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 Fragile Balance of Politics

 

Chapter 14

General Hammond nodded as he walked into the briefing room. "Colonel, it's good to see you again."

"And it's lovely to see you, sir," Jack replied jauntily.

"Doctor Fraiser has assured me that Johnny is going to be fine; the cellular decay is completely reversed, the 'abnormality' has been removed, and his internal organs are all functioning perfectly," the general said. "I've spoken with the president. He's arranged for the Air Force to pay Johnny a stipend every month, and has set him up with a foster family."

Daniel grimaced slightly.

"This family has been thoroughly investigated," Hammond said quietly, having seen the look on the archaeologist's face, and understanding the reason behind his dislike of the foster-care system. "Because of the...circumstances...Johnny will be monitored. We'll make certain he's well cared for. There will also be counseling for him, what he's dealing with is a lot for a fifteen year old. Who is technically only a few days old, and has forty-nine years worth of memories." He smiled. "There's always the possibility that he'll opt to join the Air Force."

Jack couldn't hide his own smile. He didn't think the kid had a choice. It was in his blood...his DNA. "Where is Mini-Me, anyway?"

"Right now, he's sleeping in the VIP room."

Jack started. He was still sorting through all of the 'memories' that Thor had downloaded into his brain. He figured it must be how Radar felt when she had her downloads. It was annoying as hell. It was just dumb luck that had prevented Junior from proposing to Sam...little shit had been thinking about it, that was certainly there, clear as day. He had to admit, the kid had gone through hell. And had handled it like...well...like an O'Neill. He couldn't help but be proud of the kid. Could certainly understand his motivation. If it had been him...hell, it had been him! He stopped that thought in its tracks. Not going there; not going to even try to deal with it. It made his head hurt. There was one thing he did need to know about..."That guard he clobbered-"

"Is doing just fine. Slight concussion, nothing worse," the general assured him. He turned his attention to Casey. "I've read your report on your mission to Annika's reality. I will take this opportunity to warn you, however. I do not want you to ever go through that mirror again without letting me know. I won't promise not to disagree with you. I will promise to hear you out. Had Doctor Jackson not recognized your boots on the floor, we might not have realized where you were in time."

"I was never in danger, sir," Casey argued softly. "As soon as I wasn't needed, they would have seen to it that I got home safely."

"This time. In that reality. We have a rapport with this particular reality. That is not true for any other realities that exist out there."

"Well, there's the other one we visited, sir. The one we accidentally were tossed into," Daniel pointed out. "I don't think we have anything to fear from them, either."

"Be that as it may, Casey is to report either to me, or to Colonel O'Neill, any time she feels the need to be near the mirror. She is not to go running through it, for any reason, without permission." The general's blue eyes bored into her. "Do I make myself clear?"

She lowered her eyes. "Yes, sir."

Hammond turned his attention to Sam. "Now, about this Loki...you say Thor placed him under arrest?"

"Well, the Asgard equivalent," Sam replied. "He placed 'towing beams' on Loki's ship, and had him locked in one of the cargo holds on his ship."

"Handcuffed," Daniel added.

"Did he give a reason for not replying to our first messages?"

"Yes, sir. He was studying a temporal distortion anomaly around a decaying neutron star. It interfered with his communications systems. He gave me a copy of his observations. I think it was a peace offering, for what Loki had done," the major reported.

"Yeah...Loki makes a Mini-Me, screws it up, and a bit of star gazing is supposed to make up for it," Jack muttered under his breath.

Casey giggled. "Well, that's proof that you and Johnny aren't identical."

"How's that?"

"We had dubbed his condition the 'Mini-Jack syndrome'-"

"You dubbed it that," Daniel interrupted, his cheek twitching.

"And he didn't find it amusing," Casey finished, tossing a look at her Husband. "He was the only one who didn't like it."

"What's not to like about it?" Jack asked, eyes slightly widened.

"Maybe because he was the 'Mini-Me'?" Daniel suggested, raising his eyebrows, his expression suggesting that both his Wife and his best friend should have figured that out for themselves.

"Possibly. Or he just doesn't have my finely honed sense of humor," Jack replied briskly.

Snorts and snickers moved around the table.

General Hammond smiled. "Casey, per your request, I have been authorized to send letters to Mr. Werner and Dr. Wu, expressing the Air Force's gratitude for their cooperation, and assuring them that while their experiences must remain a secret for the time being, what they endured was very real."

She beamed a smile at the man sitting at the head of the table. "Thank you, sir!"

Daniel shook his head mentally. Typical. She wouldn't have been able to rest, not knowing how those men suffered.

"Doctor Jackson, your report states that Casey's abilities were being affected by this Mibi?"

"Yes, sir. When he'd rendered her unconscious on the astral plane where we were all taken, he had to put a 'hook' in her mind. To control her. Apparently when I destroyed the illusion, I took him by surprise. He fled, but he'd left that hook there...in a way, he was still connected to her. All of the anguish that Casey felt through those nightmares was what Annika was enduring, because Mibi was causing it all."

"My abilities were affected, because all of that negative emotion was blocking me," Casey added.

"Your self-doubt didn't help," Sam pointed out gently.

"I know," Casey admitted. "I just didn't realize it...not consciously." She looked at the commanding officer. "I'm fine now."

"Good to know." Hammond shuffled through the notes in front of him. "I think that just about covers everything. Go home team, get some rest. You deserve it."

"Well, not me. I slept for three days. I feel like I could-"

"Have fun, Jack," Daniel said. "I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep."

"Me, too!" Casey declared.

"I can't wait to see my bed," Sam grinned.

"I will also welcome rest," Teal'c said.

"You're all boring."

"We're all exhausted. Running after Mini-Jack wasn't easy ya know!" Casey said.

"He is you, after all," Sam grinned cheekily.

"No, I'm me. He's him," Jack replied. Frowned at how odd the comment sounded.

"Dismissed," Hammond chuckled.

The team rose to their feet. "O'Malley's?" Jack asked. Then frowned. Glanced at his watch. Just after midnight. "Okay...how about IHOP?"

"I could eat," Sam nodded.

"As could I."

"Count me in. Case?"

"Sounds good to me."

The five started for the doorway. Casey squeezed Daniel's fingers. "Hold the elevator. I'll be right there." Without waiting for a reply, she dashed toward the general's office.

"I'm not going anywhere," Daniel muttered, watching her tap lightly on the door, then step inside the room.

She smiled at the general. "Sir, about my resignation...you can tear it up."

"Already did. I had no intention of accepting it."

"Even if it had been what I wanted...what was best?" Casey asked softly, somewhat surprised.

"When I was convinced that you were thinking clearly, then I would have discussed it with you," Hammond explained gently. "Given the circumstances, I realized that you weren't."

"And they call me the psychic," she murmured.

"Sometimes, it's just a matter of knowing your people," Hammond replied, his voice low.

"You know us well, sir," she acknowledged.

"And it's my honor," he told her.

"Ours as well, sir. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Casey."

 

A A A A A A

 

Jack tossed another log onto the fire. Peeked out the window as he passed it. Yep, still raining. It had started shortly after the team had left the base. He sat down beside Sam, stretched his legs toward the warmth emanating from the hearth. He could feel the gazes of his teammates on him.  Their time together had been spent hashing and rehashing the events of the past three days. Promises had been solicited and given. The bonds that connected the team seemed to have tightened just a bit more, wrapping each individual in the protective love from which those bindings had been created. "So is everyone all right?" he asked quietly.

"Better now that you're back," Sam replied, snuggling closer to his side.

"I'll second that," Casey said.

For the first time in more than two hours silence filled the living room of Sam's house, the teammates comfortable and warm...and full of pancakes, waffles, and French toast. It had been a celebration of sorts. They had ordered damned near every type of pancakes listed on the menu. Everyone sharing. Laughing. Exchanging their thoughts about the ordeal. It had been Sam's idea for everyone to meet at her house...for 'one last cup of coffee'. It was here that the conversation had turned serious as they dealt with the fears the past days had wrought. Helping Jack to 'catch up'. He had the memories, but not the actual experiences. Reconnecting...in that special way that they did after each mission. Or crisis. Whichever it had been.

Daniel started chuckling softly. "You know, I don't think we can top this week. On the scale of crazy shit that happens to SG-1, I think the past couple of days have pegged the meter."

"Sure wish I could have heard that tree giving the Ascended hell," Jack said. He 'remembered' the event. But still...it would have been nice to have actually been there for it.

"It was classic," Casey giggled.

"I have the feeling that the Ascended are going to be walking the straight and narrow for awhile," Daniel continued. "As well as those on the Fifth Level. They're the ones ultimately responsible for what happened...in both realities."

"Which is why Oakey handed your guilt over to them," Sam said. "It wasn't yours to carry in the first place."

Daniel reached up from his place on the floor, just in front of the sofa, and squeezed the major's free hand.

"They're not used to dealing with such...negative...emotions," Casey said softly. "They're suffering a lot."

"Good!" Jack declared. "They won't suffer any more than what you did, will they? And that whole fiasco with Daniel being declared dead was Mibi's fault!"

There was no denying that fact. There had been...well...whispers was the best way to describe what the team had sensed, just before Mibi had been destroyed. What had been his thoughts, his schemes, his plans...they had heard all of it, just before his final scream of defeat. That it had happened in less than a heartbeat was something that they didn't contemplate. Some things were best left alone...unexamined.

"Casey Jackson, do you still doubt your gift?" Teal'c asked quietly from beside Sam.

She smiled. "Nope. Oh, I know that I'll still be frustrated, and chances are, I'm still going to struggle with deciphering what I see or hear, but at least I don't have that overwhelming sense of...failure."

"You've never failed us, Case," Daniel said softly.

"Not even once," Sam added.

"Even if what you said didn't make sense, it worked," Jack tossed in.

"Indeed."

Her cheeks glowing from the affirmations of their faith, Casey tossed smiles at her friends. Scooted closer to Daniel.

"So what's on the agenda for tomorrow...er...today?" Sam asked, glancing at her watch. The team had been given the following day off, to regroup before picking up the mantle of battle against the Goa'uld.

The team had managed to cat nap during the day, waiting for the night...and the chance to retrieve their Jack, and to find the 'cure' for Johnny. The previous seventy two hours had been grueling, to say the least. She was certain she wasn't the only one who was tired to the bone. "I'm sleeping in," Casey declared.

"That makes two of us," Daniel said, a yawn escaping in spite of his best efforts to contain it.

"We should probably head home," Casey suggested, noting the weariness in her Husband's eyes.

"Good idea." Daniel sat up, grabbed his boots.

"I, too, shall bid you goodnight," Teal'c said quietly, rising from the couch. Without a doubt O'Neill and Major Carter would be eager to spend time alone.

In a flurry of hugs and a chorus of goodnight's, Jack and Sam found themselves alone.

"I missed you," Sam whispered.

It was odd, having missed three days...but having the memories of those days. He remembered, even though he'd never lived them. Each memory had the quality of a photograph...something that he recognized, but didn't actually recall. It was as if he'd walked off the base, and then been awakened at home. Which, Jack thought, was exactly what had happened. He could remember...or at least call to the forefront of his mind...everything that Young Jack had said, or done...or even thought. But the emotions...those were muted, as if they were mere reflections of what the teenager had been feeling. There was one particular conversation that had occurred between Mini-Me...Johnny, he firmly reminded himself...between Johnny...and Sam. It echoed again in his head - "...a perfectly good fiancée..." The thought was one he'd had several times...he'd considered when he should propose that they make their relationship more...permanent. Apparently the stress of the situation had brought his emotions forefront. Or...those of Mini-Me...damn it!...Johnny. Who had, at that moment, still believed that he was Jack O'Neill. The real Jack O'Neill. It was impossible for Jack to wrap his mind around the entire situation. How the kid had dealt with everything was beyond comprehension. And a testimony to his strength.

And she'd never picked up on it. Her own emotions had been as turbulent as his...as Johnny's...had been. She had missed the one word that would have clued her in to just how much he loved her...needed her. He wasn't certain whether he was relieved...or disappointed. At least the little shit hadn't gone through with his plan to propose before he died. While Jack could certainly understand the sentiment, it would have been a hell of a lousy thing to do to Sam. Wouldn't it?

He glanced over at her, his smile automatic when she gave him that sexy smile of hers, those sapphire blue eyes making promises his body was responding ardently to.

"So, do you have any special plans for today?"

He shifted uncomfortably.

"Jack?"

"I...uh...I was going to drive Mini-" He shook his head. "Johnny is starting school today. Thought I'd drive him over there. His first day and all."

Sam smiled, wreathed his face with her hands and tenderly kissed him. "That's a sweet idea."

"Well, yeah. I get those from time to time," Jack grinned crookedly.

"Any plans for tonight?"

"Oh, yeah. Come on, Major. I have a couple of days to make up."

She wrapped her arm around his waist when his went around her shoulders. "You were right, you know."

"Of course I was. Right about what?"

"There's nothing wrong with your stamina."

He grinned again. That was a challenge if he'd ever heard one. And a challenge he'd be most happy to rise to. His body was cooperating fully.

 

A A A A A A

 

He opened his eyes. Tried to identify the sound that had stirred him from his slumber. He sat up, heart pounding. Looked over at the sleeping form of his Wife. Felt a smile tug at his lips when he heard it again. She was giggling. One of his most favorite sounds. Reaching behind his shoulder, Daniel turned on the small lamp that sat on the bedside table.

Her pink lips were pulled into a smile. A look of wonder animated her beautiful face. "It's amazing," she murmured, then giggled again.

Whatever she was dreaming, it wasn't that damned nightmare. She wouldn't be haunted by that particular demon of the dark. Not now that Mibi had been destroyed. Now that she no longer bore the burden of guilt that had never been hers to carry. No doubt there would be other nightmares...their work and her tender heart guaranteed that. But for the moment... He smiled again when a third soft giggle filled the air. Unable to resist, he ran his hand over her shoulder, down her arm, wrapped his fingers around hers.

She shifted slightly. Sensed more than felt the tender touch. Slowly opened her eyes, blinked against the dim light. "Hey," she said groggily, smiling up at him.

"Hey," he replied softly. He brushed a strand of blonde silk from her cheek.

"What's wrong?"

"Not a thing," he replied honestly.

"What woke you up?"

Daniel smiled. "I heard you giggling."

She blushed slightly. "Oh. Sorry."

"Don't apologize. I love to hear your giggle."

"I was dreaming."

"So I surmised."

"I was...flying...with Oakey again. Oh, Daniel, it was...it was breathtaking! I can't describe how beautiful it was! We were watching a nebula...and all of the...gases?"

He nodded, confirming her supposition.

"The gases were dancing for us...performing this magnificent ballet...moving through and around each other...trying to outdo one another with their color changes." She sighed softly, rolled to her side, propped her head on her upturned palm. "It was beautiful."

"I'm glad," he smiled.

"I wish I could share it...that you could see it," she said.

"Maybe someday we'll go for a visit, and we'll both take a 'ride' with Oakey," he grinned, tweaking her nose playfully.

"Maybe. Right now..." she smiled seductively. "I'll just have to send you to the stars on my own."

"My favorite way to go," he murmured, surrendering himself to her embrace.

True to her word, Daniel found himself spiraling among stars as she made love to him, giving him all that she had...all that she was. He returned the favor, sending her on a flight that had her crying out his name.

Sated, at peace for the first time in months, Casey snuggled against his chest. Closed her eyes, and drifted back to sleep.

Daniel held her tightly. They'd won this battle. How many more were left to fight? Together...they could face anything, as long as they were together. Comforted by that thought, he followed his Wife into the land of Nod.

 

A A A A A A

 

He pulled the truck to a stop in front of the large house. New construction, or at least, not more than five years old. Nice neighborhood. Jack looked around approvingly. Okay, so the kid was going to be living in a decent home. He took a deep breath. Johnny had assured him that it wasn't necessary for him to make a 'special trip' just to see him off on his first day of school. He was fairly certain the kid knew that actually, it was. Although for the life of him, in that moment - when instinct was telling him to drive away, and let sleeping dogs lie - he wasn't sure he could remember just what that reason might be.

Someone had pulled aside the curtain in that big window in the front. Two young faces peered out at him. Unless he wanted the neighbors thinking he was scoping the place out, Jack decided it would be in his best interest to get his ass up to the door and ring the bell. He glanced up at the sun as he crawled out of the cab, squinting behind his dark glasses. Sure would have helped if it had been this warm...

Whoa. That was just freaky as hell! Memories that weren't actually his, just...there. Was that what Mini-Me...er...Johnny...was dealing with? How damned annoying would that be, having memories that weren't actually yours, demanding attention and getting in the way...Jack shook his head. The kid was tough. He was an O'Neill. He'd make his own memories. And...if something he had learned could help the kid...well, sort of made it worth the freaky part, didn't it?

He reached out and pressed the doorbell. Waited for several long moments before the door swung open.

Dressed in jeans, an orange pullover and what appeared to be a denim jacket over the top of a gray hoodie, Johnny stood nervously, switching his backpack from one shoulder to the other, and then back again.

"Well, ready to go?" Jack asked, trying to sound more chipper than he felt. It was just downright unnatural to be looking at 'himself'...at the tender age of fifteen.

"Yeah, I suppose so," Johnny replied. He glanced over his shoulder, tossed a rakish smile at the woman who waited in the hallway, just a few feet behind him. She gave her foster son a warm smile in return, nodded her head slightly in Jack's direction, and disappeared back into the kitchen.

The two walked in silence to the truck. Jack glanced at his passenger a time or two as he headed for the school. "So, nice folks you're living with?"

"Yeah. They remind me of Mom and Dad," Johnny replied easily. Then grimaced. "Well, you know...I mean..."

"Good, glad to know you're with decent people," Jack said, cutting off the awkward...apology? According to General Hammond, Johnny's foster father was a retired OSI agent. Someone who understood the need for...discretion. He had been briefed on the situation. The consensus was that young Johnny would need someone in his life he could talk to freely about what he'd experienced. He'd be spending time with Mackenzie, too, Jack had learned. Not that he gave a lot of credence to head-shrinkers.

"Yeah." The sound of a tenor voice came from the stereo. Johnny knew instantly that it was Peter Pears, performing 'How Happy Could I Be With Either', from 'The Beggar's Opera'. Yeah, just what he needed the other kids to hear when the truck pulled up at the school. For just a moment he wondered if there was any significance to that particular selection. He cast a sideways look at the man beside him...the man he had been cloned from. He shuddered slightly, still dealing with the reality of being a clone.

Knowing himself...knowing him...Johnny was fairly certain the choice was as random as simply being the CD in the player at the time. "Mind if I find something a bit more...current?"

Jack took his eyes from the road just long enough to look at Mini-me...er...Johnny. Couldn't see anything behind the very cool shades the kid was wearing. He wondered briefly where the kid had found them. Realized that like himself, Mini-me was using the dark lenses to hide behind. Shook himself mentally. "Go ahead."

Within seconds the entire cab of the pickup seemed to vibrate with the reverberated beat pounding from the radio. Johnny nodded his head in time to the music. It wasn't the Stones, or Led Zepplin, but it wasn't bad. And if he wanted to fit in, he had to act, and think, like a fifteen year old. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. After all, he was only fifteen years old. No need for him to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He...Jack...could do that. This time...this time he was going to get it right. Grades wouldn't be a problem, he probably had more knowledge than most of the teachers whose classes he would be sitting through. Oh, he'd make certain his grades were good. And this time, he'd get into the Academy with honors.

That thought brought him up short. Academy? Air Force Academy? Again he sent a sideways glance at his companion. Maybe...maybe this time he'd do something different. He loved to fly...and those F-302's were sweet. But...maybe this time around, he'd graduate from high school with good grades, get into a good university, get a business degree. Buy a few boats. Run a charter fishing service. From somewhere warm...in the Caribbean. Yeah...that had a nice sound to it...

The school wasn't far from the neighborhood where Johnny resided. He'd have to take the bus, but according to his research, it was a good school. Jack pulled to the curb. Reached over to turn the volume down slightly on the radio. Felt the kid's eyes on him. Waiting.

A new song began to play through the speakers...Bon Jovi singing about...

"...It's my life
It's now or never
I ain't gonna live forever
I just wanna live while I'm alive..."

Rather fitting, Johnny thought idly.

Jack looked around. Typical of Colorado spring weather, the snow that had been dumped just a day or so ago was gone, and the air already held a promise of warmth. There were kids standing in groups of two or three or four, talking and laughing. One particular threesome of girls watched the truck, then whispered and giggled among themselves. He didn't understand them any better now than he had at that age. "So...you're sure about this?"

Johnny watched the girls for a moment. "I've thought a lot about it. And, you know...you...me...I mean...we never really did embrace high school. I don't know...haven't you ever just wanted to go back and do it all over again? I mean, especially with all you know now?"

Absolute certainty filled Jack's face. "No."

"Well, from here on in, you and me are different. Which is why I'm gonna do this." He climbed out of the truck.

"Hey!"

Johnny paused, turned around to look at the man he would someday be...again. No, he thought firmly. He'd only look like that man. The song on the radio had changed. He couldn't help but feel as if it were fate. Lily Frost began to sing her question 'Who Am I?'

Jack battled himself for a moment. Part of him fought against having any more contact with the kid. Another part declared he should be more concerned about the kid's welfare. The part that represented self-preservation...and his own peace of mind...won out. "Hey, listen, do me a favor, huh?"

"Don't worry. I...I wasn't gonna keep in touch." Johnny said reassuringly. He had no desire to be reminded of who...what he was; any more than...Jack...wanted or needed the reminder that he was here. He was part of Jack...in a weird, clinical, so stolen sort of way.

"Yeah, it'd just be a little-"

"Weird."

"Weird, yeah."

"Yeah," Johnny agreed.

"But look, if you need anything, just...you know?"

The offer was sincere, he could sense that much. Touched more than he wanted to admit, Johnny glanced over his shoulder at the girls who continued to watch him. "Air Force has set me up, I'll be fine."

"You're sure about this? I mean, it's high school."

Some of the better memories of those days moved forward as the sound of the giggling girls reached his ears. He glanced at them again, and smiled. He turned back toward the truck, lowered his sun glasses, and gave Jack a significant look. Yeah. He was most definitely sure.

Jack looked from Mini-Me toward the girls and back again. Ah..."Yes! Go forth, young man!"

Johnny adjusted the glasses, patted the side of the truck, pushing away the thought that it was...had been...his truck. If only for a couple of days. He'd get a cool car. Maybe a Mustang. A classic 'Stang...like he'd had in high school. He pushed that thought away. Turned toward the girls. Gave them his most charming smile. "Hello, ladies. I don't suppose you'd help a poor stranger find the office, would you?"

Titters moved among the three, and they closed in around him. "It's this way," the little blonde said, smiling shyly at him.

Jack watched for a minute, then grinned. The kid was going to be just fine. We're both going to be fine. Checking his watch, he gave a muttered curse. He'd promised Sam he'd be there for breakfast, and he was running late. He grabbed his cell phone, reached for the radio...then paused. The song wasn't so bad..."Sam, I'm on my way. Just dropped off Mini-Me...Yeah, he's gonna be okay..."

 

"...Still I wonder...
Who am I..."


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