"Morning, Colonel. How's your little girl?"
"Fine." O'Neill tried to keep the rough edge from his voice, only partly succeeded.
"I've got a kid that age myself." Johnson's voice softened, as he glanced down at the computer screen to verify O'Neill's fingerprints. "I've got a couple of photos."
What the hell was the point of endlessly checking his fingerprints? Every damn day.
"Don't you know my face by now, Lieutenant?" He bent forward over the desk, face close to Johnson's. "Look. Same mug, same grey hair, same scar."
Johnson looked up in surprise, his skin looking too white under the harsh lighting of the SGC checkpoint. "Colonel? You know the routine."
He knew the routine. Hell, he'd helped Hammond set up half of it. And the right alien could walk straight through it - unchallenged.
"How do you know I'm even human?"
Johnson tapped the screen. "Your fingerprints match. Even a holographic projection wouldn't have your fingerprint ridges."
"And if I'm Goa'uld?"
"Sir, there are no Goa'uld on Earth. That's your job downstairs. You keep the Goa'uld from coming through the Stargate; we stop the spies, conspiracy freaks and other nutcases from getting into the SGC."
What would happen, if I made your eyes glow? Kantele asked, with interest.
You want us to end up in a military prison for the next ten years? You don't officially exist.
"Think about Seth," O'Neill said roughly. "He hid out on Earth for millennia."
Johnson stared straight in front of him. "Yes, Sir."
Bet he's wondering which side of bed you got out of this morning.
Would you rather have seen his family photos?
No. Kantele winced. Would it help if I...
For a moment, Sunlight was there, lightly holding his hand. He could feel her love for him; and it was the simplest and most natural thing in the world to swing her up into the air, toss her high and hear her laugh as she fell down back into his arms.
Somehow, O'Neill vowed, we'll get her back.
Memories of former hosts flitted through Kantele's mind, each coloured with the friendship of decades or even centuries, each associated with the eventual pain of loss. O'Neill got the message.
I don't believe in 'impossible'. If it takes twenty years, we'll find some way to make the Asgard part with her.
And for now?
We try and pass for normal. Know any good ways of forgetting the most important thing in your life?
Teal'c's fist jabbed hard, giving O'Neill's ribs a serious blow. Catching his balance, O'Neill feinted left, then followed through with a right uppercut. Teal'c jerked back, but not fast enough: the punch connected and sent him flying across the mat.
O'Neill punched the air in joy. "Yes! Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
Having a symbiote definitely had one plus to it. The only time he'd ever previously managed to beat Teal'c was when Anise had given them those alien armbands.
Teal'c rubbed at his jaw. "You do not resemble a butterfly."
"I have wings," Kantele interjected.
"I have seen a butterfly; you do not resemble one."
"Picky," O'Neill said. "Knock it off kids."
"Who're you calling kids? We're both older than you are."
O'Neill gave up. "The first sign of insanity," he muttered, "is talking to yourself." He looked hopefully at Teal'c. "Fancy another round?"
"I believe," Teal'c said carefully, "that you have an appointment to see General Hammond at ten. And after that, if you remember, Kantele has expressed a desire to discuss Jaffa music with me."
It could have been worse. He could have had a symbiote that was into archaeology.
There's some pretty neat temples on P37-X03...
You want I should ask Hammond if we can go and see them?
On second thoughts...
He showered leisurely, revelling in the feel of the water against his skin, still high from the buzz the workout had given him. He didn't feel tired, and the places where Teal'c had managed to hit him were hardly hurting at all.
"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream."
Showers sort of lent themselves to song, probably something to do with the acoustics, or more likely the fact that the noise of the shower helped hide the flat notes from anyone else.
"Row, row, row your boat."
That had to be Teal'c. His deeper voice added extra harmonics. Now if Carter and Daniel were here, they'd have enough people to take all parts of the round. "Merrily, merrily-"
He halted abruptly.
Kantele! Stop it.
You're making me do things.
Don't tell me you've never sung in the shower before?
That's not the point.
Jack, I'm not controlling you, but I can't help it if I influence you - that's inevitable. You pick up on my emotions and mental patterns. I enjoy music. You started singing, but you stopped as soon as you wanted to.
I don't like 'influence'.
Your problem is that you've had too many people walking through your mind.
So I'm paranoid?
Listen, pal, you've had alien diseases that have made radical changes to your personality; you've been subjected to mind-altering drugs on numerous occasions, had your memory wiped and altered at least twice. You've had alien knowledge downloaded into your head, been trapped in a virtual-reality scenario, and had a chip with a personality stuck in your brain. Apart from those minor details, you're perfectly normal...
Let's just say you're a teeny bit sensitive on the subject.
He finished his shower in silence, trying to keep himself as mentally isolated as possible. As long as he didn't think about Kantele, he could almost believe the symbiote wasn't there, but when he was trying not to think about something he could never get it out of his mind. And once he was thinking about Kantele, he could sense his emotions. Right now, he was getting 'kicked puppy' feelings.
Damn it, he was not going to apologise. Kantele had known the deal when he came on board. Well, okay, he probably hadn't. Not really.
Looking back over the last five years, it was incredible that any of SG-1 were still sane. They'd all found their own ways of coping. Teal'c had his meditation; Daniel had grown harder - that was good, though he kind of missed the old Daniel with his perennial enthusiasm and naïvety. Carter was incredibly resilient; maybe she coped as he did by forgetting as much of it all as possible. But she wasn't him: she was warm and bright and part of his sanity; as all four of them were all part of one another's sanity. They'd survived because they were a team - and now they weren't a team any longer.
Do you blame me for that?
Will you stop eavesdropping!
Kicked puppy. No mistaking it.
I can't stop. It's what I am. I see the world through your eyes. I hear the thoughts in your mind. I can only stop by becoming completely dormant, or by taking you over.
Kantele... It was the closest he could get to an apology.
You owe me a dessert. Okay?
Funny how fast you fell into some habits. It had only taken them two days to agree to alternate on choosing meals. Their tastes were similar, but not identical; Kantele definitely had a sweet tooth.
Speaking of food, he wanted something to nibble; there was just about time to grab a snack before seeing Hammond.
You're eating for two now.
Hey, no pregnancy jokes!
That set off a chain of thought that led all too quickly back to Sunlight and he couldn't cope with that, not at work, not without cracking up. For Sunlight's sake, he had to bury her in a safe corner of his heart, because if there was a way to help her, it would be found here and nowhere else.
Tunafish or ham and cheese? asked Kantele.
Hammond's office was a retreat into safe territory, but even known territory had its dangers: the very familiarity could lure you into a false sense of security. It would have been easy to assume that he was home and safe here, but was the SGC still home? Was there a place here for a Tok'ra? Did he still have a job? The uncertainty was making him edgy.
Hammond gestured. "Jack, take a seat."
On the whole, he'd rather have stood, but this wasn't the time to argue. He sat.
"It's been just over a week now; how are you settling down?"
"Pretty well, Sir."
Look, we're in this together; we stick together.
Dressed in a crisp, short-sleeved shirt, Hammond looked confident and decisive. His appearance conveyed what he was - in command. Casual in his blue utilities, O'Neill could just about remember the days when he'd actually shown up for work in his class A uniform. Hammond and he had very different styles, and the combination worked. Hammond could deal with the organisation and the politics and the bits O'Neill hated. O'Neill was a field officer and he knew without any false modesty that he was a damn good one. As long as he could continue to work in the field, he'd be all right.
Hammond was uncharacteristically silent for a moment, then began: "Colonel, I've read your unofficial report. It leaves me with a number of problems, some of which I can only take the blame for myself. I knew what you were doing and I allowed it to happen..."
Had he thought Hammond looked confident? Now he looked for the strain and found it in the tension across Hammond's shoulders and the stillness of his posture.
"Colonel. I authorised your expedition. I knew you were planning to take Maybourne. So help me, I even approved. He killed a prisoner. In cold blood."
"Sir." The admission was hard, but justice required it. "I nearly knifed the General myself, when I realised what he'd done."
"I know. It was in your report. That still doesn't excuse it. If Maybourne was here now, I'd have him on charge for murder."
O'Neill was silent. There were things in his own past that he preferred to forget. You did things on special ops that were best left unmentioned. The rules were different there, and by and large he preferred them as they were now. Yet there was always that between himself and Maybourne, they both knew that there was another side to the rules and they'd both played on that other side.
Even Kantele wasn't too sure about that part of him.
"That's not the least of it," Hammond said. "I have to explain where Sunlight went. That might just about be possible if I didn't also have to explain where Kantele came from. Would you mind telling me how I can explain your symbiote without mentioning the fact that your daughter didn't come from where you claimed she came from and, in addition, the fact that Maybourne, a wanted criminal, was involved?"
Hammond's an honest man, Kantele said.
And we're forcing him into a position where he has to be dishonest.
We've had more practice at it than he has.
Speak for yourself.
"Sir, send SG-1 on a mission with Jacob Carter. I believe he's trying to contact any remaining Tok'ra. If he finds a Tok'ra whose host is dying, someone would have to volunteer."
"And people would believe that Jack willingly became a host?" Hammond's scepticism was clear.
I resent that, Kantele said.
You twisted my arm and you know it.
Do you really regret it?
He gave a mental shrug.
"Jack's got an incurable disease. He could catch it next time he goes through the Gate."
"I'm not sure even that would be enough to persuade Colonel O'Neill to accept a symbiote."
A cartoon mouse crept round behind Hammond, placed a large black sphere labelled 'bomb' under his chair and prepared to press the detonator.
"General," O'Neill said, "I chose to do this. Under any other circumstance, I'd rather have been dead than a host, but it's happened so get used to it. You're pissing off Kantele."
Hammond's look was measured in seconds. Finally he said: "Colonel, if Maybourne hadn't made that video with the lie detector, I'd have clapped the pair of you in irons for the rest of your respective lives." He moved his head slightly. "Kantele, my apologies. Welcome to the SGC."
"Hey," Kantele sounded a little uncomfortable, "you're only doing your job. We haven't exactly made it easy for you."
Jerry looked for somewhere else to roll his bomb; O'Neill offered a bust of Senator Kinsey which was accepted and exploded with glee into a cloud of plaster dust.
"You'll go to P3W-924," Hammond said. "Jacob Carter will ask you to go with him. We'll sort out the details later, but you'll be discussing Ma'challo's work with a Tok'ra who has been studying it."
"Will be off-world under the command of Major Carter, while you recover from flu."
He'd hoped for a last mission together, but it had to be faced. He couldn't have both Kantele and SG-1; the military chain of command didn't allow for two minds in a CO's body. Besides, he'd already burnt his bridges. He took a deep breath.
"They'll be off-world without me in any case, because I'm resigning my position as leader of SG-1 owing to recent personal developments between myself and Major Carter."
"Jack," Hammond said seriously, "she couldn't have found a better man."
Hammond looked up sharply, then suddenly smiled.
"Does Sam realise what she's let herself in for?"
Oh, she knew. Sam knew, because she was carrying the emotional burden for all three of them. She knew, because she was there when he couldn't sleep at night, when he wanted to sit in a corner, clutching a photograph, and shut out the entire world. First Charlie and now Sunlight.
Once there had been Sara struggling to get through to him and desperately needing them to be able to share their grief. He'd lost Sara because he hadn't been able to break past his own barriers to give her what she needed.
Kantele's Jacob had made the same mistake. He'd been unable to share his feelings of loss and guilt with Sam when her mother died in a car accident. The resulting breach between them had lasted nearly two years and had been the primary reason why that Sam had decided not to follow her father into the Air Force.
Neither of them could afford for a similar mistake to happen again.
Hard though it was to show weakness to anyone; hard though it was to see her hurting with his pain; he'd given Sam the pain, the loss, and the damning sense of despair of just not knowing.
Where was Sunlight?
What was happening to her?
Why wasn't there anything he could do?