A/N: This story's reviews have made wonderful and thought provoking reading. Thank you so much for your encouragement and kind words. Like Carter, you're all a National Treasure.

Chapter 27

The trip home. Jack didn't know if he should feel relieved about finally going back to Earth, or anxious. Instead of experiencing one emotion or the other, he had a strange empty feeling in his gut. On the one hand, he would be ecstatic to once again see the SGC again, and on the other, was terrified at what could possibly be waiting for him there - he could resume his old life, as unfulfilling as it had been, or he could embark on a new path. It was this second aspect that had him in its terrifying grip.

In the meantime, several of the SGC personnel had opted to remain on Cimmeria to assist in whatever way possible with the efforts to deal with the fallout of the Goa'uld occupation; it seemed that Ba'al's forces had had a larger impact on the planet than simply cloning its inhabitants. A great deal of rebuilding needed to be done in addition to the settling of the clones. Even Sam2 decided to remain with the Cimmerians for now, offering her support and expertise. Still, the future of the Cimmerians, both cloned and otherwise, seemed murky despite the help of the SGC.

And as the teltac sped with Thor towards Earth, Jack did his best not to think about his own future too much other than to consider what to do with the rest of the clones. The part in the future of the SGC that he and Carter would play was much more tenuous, as they were both retired now.

Which highlighted several more things for Jack to worry about: Was he really and truly retired now? He knew that many times he'd said that he was retired, but he could easily explain that as a mix of 'I did what I was supposed to do' and hopeful thinking. He'd had too much experience with the way Hammond had handled his retirement in the past not to be worried now.

And strangely enough, he had mixed feelings about killing Ba'al, only to have him come back to life a few moments later. Ba'al's death had seemed so final to him, and he had even felt good about the fact that he'd finally kicked the ass of his nemesis. To have him suddenly reappear like he had was galling.

How what he'd done to Ba'al fit or didn't fit in with his killing past was another issue that he studiously avoided.

Carter was yet another issue, or ten issues, all in herself. They hadn't had the opportunity, nor the push, to talk much on this trip back home. He didn't know what had happened to her after she had disappeared from clone-Ba'al's cell on Cimmeria, plus he still had no idea what she thought of him after seeing so many of his memories from his earlier special forces days - not to mention how she now felt about the part he'd undeniably played in the recent torture that had almost killed her. He knew that such a thing could easily be construed as very personal. Add onto all that the fact that he couldn't get away from the idea that he'd always thought of himself as something of a legal killer, and now he had Carter's opinion of him to worry about, too, especially after the Ba'al-killing thing. It made the whole situation seem damned horrifying. No wonder he felt this urge to avoid even thinking about all this stuff. It was a wonder it hadn't driven him insane already!

But he supposed that he would have to address these concerns eventually; a teltac was just too small in size to accommodate so many people without running into a particular individual eventually, and his odds of bumping into Carter (both literally as well as figuratively) were pretty good.

And if he were honest with himself, he wanted to see Carter, to be near her, and to enjoy having the right to feel her when he wanted to (that is, if he decided to go with the 'I'm retired' idea now). Yet he didn't think he could handle it if he tried to establish some kind of link with Carter, and she just spurned his advances because she couldn't stand to be in the same room with him anymore. He wouldn't blame her if she thought that way, but the possibility of that happening scared him so badly that he shied away from the entire situation. So by avoiding it altogether, he did just what he always did - denied that there was anything to talk about in the first place. Carter wasn't the only one who had honed the ability to deny everything for as long as possible.

Thus Jack was quite surprised when Carter actually sought him out a few hours later. He was even more stunned when she didn't say anything to him, but tucked her reduced crutches into her pants for safekeeping, then immediately (and very publicly) enfolded him into her arms in a hug that was as tight as it was long. He didn't question her motives, but instead sank into her hold, needing that support now that the day's action was over and things were finally settling down. It was as if he was getting so frazzled that he needed someone to comfort him and tell him 'It'll be ok.' Things like the last few days didn't used to bother him so much, but he clearly wasn't as stalwart as he used to be. It was one of his first indications that he was getting old.

When at last she reared back a bit in order to see his face, he was able to gauge her reaction to him by searching her expression. Though as Carter was a master at hiding her innermost feelings when she wanted to, he didn't have much success in any gauging exercise.

“You ok?” she finally asked.

It was a completely innocuous question, and he had the instant urge to say that yes, he was fine. But his next thought told him that that was hardly conducive to any amount of progress in the relationship that he wanted to form with Carter. So he sucked in a breath and said, “No, not really,” in spite of his misgivings.

Once again, she didn't say anything, only gazed at him with an inquiring look that somehow conveyed her worry as well as her confusion. He was instantly amazed at how much meaning she could convey with only a look.

“I'm just...” he tried to tell her, but his throat closed up when he attempted to mention his concern as to her perception of him now.

Her look turned from one of query to one of admonishment in a heartbeat.

He couldn't believe it: she was yelling at him with just her expression! The irony if that distracted him until he was able to instruct, “Don't start on...”

“I'm not starting on anything,” she protested. “But I'd like to point out that you wouldn't let me get away with this not-talking thing again. So... what's on your mind?” Her look wasn't just inquisitive now - it also told him that if he clammed up again, she would calmly kick his ass from here to the Tok'ra homeworld.

Jack took a moment to marvel at how well she let her eyes do her talking for her, but knew he couldn't avoid her question forever, no matter how much he would like to.

Jack winced now - he hated causing her pain of any kind. “I'm wondering about what you saw... the first time in Ba'al's cloning chamber,” he bluntly said, going straight for the heart of the matter, as was usual for him once he had decided to speak. “I don't want to bring up a sticky issue, but...”

“You're doing it anyway,” she announced, seemingly unaware that she was once again finishing his sentences for him. “What about it?”

“Well, I...” Jack hedged.

But Carter's sigh cut him off. “Jack, don't be so stupid.”

Which surprised him. “Stupid?”

“You're worried about all those killing memories that I saw, aren't you?”

Jack shrugged. “You have to admit that..!”

Carter shook him hard enough to rattle his teeth. “Stop being so predictable!”

Which was soooooo not the way he'd ever expected her to react.

She didn't give him a chance to respond. “You're thinking that I'm thinking that you're nothing but a killer, and that I blame you for clone-Ba'al's torture of me, and you deserve it if I never want to see you again, and...” Her litany abruptly ended as she growled, “Knock it off, Jack!”

Now it was his turn to look at her in confusion.

Her irritation was palpable. “Don't you think that I already knew about all that killing stuff? I've known about that since I first met you!”

His astonishment was nearly overwhelming. “You did?”

She gave him her 'don't be dumb' look. “Of course I did! Am I military, or not? Can I read between the lines, or not? I know perfectly well that someone isn't recruited into special forces for being a lightweight! I knew from the outset that you were a marksman, probably had been a sniper at some point in your career, and could therefor infer that you hadn't just been shooting at inanimate targets all this time.”

Oh. She already knew all about that.

“Give me some credit!” She acerbically went on, “So clone-Ba'al didn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Teal'c knows all about it, too. I'm not sure about Daniel, but even he isn't as slow on the uptake as he used to be. He probably suspects, though I've never said anything to him, and he's never asked.” She shook her head. “But it doesn't make any difference to me what you used to do - it's what you do now that matters.”

“And this whole thing doesn't bother you?” he asked in surprise. “Not the killing, or the torture or the Ba'al...?”

“No, it doesn't matter to me,” she immediately insisted. “What I'm more interested in right now is what do you want to do about... us.” Her voice grew increasingly unsure as she spoke.

A Samantha Carter who wasn't automatically hiding from her emotions? Had she been mixed up with her clones? “You have to ask?”

She gave him the evil eye. “Of course I have to ask - I haven't been in the field for months - I can't read your mind, and unless you tell me...”

Jack smirked, relieved beyond belief that his worries had been unwarranted. “We seem to have a shortage of closets that you can push me into right now so I can tell you what I'm thinking without having an audience.”

“That's an old, tired excuse, Jack,” she said in a short tone, surprising him anew. “Audience or not, I want to know what's on your mind, once and for all, and...”

Alright, if she really didn't care... “There better be an 'us,' that's all I can say.”

Carter eyed him again, judging. “You're sure? I can't do the whole 'will they/won't they' thing for another eight years.”

She'd obviously lost more than her leg recently - she'd also lost her inhibitions. There's no way that the pre-Pete Carter would have spoken to him so bluntly, especially in front of twenty individuals who were busily pretending not to hear a word they said. For another frightening second, Jack again wondered if he'd somehow come in contact with another of her clones, but she put his fears to rest in the next second when she said:

“And I'm not a clone, just tired to death of not knowing what you're thinking.”

Well, that was an easy fear to allay. “I"m thinking that if I don't hug you in another minute, I'll explode.”

Sam gave a mischievous grin the minute she heard that. “I have no wish to clean bits of Jack O'Neill out of the deck plates.” Her second hug was even tighter than her first. “This makes getting my legs hacked off almost worth it.”

Jack didn't release her, but spoke into her shoulder. “Yeah, what happened with that, anyway? One minute you were bleeding to death in my arms, and the next, you had disappeared.”

“I told you: I was with Thor.” There was such finality in her voice that it was like she'd already told him all he needed to know, though she really hadn't said a single specific thing about that incident.

“But like I said before, I'm a dense guy. You have to spell it out for me.”

Sam sighed again, her frustration immediately building. She was clearly still touchy on the lack-of-leg issue. “It was just like you probably predicted: Thor beamed me straight to Frazer - she pulled her miracle thing out of her little gray... fixed all my injuries inside and out, then tried to attach both leg templates. But the one leg that had already had the template attached to it rejected the new tissue... something about already having tissue added one other time so it wouldn't add more... Janet would have understood better. So I've got one leg again.”

“Which just sucks,” Jack sarcastically interrupted, overcome by how she must have been ready to beat a hole in the ship for experiencing two legs again for awhile, then ending up with only one - he couldn't think of a crueler joke if he tried. The Universe was really out to get her.

Sam gave a bitter laugh. “I thought about shooting myself out the airlock without a pressure suit,” she told him.

“I'm awfully glad you didn't,” Jack admitted, facing the idea of a Carterless future again, and not liking it one bit.

Another bitter laugh exploded out of her. “I was already outside the airlock when Thor appeared, explaining how he was sorry if I was disoriented by his sudden transport, but that he had been monitoring my lifesigns, and was worried when my blood pressure suddenly dropped - it seems that the clothes we were wearing had biosensors built into them somehow.”

“Voyeurism, Asgard style?” Jack guessed.

Sam snorted. “Maybe. But then he mentioned having a problem with the design for some ultra light crutches - how could they withstand hundreds of pounds of pressure and still be portable?” She sighed in regret. “I couldn't resist - I had to give him my ideas.”

Jack wasn't surprised to hear about Thor's tactics. He even wondered if Thor had played stupid on purpose just to get Carter out of her depression. He wouldn't put it past him.

Carter continued, “So I helped Thor design these.” She retrieved one of the crutches from where she'd tucked them both away and extended it. It would have been nothing but a long pole with a handle except for the way it moved in and out with nothing but the flick of her wrist, and had semicircular pads for her forearms that sprang up or down, depending on what she wanted the crutch to do at any given time.

Jack took the crutch, spending the next few minutes flicking his wrist so that the crutch lengthened or shortened at his command. “Niiiice!” He'd never felt anything so light yet still be so portable. “What are these things made of? Not naquedah - it's too light. Not titanium, either.”

“No, Thor called it - let me see if I get this right - neutronium. It's what Asgard ships are made of - light, but very strong.”

Jack smirked again. “If we have to withstand a replicator attack, I'll know who to call.”

And with that, their uninterrupted time alone came to an end with the sudden appearance of Pete Shanahan. Jack caught his groan before he made a sound: Pete was quickly growing as bad at timing as Daniel had always been. “Am I interrupting?”

“Yes,” Sam honestly announced, “but don't let that bother you.”

She's still somewhat snippy with Pete Jack noted, and in spite of his own sense of irritation at the interruption, magnanimously decided to smooth things over for the cop. “You're not really bothering us - not exactly.” But he also didn't move out of Carter's arms when speaking to him - his magnanimity only went so far.

“I um...” Pete stuttered. “Um... wondered if I can have a word... with Sam?”

Jack let himself make an aggravated sighing sound. “I suppose we were mostly done anyway.” He handed back the crutch he'd been playing with to Carter as he disengaged from her hold. “I want this to continue later,” he said in parting, then leaned in close to Carter. “If he tries anything, just clobber him with your crutch - you're good at the clobbering thing.”

She shot him an offended look that still managed to convey her guilt about the situation he referred to, then softened when he kissed her cheek before walking away.

“Don't mind me,” he called over his shoulder. “I'll just be over here... reading my memos.”

He sauntered into the cargo hold, aiming for his pack to inventory their remaining supplies, then practically tripped over the outstretched forms of Teal'c and Daniel. They both looked comfortable, meaning that they must have been in this out-of-the-way hole for some time.

“Oh - sorry,” Jack quickly said. “I'll just go and...”

“No, stay,” Daniel invited. “Keep us company for awhile.”

“Don't mind if I do.” Jack pulled his pack close to him, then joined his friends.

Daniel, Jack, and Teal'c sat together for several minutes, silently staring at Jack's pack, but not touching it. Nobody said anything, but the silence wasn't awkward or strained. Jack was almost relieved to again be in the company of two of the three people in the galaxy who didn't mind if he was quiet. Always being expected to have all the answers was wearing after awhile.

“Hey T,” Jack began, eventually breaking the silence. “How's your shoes working out for you?”

Teal'c turned a pleased expression toward his feet and his unusual footwear. “Very well, O'Neill. Thank you.”

“Good, good,” Jack absently said. “Better than having cuts all over your feet 'cause of the rocky ground, huh?”

“Indeed,” the Jaffa agreeably said.

Silence again reigned until, in a display of deceptive calmness, Jack asked, “So, do you guys have any idea how long it'll take us to get home?”

Daniel's forehead wrinkled. “Space-time: isn't that more Sam's department?”

Jack grimaced. “Yeah, but she's busy talking with Shanahan.”

Daniel made a face, as if he suddenly understood why Jack wished to appear so calm. “Him commandeering Sam - you must not be too thrilled about that.”

Jack's deception quickly disintigrated. “Not too thrilled - no.” In fact, there was very little about Shanahan that made him happy - ever. In spite of the fact that the man had literally saved his ass back there in Ba'al's cloning facility, he was always interfering in SGC business, always poking his nose in where it didn't belong, always... just always being around when he wasn't wanted. In fact, the only reason he had allowed the Detective to join this mission was because... because....

Jack gave an internal grimace at the direction of his thoughts. He'd only ever put up with Shanahan's company solely at Carter's silent request, including on this mission, if he was honest with himself. It frankly terrified him how often he was willing to do what he swore he'd never do just because Carter was the one to ask, albeit it silently. He'd even taken on a symbiote just because she had beseeched him with nothing but those incredible eyes of hers. When had he become such a sucker for her eyes?

This time had been no different - he'd only given in about taking Shanahan along as backup on this mission because they'd been discussing him going up against Ba'al alone while on Thor's ship - she'd tossed one worried glance in his direction, and wham! The next thing he knew, he had a civilian Detective as backup. He had basically caved to nothing but an expression of concern for him in her blue eyes. It was frat-reg-affection at its worst! No wonder the military protected itself by inducing things like the frat regs: he would have been a total sucker right from the time he'd met her without them!

Of course, there was something to be said for being a total sucker.

Teal'c almost smiled, still referring to Pete when he commented, “He does, however, have a surprising amount of what you call 'staying power.'”

Jack grunted his agreement this time, but still didn't say anything. Saying anything might lead him to saying too much. It was better by far to be silent on the Pete subject than to appear to be (ugh!) grateful.

It truly pissed Jack off to owe gratitude to someone like Shanahan

Jack's silence did nothing more than make Teal'c grin more fully. Such silence from Jack O'Neill meant that he was anxious about something - or seriously pissed, though never declaring what had him in such a bad mood. Either way, this emotional Jack O'Neill amused the Jaffa. “Yes, that is what he said as well.”

Jack huffed, hating the feeling that he was missing something, but feeling it nevertheless. Daniel, on the other hand, loudly guffawed. “Something funny, Daniel?” Jack asked in his most dangerous voice.

But Daniel, unwilling to give anything away, vigorously shook his head. “Of course not.”

Which meant that he did think something was funny, but at long last knew enough not to antagonize Jack. Unable to goad his friend into revealing more information, Jack now found himself staring absently at the other people crowding the cargo bay, thinking once again of the Carter clones, specifically their eyes, and how empty they were when either of them had looked at him - how they looked like the real Carter, but weren't really her. “I'm thinking about those clones again, and I don't mind saying it - those clones freak me right out. They're right... but not right. Just look at how different the Carter clones are.”

“You can say that again,” Daniel fervently stated.

Jack wholeheartedly agreed with him, but was rather surprised that Daniel had said it. “You were the one who was getting all chummy with that Sam2 clone, Daniel,” he reminded.

“O'Neill is correct - you seemed most taken with that clone of SamanthaCarter,” Teal'c observed.

Daniel balked, objecting, “I chose to work with her in order to find the shield's power source, that's all. But I knew right from the get go that she wasn't the real Sam, and never would be.” His discomfort manifesting itself as accusation, he defensively pointed out to Jack, “You were the one who was all cozy with the third Sam clone. You were even hiding behind a console with her, if I remember right.”

Jack did his own uncomfortable fidget. “I wasn't hiding, Daniel, I was...”

“If you were not hiding, O'Neill, why is it that I could not see you in my rounds of the room's perimeter?”

That was going to be hard to argue against. Jack immediately tried anyway. “Can I help it if your Jaffa super senses were turned off at the time, T?” He was careful to keep his gaze trained firmly away from the Jaffa. “I was talking to her, not hiding with her.”

Daniel smirked. “Whatever you say, Jack.”

Jack scowled. “At least I was only talking - not like you, who was going all gung ho for the science thing!” He glared at Daniel one more time, still angry with his friend. “Whatever Sam Carter says is fine with you, no matter the version, huh?”

Incensed, Daniel reared back. “Well, what I did is nothing like what you and...”

“O'Neill, DanielJackson - you are both correct,” Teal'c forcefully interrupted. “SamanthaCarter will be gratified to hear of your praise.”

As nice as that sentiment was, Jack had the feeling that the big guy was just trying to put a halt to his and Daniel's conversation, and said as much.

“Perhaps,” the Jaffa said at last in restrained amusement. “However,” he added, growing serious. “We must remember what we accomplished on this day - we have dealt Ba'al a serious blow.”

“Ba'al - let's face it - he's a nut job,” Jack announced. “Wacko, crazy, his brain is fried, he's looped the loop, and there's no coming back for him, if you follow.” Then he sighed in aggravation. “But I promised myself I wouldn't say things like that (even if I think them). Worse, I promised Carter... sort of... and a promise to Carter is binding... that is, if you don't want a pissed off Carter pretending you're her next blow-up-the-sun project.”

“And I am certain that you do not want that,” Teal'c added, his humor on rare display. “Things are not so definite between you and SamanthaCarter for you to blithely ignore her desires.”

Jack snorted this time. “Spoken like a man with experience, Teal'c.”

Teal'c sagely inclined his head. “Indeed.”

Daniel boosted himself off the floor for a second.

Jack noticed. “Uncomfortable, Daniel?”

“My butt's going numb,” the archaeologist replied. Teal'c and Jack laughed. “But seriously,” Daniel said, changing the subject. “Did you guys notice anything... odd... about those Sam clones?”

“Odd?” Jack echoed.

“Yeah,” Daniel reiterated. “As in 'weird.'”


Daniel glowered. “Will you quit doing that, Jack?”

“Doing what?”

Instead of telling him not to copy him, Daniel just gave an aggravated gush. “I mean, she seemed... I don't know... kinda...”

“She was very hesitant,” Teal'c glibly told them. “Not nearly as confident as the warrior we all know.”

“Yeah,” Jack suddenly agreed. “I thought the same thing.” He remembered the authoritative way real-Carter had spoken to Ba'al's First Prime aboard the ha'tak. “There's no way that Sam3 would ever have been able to pull of such a good impersonation of a Goa'uld like she did today.”

Daniel grunted a laugh. “She did sound pissed, didn't she?”

Teal'c added, “Pissed, and angry.”

“That is pissed,” Jack informed.

“No matter,” Teal'c responded. “She was very Goa'uld-like.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. “No Jaffa could help responding to such a tone.”

“Lucky for us,” Jack said.

Daniel carelessly waved his arm for attention. “My point is that neither of the Sam clones could have pulled it off.” He looked assessingly at his companions. “Right?” When they didn't quickly agree, added, “I wasn't dreaming, was I? Didn't they seem more hesitant to you?”

“That could be because of the whole loyalty thing,” Jack suggested.

“Maybe.” Daniel didn't sound convinced. “But I was thinking that maybe it was for another reason.”

Jack eyed him. “Meaning?”

Daniel took a fortifying breath before saying, “Well... I have this theory.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “You and ever scientist I've ever met.”

Daniel ignored him. “I was thinking... what do you guys think...”

“Just spit it out, Daniel!”

“The Sam clones will never truly be clones of Sam because they don't have all that makes her her.”

Silence greeted this theory as Jack and Teal'c worked for a moment to internalize it. Finally Teal'c spoke.

“Elaborate, DanielJackson.”

Daniel, being Daniel, was only too happy to comply. “Well, Ba'al made this big show of cutting out all her feelings for you, right Jack?”

Jack tried not to show how uncomfortable it made him to have his friend refer so openly to a subject that had been considered taboo for so many years. “Uh...”

Daniel took his grunt as agreement. “My point is that because the clones hadn't been affected by you like she was all these years, Jack, the clones aren't as confident as she is, aren't as likely to consider trying the truly crazy ideas that always end up saving our asses.”

Jack could hardly deny that he'd been thinking the same thing. “That may be, Daniel,” he said, “but wouldn't ole Ba'alsy-boy have thought of that?”

“Not necessarily,” Daniel said. “Think about it: Ba'al was thrilled to 'cut you out' of the real Sam...”

“Don't remind me.”

“He was just as determined to banish you from the clones. And if I remember right, realSam wasn't nearly as confident when we first met her as she is now.”

Jack wasn't sure, as he hadn't experienced that hesitant Carter, but a thoughtful Teal'c said, “I concur, DanielJackson.”

Warming to his topic, Daniel hurried on before Jack could brush his idea aside like so much trash. “RealSam gained confidence at the same time her feelings for Jack increased.”

Jack frowned, still finding it hard not to automatically change the subject to something other than his feelings. “Now you're talking crazy. I had no influence over her. She became who and what she is all on her own.”

Daniel pointed at Jack. “See, there it is,” he said in excitement.

But Jack hadn't done anything. “What?

“That overwhelming confidence in her, like she can do no wrong.”

Jack shrugged. “But she so often doesn't - she's Carter!”

Daniel regarded him. “Did you ever consider that she's Carter because of the way you believe in her?”


Daniel looked up to take in Teal'c with his gaze. “Maybe it's because of all of us, but I bet it's mostly because of you, Jack.”

Jack gave a wary grunt. “Daniel, make sense!”

Daniel was supremely aggravated now. “Fine! You asked for it!” His aggravation increased, almost as if he had wanted to say this very thing to Jack for so long that he almost couldn't contain himself now. “She loves you, but she didn't always - even I could see that! I bet Teal'c could see it, too!”

Jack instantly grew incensed at what Daniel was so openly talking about, and wanted above everything to stop his friend's mouth with an uppercut to his jaw. However, he was simultaneously aware that to finally get what he wanted concerning Carter meant that he had to stomach such obvious references as Daniel's with equanimity. So he sat on his hands in order to keep them to himself. If nothing else, it would keep him in good standing with Carter; he doubted that she would appreciate him punching the mouthy archaeologist just now.

That mouthy archaeologist was busy morphing into an unstoppable force, much to Jack's annoyance. “It all came on so gradually until you became a part of her. Her confidence grew as her feelings for you grew - and when Ba'al cut that part out of her clones, he ended up taking an important part of her - the essence that makes her her - that's what I'm saying!”

Silence reigned in the cargo bay after that blunt announcement. The two friends thought over the linguist's words, Teal'c with sincere consideration, and Jack with anger simmering just at the edge of his mighty control.

“Perhaps DanielJackson is correct,” Teal'c said at last. “The clones of SamanthaCarter were strangely shy.”

It was such an odd assessment of Carter that Jack was stunned out of the anger that he was busy controlling. 'Shy' just wasn't a word that he automatically connected to Carter. “Maybe...” He sounded reluctant, but had to admit to himself that he'd been thinking the same thing - which made him seem self-important. And he didn't want his friends to think that - so he refused to voice his earlier thoughts - but that didn't mean he hadn't had them. “Maybe... this is just a crackpot idea,” he suggested in stilted language.

Daniel wilted. “Yeah, I thought you might say that.”

Jack hated to shoot Daniel down like that, especially when he secretly thought he had something. Then again, he didn't want Daniel to get too stuck on this idea, either. The thought that he'd had such an influence on Carter all along was a bit daunting.

Then Jack thought to wonder if maybe she'd had the same influence on him?

He'd be lying if he said no. And he'd promised himself that he was done with the lying thing.

But admitting it was so hard!

Changing the subject was a much better approach. “Hey, did you guys catch the game at...” Jack asked, then stopped himself. “Of course you didn't - Teal'c was with the Free Jaffa and Daniel was doing the clone thing - my mistake.”

Teal'c looked at Jack as if he was well aware of what Jack was doing, but instead only said, “I believe I did catch that game, O'Neill. As you Tau'ri say, we were stolen.”

Daniel gave a sigh, but corrected the Jaffa anyway. “That's 'we were robbed,' Teal'c.”

“As were we with Ba'al.” And there was no arguing with Teal'c when he used such a tone of finality.

Jack agreed with him wholeheartedly, but was just glad that Daniel seemed distracted. “Yep - robbed.”

Chapter 28

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