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Fragile Balance Concluded by minijo
The boy walked along the corridor of Colorado Springs High School, carrying a dark rucksack weighed down with numerous schoolbooks. The grey hooded top and weathered leather jacket looked over big on his narrow lanky frame. At the age of sixteen he would seemingly be one of the youngest to graduate and he was transferring across to a university in the good old world of Oxford, England. He needed a change from Colorado. It was too close to his old life, the life he no longer had a right too and in his own way he was doing what he could to be his own person. What better way to start than by moving to a new country and by using his cloned knowledge and intelligence in a way the original O'Neill never had.
His light brown hair was just on the long side and caressed his ears with a gently wave and his brown dark eyes sparkled with life as they alighted on his fellow study pals as they loitered with intent by his locker.
"So," a small mousy blonde girl asked, " did you do it?"
"Yes Jon. Are you joining us for graduation?" another pupil asked.
Jonathan O'Neill the second smirked at the expectant faces of his fellow honour students "Yeah, sure, you bet ya, I am." He laughed as he accepted the praise and acclamation from his fellow fast tracked students and acquaintances. He had successfully navigated and conquered the world of high school academia within a year.
"So that's four for four." The mousy Carol squealed as the others started jumping and a hollering in victory.
"We're on our way…" sang Devon, the broad shouldered sports buff.
"…to university," continued his best friend Jason.
Jon opened his locker and started clearing out the contents into the small space that was left in his rucksack. He allowed the excited chatter to wash over him has the others discussed the colleges and universities that they were accepting or declining. The group had formed early in the beginning of the school year as the brightest of the students had found complimenting minds in each other and with that the determination to finish the high school with a flourish. The four of them had tirelessly coached and supported each of their fellows to produce grades and tests scores exemplary enough to leave the school no recourse other than to graduate them with honours and in Jon's case two years early. At 16 Jon was the youngest of the group. What had started as a way to do over his high school days had gotten old, real quick and after finding it hard to fit in with the shallow concerns of the angst ridden teenager had fallen in with those that were able to think at greater depth than the average student.
As the four former students left the high school Jon noticed a familiar looking black truck parked outside. A strange feeling between excitement, anger and fear flittered though Jon's nervous system as he told his friends to continue on without him and walked cautiously over to the awaiting vehicle.
Jack O'Neill senior watched as his young clone warily approached. Leaning over to the passenger side and pushing the door open, he called, "So the second chance equaled geekdom?" He hoped that the casual tone and greeting would allay the fears that he knew than Jon would have. "Team's fine, world's fine, just wanted to catch up." He continued as the kid drew up. Jack looked at Jon as he held the door open and the boy decided whether to climb in to the truck. "Come on when's the last time you had steak. I'm buying."
"Well in that case." Jon threw his rucksack into the rear of the vehicle and clambered in. After he had buckled his seat belt. Jack started the engine and pulled away. "So big news?" he questioned, after a few minutes of stained silence tapping his hand on the well-polished dash.
"Not really, but we can talk more when we get where were going."
"Where is that?"
"Shouldn't you have asked that before you got in." The elder mused.
"Well if you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?" Jon snarked.
"Exactly," Jack laughed, "I was thinking that we could go for a bite to eat at O'Mallay's and then back to my place for some beers."
"I haven't had beer in over a year sounds good. I'll be as light weight as Daniel."
"Damn, he was such a cheap date." Jack sniggered.
"Was?" Jon turned to look at Jack as the latter weaved confidently through the early Friday traffic.
"He's fine. Quit worrying." However when Jon looked more carefully at his original he picked up the tell tale signs of stress. Not major just that everything wasn't as right as he was obviously trying to make out. With a patience that he had had to learn, due to his dealings with teenagers Jon put the information away until the meal. Jack would tell him what this was all about when he was ready and not before. He played with the radio station and kept the conversation light and regaled his elder with largely exaggerated tales of high school jocks and masked pranksters. Half an hour later they had pulled into O'Mallay's steakhouse and were seated at a table.
"Ooh, what looks good." Jon mused has he read from the menu.
"It all looks good like it always is here." Jack replied, watching the younger version peruse the menu. Sitting back Jack had a chance to really look at the kid. The last year had brought about some changes. Jon was a little taller, but not by much and Jack was suddenly taken with how young and defenceless the boy really looked. If Charlie had lived he would have been two years older than Jon was now.
A young waitress came over to take their order. "What will it be?" She smiled.
"I'll have a medium sized steak, rare, and baked potato with all the trimmings. And can I have a beer with that?"
"Sure thing sugar," the young girl's eyes twinkled, "and for your son."
"He's not my father." Jon was quick to point out. "I'm..."
"He's my nephew." Jack broke in with a smile. "Takes after me pretty much though."
Jon watched something was not quite right. Jack was a little off, 'A year ago and the man couldn't get away from me quick enough, what's changed?' Jon was staring at Jack looking perplexed, when he realised that both Jack and the waitress were waiting for him to make his choices. "I'll have a small steak, rare, with chips and salad. I think that I'll have a regular coke with that." The waitress finished jotting down their order and left to get them their drinks.
Jon waiting until the she was out of ear shot. "OK, spill what's with the doting uncle act."
Jack sighed. "G**, why do we have to be so suspicious?"
"It keeps us alive, Jack," Jon answered.
"Look. It's a long story and I'll go over it later when we're at mine, but if I'm going to give you the headlines it goes like this. A close friend died…"
"Daniel!" Jon cried.
"No," then a wry smile. "Not this time," Jack took a breath, "Janet."
The clone sat there quietly and Jack let the boy absorb the news. The waitress came with their drinks and it wasn't until their meals arrived that Jack continued with the headlines. "It was nearly over a year go now. I'm sorry I should have told you earlier." Jack looked up when he heard a sniff that sounded suspiciously like the prelude to tears. Jack was reminded that the kid was just a kid.
"Why tell me now?"
"Because I was wrong. It was wrong. The whole setting you adrift was cowardly. At first I thought that it was too weird, but that was such a shitty excuse. My last 8 years have been nothing but leaping from one weird scene to the next. I've had time to think, a lot of time and well kid we don't have a lot of family and to throw away someone who is well closer than a brother. To nick a phrase. It is just not smart." Jack took a drink of his beer as he paused in his speech. " I have been promoted to Brigadier General."
Jon felt like a tight band across his chest that he didn't know had been there had loosened. He took a long drink as he steadied himself. He put aside the feelings and the strength of his reaction to ponder over later. "I can't imagine you riding a desk. What happened to Hammond? Retired?"
"No Hammond is currently working at the White House. I can't say that I'm the best person for the job. But you don't turn down an appointment that has been handpicked by the Commander in Chief, and I guess I just wasn't ready to retire yet."
"So no going out on missions, I can see where you got the time to think about me."
"No. The time I had to think came before the promotion. I was out of commission for a while. That's another long story. I'll fill you in later, I got to save more grey butts. Being the Man is just as tough as being out on the teams. Just in a different way." Raising his beer he said. "God bless Walter." Laughing the clone gently clicked his coke with the bottle of beer. His eyes were still a little wide with the knowledge of Janet Frasier's' passing and other revelations. "I believe that in a few months time I'm going to be promoted into General Hammond's job at the White House D.C. when he retires."
"Are you going to take it?"
"Probably. I can still look after the team as long as keep people like that arse General Bauer out of the chain of command."
"I can't see you as a diplomat, hanging around the halls of power somehow." Jon laughed.
"I'll have you know I've picked up a thing or two from working with Daniel all these years. I'll surprise you, us, myself." Jack tilted his head at the weirdness of his last statement.
Jon reflected on the last assertion that Jack had made. He sighed, "we're not the same are we? I feel different. Calmer in a way. I don't have to be O'Neill leader of men; the world doesn't rest on my shoulders. I don't wear the masks you have too."
"It's been a year and I had this long conversation with Daniel, it involved a lot of gesturing and examples but the gist of it is no we are no longer the same, from the time of separation our different experiences and wants and desires have conspired to make us different people. Or maybe you got a spanking new soul." The last was said with a smirk.
"So less weird?" Jon asked .
Jon nodded. The statement was true in it's entirety. Would Jack O'Neill have spent the last year studying with geeks? Hell would Jack have gone to school? A sudden startling thought grabbed his attention. Could Jack have completed all the honours classes that he had? The changes had been so gradual he hadn't noticed at first putting his ease with academia down to remembering subjects' better cause it was the second time around. His exposure to the two hottest brains this side of the galaxy. The thought was not comfortable. If he was not Jack who was he?
"You OK, Kid?"
"Yea, just thinking." Taking a breath Jon continued, "I've just graduated, by the way."
"High school? What already, but it's only been 15 months!"
"Yeah, sure you bet ya. Have you been communicating with the Wonder Twins on the sly?"
"No. I guess it was easier the second time, and I wasn't trying to hide how much I knew like you were."
"Jack, let's just say it was fast track or drop out. They were all just kids. Talking about second chances is all well and good but the second time around is like a second game of cards the game is the same but you've all got a different set of cards and so the outcome is different and just like the first, it has its own set of downfalls." Jon watched his counterpart absorb what he had said. He excused himself as he rose and took refuge in the bathroom. Meeting with his original had brought to the fore something that had been at the back of his mind for a while. Sitting in the seat opposite O'Neill and he was surprised by how similar and yet different they both were. He had nearly cried at the news that Janet had died. Jack O'Neill never cried. He felt confused, was it just environmental differences or something different. The answer was that he couldn't take the chance of being discovered if he was found to be less than 100% O'Neill then the NID were the last of his troubles. Had the SGC become aware of his achievement and sent Jack to do some re-con on his clone. Jon's mind went back to the flippant response he had said earlier. 'If you can't trust yourself…'If the SGC had wanted to check him out they would have just sent some SFs to pick him up, and there certainly wouldn't have been a steak dinner involved. "Quit over thinking things Jonny," he said aloud to the bathroom mirror, "You really are acting like a geek. Let's resurrect that old fly-boy we all know and love and find out what Jack wants." Squaring his shoulders and returning to his table with a slight swagger reminiscent of Jack's flyby fly-boy days Jon returned to find that their plates had been cleared away and Jack was paying the bill.
"Come on," the elder said. "Let's pick up a six pack and head on back to my place." Grabbing their jackets the two of them exited the restaurant and made their way back to the truck. Standing by the truck Jon decided that now was the time to push Jack on his intentions.
"Jack." Jon began, holding the door ajar instead of seating himself for the ride. " What do you want?" There it was between them, blunt and to the point awaiting a truthful answer.
Jack studied his clone, as the clone stood and returned his look. "Family, Jon that's all. No ulterior motive, nothing to do with the SGC. Just someone to go to ball games with and watch the hockey, G** even someone to phone up and know that if they can't go fishing, it's not because they don't want to." For the first time Jon picked up on what was not right with the older O'Neill, he thought that it was the promotion or Janet's death but now he realised the cold truth, because it's what he'd been feeling for a long year, which helped drive him to study. Being away from the team for Jack meant the same, as it had been for the clone, no team nights, no hanging out in the science labs or Daniel's office. No surrogate family, it left them adrift and alone. "And I thought that because, you were me once, that maybe you could do with some family too."
Taking a breath and letting it go Jon moved to get into the car, "So do I call you Uncle Jack or dad?"
"Shall I call you kid or brat?"
"Can I call you old man or grandpa?"
"Shall I call you geek or nerd?"
Laughing Jack pulled out into the coming night as his young "nephew" giggled most un jack-like in the passenger seat next to him. The lines of stress, which had been evident for months, eased and his heart became lighter. We don't leave our people behind, because when we do we leave a part of ourselves and it's only by going back that we become whole.
Thank you for reading