's a wasting." All the members of his family were staring at him with a smile, although the Jacks seemed to be worried about something. Even the youngest one looked like he was going to cry, and Jack had to wonder why. He didn't dwell on it for too long though. He got a firm grip on his gun, then with a wave to the images, walked through the opening.