Toy Soldiers

Spoilers: Set around Lost City, before & beyond. Also has sort of spoilers for Atlantis' "The Rising Pt 1". Also, knowing what happens in Fragile Balance is probably a good idea!

Rating: Teen

Category: AU. has a bit of everything in it. S/J.

Summary: Jack's not sure how he lost them all.

Notes: Obviously this is an AU. I've taken a lot of liberties with timelines and events and twisted them to suit my own purposes. Please remember that when things appear slightly wrong ;) All mistakes are my own; it's had a few read throughs but everyone's busy with Nano so it, unfortunately, hasn't had a beta. And of course I'm on my "Give me Reviews!" kick so I'm too impatient to wait to post it!

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prologue

Jack's not sure how he lost them all.

It feels like one day he woke up and they were just gone. In reality, he knows it didn't happen that way, but things went kinda hazy after he lost Carter. He thought losing Daniel again would be easier than the first few times he lost him – Jack figured he'd practiced so he should have had the routine covered. His first grade teacher had lied to him though – practice didn't make anything any easier.

He never thought he'd lose Teal'c – Teal'c was invincible. The type of warrior kids grew up dreaming they could be. Hercules crossed with Will Smith, except possibly Teal'c missed out on Will's rapping talents. Jack still isn't entirely convinced Teal'c isn't coming back. Then again, he isn't entirely convinced Carter and Daniel aren't coming back either. He keeps staring at the infirmary door, waiting for one of them to stick their head around the corner and make a smart-ass comment.

Only they never come.

And Fraiser never comes by either. Jack doesn't ask where she is.

---

It takes exactly four weeks and five days for the SGC to fall apart without Carter and Daniel's brains to hold it together – that's four weeks and five days longer than Jack thought it would hold. He stands in the control room and watches as the technicians flail about in panic, fingers smashing at keyboards and swearing at blank screens.

They shoot the hostiles before talking, and Jack can hear Daniel telling him it's better to ask the questions before you kill everyone; dead men don't talk very well. Spent cartridges fall with a gentle tinkling; it sounds like pieces of the SGC falling down around him, accompanied by the steady rhythm of bodies thumping to the ground, and harmonised by the screaming of the dead.

Standing with his crutch under his arm and a sidearm held loosely in his fingers, Jack watches the soldiers neutralise the dead – he thinks it's unlikely the dead men will still use their weapons.

It takes Siler eight days to get the programs back up and running. It used to take Carter less than eight hours.

---

Jack wants to retire; his knees ache whether it's warm or cold, and he walks with a limp. SG-1's roster for the month is empty, and dust gathers in lockers which haven't been emptied out yet.

Hammond won't let him retire; he sends Jack for counselling.

Jack's no stranger to grief, loss, or mourning, and he doesn't think the counselling helps. Especially not when the counsellor is a twenty eight year old graduate who's greatest loss was her pet cat when she was twelve.

Hammond doesn't make him go back, and Jack stops handing in letters of resignation.

---

Five months, two weeks and three days since the SGC should have fallen apart it's still standing. They found small pieces that almost fill the spots where Carter, Daniel, Teal'c and Fraiser used to be, and as long as the road doesn't get to bumpy everything teeters just fine.

It's a mild fall morning in September when suddenly the road turns to a rutted track leading straight down the mountainside and into hell.

Hammond gives Jack an address; it's written on lined paper torn from the corner of a legal pad. Five names are listed under the address, and there are photos paper-clipped to the scrap. Jack stares at the pictures; he is numb inside.

Hammond looks old and tired and worn beyond his years.

"We need them."

one

One bathroom between five people is simply not enough. Especially not when two of them are girls, and all of them are sort-of teenagers.

Carter's banging on the door again, but Jack ignores her as he studies himself in the mirror. It's been almost a year since Thor turned him into a mini-me, and Jack's beginning to wonder if something went wrong in the cloning process and he's now doomed to stay fourteen years old for the rest of his life. Not, he thinks privately, that being 'young' again is all bad, but he wouldn't mind a bit of bulk and height again. He never realized just how much he enjoyed being tall and able to buy alcohol before.

"Come on, sir!" Carter hassles, still pounding.

"Give me a minute," he yells back, "I'm shaving."

"You don't need to shave yet, you don't even have bum-fluff," she retorts.

Once upon a time he thought he was in love with Carter. That was before she realized that with no chain of command between them, there was no need to keep her opinions in check. And Carter has a lot of opinions these days.

"I'm practicing," he yells back. "I don't want to forget how and then cut myself when I really need to."

He studies his face in the mirror, moving his head as close as possible to the glass. Smooth as a baby's bottom, he thinks with disgust. At least he's got a bit of growth under his arms and in other areas, so maybe his body will grow up again.

Jack doesn't like remembering he was a very late bloomer the first time around; he was half hoping it would be different this time.

"I'll buy some balloons and shaving cream after school," Carter's saying, "and you can practice to your heart's content on the deck. I need the bathroom now, Jack."

She only uses his name at school and when she's really pissed at him.

Jack sighs and climbs off the small stool they keep by the tub, making sure he puts it back so no one knows he stands on it to stare at himself in the mirror.

"Alright already," he grumbles, shrugging into his shirt and running his fingers through his hair. "I'm done."

Carter's standing in front of the door in her pajamas – pink shorts and a little white tank top – with bed-hair and unmatched socks on her feet.

"We're going to be late again," she informs him icily.

"Only if you take too long."

She glares. "What were you doing in there? Wait, I don't want to know."

She stalks into the bathroom and slams the door shut behind her. It rattles in its frame, and Jack is mildly relieved they don't have pictures on the wall, because there's no way they'd hang straight with the amount of times Carter slams the doors.

He never knew what a temper she had before, and is glad he isn't in love with her anymore, though sometimes he wishes he still was.

---

School is… school. Jack didn't like it the first time around, and he doesn't think it's any different this time. Lunch is spent in the cafeteria at a table they marked as theirs the first day back after summer break.

Carter spends her time racing through textbooks thicker than the bible, and Daniel spends his time flicking through colorful books from the library with titles like 'Life as an Ancient Egyptian' and 'Visit Ancient Rome in a Day'. He chortles to himself, and Jack knows all the teachers think he's quite mad. Fraiser reads trashy romance novels or tells rude jokes he's sure she didn't pick up at the SGC. Teal'c eats an ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce every day, and won't talk until it's finished. Not that Teal'c talks anymore than he used to.

Jack sighs and uses a plastic fork to churn lukewarm lasagna into a gooey mess.

"Do you have to do that?" Carter demands, not looking up as she uses her plastic fork to accurately spear a small tomato in her salad.

"Do what?"

"That thing with your fork."

He scrapes his plastic fork across the plastic plate again. "You mean that?"

She glares at him without looking up from her book, and he resumes twirling cold cheese around his fork without scraping it across the plate.

Once upon a time he was in love with Carter. They ate Jello in a commissary because the commissary didn't stock red wine, candles and romantic music. And there was that pesky thing with the regs to think about too.

Jack really misses Jello – the school won't serve it because of the sugar content. Jack doesn't point out that ice cream with chocolate sauce probably has more sugar, because doubtlessly Teal'c would take offense and flatten him on the sports field. Again.

---

He's in basic science with Teal'c (Fraiser, Carter and Daniel are all in advanced, of course) and doodling chevrons on his legal pad when someone knocks on the classroom door. The class rustles with interest, and he looks up from his sketch, curious.

He's spent so much time staring into the mirror at his baby-smooth face and admiring his lovely brown hair, that he almost doesn't recognize himself. His hair is grayer than he remembers, and something about his skin just looks old. He walks with a limp, and there's no smile or skip in his step.

Jack stares at himself – past or future, he can't really tell – and thinks that he remembered himself looking better.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your class, Ma'am," he says to the teacher, "but I need to talk to Murray ... er... Murray Jones, and Jonathan O'Reilly."

The teacher nods and beckons him forward; he can feel everyone in the class watching his back as he approaches Jack O'Neill.

The man, Jack is gratified to see, looks just as uncomfortable and freaked out as he feels. They'd parted amicably enough, both happy not to have to deal with each other again, and now suddenly, here they both are.

That could be me, Jack realizes. That is me.

As he and Teal'c follow the older man out of the classroom into a hall where Carter, Frasier and Daniel are already waiting, Jack thinks for the first time that he is possibly better off being the clone.

---