(Tag to Fragile Balance)
Spoilers: Fragile Balance
Pairings: Sam and Jack
Rating: Older teens
Warnings: Adult themes
Summary: Sam gets an invitation that she's unable to turn down.
Author's Note: I always thought that leaving Jon O'Neill on his own to face high school was cruel and unrealistic. This is what I think happened afterwards. My beta is on vacation so all mistakes are mine.
Disclaimer: SG-1 and its characters are not my property. I have written this story for the enjoyment of Stargate SG-1 fans all over the world. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary gain is expected.
From behind his dark glasses, Jon watched Jack's truck pull over and disappear down the street, not really paying much attention to the childish chatter of the two cute girls standing before him, doing a clumsy job of flirting with him under the guise of welcoming him to their high school.
He thought he'd done a good job of convincing Jack that he was looking forward to starting over, attending high school and building a new life for himself under his new identity, Jonathan O'Neill, nephew of Colonel Jack O'Neill, his legal guardian.
Turning his attention back to the two pretty things batting long eyelashes at him, he smirked at them and gallantly offered to escort them to their class on his way to the principal's office, where he was supposed to get introduced to the school's management.
All they knew was that he was a prodigy, the nephew of a colonel in the Air Force who had been home schooled due to his father's constant moves around the globe, a father who had recently passed away. If they thought that allowing a kid of fifteen to live alone in a small apartment two blocks from the high school was unusual, they never mentioned it. He was supposed to be a genius, after all.
The military pension the Pentagon had arranged for him was enough to allow him to live comfortably, but Jon had other plans. Attending high school and acting his physical age had really never been a viable option. And if Jack O'Neill didn't know that, then he was being more obtuse than he normally was.
But Jon thought Jack knew. His older self was allowing him to make his own decisions and live his life. He probably knew that he'd never see Jon O'Neill again. Jon was willing to bet that he wouldn't even be surprised when they found out he had disappeared.
Before the disappearing act, however, he had a few things to take care of. And until everything was set, he would dutifully attend school and do as he was expected to do, including calling his "handler" at the Pentagon, Major Davis, who was the one in charge of keeping him in line. What a joke!
Major Sam Carter tiredly walked into her home at 0100 hours after a very late night at the SGC. Her paperwork had been accumulating during the past weeks, and she'd decided to take care of most of it before they resumed their mission schedule now that Colonel O'Neill was back.
Thinking of the past weeks brought back that sick, guilty feeling in the pit of her stomach. Young Jon O'Neill's look as he departed the SGC with his older self two weeks ago, saying his goodbyes to his former team for the last time, again caused her heart to ache with sympathy and concern.
He had acted carefree and happy as he'd joked about going to high school and trying for the football team, this time making it to the prom instead of spending the night drinking with his buddies, and maybe getting "lucky" at an earlier age than seventeen. But Sam thought she'd detected bitterness underneath the banter, and his dark brown eyes had been full of hidden meaning when he'd casually patted her back and said, "See you later, Carter. Take care of yourself and don't work too hard."
She'd had the sudden urge to pull him back and take him into her arms for a tight hug, wishing she could keep an eye on him and take care of him somehow, but she'd done as she was expected and just smiled back, wishing him good luck. As the elevator doors had shut closed, his eyes had held hers, and she had almost cried out for them to stop and come back, to think of some other way to deal with the awful situation created by the misguided Asgard, Loki.
Sighing tiredly, she dropped her bag and jacket on the seat by the door and turned on the hallway light, ready to head directly to her bedroom. There was nothing she could do about Jon O'Neill, not without going against orders, so she had to let things be.
As she started to walk down the hallway, she suddenly froze with the certainty that she wasn't alone in her home. She could feel eyes on her back and a heavy, unnatural silence permeating her surroundings. Feeling helpless and vulnerable without her sidearm, she slowly turned around, her wide blue eyes searching the shadows of the rooms leading off the entry hall.
"I see your instincts are as sharp as ever, Carter. I was almost disappointed there for a second when you didn't detect me," the young voice of Jon O'Neill broke the silence as he stepped into the hallway, his hands in his pockets and his head tilted in a very Jack O'Neill manner.
"Jon! What are you doing here?! You scared the crap out of me!" Sam gasped in relief. "And how did you get in?" she asked, a note of annoyance in her voice.
"Oh, please! You don't think you're the only one that's good at picking locks, do you?" he smirked unrepentantly.
"What's going on, Sir? Why are you here? I thought you were across town, living a new life," she asked, taking the few steps necessary to plant herself before the youth, her tone taking a stern quality that made Jon's eyes harden.
"And you were okay with that, Carter?" he bitterly asked.
Sam stepped back, momentarily avoiding his eyes. "Wha… What do you mean?" she asked, suddenly defensive.
"You thought it would be okay for you guys to just dump my ass in the local high school and continue living your lives as if I didn't exist? That I would be so grateful for my life that I would just be a good boy and do as I was told?" he asked, his tone hard and his features tense with anger.
"Sir, I…" Sam tried to answer, having been called on her guilty thoughts and not knowing how to respond.
"That's okay, Carter. I know it wasn't your decision," he interrupted, his tone bitter but softer. "And stop calling me 'Sir,' will you? It's Jon. 'Sir' is probably snoring back at home."
Sam's eyes dropped to the floor, remembering that he truly was another person altogether now. Although she knew that he really wasn't Jack O'Neill anymore, she'd had trouble separating the two men in her mind. When she saw him, she still saw her CO. His brown eyes and his manner of speaking made it impossible for her to forget the fact that he'd been the same person only two weeks ago. But she had to remember that he was now just a lonely man trapped in a child's body, a fluke trying to survive, a sentient being with feelings being treated as an inconvenience.
"I'm so sorry, Jon. But I didn't know what else to do!" she said, knowing that he did blame her for her apparent indifference, if for nothing else.
"I understand," he replied. "But there is something you can do for me. That's why I'm here," he stated, moving toward her living room and flicking on a light switch, bathing the room in muted illumination. "Take a seat, will you?"
Sam marveled at how authoritative he could still sound with the voice of a fifteen-year old, and she obediently sat on the edge of her couch, her blue eyes soft and compassionate on his face as he sat across from her, his elbows on his knees, leaning forward and commanding her complete attention.
"I'm leaving town tomorrow. You'll never see me or hear from me again. I'm starting over somewhere else," he informed her, eliciting a panicked look from the blond woman before him.
"What?! Where are you going? What are you going to do? You're only a boy!" she argued, desperate to change his mind.
"Cut the crap, Carter. I'm not a boy, no matter what I look like, and you know it!" he snapped.
"Still, the world sees you as a boy, Jon. What are you going to do to survive? Why not just stick to the plan?" she argued, her concern mounting.
"The plan? You mean the one that has me dealing with teenagers as my peers for the next few years? The one that forces me to go through high school again? The one that ignores the knowledge and experience that I gathered during the last thirty-plus years? THAT plan?!"
He had stood up and walked up to where she was sitting, talking down to her in exactly the same manner Jack O'Neill did when he was pissed, and Sam could almost see the older man's face superimposed on the young as he spoke. Unable to hold his angry gaze, she looked down to her clasped hands. "I'm sorry. I guess… I hadn't looked at it that way," she finally whispered.
"No, I guess you didn't. I bet you didn't think about it much at all. It's easier that way," he cynically commented.
"That's not fair! Your fate is out of my hands. I had nothing to do with these decisions and you know it!" she defended herself, standing up and taking satisfaction on the fact that she towered over him.
"Sit down!" he yelled, and Sam automatically obeyed, no less intimidated by Jack O'Neill as a boy than she could be by the grown up version.
She anxiously looked up at him, knowing that he was angry enough to get physical if she dared use her height to her advantage again. He was practically shaking with resentment, which made Sam wonder whether raging hormones were making him lose the tightly held control he was famous for.
The Jack O'Neill she knew only showed his anger when he wanted to. In moments of vulnerability, where his anger was at its hottest, he was at his calmest. But not now. Now Sam could see the rage and impotence bubbling like lava in his brown eyes.
They stared at each other for long moments, he standing over her and she looking up at him, waiting for him to calm down. She closed her eyes and sighed with relief when he finally turned around and walked back to his seat, standing before it for a few moments before he sat down again. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't come here to yell at you. I know it's not your fault. I came here to ask for a small favor."
"Anything," she immediately replied. "But, please, don't go."
Her plea clearly surprised him, and he held her eyes for a few bewildered seconds before he almost whispered, "I have to go."
Sam shook her head at him, her features stricken with despair, but he insisted. "I would go nuts here, trying to live the life of a kid, knowing that you guys are close by, doing your jobs and getting together for team nights while I study for the next mid-term."
"Let's try to come up with another plan. Maybe you can work for the Air Force or something. You don't have to be on your own!" Sam insisted.
"I'm nothing but an nuisance, Sam," Jon responded.
"Don't say that!" she almost sobbed.
"But it's true. It would have been better if I had been eliminated. But I'm alive, and I intend to stay that way." He stood up, walking toward her and pulling something out of his jeans pocket. "There's only one thing I need you to do for me."
Handing her a small, shiny white object the size of an egg, he asked, "Give this to Thor next time you see him."
"What is it?"
"It's a communication device. He gave it to me before he left. He wanted me to have a way to contact him if I needed him."
"Why don't you keep it?" she asked, frowning at him.
"I'm making a clean break, Carter. No more Air Force, no more alien friends, no more SGC, no more SG-1."
"My God, Jon! Please, don't do this! Where will you go?" Her anguish was clear, but he was determined.
"Don't worry. I have plenty of contacts and options. Life as a black ops operative does have its advantages. I have a new identity already. I even have a stash of money, kindly provided by those who owed me big favors. And I didn't even have to show my face to get what I needed," he smiled.
"I won't let you go!" Sam exclaimed, standing up again. But Jon just shook his head at her.
"You can't stop me, Carter. You know that." Then he headed toward the front door.
"Why me?!" she demanded. "Why come to me and not Daniel?" She walked behind him, following him to the front door, desperate to stop him. "Damn it! Why do you do this to me?!"
He must have known that he was placing her in an impossible position. As a member of the Air Force, she had to report him immediately. As a friend, she owed him her loyalty. As the woman that had secretly loved him for years, she was in despair.
"If you don't figure that one out, Carter, then you're not as smart as I thought you were," was his cryptic reply.
"What are you talking about?! Damn you! Don't do this!" she begged, pushing her front door closed again when he started to open it, leaning against it and blocking his way out.
Jon looked at her beautiful, distressed features as if trying to memorize them, and his hand slowly came up to her face, his fingers softly stroking her cheek. Sam froze, not knowing how to respond. This was Jon, a fifteen-year old boy, but he was also Jack, the same man that had been her CO two weeks ago.
"Close your eyes, Carter," he softly commanded, making her widen them instead. "Go ahead. Close your eyes."
After another moment of hesitation, Sam complied, tensely waiting as his fingers still stroked her cheek tenderly. She felt him get closer, almost opening her eyes when his mouth grazed her ear, making her shiver. Her body was still plastered against the door, blocking his exit, and now his was almost covering hers, holding her captive. "Remember the room? The one where we locked up what we felt for each other?"
Sam was now shaking, and she wasn't sure why. With her eyes closed and his soft voice in her ear, his Jack O'Neill scent assaulting her, she could almost believe that it was her CO the one touching her so intimately. She hesitantly nodded, acknowledging his reference to the "room."
"We can unlock that room now, Sam. If you want," he said. Then he stepped back, allowing her to open her eyes and stare at him in shock.
Was he proposing that she leave with him? That she abandon her life, her career, her friends and her mission? That she disappear with him into anonymity and pursue a sexual relationship with a teenager?!
When he gently pushed her aside and opened the door again, she didn't try to stop him. She just watched him step out onto her porch, leaving her door wide open, and turn back to give her one last, loving look before he walked away and disappeared into the shadows.
Sam was frozen for long seconds, staring into the darkness and trying to convince herself that he hadn't said those words, that she had misunderstood. But despite her outrage and confusion, her heart was singing with hope and illusion, and she had to snap out of it and firmly close the door before she gave in to the urge of running after him.
She had to turn him in for his own good. She couldn't let him go. It wasn't safe! She should call Colonel O'Neill and tell him. She knew what her duty was.
But the more she hesitated, the more she realized that she just couldn't betray him. He had come to her because he knew that she wouldn't do so. He knew that he could trust her. And she couldn't betray his trust. Damn him!
Despondently heading to her bedroom, she fervently hoped that he would be okay, wherever he went. He was Jack O'Neill. He was the most resourceful and slippery person she'd ever known. And she just had to believe that, teenager or not, he could take care of himself.
Sam mutely sat in the briefing room the following evening after their return from their one-day, uneventful mission to P6X-998. She had quickly informed General Hammond of the mining possibilities of the promising new planet, thankfully devoid of Goa'ulds and Jaffas, and the general had then proceeded to dourly inform them of Jon O'Neill's disappearance.
The high school principal had tried to locate Jack that morning when the youth had failed to report to class. In his absence, General Hammond had sent SFs to Jon's apartment and found it empty of personal belongings. Jonathan O'Neill was AWOL.
"Where could he have gone? He's fifteen years old!" Daniel inquired, his alarm evident.
"He's not fifteen, Daniel," Jack contradicted, not looking surprised at all.
"You know what I mean!" the archeologist responded.
"All efforts to track his exit from the city have been fruitless. We thought maybe you would have some ideas of where to look, since he's you," General Hammond addressed Jack.
"He's not me!" the colonel grumpily protested. At the general's impatient glare, he added, "Okay, he's me, but he's not really me. And I don't know where he'd go. There're a million possibilities."
"Are you saying that you have no idea what you would have done if you wanted to disappear?" the general challenged, clearly not believing him.
"I'm saying that there are so many ways I could disappear that it would take us years to track him down," Jack clarified. "Just let him go," he then added, surprising everyone at the table except for Sam, who just watched him carefully.
"Why?" General Hammond calmly asked.
"He didn't ask for this. And he has a right to live his life as he pleases. Going back to high school was clearly not what he wanted to do. I was surprised he went along with the Pentagon's plans for him to begin with."
"He's a liability, Jack," Hammond argued.
"No, he's not," Daniel stated, claiming everyone's attention. "Jack would never compromise us, so Jon won't either. We should let him go."
General Hammond considered Daniel's and Jack's words carefully, staring at them as if he were trying to figure out whether they had known this was coming. Then his inquisitive stare fell on Sam, who quietly observed everyone's interactions but refrained from making a sound.
Her eyes held his, wide and suppliant. If he directly asked her if she knew about Jon's plans, she didn't know whether she could lie to him. So she silently begged him not to ask, and he seemed to understand. With a deep sigh, he finally said, "Very well. I will pass on your recommendation. You're all dismissed."
The older man was the first one to vacate the room, while SG-1 awkwardly stood around the table and stared at each other. It was evident to Sam that everyone was wondering whether the others knew about Jon's whereabouts, but nobody was asking.
"Let's go home. Rest up this weekend and be ready for the mission on Monday," Jack grimly ordered, sending a meaningful look in Sam's direction.
She determinedly ignored it and hurriedly headed toward the locker rooms, eager to go home and hide.
Sam gratefully arrived home and shut her door, leaning on it as if trying to keep all her troubles outside. She had never felt like such a hypocrite! She had sat there and let everyone believe that she had been as surprised as anyone about Jon's disappearance.
Her only consolation was that, if she had betrayed Jon's trust, she would be feeling ten times worse right now. She walked into her kitchen acknowledging that she should eat something but unable to stomach food, so she opened the lonely bottle of white wine in her fridge and poured herself a generous amount in a large goblet. She surprised herself by downing half the glass thirstily, refilling it without pause and walking into her living room with the goblet in one hand and the bottle in the other.
She sank onto her couch and turned on the TV, again drinking deeply from the glass and realizing that the wine was quickly going to her head. With nothing else in her stomach and as tired as she was, she shouldn't have been surprised. She kicked her shoes off and got comfortable, not caring whether she got drunk or not.
Ten minutes later, Sam had drunk two thirds of the bottle and was falling asleep on her couch, trying not to think of Jon and his welfare. She was almost gone, in the twilight between awareness and oblivion, when her doorbell rang, snapping her wide awake again.
Muttering grumpily about inopportune visitors, she opened the door and found her CO silently standing there, his dark eyes boring into her as she gawked at him open-mouthed. "Sir!" she gasped, suddenly afraid. She knew why he was here. You didn't have to be a genius to figure that one out.
"Carter," he sardonically replied. "Are you drunk?"
"Drunk? No, Sir! Of course not!" she indignantly replied, swaying lightly on her feet and suddenly realizing that she was still holding the almost empty bottle of white wine in her left hand.
Setting it quickly aside, she justified, "I just had a little bit. I wasn't hungry, just tired, so… I just wanted a little bit of wine, that's all." She stepped aside and waved him in, realizing that she was rambling. "Please, come in. Would you like some?" she innocently asked, tumbling a little as she grabbed the bottle again, offering it to him.
Jack smiled at her, more a grimace of amusement than an actual smirk, and shook his head. "No, thanks. I'll take a beer if you have one."
"I think there's still some Guinness in the fridge from our last team night, Sir. Please help yourself," she offered, gratefully reaching her couch again and flopping onto it.
Before she knew it, Jack was sitting across from her, in exactly the same place and position as his younger version had done the night before. He was holding an open beer bottle in his hand, and half of it was already gone. Had she drifted away momentarily?
"Is there something you need to tell me, Carter?" he suddenly asked, his piercing brown eyes unwavering.
"Me? Why?" she asked, busying herself with pouring the rest of the bottle's contents into her goblet.
"You seem… upset," he said, his knowing look unnerving.
"I'm not upset!" she protested, deciding that indignation was a good deflecting tactic at the moment.
"Not even a little bit?"
"Not even…" she faltered, then she recouped, "why are you asking me all these questions? Why can't you just let me rest, like you told us to?" She stood up, drank deeply from her glass and started to pace. "Why are you here in the middle of the night? Aren't you tired? I'm tired! I think I'll be turning in soon."
"It's only 1900 hours, Carter," he amusedly replied, his eyes almost dancing with laughter.
"Really?" she frowned, squinting at her watch as if trying to verify the time, then changing her mind and drinking again.
"Really," he smiled.
"Oh. Well… I'm sleepy!"
"Carter?" he almost growled, standing up and walking toward her.
Sam had been in the middle of swallowing a large amount of wine and almost choked when she saw him approach, her eyes large as saucers. Coughing a little, she strategically stepped back, keeping a safe distance from her forthcoming CO. "Yes, Sir?"
"Are you okay?" he asked, still getting closer.
Sam was now backed against her couch, with nowhere to go. "I'm fine!" she answered, a little too loud. When he didn't stop walking, she fell back on the couch, balancing her goblet carefully so that her precious wine wouldn't spill. "You? Are you okay?" she nervously asked, trying to act nonchalant.
Jack stood over her, scrutinizing her wide-eyed features and not responding. Sam could have sworn that he was about to interrogate her further, but he seemed to change his mind. Then he slowly sat next to her, his eyes intent, and he gently addressed her, as if trying to calm a skittish mare.
"Whatever you do, I know you'll do what's right. I trust you, Carter." He held her blue gaze meaningfully, almost hypnotizing her, and Sam was unable to even blink.
She stared back at him, looking almost terrified and holding the goblet of wine against her chest as if it could provide her with much needed protection. Swallowing hard, she almost whispered, "Thank you, Sir."
Jack nodded, a sad little smile on his face, and replied, "Think nothing of it. Good night, Carter. Try not to pass out on the couch."
Sam numbly nodded back and watched him stand up and leave. He gently closed her front door behind him without looking back, and Sam let out a deep breath she didn't know she had been holding. She slowly stood up and watched him through her window as he jumped into his truck and left, then she carefully walked into her foyer, looking for her bag.
Setting her goblet aside, she reached inside and pulled out the Asgard communicator Jon had given her, stroking it with her shaking fingers pensively, deeply torn between her duty and her desire to follow her heart.
Gripping the small device tightly, she closed her eyes and prayed for guidance, bursting into tears as she thought of the lonely youth that used to be her adored Jack O'Neill. She blamed her weakness entirely on the now empty bottle of wine, but this didn't prevent the tears from escaping. Then with a gasp she opened her watery eyes and almost cried out.
Holding the stone tightly against her chest, she sighed, almost smiling. Now she knew what to do. Now she understood what Jon had been suggesting.
Nathaniel Lowe, alias Jonathan O'Neill, alias Jack O'Neill, former colonel of the U.S. Air Force and current handyman for hire in beautiful Cohasset, Minnesota, calmly threw his line and watched it float on the cold, calm waters of his pond, uselessly trying not to think about what he had left behind in Colorado Springs.
He had dreamt about her again. When he had suddenly awakened that morning, he could swear he could still feel the softness of her skin under his fingers, and he'd closed his eyes remembering her sweet scent that night as he'd whispered in her ear, willing her to understand.
That had been a week ago. It had only taken him two days to reach his destination. Shadowy friends had facilitated his transition into his new life, and he hadn't had any trouble with the locals so far. The few people he had been in contact with had thought nothing of the young-looking handyman advertising his services with leaflets in strategic locations around town.
Jon figured that Jack would know how to find him if he really wanted to, but he was hoping that his older self would be happy with his sudden disappearance and would be letting him be. Thor, however, was another matter altogether. He had no doubt that the little guy would be calling every time he came to visit Earth.
His Asgard friend had made it clear to him that he felt responsible for his well being, and had insistently offered to clone SG-1 to keep him company in his new life. He had also been anxious about Jon's vulnerability in his youthful body, and had implanted a tracking device under his skin so that he wouldn't misplace his cloned friend.
Jon had adamantly refused to allow his team to be cloned, of course. Something like that would have had to come from them. He could never ask them to do that and go through the hardships he was going through now.
It was an unnatural, cruel thing to be ripped away from your life, with no rights to your belongings, your relationships, or even your past. He was like drifting wood in the ocean, and he could never wish that on any of his loved ones. Especially not on her.
Still, in his immense selfishness and unbearable loneliness, he had tried. His pathetic attempt to lure her into his arms, however, had obviously failed. She'd chosen not to join him in his solitude, and he really couldn't blame her. She deserved better than that. He'd always known that she was way too good for him. She was out of his league, and he'd been a fool for hoping and for dreaming. So the new identity papers he'd obtained for her would go to waste. He would hold on to them for just a little longer, just in case. The laptop… he could probably use that.
A small scraping noise coming from behind him startled him, but he didn't move a muscle. He knew someone was quietly standing behind him, and he prepared for action. He looked like a kid, but his keen senses were as sharp as always, so he instinctively reacted when a hand lightly brushed his shoulder.
He grabbed the intruder's wrist and twisted, pulling hard. A slight body came flying over his shoulder with a loud squeal, long, blond hair streaming like a banner, and he was barely able to prevent it from crashing hard onto the ground by keeping old of the delicate wrist and wrapping his other arm around a slim waist.
Holding on to the slender body with one arm, he quickly shoved hair out of the way to discover wide blue eyes staring up at him, eyes that very quickly turned stormy gray with indignation. "JEEEZ, JON! Why don't you finish the job and kick me while you're at it?!"
The youthful voice coming from the cutest blond girl he had ever laid eyes on was unmistakably Carter's, and he could do nothing but gawk at her, taking in the flawless white skin, the round eyes, the long lashes and the deep dimple on her left cheek. She was trying to stand, but he still held on to her, making it impossible for her to regain her balance.
Sam stopped trying to get to her feet and let him hold her, her right arm holding on to his neck and her left hand grasping his t-shirt. After a few seconds of irritated outrage, she saw the humor in their situation and she giggled, her beautiful Carter smile flashing white, even teeth very close to his open mouth.
"Carter," he whispered, a smile finally taking form as his fingers stroked her face the same way he'd done it when he'd said goodbye.
"Yes, Sir," she confirmed, her tone sweet, playful and seductive at the same time.
"What took you so long?" he asked, still holding on to her tightly.
"Oh, well… you know, things," she jokingly answered. "Actually it was Thor's fault. He took a few days to get back to me. He says hi, by the w…mpgh!"
His lips were now firmly pressing to hers, his arm holding her slim body against his and his hand buried in her long tresses. Sam felt a sudden bolt of electricity reach all the way to her toes and she whimpered with delighted surrender as she opened her mouth under his, allowing his tongue to explore.
He slowly sank to the ground with her in his arms, not parting from her mouth for a second, his chest about to explode with intense happiness.
When they finally came up for air after long minutes of hungry exploration, they giggled joyfully, their fingers tracing youthful features and their lips nipping at each other's mouth as they reveled in their isolation, knowing that absolutely nothing stood in their way anymore, and that they had a lifetime to spend with each other.