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Finding the Perfect Moment

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Jack stormed into Daniel’s office, pausing for a second on the threshold. The work space of his archaeologist looked more like the lair of a hoarding dragon than usual, filled with all the items SG-7 had brought back from the homeworld of the Jutarii for Daniel to catalogue. The fat sheep-goat-wolf-statues, more than life-sized with fangs, especially took up a lot of space.

“Woah! I bet you need a map to find your coffee mug in this… bazaar.” Jack maneuvered around the grim looking alien creature that was standing right in the entry.

“Hi, Jack. Nice to see you, too.” Daniel gave Jack a questioning look. “Don’t tell me it’s time for lunch already?” He tried to look at his watch which was a bit difficult, because he held a small glass vial with a different colored liquid in each hand.

“No feeding time for archaeologists yet,” Jack confirmed and tried to find a footpath through all the boxes and artifacts to reach Daniel’s desk. “But nevertheless, you have to accompany me right now.”

“Okay. Where to?” Daniel answered and looked inquiringly at Jack.

“Yes!” Jack said triumphantly and pointed his index finger like a sword at Daniel. “That’s the right attitude!” He pointed at him again. “I say ‘jump’ and you ask ‘where to’.” He grinned broadly. Not that he had ever doubted Daniel’s loyalty but it was nice to see it confirmed from time to time.

“Jack.” It was obvious that Daniel tried to answer patiently. “You didn’t come here to test my hypothetical readiness to follow your orders without questions.” He drew his brows together and asked hesitantly, “Or did you?”

Jack grinned, then he sighed. “No, I didn’t.” Unfortunately. his reason to see Daniel was a more awkward one. A situation that he didn’t want to face alone had come up.

“So, what is it?” Daniel put the vials into a small cup, and wiped his hands on a rag.
“I just got a telephone call from Mountain Springs High School. The little rascal didn’t show up for school this morning. Now they want to talk to me, because I’m listed as his next of kin.” Jack should have known that a problem didn’t simply go away because you ignored it. You didn’t close the door of a car and drive away and hope that everything was done with. Six months, the clone had only lasted six months before getting into trouble!

“Is it possible something has happened to him?” Daniel asked, and quickly shut his computer down.

“Nah. More likely we’ll find a ‘Gone Fishing’ sign on his door. I suggest we check it out before we drive to school.”

“But…”

“It wouldn’t be the first time he simply disappeared, and we find him with a fishing rod at a secluded river, moping.”

“That was an exception. He had just learned that he was a clone. And going to die. Don’t you think that’s enough reason to ‘mope’ as you so very insensitively call it?” Daniel replied sharply and arched an eyebrow to further drive his point home.

Jack was a bit surprised how adamantly Daniel defended the clone, but as he wanted him to come with him to the principal, he didn’t say it out loud. “Fine. Let’s find out what happened, okay?”

They changed into civvies, and first drove to the - of course, empty apartment, and then to Mountain Springs High School.

--------------------

So, this was it, where his younger self spent his days, Jack thought when they entered the building. It was still beyond his comprehension why the clone hadn’t chosen to wait somewhere in Area 51 or on a nice planet far, far away from Earth, until he looked ‘old’ enough on the outside to go to college or university. Why in god’s name go back to High School? Jack remembered the stale air in the long corridors, the atypical quietness that reigned in the building when everyone was in the classroom and nobody running around shouting, and laughing, and clicking the locker doors.

The secretary announced them, and they entered the office of the principal. Jack felt swamped by more distant memories. His schooldays; and years later when Sara and he had accompanied Charlie. Charlie, who had never made it to High School. And now he was here to learn about the shenanigans of his younger self. What a twisted world.

“Thanks for coming, Colonel O’Neill,” Mrs. Gonzales said. “You’re John Fitzpatrick’s uncle?” She read from the computer monitor in front of her.

“I am,” Jack confirmed. Mini-Jack had insisted on taking his, no, their mother’s maiden name as his last name. Jack still thought that it was a good choice. Mom would’ve liked it.

“And you are?” She turned to Daniel.

“Uhm… his other uncle,” Daniel said quickly.

She gave Daniel a scrutinizing look, and Jack saw Daniel swallowing. But then her face lit up and she said, “Yes, I remember. It was you who accompanied him to the science fair project last month, wasn’t it?”

Daniel blinked, shot Jack a quick glance, and replied, “Yes, that’s right.”

What?! Daniel not only was obviously in contact with his clone, he even accompanied him to school events? Oh boy, there was a lot of explaining in Daniel’s not so distant future! And the way he was fidgeting, he knew that very well. But now was not the time, and Jack forced his attention back to what Mrs. Gonzales was saying.

“…a very responsible young man. He would never cut school.”

Were they really talking about his younger self? What about the new born puppies of Mrs Petrecchi he absolutely had to see? Or the day when the traveling circus had come to town? And then Jack realized that his forty-something year old self wouldn’t have skipped work for puppies or circuses. So why should his clone?

In the end Jack learned that his clone wasn’t only a very responsible student, but also self-confident, sarcastic, a good sportsman, had excellent reports, a quiet authority, and often seemed much older than his seventeen years – well, the last point didn’t really especially surprise Jack. Although he wondered how and when the young man had managed to talk the Air Force in ‘making’ him seventeen instead of fifteen. But then it might have been easier to grant him emancipation when he was already seventeen. In hindsight this emancipation thing had been the best decision ever, or otherwise he would have been forced to attend other parent-teacher meetings.

“What bothers me,” continued Mrs. Gonzales, “is that he may be running from something or someone. In his first week here at school, he told me that if he didn’t show up within two hours after his class started I should call you.” She gave Jack a questioning look.

A list of names who’d like to get a Jack O’Neill clone into their hands came to mind, but he shrugged his shoulders. “Haven’t got a clue. Maybe he was concerned he’d have an accident. Alone in his apartment, he might not be found for weeks. You know, you read stuff like this in the newspapers.”

“Perhaps.” She looked as if she tried to convince herself. “If you have a way to reach him other than his cell phone or his email, please do so and let us know immediately when you find him. Otherwise, we’ll have to notify the authorities,” she concluded.

“That won’t be necessary.” The police poking their noses into this and finding the holes in the background story was really the last thing the SGC and the clone needed. Jack smiled reassuringly. “I may know two or three places where to look,” he lied. “We’ll find him.”

“He’s very fond of his grandmother, perhaps he has gone there,” Daniel offered – not very helpfully.

‘Grand-mother’ made Jack think immediately of Red Riding Hood, but mercifully Daniel added nothing about the non-existent grand-mother being ill, so that Jack was able to nod with a straight face. “We’ll call her.”

Promising again to inform Mrs. Gonzales as soon as they had any news they left the school.

“So, Daniel,” Jack said after they got back into the car. “You and the clone, huh?”

“His name is John. And yes, I thought that it was my responsibility to stay in touch with him now and then, and when he asked me to accompany him to the science fair, I did.” Daniel pushed out his chin defiantly. “If you hadn’t cut all ties with him, it could’ve been you.”

“Hey, what is it about the situation being very, very weird you don’t get? I don’t want to be part of his social life. I don’t want to be running around and searching for him, but that’s a responsibility even I can’t deny.” Jack gripped the steering wheel harder. He didn’t want to see another him make all the same mistakes again – or make all the right decisions. He wasn’t sure which would be harder to watch.

Daniel looked as if he wanted to add something, but then he decided against it.

“What?” Jack could tell that Daniel wanted to lecture him. But what about Daniel, sneaking around behind him to see his clone? He was ready! Daniel should bring it on!

“Nothing.” Daniel shook his head.

Wise decision. Jack nodded. “Fine.”

“Fine. Where do we start?”

Jack sighed. “We go back to the SGC. The sooner we start, the sooner this will be over.” And the clone would be only a shadow again that he knew nothing about. And that was much better. For everyone.

-------------------------

An hour later Jack, Daniel, Sam, Teal’c, Janet, and General Hammond were sitting around the conference table in the SGC and Jack filled everybody in on the meeting that had occurred at the High School. They immediately telephoned the hospitals but no young man of John’s description had been admitted within the past few hours.

“What information do we have about him that may help us in this case?” the General asked.

“I see him once a month for his psychological evaluation,” Janet began, “and in my opinion it’s very improbable that he disappeared without notice. Therefore, an accident or something very emotionally upsetting must have happened to him.”

“Was his car missing?” Sam asked.

“He has a car?” When…? Of course his younger self would have gotten a car as soon as possible. But… “How do you know?” Jack asked the major.

Sam played with the folder in front of her but then she looked up and said, “Daniel bought the car and Siler and I fixed it. It’s a blue 1984 Subaru Justy.”

“Ugh. What an ugly car.” Before Jack could add more, Daniel interrupted him.

“He’s a high school student. He can’t drive a monster Ford like you do.”

Jack turned to Daniel. “Couldn’t you have least bought him something more fashionable? Or a motorcycle? I’ve always wanted…”

“Colonel,” General Hammond intervened. “You can discuss the appropriate vehicle for John after this meeting.”

“Will do, sir.” Jack nodded and mumbled under his breath. “A Subaru Justy.”

“In his last email he told me that he wanted to check out some universities but I’m sure he wouldn’t do that while school was in session,” General Hammond stated.

“Wait!” Jack held up his hands. “You’re telling me, everyone in this room, other than me, has been in contact with Mini-Me in one form or other during the last six months?”

“That is not correct, O’Neill. I have not participated in any extra-base activities with your clone.” The Jaffa inclined his head.

“Thank you, Teal’c. That’s really good to know.” Jack knew he sounded pissed, and he was pissed, although it had been his decision not to stay in contact. But to learn that everybody else now knew more about ‘the other Jack’, or John, or whatever he wanted to be called, felt damned strange.

“Let’s get back to the point,” Hammond admonished. “We must learn more about his disappearance. Search his apartment and try to find any clues as to why he has left. And we should also take into consideration that he may have been kidnapped. There was only so much cover up story we could provide him with. It may be that someone, somehow, discovered who he really is.”

“NID?” Daniel asked.

While Teal’c said at the same moment, “Goa’uld?”

With these two words, Jack’s perspective shifted. From a practical joke it became something more threatening. Memories of Ba’al and his torture chamber were back. Jack tasted his blood on his tongue, the helpless desperation of being killed and revived – again and again. He could only hope that Teal’c wasn’t right this time. Yes, they had to find Mini-Jack as soon as possible.

“Let’s find out.” The general got up from the conference table. “Dismissed, and good luck.”

--------------------------

The ugly blue car directly in front of the building was the first thing Jack noticed when they arrived at the address. It remained a mystery to him how he could’ve missed it three hours ago. But they all agreed that it wasn’t a good sign – where would John have gone without his car? Jack knew every good spot for fishing was too far away. Furthermore, they found John’s mountain bike on the balcony, so there went another possibility to cover more than a few miles in an hour.

In the apartment Sam immediately went to the computer and tried to hack the password while the three men started looking around. The apartment was small: a living room, a tiny bedroom, a tiny kitchen and of course a tiny bathroom. Minuscule compared to Jack’s house.

Jack and Daniel started with the living room and after a few minutes, Teal’c called from the kitchen. “There is nothing here to indicate that he intended to leave for an extended period of time. There are many perishable goods like bread, cheese, yogurt and a fruit salad. And would you not turn off the coffee-maker if you were going on a trip, O’Neill?”

“I definitively would,” Jack conceded. “As long as I wouldn’t be late for my plane.”

“Very helpful, sir,” Sam laughed and then cursed when the next password again wasn’t correct. She sighed. “Can you tell me what your younger self might use?”

Jack rattled down the names of his former pets, but to no avail.

Teal’c came back to the living room, a bottle of beer in his hand. “Do you not condemn the consumption of alcohol in young Tau’ri below the age of twenty-one?”

“Yeah, he shouldn’t be able to buy that.” Jack nodded and stretched out his hand. Before he could close his fingers around the beer bottle, Daniel snatched it.

“I bought it for him. He really craves a beer from time to time, so I bought him a couple six packs.” His look dared Jack to challenge him on this.

“Peachy.” Jack patted Daniel on the shoulder. “Go and turn him into an alcoholic.”

“You’re exaggerating. I’m sure when you were…”

“Sir, I managed to access his email account,” Sam interrupted the beginning banter.

“Good work.” Jack went over to take a look at the monitor, but he didn’t recognize any of the names. Perhaps new friends from school. Better to have Carter go through the correspondence than him. “Gimme a summary of the most important emails.”

Jack left Carter to her task and went to the tiny bedroom. Not too tidy, science fiction posters on the walls, a TV on top of a chest of drawers and a laptop on the bed. Jack opened the wardrobe. The boy had a good taste in garments, but then of course it was due to his impeccable taste. T-shirts, jeans, boxer shorts, socks, everything was new and in great quality. The SGC had spared no expense.

Jack also rummaged through the nightstand and, wow, he shouldn’t have been so shocked to find lube. Imagining his clone using it made him really uncomfortable. Jack quickly closed the drawer and sat heavily down on the bed. Of course the young man was also a sexual being. With rampant teenage hormones. And the knowledge and memories of an adult man.

He really hoped his clone didn’t use the same jerk-off fantasies he did. Shit. That was so wrong on so many levels. That was even more fucked up than the usual Stargate related insanities. No, no, no, he wouldn’t go there. But unerringly Daniel’s image came to his mind. A naked Daniel from the communal showers. Soft skin with water drops running down… Jack sighed deeply, chased the image away, and tried to remember what had been the status quo when the clone’s and his life had separated.

When he had seen Daniel on Vis Urban he had sworn to himself to finally bite the bullet and tell him what he felt for him. Not to make the same mistake again and wait until it was too late. But then there had been the problems with Daniel getting back his memories, so Jack had held back. The Loki incident, which had got him into all this trouble, had happened shortly afterwards. Then Daniel had had that shipload of frozen people in his mind, they had visited the Unas planet, Carter had taken part in a space race and so on, each week a new catastrophe, and he had shelved it again and again. It was the easiest way to – not – deal with it. He always had found an excuse why it wasn’t the right moment. He was such a coward.

But of course his clone would know about his feelings. Would know what Daniel meant to him, even if he’d never acted on those feelings. John would know what Jack knew. Jack rubbed his hands over his face and sighed again.

Daniel chose this moment to poke his head round the door. “Find anything?” Then he added with more concern in his voice, “Is everything okay, Jack?” and gave Jack a very scrutinizing look.

No, nothing was okay. How could it be okay, if he was thinking about a tempting, naked male team-mate? Warm skin he craved to touch? The wish to be near a certain someone, spend the night with him and have breakfast with him? Jack was afraid that something of this might be readable on his face. Sometimes the archaeologist was too observant for his own good. So Jack forced his lips into a smile. “Swell.” Resolutely, Jack got up from the bed.

“Of course.” Daniel’s eyes darted from Jack to the bed, to the nightstand and back to Jack. He didn’t seem convinced but he added, “Come on, let’s find out if any of the neighbours saw or heard anything.”

The neighbours had noticed lots of things. They complained about John’s taste in music, and that he had already burned his diner three times – ‘We had the stench in the house for days!’ But they also praised his helpfulness and his nice manners for such a poor, young boy living on his own. But no one could contribute anything constructive, like black vans waiting in front of the house or sinister people walking around suspiciously.

When Jack and Daniel came back to the apartment, Sam told them that the email account was a dead end. John was only communicating with other students – and Daniel – to arrange meetings for cinemas, baseball matches etc. Also the rest of his computer concealed no secrets – downloaded music, things for school, nothing out of the ordinary.

On the way back to Cheyenne Mountain they stopped at four places Colonel O’Neill frequently patronized – an Asian restaurant, a coffee shop, a small grocery store, and a secluded place in Palmer Park, but obviously John didn’t have the same preferences anymore, nobody recognized him from the photo they had. Or possibly John was as uncomfortable as Jack was of accidentally bumping into each other and had changed his habits. For a second Jack actually felt guilty. One more thing his clone had given up because of him. Jack shook his head. Or not. Perhaps teenage boys were fonder of fast food and other more teenaged pursuits, so if he wanted to blend in, to be part of that new group, he had to go elsewhere. But the stale taste that John had maybe gotten the short end of the stick kept lingering on Jack’s tongue.

Half an hour later they gave their unsatisfying report to General Hammond.

“It’s back to square one,” Sam sighed.

At that moment General Hammond’s telephone rang. He listened attentively before he passed the receiver to Jack and said, “It’s for you, Colonel. Someone who only wants to speak to you. We’ll try to track the caller. With luck it’s an important witness or even a kidnapper.”

“Okay, put him on the speaker.” Jack nodded and waited until General Hammond indicated with his raised thumb that everything was set and he could speak. “Colonel Jack O’Neill,” Jack identified himself with as much authority as possible. “What can I do for you?”

“You can do a lot for me,” a slimy male voice at the other end of the telephone answered. “How about giving me five hundred thousand dollars, and in exchange I’ll give you back something that belongs to you without causing a scandal.”

“That sounds like an interesting proposition. But are you really sure that you have something that’s worth half a million to me?” Jack looked around, and his friends stared at him with varying degrees of lip biting and nervous hand wringing. In a few seconds they would know who had found out about the Stargate program.

“Don’t play games with me. I know that he’s your love child. Using your mother’s maiden name was a really dumb thing to do.”

“My what?” Jack’s surprise and consternation wasn’t feigned. He was expecting some NID conspiracy, a leak of interstellar proportions, Goa’uld or other extra-terrestrial creeps, and this guy on the other side of the phone was threatening him with a scandal over an indiscretion he had never committed? There was no danger that the cloning program of little grey assed aliens would be unveiled? Jack noticed the tension in his shoulders lessening.

“You can deny it all you want, but I’m sure the press will be like a dog with a bone when I provide the evidence that he looks like you on your High School yearbook photo.”

“That’s why it’s called family ‘resemblance’,” Jack explained. “He’s family, but he isn’t my illegitimate son.” Huh, this was the first time he actually had called his clone family!

“So you don’t care what happens to him?” the caller asked snidely.

“I didn’t say that. Of course I do. And you’d better release him unharmed as long as you still have the time or I’m going to make your life miserable, understood?” To his surprise Jack meant every word he had said. In a strange way he cared – more than he liked to admit.

“We’ll release him after you delivered half a million dollars in small notes exactly where and when I tell you. And don’t call the police or inform your people from the Army, otherwise…”

“Air Force,” Jack corrected him. “I’m Air Force – not that it’s really important in this context,” he conceded. “Only for clarification.” He scribbled on a paper: “ADDRESS?”

Carter shook her head. “Not yet,” she mouthed. “Keep him talking.”

Sure, he could do that. “By the way, if you want half a million in small notes, do you know how many suitcases I’ll need for transportation?”

“In fact I do. It’s about twenty-three pounds for fifty dollar bills, and one backpack is enough to transport them.”

“Oh. I thought it’d be heavier.” He really had.

“You have until tomorrow morning to get the money or otherwise we’ll go to the press. You better start organizing the money. We’ll call you back with further instructions.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Jack shouted, not only trying to buy time. “Lemme talk to John. I have to know that you really have him and that he’s fine.”

“Bring the kid,” they heard the man on the phone say, so they knew that there were at least two individuals involved.

And then there was John’s voice. “Uncle Jack? I’m fine but I’m so scared!” He sounded much younger than usual. “Please, help me. I wanna go home, home, home.” There was a definite hitch in his voice.

A clever way to make the kidnappers underestimate him.

John continued, “And please, feed my guinea pigs. Silva, Equus and Occidens will need food. And put 115 milligrams vitamin C in their water and...”

“That’s enough!” a harsh voice was heard.

“I’ll take care of your little darlings,” Jack said quickly. “Keep your spirits up, young man.” Addressing the kidnappers, he added, “If you so much as harm a hair on his head you’ll find out what it means to mess with me, is that understood?”

“Hey, don’t forget, we hold all the aces,” the felon retorted. “But as long as you are where we tell you to be with the money – everything will be hunky-dory.”

“Let’s hope so. How can I reach you if I have difficulties raising the money until tomorrow morning?”

“Good try,” the kidnapper sneered. “Do you really think we’ll give you the phone number? We’ll call you and you better have the money ready.” He hung up before Jack could ask another question.

“Was that enough to pinpoint his exact location?” he asked Carter.

Sam conferred quickly with a technician before saying, “He’s somewhere in the wider area of the Springs.”

“We have more,” Daniel said tapping his pencil on the notes before him. “The names of the non-existent guinea pigs must be clues. ‘Silva’ means forest in Ancient, ‘Equus’ horse, and ‘Occidens’ puts us west of the Springs.”

“Good. But what was that line about the Vitamin C?” Janet Fraiser asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Everyone mulled over it, until Sam suddenly exclaimed, “But it does! It must be the CO 115 which runs from Nevada Avenue south,” Sam searched on her computer for a map of Colorado Springs. “Here. We’ve all spent hours in traffic jams there. Look, all this evidence leaves us with this part of the city near Cheyenne Mountain.” Her finger was circling over the monitor.

“And that’s why he said three times ‘home’ – ‘home’ as in Cheyenne Mountain, because nobody of us lives in this part of the city,” Daniel concluded.

“So we only have to find…”

Jack wasn’t able to finish his sentence because Teal’c said, “The Colorado Stables.” He put his finger on the exact point of the map.

“Cool!” Jack raised his thumb. “A real team effort.” He smiled warmly at everyone in the room. “Let’s go and get him back.”

-------------------------------------

Two hours later, at six o’clock in the evening, they arrived at the stables. Sam and Janet pretended to be looking for riding lessons and talked to the owner about horseback rides, guided tours, riding trails and prices. They even went to the stables to have a look at the horses. Jack, Daniel and Teal’c searched the premises. A large forest with firs, oaks, pines, aspens and some juniper surrounded the stables. A nice place for horse riding.

At first everything seemed just fine, but on the way to the cabins that were available to rent, Teal’c found a piece of paper with handwritten words on it. It obviously had been torn from a larger sheet of paper.

“Living organisms … specific use … often overlaps,” he read out loud. “No, I am afraid this does not advance our search,” he said and passed the paper to Jack.

“But … that’s… that’s my handwriting!” Excitedly Jack gave the paper to Daniel. “Mini-Me! Must be him. Because I didn’t write this.”

“Is there more?” Daniel asked and they searched the ground thoroughly.

“Over here!” Teal’c said and held up another piece of paper. It fit exactly with the first one.

“He somehow managed to leave it here for us to find it. Probably when they transported him from the parking area to the cabin. And that means that he’s here.” Jack beamed. “Like Hansel and Gretel. Clever me.”

They followed the small path to the outer cabins. It took them nearly fifteen minutes to assemble the original sheet of paper because the wind had blown some of them into the forest. When it was complete it was some sort of text about bioengineering written in Jack’s or respectively John’s handwriting.

“That must have been in the pocket of his jeans or his jacket when they kidnapped him,” Daniel said.

Jack nodded. “Now we know without a doubt that he’s here. Teal’c you go back to Carter and Janet and tell them to ‘leave’ officially. Cater should call ‘our’ police officers. “

Already years ago General Hammond had had a very interesting talk with the Captain of the police in the Springs, because there was always the danger that someone or something might come through the Stargate and invade the city. Now there were some specially trained police officers for singular cases – like this.

He continued, “Daniel and I will stay here and keep an eye on the cabins and make sure they don’t slip away before you come back.”

“We will return shortly, O’Neill,” Teal’c promised and disappeared.

Jack and Daniel took up their post behind a large boulder from where they had a good view on all eight cabins. They half crouched in the grass, half leaned on the rock still warm from the sun. Jack took small field glasses from his pocket and they saw that one of the cabins was under construction, on the porch of one of them was an elderly couple sitting on a bench, and in front of two of other cabins children were playing.

“Would you take your children with you to a kidnapping?” Jack asked.

“No, I’d leave them with the nanny,” Daniel answered. “Or bring the nanny.”

“Smart ass.” Jack made a gesture that was somewhere between a hair ruffle and knocking his knuckles on Daniel’s head.

Daniel snickered. “You asked for an answer like that.”

“Yeah, perhaps I did.” They sat for a while in companionable silence until Jack suddenly asked, “Do you think I should talk more often to my clone? Invite him over? Do… fatherly things with him?”

“Yes, to the first two ideas, a definite ‘no’ to the third one.” Daniel pulled a funny face before he sobered up. “But then… it isn’t for me to tell you what to do in this special case. I’m sorry I tried to push you to take more responsibilities. You have to find your own way. But I’m not sorry I kept in contact with John,” he added softly.

Yes, somehow Jack was glad. And he was relieved that he had the excuse of observing the cabins so that he didn’t have to look at Daniel when he asked, “Do you… uhm… sometimes talk about me?”

“We try not to.”

“Yep, makes sense.” He was a bit disappointed.

“We mostly talk about his plans for the future, and I more or less keep him in the loop about what’s happening in the SGC.”

Jack pressed his lips firmly together not to say something along the lines of, ‘Are you crazy?’ because he was sure Daniel had made a whole list with arguments which proved why this was a good idea. He could only lose. So he asked instead, “Do you know why he went to High School? I can’t see why another me would find that appealing.”

“Imagine staying in the SGC and being always addressed as the ‘false Jack’, the ‘other O’Neill’, the ‘clone’, because there’s someone running around who has original rights to your name? We’re guilty of doing that, too.”

Jack only ‘hmmed’ because that’s what he was still calling him in his head.

Daniel continued, “Therefore he decided to go somewhere where nobody knew him. He went to High School to start his life with an excellent diploma that enables him to study astrophysics and ‘learn about everything that’s on the other side of the telescope’ he told me. That doesn’t exclude that in six or seven years, after his first PhD, he’ll return to the SCG – but then with a name of his own and his own achievements.”

“Oh my god! I’m going to be a scientist!” Jack grinned, inwardly very pleased to hear that his clo… that John had such ambitious plans for his future.

“Not you, him, but other than that, that’s right,” Daniel said with a broad grin of his own.

“He…”

In that moment there was a loud rustling in the trees behind them. Before Jack had time to turn his head something hit the rock they were leaning on with a loud ‘crack’, only inches away from Daniel’s head. Crap! How had the kidnappers managed to get behind Daniel and him? Even while talking they never had stopped their observation of the cabins. Could there be more than the two kidnappers on the phone? No, no, dammit, this was supposed to be a milk run! Daniel couldn’t be hit by a madman. Not before he had talked to him about certain, very important things!

These thoughts were running through Jack’s head at lightning speed while he threw himself over Daniel to shield him with his body. But Daniel hadn’t stayed still; he had turned around, now leaning with his back against the boulder. This unexpected move made Jack’s nose end up in the crook of Daniel’s neck. For a second Jack’s nostrils were filled with the scent of Daniel’s aftershave and a deep longing ran through his body. Then something hit him on his shoulder and Jack waited for the pain to start. Which didn’t happen.

After a moment Daniel started laughing and a startled Jack lifted his head.

“What is it?” Jack saw that Daniel had pulled his weapon and was now aiming at something above their heads.

“We are veritable elite soldiers. Frightened by two quarrelling squirrels.” He pointed with his weapon above their heads. “Their ‘projectiles’ were super dangerous pine cones.”

Jack groaned. “Oh, no. Carter will have a field day if we tell her.”

“We won’t,” Daniel promised and finally lowered his weapon.

“You make a great warrior, Doctor Jackson.” Jack was proud of Daniel’s reaction. And so his praise was meant only half-jokingly.

“You make a great… protector, Colonel O’Neill,” Daniel retorted in the same tone. His eyes were still filled with laughter and he looked absolutely self-balanced and content in this moment, which made Jack’s heart ache a little bit. He couldn’t remember when he had last seen Daniel so relaxed. So open. And so beautiful.

And yes, this was really shitty timing, and so much about this moment was wrong, but Jack’s brain wasn’t fully functional with Daniel in such close proximity, so he licked his lips, bent his head and kissed Daniel’s slightly open lips.

Daniel’s eyes widened for the fraction of a second, but before Jack could draw back and start his apologies, Daniel grabbed his shoulders and pulled him closer. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘idiot’ against Jack’s lips, before he kissed him back. No tentative, shy kiss, but a kiss where his tongue was licking over Jack’s lower lip and invading his mouth when he opened it. The tip of Daniel’s nose was brushing against Jack’s cheek and the rim of glasses scraping across his eyebrow – it was perfect.

Jack’s fingers glided through Daniel’s hair, while Daniel’s hand on his neck held Jack in place for more kisses. Which was totally unnecessary because Jack had no intention of moving. It didn’t get better than being kissed by Daniel. He wanted to tell Daniel this, but it was hard to think and speak with Daniel's mouth sucking at his lips and his tongue. Everything in Jack’s head started to spin with anticipation.

And he had to touch some more. Learn more of Daniel’s body. His fingers explored further, cupping Daniel’s clean shaven jaw, savouring the smooth, warm skin before his thumb was rubbing tiny circles against the small scar he found there from one of their last missions. When Daniel licked his thumb like a popsicle they both started to laugh – which broke the kiss, but not the spell of the moment.

Jack raised his head and Daniel was beaming his happy, contented grin and Jack had to grin back because they’d just kissed for the first time. They had started something that he absolutely wanted to continue. They had finally managed to take the first step.

“Hey,” he said and hoped that it didn’t sound too sappy even if it was only one word.

“Hey.” Daniel laid his hand on Jack’s chest, where Jack could feel the warmth sipping through his t-shirt. “Our timing sucks.”

“Yeah. But we’ll continue this. Later. Promise. Let’s first save the ‘fruit of my loins’, no of my DNA and then...” He waggled his eyebrows which brought another widespread grin to Daniel’s face. Jack gave him another sloppy kiss before he rolled to his side. He shot a quick glance to the cabins where nothing had changed within in the last five minutes.

Daniel took his position at Jack’s side, staring in the same direction, but this time he made sure that their shoulders, their arms, and their hips were touching. Daniel bumped Jack’s shoulder. “We should send the squirrels a gift basket full of nuts to thank them, because somehow this led to our first kiss.”

Jack chuckled. “Yes, perhaps we should. You know, when...”

“Sir?” Carter’s voice came through clearly on the radio. “We’re back. And we got the keys to the cabins from the owner. It seems she knows nothing about the kidnapping but to make sure that she’s telling the truth and doesn’t call anyone, Janet is staying with her. Teal’c, the two police officers, and I are on our way to your position.”

“Copy that. We’re behind the tall boulder you see when you follow the path to the farthest cabin.”

“We’ll be there in a minute, sir. Carter out.”

-------------------------------

Five minutes later they were combing through the cabins. In the third one they found John tied to a chair and the kidnappers. One of the criminals was watching TV, the second preparing coffee. Taking down the bad guys was a bit anticlimactic because they obviously hadn’t foreseen that a commando team of six heavily armed persons would storm their hiding place. They offered no resistance and were quickly overpowered and cuffed.

Jack pulled the tape from John’s mouth and the first words of his bigmouthed alter ego were, “What took you so long, old man?”

While Jack cut the bindings which tied the young man to a chair he grumbled, “I’m glad to hear that you’re happy to see me,” but more for show because he really was relieved that the situation had ended without bloodshed or finding John hurt.

“I am glad. This chair is very uncomfortable and I really have to pee.” John shook his hands to bring back circulation.

Jack snorted. That sounded exactly like something he would’ve said in the same situation. “Run. But don’t get kidnapped on your way to the john.”

John flipped the bird at him and disappeared.

“He seems to be fine,” Daniel said stepping to his side. “No permanent harm. His big mouth is still working just like normal.”

“Hard-nosed.” Jack nodded. “But then he remembers situations that have been much worse and desperate.”

“Yes, he sure does.”

While Jack was talking to Mrs. Gonzales on the phone, reassuring her, that everything was fine, John stepped out of the bathroom.

“Let’s go. I need my beauty sleep.”

“Of course. We’ll see if that’s okay with the police and then we’ll take you back to your apartment. By the way, you... uhm... did great with leaving all those clues and sounding like a terrified twelve-year-old. They totally underestimated you.”

John’s face lit up, but he brushed the compliment away with his hand. “I was sure you guys would immediately come to the right conclusions.”

“We did. Great job with the Ancient words,” Daniel praised.

“Uh. Oh.” John rubbed his hand through the short hair in his neck. “Let’s get the clearance to get outta’ here,” he said.

It was fine with the police because they had everything they needed but they asked John to come to the precinct the next day, make his statement and sign his testimony.

On the way to the parked cars Jack asked, “Did they tell you how they knew who to blackmail?”

“It seems one of my classmates mentioned at home that I’m living alone, and someone thought I’d make an easy target. They broke into the school computer system to find out who to ask for ransom – and well, let’s be realistic, the school computer isn’t Fort Knox. After they had your name, they dug around a bit on the internet and stumbled upon the photo in the year book. That’s were they got the strange idea that you’re my dad.” He gave Jack a lopsided grin.

“Thank god, I’m not.”

Meanwhile they had arrived at the parking area and Carter was going to take Janet and Teal’c home. Before they parted company, Sam said, “And don’t forget, tomorrow evening is team night. It’s my turn, 1900 at my place. Bring something to drink, I’ll order pizza.”

“And I will procure the ice-cream,” Teal’c stated. “So there will be no scarceness again.”

They all smiled and Jack turned to John, “Do you wanna come? Uhm... We’d like some firsthand information about the kidnapping,” he added quickly. God forbid he’d admit that perhaps he should follow Daniel’s advice and develop a closer contact with his cl... John. But whether he liked it or not, John was family. His clone’s DNA was closer to his than any child’s to their parents. He had to push aside his own discomfort – after all, he had the better deal: he got his team, his work, his friends, his house, and now Daniel; the only thing Mini had was his youth.

“I don’t know.” John looked from one to the other. “I mean...” He stopped when the others nodded and looked directly at Jack.

“There’ll be beer,” Jack said, and if it sounded like some sort of apology or bribe, well, trying to analyze it further made Jack’s head spin, and not in a good way.

“Sold.” John grinned from ear to ear.

They shook hands and Sam and Janet gave John a quick hug before they departed. When Jack wanted to get into his car, John stretched out his hand, palm up. It was obvious what he wanted. The car keys. No! Jack swallowed. He couldn’t let…

“Give them to him. Or otherwise we’ll be still here in the morning”, Daniel said matter-of-fact.

“But…” If he allowed it he would set a precedent.

Daniel opened the rear door of the car and prompted Jack to hop in. “Come on.” He sat down on the rear seat and patted the one beside him.

Suddenly Jack saw the advantage in this arrangement. Oh, yes! “Fine,” he said and pressed the car keys into John’s hand. “But if there’s the tiniest scratch…” He didn’t finish his threat.

“Your car is my car,” John reassured him, with a grin, which wasn’t really reassuring to Jack.

The moment he sat down beside Daniel, and John started to take the curves down to the Springs a bit too quickly, Daniel distracted Jack by taking his hand. Okay, hand holding with Daniel, nothing that had been on the list this morning. Then he hadn’t known that it was possible. But to have his clone playing chauffeur to him was even stranger and he pressed Daniel’s hand. It was impossible for John to see in the rear mirror what they were doing.

Daniel’s fingers glided over the back of his hand, caressed up to his wrist before they came back to the more sensitive palm of his hand. Daniel’s fingers followed the lines, which he couldn’t see because he was – like Jack – looking out of the window. But when he rounded each finger separately with his index finger, Jack immediately had to think about other parts of his body where he might also do this.

John interrupted the moment to tell them that his kidnappers had waited for him behind his door and had sedated him with chloroform. But they were amateurs and hadn’t used enough. He’d been able to feign unconsciousness, while he’d memorized their route.

“Well done,” Jack said half-heartedly because Daniel’s delicate touch made him hard. His dick started pressing against the zipper of his jeans, and that tiny bit of counter-pressure was enough to make him even harder.

Daniel said something affirmative to John, which Jack didn’t really hear because he had to fight against the overwhelming feeling of groaning out loud. Heavens, this felt so damned good! This was like foreplay without being really foreplay. He couldn’t wait to get Daniel into his bed if such harmless touches made him feel such a wave of desire.

Jack wriggled about in his seat to find a more comfortable position. And when the bloody archaeologist wrapped his whole hand around his index finger and started gliding up and down, Jack had to clear his throat to mask a loud groan.

Thank god, they were already turning into the street where John lived and he snatched back his hand when they stopped in front of John’s apartment house. Daniel had an attack of mother-henning and insisted on accompanying him upstairs to make sure that there were no surprises waiting. John tried to dissuade him. Before they could start a debate, Jack just got out of the car and started climbing the stairs.

Of course nobody was lurking under the bed or in the closet. After they were sure that the coast was clear, Daniel nonetheless asked, “Are you really sure you want to stay here alone tonight?”

Jack wanted to kick him. The last thing he wanted was his clone spending the night at Daniel’s.

John rolled his eyes in a very Jack-like way. “Yes, mom.”

Daniel rolled his eyes back at him.

“See?” Jack said and pulled at Daniel’s sleeve because he didn’t want John camping out on Daniel’s sofa tonight! “Everything is fine. Come on. We also need our beauty sleep.”

John squinted his eyes half shut, looked from Daniel to Jack and back again, when suddenly he slapped his palm on his forehead in realization. “Yes! Oh god, yes, you finally asked him!” He clapped Jack playfully on the shoulder. “You got your butt in gear and stopped procrastinating. Wonders will never cease.”

“Hey,” Jack protested half-heartedly.

“Another time you can tell me all about when and how it finally happed, but for now,” John made shooing motions with his hands, “get outta’ here, go home and have sex. And just remember old man, if you can’t be good, at least be adequate!” And John started laughing out loud.

Jack groaned and taking quick steps to the front door he complained to Daniel, “You see why this is totally weird? Me allowing me to have sex? Do you get it now, why it’s wrong on so many galactic magnitudes?” he asked Daniel.

Daniel must’ve heard in his voice that his heart wasn’t in this complaint, because he put his hands on Jack’s waist and pushed him the last steps to the door. “Poor old man.” His voice wasn’t filled with sympathy. “Let’s go home and see if you can be better than adequate,” Daniel teased.

Hmmm, it looked as if Daniel didn’t waste much thought on the fact that someone knew about their relationship. Or he simply didn’t care. He seemed sure it was a ‘done deal’. Perhaps Jack should stop worrying and ‘go with the flow.’

Daniel waved at John and they were on their way back to the car.

When Jack stopped at the first red light Daniel put his hand over Jack’s on the steering wheel.

Jack grinned. He was sure that they would finally, finally find the perfect moment for everything he had been dreaming about for so long.

---------- END-------

©Antares, June-July 2016