Well, here we are to the final chapter. I hope you all enjoyed this story, and as always, I would love to hear your thoughts on it, no matter what your thoughts are. :) Thanks for reading!!
Well, this is a surprise, Jack thought, as he looked at all the mirrors in the room. Most of them were empty, except for the image of a tired and worn down Jack O'Neill reflecting back at him. Those images were true images, Jack realized, as each one mimicked Jack's movements. But he really didn't pay much attention to those images. He was more interested in the mirrors that held the memories of all the women that he had ever loved. Some were vague memories, childhood crushes and a teenage unrequited love, while others held strong memories for him, like Sara, Brenda, his high school sweetheart, and most surprisingly, Samantha Carter. Jack was suddenly glad that the real Carter wasn't standing there next to him at that moment. He would have had a lot of explaining to do to try to get himself out of that one.
But these were good memories, and the fact that he was in this room at all reinforced his theory on how to escape the funhouse. All he needed to do was to find the best memory, or to be more precise, decide on which one he loved the most. His eyes immediately went to Sara. He had loved her more than life itself when they were married, but she had hurt him deeply when she had left him, destroying his trust in women and in her. Jack still loved her, but he had to wonder if it was enough.
He had loved Brenda when they were an item. She had stood by him through thick and thin at first, making life a little easier during the later years of high school. But they had drifted apart when their interests took them down different paths. Jack had loved her then, and was devastated when they finally had to break up. She had been a great friend and lover.
He turned to see if he could find a place to sit down, hoping to ease the dizziness that plagued him, then noticed a woman who had not only saved Jack's life while he was stranded on her planet, but had also kept him sane. He smiled at Laira, as she and the Jack O'Neill in the mirror shared a solitary meal. Her son had been visiting with a friend that day, Jack remembered, leaving Jack and Laira alone. That was the beginning of the end for Jack, as that was the day he had come to the realization that he was probably never going home and had donned the shirt she had offered to symbolize his acceptance of that fact.
Jack had come to love Laira deeply, but the relationship had been doomed from the start. He should have known that rescue was imminent, that his team would come through for him. And they had, leaving him with a decision to make. It wasn't a difficult decision. He knew what he had to do. He had his life on Earth and she had hers on Edora. It had been hard to leave her, but he knew that he had made the right choice.
But he was now faced with another difficult choice. Exhaustion was taking its toll on his body and he knew he had to sit down for a minute. He found a blank mirror and sat down with his back to it, then leaned his head back and closed his eyes wearily. He was fading fast, but he couldn't stop now. He was almost there. He could feel it. All he needed to do was to find the right door.
He opened his eyes and found himself staring at Carter. She and her commanding officer were also sitting on the floor, sharing a few quiet moments in an underground world that existed only to provide energy to a city they didn't even know existed. Jack turned away from the images of Jonah and Thera, knowing that he would be in deep trouble if his feelings for Carter ever surfaced. He couldn't even be sure what his feelings for her were. He had been forced to keep them deep down within himself, never to let anyone know what he felt for his second in command. But apparently, his feelings went deeper than he thought. She was in the mirrors that held the reflections of the women he had loved at one time or another, and Jack couldn't help worrying about that fact. He couldn't afford to love Samantha Carter. He'd be facing a court martial for even thinking about it.
He sighed heavily, then tried to concentrate on which panel would be the way out.
"I was kinda wondering which direction home was." Jack's attention was directed to a mirror that depicted his stay on Edora and the day that he had found the Stargate had been buried, stranding him on Edora. Laira stood on a small hill and pointed toward her house to answer his question.
"It's this way."
The real Jack followed the direction in which she pointed, but he ended up staring at a blank mirror that was right next to his childhood crush. He grinned at the little girl, her hair pulled back off her face with a bright ribbon, and at the young Jack O'Neill who was trying valiantly to come up with something witty to say. That was definitely not the way out, and Jack's smile dimmed as he realized his tormentor was trying to twist his memories around again.
There was no way he was going to fall for anything that guy threw at him. He turned his gaze on to Sara again, thinking that she had to be the one. He really had loved her, and she was the mother of his son. It had to be her.
But then again, there was Sam. Brilliant, beautiful, and hot as Hell in that tank top she wore to entice him when she had been infected by an alien disease, Sam Carter had wormed her way into his heart without even trying. The thought of losing her had his guts twisted into knots; he couldn't even contemplate her death. And even though the risks were part of the job, Jack still went to extreme lengths to make sure she survived those risks. He cared deeply for her, but did he love her?
The answer would be found by pushing on the mirrors. Whichever one opened up was the woman he loved the most. But Jack was a little afraid to find out. What if it was Carter?
"What do you think, Carter? You or Sara?"
"It can't be me, sir." The words came from a different panel than the one showing the memory from the ice planet. Jack had to twist around slightly to find the speaker, but there she was, staring out at him from her vantage point in the mirror. "It's against regulations."
"Yeah," Jack had to agree, as he nodded his head. He closed his eyes against the onslaught of another bout of dizziness, then opened them to see Carter still staring at him. "Uh… Carter? Is that you?" She nodded at him, while giving him one of her beautiful smiles, and Jack relaxed a little. "You do know, don't you, that you're not supposed to be talking directly to me."
"You have to get up and get out of here, Colonel." Jack nodded in agreement, but couldn't find the strength to get up. He sat there instead, watching as Carter stared at him with concern. "You can't die here, sir. You're almost there, you know you are. Just get up and get moving."
The words she was spouting off sounded so much like the words he would have said, were he in her shoes, he couldn't help but think that she was a reflection of his thoughts. "You're my subconscious, aren't you?" Jack had to ask. He tilted his head and stared at her image for a moment, then said, "Why am I a woman?"
"Come on Colonel. There's not much time left. Get up and get moving."
"Too tired… Give me a minute to rest, okay?"
"You can rest when you get out of here. You don't want to die in here, do you?"
"No," Jack said wearily. He was just so tired. A little nap might do him some good. Besides, if he was going to die, he couldn't think of a better place to do it. It wouldn't be so bad to die here in the company of the women who had loved him.
"Please Jack," Carter pleaded. Oh man, now she had done it. How could he deny her when she begged like that? "Please?"
"Okay," he grumbled, as he struggled to get up. He finally got to his feet, then had to stand still for a moment to wait until the room stopped spinning. Sara and Carter were both smiling at him, while the Carter who represented his subconscious was cheering him on. He made his way over to the two mirrors that he had determined were the ones he needed to push, then stopped to debate the issue one last time. He made his decision, as the voices of his memories washed over him, telling him to follow his heart. He placed his hand on the mirror that held the image of his ex-wife and pushed on it with every ounce of energy he had left.
It opened up, and Jack smiled as a draft wafted through the doorway. He turned to look at Carter, who was smiling proudly at him, and he just had to say, "Carter. Remind me to give you a big, wet, sloppy kiss when I get out of this, okay?"
Carter smiled broadly at him and nodded, even though Jack knew he would never follow through on his promise. He grinned back, then turned to leave, stopping long enough to take one last look at the image of Sara. Her smile was as big as Carter's, and Jack held on to the memory, knowing it would be a long time before he would ever see that smile again.
The hallway he found himself in was long and drafty. It was a cold wind that drifted over him, but Jack didn't care. This was so different from the other hallways he had been in; he knew that this was the way out. The wind made an eerie noise as he walked farther away from the maze, sounding almost human. But he kept on walking, resorting to finding his way by hugging the wall when the light dimmed almost to complete darkness.
He was dragging his feet as he walked, too tired to go any faster. But he kept moving, knowing that he had found the way out. He was almost to the end of his strength when he heard someone yelling his name.
"Daniel?" he called out, hoping that this was not another trick. "Teal'c?"
"O'Neill!" That was definitely Teal'c's voice, Jack thought, as anticipation built up in him. His team had found him, and eagerness to see their faces had him picking up his pace. A stream of light wormed its way through the darkness, followed by two more and Jack knew he was saved. A moment later a light beam had found him and stayed on him, while he heard footsteps running toward him. Jack finally stopped and leaned up against the wall, as he waited for his friends to get to him. He closed his eyes for a moment, but opened them up again to make sure his mind, or that alien jerk, wasn't playing tricks on him again.
"Jack! Oh man, what happened to you?" Daniel had been the first to get to him, and Jack reached out to touch him, wanting to be certain the man was real. His fingers landed on smooth fabric, and Jack clenched his fingers into the jacket intending to hang on to something tangible. This Daniel was real, which gave Jack the incentive to let go of his determination to stay awake. His team was here now. They would make sure he survived, just as they always had.
He smiled at Daniel, as Teal'c came up to them, just in time to catch Jack as his knees buckled under him. He vaguely heard Carter yell for a medic before darkness claimed him completely.
"The only way to truly find what you seek is to follow your heart." The words floated through Jack's mind as he lay there, somewhere between sleep and awareness. They meant something to him, but he couldn't be sure what. "Wherever it takes you, follow it to the end." He vaguely remembered bits and pieces of a memory, one in which his grandfather was trying to tell him something – something important. Still, the memory was a distant one. Jack didn't even try to find it when it floated away from him. Instead, he lay there with his eyes closed, listening to the voices and sounds of people who surrounded him, and wondering what was going on.
He was on a stretcher, he decided. The swaying of his body told him that much. The movement stopped suddenly, and he heard the familiar sounds of chevrons locking into place. He was going home.
"Just hang on, sir." He opened his eyes to see Carter standing over him, looking at him with concern clearly etched in her features. She had helped him back in the maze, and she was with him now. He wanted to tell her that he was fine, but he couldn't seem to find the strength. She smiled at him, then said, "We're going home."
"Home," he whispered, before smiling weakly at his second in command. She had been his lifeline at the end there. Out of all the people in his memories, Carter was the one who pushed him out the door. "Where the heart is." He could see that she was confused, but he didn't even try to clear up her confusion. He would have plenty of time to do that later, when he was up and walking around again.
"Yes sir," she said. He closed his eyes again, intending to sleep through to the next week, but images of his memories floated across his mind, reminding Jack of a nagging worry. An image of a small skeleton filtered into his thoughts, making it imperative that he warn the natives.
"Mirrors…," he whispered, but they were on the move again and no one was listening. He looked up at Carter, who glanced down at him as she walked alongside the moving stretcher. "Maze…," he told her, to try one more time.
"There are plenty of mirrors at the SGC, sir," one of the medics told him. "You can gaze into them to your heart's content."
"We'll take care of it," Daniel said, from the other side of the stretcher. Jack hadn't even known he was there, but he was glad that someone knew what he was talking about. "Don't worry about it, okay?"
"Yeah," Jack muttered, as sleep pulled him down into its grasp. He gave into it, knowing that he was going to survive the trip. He was on his way home. That's all that mattered now.