Summary: A second second chance.
Category: mini!otp, angst, RST. Someone explain to me why I can't just make them fluffy and happy all the time?
Author's Note: for karma_aster's birthday, tragically belated. She requested the pairing and the poem! I mini!fied them without her express consent, though. I'm doing the thing where I post it really fast and unbeta'd because I suspect I won't like it in the morning. Make of that what you will.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth...
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. -- "Desiderata," Max Ehrmann
In a flash, they were no longer where they were (arguing in front of the Dairy Queen, him saying to go back and argue the short-changing of a quarter by the cashier, her saying let it go, let it go, they were going to miss the bus).
The air was different, distilled of scent, and they were surrounded by metal, indoors-
An Asgard ship. Sam knew it with an almost painful chill in her body, because the last time she was on a ship like this, the last time-
- the last time she was on a ship like this, she was born. Or copied and grown in an Asgard human-sized test-tube. Either way, a rather unglamorous beginning. Re-beginning.
"Forget about the quarter."
She breathed in with a hitch and out with a laugh. "No kidding."
So far, for a birthday, she thought as the car sputtered to a stop ten feet outside the high school parking lot and with her already late to homeroom, the day was not boding well.
It had started out okay, because she woke up in a bed (always a good sign, given her tendency to fall asleep on the couch). It wasn't hers, but...
... Well, she was getting used to that.
There was a time in her life -- her other life -- when she'd held fantasies of some kind of perfect relationship, one that would someday become a perfect marriage with a house and fast cars and a fulfilling career balanced with well-behaved children and a kind of perfect love, endlessly passionate without ever squeezing too hard.
The last time she was a teenage girl, maybe.
This wasn't that. This was something else, this thing she had with Jack: something more like a shared life sentence, codependency mashing together into intimacy because there literally wasn't another soul in the universe like them. The first thought in her head whenever she reached for him was never I love you but I need you, because she did, and because him reaching back for her made her feel like a whole person again for a minute or two.
So much for her ideal little life.
Though waking up in his bed, bathed in sunlight from the open window and wrapped in blankets that smelled an awful lot like him, she had to concede that it wasn't all bad.
She turned over to look for him, figuring she might as well put her rare good mood to some playful use before they had to drive to school, but he wasn't there.
No answer. Morning baseball practice, probably. She hated those.
In her other life, she had used to like time to herself.
Sam wandered out into the kitchen to see a cereal bowl on the table and an envelope.
A card. A birthday card. Making fun of her for getting old, no less. "Another candle on the cake..."
She didn't find it all that funny. She suspected that Jack didn't either, but bought it because it was a painful, necessary acknowledgement that somewhere Sam Carter was turning 40, and she was here... well, not.
She poked at her cereal for a few minutes before deciding she wasn't hungry. She never used to eat breakfast. It was Jack's favorite meal, before and after the cloning, and she picked up the habit. It wasn't like she had anywhere better to be for ten minutes in the mornings.
"Damn," she said out loud and wished Jack had skipped practice. It was her birthday, after all.
Well, it had been, at least. The second anniversary of her cloning was still four months off. She was stealing Samantha Carter's birthdate on top of everything else, pretending it was her own, when really...
She really wished Jack was home.
She threw her cereal out, got dressed, got in the car and prepared to turn seventeen years old.
In their previous life, getting beamed aboard an Asgard ship wasn't entirely unusual.
Now, as members of the graduating class of Colorado Springs Memorial High, it was definitely cause for alarm, and there had to be a really bad reason -- anything from their cloned bodies spontaneously disintegrating (it could happen, she knew, and that was why one of the SGC medical lackeys stopped by every few months to take blood samples) to the world being on the brink of annihilation.
Strange, how rarely she thought about the world being annihilated anymore.
Back in her old surroundings, the new Sam Carter on her seventeenth birthday felt young, small and completely unarmed.
Jack recovered first and started yelling. "Thor! Hey, Thor!"
"You don't know it's Thor," Sam pointed out. After all, all this originally started with Loki. One could only hope that he hadn't returned.
Not that there was much they could do about it either way.
Thor walked toward them at a calm pace, like he had all the time in the world. "Greetings, O'Neill."
Sam shivered. She couldn't help it. Thor's face had been the last thing she saw before-
"Yeah. Greetings," Jack said. "Is this a social call?"
Thor eyed them both up and down. "It appears your cloned bodies are serving you well."
Sam crossed her arms over her chest, but answered, "According to Dr. Lam, there's no sign of problems."
"That is fortunate," said Thor. "I have been pondering your situation as immature duplicates. I have come to complete your clones' development."
"Our what?" Jack demanded.
Sam's breath caught in her throat. She honestly thought they'd been completely forgotten, that the only reason anyone would even talk to them again would be to take blood samples.
She interrupted, "You're going to grow us up."
Thor blinked. It meant yes.
Somehow, Sam expected to be a lot happier.
In school that day, after one of Jack's baseball buddies saw her struggling in the street and helped her push the stalled car into the safety of the school parking lot, Sam was really not in the mood for getting late slips or writing pop quizzes or a health education assembly in the gym.
"I hate this," she whispered to Jack in the back of the room.
He kissed her ear. "Want to sneak out the fire exit?"
She sighed and leaned back in her chair instead. She wanted it all to be over, that's what she wanted. She wanted to do something, to be useful again, to feel something other than angry and numb.
She glanced over at Jack, still watching her with a worried expression that was so very young, and Sam looked away.
Her heart squeezed painfully in her chest and she closed her eyes, willing it all to stop, for this endless practical joke to be over.
She thought she wanted to feel something, but when she looked at Jack, she felt all too much.
Thor explained it all to her with the help of scientific displays. He filled in the blanks when her teenaged mind faltered -- not because she was any less bright than the original Samantha Carter, but because she was out of practice.
Jack waited, pacing by the lab door.
"We'll be about thirty," she explained to him. "It's just continuing the process that accelerated our growth to this age, with a few modifications to ensure our metabolism rates return to normal afterwards. Assuming nothing goes wrong."
Thor said, "There will not be any problems."
"You'll forgive me," Jack snapped, the first real evidence of the level of tension he was feeling, "if I don't completely trust Asgard devices anymore." He looked at her. "Carter?"
It should have felt natural, him looking to her for answers like that, shouldn't it? She had been his right-hand man, his scientific answer source, for much longer than she'd been his teenage girlfriend. "It looks good to me," she answered. She didn't really need to, but she added, "I'll need to check a few more things, though." Last time she'd stepped into an Asgard chamber, she hadn't thought things through, and everything had been moving so fast since then. She needed to put the brakes on, even if only long enough to run some diagnostics.
Jack was still glaring. "So we're thirty. Then what are we supposed to do? Does the SGC know about this?"
Thor blinked again. This time, it meant no.
"It's not like they would've invited us back anyway," Sam pointed out. After all, she had been living in the same city as the SGC for almost two years, and the other Sam Carter hadn't consulted her on any scientific problems even once.
Jack turned to Thor. "So take us with you. We can fight Replicators or... something. Once we're back to fighting form."
Sam wanted to argue, to point out that as much as they sort of thought they were Jack O'Neill and Sam Carter, no one else would ever see them that way, no one else would ever let them do what they used to be so good at.
Thor looked surprised -- as surprised as Asgard looked, anyway. "You wish to join the fight against the Replicators?"
"Re-join," Jack corrected.
"We would be honored to have you, O'Neill and Samantha Carter."
Sam asked, "And you don't mind that we're..."
Thor looked at her. Didn't blink.
Of course Thor wouldn't care if they were clones. He was Asgard, she reminded herself with an unkind mental kick.
Maybe the original Sam Carter really was smarter.
"It's not all bad," Jack said, picking up a pebble off the sidewalk in front of him and pitching it down the street. "At least you got to ride in a tow-truck."
"Just what I always wanted," Sam snarked, although actually, it had been a little bit fun, if only because it was different. She also didn't mind that Jack had ducked out of weight-training with his team to help her get the car to the shop.
"Dairy Queen on the way to the bus stop?"
"Are you buying?"
He slipped his hand into hers. "Since it's your birthday, I guess it's only fair."
Replicators, she thought, half-awake, tossing and turning anxiously on the hard bunk in the room where Thor had sent her to get some rest before the procedure. Replicators; her small, young fingers wrapped around an ARG; flying through space again; Sam Carter Sam Carter Sam Carter...
She turned over once more and gave up pretending to sleep. The slab of metal wasn't much for sleeping and she was getting hungry -- they never ate their Dairy Queen (actually, had materialized without it, which left her wondering what had happened to her burger between Earth and Thor's ship). She wasn't looking forward to Asgard cuisine.
She wished she knew what Jack was thinking about all this, but he'd taken off for a run around the lower decks of the ship. Probably meddling with something, grateful at the chance to have his life back.
She was, too. Wasn't she?
Could she really hate hard metal sleeping slabs and cubed food more than she hated high school?
She got up, abandoning rest, and set out to find Jack.
She found him in an empty room, looking out a window.
"Hey," she said.
She saw him square his shoulders before turning to look at her. "Some day, huh? Just like old times."
She didn't want to disappoint him by arguing that it didn't really feel very much like old times.
"I miss Daniel," she said suddenly. They didn't talk too much about their old lives anymore. They had for a while until they realized it would drive them insane all the faster to try and straddle two lives like that, but on the Asgard ship... she couldn't help it.
"I'm sure he's fine."
"They're with him."
She swallowed, something like panic gripping her. She didn't like it when he pulled away from her like this.
She had that damnable thought again: I need you.
"What? We're going to do this. We'll go to the Asgard galaxy and at least be useful. You can do something better with your time than tutoring kids in Trig. It'll be like old times."
"Is that what you want?"
He looked at her like she was crazy or possessed for asking the question.
"Yeah, I guess it'll be..." she sighed. She never thought growing up a second time would be harder than the first.
But here they were, and she supposed that this was proof that, no matter what second chances she might get, she would always choose the same path.
"It's weird. We won't get to say goodbye to anyone." She thought of the kids she tutored and Alyssa, her lab partner who baked her cookies for her birthday.
Jack added, "Again."
Sam nodded. She wished again, harder than ever, for the chance to see her father again, though she knew that even with Selmak, this would be a hard transition for him to accept. Maybe impossible.
"We don't have to go," she said, "If you don't want to."
Jack kicked the wall. "30-something with no money and no job experience we can use? What else would we do?"
Finish high school, she thought. Something frantic welled up in her throat, quickly turning to fury. Damn it, they were doing it to her again -- throwing her in a machine and changing her entire world, her entire body, with the push of a few buttons.
She wanted off the Asgard ship.
"Hey, hey, Sam."
Jack was in front of her, and that was when she felt the wetness on her cheek. Just one tear, two, but it was enough to get his attention and she felt herself tremble, those three damning words so close to the surface, her arms aching to wrap around the shoulders that had become so familiar...
"Dammit," she cursed, turning away. She wanted to go home, and she wasn't sure if that aimless want was meant for the SGC or their little third-floor apartment on Pine Street, a mile away from the school.
"I should go check on Thor," she said, though right then, Thor was the last person she wanted to see.
"I'll come," he said.
Sam stopped in her tracks, looked at him. "What should we do?" It was only an unfair question because she somehow automatically added, "Sir?"
His eyes snapped to hers. His jaw clenched and unclenched, and then he walked out of the room ahead of her.
She trailed behind, wishing for simpler times.
"Only one year left until you can vote," Jack teased as they waited in line at the Dairy Queen. He liked to distract her while she read menus. She was spared some of his annoying habits now that they no longer camped off-world together -- sleeping in the same space indoors was different, and didn't require bug spray -- but he had plenty of new ones.
Then again, she was hardly a walk in the park, either.
"I still don't get how you still manage to be older than me," she complained. His birthday was four months ago. They celebrated it by finding a car dealership willing to let him test-drive a truck without his parents being present (after Sam raised holy hell about the law of emancipated minors in the sales room). Then Sam had taken him home and they'd had sex in their clawfoot bathtub, and he'd made her pancakes at 7 in the evening, even though it was his birthday.
Much better than towing their car to the shop and spending handfuls of change on Dairy Queen meals and bus tickets.
Good days and bad days. Their ratio had improved a little since last year, at least.
"Eight years until you can rent a car," Jack added.
She elbowed him in the ribs. "Quiet. I'm reading."
"Only four years until you can buy booze. Though you can start smoking at 18." He kissed the back of her head.
She brushed him off and moved up to the counter to order.
The stasis pod was ready. She'd looked over all the diagnostics herself -- three times, since she could barely stay focused.
It was just jitters, because of the horrible mess that had happened the last time she set foot in an Asgard lab. That was all it was. This was going to correct that mistake, wasn't it?
Jack was hovering at the other end of the room, glaring back and forth between her and Thor.
"Why'd you come back, anyway?" Jack demanded.
Thor tilted his head to the side as though to get a better view of why the cloned human sounded so angry. "It took some time for Loki's equipment to be released after the inquiry and properly calibrated."
Jack huffed like that wasn't the answer he wanted. Sam squinted at the readouts, trying to better wrap her brain around the alien language she'd put out of her mind for a year and a half.
This was going to save them both.
So why did it feel like she was killing something? Something valuable? Like maybe she was killing him, the Jack she knew now, by turning him into something else again?
She checked the diagnostics a fourth time, in case she'd missed something, in case her subconscious mind saw something dangerous that her conscious mind had overlooked...
She looked at a display of the human anatomy and traced her fingers across it. "Will we still be able to have children?"
There wasn't much reason to find out the answer. She sure as hell didn't intend to be giving birth in a Replicator-infested galaxy with an ARG in her hands.
"This procedure will not affect that," said Thor.
Sam frowned, because Thor was wrong about that, even if he was technically, medically correct.
Jack came up to stand behind her. He didn't comment on her strange question, only whispered, "You hate high school, right?"
She should have taken some comfort in the apprehension in his voice, showing he was just as nervous as she was, but she didn't. "Yeah, I do. It's..." she almost couldn't force out the words, "only one more year, though."
He was shaking his head. "And then we're 18 and have to do everything all over again."
"Yeah." Join the Air Force. Excel at university. Win prize after prize and attend the reception dinners with men who were just friends, just colleagues, and never Jack. Never this Jack.
He was the one to ask Thor for some additional time to think it over. The Asgard seemed anxious to get back to his own galaxy and own problems -- with or without two humans in tow -- but he agreed to a short recess.
"Carter," Jack said, sitting across from her on the floor, hands on her knees.
"I don't suppose you'd order me to do it if I asked you to, would you?"
He smirked. "I'm not that guy anymore."
She didn't think he meant that to hit as sharply as it did.
"God," she whispered, "Don't let me regret this."
She was the one to give Thor their answer.
Thor dropped them back off at the Dairy Queen, despite Jack's attempt to give him directions back to Pine Street. The late bus was already coming down the street, so it didn't give Sam much time to adjust.
She shook most of the way home.
"Fuck," she whispered into the shoulder of his letterman jacket. "That was the right thing, right?"
He wrapped an arm around her and squeezed.
She took a shower when she got home to give herself the chance to cry (she was so completely beyond stoicism -- teen hormones and the life-wrenching decision she had just made taking it completely out of her), but tears didn't come, so she ended up just washing her hair.
She would've missed this shower, maybe. The Asgard probably didn't have clawfoot tubs big enough for two, either.
She continued trying to console herself, to make mental reassurances that she hadn't just condemned herself back to a lifelong purgatory, but the assurances almost seemed... unnecessary.
They really did only have one more year of high school. Jack was worth that, wasn't he? At one time, in her other life, she had continually decided out of fear and responsibility that he wasn't worth it, as much as every part of her had screamed in resistance and want.
She wasn't that person anymore, either. She'd left behind pieces of herself, and maybe one of those pieces was the one too afraid to do something, to go after what she really, really wanted. Samantha Carter had agreed to be cloned, more to spare Jack O'Neill's clone a lifetime of solitude than because of Thor's hint that she should duplicate her intelligence in case of disaster... and that part of her remained.
Maybe she worried too much -- maybe this was love.
She thought it could be. Soon, maybe.
After all, she had chosen to be here with him twice now, and she really felt like only the first time could be classified as a mistake.
When she emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a robe, the kitchen smelled like pancakes.
"Happy birthday," Jack said. "They're a little dry. We ran out of milk."
She couldn't have cared less about that. There was a splash of flour on his cheek and she brushed it away before kissing him, grounding herself for a long minute in this, in what her new life was.
"Thanks," she said.
"We could still have had sex in the Replicator galaxy, right?" he asked, his breath brushing over her cheek and making her shiver.
"Hmm. But we're more flexible this way."
He laughed, a real laugh, and she found it contagious.
"So one more year," she said as they calmed down. She carried the plates over to the living room and set them on the coffee table. "Then... eighteen."
"Thinking of taking up smoking?" he asked, raising an eyebrow on the smooth, wrinkle-free face that she has gotten so used to over the past year and a half.
"There are other things you can do at 18."
"Lottery," he nodded sagely. Jack took a bite of pancake and then asked, "Are you going to join the military again?"
The answer came surprisingly easily. "I don't think so."
She had no idea what she was going to do instead, of course, but she had a year to decide.
"What about you?"
He shrugged. "I don't know yet. Guidance counselor says that's a normal place to be. For seventeen."
It was good advice. Better than she got from her guidance counselor the first time around.
Sam found herself twisting the edge of her robe with her hands. She wasn't quite done with big changes for one day. "Jack... whatever we do after this, I really want to stay..."
"Us?" he supplied when she foundered for longer than a second.
She drew in a sharp breath. For twenty months now they had been fixated on how they weren't "us," weren't themselves, weren't Jack O'Neill and Sam Carter.
She liked this new "us." A lot. Enough to put down her pancakes and crawl across the couch, not to jump him, not to tear their clothes off as they did so much when their crazy lives got to be too much to bear, but just to lie in his arms.
"I don't think anyone else on the planet would put up with either one of us," he informed her.
She laughed. "I guess we're stuck with each other, then."
He kissed her forehead. "I can think of something else you can do at 18," said so quietly that she knew he was leaving it up to her whether or not to hear him.
She breathed in the unique smell of him, young but so much the same, and relaxed. They'd made enough decisions for one day. And besides, he was right -- they'd both still be there in a year.
They weren't going anywhere.
And for the first time since being this Samantha Carter, that really made her happy.
- end -