Title: Details of the War (3,287 words)
Fandom: SGA / SG1 crossover AU (Jack POV)
Summary: AU. It's about kids, and family, and flocking. It's about love and death, with fishing and chips on the side. It's about Jack O'Neill having to explain all of that. . . .
Warning: canon character deaths mentioned (Charlie, Jack's son; Patrick Sheppard)
Series notes: In the War Stories series (check the category 'series…War Stories'). If you don't want to read all that, the Need to Know is that this is an AU where Rodney is in the Canadian Air Force, John's an aerospace engineer, and they adopted a daughter, Max, and a son, Sean (also known as Bean). John was injured in the Ori war; Bean is deaf.
Jack heard the bicycle long before it swung around the corner and started bumping down the path: the ringing bell shattered the warm afternoon stillness. He lowered his fishing rod to the pier and hitched up one leg so he could crane around and shout stop scaring the fish.
Bean jumped off his bike and let it fall on the grass. Kickstands were apparently passé. As were belts. Bean tugged his baggy shorts up with a thumb as he ambled over, his face shadowed by a black baseball cap, gold squiggles instead of a team logo on the front. It looked like one of Daniel's alien languages, or graffiti, but it was probably just the name of the company. Probably that illegible scrawl made the cap's price treble.
"Hi," Bean signed, with attitude. Kids these days, Jack thought. He'd feel a lot easier when Bean wasn't the same general size and shape that Charlie had been when he died. Or if Bean didn't have wide brown eyes like Skaara's that made Jack's heart skip a beat every time they caught the light.
"Hi yourself," Jack said back. "Sit down, take a load off." He patted the sun-warm boards next to him in invitation. "It's not like I'm going to catch any fish now." He made the sign for fish — pretty much the first sign he'd learned — and made it disappear, poof. "Don't I always tell you about making noise like that?"
Bean shrugged. "Cars," he said, mimicking McKay so perfectly that Jack had to grin. Bean dropped down, kicking his legs out over the water and staring at the far shore of lake as if he was thinking deep thoughts, getting in touch with his inner Thoreau.
Yeah right sure, Jack thought, like the kid biked all the way out here to admire the weeds. He tugged his bag over and dug out the Doritos. He didn't have anything for the kid to drink, but they'd probably go up to the house later. That was what they usually did.
Years ago, McKay had tried to get his kids to call Jack Uncle. Jack had said no, no, and hell no. He'd wanted to coach the rugrats to call him by his full military title. He realised he'd made a huge tactical error when Max interviewed him in third grade, which he thought was maybe for the school newspaper. It had turned out to be part of a bulletin board display for Grandparents' Day. He'd barely not killed Sheppard, who'd fallen over laughing. Jack had found himself in Walgreens a few days later seriously contemplating a hair-dye product called Just for Men that also promised to turbo-charge his love life.
But there was always that What Would Carter Say factor. He kept the grey. He was learning to find the silver lining, like getting to be crotchety and a bad influence. Whoo ha.
Jack watched Bean breathe the chips in, wiping the cheesy powder all down his t-shirt. Something was up, he thought, in the Sheppard-McKay household. He dug in his bag for the spiral notebook he carried just in case, and for the Sharpie that never stayed stuck in the spiral where it belonged, and for the reading glasses that he hated needing.
"Anyone know you're here?" he wrote, holding the notebook up in Bean's line of sight. Bean shrugged. Jack added underneath, "If you call home, you can hang out. Otherwise — " He let the threat dangle.
Bean gave a deep, dramatic sigh, but he pulled his cell phone out and dutifully sent off a message — to McKay, Jack noted. He wasn't at the mountain enough these days to have any idea of whether that meant Sheppard was off-world. Maybe Sheppard was the problem.
"You know you're dying to tell me," Jack said, and jabbed Bean with his elbow. Bean jabbed him back, and then put a hand around his neck as if he were being choked. Amazingly, Jack's sign vocabulary had all the words for what he wanted to say. "Yup. It totally sucks." He waggled the pen in Bean's direction before putting it to paper. "You don't get to stay here forever. If you manage to persuade me that you're oppressed, though, I might be nice to you."
Bean crunkled up the empty chip bag, looking from it to Jack, and then shoved it in Jack's bag.
Jack shrugged. "Bribery works, kid. Don't knock it."
Bean called up a blank screen on his cell phone and started typing fast. Jack didn't know how kids learned how to do that: crawling one day, interfacing with technology the next. Though he might have paid more attention to typing class if he'd had PornoTube for incentive, instead of Mr Garrity and the threat of his ruler.
"Someone died," Bean said. Jack spread his hands in an impatient gesture. Bean shrugged ignorance. "Someone," he repeated. "It's not like they talk to me about it."
"Ouch," Jack said.
"And Rodney yelled at John and I thought — " Bean waved his hands in McKay-like distress.
"I got you. It's going to be okay, you know that, right?" Bean half-nodded, half shook his head. "Give me your phone for a sec, would you?" Bean was much more definite with his no this time. Jack picked up his fishing rod and held it out like an offering. "Swap you." He waited — take the bait, kid — and Bean reached out slowly. Charlie had never liked fishing; Bean had caught his first fish on this pier, sitting on Jack's lap, and had been hooked ever since.
Life was just funny like that sometimes.
Jack took the cell phone, found McKay's number in the address book, and hit dial. McKay picked up on the second ring with a sharp Hell-lo. Jack was torn between the desire to snark right back and his responsibility to Bean.
Life was funny, but all too often it wasn't much fun.
"I've got your kid here, McKay. You call the police yet?"
"I was tracking him via GPS," McKay said, sounding too distracted to be properly scornful. "John's on his way to pick him up. John's father's dead and I didn't even know he was still alive. How's that for a ridiculous situation? He wants to go to the funeral alone."
"Ah." Jack had met Sheppard's father once or twice, at official Washington elbow-rubbings. He'd never mentioned that he knew Sheppard, and now he couldn't remember why. Jack had the feeling that he'd been told they were estranged. "It's his family," he said, and then made a face, because blood obviously didn't always equal family. He only had to look at Bean and Max to see that.
"Do you know what his father did to him?" Rodney demanded, irate. Jack tried to protest that it was none of his business, but Rodney talked right over him. "He sent him to a straightening-out programme to be brainwashed because he didn't want a gay son. With drugs and who know what kinds of abuse masquerading as therapy. John doesn't talk about it because he can't, because he had to bury any part of himself that he wanted to survive."
When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, Jack thought in a flash of morbid humour, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
"That works," he said instead. He wasn't sure if the Canadians had a similar military code.
McKay huffed loudly in Jack's ear. "Yes, thank you, I think it was covered in SSAT." Jack had to think a moment to place the acronym: right, survival and SERE training. He forgot, sometimes, mostly because McKay was bitchy and annoying, that the man had been one of Canada's top fighter pilots before being seduced away by the SGC's shiny spaceships. "But I'm not talking about a soldier, I'm talking about a short baby-fat kid in glasses and braces whose mother just died, being locked away by his father until he said he liked pussy better than dick. Who does that?"
"Bad people." McKay snorted. "Yes, his dad was an asshole." Jack had thought so anyway. Most of the rich corporate people who'd been offered the chance to develop alien technologies had been assholes, shortsighted and greedy and criminally unimaginative. It stood to figure their business personalities were reflected in their personal lives. "And now he's dead, so — what?"
"John doesn't want me at the funeral because he doesn't anticipate closure," McKay said, sounding unhappy. "He's going to be shunned or hurt or something."
"He's a big boy, McKay," Jack said.
"He's had enough pain," McKay countered sharply, with enough raw emotion in his voice to make Jack want to walk away, fast. He wasn't anybody's therapist; he didn't want to know the messy details.
"How will showing up at the graveside as the poster boy for gay marriage help?" Jack asked. "Jesus, McKay." He could hear McKay sulking.
"Fine," Rodney said. "Fine. You're invited for dinner, by the way," he added, and hung up, loudly.
Jack thought about tossing the phone out as far as he could towards the heart of the lake, but settled for handing it back to Bean, who slipped the strap around his wrist possessively. Bean complained about the lack of fish. Jack told him he'd scared all the fish off with his damn bicycle bell. Bean rolled his eyes and mimicked Jack on the phone, yak yak yak.
"John's father died," Jack wrote. Bean shrugged to show how much he didn't care. "John's going to the funeral. It's complicated."
"My grandfather?" Bean asked, holding the phone up and looking straight at Jack, his eyes shadowed by his cap.
Jack sighed. "I don't think so. I mean, I don't think he even knew about you and your sister. Or Rodney."
"He didn't want us," Bean said, with a comme ci, comme ca jerk of his head. "Like my birth mom?"
Jack winced. "Your birth mom was a smart lady. She wanted you to be happy — " he underlined the word twice — "and she found you a family where you'd be loved." He drew a slash across the page. "John and his dad were adults when they decided they couldn't get along. And I guess Rodney kind of adopted him. In a way. Or maybe not. Never mind." He crossed his words out and flipped to a new page. "Anyway, you've got grandparents."
"Some people have lots," Bean said. "My friend, she's got eight."
"Don't be greedy," Jack said. "I think all the fish went home. You want to pack up?"
Bean shook his head. After a moment, Jack handed him the bait. A little while after that, he went up to the house to get them both Cokes and to find a jacket for the kid because it was getting cold. The sunset was gorgeous, but mostly hidden by the trees. He'd just made it down to the foot of the lake path when he heard the sound of a car engine, slowing for the turn-off. He gave Bean the Cokes and the jacket and pointed up to where headlights were cutting through the dusk.
Bean let Jack know that he was busy fishing.
It was hard to argue with a man when he put it like that. Jack sighed, half wishing he'd put on his own coat, and jogged back up to meet the car on the road. He'd finally let them try out the fancy new Asgard knee surgery. Being pain-free was great, but sometimes the thought that he had the knees of a man half his age made him feel queasy.
The car was just parking when Jack reached the head of the path. The driver's side door swung open, and Max hopped out. She flashed Jack a grin bright with lip gloss. She'd grown up overnight: one day cute with beads and braids, the next copying some pop singer's short afro and developing cleavage. It was unbalancing.
"You have a permit for that thing?" Jack asked, pointing at the car. There were fresh scars along the left side. He was pretty sure she was a few years shy of being a legal driver. Maybe the law was different in Colorado.
"Nice to see you, too," Max said, and gave Jack a perky teenaged hug that made him feel like a dirty old man.
"Go get your brother," Sheppard said, having extricated himself from the passenger seat and come around to run a hand over the scratches in the paint. "She's a good driver," he added, giving Jack a look, "except for when there are squirrels in the road. She's got this big old soft heart."
Max crossed her arms and looked put-upon. "I just didn't want to have to scrape the roadkill off. And you would have made me. Sheesh. If you're going to hassle me — "
"I live to hassle you," Sheppard said. "Hop to it, honey bunny."
Max thumped him on the shoulder and started down the path with a rude-sounding mutter.
"Don't look at her like that," Sheppard said, sounding amused. "I'd have to defend her honour, and you'd probably kick my ass."
"Is she wearing a dress or a slip?" Jack asked. He was honestly confused.
Sheppard shrugged. "It's kind of both. She still sleeps with Beanie Babies, though."
"Oh, so do I," Jack said, straight-faced. He actually did have a stuffed rabbit. Daniel had won it from an arcade game, and Sam and Teal'c had made it several little outfits over the years. But he kept it on his mantelpiece. Sheppard didn't call him on the lie, but raised an eyebrow instead. "I talked to McKay. My condolences."
Sheppard rolled his eyes. "He's more broken up than I am. He doesn't understand."
"Well," Jack said. "If I thought about my kid not wanting to have his family at my funeral," and he ruthlessly pushed down and held down any and all fantasies of Charlie grown up and with a wife and children, "it'd feel like failure."
Sheppard spread his hands. "We failed a long time ago. My father didn't want me. And I'm over that. I let it go." He smiled, with bitter amusement. "I need to see it buried and done."
"I could go with you," Jack offered, not even realising that that was what he was saying until the words were there between them.
Sheppard's shoulders tightened. He pulled the car door open and settled sideways in the driver's seat to hook up all the things that had been undone for Max to drive. Jack was always tempted to ask Sheppard if he needed a hand, but Sheppard had a hundred biting comebacks for that particular turn of phrase. The Ori war had been a long time ago. Sheppard didn't blame Jack or the Air Force or anyone, as far as Jack knew, for his limp or the fact that his right hand was messed up. He was pretty much an expert at getting over things.
Jack did lean against the car to watch, though, because most of the adaptations John had added looked pretty cool: lots of sinister-looking buttons and a few switches that might have been salvaged from a Cold War missile silo.
"Everyone'd think we were sleeping together," Sheppard said finally, his sense of humour dredged up from wherever he'd gone.
"You could do worse," Jack shot back. "Oh, wait, you already did."
Sheppard snorted. "I've got my tickets all arranged. But I appreciate — you know."
"Yeah, well." Jack shoved his hands in his pockets. "Family."
"Speaking of which," Sheppard said. "You're coming to dinner." He gave Jack an uninterpretable dark look. "Rodney called me in the supermarket and told me to get tofu by-products instead of steak. I'm guessing you two fought."
"You got the steak anyway, right?"
Sheppard snorted again and went back to checking the wheel spinner and moving the clutter of Max's CDs to the back seat.
"No, really," Jack said. "I can't cope with McKay and Boca Burgers."
"And you think I could?" Sheppard pushed himself up out of the car and past Jack, to the head of the path. "Hey, kids," he shouted down, "get a move on." He looked over at Jack, still with that peculiar closed expression. "Rodney says death means no more second chances. The last time I saw my father, he said he was just going to pretend I'd never been born. He did that for, what, twenty years? There wouldn't have been a second chance."
Jack gave Sheppard back one of his indifferent shrugs. "You're smart enough to make your own second chances."
Sheppard's expression slipped for a moment. Jack had a flash of fear that maybe it was a hugging kind of moment coming on. But this was John Sheppard, who'd once helped Jack save the planet without one word about his husband (in the front-line battle with Ori worshippers) or his children (in the hands of Military Family Services).
"That's a good line," Sheppard said, and quirked his mouth into a smile. "I'm going to use that on McKay."
"Sure," Jack said easily. "If it gets you laid, don't tell me."
"Are we talking about sex now?" Sheppard asked, which earned him a loud Jeez, Dad and a scathing look from Max, as she shoved her brother's bike up the path.
Bean had hauled up all of Jack's fishing gear. Jack took it and put it inside the front door, where he'd hopefully not fall over it when he came home. He heard Max arguing that she could drive home, and Sheppard countering not after dark in a voice that invited no argument.
Jack got in the car while Sheppard and Max strapped the bike into the back with bungee cords. Bean leaned forward and gave Jack his phone.
"Is Dad sad? Rodney? Max says no, angry. You?"
Jack sighed and squinted at the ten-key input. Your parents are sad Its fine if you feel sad or angry or confused Im sad for John hes an okay guy
Bean snickered at Jack's crappy typing, and passed the phone back after a moment. "You're okay, too. Don't die, okay?"
Bean, of course, didn't know that Jack had already died so many times that he refused to keep count any more. Jack even remembered wanting to kill himself — at least, he remembered that he had felt that way. But with each death he fought harder to stay alive, to stay with the people he cared about and do the job he needed to do. To show Charlie, wherever Charlie was now, that his old man was trying his damnedest to redeem himself.
He'd like Charlie to think of him as an okay guy.
But for now he'd settle for Bean's shaky grin when Jack said he was too stubborn to die, and for Max pestering to drive his truck (no, no, and hell no), and for Sheppard's off-hand remarks about how Rodney meant well.
"I get it, Sheppard," Jack said, and a moment after he said it he really did get it, a wave of family feeling strong enough to leave him weak in his brand-new knees. Jack cracked the window to get cold air on his face, leaned his head back, and watched the road light up before them. Something clenched inside of him let go. It felt like stepping though the event horizon and trusting the gate to bring him home.
art by almost-clara; comments on art here