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You Can't Go Home Again

~Lin~

"Right Daniel, time to get going." O'Neill gestured towards the Stargate in the distance and tried to hurry Daniel Jackson along.

"But Jack, there's so much still to do! And it's gorgeous here; the sun is shining, the birds are singing–"

"The storm clouds are gathering on the horizon…" O'Neill grabbed his pack, and signalled for Carter and Teal'c to do the same. "Let's get out of here before we get the joys of a cold shower."

Daniel packed up reluctantly, and fell into step with the others as they made their way back to the gate, reaching it just as the first drops of rain began to fall.

"Dial it up, Carter." O'Neill waited for the wormhole to engage, sent the IDC signal, then headed through followed by Teal'c, Daniel, and Carter bringing up the rear. He arrived on the other side to see Hammond standing at the bottom of the ramp waiting for them.

"SG-1, I'm glad you're all back safely. I was just about to dial up PXY-749 and radio you to return. Soon after you left, we had word from the Asgard. Thor and Heimdall are here to speak with you, Colonel."

"Hey, my buddy, Thor!" O'Neill grinned, but uneasiness crept beneath it. Contact from the Asgard was not always good news.

Hammond stood back to allow SG-1 off the ramp. "Go and get showered, have Dr. Fraiser clear you, and meet us in the briefing room at fourteen hundred hours."

"Yes, sir."

*****

"Thor, buddy, how's it going?!" O'Neill entered the briefing room and took a seat between Carter and Teal'c. Hammond was already seated at the head of the table, and Daniel arrived moments after O'Neill and seated himself in the remaining empty chair.

"Things are going well, O'Neill. We have not been troubled by Replicators, nor any other foe, for some time. I trust the situation here on Earth is equally pleasant?"

Hammond jumped in before O'Neill could respond. "Earth is doing well, thank you, Thor."

"So, Thor," O'Neill began, "to what do we owe the pleasure?"

Thor, standing by the window to the gate room with Heimdall, began to explain their reasons for visiting Earth.

"I trust you all remember the clone of O'Neill which we inadvertently created many years younger than the desired age?"

"Hey," O'Neill scowled, "Not that many years younger!"

Daniel kicked O'Neill under the table before turning to Thor and Heimdall. "We remember him. Has he caused some kind of trouble?"

"On the contrary," Thor continued. "We have caused trouble for him. His life has been unfairly disrupted by our inability to correctly create the cloned body for his mind to inhabit. Heimdall has been studying the process and running experiments since the error occurred. If you are aware of the whereabouts of the alternate O'Neill, we believe we can now return him to a body of the appropriate age."

"We've had him under surveillance since he left the facility. Bringing him in to see you won't be a problem, if you're sure you can… cure him, for want of a better word."

"We are sure, General Hammond. There will be no error on this occasion." Heimdall promised sincerely, appearing nervous as to the humans' reactions, and obviously still feeling guilt about the entire situation.

"Wow," Carter turned to Heimdall, her eyes gleaming. "I'm impressed. I didn't understand half of the process you described to me the first time, and it must be even more complicated now."

"And hell," O'Neill muttered, "If Carter can't understand it, who can?" He raised his voice before addressing the whole room. "I'm pleased for him, really I am. Can't imagine what it must've been like all this time being a teenager again. I do have one question though."

Thor stepped closer to the table and addressed O'Neill. "What do you wish to know, O'Neill?"

"If you put him in a shiny new body, what are we supposed to do with him? We can't have two of me running around Colorado Springs. Somebody's going to notice…"

Daniel jumped in, a horrified expression on his face. "But that's not a reason not to do it! We can't leave him as a teenager because it's more convenient for us that way."

"I'm not suggesting that, Daniel. I'm suggesting we need to figure out what we're going to do with two Jack O'Neills. And preferably figure it out before there actually are two of me."

"What becomes of the other O'Neill after the procedure," Thor interrupted, "is down to you, and to him. We are merely here to return his body to the state in which it belongs."

Hammond took over the briefing again. "Of course, Thor, we appreciate yourself and Heimdall going to this trouble for the other Colonel O'Neill. We will find a way to allow him to be integrated back into a position in society suitable to his age and skills."

Heimdall raised a communication device of some sort, as Thor spoke. "We will return to our ship while you conduct your discussion. We will remain in orbit until you summon us for the procedure."

Hammond thanked the Asgard, then he and SG-1 watched as both aliens disappeared in a small flash of white light.

"Okay, SG-1, any suggestions?" Hammond returned to his seat at the head of the table and waited for the others to speak. All five were thoughtful, and Daniel was the first to break the silence with a question.

"Perhaps this is a stupid question, but why can't he just come back to the SGC? Surely we could use somebody with Jack's experience to lead another team?"

O'Neill jumped in before Hammond could respond. "And which of us gets the joy of being confined to the mountain? Or do we work out a shift system for when we get to live in the real world?"

"Colonel O'Neill's right, Daniel," Carter said quietly. "There can't be two of them in the same place. Eventually there will be a slip-up, and somebody will realise there's one more Colonel O'Neill than there should be. He'll need to go somewhere else."

Hammond drummed his fingers on the table as he thought, while Daniel poured himself more coffee.

"Another posting, overseas?" O'Neill suggested.

Carter shook her head. "That won't work, sir. The only way he could get another posting within the Air Force would be using your service record. He'd have to pass himself off as the original Jack O'Neill, which he could easily do as he has all of your memories. The problem would be when he ran into somebody who knows you, and knows you're still posted here."

Hammond nodded as Carter spoke, agreeing with her. "She's right, son. You would have to drop contact with everybody you know within the Air Force to prevent them realising that you haven't left Colorado, and you can't be expected to do that."

"How about offering to send him to another planet of his choice within the Stargate network, sir?" Carter suggested.

Hammond looked interested. "Where would he go?"

"We would leave that up to him, sir. I don't know where he would pick. Perhaps Colonel O'Neill would have some insight there."

Daniel cleared his throat, a slightly uncomfortable expression on his face. "Edora comes to mind. He, um-" he turned to O'Neill nervously, "you… There was that woman, Laira."

"I don't think," O'Neill interjected without raising his eyes from the tabletop, "that he would want to go back there."

"We really need to bring the other O'Neill in for this, General." Daniel pointed out. "It's a little ridiculous trying to plan his future without his input, don't you think?"

Hammond nodded and stood, ready to conclude the meeting, when Carter spoke. "I have one other idea, sir."

"Go ahead, Major."

"The quantum mirror that allows us to move between realities was never destroyed, it's still at Area 51. We know of at least two realities in which Colonel O'Neill is dead…" Daniel picked up where Carter trailed off.

"Perhaps he could fill a gap."

"Look into it, Major," Hammond ordered decisively. "Dismissed."

*****

O'Neill stayed seated in the briefing room as the rest of SG-1 filed out. Hammond stood at the end of the table and watched O'Neill, waiting for him to raise whatever was bothering him.

"Sir…" he stopped, and looked down at his steepled fingers, then raised his eyes again. "Was it really necessary to…" and he trailed off again.

Hammond stepped in before O'Neill could try again. "Permission to speak freely, Jack."

"Sir, you've had him under surveillance all this time?!" O'Neill stood and moved to lean against the table near where Hammond stood. "Isn't that a bit… insulting?"

Hammond sighed. "We didn't know if we could trust him to keep quiet. It's a big secret to hang onto all on your own, and we couldn't risk him letting anything slip."

O'Neill opened his mouth to answer, but was interrupted by a knock on the briefing room door. "Enter," Hammond called, and an airman O'Neill recognised but could not put a name to came in laden with reports. Hammond directed the airman – Turner, apparently – to leave the files on the table, and dismissed him.

O'Neill picked up the conversation as if there had been no interruption at all. "I know it's important he keeps quiet, and I know it isn't easy. He knows that too, sir. Because he's me."

A moment of silence filled the room as Hammond thought before responding. "You're right, son, and I'm sorry. We would never suggest that you would compromise the project, but we failed to realise that because of that, neither would he. Hopefully the whole issue is going to be a moot point from now, though."

"Yes, sir."

*****

"Any idea what this writing is?" Major Cole, second in command of SG-4, asked the rest of his team, gesturing to an inscription around the base of an urn-like object. The team were scattered around one of the labs on level 19, analysing the artefacts they had brought back from their most recent mission.

"No clue, Marcus," Captain Sanders replied wearily. "I spent three hours on it earlier, it doesn't match anything we have on record here, as far as I can tell."

Captain Parker, SG-4's most recent addition and relatively new to the SGC, piped up, a little confused. "Why don't you ask Dr. Jackson to take a look at it? He knows more about this stuff than any of us, right?"

"Sure, Louise, he knows it better," Cole replied, "but the second he gets his hands on this stuff we'll never see it again. No, we're not asking Dr. Jackson 'til we've exhausted all our own resources."

At that moment Daniel walked past the door, left ajar while they worked, and tapped lightly on it before entering with a smile. "Did I hear my name in here?"

Sanders sighed quietly to himself, realising that this find might be theirs, but his chance of being the one to decipher it had just flown out the open door and down the corridor. "Yes, you did, Dr. Jackson. We were wondering if you might have more luck with this translation than we have."

"Well," Daniel rolled up his sleeves and crossed to the artefact in question. "I'll certainly have a go."

"I'm sure you will," Sanders mumbled under his breath, turning to Parker. "See what I mean?"

*****

O'Neill caught up with Carter in the corridor outside the commissary, where she had been making up for her early lunch with coffee and a donut, and chatting with Dr. Fraiser. He called out to her as she turned the corner towards the elevator.

"Hey, Carter!" She came back around the corner and met O'Neill halfway. "You busy?"

"No, sir." She gestured to the papers in her hand. "I was just going to my lab to take a look at the data we have on the quantum mirror. If we're going to send the other, um, you to the alternate reality we've interacted with before, we're going to need to figure out how to find it. It's interesting, really, sir–"

"Ah!" O'Neill raised his hands and Carter fell silent. "Whenever you say something's 'interesting' I can feel the headache, not to mention the confusion, start to build. I will leave this entirely in your capable hands. I need you to do something first though, if you're not in a rush to study your toy."

"Felger can start on the mirror research without me, sir. What is it you want me to do?"

O'Neill narrowed his eyes at mention of Felger, who suffered the misfortune of being one of those brilliant scientists who had excellent ideas, but rarely seemed to execute them without chaos ensuing. O'Neill managed to refrain from commenting, however, and stayed with the matter at hand.

"You got civvies around here?"

A little confused, but assuming O'Neill would explain, Carter nodded. "In my locker, sir."

"Okay, I need you to go change into them, pick up Mini Me from school, and bring him here for a chat. Why don't you take Daniel with you, too? Get him out of SG-4's hair – or their artefacts – for a while."

"I heard Parsons complaining earlier that they can't get near their own finds for Daniel bouncing around the labs." Carter grinned. "SG-4'll be thrilled if I borrow him for an hour or so. I'll just go change and grab him on my way out."

"Great, Carter. See you at the briefing." Carter turned and walked away. She was almost around the corner when, like before, O'Neill called to her. Stepping back around, she heard him yell when he saw her. "And hey, Carter. I don't want Felger anywhere near that mirror when it's actually, y'know, doing its thing!"

Carter smothered her laugh with a quick, "Yes, sir. I'll tell him that, sir," and headed for the locker room, and her civvies. Amused as she was at being assigned the school run, seeing O'Neill's clone again would be interesting. Carter had to admit, if only to herself, that she was a little daunted.

*****

Meanwhile, Daniel was proving true to his reputation, as SG-4 tried their best to hold onto their involvement with their latest discoveries.

"It doesn't look like it… but it could be a variation – hand me those notes, would you, Louise?" Daniel gestured towards a pile of papers on the table beside Captain Parker.

He had been buried in the urn inscriptions since he had arrived, two hours earlier, and SG-4 had been lucky if they could get a word of suggestion in between his enthusiastic ramblings and his requests for quiet 'so he could concentrate'. It seemed to Colonel Hayes, head of SG-4, that Dr. Jackson could concentrate through a hurricane, but it was easier to be quiet than to argue.

"Dr. Jackson," Major Cole ventured from across the room, his head in a book on ancient Latin, "I think this may be–"

"Ssh!" Daniel hissed. "I think I'm close to something."

Daniel buried himself in the notes Louise Parker handed to him, as SG-4 collectively rolled their eyes. Not one of the four of them had gotten a complete sentence out in reference to the artefacts since Dr. Jackson had arrived.

Colonel Hayes didn't understand how Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter put up with Dr. Jackson on a daily basis. His scholarly disorder just didn't mesh with military discipline.

As if by magic, Colonel Hayes's thoughts of Major Carter brought her presence. She knocked on the door, and entered to Daniel's frown at the interruption, although he smiled when he realised who had caused it.

"Hey, Sam!" He grinned. "This is the greatest inscription, have you seen it? It's unlike anything we've seen before. I'm getting pretty close to getting a reference point for translation though, I think."

"That's great, Daniel," Sam smiled indulgently, "but we have to get going. Colonel O'Neill needs us to go pick up his, uh, brother. For that thing, y'know?"

"Oh, yeah." Daniel rose, tucking the notes he had been using away into a folder. "Sorry, guys," he said to the members of SG-4, who were breathing barely detectable sighs of relief. "I have to go take care of this."

"No problem, Dr. Jackson," Colonel Hayes replied. "We can take it from here. You've been a huge help."

Daniel didn't see the high five exchanged between Major Cole and Captain Sanders as he left the room, but Captain Parker's muffled giggle did reach his ears as the doors closed. Luckily, he didn't look back.

*****

"So," Daniel sat in the passenger seat of Sam's sports car, opening a pack of mentos he'd found in her glove box. "This is weird."

Hearing Daniel's words, Sam sighed with relief. "It is, isn't it? I was starting to wonder if it was just me. The colonel's being so, I don’t know, nonchalant about it. Like he meets his fifteen year old clone every day."

"The weirdness is definitely not just you," Daniel assured Sam, handing her a mint. "We're picking up our boss, in a fifteen year old body, from high school. It doesn't get much weirder than that. But think about it, when do we ever know what Jack's thinking? I'm betting he's not taking this as easily as it seems."

Sam eased the car to a stop at a red light, put it in park, and turned to Daniel. "Do you think one of us – and by one of us, I mean you – should talk to him about it?"

"See how it goes," Daniel suggested. "He'd probably just be embarrassed if he knew we were concerned about him."

They turned into the school driveway and Sam parked the car. "You want to wait in the car, and I'll go find him?" Sam asked.

"Sure, I'll guard your pride and joy," Daniel grinned, then pointed towards one of the nearby exits. "The guys surveilling him said he usually comes out that door, and he should be leaving any time now."

"Thanks, Daniel." Sam headed across the parking lot, but turned and called back to Daniel, who wound down his window to hear her. "And Daniel? The bike's my pride and joy, but I'll still hurt you if I come back to a scratch on her."

*****

As the bell rang Jack grabbed his rucksack, tossed it over his shoulder and sped out of his English classroom. He was doing pretty well in school, probably because he had done most of it before, but no matter how many times he read 'Othello' the attraction of Shakespeare eluded him.

"Hey, Jack!" He turned towards the voice just as its owner, Gavin Anderson, drew level with him. "You going to the rink this afternoon?"

If Jack had to be a teenager again, he had figured he might as well take advantage of the few good sides to the deal. He had the knees, and the free time, to play hockey again. Joining a local under 16s team had taken the edge off the boredom that comes from having a mental age of decades more than the people you're expected to be friends with.

"No, I'm going home to do my homework." He smirked and punched Gavin playfully in the shoulder. "Of course I'm coming to the rink, what the hell else am I going to do with my Tuesday afternoon?"

Gavin was a smart guy, but didn't ask too many questions about Jack's background. He was more serious than most of the brain-dead morons at the high school, without being boring, and he played hockey. He was pretty much destined to be Jack's friend from the moment they were assigned seats together in physics.

"Well," Gavin grinned, "I know how you love 'Othello'… Thought you might want to curl up with a good book."

They reached the door, and went down the steps towards the parking lot. "If I wanted to curl up with a good book, it would NOT be –" Jack was cut off by Gavin's elbow in his ribs, about to be reminded that no matter how mature he sometimes appeared, he was, in fact, only fifteen.

"Dude, who's that blonde chick? She's hot!" Jack looked in the direction Gavin pointed, and when he saw who his friend had to be referring to, he almost forgot to breathe.

"Carter…" Her name was out of his mouth without him even realising he had spoken. It had been so long since he had seen anybody from his life before. Her hair was a little longer, she was a little thinner, but mostly she was exactly the way he remembered her.

"You know her?! Man, you are so introducing me!" Gavin started walking again, towards Carter and the parking lot. Jack stood a moment longer, then caught up with Gavin. Carter hadn't seen him yet.

"She's my, um, older cousin. She's from out of town, but she must've been in the neighbourhood. I'm not introducing you!" Jack couldn't think of a good excuse not to introduce Gavin, but his day was weird enough already from Carter showing up here, without having to watch his friend hit on her. Suddenly Jack noticed who was sitting in Carter's car, and seized it as his way out.

"That blue sports car, parked by the red Lexus? That's Sam's car, and the guy in it's her husband, Daniel. He gets weird when guys hit on Sam, so you'd better just go. I'll catch you later."

"I guess I can see where he's coming from. If I had a chick as hot as her, I'd hang on pretty tight. Catch you later, man." Gavin crossed the parking lot in the other direction, towards the bus stop, and Jack headed over to Carter, who still hadn't seen him coming.

"So much for military powers of observation, Major Carter." Carter jumped, and spun around to face Jack. "Hope you pay more attention than that in the field. Or has your technique slipped without my example?"

"Sir! I mean, um, Jack." Carter flushed slightly, embarrassed to be caught drifting, and nervous about how to talk to this very unusual version of her CO. Hearing words that were so obviously O'Neill's coming from a fifteen year old boy was a little disorientating.

"Yeah, Jack is probably best. Unless you want the other students to think I have a very weird relationship with my cousin, which is who I said you are. So, is Mohammed calling me to the mountain?" They walked towards Carter's car.

"Something like that. I'm not supposed to tell you anything until we get there, uh - Jack."

Daniel stepped out of the car to greet Jack, just in time to catch the end of Carter's sentence. "Nope, I was wrong, it does get weirder. Hey Jack, how's it going?"

"Oh, peachy, Daniel, just peachy. I got a B+ on my last English test, and I'm acing History – probably because I lived through half of what we're studying." Jack climbed into the back of Carter's car – "Only because I'm shorter than Daniel now, and Carter's driving." – and they made their way back to Cheyenne Mountain.

From his spot in the back Jack watched Colorado Springs whiz past the window. More curious than he cared to admit about what was awaiting him at the SGC, the drive still flew by, and the next thing he knew Carter was signing him in at the first Security point.

*****

General Hammond, Teal'c, and the other O'Neill were waiting in the briefing room when Carter and Daniel arrived with Jack, having been informed by Security that he was on his way down.

"Welcome back to the SGC, Jack." Hammond greeted Jack warmly, and gestured for him to take a seat. "I'd like to do some catching up over coffee later on, if you're free, but first we have something important to discuss with you."

Jack sat, and folded his arms on the table. "Go ahead, sir."

"Thor and Heimdall are here, in a ship in orbit. They say that they have solved their cloning problem, and can now return your mind to a body of the proper age."

"Sweet!" Jack leapt out of his seat and looked around at his former team. "What are we waiting for? Get 'em on the phone and let's get it done."

Hammond indicated Jack to sit again, but remained quiet to allow SG-1 to explain the situation to their former leader. Teal'c was the first to speak, either not feeling the awkwardness of the others, or concealing it.

"We do not wish two O'Neill's in Colorado, for fear of causing suspicion. The procedure will be performed, but not before a decision has been made as to your future."

"What Teal'c means," Daniel continued, "is that we can't have two of you here at the SGC, unless one of you is confined to the base at all times, to prevent the two of you being spotted in two different places at the same time. We think it would be better if you were to, well, go somewhere else."

Jack looked around at the five of them, particularly at O'Neill, who was yet to speak to, or even look at him. "So what you're saying is that I was exiled from my friends and my job because of this body, and now I'm going to go back to the right body, but I'll be exiled because of that too?"

Sam was clearly nervous about making her suggestion again, this time in front of two Jack O'Neills, but wasn't one to let her nerves get the better of her. "I made a suggestion earlier, uh, Jack," she glanced unconsciously at General Hammond as she spoke her CO's first name. "It didn't seem fair that you should lose all your friends and family, and the only solution I could think of was the quantum mirror."

"Send me to an alternate reality? But what about that cascade thing, with the ghost faces? That didn't look fun." Jack was curious, despite his scepticism. An alternate reality seemed like the only way he could go back to SG-1, back to his friends. "And anyway, I thought they destroyed that thing."

"They were supposed to," Carter explained, "but the powers that be decided that it was worth further study before they cut off our ties to alternate realities completely. Entropic cascade failure shouldn't be a problem in this case, as we would send you to a reality where there isn't one of you already – probably one where your counterpart is dead." Carter paused for a moment, taking a sip of water to delay having to make the inevitable suggestion.

"Obviously it's your choice, but the most obvious destination sounds like the reality Dr. Carter and Major Kawalsky came through the mirror from." Sam watched Jack's reaction closely, very aware that she had just suggested, if not in so many words, that he step through the mirror and into the shoes of Dr. Samantha Carter's dead husband.

A look of slight discomfort crossed Jack's face, but Daniel was right – they never knew what O'Neill was feeling. Why should this Jack be any different? "I can't think of a better idea, so we'd better go with that one. Can we get Thor down here now?"

"If you're sure, son, I can contact him immediately. Major Carter, join Dr. Felger working on the mirror. Contact me as soon as you've found the correct reality."

"Yes, sir." Carter stood to the leave the briefing room, and Daniel rose with her.

"I'll go and help out, if that's okay, General?"

"Go ahead." Hammond rose from his seat, and O'Neill, Teal'c and Jack followed suit. "And Colonel O'Neill, why don't you escort your counterpart to the infirmary? I'll have Thor and Heimdall meet you there."

"Nothing I'd like more, sir." O'Neill spoke for the first time since Jack had arrived. He smiled, but his lips quirked sarcastically. He was no happier with the situation than Jack was.

Perhaps, Jack hoped, they might be able to talk a little on the way to the infirmary. It might, after all, be the last chance he would get to talk to himself without getting funny looks.

*****

Thor and Heimdall beamed back to their ship when the procedure was complete and they were satisfied with the results. Hammond wished them a good journey, then turned back to the newly aged Jack O'Neill.

"Stay here until Dr. Fraiser is satisfied that there have been no side effects from the procedure, and come to my office when she releases you." Hammond left the room, and left a reluctant patient for the infirmary staff.

"Does being cloned usually cause fever?" Jack mumbled around the thermometer Dr. Fraiser had stuck in his mouth almost as soon as he had come into her care.

"I have no idea what being cloned usually causes, Colonel O'Neill, which is why I plan to check for everything," Fraiser said, with a smile. "How do you feel?"

"Old," Jack shot back, "But in a good way. When can I get out of here?"

Suddenly, there was a penlight in Fraiser's hand, and she was aiming it at his eyes. "When I'm done with you, sir."

Jack grinned wickedly. "I'm sure there are regulations against that, Doctor."

*****

"Hey, Carter, how's it going with the mirror? Felger and Daniel deserted you?" Sam looked up from the mirror control and saw Colonel O'Neill enter her lab. The quantum mirror stood in the centre of the room, and most available surfaces were covered with reports on the studies done on it at Area 51, or notes Carter and Felger had taken since it arrived at the SGC.

"Felger's gone to work on another project, sir. Daniel's gone through the mirror, with Teal'c. We think we've found the right reality – correct mirror location, pretty close to where the mirror opened when we switched it on – "

"So let me get this straight." O'Neill wandered over to the mirror and peered into it, as if expecting Daniel to come running out of it any moment. "Daniel and Teal'c are in an alternate reality, and we only think that it's the right one, we don't know?"

"We're reasonably sure, sir."

"So right now Daniel is doing one of two things: he could be having a nice chat with the alternate you and General Hammond, or he could be trying to explain to a bunch of people, who probably don't even believe in alternate realities, how he got into their mountain, and why he has the First Prime of Apophis with him."

"There was no other way to find out, sir. According to the guys at Area 51, and to our calculations here, this is the most likely reality. Daniel cleared it with General Hammond while you were in the infirmary with Jack."

Carter was getting better at saying O'Neill's first name, a habit she would have to break when the other O'Neill left. "The procedure went okay, right?"

"Oh yeah, everything went fine. Zap, flash of white light, two O'Neills sitting in the infirmary. Dr. Fraiser didn't know who to come at with the needles first."

Carter grinned. "I can imagine, sir."

"We talked a little, on the way down. It was weird." O'Neill paused for a moment, as if he wanted to say something more but wasn't sure he should. "Thanks for suggesting this, Carter. I thought of it too, and I could hear the regs creaking towards breaking point each time I did."

Carter stared deliberately into the mirror, away from O'Neill, when she answered. "Sending a clone of you to take the place of the dead husband of an alternate reality version of me? I don't think the regs were made to cover things like that."

"Still," O'Neill stepped around and caught Carter's eye, so she looked at him as he spoke. "I don't think I would have said it with you in the room. I'm glad you did."

Nervous of where the conversation was headed, Carter quickly tried to lighten the tone. "Well, we needed a solution. And anyway, Jonas is coming to work on the naquadria with me soon – would you like to be the one explaining to him why there are now two of you?"

The mood was broken, the conversation over. O'Neill had expected nothing different. Carter had always been the sensible one. "Yeah, that'd be an interesting one. We could always just have let him read the report…"

Carter smiled. "That could work." She took a deep breath, and returned to earlier in the conversation, before the awkwardness had begun. "So, talking to the other you was weird? I remember it was pretty strange when Dr. Carter was here."

"Weird, yeah. Not so bad though. We have a lot in common." O'Neill grinned. "Not to mention being totally identical in every way. Better watch out the wrong one doesn't get sent through the looking glass."

"Don't worry, sir. We'll make sure you stay here." Carter picked up a small clock from one of the benches and checked the time. "I'm fact, Daniel should be back any minute, and hopefully we can get everything back to normal."

"That's great to hear, Carter, but I have one question." O'Neill walked towards the lab door, but paused before he opened it.

"Yes, sir?" Carter answered.

"How do you know I'm the wrong one?"

"I – uh, guess I – " O'Neill pulled the lab door open and stepped into the corridor, turning back to Carter before he closed the door behind him.

"Dr. Carter isn't you, Sam. I won't forget that."

By the time Carter made it to the door, and looked into the corridor, he was out of sight.

*****

"…And so we thought that perhaps your reality would be the best place for him to come." Daniel looked around the room as he finished his speech. Himself, Teal'c, and the alternate General Hammond and Dr. Carter were the only four people gathered for the briefing.

Dr. Carter was clearly attempting to give no outward reaction to the request. In doing so, however, she was saying more than words could have. Her hands were clasped tightly enough on the desk in front of her for her knuckles to turn white, and her expression was studiously blank.

"Obviously," Daniel added, worried about Dr. Carter's reaction, "we realise this is an enormous request." He turned to specifically address Dr. Carter as he continued. "We also realise that it isn't really fair for us to ask you to take in another Jack O'Neill, as if he had never left. Regardless of the decisions of your superiors, Dr. Carter, we won't send him here without your agreement. I promise you that."

Dr. Carter rose, and for a moment Daniel thought she would condemn the idea from the outset. But she did not. She addressed Hammond when she spoke. "I need to think about this. Can I – do I have time?"

"You have as long as you need, Samantha." Hammond replied, without so much as looking at Daniel and Teal'c. "Just let us know when you've thought it through." And with that Dr. Carter rushed from the room.

Two hours later, she watched from a distance as Daniel and Teal'c talked to General Hammond, just outside the door of the room where the quantum mirror was held. Part of her wanted to go and speak to them before they left, but a larger part of her wanted to hide from them, and pretend what they had come to say wasn't true.

Parts of the conversation in the briefing room kept running through her head – "…nowhere for him to go…", "…your Jack O'Neill is dead", "…you think Dr. Carter?" – until she closed her eyes briefly and drew in an unsteady breath.

Another Jack; the wrong Jack. Dr. Carter hadn't been lying when she had told him he wasn't 'him'. She felt vaguely sick at the thought of having to pretend this Jack was hers. It should have been a reprieve from her aching loss, but somehow it felt like a punishment.

She had lied about needing to think – she knew what she would say immediately. What she had needed was to leave the room before she burst into tears. She had needed time to try and wrap her mind around the idea of Jack O'Neill in her house, in her place of work, in her life again. It had taken her so long to grow accustomed to the absence.

This isn't the time to flake, Samantha, she told herself sternly. You need to give them an answer. Hammond would relay her response to them, she knew, but somehow she felt it was important to tell them in person. To allow them to go back to this new Jack O'Neill without having to tell him she was too distraught to speak about the situation.

Teal'c inclined his head in silent greeting as she approached the group. She nodded in return, and managed a fairly convincing smile. "Teal'c. Dr. Jackson," she nodded to Daniel also. "I wanted to tell you my decision in person, before you left."

Daniel was almost holding his breath as he waited to hear with Dr. Carter had to say. Her answer was vital to Jack's future, and whether he would be forced to leave all of his friends behind, in the search for a new life.

"Colonel O'Neill must come here, of course. I couldn't be responsible for his exile from everything familiar." She paused a moment. "It will be… awkward. For him as well, I'm sure."

Daniel reached out to squeeze Dr. Carter's shoulder in comfort, as he would if it were his own Sam in pain. "Jack will be grateful. More than you can begin to imagine."

Dr. Carter said goodbye to Daniel and Teal'c, and stood with Hammond as they passed through the quantum mirror. He looked at her with sympathy as they turned to leave the room.

"Don't worry about me, General. Perhaps," she told him, "it will be like a second chance."

And perhaps it would.

*****

"Ready to go, Jack?" Daniel handed Jack his bag and walked with him from the locker room to the lab, where the mirror was still standing.

"Ready as I'm going to get." Despite his words, Jack stopped walking in the middle of the corridor. Daniel stopped beside him and was about to ask what was wrong with Jack spoke. "I'm not going to see you again – not even an alternate you. You're not in the SGC in that reality."

"I was hoping you wouldn't remember that until after you'd gone through." Daniel said wryly.

"Look," Jack turned to face Daniel completely, "I'm not into big goodbyes, and I know this is weird for you because you're probably about to say goodbye to me forever, then go and have a coffee with me in the commissary. I just want to say that serving with you was an honour, and nowhere near as much of a pain in the ass as I made out, okay?"

Daniel grinned and nodded, then added. "There's nobody looking, Jack, quit being a soldier for a minute." And Daniel grabbed Jack for a quick bear hug, before walking the rest of the way to the lab in silence.

*****

Carter, Hammond, O'Neill and Teal'c were standing around the mirror when Daniel arrived with Jack.

"Let's get this show on the road," Jack cracked, walking straight up to the mirror. "Got the right reality through there?"

"Their General Hammond and Dr. Carter are waiting for you on the other side. They've explained everything to their people." Carter informed him. She searched his face as she spoke, looking for some sign as to whether he was the one she had spoken with earlier, but his face gave nothing away.

Hammond stepped forward and grasped Jack's shoulder. "You're a fine officer, son, and a good friend. None of this should have happened, but hopefully you can settle in this other reality as if it were your own."

"Thank you, sir. It's been a pleasure to serve with you, and I hope it will be as much of a pleasure to serve with your counterpart." He turned to Carter and added, "And yours, Carter. She's a physicist, and not even military, so she'll probably make even less sense to me than you do."

"Good luck, sir." Carter stepped forward and handed Jack a thick, well-worn book. "I thought of that, and perhaps this will help you out."

"A physics dictionary," Jack grinned. "Thanks, Carter." He flipped open the first page, and Carter knew he saw the inscription she had added to the inside cover, but he made no comment on it. She hadn't expected him to. He simply smiled at her a little sadly, then turned to Teal'c.

"T, who's going to watch my back through there, with Carter doing equations in heels and no Big-T?"

Teal'c grasped Jack's arm in the traditional Jaffa handshake. "You will find comrades equally eager to protect you from harm. You are as a brother to me, O'Neill. I shall not forget your absence, even as your counterpart remains. Good fortune in your new life."

"Thanks, Teal'c." Jack turned to O'Neill. "I don't really know how to say goodbye to myself. Just… take care of our friends."

O'Neill returned Jack's serious gaze. "Goes without saying, buddy. Take care."

"Yeah," Jack stepped towards the mirror and hitched his bag up on his shoulder. "I guess I'd better go then." He touched his hand to the mirror, and was gone.

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Written by: Lin
Producers: LauraJo & Vicki

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