Daniel opened the door to his bathroom at 0430 the next morning and flicked on the fan light, clearly intending to take his daily shower. Only he found a certain General sitting on his covered toilet, waiting just for him to make an appearance.
“Ah! “ he screamed, and clutched at his chest. “Geez! Jack! What the hell do you want?”
Jack scowled. “Well, that's nice. And a hello to you, too, Daniel.”
Daniel was instantly incensed. “I don't believe this! You disappear for eight...”
Daniel didn't take the correction with much equanimity. “Jack!” he bellowed, so loud that Jack hushed him. He marginally lowered his voice. “What are you doing here?”
Jack's scowl was again in evidence. “That should be obvious, Daniel. It was you who put those stupid adds in the papers all over the country, after all. Didn't you want me to show up here?”
“Well, yeah!” Daniel exclaimed. “But I never thought you would really see those adds! Or follow up on them!”
Jack's scowl was becoming etched onto his face. “Well, you bellowed, I came. Now - tell me what happened to Carter.”
Daniel calmed the second that Jack mentioned Sam. “You've seen her?” he next asked with hope coloring his voice.
“Yeah.” Jack wriggled around to find a more comfortable position on the toilet. “After that last add you left, how could I not come?”
“I thought that last add would make a difference to you,” Daniel admitted. “I figured that if that didn't bring you out of wherever you've been for the last eight...'
“... months, nothing would.”
“Daniel,” Jack growled in single-minded intensity, warning his friend not to let himself get distracted. “Carter - what gives?”
Daniel's regretful sigh washed through the room. “It's a long story.”
Jack smirked and waved his arms around. “I've got all the free time I want.”
Daniel protested, “But I have a mission briefing in two hours, and it takes me almost that long to wake up, get ready for the day, and drive in to the SGC.”
Taken aback, Jack blinked up at him in surprise. “What do you do with all that time?”
“Drink coffee,” Daniel dryly replied. “But I'll take it with me this morning.” He sat down at the side of the tub, facing Jack. “Ok. What do you want to know?”
Jack sighed and scrubbed at his head. The action reminded him that he hadn't washed his hair in several days. Oh, well, it wasn't the first time Daniel had seen him a bit on the grungy side. “First off, what's Carter doing in that..?”
Daniel interrupted. “In that heap for retired folk?”
Daniel's grunt was short. “Pete put her in there the minute she was released from the Infirmary.”
Jack's scowl was so pronounced, it made his eyebrow scar stand out even more than it usually did. “And just why was she in the Infirmary to begin with? As I recall, she seemed to be in perfect health the last time I saw her.”
“The last time..?” Daniel gave a humorless bark of laughter, then wearily rubbed his hand over his face. “It's too early in the morning for this.”
“Tell me about it anyway,” Jack ordered, refusing to let even an ounce of remorse for Daniel fill him.
Daniel noted the determination in Jack's voice, and gave in as gracefully as he could. “That day in the Gate Room...”
The less said about that day, the better. “I'm interested in what happened after that.”
But Daniel persisted. “That's where this story starts, Jack. You told me that you wanted to hear it all - then you've got to hear this, too.” He doggedly repeated, “That day in the Gate Room, the one with Sam and what she said...”
Looking down, almost embarrassed, Jack admitted, “It took a long time for me to get over that day, ya know, Daniel.” He looked up, pain brimming like tears in his eyes, a strangely vulnerable expression for Jack to let anybody see. “I wasn't really able to move passed it until the moment that I saw Carter.”
“That day wasn't her fault,” Daniel earnestly stated.
“I know that now,” Jack told him. “Something about clones..?” He didn't finish his question, but at last asked, “Why did that day happen in the first place?”
Daniel sighed in resignation. “You're not going to like this - it was Ba'al.”
Ba'al? Jack gave an uncontrollable shiver, then visibly collected himself. “Alright - what about him?”
Daniel continued once Jack grew quiet enough to prove that he was ready to listen. “He'd captured Sam, and Teal'c and I didn't even know it. The Jaffa used stealth for the first time in Teal'c's memory. They kidnapped Sam early in the night, took her to their ship where Ba'al cloned her, gave her clone just enough memories to pass as Samantha Carter, then put the clone in her place. Teal'c saw through it after she asked what she asked you at the bottom of the Stargate ramp, but by then it was too late - you were already gone.”
Jack went ballistic. “How in God's name did he do the clone thing?!” he shouted, forgetting his own directive from a moment earlier for Daniel to be quiet. Luckily, the whirring of the bathroom fan dampened most of his voice. “I thought cloning was more Loki's style than Ba'al's.”
Daniel barked a second humorless laugh. “Yeah, well, Loki hasn't got anything on Ba'al, 'cause if his intention was to hurt you with this clone rather than just collect data about you, he got exactly what he wanted.”
Jack did a double take as his heart actually stopped for several beats and the blood drained from his face. What had happened to her... it had been... because of him? “You mean..?”
“Yeah,” Daniel sent a grim look his way. “You were already outta there before clone-Sam was sent to the Infirmary because Teal'c zatted her. We had the devil's own time convincing everybody about the clone thing, by the way - it wasn't just you who bought into her act.” He emphatically said, “It looked just like her! It sounded like her! It knew what she knew! At least, some of it.” He groaned and ground his fingers into his eyes. “Honestly, even Teal'c and I were half convinced that we were going insane.”
Jack's brows crawled halfway up his forehead. “But? How did you prove it was a fake?”
“Besides being sure that Sam would never say that to you?” he rhetorically asked before going on. “We tried and tried to trip it up, but each time we did, no one was around to hear it. I finally called General Hammond in DC out of desperation to pull that classified file on Jon O'Neill in order to prove that Jon's brain waves were close to yours, like the clone's brain waves were close to Sam's, but not quite right.”
Jack's forehead creased in confusion. “But I thought those funky brain thingies were because Thor and his buddies put that thing in me that stopped me from being cloned.”
Daniel rolled his eyes in exasperation. “We found out that Thor... How should I put this?” he muttered to himself. Louder, he said, “Thor wasn't wrong in saying that... but he wasn't exactly right, either.”
Jack's forehead creases were quickly becoming permanent. “Meaning... what?”
“Meaning... there is something inside you that keeps you from being successfully cloned... but it's not what caused the funky brain waves.”
Jack was getting tired of Daniel's beating about the bush. “Meaning...?”
Seeing Jack's patience erode like a riverbed in the monsoon season, Daniel hurried to tell him, “Meaning that we could record those brain waves and see who was cloned and who wasn't... when you knew what to look for.” He gave a dramatic sigh. “It's times like those that I really miss Janet.”
But Jack refused to walk down memory lane with him. “Daniel! So help me, if you don't tell me what happened in the next two seconds, I'll...”
Successfully threatened, Daniel rushed to say, “Hammond's talk to the doctors was very illuminating, shall we say - on several fronts.” He rolled his eyes in sarcastic disapproval, a small smile of sick appreciation tugging at his lips. “But Ba'al had the last laugh on us.”
Daniel's tone of doom didn't do anything to calm Jack down. “You're freaking me out, Daniel. You always get that dire look about you when you're gonna reveal something that I don't want to hear. Just spit it out!”
Daniel did practically spit. “A whole bunch of things happened at the same time. By the time that Hammond got to the SGC, SG-1 had just gotten back from a mission where Sam-the-clone... died.” Daniel gave a shudder, as if remembering that day, and though he must know by now that none of it had really happened, the memories were obviously still nightmarish enough. “Little did we know that while Teal'c and I were in the Briefing Room, telling the General all about that awful mission, realSam would suddenly come tumbling through the Gate. Seems that the clone had been in contact with old Ba'al the whole time, and every one of the problems we'd been having with sabotage - the Gate mysteriously breaking down, a bout of food poisoning - Ba'al and his clone did it all. He gave her orders through one of those round thingies...”
Daniel let it pass that for once Jack was correcting him for not being more specific about calling something its proper name. “He had Sam dumped on some planet, along with her GDO and some Jaffa, who gave her just enough time to input the Iris code with her GDO before they simply threw her back through the Gate. They weren't even interested in getting the iris codes from her. Ba'al just wanted the Sam-clone to hurt you, and it did, right after it showed up.” Daniel glowered, remembering. “It was the real Sam's GDO that told us that Ba'al just let her go after he'd been torturing her for months. And worst of all,” he noted in a sour voice, “Ba'al made sure her leg was...” But his narrative stopped right there.
Jack did the eyebrow raise again in order to cover his own growing horror - he had seen what had happened to her leg. “For no reason?”
Daniel's snort again lacked humor. “The best we can figure, he did it because he could, because he was still mad at you for escaping his fortress that time he captured you and wanted you to pay, that if he permanently hurt her, then he permanently hurt you.”
“Crap!” Jack swore, sickened anew at the unwitting part he'd played in Ba'al's plans. Killing her would actually have been kinder, both to her and to him. But Jack had intimate knowledge of Ba'al's penchant for not killing his prisoners. Death was too much of an escape for the likes of him.
Nauseated, Jack asked, “Ba'al really did that on purpose?”
Daniel nodded. “Sam was awake through the whole leg thing, then was thrown into a cell and left on her own when they were done.” Daniel shivered, letting Jack know that he was hardly unaffected by his own memories of that time. “It was all she could do to put on a tourniquet and bandage before passing out.” He swiped at suspiciously bright eyes with the back of his hand. “She might have bled to death, and not one of those Jaffa gave a damn.”
Jack didn't comment, but his horrified facial expression did the talking for him. “But that isn't all, is it Daniel?” He was thinking now about Shanahan. “That cop said that he's Sam's husband - but she says different.”
Daniel grimaced, forced to recall more recent events. “The Sam clone... she married the guy just like Sam was planning to.”
“But it wasn't Sam.” Jack shook his head, then corrected himself. “Carter.”
“You got a discharge, Jack,” Daniel impatiently remonstrated. “Knock it off with the Carter thing.”
“Oh, I forgot.” Thankfully distracted from thinking about a dead Carter, or a live legless Carter, or even a live Carter clone, Jack dug in his back pocket for a second, pulling out a battered wallet. “Picked this up in Buenos Ares,” he casually remarked.
It was Daniel's turn to scowl. “What were you doing in Buenos Ares?”
“That's where Thor set me down,” Jack explained, as if he didn't need to explain anything more to Daniel, who just scowled harder, encouraging Jack to tell more of his own story. “Thor was a big help with getting the discharge, but he wasn't so good at choosing the right continent to stick me on at the end of it all.” Jack's shrug said that there was more to this story, but Daniel was going to have to be content with what he was willing to divulge. “At least he picked a place where the people speak a language that I do. If I'd ended up in China or something, I would have been screwed in under 40 minutes.” He pulled a creased form out of the back of the picture portion of the wallet and smoothed it out on his leg, looked, then gave a thunderous grunt. “That old son of a gun!”
Jack held out the paper for Daniel to take. “He signed it 'Lawrencant Geronial George Hammond!'”
Daniel's brows rose. “Is that really his full name?”
“I have no idea!” Jack barked. “The point is that I never bothered to really look at the signature before now. I thought it said 'Lieutenant General George Hammond,'just like it's supposed to!”
Daniel studied the paper in his hand. “This looks to me like a typical discharge form.”
Exasperated, Daniel said, “Ok, I'll bite: why isn't this an okay thing?”
“Because, Daniel, it means that my discharge papers weren't signed correctly! Which means I never got discharged from the Air Force!”
Daniel seemed only mildly intrigued by this newsflash. “Huh. Wonder if you've been AWOL these last nine months.”
Jack was incensed. “I don't care! I told him that I wanted out, and..!”
“But don't you see what this means, Jack?”
Daniel looked as if Christmas had come early. “This means that you're still a General! Can't you do something to get Sam out of that place she's in? Something like, I don't know, like...”
Jack sighed a sad woosh of air. “Carter's been given a medical discharge by now, or I don't know the military. You say she's married to that idiot of hers.” Daniel nodded. “Then she's his problem, not the Air Force's thing to deal with. Being a General still does nothing for her, or for me, besides giving me constant indigestion.”
Daniel wilted where he sat. “Oh. I was just hoping...” He hung his head, then looked at Jack with a doleful expression. “She's going nuts in there. There's nothing for her to do, nowhere for her to go. She got the idea for the divorce thing, but Pete won't listen to her, just says she's nuts...”
“Yeah, I heard them fighting about it,” Jack reminded him. “She sounded...”
Daniel gave a wan smile, as if this left a bad taste in his mouth. “Bitter,” he bluntly announced.
Daniel grimaced. “I don't blame her, really. She's had it hard for a long time.”
Jack considered. There Carter was, stuck in that awful... And stuck without a leg, too! That must be terrible to have to adjust to that kind of a... And now that he carefully thought about it, she had lost so much more than just her leg: the Air Force had surely discharged her by now. And a discharge - to someone of Carter's mind-set - where her work was her life... So from her standpoint, she had lost her job, her career, all her friends associated with that job, her leg, her independence - everything.
For crying out loud - no wonder she sounded bitter!
Daniel's head shake was mournful. “It's terrible, Jack. She spent the first week fixing every broken gadget in the place, and hasn't hardly spoken now for months, except to call me every now and then, and to go through the whole clone angle with Pete. But Pete's not buying it.”
Jack's brow furrowed. “Yeah, what's with him, anyway? Something crawl up his... or what?
Daniel dryly snorted. “Something like that.”
“She thinks I'm dead,” Jack abruptly announced.
Daniel winced. “Yeah. That would be my fault.”
Daniel gusted a guilty explosion of air. “You didn't see her when she came back, Jack. She was half beside herself with pain... But the first person she asked about was you - if you were all right. Seems she thought that Ba'al had captured you, too, and killed you.” Daniel shrugged. “So I let her think that. With the real Sam being in such a bad way, how could I tell her what her clone thing had said to you, or about what you'd done because of it?” He shrugged again. “Why not let her think Ba'al had got to you? It was better than letting her think that she had caused the whole situation. Or her clone had,” he corrected himself. “Knowing about any of that would have killed her right then and there - and I couldn't let that happen.” His mournful voice was now edged with steel. “I wouldn't.”
“Killed her? She thinks I'm the one who's dead!”
“I didn't tell her that, honest!” Daniel held his hand out, beseeching. “All I did was sort of... not tell her what really happened.” Then he gave a wince, as if guilt had momentarily taken him over. “When she was better... er, stronger, I... I told her what really happened.” He adopted an air of apology. “She... sort of jumped to the conclusion that you had committed suicide.”
Jack snarled at Daniel, “And you let her!”
Daniel simply glared back. “What should I have done? My first responsibility was to Sam, to her state of mind! Besides, even you have to admit, suicide is something you would do.”
Jack winced at what Daniel was referring to. “Yeah, but that last time was because of Charlie!” he exclaimed. “I haven't even considered it once since then!” Not even really because of what the clone had said, though he'd let everyone believe just that.
Daniel gave another aggravated jump. “That clone thing had to have killed every last hope you had left that day in the Gate Room!” he exclaimed in self defense. “It wasn't such a big leap for realSam to think that you'd killed yourself because of what cloneSam had said!”
Jack had to concede that what he'd said was true, and after a thoughtful moment, nodded. “But you let her think...”
Finally angry, Daniel jumped up. “Don't you get it? Until we could prove the clone part, real or not, that clone basically was her!”
Jack protested, “But Carter didn't...”
“It doesn't matter what Sam said or didn't say! It matters what everyone thinks she said! And the whole Gate Room heard her ask you to give her away like... like you don't care! But every last one of us knows very well that you did care... do care... a lot!”
“Hang on, there, Danny-boy!” Jack gave his own irate jump to his feet. Those on SG-1 had never even alluded to the strange connection that Jack and Sam shared, and now Daniel was talking about it like it was a commonplace thing. “I never..!”
“Yes, you did!”
“You mean that Zanex thing?” At Daniel's curt nod, Jack briefly wondered how his friend had found out about that particularly embarrassing moment in his illustrious Air Force career, but was too incensed to ask. “I was under Tok'ra duress!”
“I'm not talking about the Tok'ra!” Daniel argued, ignoring Jack's mangling of the test Anise had administered four years earlier.
Daniel's confession surprised Jack out of his anger. “You're not?”
“No!” Daniel did a complete circle in the cramped room, a move of frustration that he hadn't committed in years. Finally, he decided to just spell it out for Jack. “I'm talking about the way you joked with her all the time, and the way you threw her out of her lab at 2:00 in the morning in order to make sure she got some sleep. Or the way you constantly visited her, or made sure she had her share of the latest doohickeys that came through the Gate, or...”
Jack felt his anger rise the longer Daniel spoke. “Enough, Daniel! I get the point!”
Daniel stopped, and lowered his voice. “I'm saying that the whole base knew everything.”
Jack really didn't want to hear this! “And no one did a damned thing?” A snort of disbelief exploded out of him. “Yeah, right, and I'm Santa Claus! Daniel, I know the military, and nobody is...”
“Yeah, well, you may know the military, but maybe you don't know the SGC like you should.”
Jack shook his head as if to get rid of something obnoxious. “Excuse me? Am I hearing this right? Look, Daniel, I'm a General, and as a General...”
“Get over the General thing, Jack. And you haven't scared me in... well, you never scared me.”
Jack fell back against the wall beside the toilet in total defeat. “Crap. Don't I know it.”
“Yeah, well, now is the time to just get on with it, not spend useless time getting mad at all of us for being stupid. You did it, not me - I just paid attention.”
Jack thought about arguing some more, but then thought what would be the point in that? “So you're saying that about 100 people...”
“More than that, Jack,” Daniel corrected. “We were on SG-1 together for a long time. It's more like 500.”
Jack couldn't help but grunt an incredulous laugh when he heard that.
Which incensed Daniel anew. “You laugh if you want to. But it doesn't change the fact that you and she were like the poster couple for the whole duty thing. 'Do it till it hurts, and then do it some more' - that should be the motto of the SGC, all that 'military comes first' stuff.” He glared at Jack. “Let me just say that no matter what you and Sam decide to do now, no one's going to stand in your way, or report you for breaking regs, or say that you're not doing your part. We all figure that both you and Sam have given more than your fair share to the SGC, and to this war, not to mention to the Air Force... and we're all sick of the 'do it right the first time!' mentality. If you've got a bug to scratch, then scratch it... but not on our time. We aren't playing that game anymore.”
Jack was amazed. “I don't believe I'm hearing this!”
“You get her out of that place, Jack, and you can do whatever you want, even if you both still end up being in the military. If someone gets too big for his britches, Siler's said he'll just hit them with his wrench before sending them to the System Lords. There's nothing those people won't do for you. And for Sam. They're letting her think you're dead for now, but I don't know how much longer I can keep that going. Especially not since you've come back. You are back, aren't you?”
Jack pensively stared at Daniel. “I'm not sure,” he said in a vague voice. “I know that I have no desire to return to commanding the SGC.”
“What?” Daniel barked in surprise. “But you were so good at it!”
That comment made Jack give a little shake of amusement. “That's nice to hear, Daniel. But it's too much like being good at sending people to their deaths for me to want to go back.”
Daniel looked crestfallen. “Oh. I was sort of hoping that you would save us from those idiots in Washington,” he admitted. “But I guess that was too much to ask.”
That piqued Jack's interest. “What idiots in Washington?”
But Daniel just sighed and acted as if this was the one thing too many to discuss. Ignoring Jack, he reached out to shut the fanlight off and opened the bathroom door.
Not to be deterred, Jack followed him as he wound his way to his kitchen to begin making the coffee for the day. “What idiots?”
But Daniel wouldn't tell him, which in its own way made him out to be a far more devious guy than Jack had ever given him credit for. He'd said just enough to get Jack interested, but refused to say more. It was an excellent strategy to keep Jack's attention for some time to come.
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