DISTRIBUTION: Ask first.
SPOILERS: Everything through Season 7 "Fragile Balance."
TIMELINE: Several months after Fragile Balance.
SUMMARY: A little Christmas story.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This piece is a snippet of a larger work, but since 'tis the season, I decided to go ahead and post this. It is not beta'd and it will eventually be part of a larger story.
At first, Sam's new "situation" was simply a problem to solve and she was great at problems. First order of business was finding him. That didn't take long. She was great at finding him, plenty of experience there. Sometimes she was so adept she felt like a goddamn spaniel. It was appallingly simple to hack into a few top secret data repositories and get what she needed.
She knew the NID should have watched her more carefully, but she wasn't upset that they didn't. Her case was being handled more or less by the book, yet with a surprising degree of latitude. It wasn't Agent Barrett's fault that the book didn't cover how he was supposed to deal with someone who was concurrently Major Samantha Carter and a fifteen year old girl. She couldn't blame him for wanting to keep a distance, especially in light of the fact that his attraction was still there and now, oh so very wrong.
So while Agent Barrett flipped through TV channels in the tiny little apartment in Atlanta where they'd cosseted her, she used the opportunity (and his laptop) to commandeer a few state secrets.
Surprisingly, he was still in Colorado Springs. Though upon closer examination she decided maybe it wasn't too odd. After all, the forty year age gap between Colonel O'Neill and Duplicate O'Neill made confusing the two a moot point. She also figured that General Hammond had wanted to keep him close. Sam ignored the obvious implication in the fact that she was halfway across the country. She couldnt blame them, not Hammond, not even her other self. It had been hard enough dealing with Colonel O'Neill's clone, but then she arrived on the scene, compounding the problem and bringing all sorts of other sticky issues to the fore. Out of sight, out of mind.
Ditching Barrett proved infinitely easier than avoiding a Jaffa patrol. Stealing his wallet and car keys had been slightly more difficult, but still well within her means. She knew she'd be caught, that was never an issue. She just needed to talk to him before that happened.
Entering school was painless. She figured she should thank George Bush and his No Child Left Behind Act. Regardless of the fact that she had no proof of who she was, her citizenship or even a permanent mailing address, the school was legally obligated to educate her.
As she watched him, she realized that the week the original Samantha Carter spent with Duplicate O'Neill hadn't prepared her for seeing him interacting with the world as your garden variety adolescent. When she had imagined Colonel O'Neill as a teenager, she'd pretty much imagined Colonel O'Neill only smaller. He wasn't exactly a bastion of maturity so it was shocking to see how somber his clone was.
At some point, Sam forced herself to stop thinking of him as the clone or even Duplicate O'Neill and start thinking of him as Jack. It was shocking to see just how different Jack was from his progenitor. The irreverent humor and quick, self-deprecating wit she knew so well were nowhere to be seen. He wasn't involved in any school activities and he didn't seem to have any friends. He sat alone, at the back of the room and dutifully completed his assignments.
She patiently shadowed him through a day and a half of classes before he finally turned to face her. "Yes?" he demanded with all the sparkling charm of a wet cat.
She merely looked at him and then finally said, "I never really took you for a bookworm."
He frowned in genuine confusion which, incidentally, looked nothing like the expression he used when he was playing dumb. "What's it to you?" he snapped.
He didn't have a clue. Oh well, she hadn't recognized him either. It's a boy, sir.
"It's me," she said, "sir."
He actually jumped, causing his Chemistry textbook to go sliding onto the floor. Quickly snatching up the book, he looked sideways at her. "Carter?"
"No, Daniel," she replied caustically before she could stop herself.
She knew that frown well and considered herself duly chastised.
"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded in a harsh whisper.
"Looking for you."
"That's not what I meant "
"Is there something the two of you would like to share with the class?"
Sam felt her face flame as every head in the room turned to face them. She knew it had to seem strange, the anti-social loner at the back of the room arguing rather loudly with the new girl. She smiled tightly at Mr. Ruiz, the science teacher. "No, sir."
The bell saved them from any further questioning, but there were more than a few strange looks when Jack clamped his hand around her wrist and practically dragged her out into the hallway. The strange looks didn't abate when he backed her against his locker, his face inches from her own and demanded, "What is going on?"
She watched him snap the cap from the bottle of Jolt he was drinking. "Thor," he murmured, attention firmly fixed on the bare far wall.
"Thor," she confirmed, wrapping her arms more tightly around her middle as she looked restlessly around his apartment. Like hers, it was spare and unassuming. The small alcove, obviously intended for a table, instead held his bike and a few trash bags filled with recycling. He had a ratty couch and a really nice TV. The kitchen looked straight out of the seventies, but the microwave was new. She doubted he used much else. There were two doors she could see from her vantage point, one she assumed was the bathroom, the other the lone bedroom. There were flat sheets staple gunned to the walls to act as curtains.
"I, uh, this really sucks, Carter," he said, his voice defeated.
He wasn't looking at her and she knew it was because he couldn't. She could well imagine that he was having a hard time with this transition as it was. Now, he was beating himself up too. He felt responsible for the fact that she was now in this mess, which in a round-about sort of way, was true enough.
She, the fifteen year old genetic clone of Major Samantha Carter, had been created for the sole purpose of providing Duplicate O'Neill with a companion. He was, after all, Thor's favorite human. Thor had known, probably better than anyone at the SGC, that despite all of Jack's bluster, that he wouldn't be able to seamlessly integrate into human society. Appearances aside, he wasn't a fifteen year old boy. He was a man who had just been surgically removed from his own life. He was stuck in limbo.
So, Thor did what he felt was best. He created a companion for Jack, one with whom he could commiserate and bond, one who shared the same experience and one with whom he already had a strong foundation.
Her. Duplicate Carter.
Over the last three hours, the reality of the situation had finally started sinking into Sam's consciousness. There was a cold, growing dread in the pit of her stomach. They were stuck. She couldn't logic her way out of it. A naquadah reactor, Asgard technology, hell even the stargate itself were all absolutely useless in dealing with this issue. She felt shamed as she remembered only a few short days ago that she had urged him to embrace the opportunity he had been given. It didn't look so much like an opportunity now. It looked like a prison sentence.
"Sir," she said, hating the desperation in her voice, "perhaps if we could review the nanite technology from Argos, the planet where you were prematurely aged "
His look stopped her short, the bleak despair in his eyes stealing her words. Slowly, he shook his head. "You don't get it, Carter," he said, his tone desolate, but not unkind, "we're out." He stopped, briefly closing his eyes. "We were never in," he amended. "The SGC, the government, they don't want to have anything to do with us. We're a liability. We're lucky they sentenced us to high school rather than locking us up somewhere."
She opened her mouth, but quickly realized she had nothing to say. He was right. She sank back against the uncomfortable couch cushions.
"I'm sorry, Carter," he said quietly. "Really sorry."
They were still sitting on the couch, both of them picking rather listlessly at a frozen pizza when Agent Barrett arrived. It seemed that his awkwardness dissipated the moment he realized that he'd been publicly embarrassed by a teenager. Sam could have pointed out that technically she wasn't a teenager, but she decided silence was the better part of valor. She did her best to look chastised as Agent Barrett led her back to his recently recovered sedan. It wasn't hard, especially considering how low her spirits were sinking.
Sam dutifully went back to Atlanta and slept-walked through two and a half weeks of public school. This life was Hell, or maybe more appropriately, purgatory. Every day her spirits were crushed a little finer, every day she cared less and less. She couldn't talk to the students, she couldn't talk to the teachers. Barrett, even if he hadn't been completely weirded out, was technically her case worker but after making sure she was settled, he did all of his monitoring from his office in DC. Sam really couldn't imagine trying to strike up a conversation with the government goons that shadowed her day and night.
It was a Tuesday and she was supposed to be headed for English. Instead, she made a slight detour. To Colorado Springs. It took her four days to get there and she ended up breaking some trucker's wrist when he wouldn't take no for an answer. All in all, she figured she'd survived worse.
He did a double take when he found her curled up on his couch, but simply asked "Pizza or Chinese?".
Sam felt like a total heel when he insisted that she take the bed. She protested, but he pointed out (with a slight blush and a little stammering) that technically, at that very moment (which would soon be amended, he assured her), she was actually the taller of the two and therefore, he should take the smaller couch.
It was the first time she'd smiled in weeks.
When Barrett showed up again, Sam flatly informed him she wasn't leaving. Short of physically picking her up and forcing her into the car which was an option, though not a popular one - there wasn't much he could do about it. He pulled out his cell and spent the better part of two hours before he finally nodded.
"You okay with this?" Barrett asked Jack.
Jack glanced up from his video game. "We spent the last seven years camping out together," he said wryly.
Barrett didn't look convinced, but he didn't push the subject. Sam figured he'd be glad to get her off his hands. She didn't blame him.
Moving in turned out to be a non-event. As Jack had so aptly stated, they were well used to camping out together. Which, really, was pretty much what they were doing. Everything she owned fit in a backpack. He didn't have much more. They used a little bit of their government checks to buy her a bike and him a twin mattress to throw in the corner of the living room. There would have been a fight over that, but he pulled rank and she found out that old habits died very, very hard. Somewhere in the midst of it all, they managed to find a routine. Thursday evenings were spent at the laundromat up the street, Saturday mornings were for grocery shopping. He showed her how to ditch out of Chemistry lab and she showed him how to pirate X-Box games.
One morning, staring over the business section of the paper at him while they both drank coffee before heading to school she realized it; her life was gone.
Unbelievable as it seemed, she managed to lose track of time. Yeah, it was nearing the end of semester and everyone was restless and ready for a break, but somehow it never really sank in. Not until two days before Christmas (they'd been dismissed from school at noon that very day) when, shortly after seven, he came dragging a truly pathetic little pine tree into the apartment. She bit back the urge to call him Charlie Brown only because she was fairly certain she couldn't talk without crying.
He'd smiled at her more than a little awkwardly before darting out the door again to grab the five gallon bucket and bag of sand which would serve as a tree stand. She suspected he'd done it to try and make her feel better, though in truth it only strengthened her melancholy. But she put on a brave front for him as she'd done so many times in the past and she seemed passably cheerful as she picked through the ornaments he'd purchased at the dollar store.
They'd be off school for the better part of two weeks. Two weeks with nothing to do and nowhere to go. She was just returning to the living room from the kitchen carrying a bowl of freshly microwaved popcorn when he looked up at her from his position on the floor.
"Guess you usually spend the holidays with your brother's family, huh," he said as he turned the bucket, trying to find the (non-existent) flattering side of the tree.
She nodded, taking a seat on their dingy little couch, tucking her feet underneath her body. It was cold, the ground outside blanketed with fresh snow and their apartment building was drafty. They didn't have a needle or thread, but she dug through his tackle box and found a hook and fishing line that would prove more than adequate for stringing popcorn.
"What about you?" she asked. Over the previous seven years, she had occasionally inquired as to his Christmas plans though he usually managed to change the subject or mumble something unintelligible. His parents were gone and Sara had remarried. She knew he didn't have siblings.
He shrugged, wiping his sap-sticky hands on his pants as he looked at the tree. "Depends," he said quietly. "If time and weather cooperate, I usually head up north for a few days. I have a cousin, Jim, who lives in Chicago. He's widowed, no kids. Sometimes he comes up."
She almost laughed, simply because this was so damn sad. His usual holiday plans were truly pathetic, yet she knew even they were an improvement over the reality of this situation.
How could this be real?
Before she knew it, a strangled sob made its way out of her throat and she reflexively dropped the popcorn string, covering her face with her hands.
She could tell from his voice that he hadn't moved from his spot across the small room. Frantically wiping at her wet cheeks, she shook her head. "Im fine," she said, "really. I just miss my dad." That was true enough, but it wasn't the whole truth. She missed her life.
"I know," he said softly, easily reading between the lines.
Forcing herself under control, she returned her attention to her popcorn string and ignored him when he rose to his feet and walked into the kitchen. She heard sacks rustling, then the cabinets and the refrigerator open.
She looked up from her popcorn string and stared at the plastic Broncos cup. Taking it, she peered inside. "I don't really like eggnog," she said.
"Drink it," he replied, flopping back to the floor with his own glass, "it's got lots of alcohol in it."
She didn't ask him where he got the booze; didn't particularly care. It burned its way down her throat and she liked that, a lot.
The popcorn string was finally finished and together they wrapped it around the little tree. The alcohol made things hazy and bearable as they hung the cheap ornaments and finally plugged in the lone string of lights. Sam curled up in the corner of the couch, knees pulled up to her chest as she sloshed the vestiges of her eggnog around in the bottom of the cup. Jack flicked off the apartment lights and then vaulted into the couch holding what remained of the pitcher. He gave her half a glass and poured the rest into his cup.
Amazing as it was, after the lights and popcorn and ornaments the little tree didn't look quite so sad. It was really kinda pretty. The lights were soft and the eggnog chased off her lingering chill. He was sitting right next to her and she could feel the heat of his body against her side. Without a word, he reached out and took her hand in his, simply holding it. After a few moments, she shifted, setting her cup on the floor before she leaned her head on his shoulder.
Together they stared at their little tree and somehow things didn't seem quite so bleak.
THE END ... for now
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