Story Notes: SPOILERS: 'Children of the Gods', 'Cold Lazarus', 'Solitudes', 'In the Line of Duty', '100 Days', 'Divide and Conquer', 'Entity', 'Menace', 'Prometheus', 'Unnatural Selection'.


SERIES: Strength and Weakness

DISCLAIMER: (To the tune and rhythm of "His eyes are as green as a fresh-pickled toad." - for my sister Louisa!) These characters don't belong to this fic-writer, And this line of writing don't pay; I wish they were mine - they're really divine, To archive, please ask me, okay?

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I think that 'Unnatural Selection' will be another episode that 'launches a thousand fics' to quote AC. Anyway, I downloaded, I watched, I wrote. And as I wrote, I pondered. I tried to take a slightly different tack to the idea about exactly *why* Jack decided to screw Fifth over - and came up with this. This has been lightly beta'd - but not by my usual beta, so if it's not up to scratch in the grammar department,'ll just have to endure!

There was no joy in their possession of the ship.

In spite of now owning their own hyperspace-capable spacecraft, the enthusiasm Jack had initially felt for the X-303 was gone.

His crew were around. Somewhere.

Jonas was probably eating ice-cream again. 'Fifth' had reprovisioned them - it was probably what had tipped off the other replicator people about the plan in the first place. Teal'c was probably with him. Carter had holed herself up in the Engineering room, trying to work out what the Asgard had done to the ship to get it spaceworthy.

And Jack was on the bridge. Staring out into the vast expanse of space as if he could see the way home to things familiar and comprehensible. Where the threats could be faced and fought with the kind of weaponry Jack was used to fighting with.

They'd bought themselves and the Asgard some time. Not much, because Jack might not be the sharpest knife in the set but he knew that if the replicators had disabled the device once, they could disable it again. And all it would take was a few minutes of their time.

Jack trusted that Carter - smart cookied that she was - had sorted it out. With the replicator man.

The replicator man they'd left behind after Carter had said they'd take him - it - with them.

Jack didn't squirm in his chair because Air Force Colonels didn't squirm like errant boys. But he was uncomfortable.

Not that the choice he'd made hadn't been the right one, because it was.

The thing could read minds - although Carter would have to explain that one to him. Nanites in the bloodstream was one thing, nanites able to read minds was quite another.

It could have replicated itself. That was what replicators did by nature.

And it was like Reese. Made like her - in her image.

What would it have done on Earth? Been dissected and studied - a thinking machine from another galaxy, kept away from the surface like Reese, never fully trusted, never having the kind of approval it wanted. The others had called it 'flawed' - the way Reese's creator's people had called her 'flawed' - flawed and wrong.

The thing was an inferiority complex waiting to happen. And when it did...

When it did, being shoved through a wall would be the least of Jack's concerns.

What bothered Carter and Jonas was that they'd betrayed what they saw as another person.

What bothered Jack was the sneaking suspicion that they were right.

As well as other things.

He didn't trust the replicator people. They were what they were - very clever androids.

And he was what he was - only human.

*So dodge this, Jack O'Neill...*

In the end, he had blocked off his 'humanity' - the pity he felt for what was, after all, only an advanced robot - and made the cold, difficult, rational decision.

Or that was what he told himself.

Like buoys full of doubt in a sea of fear, his sordid secrets came floating to the top of his mind. His darker mind and the emotions which drove that part of him: fear and hatred, possessiveness and anger, guilt and jealousy.

*When the mind lies, the heart knows.*

And his heart knew that his choice - his decision - had been one part emotional. Only one part - but the part which counted: the driving force that made the choice and was carefully hidden beneath the rational reasons.

The way it had looked at her had caused a raw gut reaction in his stomach.

It caused one even now.

Jack should have been used to men looking at her like that. She was a goddess they put up on a pedestal and worshipped. It wasn't anything she did, it was just who she was.

But the knowledge never quite stopped the instinctive desire to deride them, mock them, point out their shortcomings, or undermine them.

Jack O'Neill was nothing more than a man. He had a man's weaknesses and failings, hopes and desires. 'Flawed' as was all humanity.

She'd offered herself up, for crying out loud! Offered herself as guinea pig - as a sacrifice.

And the way it leaned its head against brutal rape of the mind, but gentleness - all the tenderness of a lover.

Oh yes, 'Fifth' was more human than the others. And that scared the living shit out of Jack.

'First' found it amusing in the silence of his mind. Nothing was sacred, nothing was hidden. Not even that. Especially not that. From that first day in the briefing room to the cold of Antarctica, from the cold slice of Jolinar's possession to the betrayal in her eyes when he returned from Edora, from the sight of her face on the other side of the forcefield to the sight of her face beyond the end of the zat gun, 'First' picked over the memories with amusement and contempt, using both as weapons against Jack's humanity: his inadequacies and his fears.

Charlie wasn't the start of Jack's anguish nor the end of it, but that moment stuck out above all others - the memory which could bring Jack to heel under his inadequacies like a dog under compulsion.

Carter wasn't the only weakness in him, but she underpinned a lot of what he'd fought for in the last few years - the hope which could bring Jack to heel under his fears like a man whose heart is threatened.

// *"Maybe I will let 'Fifth' continue to delve into your companion's mind," First said, with the indifferent cruelty of a boy tearing the wings from a helpless fly. "I'm sure it could prove...educational for him." And he studied Jack's fear with all the emotion of a Nazi scientist observing Jewish 'test subjects'. //

So when they were kneeling by the device, he silently told her three minutes, even as he spoke the words to say five. And he used their positions - their ranks and responsibilities - against her. She would obey because that was what and who she was. And he would leave 'Fifth' behind for many reasons, most of them sound and logical, but one emotional and as undeniable as dawn.

Outside the bridge, the starlit expanse of space fled by the X-303 - still no proper name for the ship - and all Jack's rationalisations fled past him leaving him alone with the ugliness of his humanity.

A weakness indeed.

End Notes: feedback is always good.

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