By Neiths Arrow
Summary: A series of episode tags that involve our favorite Colonel. This stems from my curiousity about what happens when he is alone after each mission.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Stargate story or characters (MGM Television Entertainment). However, the original characters are my own. I'm not making a profit from this fic.
Author's Note: Thank you Diane for spending some of your valuable time correcting my grammar, spelling, word choices, and characterization inconsistencies – you really and
truly give me that little extra umph to post my stories. Thank you to my online friends for their encouragement to write and post.
Retired Colonel Jack O'Neill, leisurely carried his cup of coffee and newspaper outside for a peaceful morning read in the seclusion of his backyard. It had been six months since his return from the planet Abydos and the painful discovery that his life on Earth had changed once again. The raw wound of his failed marriage to Sara was still seeping and painful. But for the first time since his return to Earth, he felt at home. His peaceful daily routines had helped to scab over the gaping hole in his heart where the laughter of his son still echoed. Though he may not have realized it, each day of survival gave him the skills he needed to live with the absence of the best thing that had ever happened to him. He was coming to terms with his solitary existence. One morning, he had awakened to realize that the curtain of blackness that had descended over his life was finally lifting. This realization came with the sweet sound of chirping birds on a warm spring morning. Since his new house rested at the border of wilderness, Jack had had a chance to experience the healing cycle of nature. So complete was his immersion into this new life that he was even pondering the commitment to get a dog.
Rather than staying in the house where the painful memory of his son's accidental death would haunt him, Jack had allowed his wife to have the home. She had asked her father to move in to fill up the emptiness and this absolved Jack of the responsibility of caring for a wife he had vowed to protect. The grieving airman moved on, and it didn't take him long to purchase a house of his own. The new place suited his personality well and provided the perfect deck from which to view the stars. Jack had a renewed interest in astronomy since his travel to another solar system. Sometimes he questioned whether the events of the past year had occurred at all. If he chose to think about it, which he did not, he would have been amazed by how different his life had been a year ago. At that time, he had a beautiful wife and child as well as a steady career as an officer in the United States Air Force. After the death of his son, he had decided he no longer wanted to live. His lack of availability to his wife had caused the dissolution of his marriage. After the death of his son, the only comfort left to him was his wife. But the grieving and guilt-ridden man denied himself this comfort – and as a result denied her as well. The wounded family couldn't take the further stress, so it shattered.
After his return from Abydos, Jack found the house emptied of his wife's belongings. He had walked in far enough to read her good-bye letter and decisively packed a bag before leaving for good. The haunting echoes of life in the old home would quickly destroy the spark of life ignited by a geeky scientist named Daniel Jackson. As Jack left, he literally closed the door on that chapter in his life. Since Daniel had asked him to tie up loose ends, Jack was able to stay in the archeologist's apartment until his lease finished. Jack paid the rent and remained until he found his current house. Due to the catastrophic events in his life, the Air Force shrink insisted he be evaluated for ongoing therapy needs. Jack balked at the suggestion. When they countered that they would make it a term of continued benefits, Jack insinuated that he would reveal the Air Force's planned involvement in his suicide mission. He was quietly allowed an unhindered retirement instead.
The unplanned retirement had been beneficial. While secluded from the world, it had allowed Jack to pick up the pieces of his life and redefine who he was. Though he would never recover from the death of his son, he had found ways to live with the pain. It was no longer a bottomless pit of despair and guilt. Light and hope had reached him in the form of one Daniel Jackson. Jack shook his head with an incredulous smirk at the memory of the geek's audacity and bravery. A sudden noise in the brush behind his house caused Jack's laid-back musings to be abruptly interrupted; his quick reflexes triggered his body to assume a combat-ready posture. He relaxed a bit, but remained on alert. An outside observer would have only noticed a deepening of his breathing and widening of his pupils.
After hearing further noise, Jack went to cautiously investigate. He heard short, agonized wheezing from under a bush. Carefully parting the leaves, Jack was surprised to see startling green eyes glaring back at him from the darkness. He raised one inquiring eyebrow and tilted his head before questioning, "Hello! Who are you?"
The mangy ball of fur didn't respond other than to lay its ears back against its head at the sound of a human voice. Jack squinted to study the critter more closely. From the wide shape of the head and sinewy body, Jack discerned it to be a Tomcat. Its long fur was matted with both dirt and blood, but it looked gray. One of its ears was recently torn and one eye oozed pus from a nearby scratch. The cat's belly was moving rapidly with fear filled breaths yet it still attempted to look fiercely challenging. Jack took in the appearance of the warrior cat and winced in sympathy. His voice gently questioned, "Hey there fella, been fighting?" Despite the lack of response, the Airman continued. "I know how ya feel, buddy. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it."
Jack cautiously and slowly sat back on his haunches. He didn't want to scare the critter away. It had been many days since he had talked to anyone. Though the man treasured his newfound seclusion, he missed human contact. Hell, he missed contact of any kind. Jack scowled with a sudden thought. He was a dog person, not a cat person. It somehow felt like a betrayal to the loyal canine species and a betrayal of his own manhood to associate with a cat. Jack surreptitiously looked around to make sure there was no one else around. He shook his head and huffed at his caution. There was no one in his yard and unlikely to be anyone there in the near future, so he didn't need to worry about his reputation. A drawn-out, low-pitched yowl of pain from the bush motivated Jack to make a decision.
As the man abruptly left, the injured cat watched blearily through the gaps in the bushes. The stranger returned after a short time with unfamiliar objects. If the cat had not been so injured, it would have fled. But it had only had enough energy to crawl under the bush after the brutal fight with a much older and more experienced Tom. That had been a couple days ago. Lack of food and water had compounded the injuries and the cat was unable to hunt or jump the fence to find water. He was the type of cat that needed no human. He had been betrayed by them in the past and avoided the unpredictable beings. The Tom had vowed never to rely on their handouts. He was an independent cat and proud of it. But two days of thirst were softening his resolve to refuse help. The cat looked around surreptitiously to make sure there were no other cats around to witness his debasement.
Jack stooped down near the bush. Concerned, brown eyes met green eyes of misery. "Hey there fella. Easy! Just got a little H2O for ya." The tough, retired Colonel slowly pushed a bowl of water toward the inured cat. The caution had two functions: one was to protect his hand from the claws and teeth of an injured animal, and the other was to avoid scaring the cat away. Jack had experienced the danger of skittish felines when he spent time with his grandfather in Minnesota – the elder male unashamedly had a cat and often sat in a rocking chair petting the old animal. One day when a young Jack attempted to imitate his Grandfather's ministrations by petting the cat in his lap, they were both startled by the entrance of a large dog. It wasn't until his heart stopped pounding that he felt the gouges left by the cat's frantic claws.
Shaking off the old memory, Jack returned his attention to the injured animal in his backyard. He would have to make sure to warn Charlie even though the boy would be excited about caring for the animal. Jack's heart lurched in sickening and familiar pain as he remembered his son was gone. The grieving father was getting used to the recovery sequela of intense loss, regret, and guilt before moving on to daily life tasks. He determinedly brought his attention back to the pitiful life before him. Jack doubted if the feline was able to move on its own at this point, so he pushed the bowl of water forward until he saw the cat flinch in pain as it tried to move away. That was his cue to stop, so he left the water and backed away. He sat on the ground about four feet away to watch and wait. The sound of a soft, painful grunt signaled that the cat had risen. Jack smiled slightly when he heard the sound of lapping. But the sound continued past the point of benefit. Jack frowned in worry. "Easy there. Don't drink too much too soon." The sound of a gagging cough confirmed his warning. "Told ya." Any airman who had experienced the Colonel's gruff shouts would have been surprised by the gentleness in the tone. Anyone who had ever experienced the deep love of this man would not.
After the injured cat hobbled back to its spot further under the bush, Jack again moved closer. He had another bowl in his hand. This one contained leftover chicken from his BBQ the day before. He set the chicken near the bowl. This time, the cat didn't even flinch, so Jack risked pushing it closer. The cat waited until he retracted his hand before it sniffed delicately toward the new bowl. But it came no closer. Jack frowned in concern. The cat must be more hurt than he had first thought. It had no interest in food.
Over the next two days, Jack devoted much of his time making sure the injured feline was supplied with fresh water. Each time, the retired airman was able to move a little closer with the water dish until one day the cat reached forward to sniff delicately at his long fingers. That was Jack's clue that he could tentatively give the cat a little pet on the only part of his body that didn't seem injured – a spot on the top of its head. This was also the first day the critter seemed interested in food. Jack had bought a couple cans of cat food to try to entice the injured animal to build up its strength. He had been bringing a spoonful with him each time he visited the cat. On this day, the cat had at first tentatively sniffed the food and then partially rose to devour the spoonful of food. When the precariously connected food fell onto the dead leaves with a plop, the cat startled, but didn't run away. "Good! Your appetite's back. Oscar, ya gotta build up your strength if you're gonna kick butt next time." Somewhere along the line, and Jack didn't know when it had happened, he had named the unexpected visitor to his backyard. The name, Oscar, seemed to fit the injured, gray cat.
After finishing the spoonful, Oscar slowly blinked his grateful green eyes at the man. Those expressive eyes somehow held a promise to return the favor. Jack went back to get more food. When he returned the cat was gone. The lonely airman had a moment of disappointment at the loss of companionship. He had been enjoying the interaction with . . . something. A quiet 'mrrr' near his foot alerted him to the fact that the cat must have followed him when he went into the house, but it was too injured to climb the steps. The pitiful creature looked worse swaying at the bottom of the steps to his deck than he had under the cover of the bushes. With only slight hesitation, Jack walked with a catlike grace to the creature and stooped down. As he reached a muscled, tan arm to pick it up, he cajoled. "Come on. It's warmer inside and we can wash you up a bit."
It was apparent that the cat had lived outdoors for quite a long time, as his fur was matted and full of dirty oil. Jack set the cat down on the kitchen floor and prepared a plate of food. Oscar watched his every move with sharp eyes darting nervously toward the open door. Jack cautiously walked near the cat and placed the plate of food about four feet away. Oscar got up shakily and sniffed the food before starting to devour the meal. After a couple bites, it looked back to Jack and licked its top lip pointedly. Then it blinked its eyes slowly before turning to continue eating.
"You're welcome," Jack acknowledged. He could tell that Oscar had lived with humans at some point in the past. He scowled in annoyance. The cat had probably been abandoned in the woods by his former owners. Misguided pet owners who tired of their animals often decided to return them to the wild without realizing the domesticated animal would likely perish.
Though initially eager to eat, Oscar quickly tired and made his way to a towel that Jack had thoughtfully laid on the floor. Jack was quick to reassure himself that his motive was to protect his floor rather than to provide comfort to a cat. Thankful that he had already started a fire, Jack went into the next room while leaving the sliding glass door in the kitchen open wide enough for the cat to leave. The last thing he wanted to do was to trap a wild animal against its will. Memories of his own imprisonments rose into consciousness. To avoid this line of thought, he decided to get warm water and a towel to tend to some of the critter's wounds.
Sometime in the early evening, the injured cat hobbled out to the yard. Jack caught the critter by accident and envied his absolutely silent movement out of the house. Wondering whether the injured cat would return, Jack left the sliding door open despite the cold Colorado evening. When he walked back into the living room the next morning, he saw the cat lift his head warily and guiltily from the floor near the warm fireplace. Jack smirked knowingly. "Hey, I won't tell anyone if you don't."
Over the next couple weeks, the cat ate more food and his wanderings outdoors became more frequent. It was several days before Jack realized that Oscar hadn't returned. Somewhere along the line, the cat had graduated to dry food, so Jack didn't notice the food had been untouched. With a slight sigh of regret at losing his guest, Jack finally closed the sliding glass door to his backyard.