Jax is the picture of a man who grew up hard. The first thing he does when he steps into a room is size everyone up and adjust his battle plan accordingly. There's never a moment when he's not thinking that a fight is imminent -- not that he's an instigator. He's simply making sure he's prepared enough to survive.
Many people would describe him as 'intense', from his stare down to the way he throws himself fully into any project, plan, or hunt. Some might even describe him as a sociopath. He isn't, but he gives off that aura - cracking jokes about the bloody plume of mist of a human skull getting shot with a .50 BMG round, remaining unflinching in the face of the most brutal violence and stoic in the face of the most heart-wrenching human suffering.
He's far more than muscles, anger and a survival instinct, however.
His trust is earned, not given, as is his loyalty. But once you've got it, you've got it. He takes failure to heart and to say he has a difficult time letting go of his failures would be a massive understatement. He is the type to punish himself through training. He will break himself down and build himself back up until he is better, faster, stronger, smarter and will. not. fail.
In what little down time he has, he is a private person. Superficial conversation is simple, but the deep and personal stuff makes him feel uneasy. He refuses to let himself be vulnerable in front of people. When faced with someone trying to pry anything deeply personal out of him, he thinks they're trying to play shrink with him. He's seen therapists (against his own will), and the prospect of some stranger expecting him to spill his guts and have a good cry boils his blood.
So stay away. He doesn't want to talk about it.
The simple fact is, Jax doesn't know how to let people in. He's been on his own his whole life. Even his combat brothers in the military only got to see the cool professional exterior.
Jax had never been a particularly happy person, and though he didn't consciously realize it, his life as a hunter had been wearing on him. By the time he became embroiled in the chaos of the apocalypse, a part of him was hoping he would die in the fight. He didn't, and his survival left him feeling aimless and hollow. The road he saw ahead of him wasn't one he wanted to follow.
Jax finally came to the conclusion that he would embark on one last job - one very personal job that had haunted him since the day he became a hunter. And though he wouldn't openly admit it, he intended it to be retirement by death. Boots on, gun in hand.
Once that deed was done, Jax was left with the empty feeling that vengeance always leaves in its wake. He lived through what was meant to be his final battle and had no idea what to do. He thought he might live out the rest of his meaningless life in a cell. That was until Sully recruited him into the Hounds - giving him purpose, renewing his will to fight, and allowing him to show a loyalty to the living that had once been reserved for the dead.
The how and why of the averted apocalypse didn't matter to Jax - just that he was still alive, and the world was calming down. It gave him time to slow down and think, which for Jax was a bad, bad thing. He fell into a dark place. Memories of that cave in Afghanistan, of the anguished and terrified screams of the best soldiers he ever knew, still haunted him night after night. He tried to drown those screams in booze, but it only made things worse. Finally, he made a decision. One last job. One final hunt. He was going to find the thing that killed his squad in Afghanistan, and he was going to put it down once and for all. He didn't expect to live through it. He didn't particularly want to.
He became obsessed. His nights were overflowing ashtrays and whisky, red eyes searching through every text he could find. He learned Persian just to be able to read the obscure stuff, and he scoured the country for anything that could help him. He isolated himself from the few regular contacts he had - the ones that had nothing for him. He went so far off the grid that some thought he was dead. He didn't hunt anything that wasn't a potential lead. He tortured demons for info they didn't have. It all seemed fruitless for a while. Until he found a name.
Zahhak - or Azi Dahaka - was, according to lore, an ancient evil three-headed immortal monster-king. Legend had it that he was once a man, but had become corrupted by the evil force of Ahriman into a twisted, cannibalistic creature. Zahhak feasted on human brains and his reign of terror lasted centuries until he was defeated by the hero Fereydun and chained up for eternity in a cave below Mt. Damavand. He should have remained there, but someone had set him free nearly seven years ago.
Jax remembered those three heads and six glowing red eyes well. They had been forever burned into his brain.
So Jax arranged for illegal transport into Afghanistan. He met with locals and tracked the movements of Zahhak based on their stories of missing family members and mutilated corpses. And on one frigid desert night, he strapped up with every weapon he could carry and climbed up to the mountains where Zahhak waited. His blood pounded in his skull the whole way.
He doesn't remember much of the six hour battle. It was a blur of adrenaline and raw, burning hate. The scars on his body tell him a story of violent near-death at the hands of a brutal enemy. The only clear memory he has is of cauterizing the wounds where he had decapitated Zahhak's extra heads; of planting a boot on the creature's chest, looking into its eyes, and finishing the job with an axe.
He burned the corpse and staggered out of the cave. Bloody, exhausted, disoriented, he was staggering down a mountain path when he was apprehended by a US Army patrol. He would neither identify himself nor his purpose. They hauled him back to their base in Bazarak and, after treating his wounds enough that he wouldn't bleed to death, began interrogating him. They suspected his involvement in the disappearances and murders of civilians. He said nothing.
His resistance to their interrogation techniques only made them more suspicious. They weren't equipped to handle him in Bazarak, so he was transferred to a facility in Kandahar. When their interrogations failed, he was sent Stateside.
He was waiting silently in a cell when they informed him he had a visitor. He was surprised but didn't show it. Did they reach out to the Canadian government, find out he was with JTF2? They led him in shackles to the interrogation room and sat him at a cold steel table and a woman walked in that he'd never seen before. The guards left.
The woman's name was Sully and she had an offer for him - she could get him out of prison and off the government radar if he joined the elite unit of hunters she led, called the Hounds. He responded with the usual litany of suspicious questions and got enough answers to satisfy his paranoia (mostly). He thought on it a moment, and then he said:
"Sign me up, Boss."
Jax never knew his parents. He was a Crown Ward since before he could remember, bumped between foster homes as a small child and later spending the bulk of his youth in a group home. He had no extended family and few friends. Sometimes he wondered what happened to his parents - if they were in jail, or dead, or halfway around the world. But mostly he clung to the bitter attitude that they didn't want him, so he didn't want them, either. When he was fifteen he found a name that might have been his dad, doing time in Edmonton Max, but the thought of his father being some scumbag criminal sickened him so much that he never followed up on it.
As a kid, he learned quick how to fight and establish physical and mental dominance over other people. He wasn't a bully - he was the 'psycho' the other kids whispered about and told you not to mess with. See, he never did fit with the other kids; too quiet, too serious, too unwilling to join in random acts of vandalism or stupidity. He was on his own in that home, and the only way to survive was to fight back. The older kids left him alone, and the new kids coming in learned fast to follow suit. Some kids had power in a group and that made them strong. But Jax's strength was individual. Jax made those kids afraid of him, and that fear made him powerful.
He scraped his way through school out of a sense of obligation and joined the Canadian Forces in 1995, when he was eighteen. What other choice was there for a guy whose major skill set revolved around fighting and surviving? Jax's mind was too orderly for the world of criminals, too sharp for the world of professional fighters, so all he saw in his future was a gun and a uniform.
His training consisted of thirteen weeks of basic at CFLRS in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, another 20 days of SQ (Soldier Qualification), and seventeen weeks of MOC training in Meaford, Ontario. He relished the challenges they threw at him, and was almost disappointed when it was over.
He was assigned to A Company, 1st Battallion, Royal Canadian Regiment. He was the consummate soldier and developed a cool professional persona to supplant the angry young man of his early years. He was deployed twice while with 1 RCR - once to Bosnia in 1998, and once to Kosovo in 1999. By then, he had achieved the rank of Sergeant. Having grown accustomed to ordinary soldiering, Jax applied for and made selection into Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), Canada's elite special forces, in 2000.
He was one of approximately 40 JTF2 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in secret in 2001. Most everything about Jax's JTF2 service remains classified. What is known is that Jax returned from an op in 2004, badly wounded. After receiving medical treatment he was debriefed and underwent a psychiatric assessment. He refused the required therapy, ended his military service and fell off the grid.
No one believed what he saw. No Taliban soldier, no matter how many drugs he took, could do what that... thing did to the rest of Jax's squad. And yet the brass insisted. "It was simply a brutal enemy assault. This is just a stress reaction. You need therapy."
Jax didn't need any fucking therapy. He needed answers. He needed to avenge the deaths of his squadmates. He needed to make up for his failure to save them.
In his search for the truth, a hunter was born.
It's been six years since Jax gave up the uniform for rock salt and holy water. In that time he's crisscrossed the continent, put down every kind of spirit, creature or demon imaginable. But still he carries the weight of all that guilt on his shoulders. Still his nights are haunted by a beast in a cave in the mountains of Afghanistan.
He can still hear them screaming, and he'll hear them until the day he dies.
Way up north, in the snowy upper limits of Alaska, people were dying.
Normally, nobody would care if the news even reached them at all.
Jackson Gallows wouldn't admit to caring about the list of names in the Alaskan obituaries. He was in it for the thrill of the hunt, or to test himself, or for a hundred other reasons. He was in it because an old hunter-turned-bush pilot called up a contact who called up another contact who had Jax's name. He was in it to accumulate favours. They were worth more than warm fuzzy feelings.
Jax arrived at the Fairbanks airport with an old olive green rucksack slung over his shoulder and a cigarette burning between his lips. A pair of old aviators hid the dark circles under his eyes; he and sleep didn't get along well. He packed for cold weather, but presently there was little more than a cool breeze in Fairbanks. To a Canadian boy like Jax, it was downright pleasant.
Dick Ford, the pilot, sat out on the tarmac with his six seat Cessna 180K, an old red, white and blue single-prop built in the mid-70s. It was a workhorse of a bush plane that seemed to perfectly match its stocky, battle-hardened pilot.
Jax exhaled a plume of cigarette smoke through his nose and gave the old bush pilot a sort of lazy half-wave as he approached the plane. Dick tipped his baseball cap.
"Mister Gallows. You're early," said Dick. His accent said he wasn't from Alaska.
"Seems that way, Mister Ford," Jax replied. He looked around. "How many are we expecting?"
"Three more," said Dick.
"What was the place called, again?"
"Aw, the real name's so fulla Q's and L's I don't know how anyone can pronounce it. We just call it Mercer's Landing."
Jax nodded again and took a drag off his cigarette. He saw Dick glance over at the terminal, so he followed suit. A figure approached the plane.
"Looks like another one," said Dick.
Jax made a low noise of acknowledgment in the back of his throat and his cool assessing stare followed the figure all the way across the tarmac.