Teal'c sat in a sea of children on the hillside. Below him, the Edoran fields stretched out, row upon row of plantings, and the people who moved among them, bobbing up and down in the rhythm of farming.
He had a faint smile on his face as he told the children the tale of Fare'ki and the mivv'kas. Their expressions in pale faces matched the expression he remembered on his son's face as he told the tale by the firelight of Chulak. As he spoke, his mind drifted to thoughts of his son. Rya'c was in no need of children's tales anymore, rapidly growing into a young man, being taught the best his father and his father's mentor had to offer him.
Unable to watch his son grow up because of the service he owed to his 'god', Teal'c had been forced to settle for the occasional return trips to Chulak and bonding with his son then. He had missed so many things in his young son's life and he bitterly regretted those events. Even now, fighting against the 'gods' he had so longer served, there was little time for his family, but Teal'c knew sometimes the fight must take precedence. Rya'c would someday be a young warrior, of a line of warriors, and he, too, would sire sons and daughters, and make the choice to bring them up or to fight against the Goa'uld.
Teal'c understood O'Neill's feeling when he spoke of his son growing up with a father who could not always be there for his son. O'Neill and he were much alike in that: they both felt the pull of responsibility between family and duty but their duty had come before their family.
There were times when Teal'c wondered if he would ever have the chance to step down from the fight. He doubted it, but his sacrifice now was for the benefit of not only his son, but also his son's children, and their children. Teal'c might never see the day when the Goa'uld were overthrown in the galaxy, but his son would. Or if not Rya'c, then Rya'c's sons.
Still, the way the Tau'ri thought was not the way the Jaffa thought. O'Neill felt the need to be a father to his daughter, and so it would be.
"...so Fare'ki showed his kill of the kas'dar'ek to the priests, and they took the animal, and gave its pelt to Fare'ki for him to wear in pride. When he grew older, he was chosen among the warriors of the god to fight in battle, and he served long and hard. But as long as he lived, Fare'ki never stopped looking for the mivv'kas again, or thanking the mivv'kas for it's help in tracking the kas'dar'ek."
The children considered the story for a few quiet seconds before the leader – Tam – spoke. "I like your story better than Major Sam's," he said determinedly. "But I like Major Sam better." Then he looked a little apprehensive; afraid he might have said something improper. "Is that all right?"
Teal'c smiled. This child with his inquisitive nature and his enthusiasm for stories and tales was much like Rya'c had been at the same age. "Yes."
"Do you have any other stories, Jaffa Teal'c?"
"Many other stories," he assured them. "However they would not be suitable for today."
"You'll be visiting again, though, won't you?"
"My friend is remaining here to raise his daughter. I shall come to visit him when I am permitted. So you will have opportunities for many more stories."
Several of the children nodded, and a few got up and began to wander away, but Tam frowned. "Who is your friend's daughter?"
"O'Neill's daughter is Mia, the daughter of Laira."
"Oh." Tam pondered this for a moment before he scrambled to his feet. "Will he dote on Mia?"
"I believe he will, little one."
"Mama says Laira dotes on Mia something dreadful. She says Mia was fortunate that Laira took her in, because otherwise she'd have gone to a family where there were already children and been just one more child of many."
Teal'c frowned. Tam's words suggested that Mia was not Laira's daughter – and therefore not O'Neill's. Yet O'Neill's decision to remain on Edora indicated his belief in his fathering of the child. Teal'c had observed O'Neill with Laira and noted no particular affection on his friend's part – he could not believe O'Neill would stay with the Edoran woman – with any woman – purely for love of her when there was a battle to be fought. O'Neill had more strength of character than that.
There was a squeal from one of the children up the back, "Major Sam's here!" And the tide of children ebbed down the hill as the kids ran and jumped and bounced their way to Major Carter.
Rising to his feet, Teal'c considered the child's words. Was there any way to suggest to O'Neill that he was mistaken in his paternity of Mia? Would O'Neill listen? As he watched Major Carter dispatch the kids down to the village, promising to come to see them before she left, he decided he would ask her opinion on this matter as delicately as possible. She would advise him as to the best course of action.
She watched the children run down to the village, her hands on her hips, before she turned to Teal'c, who had meanwhile descended to where she stood. "I guess the children enjoyed the story?"
"They were most appreciative," Teal'c murmured, thinking of young Tam and his enthusiasm. "Tam in particular."
They started down the path to the village, walking comfortably in company. "That young man will be a terror in years to come," she smiled.
"Something he said to me suggested that Mia is not in fact O'Neill's daughter."
Major Carter paused in conversation and in step. "I know, Teal'c."
He was astonished. "And yet you have not told O'Neill?"
"There's not only the truth at stake here, Teal'c," she said quietly. "The Colonel lost his son years ago. Mia is his second chance – the opportunity to succeed where he thinks he failed before. You know how much he loves children. He was willing to give up everything to have the chance at being a father again. To just tell him Mia isn't who he thinks she is would be...cruel."
Now the thoughts behind her distraction became more apparent. While Teal'c had known for some time that O'Neill and Major Carter had a particular concern for each other, he was also conscious of their friendship and the ties that both bound them together and kept them apart. Yet he would have thought she would not hesitate to inform O'Neill of the reality of the matter.
Teal'c saw what he saw.
"If O'Neill is not told, the discovery of Laira's deceit will be all the more painful when it is finally made, Major Carter. And he will not be pleased that we have held it from him."
"I know." There was a weariness in Major Carter that went beyond the physical. As Teal'c had observed such a tiredness in O'Neill, so, too, was Major Carter weary of the unending battle against the Goa'uld. "But I can't bring myself to tell him, Teal'c. I can't take that from him."
They walked through the village, being watched and greeted by the various Edorans they encountered.
Up ahead, at the junction of the path through the village and the path leading up to the Stargate and the research station, O'Neill waited. His stance indicated impatience and tension, and seeing his friend determined Teal'c's actions.
"If you cannot tell him, Major Carter, then I shall." He said in a low voice, so as not to be overheard by O'Neill.
Her only response was a tense nod.
As they stopped beside him, O'Neill demanded, "Seen your friends, Major?"
"Yes, sir. Have you spoken with Laira?"
Something twitches across his face, "Yes." The short affirmative made Major Carter exchange a puzzled look with Teal'c. O'Neill continued, in the same clipped tones: "Seen Daniel?"
"I'm here, Jack."
"Good. Are we ready to go?"
"O'Neill, there is something that you must know before..."
O'Neill interrupted him, "If it's the news that Mia's not my daughter, then I already know."
"Laira told me this morning." O'Neill's lips were set in a thin, angry line. Teal'c was correct in his estimation of his friend's response to the deception. However, his next words were unexpected. "Which is more than Carter was planning to do." He turned the dark intensity of his gaze to Major Carter, who suddenly became uncomfortable under the scrutiny of her team-mate. "Right, Major?"
He watched her pale and for that one instant felt more bitterness towards her than he felt towards Laira for tricking him.
It was bad enough to be lied to by Laira.
It was worse to discover Carter an accomplice.
"Jack, you're not making a lot of sense..."
"Well, that's funny, Daniel," he drawled, sarcastically. "Because what doesn't make a lot of sense to me is why Carter was planning to leave me here to rot in this place when she knew Mia wasn't my daughter."
"Can we backtrack to the part about Mia not being yours?" Daniel interrupted. "Because I haven't got that part straight yet. Mia is Laira's daughter..."
"Mia is the daughter of two of the Edorans who came off-world with us, Daniel. She's Milar and Silen's daughter." Carter spoke, quiet and weary. "Her mother died in childbirth, her father died shortly after. Laira adopted Mia as her own."
"And then lied to Jack about him being the father," concluded the archaeologist. In the tenor of the younger man's voice, Jack could hear the overtones of: Oh boy... He wasn't paying any attention to Daniel.
Or to Teal'c, who'd evidently discovered the news sometime this morning and was at least going to give Jack the choice.
She knew. On the hillside, staring him in the face, she knew. She knew Mia wasn't his daughter, and she let him believe she regretted him leaving SG-1. She knew perfectly well he would remain on Edora for something that wasn't true, and she let him believe the lie.
"If you wanted your own command, Carter, all you had to do was ask Hammond." Was he being petty and small-minded? Probably. He knew that the lure of commanding her own SG-team wasn't what prompted her to keep silent. They weren't as close as he'd like, but they were close enough for him to know her motives.
It only made him angrier.
"You know that wasn't the reason, sir."
"Yeah, I guess I do." It didn't sound like a concession the way he said it, and it wasn't meant to. "We're going to have a long discussion about withholding information from your commanding officer, Major. Once we get home."
Home. It sounded good. Home where there was a car and a TV, and hockey games and a world he'd known all his life. He was sorry for Laira – and sorrier for Mia. But while he would always remember little Mia with fondness, he would never be able to stand in as her father. Not while the memory of the lies told to him remained.
"I had my reasons, sir." The blue eyes looked steadily back at him, the shadows that had haunted her this morning now gone and other burdens taking their place. "I made my call."
"It was the wrong one," he grated out harshly. Then he glanced at Daniel. "We're headed out. You have fifteen minutes to say your farewells and get to the Stargate."
"Okay, Jack." Daniel turned to her. "You coming, Sam?"
He felt her eyes upon him a moment longer, before she turned away. "Coming, Daniel."
Jack stalked up to the Stargate, not caring if Teal'c followed him or not.
"Major Carter had good reason for not wishing to be the one who informed you of the truth."
He was not about to let Teal'c talk him out of his anger. "Did she really? Because it doesn't look that way from where I'm standing."
"She did not wish to be the one to take away your chance at another family. And she did not wish to seem petty."
"Petty? For telling me the truth?" Abruptly, Jack saw what Teal'c was referring to. For Carter to come carrying tales would have seemed like plain old jealousy. A selfish, 'if I can't have him, nobody will' reaction. "Carter's not like that."
"She is not. But she would still hesitate at being the one to bring you the bad news for fear that you did not appreciate her candour. As the messenger, she would not wish to be shot down."
"I'm still angry," he warned the big guy, letting Teal'c know that he hadn't succeeded in talking Jack out of his fury.
Teal'c didn't answer. Quiet and intuitive, Teal'c had a knack for knowing when to speak up and when to remain silent. Now was the time to be silent.
Two years ago, he would have stayed with Laira on Edora and been happy. Without the Stargate and his team, he would have been her husband and the father of as many children as she wished to have. A part of him would always have yearned for the stars, but it would have been a hopeless dream - and Jack O'Neill had never been one to encourage hopeless dreams.
If Mia had been his daughter, he would have remained on Edora to bring her up, but he would never have fitted in among the Edorans, or succeeded in trying. Perhaps eventually he would have resumed his relationship with Laira, but that would have been a long time in coming. Too many other things had changed in him the intervening years.
One of those 'things' arrived at the Stargate, with Daniel, and assorted villagers in tow.
A couple of children clung to her and Daniel, and the pair of them made numerous promises to return.
If they did return, Jack decided, it would be without him. Edora had once meant 'Laira', 'exile', and 'haven' to him. Now it would mean 'lies' and 'deception' and a little child growing up fatherless...because Jack wasn't her father.
He'd said his farewells to Laira and Mia. His anger had been as much for the loss of his dreams of family as at being lied to. The baby girl had burbled at him, and he'd squashed the longing in his heart as he looked from her to Laira. Yes, he still dreamed of a home and family and children. But he wanted such a thing to be his own choice, not something he was trapped into by a few well-placed lies.
If she'd told him the truth to begin with, told him she wanted him to be Mia's father, asked him to stay...
He would never have left the fight against the Goa'uld for her and her daughter. His own daughter, yes. Hers...no.
"Carter, Daniel, are we finished?"
Daniel hugged one more child, and then crossed over to where Jack and Teal'c waited, separate from the waiting villagers. She kissed Tam on the cheek and promised him a story when she returned. In a sudden burst of cynicism, Jack almost felt like shaking the kid and telling him to snap out of his infatuation. Carter broke hearts with little effort. She was damn good at it by now.
She took up her position beside him. "Sir?"
"Not now, Carter."
"There's someone who wants to speak to you, sir." Her eyes flickered to the path, and Jack turned and saw Laira coming up behind the other villagers. He looked back at the Stargate, grim as the hard-ass Colonel he'd been six years ago when they sent him through to blow up the world on the other side of the wormhole. "I have nothing to say to her."
The sight of Laira was painful – the eye of a maelstrom of memories that he'd always associate with Edora. She'd been kind to the desolate stranger who had come to her planet, and gentle with the scars of his lost life and his lost friends; but she had also been willing to take him from those friends with a lie – however powerfully her motives had driven her.
Beside him, the blonde hair of his 2IC glinted in the speckled sun filtering down through the leaf canopy above them. The sight of her stung, too. He could accept Laira's motives for lying to him – but not Sam's reasons for not telling him the truth. Laira's betrayal he could deal with, someone for whom he had a fondness and with whom he had briefly shared intimacy – it didn't shake him to the core as Carter's betrayal did: the betrayal of a trusted friend.
But first and foremost, Carter was his team-mate. Things between them were professional – angry as he might be. Personal came later. The way it always did with them.
And maybe now he understood how Daniel and Carter and Teal'c had felt when he went undercover without telling them.
Payback is hell, Jack.
Nevertheless, acid bitterness stained his voice as he indicated the DHD to his friend.
"Dial it up, Daniel," he ordered. "Let's go home."
He was gone again.
He would not be returning.
The deception had been wrong – she knew it in her heart. It had been wrong and foolish to suppose she could hope to hold a man like Jack O'Neill.
Better he found out now than later. Even had he come to you again, he would have been all the more furious at being deceived.
Laira had seen it as he held Mia. For Mia alone he would have stayed – not for her. By Mia alone would she have held him – not by any affection he still held for her, but she had been willing to take the chance when it presented itself.
She could not have competed with his friends.
It would have been a competition, she acknowledged now. They would have held the primary position in his heart, alongside Mia, and Laira would have been relegated lower.
Much as she loved him – the man she had known for those three months after the Fire-Rain – she had enough pride to let him go back to his people.
Piera was right. It was not well to deceive him.
And she could not have competed with the woman he called his second-in-command.
Two years ago, he had thought of Major Samantha Carter as one of his friends, little more. Yet their stasis on the path from the lake showed Laira just how much had changed in two years. The man who had cared about Laira enough to ask her to return with him to Earth was not the same man who touched another woman's face at having to return to Edora.
At that moment, Laira knew she would tell him the truth.
Piera had confronted her that morning along the causeway.
A man like Colonel O'Neill will not appreciate being held through a lie, Laira. And I do not appreciate being made complicit in your dishonesty. As always, Piera did not select her words with particular care, but stated the situation as bluntly as she saw it. You would have had us believe he stayed with you of his own will, not because he believes he has responsibilities to Mia. You would have him believe he owes you and Mia something, when in truth he does not.
There had been no defence against the other woman's calm but brutal statements.
Would she have told the truth if not for Major Carter's knowledge of the lie?
Sam – Major Carter – knows you have lied to him. I do not know whether she will tell him the truth or leave it in your hands, but better the truth come from you, Laira.
As they turned towards her on the path from the lake, startled at being caught together – and yet unashamed – Laira saw that the Major had not told him. Jack still believed he was bound to this planet by Mia.
The woman treated Laira with every sign of respect, even knowing the deception Laira had practised to ensnare the man both women cared about. And that in and of itself stiffened Laira's resolve to tell him.
If Major Samantha Carter could be strong in the face of losing him to what she knew was a lie, then Laira could be strong and tell Jack the truth about Mia. If he stayed, then he was truly hers; but if he went, she would know he had never been hers to keep in the first place.
And he went.
He walked through the Stargate without a further word to her, his words said, his anger spent.
Of the four travellers, it was Major Carter who turned back, her gaze holding Laira's in understanding and compassion before she also stepped through the stone circle to another world and another life of, which Laira had no comprehension and never would.
Mia grumbled in her arms, and Laira looked down at her daughter.
There will only be you and I, little one. He has gone back to his own people now there is nothing to keep him here. There was never anything to keep him here but the lies I let him believe. In that, I was sorely mistaken and wrong.
It ached to be alone again.
But amidst the ache something in her glowed warmly. She had given him the truth of the matter, and as she explained why she had not told him the truth before this, he had finally understood how much he had meant to her. And with that, Laira captured a little piece of his heart, hers forever, frozen in those few nights he had slept in her bed.
Whatever other women resided in his heart, whether Major Samantha Carter held sway or some other of whom Laira knew nothing, Laira of Edora would always have that fragment of Jack O'Neill and the man he had been when the world and the life he knew was lost to him for those brief three months.
And with that much she would have to be content.
It was a relief to have his best team back.
Even if the Colonel was unusually subdued after the deception the Edoran woman practised on him.
His team was certainly glad to be able to keep him.
Jack himself was angry – angry and disappointed. From what George had observed, part of that anger and disappointment was focused at Major Carter, who apparently had known of the deception, but had chosen to withhold the truth from her CO. Doubtless she had her reasons: Sam Carter was not the vindictive or thoughtless kind. It simply eluded the General as to what those reasons might be.
Still, he believed SG-1 would be right. He had to believe they would be right. They were a team – his best team, but they were more: they were family to each other – the family Jack had thought the Edoran and her daughter would be to him when he returned to Edora. A different kind of family to the man-wife-child family considered 'traditional', but still with the care and concern for each other that a family had – in good times and bad.
Only time would tell whether this would be counted one of the good times or one of the bad.
But Major General George Hammond had faith in them.
They'd sort out their differences. They'd pull together again.
They were SG-1.
End of Part Six