Even After the Thrill of Living is Gone
by indie



.
RATING: PG-13.  Some bad language.  Adult situations.
CHARACTERS: mini!Sam/mini!Jack
SPOILERS:  Everything through Fragile Balance.
TIMELINE:  starts about a week after Season 7 episode, "Fragile Balance" and progresses through several months.
DISCLAIMER:  The Stargate SG-1 universe is property of MGM, World Gekko Corp, SciFi Channel and Double Secret productions. No copyright infringement intended.  No profit is gained from this work.

***

Initially, Sam's new situation was simply a problem to solve.  She was great at problem solving.  First order of business was finding him.  That didn't take long.  She was also 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 couldn’t blame them, not Hammond, not even her other self.  It had been hard enough dealing with Colonel O'Neill's clone.  Her arrival merely compounded the problem and brought all sorts of other sticky issues to the fore.  Ergo, out of sight, out of mind.  

Ditching Barrett proved infinitely easier than saving the planet.  Stealing his wallet and car keys had been slightly more morally ambiguous, but still well within her ability to justify.  She knew she would be caught, that was never an issue.  She simply needed to talk to him without government chaperones.

Entering high 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.

The week the original Samantha Carter spent with Duplicate O'Neill hadn't prepared her for watching him interact as a garden variety adolescent.  As she watched him sit through class after class, she came to a few shocking realizations.  This was not how she had imagined him.  When she pictured Colonel O'Neill as a teenager, she thought of … Colonel O'Neill … only smaller.  He wasn't the bastion of maturity so it was doubly shocking to see the somber manner of his clone.

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 how fundamentally 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'm shocked.  I never 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 to the floor.  Quickly snatching up the book, he shot her a sidelong glance.  "Carter?"

"No, Daniel," she replied caustically before she could stop herself.

She knew that frown well and considered herself duly chastised, especially given that Daniel showing up impersonating her wasn't too far outside the realm of possibility.  She'd once masqueraded as him quite effectively.  

"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 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 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 his bottle of Jolt.  "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 accepting his own circumstances.  Now, he was beating himself up.  He felt responsible for the fact that she was in this mess, which in a round-about way, was true enough.  

She, the fifteen-year-old genetic clone of Major Samantha Carter, was 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 Duplicate O'Neill's bluster he wouldn't be able to seamlessly integrate into human society.  Appearances aside, he was not a fifteen-year-old boy.  He was a man who had just been surgically removed from his own life.    

Thor did what he felt was best.  He created a companion for Duplicate O'Neill, 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 finally started sinking into Sam's consciousness.  There was a cold, growing dread in the pit of her stomach.  They were stuck.  This wasn't something she could logic her way out of.  A naquadah reactor, Asgard technology, hell even the stargate itself were all absolutely useless.  She felt shamed as she remembered only a few short days ago that she urged him to embrace the opportunity.  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 silencing 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, an embarrassment.  We're lucky they sentenced us to high school.  They could have locked us up."

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 picking listlessly at a frozen pizza when Agent Barrett arrived.  It seemed that his awkwardness dissipated the moment he realized that he was 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.

Dutifully, Sam went back to Atlanta.  Duty, however, was a sad substitute for enthusiasm.  For two and a half weeks, she slept-walked through classes at a respectable suburban high school.  She sat in class, did her homework and occasionally forced herself to eat something.  But with every passing day it became more unbearable.  Her second childhood was a more terrifying hell than Netu.  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 chose to monitor her case from the insulated refuge of the NID's Washington offices.  Try as she might, Sam couldn't bring herself to strike up a conversation with the government goons that shadowed her day and night.

It was a Tuesday.  She was supposed to be in English.  She made a slight detour.  

To Colorado Springs.  

Four days and a broken wrist (the trucker's, not hers) later, she was finally home.  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 lone 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.  Therefore, he should take the smaller couch.  

It was the first time she had smiled in weeks.

When Barrett arrived, 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.  Quickly tiring of what would, no doubt, prove to be a ceaseless battle with Duplicate Carter, he wisely decided to cut his losses.  He pulled out his cell and spent the better part of two hours talking before he finally nodded.

"You okay with this?" Barrett asked Duplicate O'Neill.

Jack glanced up from his video game.  "We spent seven years camping out."

Barrett didn't look convinced, but he didn't push the subject.  Sam figured he couldn't wait to ditch her.  She didn't blame him.  Male egos could be surprisingly fragile things.

Moving in was a non-event.  As Jack had so aptly stated, they were used to camping out together.  It neatly summed up what they were doing.  Everything she owned fit in a backpack.  He didn't have much more.  They already used the same toothpaste and bar soap.  She liked mornings, he nights.  They had no trouble arranging their schedules so they weren't in each other's way.

A week out, they used their government checks to procure her bike and his mattress - the couch was too uncomfortable for even an arthritis-free back.  He showed her how to ditch Chemistry lab and she showed him how to pirate X-Box games.  Her baked soy nuts sat in the cabinet next to his Doritos.  At night, he put the filter and water in the coffee pot.  By the time he woke in the morning, she had it ready.

One evening, staring at him across the couch while she proofed his English paper, it really hit her.

Their lives were gone.

***

Unbelievable as it seemed, she managed to lose track of time.  She was vaguely aware that it was nearing the end of semester.  All of her classmates, especially Jack, were restless and ready for a break.  But somehow her superior intellect failed to put two and two together and come up with Christmas.  

It wasn't until the evening of the twenty-second (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, if only because she knew she couldn't speak without crying.

He 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 did 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 had done so many times in the past – and was passably cheerful as they picked through ornaments he purchased at the dollar store.

They would be on break for two weeks.  Two weeks with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  She was just returning to the living room carrying a bowl of freshly microwaved popcorn when he looked up from his position on the floor.  "Guess you usually spend the holidays with your brother's family, huh?" he asked, turning the bucket, trying to find the tree's (non-existent) flattering side.

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.  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 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 sob choked her throat and she reflexively dropped the popcorn string, covering her face with her hands.

"Sam?"

She knew 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.  "I’m 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, reading between the lines.

Forcing her emotions under wraps, 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.  

"Here."

She looked up 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 booze in it."

She didn't ask him where he got the alcohol.  She didn't particularly care.  It burned its way down her throat and she liked that, a lot.

Twenty minutes later, the popcorn string was finished and together they wrapped it around the little tree.  The alcohol made things hazy and bearable as they hung the cheap ornaments and plugged in the lone string of lights.  Curling up in the corner of the couch, Sam pulled her knees up to her chest and sloshed the vestiges of her eggnog around the bottom of the cup.  Jack killed the apartment lights and 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, 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 away her lingering chill.  He was sitting 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.

***

She knew she had dozed off.  When she opened her eyes, snow was once again falling softly and her nose was icy cold.  Stretching, she sat up, waking him in the process.  Somewhat self-consciously, he released her hand.

She stood and looked down at him, nodding toward her room.  "I'm gonna – "

Something in his expression halted her words.

"Stay," he said quietly, his eyes flitting away from hers.  "Just … "  He cocked his head toward his mattress.  "C'mon."

She read him easily.  This had nothing to do with sex and everything to do with companionship.  Antarctica all over again.  But hey, that's why she was here, wasn't it?  Though even as she thought the words, she couldn't muster any bitterness.  Not tonight.  Tonight there was no dark humor in needing a friend.

Nodding, she waited as he rose and together they took the few steps to his mattress in the corner.  He crawled in first, holding the covers back as she followed.  Resting on her side, she faced the sad little tree as he curled up against her back.

It should have been uncomfortable.  Though they were both significantly slighter than normal, a twin mattress wasn't build for two bodies - especially not two fully clothed bodies.  But, she thought as he slung an arm across her hips, it wasn't uncomfortable at all.  In fact, she couldn't remember the last time she felt so much at peace.  She spent the last seven years sharing tents with him, listening to the soothing cadence of his breathing.  Granted, they weren't usually in the same bed, but a pup tent wasn't much bigger.  

"G'night," she said softly.

His arm tightened around her hips and she felt him sigh.

***

Their winter break was a turning point in a lot of different ways.  Time and circumstance were wearing them down.  Every day they were forced to deal with the fact that their old lives would never be theirs.  The routine of high school, benzoil peroxide and book bags drove home the point on a daily basis.  This was their new reality.

Sam wasn't happy about it.  There was no way that she would accept the situation without resentment.  Her life, as she knew it, had been stolen.  

But the crushing depression was slowly abating, replaced by a welcome numbness.  She admitted, rather reluctantly, that her slowly burgeoning sense of normalcy had to do with the fact that they were becoming more, not less, divergent from their old lives.   

Sam knew who she was, or at least who she had been; a Major in the USAF, a woman quickly approaching forty, a scientist, a friend, a daughter, a scholar, a soldier.  But that was no longer her.  In actuality, it had never been her, regardless of the fact that she had a lifetime of memories that proved otherwise.  

She knew her own truth:  she was Major Samantha Carter.  But the face that in the mirror told a different tale.  There were no crow's feet, no laugh lines.  There was no scar just above her hairline from that incident on P4X-897, no holes in her earlobes from that dare in the sixth grade.  

This face was not lived in.  This face did not belong to a child who had lost her mother to an accident.  It did not belong to a woman who had lost her youth to her career.  Most of all, it did not belong to her.

And, yet, it did.

She spent months trying to wrap her formidable intellect around this particular existential crisis.  The scientist in her could accept that she was still Major Samantha Carter.  Admittedly, her physical form was altered, but the augmentation was entirely superficial.  

But something deep inside her didn't buy it.  At her core, she knew.  She knew she could not inhabit this body, she could not live this life, without it becoming her truth.

She was fifteen years old.  

And so was he.  

And they lived together in so many ways beyond the obvious.

By Christmas eve, they abandoned pretense in favor of a decent night's sleep.  Tacitly, they accepted the fact that they needed each other if for nothing more than basic human contact.  As his mattress was dumped into the storage room and an extra pillow was thrown on the bed, Sam thought of infants who died from lack of physical touch.  By the time that visions of sugar plums should have been dancing in their heads, they were curled up together and she was saved the fate of an unwanted orphan.

It lacked the innocence of that first night, but both of them pretended not to notice as she rested her head against his chest and his arm held her close.  He smelled the same, she noted, only mildly discomfited that it meant she was in the habit of smelling her CO.  She was so confused by this situation that she stopped trying to reconcile her emotions.  

He was Jack and yet he wasn't.  She was Sam and yet she wasn't.  He was a fifteen-year-old boy.  She was not attracted to fifteen-year-old boys.  But she was, inconveniently, attracted to him and apparently that attraction wasn't contingent on him appearing to be the fifty-three-year-old man she knew.  

Most of the time, she tried not to think about it.  But most of the time, she wasn't curled up in bed with him.

She wasn't about to push the situation and not only because she'd always been a coward where her feelings toward him were concerned.  As much as she physically desired him, she needed him far too much to risk upsetting the fragile balance they created.  If she allowed something to happen and it went bad, she would never forgive herself.  She couldn't live without him, not stuck in this body, in this life.  She needed him too much.

***

"Carter."

She knew that tone well.  It was the one he used when he was ready to leave a planet and she needed one last soil sample.  She decided she really must be acclimating to her new life because rather than obeying his unspoken command, she was half tempted to tell him to suck it up.  Of course, she didn't.  She might have been newly fifteen, but Samantha Carter at any age was still nice.  But rather than trying to placate him like a good little 2IC, she simply glanced over her shoulder and smiled as sweetly as possible.

His scowl wavered and then finally collapsed.  "Fine," he muttered, toeing impatiently at the carpet.

"I'll be quick, I promise," she swore, going so far as to make an inane crossing gesture over her heart.  She didn't miss the fact that his vision lingered on her chest.  She let him gawk for a few moments in the hope that it would improve his mood.  Such a boy.  She fought the urge to roll her eyes.  He'd spent the better part of the day displaying most of the more loathsome male qualities.  Note to self, she thought, leave Jack at home on trips to mall.

She looked through the racks, finding another sweater and then a skirt.  Earlier that afternoon, they had taken the bus to the mall.  He agreed to go because he was bored out of his mind.  She invited him because she had been unaware of what a colossal mistake it would be.  While she wasn't a fan of shopping, Jack was as manageable as a two-year-old.  She expected him to start hanging off the clothing racks any second.  It didn't help that it was the day after Christmas and every store was packed.

She had to wait several minutes for a free changing room and studiously avoided looking at him the whole time.  He didn't have anywhere to be or anything to do.  She wasn't about to feel guilty for wasting his time when that's all they had these days.

Slipping inside the small room, she shimmied out of her clothes.  Daniel, bless his heart, had thought to send them Christmas presents.  While they weren't terribly original, it had brought tears to her eyes when she opened the box.  Daniel remembered them.  He cared enough to take the time to send them something.  

Jack had merely grunted at the Tom Clancy novel, much more interested in the video game.  Sam absolutely adored the pink tweed jacket, so much so that she was convinced that her other self must already own one and that's where Daniel got the idea.

The slight problem, however, was that Major Samantha Carter was a size bigger than Sam Carter, high school student.  Hence, the trip to the mall.  The store was out of the jackets, so she was stuck hunting for a replacement item.

She looked at herself in the mirror and frowned.  The sweater's color did nothing for her complexion.  Taking off the sweater, she grabbed the camisole and pulled the silky material over her head.  Much better.  It was a rather shocking shade of crimson, but it was so pretty.  She avoided looking at her reflection.  She didn't want to see the blush staining her cheeks.  

She needed something new to wear with her pajama bottoms.  She was simply being practical.  Over her rather solitary lifetime, she made a habit of sleeping in sweatshirts.  The practice served her well until recently.  Usually, she was slept alone and tended to get cold.  Now, however, she was sleeping with Jack O'Neill, Boy Furnace.  The amount of heat that skinny little body could generate was shocking.

She did not let her contemplate the various interpretations of that thought.

She smoothed her hands down her sides.  Yes, this camisole was definitely a keeper.  Yep.  Uh huh.  She drummed her fingers on her leg.  

She wasn't going to think about this either.

***

He gave her an impatient look.

"Diet soda."

Glancing pointedly at her slender hips, he sighed, shaking his head as he turned and relayed the order to the guy behind the register.  One of the bonuses of not actually being a fifteen-year-old fifteen-year-old meant that he knew better than to comment on a woman's weight, even if it was to say he thought she was too damn skinny.  Just as well, Sam thought, because he was in no position to talk about people needing to gain weight.  

Smiling wryly, Sam wandered around the food court, finally finding a not-too-sticky table and sliding down into one of the molded plastic seats.  Jack had just set down the tray when her cell phone started chirping.  Alana, one of her "friends" from school was calling.  Jack rolled his eyes.  

Both amused and irritated by her popularity, he gave her no end of grief about her constantly ringing phone.  At first Sam honestly thought he was teasing.  Her own memories from high school were still resident enough to color their current situation.  Sam got along with her classmates, but she didn't make much effort beyond that.  Two decades ago, she was acceptable, but not popular by any stretch of the imagination.  

Somewhere along the line, Jack pointed out that she needed to stop living in the past and actually take a look around.  She was shocked to find out he was right.  She was popular.

The realization was both uncomfortable and unwanted.  She certainly hadn't tried to be popular.  Truth be told, she absolutely didn't care one way or the other.  That, apparently was the key.  In a world of adolescents feigning apathy, she had the real thing in spades.  She was indifferent - about everything.

The apathy had confused Jack at first.  He was so used to Sam Carter, workaholic.  She still kept busy, she was too fidgety not to, but now she devoted her time to things she enjoyed.  She did note that to the casual observer, the distinction between homework and her hobbies was probably dubious.  But she didn’t spend her nights cramming for Chemistry tests, instead she honed her theories on wormhole physics.  She blew off pop quizzes in history and occasionally forgot to read one of the books for English.

Jack, who actually did his homework, was appalled on principle.  She was afraid he was going to go through her backpack looking for drugs, so one night she explained.

"I hated high school," she said with more than a little exasperation.  "I spent every second worrying about the future, worrying about getting into the Academy, about how getting a ninety-six on my AP physics test rather than a hundred would impact the rest of my life."

"Somehow I'm not shocked," he noted dryly.

She frowned, smacking at him with one of the couch cushions.  "What I mean is it … it … sucked.  For lack of a better word.  I drove myself nuts."

He paused his video game, looking over his shoulder at her.  "Not worth it?" he asked.

She sighed.  "In retrospect, no.  It wasn't.  I could have eased off a lot and I still would have made it into the Academy, still would have made it to the SGC."

He snorted in disgust and turned back to his game.  "Heck of a time for you to discover laziness, Carter," he huffed.  "You realize how much easier my life would be if I could just copy your homework?"

She smiled and leaned forward to ruffle his hair.

"Eh!  Eh!," he barked, dodging her hand, his eyes glued to the TV.  "You're messing up my game."

"Right," she snorted, turning her attention back to the scientific journal she was reading.

A few minutes later, he looked at her again.  "So if you're embracing your inner bum, what does that mean for your future?"

She smiled at him.  "Worried I'm going to be working at Kwik Trip?"

"A little," he admitted.

She shrugged.  "My grades aren't phenomenal, but they're still acceptable.  I have a B average and I'll ace the ACT and SAT.  I'll be able to go wherever I want to school."

He looked thoughtful.  "No Academy this time?"

"I don't know," she said.  "What about you?"

He shrugged, remaining silent.  She watched him for a long time, but when he didn't answer, she felt it best not to press.  She turned back to the journal, flipping the page.

"I never picked that life," he said.

She looked up at him.  His attention was still fixed on his video game.  A moment passed, then another.  Finally he turned and looked at her.  

"The military?"

He nodded.  "I was young and very, very stupid," he said.  "Me and a couple of friends got drunk and stole a car.  Went for a joyride."

She smiled tightly.  "Got busted?"

"In a big way," he confirmed.  Sighing, he paused the game and absently rubbed the back of his neck with his hand.  "Judge gave us the option, Vietnam or jail.  I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn't want to be locked up, so yeah, I signed up."

"I never knew that," she said quietly.

He shrugged.  "Turned out okay," he said.  "I got promoted quickly, became an officer.  Then one day it was all I knew how to do."

Her hand itched to reach out for him, to comfort him, but she couldn't seem to make herself move.  

Finally, he shook his head and smiled in the charming, but fake way he used to avoid uncomfortable situations.  "But it all worked out okay," he said, slapping her once on the thigh.  "After all, here I am with a second chance and I get to live with the hottest girl in school."

Hottest girl in school, yeah, she definitely disagreed with that statement, but she could no longer ignore her popularity.  During today's mall outing alone, she'd been stopped by at least ten people from school wanting to talk.  She got invited to parties just about every weekend and this was definitely no exception.

Snapping the phone shut, she smiled at him and said, "We're invited to a New Year's party".

He raised an eyebrow skeptically.

***

She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, unable to prevent a blush.  The outfit wasn't indecent … for the most part.  She cringed.  She purchased the red camisole with the sole intention of wearing it to bed (not that her choice in sleepwear was particularly innocent either), but even the most cursory glance around the closet showed that she owned nothing even vaguely appropriate for a New Year's party.  So the red camisole it was.  Paired with a pair of black leather pants that had done horrible things to her government stipend, but glorious things to her oh-so-firm ass.

Nervously, she smoothed her hands down the camisole, her vision lingering on the swath of skin left bare between the short camisole and the low rise pants.  

Yeah.  This could get interesting.

Jack's double take was almost comical, but in typical Jack fashion, he recovered quickly.  "Isn't it a little cold out for that outfit?" he asked.

She crossed her arms self-consciously over her chest.  She already knew he'd noticed she wasn't wearing a bra.  Straightening her spine, she said, "Cram a hundred adolescent hormone factories into a three bedroom house and trust me, it'll be plenty warm at the party."

He grimaced and she had the distinct impression that he was torn between his desire to stay home and his adamancy that she wasn't leaving the house in that outfit without his company.  Luckily, he was smart enough to not say that last bit out loud.  After all, she could probably kick his ass good, and would on principle.

"Fine," he grumbled, heading for his bike.

"Uh, one last thing," she said, biting down on her lip as she smiled shyly at him.  

"Yeah?"

"Um, your jacket would really go with this outfit much better than mine."

***

Sam couldn't help but smile as she buried her face between his shoulder blades.  She was making the largely futile effort to protect her skin from the bitingly cold wind as he pedaled faster than was strictly prudent on the snow covered sidewalks (the chain on her bike was totally thrashed).  

He had let her borrow his black leather jacket.  He groused and rolled his eyes, but Sam could tell he was secretly pleased.  She figured that he had less of an issue with her outfit if she showed up at the party obviously wearing his jacket.  Boys were so stupid cute.  

The party was going pretty good when they arrived and secretly, she wondered why the neighbors hadn't already called the cops.  But it was the holidays and maybe most of the neighbors were gone.  Her estimate about the size of the party had been close.  There were dozens and dozens of teenagers present, all in varying degrees of inebriation.  She stifled the urge to cringe.  She could not judge.  She was one of them now and god knew that she'd kill at least three people for a decent beer tonight.

A decent beer wasn't so easy to come by.  Nat Lite.  Holy Hannah, she'd been brought low by this whole ordeal.  All the more because she didn't even complain as she took her little plastic cup of pseudo-beer and threaded her way through the crowd.

As far as ideas went, this party wasn't one of her better ones.  At least not until she found the pool table downstairs.  So yeah, she could admit that maybe she bent over a little farther than was strictly necessary and maybe she wiggled her hips a bit more than usual, but hey, teenage body, what was the point in having it if you didn't use it?  And she used it well.  In two hours, she made almost three hundred dollars off the basketball team.  If there was anything that a life in the military has given her, it was the knowledge of how to play the alpha male ego to her best advantage.  It also didn't hurt that she'd been playing pool far longer than any of her opponents had been alive.

Jack knew better than to play her.  He simply sat on a nearby sofa drinking cheap beer and glaring a lot.  She knew he wasn't having fun and honestly, she felt bad about that.  But the truth was that she was having more fun than she'd had since this whole nightmare started.  She liked joking with the guys.  She liked their wolfish grins and obvious appreciation of her body.  She liked feeling like a real live girl.  And after four or five cups, Nat Lite wasn't particularly distinguishable from real beer.

Eventually, she abandoned the game of pool and took a seat next to Jack.  The room was overly crowed so it was more like taking a seat on Jack.  As irritated as he seemed to have been with her little game of pool, she expected at least a cold shoulder.  Instead, he wrapped an arm around her waist and shared his beer.

Their behavior garnered a few strange glances, especially from Sean and Jeff, two of the basketball players she'd just stripped of fifty bucks, but Sam didn't care.  This strange life had blurred the boundaries and if she wanted to sit on his lap and share a beer, she didn't see how it was all that scandalous.  They certainly weren't going to be court martialed.  Even the hand that was slowly inching across her bare stomach was, strictly speaking, perfectly acceptable.

And maybe not so strictly.  How many beers had she had anyway?  The only thing of which she was certain was that she didn't care.  She twisted, burying her nose against his neck and inhaling.  The arm around her waist tightened, but other than that, he didn't react.  She loved the way he smelled.  She always had.  That damn aftershave he used … mmmm.  Though come to think of it, she wasn't exactly sure if he needed to shave now.  

***

God, he'd thought Daniel had a problem holding his liquor.  At least Sam had the real excuse of having the constitution of a fifteen-year-old girl.  Daniel just drank like one.  Not that Daniel's drinking habits were terribly relevant these days.  Still, Jack thought maybe Danny would like to know he finally had company in the light-weight lounge.  Samantha Carter, former founding member of the I Can Drink You Under The Table And Still Save The World With One Hand Tied Behind My Back Club was well and truly plowed on a half dozen little plastic cups of Nat Lite.  He'd seen her drink half a bottle of tequila without even cracking a grin.  She was no longer so stoic.  Grabbing her wandering wrist, he pinned her arm to his chest in a mostly-futile attempt to, if not stop, then at least defer the groping session until they were alone.  

"You're not being any fun," she slurred in a whisper that was only slightly less audible than a diesel engine.

"I know," he assured her tightly, peering out the frosted windows of Jason's parents' SUV, hoping to god they were almost home, "and I'm sure I'll feel really bad about it tomorrow."

She leaned in closer to him, trying vainly to focus on his face.  "Liar," she snapped, grinning rather evilly.

Jack accidentally caught Jason's openly interested and speculative glance in the rearview mirror and pointedly ignored it.  The kid was a pain in the ass, but he was sober – and he had a car.  Trying to maneuver Carter home on the back of his bike in this condition wasn't an option.  So when several members of the basketball team offered to give Sam a ride home, he listened as she accepted  – and then climbed right into the back of the Explorer with her, much to their irritation.  He wasn't even going to consider what plans they might have had for a drunk, under-aged Samantha Carter.  He wasn't.  Because they were kids, after all, and he might feel kind of bad permanently hobbling three of the starters on the basketball team.  As it was, they all just looked a little surly as Sam tried to use him as her own personal jungle gym in the back seat.

He actually yelped as she caressed his upper thigh, the back of her hand brushing against the uncomfortably snug crotch of his Levis.  Her grin widened.  

Oh, she was Evil, capital E.  Well, two could play at that.  He leaned in closer to her and whispered, "It's my sidearm, I swear."

He realized far too late that adult Sam giggles and adolescent Sam giggles sounded exactly alike.  And they both made him ache in ways that were both bad and good.  But she got the reference and it took the edge off her predatory nature.  Sighing, she curled up against him, throwing one leg across his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck as she rested her head on his shoulder.  "No regrets," she whispered.

He turned his head, nuzzling against her hair.  "No, Sam," he said.  "No regrets."

***

The first official day of the first official year of their second childhood wasn't exactly what you would call auspicious.  It was more of a … disaster.  

Sam had passed out on the drive home and Jack pretty much carried her up to the apartment.  All of her fondling and innuendo with no follow through had left him in a rather foul mood.  Jesus teenage hormones were a pain in the ass.  He took the coldest shower this side of Antarctica and tiptoed into the bedroom only to find that Sam had regained consciousness and puked all over the sheets.  She was crying, upset, embarrassed and still rather drunk.  He was sleep-deprived, over-stimulated and most certainly not ringing in the new year with a bang.

While she camped out with her head in the toilet, he trudged up the street to the laundromat.  He got home just as the sun was cresting the horizon, unable to remember the last time he was in such a bad mood.  Quickly glancing in the bathroom, he found Sam asleep on the floor in nothing but that damn slinky tanktop and a pair of panties.  Muttering under his breath, he grabbed a blanket off the couch and covered her up before heading for the bedroom.  Although it looked like the mattress had been spared the brunt of Sam's chunks, he sprayed it with Febreeze and flipped it over just to be safe before remaking it with military precision.

He had just finished his second cup of coffee and was zipping up his reclaimed jacket when Sam slowly stumbled out of the bathroom groaning and squinting.  She licked her lips, grimacing as she clutched the blanket around her body.  "Where are you going?" she croaked.

"We left the bike last night," he said.  "I'm walking over to get it before someone takes off with it."

She looked down at the floor and then back up at him, her expression as miserable as any he had ever seen.  "I'm really sorry," she whispered, her eyes shiny and her bottom lip trembling.

Oh god, she was going to cry.  "It's okay," he quickly reassured her, hurrying to close the few steps that separated them.  "Carter," he said, pulling the blanket more snugly around her shoulders, "really, it's no big deal."

She blinked, looking so damn helpless.  "C'mon," he said, urging her back to the bedroom and tucking her into the fresh sheets.  Docile, she laid there as he rushed around getting her aspirin, water and a few crackers.  "I'll be back before you know it," he promised.

***

A lifetime spent taking government-mandates walks still did not predispose him to enjoy them.  It took him just over an hour to track down the bike.  Unfortunately, when he got there, several of Sam's hapless victims from the previous night were just stumbling out to their cars.  Jack was relieved that they looked hung over rather than drunk.  He didn't relish getting run down by some plastered teenager.

Jack was brushing the light dusting of snow off the seat when one of the kids bellowed in his general direction.

"Hey!  Hey, you!"

And people thought his conversational skills were lacking.  "What?" he barked in return.

Much to his annoyance, the two jocks wandered over to where he stood in the driveway.  They looked like shit, pasty pale with bloodshot eyes.  Jesus.  As far as he could remember, high school was considerably more innocent his first time 'round.  He sure as hell didn't remember any house parties overflowing with alcohol and he could only imagine how bad he would have gotten his ass tanned if he even thought about stumbling in the door at ten in the morning.

He fought the urge to shake his head in disgust.  These were his peers now.  If only he could get past how incredibly young they looked.  One of the kids, Jeff - or was it Sean - was holding a set of keys.  That meant he was at least sixteen, though Jack doubted he was any older.  

"Hey, uh," kid with the keys said, "you're the guy that was with Sammy last night."

Jack couldn't prevent the eyebrow arch.  "Sammy?" he repeated in disbelief.

The kid nodded, stuffing his hands in his coat pockets.  "Yeah," he said, "so what's up with you guys?"

Sadly, this was not the most surreal conversation Jack had ever had - but it was up there.  He was being asked by some hung over teenager to define his relationship with Sammy.  "She's taken," Jack said tightly, wishing to hell that he'd waited until later in the day for this particular outing.

Key Kid looked at the other kid and they laughed.  "You sure, man?" he asked.  "She seemed pretty into us last night."

He wasn't going to do this.  He just wasn't.  His life may have been a cosmic joke, but he didn't have to be the total laughing stock of the universe.  He was not going to get into a fight with some zygote over his 2IC.  

Silently fuming, he threw his leg over the bike and pedaled down the drive before he did something really stupid.  It was nothing.  Less than nothing.  He knew that.  They were kids, boys, high school students for Christ's sake.  Sure they liked Sam, who didn't like Sam?  Of course they thought she was hot.  They weren't blind.  But they were children.  Stupid children.

He told himself this as he made his way back to the apartment, cheeks glowing red from windburn.  Yeah, they were boys with way more hormones than sense.  But he didn't need to look in a mirror to know that right now, so was he.

Sam, thankfully, was still asleep when he got back to the apartment.  Despite his nagging irritation, he hadn't slept in over twenty-four hours and he was damn tired.  Not bothering to remove his jacket or shoes, he collapsed onto the couch and fell asleep.

It was nearly dusk when he woke.  A freshly showered Sam was sitting on the kitchen counter sipping coffee and reading some textbook.  Standing up, he shrugged out of the jacket and raked a hand through his hair.  He walked into the kitchen, stretching as he went.  

"Coffee?" she offered, using the same hand that held her cup to point to the pot.

Deciding it was easier than getting his own cup, he simply said, "Yeah," and grabbed her cup, downing the contents in two large gulps.  

She shot him a look but didn't complain.

By the time he was out of the shower, she was just draining the pot of spaghetti.  He walked into the kitchen and stood behind her, peering over her shoulder at the noodles and bubbling saucepan of marinara.

"You sure you're up for that?" he asked.

She bit down on her bottom lip and shrugged, glancing over her shoulder at him.  "I hope," she said.

He frowned, taking a step back, leaning a hip against the sink.  "You better be sure," he said flatly.

The hurt look didn't last long, but he knew he hadn't imagined it.  She smiled at him, putting on her best good-little-soldier face.  "I'll be fine," she assured him.

Shrugging, he turned to grab a bowl out of the cabinet and filled it with spaghetti.  He was being a dick and he knew she didn't deserve it, but he didn't feel like examining his feelings at the moment.

They watched the Simpsons in silence as they ate.  Covertly, Jack watched Sam, noting that while she mostly pushed the food around her plate, that she did manage to eat some of it.  After dinner, he threw in the new game Daniel had sent for Christmas while Sam cleaned up the kitchen and then sat on the couch working on some academic paper she could never publish.

The game actually wasn't that good, but his mood was still foul and he figured that ignoring Sam was better than taking out his idiotic frustrations on her.  It sure as hell wasn't her fault that he was fifteen.  While he had no problem making her shoulder part of the responsibility for their irritatingly complex personal relationship, he couldn't give her all the blame for the fact that their precarious dance of attraction and professionalism was reaching new heights of absurdity.  There were no longer any military regulations in the way.  Hell, they weren't even co-workers anymore.  There were no boyfriends, no girlfriends, no dead crazy former fiancés, no estranged ex-wives, no raised Jaffa eyebrows or vaguely censuring Daniel 'hmmm's.  There was absolutely no one around to pass judgment on them one way or the other.  And while Jack got moderately squicked contemplating sexual attraction to a fifteen-year-old girl, the truth was that he was fifteen too, dammit.  

So there was no reason for him to be mad.  Which just made him madder about the fact that he was mad.

It was after midnight when she finally said, "I'm going to bed," in a near whisper.

He grunted, choosing to ignore the implied invitation in that statement.  These days, they usually went to sleep at the same time.

He listened as she stood up, knowing she was standing there looking down at him.  He could picture the hurt expression on her face and it made him feel even worse.  But then again, he already knew Sara hadn't left him because of Charlie.  He really sucked at this emotional crap.

She finally turned and walked away.  He heard her open and close drawers in the bedroom, then he heard her wash her face and brush her teeth.  As her footsteps neared again, he tensed, focusing his attention firmly on the video game.

She stood there so long he'd almost forgotten she was there when she finally said, "I was really out of line last night."

"It's fine, Carter," he said, giving her an easy out.

An easy out she didn't take.  "It's not fine," she said.  "You're upset and rightfully so.  It was irresponsible of me to get that drunk."

He turned around, looking up at her from his position on the floor.  "Carter, really, it's fine."

She bit down on her bottom lip, shaking her head at him.  "It's not," she repeated.  "You're angry with me."

He growled under his breath, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.  Abruptly, he rose to his feet.  "It's not you, Carter. It's not," he said, walking into the kitchen.  He pulled open the fridge, reaching for a soda.  "It's me."

In any other circumstance, her confused expression might have been kind of cute, especially when pared with her ice skating sheep pajamas.  

"You don't have to lie to make me feel better," she said, her tone going from wounded to offended.  "I know I screwed up.  Sir, I-"

"Aaaaaaiiiiii," he shouted, holding his hands up.  "No.  No 'sir'.  Not in this conversation."

She shook her head, brow furrowed.  "I don't understand."

He was seriously tempted to turn and punch his fist through the wall - oh he loved teenage hormones.  But he wasn't going to, if only because she deserved better than that from him.  He took a deep breath, releasing it sharply.  He couldn't meet her eyes.  "I already told you, it's not you.  It's me," he said.

"Si … Jack," she amended.  "What's going on?"

"Nothing," he snapped, perversely irritated by her gentle tone.  "It's nothing.  It's just … me."

"You?"

Finally, he looked at her, giving her a dry expression.  "I'm fifteen," he said, feeling rather inane after the words were finally out.

She nodded slowly.  "Yeah, I know.  So am I."

He sighed, frowning.  "You don't know."

Her look was a strange mix of confusion and anger.  "I don't know," she repeated with obvious irritation.  "How can you possibly say I don't know?  Of course I know."

"You don't," he assured her tightly.  "You don't know what it's like to be … me … around you."

She stared at him for several long moments.  "Okay, you're right.  I don't know.  I don't have a clue what you're talking about."

He dragged a hand roughly through his hair.  "Last night," he said, "was fun.  A lot of fun.  You know, at least until you puked everywhere."

She frowned, cheeks staining with a blush.

He sighed, shrugging.  "Look, it's just …  It was … nice.  It was what I'd been hoping for for a long time."

She was quiet, watching him intently.

Looking away, he continued, "And then I went back to get the damn bike and two of those idiot basketball players were there and they asked about me and you and … "

"And what?" she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.  She had no idea what they had wanted to know, but she could assume it was rather off-color.

"And I don't know," he yelled.  "That's the problem.  They were talking about you and it pissed me off."

"They're boys," she said, her frustration evident.

"Yeah, well," he sputtered, eyes pointedly not meeting her own, "they definitely like you and you don't seem to mind the attention."

Her face flamed in humiliation.  Yes, despite how absolutely, unequivocally innocent her flirtation with Jeff and Sean had been, it was still sad.  Because she did enjoy the attention.  She, Major Samantha Carter, USAF, now officially forty, had enjoyed the attention of two teenage boys.  It didn't get much more pathetic than that.

Too late, he realized how she was going to take his comment and he cursed under his breath, reaching for her wrist even as she was twisting away from him to stalk down the hall.  "Sam, Jesus, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean it like that."

She spun around, eyes flashing.  "What exactly did you mean?"

He shifted his weight nervously on the balls of his feet.  "I just .." he growled in frustration.  "I don't like it, okay?" he snapped.  "I know it's stupid and I know that you think of them as children, but then ..."

"Then?"

"Then I look in the mirror."

She stared at him for a moment, unable to move.  God, they were a mess.  And just when she thought their dynamic couldn't get any weirder, it did.  She tried not to smile, but her lips simply wouldn't cooperate.  

"You don't have to worry," she said, more than a little wryly.  

"They're children," she explained, "and you're …"

"I'm what?" he asked, stepping closer.

She looked at him, at those eyes that remained the same while everything else was unrecognizable.  "You're you," she said, feeling more than a little lame.  "Okay, so it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Physically you're fifteen and while the thought of anything physical with any of the guys at the party is just … wrong."  She looked away, shuddering slightly.  

Turning her head back toward him, she found that she couldn't meet his eyes this time.  "But with you … It's different."

"Different how?" he asked, leaning in closer, frustration giving way to a certain wolfish pleasure.

"I don't know," she admitted.

He stepped even closer, their bodies almost touching. "Well, try, okay?  Because I really feel like an ass getting jealous over some idiot young enough to be my grandson."

The ridiculousness of the situation overwhelmed her and she couldn't help it, she laughed.  He laughed too and somehow they leaned into one another, both laughing.

And then they weren't laughing at all.

There was no space between their bodies, their faces were inches apart.  She licked her lips slowly.  

"Sam," he breathed.  

His hands found her fuzzy pajama covered hips and he turned her, slowly backing her against the wall.  She stood there between the coat rack and a poster of the periodic table of elements she'd tacked up months ago, staring at him.  For a surreal moment, she smiled.  "You've grown," she said aloud, realizing she had to look up to meet his gaze.

He nodded, grinning.  "Yeah."  They shifted and soon he was nestled between her parted legs, his hips pushing against hers.  

Her eyes fluttered shut as she released a shuddering breath.  Fuck. He was hard.  She could easily feel him through the material of their clothes and her stomach clenched at the sensation as her heart pounded.  

He leaned forward, his cheek grazing against hers, his lips touching the shell of her ear.  "Sam," he said softly.

She groaned, or moaned, she honestly wasn't sure which.  He cupped her face in his hands.  Her eyes fluttered open and she looked at him seriously.  "Are we really going to do this?" she asked.

"I don't know what this means," he said, "but something's gonna happen.  I'm not going to live like this anymore, Sam."

And as much as the Major Carter part of her wanted to voice some formal protest, she couldn't say anything.  Because he was right.  They couldn't keep living this half existence, desperately hanging on to their old lives while trying to find their way into their new lives.  The duality wasn't working and distance between them was killing them a little more every day.

"We're not breaking any regs," he said, his breath warm against her skin.

"I know," she answered.  "I'm just … I'm still scared."

He grinned again, toying with a lock of her, way-longer-than-regulation hair.  He shrugged, his eyes meeting hers.  "So we take it slow," he said.  "It's not like we don't have time."

***

She woke first and blinked in the early morning light.  Behind her, he snored lightly.  Their legs were twined together and he was spooned around her, his hand under her shirt, fingers resting against her gloriously flat stomach.

Sometimes being fifteen really didn't suck at all.



The End .. for now



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