stringertheory: (Colonel O'Neill)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: Look Me In the Stars
Rating: PG
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Clone!Jack O'Neill
Word Count: 1510
Categories: character study, drama
Spoilers/Warnings: Follows Clone!Jack from "Fragile Balance" (7.3).
Summary: He has been able to pick up where he left off before. This time he gets to start over.
Note: Beta by [personal profile] lolmac.


A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.
- Robert Frost, "A Question"



I.

His life has been one long list of second chances.

When he was sixteen, he and his best friend had gotten into a fight during hockey practice. He had thrown the first punch, an honor that got him thrown off the team. Angry, bitter, and still sore from a solid left hook to the ribs, he had pretended he didn't care, even while the loss of a friend and the game he loved ate at him like acid. Somehow, the friendship had been repaired and he had found himself back on the ice. Looking back on it, he can't even remember what the fight was about. No one had ever quite understood his relief at returning to the team, mainly because he could never find a way to express it.

Sara hadn't been impressed by him at first. He had been too boisterous, too cocky, too him. Thankfully she had taken a second glance.

He had been sure he was going to die during the one jump that his parachute didn't open. There were times, when he was stuck in a prison deep in Iraqi territory, he wished he had. He'd survived both and made it back home.

Abydos had been a second chance, even if he hadn't recognized it as such until afterwards. The Stargate program being reopened had been a second chance's second chance. Dying and coming back, almost dying and not – every one had been a chance to pick up where he had left off, to keep going.

This is a fresh start.

II.

He is wearing the shoes of a stranger, walking in his own footsteps.

This body is familiar in the way a dream is familiar. He remembers these feelings, this youth and gangly awkwardness and the indignity of the transition into manhood, but the sensations are muted by time like a photograph faded in the sun. This body does not carry the well-known aches and pains of his life, the scars abuse and neglect and circumstance have left on him. Neither does it bear the marks of his youth, of recklessness and folly. It is in every way a clean slate. He decides to keep it that way, to see how long he'll last if he takes better care of himself this time around.

His face in the mirror is a memory of younger days, but his eyes are the truth. They are old, every breath of his true age, and they hold all the memories that this body has never known. A kid should never have eyes this old, this knowing. But he isn't a kid, and he won't look like – or have to pretend to be – one for much longer.

III.

He doesn't see himself again, as they mutually decided that would be for the best, but the others visit him a few times during the early months of his new life.

Sam only visits with the others, tagging along with Daniel or Teal'c, or joining them for the one team visit they make. She talks to him as normally as she always has, but there is a distance to her, like she has taken two steps back and is turned, poised to walk away at the first opportunity. He doesn't take it personally.

Daniel treats him like a really intriguing artifact not yet rusted shut with age, as if he can get this Jack to open up where the other would not. The reminder of who he is and isn't mutes the joy he finds in eluding Daniel's sly inquiries, but he still doesn't reveal anything Daniel doesn't already know.

Teal'c treats him the same. They are all young in Teal'c's eyes.

As agreed, the visits stop six months after he first arrives in the world for a second time. He misses them. He lets them go.

IV.

He wonders what he'll do with himself.

He contemplates taking it easy, enjoying the nice, quiet life he has earned but that his doppelganger will never take advantage of. But he knows himself better than that.

He had always known where he would go; the path in front of him had always led in one direction. Now he's at the beginning of a new journey, a world of possibilities out there waiting for him, choices he can make that will take him in new directions. There are no road signs this time. If he thinks about it for too long, the options become a little overwhelming. He's a little surprised to find that the potential excites him more than it wearies him. Not that it's over yet, but he didn't do everything he wanted to do his first time around the block. Now he has the chance.

In the end, he doesn't stray too far from his former life. Before the Stargate, before black ops, he had lived for flying. The skies still call to him. They take him back to his roots.

On the first day of pilot training, he lets his excitement mirror the nerves of his fellow recruits. They try to mask their jitters with casual demeanors, but he knows exactly how they feel, remembers exactly what it was like for him all those years ago. They're looking forward to flying for the first time. For Jack, it's more like coming home. He holds himself together through all the technical training, itching to just get back in the air already. He excels at every task, every simulation, every test run – and makes it look easy, much to the bemusement, annoyance, and begrudging admiration of his peers. It makes him think of Carter, being top of the class. It makes him feel new.

He isn't made to be a taxi service for wealthy businessmen or the getaway driver for airborne news updates, so he seeks out other avenues for his skills. Search and rescue is right up his alley, providing the right mixture of piloting and on the ground action with the adrenaline-pumping adventure that seems to be his life's breath. Flying over trees into lonely gorges and remote campsites, dropping through impossible crevasses to rescue wounded or lost hikers – it feels good. It feels good to save lives in a relatively simple and straightforward way, devoid of any politics or red tape or secrets. He's saving the day. It's what he does best.

There is no one he can confide to that he still misses shooting bad guys.

V.

He earns new scars. Each one, so unique and fresh, is a fascination for him. They make him different from his other self; they make him solid where once he was air.

He has a separate life. He has his own story. Every mark on his body is a line in that story, unraveling into the darkness to places he has never been.

Every scar is worth it.

VI.

One late autumn afternoon, his team is called to a remote mountainside. A hiker had taken a bad tumble into a ravine, and air evac was needed.

Jack draws the short straw and rappels down through trees and gusting winds to the injured man. He's young, with a buzz cut, and the double-take he gives his rescuer is so strong, Jack is surprised it doesn't cause further damage. The Marine watches him with a mixture of disbelief and astonishment passing through his pain-glazed eyes. When he opens his mouth to speak, Jack quickly cuts across him with standard reassurances of his safety and instructions for his ascendance to the helicopter.

Later, Jack brushes aside the inescapable question with a quip about evil twins, careful to subtly mask the timbre of his voice. The Marine seems to accept the answer, but just the same, Jack doesn't linger after they hand him over to the medics.

VII.

He changes.

He wants to blame it on age, a sentiment that makes him laugh when he thinks it in front of a mirror. In a way, age does factor into it, all the years he had and the extra ones he has gained amounting to a different type of wisdom than what he had before.

He wonders if he would recognize himself now. Would he know his doppelganger, would his doppelganger recognize him? For some reason, he gets the feeling that the differences, however subtle some may be, are enough to make them distinct personalities. They would no longer think the same way or react the same way. They have both been through things, years and years of things, that the other has not. They have been shaped by different forces, pebbles broken from the same rock but tumbled by different streams.

This is his second age. He is a different man.

VIII.

Some things, as they say, never change.

With careful planning and a hefty down-payment, he purchases a small cabin on a remote lake in a corner of northern Minnesota.

On the opposite side of the state, there is a lake that he knows has no fish. At his lake, the fish bite. He likes it that way.



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October 2015

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