Chapter 16

In spite of the hurried Asgard time table, nothing had been decided about how to handle putting a stop to Ba'al's Cimmeria facility several hours later. By the time talks of strategy began, Carter had been released from Frazer's merciful(?) care, and had grown more accustomed to actually being able to walk on two feet rather than jump around on her one good foot. True to his initial thoughts, Jack hadn't told Carter where her new leg had come from, and fortunately, Carter hadn't asked. It was almost as if she knew that she didn't want to know.

They were now grouped together in the ship's control room, discussing whether they could afford to turn down Thor's mission or not. The 'they might be killed while doing this' was a bit of a downer, but the idea of getting Teal'c to lend them some camouflaging Jaffa armor for this mission was an encouraging notion. At least, it wasn't discouraging.

Carter looked first at Jack, then slid her gaze to take in Pete, who had insisted on joining Thor and the two ex-military members as they discussed this mission's possibilities. She shuffled her feet back and forth as she spoke, as if she still had trouble believing that she once again had two feet to shuffle. She still chose not to acknowledge any feelings she might have concerning Frazer's procedure, though, focusing on Thor's proposed mission instead. It was an old trick of hers to keep from pondering radical things, such as how she felt about what had been happening to her in the last day, in the last months, or with Jack in particular. Though a relationship with him was what she'd always secretly wanted, having it within her grasp at last was too scary to even contemplate. Plus, according to US law, Sam Carter was still married to Pete Shanahan. She didn't know what she was going to do about that, since he adamantly refused to give her the divorce she'd repeatedly requested. But she was ignoring all this in lieu of more professional concerns. It was Sam Carter at her denying best.

“So we're actually thinking about doing this?” she ascertained.

Jack watched her with narrowed eyes, as if he knew exactly what she was doing, and why, but had decided to go along with her, for now. “First things first... er, second,” he corrected, remembering that fixing Carter's leg had been first. “We find Teal'c. He'll know all about what the Jaffa have been doing on Cimmeria. Then we see if Bra'tac has heard anything. Maybe Rya'c will even be free to join us in this nutty... thing.”

“Rya'c... and Kar'yn,” Carter pointedly said, her feminist side shrieking loudly, if silently, at the injustice of his limited suggestion.

Jack mollified that side of her by saying, “Yeah, that's what I said.”

She refrained from saying anything, but the look on her face said it all for her: she was pacified, but still skeptical as to his sense of fair play. Old habits created through years of experiencing male military jargon was hard to ignore, even for someone as open-minded as General O'Neill.

Superseding all of what Sam wasn't talking about was Pete's galactic exasperation with Jack. “How many times do I have to tell you? I'm coming with you. You won't need any of those other guys you just talked about.” Sam glared secretly at him, but even she admitted to herself that he would have no way of knowing that Kar'yn was a female warrior as capable as any man.

Jack's glare, on the other hand, was as visibly galactic as Pete's. “And how many times do I have to tell you that I don't want words like 'Ba'al' and 'ignorant backup' to even be part of the same sentence? Rya'c and Bra'tac know what they're doing.”

“And so do I,” Pete insisted in a voice that was as soft as a pin dropping and as hard as a Super Soldier's armor. “Besides, I'm the one who thought of the Jaffy armor thing. I should get to come along just for that.”

But Jack's thunderous look remanded Pete's 'should' argument. “'Jaffy thing?'” he incredulously echoed, conveniently not recalling the many times he had chosen to 'forget' the proper name of something. “You don't even know what they're called! No way am I going to...”

“I'm an unknown!” Pete then pointed out in a loud voice. “I can waltz right in there and...”

“And what?” Jack scowled. “You're sure to do something stupid, and...”

“Just because I'm a cop and not on the glorious SG-1, I'm...”

“You'll give us away, that's what I was gonna say!” Jack raged. “SG-1 isn't glorious, we're just that good! I'd like to see how long a group of cops would last against...”

“Hey!” yelled Sam, breaking into the vocal fray. “This isn't some kind of competition! You two keep this up, and I'll go without either of you! So knock it off and come up with a plan A!”

“That is most advisable, O'Neill,” Thor solemnly reminded at that propitious moment.

Jack's argument wasn't derailed in the least. “What good does it do to come up with a plan A, M, or Z if he's along to ruin it the first chance he gets?”

Pete was as angry as Jack. “What makes you so sure that I'm going to ruin anything?”

“Hey!” Sam yelled a second time. “If I have to stop you two from arguing one more time, Thor and I will leave you alone on a deserted planet without a Stargate and save Earth ourselves! Now, I'm warning you..!” Silence met her threat. “Good,” she noted when neither man spoke. “Plan A... Sir?”

Pete immediately lamented, “Why does he..?”

“You're getting awfully close to that deserted planet!” Sam cried, at the end of her patience. “Now, Plan A...” she began once Pete had subsided. “We use Jaffa armor to look like we belong there, and infiltrate the cloning facility so we can blow it up - easy. But how do we do that blowing up? And how do we not get killed in the process? And how..?”

“One thing at a time,” Jack groused. “Ok. We get Jaffa armor from Teal'c at the Free Jaffa.”

Sam instantly negated, “I heard months ago that Teal'c is with the Free Jaffa. But he might not be with the Free Jaffa anymore. If not, then what?”

Jack sighed - why did she always have to be so practical? “I guess we cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Pete acted shocked at the vagueness of that plan. At the detective's sour expression, Jack added, “Even if T. isn't with the Free Jaffa, there has to be someone there that we know.” He glared at the others in turn. “We can get help from them if we have to.”

“Fine,” Carter tersely said. “Then what?”

Jack gave a dismissive shrug. “We go to Cimmeria and kick some butt.”

Carter sighed as Pete much more openly snorted in derision. “That's a plan?” he scorned.

Jack considered, then turned to Thor. “You got some C4 when you raided the SGC, right?”

Thor blinked. “I have procured your usual weapons, yes.”

Jack gestured towards Thor. “Well then.” When his comment was met with more skepticism than approval, added, “Look, you guys wanted a plan A...”

“What about a Plan B?” Pete goaded.

Jack groaned softly to himself. They always wanted more.... “Plan B... let's just make that up as we have to.” Pete was barely able to bite back his growl, but one look at a threatening Sam was enough to make him swallow his commentary. He seemed happy to make comments about SG-1 instead. “Honestly, us officers always have a Plan C, at least. How your team has remained alive this long is a miracle.”

“Hey,” Jack said. “Staying alive is what we do best. Don't mess with the overwhelming awesomeness.”

“'Awesome' my ass,” Pete muttered, making Sam think, not for the first time, that Pete and Jack were more alike than either would probably care to admit.

But Jack had heard Pete's comment, and snarkily said, “Just watch our six, and we'll watch yours.” His gaze slid to take in Pete's derriere. “Not bad, but Carter's is better.”

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, Jack again glanced over at Carter as she continued to pensively lean against the inside of the ship. She'd insisted that she needed a few moments alone to think through all that had come to light in the last hour, and Jack could tell just from the look in her eyes that she was definitely contemplating more than just her new leg. The worried glances she kept throwing his way, then throwing Shanahan's way, were beginning to completely unnerve him.

She didn't say a word - she didn't have to. She wanted him to take the Detective with him as more backup than just her - he could tell. She must still be concerned about how well her new leg was going to work out on this mission - and it still wasn't a definite that the team he eventually cobbled together for Thor would have any more than him and a sort of working her. He didn't mind admitting to himself that her anxious glances were already starting to wear down his 'no cops on any mission of mine!' resistance.

Jack sighed in resignation and regret - the military officer in him was forcing himself to concede that she had a point - going up against Ba'al was never a good idea in any way he stretched his imagination, and having a Carter who's mobility was not completely reliable wasn't how he'd prefer to go about Thor's Ba'al-breaking. Daniel was a no-go - and Teal'c wasn't yet a definite member of this team. They might not even be able to find Teal'c. He might have to at least consider taking Shanahan along as a team member... though just the thought nearly killed him. He didn't think he would tell anybody that he was thinking this way just yet. The idea of Shanahan, a member of what was basically SG-1 - sooooo not wanting to go there!

At the same time, he understood that he might not have a choice.

It was official - life sucked!

* * *

“Thanks for the disguise, Teal'c,” Jack gruffly said two hours later. Now that things had been decided upon, they happened quickly, and the first thing they had done was locate Teal'c - at Jack's insistence.

And it turned out that locating Teal'c was definitely the right thing to do. Contemplating his new armor, Jack commented, “We'll be practically invisible in these get-ups.”

“Told ya, didn't I?” Pete sang as he examined the various parts of his new armor.

Jack let the headpiece he was looking at fall to his side as he scowled. “If there's anything I hate, it's an idiot who has the nerve to say 'I told you so.'”

“That's Detective Idiot to you,” Pete replied.

Teal'c merely eyed the two combatants, finally resting his gaze on his former team leader.

“Yes,” she said, predicting Teal'c's question. “They're always like this.”

Teal'c nodded. “My condolences, SamanthaCarter.”

* * *

In the end, it was easier to take Shanahan along than not to take him, for the simple reason that his constant gloating attitude made him seem so Goa'uld-like that they could potentially use him as a Goa'uld and use him as a distraction if nothing else. The idea that he could also be useful exactly as he was, as a simple team member, was something that Jack refused to contemplate. If someone like Pete managed to worm his way onto SG-1, what was his world coming to?

Jack sent a last surreptitious glance towards Carter and her eyes and felt immediately better - capitulation had never felt so good!

* * *

“It sure was nice of you, Bra'tac, to loan us a ship like this,” Jack said an hour later, glancing around the empty teltac's innards one more time.

Sam acted before Bra'tac could respond by ripping the Asgard communication stone away from Jack and said into it, “Thor, get your...” She abruptly stopped, as if reminding herself to make her attempt sound more polite. She softened her voice and rephrased her query. “I mean, Thor, if it's convenient for you, I would very much like to confer with you about a possible weapons addition to our borrowed ship.”

The tone change must have worked, for enthralled with Carter even more than normal now that she was partially Asgard, Thor beamed down in an immediate flash of white light and spoke as if he couldn't respond to her fast enough. “Colonel Carter, I am at your service.”

Jack rolled his eyes, wondering if there was room in the Sam Carter fan club for flirtatious aliens.

Sam got right to the point. “As you know, teltacs don't have weapons. Since you can't be seen to be helping us by firing on any enemies, and as we can't fire ourselves, but need to take Bra'tac's ship in order to help your ship stay hidden...”

“And such a nice ship this teltac is, too,” Jack added for good measure with a glance at a very amused Jaffa master.

Sam ignored Jack to continue to Thor, “It would be a nice gesture from the Asgard to the Free Jaffa for you to retrofit this ship with some weapons. Aside from that, I won't let the General be forced into a mess with Ba'al with a ship that can't fire on anything. What if we run into resistance?”

Bra'tac instantly assured, “Such retrofitting will not be nec...”

Sam quelled him with a look.

“However...” Bra'tac went on with a careful glance at Sam, then turned to Thor, “It would be much appreciated.”

“It will take some time to do this retrofitting, as you call it,” Thor reported, his bulbous eyes centered on Carter, basically ignoring Bra'tac. “And even if I reassign my best scientists to this task, this teltac may only fire successfully once or twice.”

“Once or twice is better than what we have now. Take all the time you need,” Sam magnanimously invited.

Thor added, “We will work at this retrofitting while you are 'out of the picture' in Ba'al's facility.”

That's out of the way Jack thought to himself, but only leaned in closer to Bra'tac in order to whisperingly refer to Thor's recent dismissing of the Jaffa Master, “The Sam Carter fan club has just gone intergalactic - oh, and welcome to the fan club's rejects - I'll meet you at the elevator.”

It was obvious that Bra'tac didn't wholly understand what Jack meant by his words, particularly the reference to an elevator, but gamely said, “Well met, O'Neill.” His harrumph resounded loudly in the empty teltac.

* * *

Jack glanced again out the front window as hyperspace streaked by. “I don't know what we would do without you or your ship,” he added, trying to again vocalize his gratitude. He supposed that without this ship, he and Teal'c and Carter and Shanahan would be swimming to Cimmeria. Though Thor would be in orbit of Cimmeria during this mission in order to help out if things went too far South, neither the humans or the aliens wanted anyone to know that the Asgard were involved in this cloning destruction. So Thor planned to lay low while he could, hence the need for Jack and Company to deal with the Free Jaffa.

The fact that Jack sounded more like he was going to his own funeral while showing his heartfelt-but-often-unexpressed gratitude toned down the 'gratitude' part of his last statement quite a bit. He still thought to say to the Jaffa Master, “We owe you one.”

Bra'tac, however, had known Jack for many years, and wasn't alarmed at his dire tone. “It means that the Jaffa Council decided to lend a hand in saving Earth from Ba'al's most recent attempt to take control of your planet, nothing more. We do not wish any payment other than Earth's salvation and continued friendship.”

Bra'tac may know what was behind Jack's dire tone, but that didn't mean he refused to let Jack squirm a bit, so he went on, “This teltac was stolen from the System Lord Cronus, who enjoyed random acts of sabotage... but even it's cloaking device is still operational.” His glance at Jack was just as telling as his words were not. “The Council requests only that it be returned in similar working order.”

“Ah... point taken.”

* * *

One hour later, Jack was bent on checking how Carter was doing with her modifications of the teltac's engines - she insisted that she knew how to increase engine energy output by at least 10 percent now that they were on their way. However, he paused just outside the engine room when he heard voices issuing into the open corridor.

“Are those what I think they are?” Pete hesitantly asked Carter.

Jack peeked into the engine room and could see Carter crouching beside an opened engine crystal tray, Shanahan warily eyeing the crystals.

Carter barely registered the cop's intrusive talk as she concentrated on reading one of her energy doohickeys. “I don't know - what do you think they are?”

Pete went on, clearly unaware that he was interrupting her work. “Those things look like crystals from a chandelier, only they're... colored!” he ended in a horrified tone.

Carter glanced at the crystals, and experimentally switched three of them, then read her doohickey again. “These crystals are of Goa'uld design, and theirs are different colors, so of course these are different colors, too, as this is a former Goa'uld ship. How else would I be able to tell them apart if they were all clear, for example?”

Pete openly balked. “You mean they all do different things? Like fly the ship? And you can tell what they're doing?”

Sighing at this second interruption, Carter laid her doohickey into her lap. “Yes, Pete, they're flying the ship. If I took them all out right now, the engines would shut down, we would de-cloak, and the ship would stop dead in space.”

Really?” Pete's tone was incredulous. “Those little glass thingies are doing everything?”

Carter's second sigh held an even more obvious sound of her growing irritation. “Yes, Pete.”

“And you know how to... what are you doing?” His voice turned from incredulous to alarmed. “There's nothing wrong with them, is there?”

Carter gave him a long-suffering glare. “No, there's nothing wrong. I'm just tweaking them into increasing their efficiency.” And she went back to studying the doohickey in her lap again.

Pete still wasn't mollified by her assurances. “You're sure we won't... I don't know... get stranded?”

Carter's huff was now a lot less patient as she dropped her doohickey to her lap once more to openly glare at him. “Look Pete, this is what I do.” She gestured towards the crystal tray as well as the engine core behind it. “These crystals may be from the Goa'uld on a ship that was stolen from the Goa'uld, but they're no smarter than you or me.” She nodded her head in an emphatic way. “I've got a handle on this - we're fine.” She picked up her doohickey and went back to work.


Carter threw her doohickey into her lap. “But nothing!” she grunted, obviously out of patience at this point. “Okay, I'm sorry about the things I said to you when I was in the nursing home, and the things I said about you... they were somewhat harsh,” she conceded. “And that bit about you wanting to just show me off to your friends was perhaps untrue... and I apologize for the way I've always seemed so angry with you lately... like, for months. But you've been particularly high handed with me for ages, and even though I'm sorry for treating you so badly, some of it was deserved.” She gave him a pointed look. “You always said that you wanted a girlfriend who was a superhero... Well, now I'm supering. Let me do it!”

You tell him, Carter! Jack silently cheered.

Pete immediately insisted to Sam, “I never just kept you around to show you off.”

“You could have fooled me,” Carter acerbically claimed.

Pete looked genuinely hurt. “You were always more to me than some trophy, and you know it!”

She sent him a scathing look. “Then why did you immediately whisk me off to that stupid home like you were ashamed of a girl with only one leg? You didn't have to hide me away, you know.”

“I wasn't hiding you!” Pete contended. “That's where Dr. Stubs was, and I thought that he was your best chance at getting better, so that's where I put you - the closest place to him!”

“Then how come I only ever saw him once a week?” Carter shot back. “How come that's as much as I saw you?”

“I told you,” Pete growled impatiently. “I thought you were making all that stuff up about the Stargate, that you had PTSD, and being near Dr. Stubs would...”

“Pete, working with the Stargate is... was my job. I told you that. If you chose not to believe me, then that's your problem.” Carter returned to monitoring the crystals, dismissing him from her attention.

“But you weren't making any progress!” Pete protested. “And I love you, you know I do, but if you had shown just a bit of...”

“Let me ask you one thing,” Carter interrupted him. “If you claim that you love Samantha Carter so much, then why the hell did you just stick her in some dumb nursing home without even asking her first if that was what she wanted?” Her eyes were hard as titanium. “You don't treat someone you love like a dog who has pooped on the carpet! I might have been shell-shocked after I Gated back to Earth, but I was still able to have opinions! You treated me as if my opinions don't even count! You stuck me in that home, and within a week I was bored out of my skull - and you acted like you didn't care!” She glared at him with eyes that were nothing but ice chips. “If I didn't make any progress, that's because there was no one there to talk to, no lab to do experiments in, no nothing to keep me from going stark raving mad except staring out the window and sitting in the rec room!”

“I care!” Pete emphatically said. “I cared from day one!”

Carter shot daggers at Pete with her eyes. “You refused to listen to me until I refused to listen to you! I only ever told you the truth, and you repaid me by doing that!” Carter snorted. “That isn't love! That's control! And no way am I letting you control me, not anymore! If you don't like it, get over it!” She glared one last glare, then returned her attention to her doohickey.

Pete stood utterly still for a moment, stunned, as if he hadn't even contemplated any of that before now. He gazed at Carter as she continued to recalibrate the crystals, doing things to them that most people would never even think of doing. He obviously didn't even understand what she was doing. This was a different Samantha Carter than he'd known for the past eighteen months. This was soldier Sam, scientist Sam, kick-butt Carter who would definitely die of boredom in the one place he'd thought would be best for her.

“I'm sorry,” he softly said. “I didn't know.”

“Yes, you did,” she retorted in an unforgiving voice.

Pete shrugged. “Okay, so I didn't understand,” he amended, throwing a gesture at their surroundings of engine parts and alien ship. “It's not like you ever told me about all this stuff, even after we were married,” he pointed out. “It's 'classified.'”

His fingers were still quoting the air when she negated, “You knew. You just didn't believe. That's not my fault - stop acting like it is.” She gestured between the two of them, scowling. “And stop saying that we're married. We were never married. You married a clone, not the real me.” Her voice turned as icy as her eyes. “And don't do the air quote thing - that move is Jack's. You just look stupid imitating him.”

That rankled Pete's sensibilities! “Oh, believe me - I'm not imitating the likes of him!”

Carter gave a feral grin. “You couldn't even if you wanted to.”

Pete gave a disgusted huff. “You said it yourself - this isn't some kind of competition!”

“Of course it isn't,” she said, staring at her readouts again. “He thought I'd completely betrayed him, and I don't blame him. Finding him again is like getting the chance to fix what Ba'al messed up. Don't get in my way.”

This was again a more biting Carter than Jack had previously experienced. Yet, if anybody had an excuse to be biting, it was her. She'd been hacked at, exploited, used, tortured, abused, then left to rot in a boring-as-sin nursing home. If she was perpetually ticked off, she had reason to be.

Pete wisely chose to follow her advice and backed out of the engine room. Once out, he whirled, and would have stomped away, but Jack blocked his path.

Jack acknowledged that he should be the professional military commander at this juncture and act as if he knew nothing about what had just transpired between Pete and Carter. But he couldn't resist grinning at Pete as he passed by on his way to the engine room, clanking in the Jaffa military garb he already wore.

Pete scowled, ignoring the noise. “What are you grinning at?”

Jack flashed finger quotes at him. “It's classified.” He sauntered passed Pete as if he had no cares in the world. Before he knew it, he was regarding Carter sitting silently beside the crystal tray again, contemplating them with an unreadable expression. He hated to interrupt her once more, but Bra'tac wanted an update on the state of the engines, and he'd promised to get one for him. “Carter, how you coming on those engine modifications?”

She looked as if she wanted to say how she definitely preferred this second interruption to her first, but all she said was, “Fine, Sir.”

Jack smiled as her lips quirked - the way she said 'Fine, Sir' sent pleasant prickles across his butt under the Jaffa chain mail. “Good. I figure it's the least we can do to boost the teltac's engines in return for Bra'tac lending us a ship on such short notice.” Besides, if everything went according to plan on this mission, Ba'al's cloning place would be dealt with, Ba'al himself would be pushing up daisies, Earth would be saved, peace would be restored to the galaxy, and the Free Jaffa would be left with an assured ally in the Tau'ri, plus a ship that had been Asgard magicked, and was nothing less than a Carter special.

Carter trained her attention on the crystals in the tray, yet was still able to roll her eyes in an endearingly insubordinate way. He'd noticed that ever since his and her talk on the Asgard ship, she had been more relaxed around him, as if she viewed herself as more his equal since they were both now retired from the Air Force. There was no rank or regulations keeping them at arm's length anymore, and her familiarity was a direct result of that. He may not have finalized anything so solid as a relationship with her, but this familiarity was promising.

Now she grabbed another tool from the array of tools laid out before her, and, without even looking at him, grinned affectionately. “Almost finished... Sir.” The last was added with the smallest amount of teasing in her tone. She was playfully laughing at him even while she was outwardly being as respectful as expected while on a mission.

Jack squatted beside her, his eyes riveted not on the crystals, but on her, his heart pounding a sense of excitement and anticipation through his body. “Look on this as our gift to Bra'tac,” he suggested, but silently said much more with his eyes.

Carter glanced up at him, and in that one second, was clearly lost in his eyes, his look mirrored in her gaze. “Give me another 15 minutes,” she said, her voice rough, and self-consciously cleared her throat. “We should be good to push the engines by then.” Translation: she would be happy to then give her attention to him rather than to the engines, but she would be good - for as long as this mission lasted. After the mission, when they were alone, all bets were off.

“We're already at 100%,” Jack noted breathlessly. Her glittering gaze slowly blazed through even the corners of his insides.

Carter quirked an eyebrow, and Jack felt as if she'd caressed his unmentionables. “Let's make it another 15.” Her gaze was smoldering by now.

Somehow, Jack managed to find the will to say, “I'm sure the Jaffa Council will appreciate it.” Translation: he already appreciated this, even if the Jaffa Council remained forever oblivious.

Invisible energy arced between them. Neither had touched the other, but the connection linking the two was as strong as titanium. Carter dreamily grinned at him again, her eyes now gleaming pools of unsuppressed emotion as his pulse erratically thundered in his ears. “I think this calls for specialized equipment - give me your zat.”

He felt like he was giving her his life as he handed over the weapon. No, he corrected that thought: he was giving her his heart... his entire heart.

She cautiously held the zat in her hand, careful with something so delicate, the tips of her fingers brushing lightly against its metal skin.

It was as if she had directly caressed his cheek - the blood burned in his veins.

Carefully she activated his zat and fired the weapon once, blue energy fully encompassing the crystals. A whirring sound heralded the increasing power that coursed through the engines, and the ship leapt forward.

Sam's gaze never wavered from Jack's, even when the increased engine noise told them that her hunch about using the zat had been correct. She deactivated the zat and held it out for Jack to take back.

Instead of taking it, Jack gently folded her fingers around the silver weapon. “Keep it,” he softly instructed. “I trust you... completely.”

Carter cradled the weapon, cherishing what he had truly given her. “I'll keep it safe.”

His heart in his eyes, he whispered, “I know you will.”

And then he was gone, leaving Carter alone with his zat... and so much more.

Chapter 17

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