Author’s Note: Thanks to my faithful betas, Em and Beth, and to the person on the ColonelAndTheDoc mailing list who asked why there was no Jack/Janet “Heroes” fic. (I think she wanted Denial!fic…but this is what came to me.)
It hurt almost physically to watch Cassie say goodbye to her friends before bouncing down the steps outside the school, her face bright with a smile. For a minute, Sam closed her eyes, hoping when she opened them she’d be in her own bed, with the events of the day only a nightmare. But no, the school was still there, and now Cassie had spotted her.
The teenager slowed, the smile still fixed but now confused. “Sam? What are you doing here?”
Sam swallowed hard–God, she’d known this was going to be difficult, but now…looking at Cassie’s face she almost wanted to turn and run. “Cassie…I have some bad news.”
The younger girl’s face went white. “Oh God…something’s happened to Dad? Is he okay?”
Sam blinked back tears and shook her head. “No…I mean…yes, Colonel O’Neill was hurt, but he’s going to be fine…Cassie…Janet didn’t make it. I’m so sorry.”
Cassandra’s hands flew to her face and a strangled cry escaped that was half gasp, half sob. “But…no! Mom’s not even supposed to be off-world, how could she be…?”
“There was an ambush…SG-13 got cornered by a group of Jaffa. We took a medical team through with us to take care of the wounded…” she choked on the words. “…we were badly outnumbered. Your mother…Cassie, she died saving a man’s life.”
Cassie held her head high, even though her eyes were already gleaming with a thin layer of threatening tears. “That’s how she would have wanted to go.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah…it is.”
The teenager wiped furiously at her eyes before those tears could fall. “Does Dad know yet?”
“No…when I left he was still unconscious,” Sam admitted softly.
“Can you take me…I mean…I want to see him…I want to be…”
Major Carter smiled sadly, pulling the teenager into a tight embrace. Not for the first time, she found herself grateful for the stubborn kid who had played matchmaker between the Colonel and Janet all those years ago, determined to make her father figure really her father. And she was even more grateful for the armor Siler had designed, that had saved the Colonel’s life. She couldn’t imagine watching Cassie lose her whole family in one fell swoop again…
“Yeah, Cassie. I think it would be a very good idea for you to be there when he wakes up.”
Damn, that hurt. Jack winced as consciousness slowly crept back to him–well, at least if he was hurting, he was still alive. Which meant Siler’s armor must’ve worked after all. Good to know.
He felt a small hand squeeze his and smiled in response, squeezing back.
“Daddy?” Cassie’s voice pierced the haze, sounding small and lost. Very lost…she’d never called him Daddy before. By the time they’d made it official, she’d declared herself too old for anything other than ‘Dad.’
His smile faded–had he been hurt that badly, that they’d brought Cassie in? Badly enough to inspire the fear in her voice? How long had he been unconscious?
Peeling his eyes open, Jack smiled affectionately at his daughter, releasing her hand to reach up and cup her face. She’d been crying…her face was still striped red and white with tear tracks. “Hey, Cass…it’s okay. I’m fine, see?”
She nodded, forcing herself to smile even though her face was still twisted with sadness.
“I’m gonna be fine…” he repeated, still trying to reassure her with his eyes. “…’soon as your mom lets me outta here.”
For a second, Cassie just looked at him, then slowly, mutely shook her head. “Daddy…Mom’s…” she choked on the words.
Jack’s stomach tightened. Oh God…Janet was hurt too? No wonder Cass had been so frightened.
He tore his eyes away from his daughter, noticing for the first time that Carter was also in the room. Good–at least there’d been someone to watch over his girl while he was out.
“Sir…” she repeated almost apologetically, stumbling over her words almost as much as Cassandra had. “Janet was hit. She wasn’t wearing the armor…”
Jack felt himself reeling at the implication of his Second in Command’s words. No. Oh, God, no.
Carter blinked back tears. “The rest of her team did everything they could…God, you should’ve seen them…but they couldn’t save her.”
Jack felt numb, his mind screaming denial at him: one word, over and over again…”no…no…”
He felt Cassie bury herself against him and pulled her into his arms. All his stubborn strength that she’d been emulating shattered and she started to sob, her tears seeping through the paper-thin fabric of his hospital gown like reality.
Janet was gone. Janet, the one of them who was supposed to stay safe and sound on base, out of the line of fire. The one who was supposed to survive to take care of their daughter if anything happened to him.
Suddenly, Jack panicked. He wasn’t wearing his ring–where was his wedding ring? Releasing Cassie, he ripped out the IV sticking out of his hand and swung his legs around, standing shakily.
“Sir!” Carter’s hands were on his shoulders, trying to push him back onto the bed. “You’re not exactly in perfect health yourself–”
“I don’t give a damn,” he growled back. “Where is she? I have to see her!” His right hand flew to touch his left, feeling again the empty space on the ring finger. “And where the hell is my ring?”
Ignoring the fact that he was pretty much in the buff except for the flimsy gown and his boxers, Jack pushed past her and several nurses, heading for the door of the infirmary. Even the two guards at the door failed to stop him. Sam and Cassie both followed, shouting after him, but he couldn’t turn back. He had to see her…had to see for himself…
He ground to an unwitting halt in the hallway–which way was the morgue? He hadn’t been down there in…years, at least. Possibly not since Kowalsky. There’d been nothing to bury with Daniel.
“Sir!” Carter called after him again, finally catching up. She held up her hand and…oh, thank God. He snatched the ring out of it and slipped it back on his finger, still shaking.
“Sir, you really shouldn’t be out of bed yet–”
She shut up when he shot her a look, her eyes dropping. Janet wouldn’t have. Janet would’ve just stared right back at him, stubbornly forcing him to be the first to back down, to look away.
“I need to see her,” he stated quietly.
“I know,” Carter sympathized quietly. “But right now…forgive me, Sir, but I think right now you need to think about Cassie.”
He looked at her for a long moment, then looked up to see Cassie watching them from further down the hall. “Oh hell…” Opening his arms again, she ran into them and he buried his face in her hair as she buried hers in his chest. “I’m sorry, Cass. I’m so damn sorry.”
They probably could have stood there all day: the girl crying, her father fighting not to. Unfortunately…
“Colonel O’Neill!” The almost chipper voice was the last one on earth he wanted to hear. Cassie sprang back, startled, and stared at the man who was a complete stranger to her.
Bregman beamed, his two lackeys right behind him, camera and boom mike in hand. And if the light on the camera was any indication, it was on, as always. “I’m glad to see you’re all right–I’d heard a rumor–”
Jack snapped. Before James had time to react, the Colonel was almost on top of him, tearing the camera out of his hands and throwing it unceremoniously to the floor with a loud crash of delicate parts breaking. A split second later, the cameraman found himself thrown after it.
“You get that thing out of my face, and you keep it out!” he threatened.
“Colonel!” The director looked shocked and indignant. “Do you have any idea how much that camera costs? I…I should have you brought up on charges for assault or destruction of government property!”
The Colonel didn’t back down, instead getting right in Bregman’s face. “You charge me with any goddamned thing you want, just stay the hell away from me!”
Pivoting briskly on his heel, he grabbed Cassie’s hand and stalked away.
Bregman looked, aghast, at Major Carter, whose face was almost as hard. “Did you see what he did?”
“I didn’t see a thing,” she shot back coldly. “But if I had, it would be no more than you deserve for accosting a man who’s just found out he lost his wife.”
She stormed off too, leaving Bregman staring after her in open-mouthed dismay. “His wife?”
Colonel Rondel didn’t look much more sympathetic than Major Carter. “Colonel O’Neill has been married to Dr. Fraiser for almost five years.”
Dr. Fraiser: the pretty, petite CMO he’d flirted with briefly before noticing the rings on her left hand. Feeling even more dismayed, and a little grieved himself, the director closed his eyes.
It had taken some coaxing, but Carter and Cassie had finally persuaded him to return to the infirmary, once General Hammond had promised that the camera crew–now sans camera–was being kept far away from it. Apparently they’d been right about his own state of recovery, because he hadn’t been back in bed long before a troubled sleep claimed him: sleep haunted with the image he’d fortunately been spared in real life–of his wife falling, her chest an open, gaping staff wound…
Jack sat up with a gasp, a split second of hope that it was all a dream fading as the infirmary came into focus around him. His eyes searched the room almost wildly, falling finally on Carter where she sat nearby. “Where’s Cassie?”
“Daniel took her home, and he and Teal’c are staying with her,” she answered quietly. “I offered to do it, but Daniel insisted–he said I wasn’t exactly in a fit state to drive.” She didn’t add that she hadn’t really thought Daniel was in any better shape, but hopefully Teal’c would be able to keep an eye on him.
The Colonel grimaced sympathetically. Aside from himself, Carter had been closer to Janet than anyone else on base. He wasn’t surprised that the rest of the team would be looking out for her.
A long silence stretched between them before the Major spoke again. “Sir…Daniel was there. He was videotaping a message for a man Janet was treating when she was hit.”
Jack fought a selfish impulse to be thankful that it was Daniel and not him. Poor Daniel–as many times as Janet had saved all their lives, he couldn’t imagine watching her die and being powerless to save her. He’d felt helpless enough in the morgue, staring at the body of his wife and knowing he couldn’t bring her back. Just like Daniel must’ve felt after Sha’re… “And you let him drive?”
Carter smiled feebly at his echo of her own thoughts. “Teal’c promised to grab the wheel if he did anything crazy.”
“Good.” Jack’s voice was quiet but firm. “Because descended or no, I’ll kill him again if he gets Cassie hurt.”
She smiled again. She looked tired, and he didn’t blame her. Probably none of them were sleeping very well right now; he sure wasn’t.
“Look, Carter…get someone to give you a ride home. Get some sleep, take care of yourself. I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Aside from itching to get out of here and go home myself…yeah, I’ll be fine.”
It was a lie and they both knew it, but still she nodded gratefully and left. Jack closed his eyes, trying to summon up the image of Janet’s smile. When the memory came, he clung to it, knowing it was the only place he’d ever see that smile again.
Janet had always teased him about how much he hated to stay in the infirmary. She’d joke that if she didn’t know better, she’d think he was avoiding her, and he’d shoot back that it wasn’t her, just her needles. That he liked her just fine when she wasn’t poking him with sharp objects. Sometimes he’d even leeringly add that the poking was supposed to be his job.
But now…now not only did he want out of the infirmary more than he ever had, but he almost wished he hadn’t been so testy about it in the past. Laid up against his will or no, it was more time they could’ve spent together…
He could still feel her presence here, so strongly he still half-expected to see her every time he opened his eyes. But the sympathetic looks he kept getting from the nurses and the other doctors were too painful to endure, even to drink in that presence. So when some doctor–he didn’t know the man’s name and he didn’t care; it wasn’t his wife and that was all that mattered–told him he was free to leave, he was dressed and ready to go in record time.
Daniel was waiting for him in the hallway.
“Where’s Cassie?” Jack asked.
“She’s with Sam,” the archaeologist replied quietly. Jack nodded. Sam, Daniel, Teal’c and Hammond had taken turns staying with the girl as long as he’d been in recovery, at least when she wasn’t visiting him, and for that he was unbelievably grateful to his team and his CO.
Life at the SGC had gone on, as unbelievable as it seemed. Sam, Daniel and Teal’c had already uncovered another failed plot by the NID, with help from Agent Barrett, while he was still stuck in recovery. Combining human and Goa’uld DNA with predictably disastrous results–would those bastards never learn?
But his life hadn’t gone on. He’d been stuck in limbo, in the infirmary, while Hammond postponed the memorial service for Janet until he was well enough to deliver her eulogy. Part of him had rebelled at the thought–he’d even briefly offered the job to Carter–but another, bigger part of him knew he owed it to her.
“Um…Jack, about Cassie…” Daniel started.
Jack held up a hand to shush him. “I know what you’re going to say–I’ve been here before. I lost my kid, and I let it destroy me so I lost my wife too. Trust me, there’s no way in hell I’d let that happen again.”
The archaeologist smiled sympathetically, and somehow coming from him it wasn’t half as annoying. “Good. Because I wouldn’t have let you anyway, anymore than you let me shut myself away after Sha’re died.”
“Tit for tat, huh?”
Daniel nodded, and Jack gave him a grateful pat on the back.
“Um…Jack…there’s something I need to tell you.”
The Colonel raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Daniel’s voice was low and quiet when he replied. “I…I’d like to give the tape to Bregman, and I want your blessing.”
Jack stiffened. He didn’t have to ask what tape–Carter had told him about it, and Daniel had offered to let him see it. He’d refused for two days before he finally broke down. It hurt like hell to watch her die, but at the same time he’d been so proud of her that it hurt in an entirely different way. “Well, you can’t have it.”
The archaeologist lifted his chin defiantly but his words were soft, persuasive in that infuriating way he had. “Janet died a hero, but because what we do here is classified, the world is never going to know that. They’re never going to know that she could’ve gotten to safety but didn’t because there was someone who needed her help. Bregman’s documentary…might change that someday. I think it’s worth the chance.”
In spite of himself, a little bit of Jack’s anger subsided. Daniel was right–it wasn’t fair that the world would never know Janet Fraiser, or what she had died for. Even though he understood the need for secrecy, he wanted the world to know what his wife had sacrificed for them–what he and Cassie had sacrificed–not now, but…someday.
“All right,” he conceded quietly. “You’re right. I guess…I guess you can give it to him.”
Daniel nodded and looked away.
“Daniel…thanks, by the way,” Jack stated quietly. “Thanks for checking with me first.”
His friend smiled weakly. “Yeah, well…you would’ve done the same if it had been Sha’re.”
The Colonel nodded in acknowledgment. Letting out a soul-deep sigh, Jack ran one hand through his hair and stared bleakly down the cold, unfriendly concrete hallway that stretched ahead of him like the bereavement leave he’d been granted. “I think it’s about time Cassie and I went home.”
Jack tossed and turned for three hours before he finally gave up on sleep and wandered out into the dark kitchen. With Sara…they’d stopped sleeping in the same bed long before the divorce was finalized. They’d drifed apart so gradually after Charlie’s death that he almost hadn’t noticed until the subpoena arrived. But Janet…he’d never spent a night in their bed without her. The only time he’d slept without her by his side since their marriage was when he was on a mission.
A king-sized bed was far too big for one person, even a person of his height. For all Janet’s tininess…it still felt empty without her. He felt empty without her.
He was rummaging in the fridge when the light suddenly flickered on. “Dad? What are you doing up?”
Jack straightened up and flashed his daughter a lopsided smile. “Couldn’t sleep. You too?”
Cassie nodded bleakly, dark circles already hovering under her eyes. “I haven’t slept hardly at all, since…”
He grimaced. Yeah, he hadn’t slept much since that day either. “C’mere.”
This time there was no one to interrupt the embrace, and father and daughter clung to each other for a long time. Not crying, not speaking, just holding each other. Finally, Jack drew back a little and pressed a kiss to Cassie’s hair. “You know what your mom and I used to do sometimes?” he asked quietly.
She shook her head against his chest.
“Sometimes after you went to bed, when you were younger, we’d sit up half the night watching movies and splitting a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. What do you say we make it a father/daughter tradition from now on? Starting tonight?”
Cassie looked up at him through a sheen of unshed tears, forcing a smile. “Okay.”
He smiled back, less forced but no less subdued. “Okay, I think we’ve still got Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Chunky Monkey in the freezer…what’s your poison?”
“Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.”
Nodding, he opened the freezer and poked his head in. “Okay, so maybe I was wrong–no, wait, here it is.” He emerged with the tub in hand, flourishing it triumphantly before closing the door and handing it to her, along with two spoons from the silverware drawer. “Now…what movie?”
Cassie pondered. “Something happy,” she finally stated in a quiet voice. “Something where no one dies.”
After a moment of thought, a slow smile spread over Jack’s face. “I know just the thing. C’mon.” He nodded towards the living room.
Curious, Cassie followed and watched as he opened the DVD cabinet, finally emerging with two cases in hand: Toy Story and Toy Story 2.
She grinned. “Perfect–it’s the adventures of Dad and Uncle Daniel.”
Jack mock-glared at her as he popped the first disk into the player. “We’ll see about that, young lady…”
Then, crossing to the sofa, he took a seat and patted the cushion next to him. Cassie sank down beside her father with ice cream in hand, leaning her head on his shoulder as he put an arm around her and pulled her close. Picking up the remote, he hit “play.”
“I wouldn’t be here today if not for two people.” Jack paused, taking a long breath before he continued. “The first is Dr. Janet Fraiser, who wasn’t just my wife, she was my lifesaver. In more ways than one. The second…”
He glanced out at the small crowd assembled in the ‘Gate room, somehow managing not to scowl at the camera. “The second is her daughter, Cassandra Fraiser-O’Neill, who decided about six years ago that she wanted me for her father, and did everything in her power to see to it that Janet and I wanted it too. I owe you both.”
Cassie smiled weakly.
“I’m not a man of many words, and the words I do use tend to be sarcastic,” Jack admitted. “So it’s not easy for me to get up here and explain to you all what Janet Fraiser meant to me.” He paused. “In spite of the fact that she wouldn’t take my name.”
A surprised ripple of laughter spread through the room, and he smiled faintly in response.
“But what I can tell you is that I thank God every day that she was part of my life. And even more, I thank God that my eyes were opened to just how priceless a treasure she was, so that we could have those years together. I thank God, and I thank Janet, for every single minute of that time. I thank her for giving me a second chance to be a husband and father, a chance to be a better one than I ever thought I could be. I thank her for stubbornly keeping me alive, even though I never wanted to outlive her. And I’m not the only one…”
He held up a piece of paper. “My good buddy, Teal’c, gave this to me, and I think he’s right that it says a lot more about who Janet Fraiser was than even I ever could. Janet gave her life for her country, her world…but this is a list of people who didn’t make that ultimate sacrifice–because of her.”
Clearing his throat, he began to read. “Colonel Jack O’Neill. Cassandra Fraiser. Major Samantha Carter. Dr. Daniel Jackson. Teal’c. Jonas Quinn…”
General Hammond looked up, then nodded and gestured for Jack to take a seat. “Good to see you, Colonel. How are you holding up?”
“As well as can be expected, Sir,” was the dry answer.
Hammond grimaced sympathetically. “I understand that. What can I do for you?”
Jack was silent for a long moment before responding. “I’m planning to retire again. Cassie’s already lost her mother twice and her whole world once–it wouldn’t be fair to her for me to continue to put myself in danger.”
“Understandable,” the General nodded. “Although, to tell you the truth, Jack, I’ve been contemplating retiring again myself. This time with no outside pressure, I promise.” He looked the Colonel squarely in the eye. “If I did…would you consider staying on in my place? I’d much rather leave the SGC in your hands than someone who has no idea how this place operates and doesn’t care about her people.”
The Colonel looked surprised. “I don’t think I have the rank for that, Sir.”
“You’re up to take the test again, aren’t you? And I happen to know there’s at least one General below me just dying to move up to Brigadier, which would leave you an opening.” Hammond leaned forward, folding his hands on his desk in front of him. “I understand you wanting to step back for Cassie’s sake. But I believe this facility still needs you, Jack, and I can say for certain from personal experience that you don’t get to go off-world a whole lot in my position.”
“I’ll think about it,” Jack promised.
The General nodded. “That’s all anyone can ask. In the meantime, I’m granting you an extended personal leave until you tell me you’re ready to come back.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“It’s the least I can do, Colonel–Janet Fraiser was special to all of us, but I know our loss can’t compare to yours or Cassandra’s.”
Jack inclined his head in acknowledgment and turned to leave.
“Oh, Jack…one more thing…Mr. Bregman has just about finished his documentary, and I have to say…it’s a fine piece of filmmaking. I had my doubts, but believe it or not, it really does do justice to what we do here. And to Dr. Fraiser.”
He paused, watching the Colonel where he stood still facing the door, not moving.
“There’s just one final thing he’d like to complete the story–I told him I’d talk to you about it, but that I made no promises. That I wouldn’t order you to do this.”
Slowly, like the hour hand of a clock, Jack turned back to face him. “No one else knew her quite like I did, did they, Sir?” he admitted quietly.
“No, Jack, we didn’t.”
Another long silence followed, then he nodded. “All right. I’ll talk to him.”
Three roses, for three months. Jack sighed deeply as he dropped to his knees beside the headstone. His eyes and fingers traced the words carved into the stone:
Beloved Wife and Mother
The passage of time had made the pain diminish a little, but the hollow place in his heart that she had once occupied would never be filled. Just like the holes left by Charlie’s death, and Sara’s leaving.
He laid the rose carefully on the perfectly-manicured grass. “Heya, Doc…” he said softly, the nickname that had become an endearment. “Thought you might like to know what we were all up to. ‘Course, you probably already know, since I can just see you bullying those angels into letting you keep an eye on us, but…”
He sighed deeply, casting his eyes upward for a moment to the sky before looking back at the grave. “Cassie graduated a month ago. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to know she’s decided to enter the Academy. ‘Course, Hammond and I had to call in a few favors to get her a birth certificate and all, but…” His voice softened. “You’d be proud of her.”
Jack laughed a little. “Oh and you’ll never guess who’s now the acting commander of the SGC. Hammond decided to retire–permanently, not like my two tries or his last one. And since I passed the promotion test…well, it took me a bit longer than the Jack in that alternate reality Daniel visited, but you’re lookin’ at General O’Neill. I wish you could’ve been there…”
He was silent for another long moment, communing with the spirit that he was sure was present. Then, “Oh yeah…and Daniel found that Lost City. Turns out it’s Atlantis–you’d think we could’ve figured that out sooner, huh?” He smiled, and imagined he saw her smile back.
“They’ve sent a team out there now, running around some other galaxy making trouble. On the plus side, I can’t think of any place Carter would rather have that asshole McKay than another galaxy. Speaking of Carter…you’ll be happy to know Sam made Lieutenant Colonel and is now in command of SG-1. Oh, and Jonas finally decided to give up on those squabbling hens on Langaria and come back to us, so now Teal’c has three geeks to deal with. Poor Teal’c.”
He could almost hear the bell-tones of her laughter.
“I, ah…did something kinda stupid,” he admitted. “I stuck my head in another one of those Ancient gizmos, y’know, the kind that download a bunch of crap into my brain? Cassie about killed me, and I think you would’ve if you’d been there…it worked out in the end, but I still remember you telling me that just because I have the devil’s luck doesn’t excuse being careless.”
His fingers stretched out to touch the stone again, caressing Janet’s engraved name like he’d once caressed her body…
“God, Janet…I miss you. I miss your smile, I miss your voice…” Jack smiled. “I even miss your needles. You thought I was shy of the infirmary while you were there, you should see me now. The new CMO just doesn’t have your touch.”
His hand paused on the ‘T’…
“Thank you. Thank you for my life, for Cassie, for you…I know I didn’t say this nearly as often as I should have–and I have to admit, I wonder sometimes why you put up with me–but…I love you. Always will. ‘Sides, I’m getting too old to remarry again anyway, so you’re stuck with me for eternity.”
Another long silence, but this time, feeling emptied of words, Jack slowly rose to leave. “Say ‘hi’ to Kowalsky for me, and tell Sha’re Daniel still misses her. And Charlie…I know I don’t need to ask you to take care of Charlie. I bet you’ve been watching over him since the minute you got up there–keeping him out of trouble like you always did for me. But tell him…tell him I love him and I’m sorry. Oh yeah, and tell Kowalsky to keep his hands off, just in case he starts getting any ideas; you may be gone, but you’re still mine…”
He pressed a kiss to his fingertips and transferred it gently to the stone. “See you whenever my luck runs out.”
Then, without looking back, Jack O’Neill walked away.