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“Madam Secretary, I understand that politics is all about making horse-trades,” Major General Jonathan “Jack” O’Neill, newly appointed Head of Homeworld Command, drawled into the telephone he had propped on his shoulder, “And I sympathize with you, I really do. But Earth’s continued existence is not a horse.”

He stuffed the last handful of socks into his newly-delivered dresser and turned his attention to his underwear.

God, he hated moving.

Which might explain why, after all the months he’d been in Washington, he was only now getting around to buying a dresser.

On the other end of the line, Secretary of State Michaela Walker[1] made a sound of pure exasperation.

“General O’Neill, the rest of the world is incredibly uneasy with the U.S. in pretty much sole control of the SGC,” she said. “Wouldn’t you be uncomfortable if, say, Russia was in charge, not just of the Stargate, but of all of Earth’s defenses?”

“Isn’t that why we have the IOA?” Jack asked, adopting his best clueless voice.

He needed more underwear, he admitted to himself with an inward sigh. He was used to going commando most days, but now that he was wearing his uniform on a daily basis rather than his BDUs, that wasn’t happening. The Air Force could call that uniform sentinel-safe all it wanted, it didn’t change the fact that the damned thing chafed.

“General, you know as well as I do that the IOA has no real control over the SGC,” Secretary Walker said.

“And thank God for that, or we’d all be dead” Jack said cheerfully, finishing with his underwear and grabbing a stack of t-shirts.

Dear God, it was too early in the day to break out the Jack Daniels, wasn’t it? This woman was enough to drive a Mormon to drink.

“General, having one country, even if it is the US, in control of the the Earth’s extraterrestrial affairs is not a sound policy,” Secretary Walker said, ignoring the whole thorny issue of the IOA and its stunning incompetence. “Our allies want more direct access to the Stargate and a presence in Stargate Command, and are willing to agree to just about anything in order to get it.”

“And I told you, no,” Jack barked, dropping the friendly manner abruptly, along with another stack of  t-shirts, and turning his full attention to the conversation. “Look, Madam Secretary, I may, theoretically, agree with you that relying on one country to represent and defend Earth is a shit policy, but that does not mean I am going to throw the SGC on the poker table of international politics and let you guys start playing. If the IOA has done anything, it has proved that politics and saving the world don’t mix. Their interference has already cost us good men and women, not to mention a lot of opportunities and goodwill offworld. If my people didn’t value Earth’s safety above their own lives and their own careers, they would have cost us our planet. I like this planet, Secretary Walker, I’m not about to lose it because someone is promising the U.S. more oil rights.”

“General O’Neill, I admire your idealism, but we cannot do business with the rest of the world without taking some risks,” Walker insisted. “If we want to maintain our position globally, we have to be prepared to make concessions from time to time.”

“Then you need to come up with some different concessions, Madam Secretary, because some risks are just too damn high,” Jack said implacably. “You start using the SGC as a poker chip, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets tired of poker and wants to play Russian roulette instead. We have two major offworld threats on our radar right now. If they become actionable, we cannot afford to have the SGC’s ability to do its job compromised by conflicting political agendas. I am not about to create a situation where a country that is trying to change a trade agreement or annex a neighboring nation can hold a gun to Earth’s head until they get what they want.”

There was a pause.

“I have to say, General O’Neill, you have a truly ghoulish way with metaphor,” Walker said at last, but she sounded more amused than angry.

Jack relaxed a little. He didn’t know Secretary Walker all that well yet, but he was pretty sure the amusement meant he’d won this round. However, appearances to the contrary, Mama O’Neill hadn’t raised no fool. Jack knew he wouldn’t last long in Washington if he didn’t learn to win gracefully.

“Look, ma’am,” he said, “I’m happy to play all the games you want, providing we come up with stakes we can afford to lose. Just because the SGC is off the table doesn’t mean we have nothing to offer. Atlantis may be turning out to be a giant clusterfuck, pardon my French, but the idea behind it was sound: internationally supported research and exploration gives everyone a piece of the pie and doesn’t compromise planetary security. And, long-term, it is a way for other countries to get people into the SGC.”

“Oh?” Secretary Walker said, sounding intrigued. “Say more, General.”

“People who have spent time offworld and seen what we’re up against are less likely to let politics get in the way of keeping Earth safe,” Jack said. “If, say, Dr. Kusanagi came back from Atlantis wanting a job at SGC, I’d hire her in a heartbeat, nationality be damned. Japan would have someone at the SGC and I wouldn’t lose sleep at night. Everybody wins.”

“Yes, but what about getting people into the chain of command?” Walker countered. “Dr. Weir’s brief tenure notwithstanding, the SGC is primarily a military organization. Could someone like Dr. Kusanagi ever honestly expect to sit in General Landry’s chair?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jack said, holding up a hand even though Walker couldn’t see the gesture, “Hold your horsies there. We are hell and gone from being at a point where I would agree to hand Hank’s job over to a representative of another country. I mean, I can imagine a day when the SGC operates more like NATO, but it is a loooong way off.”

“But you agree that, in the long run, it could happen?” Walker said.

“The very very long run,” Jack said. “As in, I will hopefully be dead by then. We already talked about what some fool with an agenda could do just by tying the SGC’s hands when we’re facing on offworld threat. That’s nothing compared to what they could accomplish if they got ahold of Hank’s command codes. Not to alarm you, Madam Secretary, but with the tech that we’ve scavenged, scrounged, and cobbled together to defend against the Goa’uld, the SGC could wipe out the entire planet in an hour flat. Now, General Landry has got other things on his mind— the remnants of the Goa’uld, Sheppard’s space vampires, and these Ori characters, for a start— so he’s not about to do that, but I’m not even comfortable allowing foreign military assets to be stationed at the mountain, never mind allowing a foreign national into General Landry’s chair.”

“I see,” Walker said, sounding shaken. “Well, I don’t think I shall share that perspective with our allies, but you’re right, handing that kind of power over to another country seems… incredibly unwise.”

“Glad we agree on that,” Jack said. “As for who will take over after General Landry, that depends on a lot of things. Given that the SGC is in charge of planetary defense, I don’t think we’ll put a civilian in charge again. Dr. Weir did fine with the admin and the fast talking, but when the planet was under attack, she wasn’t equipped to make the field decisions. That said, I do think Hank is the last person we’re going to be bringing in from outside the program to fill the top spot. When I left, there wasn’t any other officer in the mountain who had spent enough time in rank to take my place, but by the time Hank retires, we’ll have our pick. So we can put it out there that the next commander of the SGC will be chosen from within the program.”

“How does that help us?” Walker asked.

“Well, just because I’ve decided to stick with military commanders, that doesn’t mean we have to tell anybody,” Jack said. “The fact that Weir was in charge of the SGC, even for a little while, creates the possibility that a civilian might take over. If we stress that we’re going to start promoting from within at the same time that we’re talking about recruiting from international research and exploration programs…”

“… We can give the impression that there will be opportunities to get people into command positions without promising anything,” Walker finished for him. “You are a devious man, General. Now, what about…”

Twenty minutes later, Jack hung up the phone and threw it onto the bed. He rubbed his hands over his face vigorously and let out a soft moan.

He didn’t hate politics, not really— after all these years going through the gate and dealing with the strangest people and customs, he had an amazingly high tolerance for bullshit— but come on, it was Sunday afternoon. Didn’t Walker have anything better to do?

Of course, it wasn’t like Jack’s social calendar was exactly jam-packed either. After all, he couldn’t exactly have the Prometheus beam him to Colorado Springs every time he wanted someone to watch hockey with, and his colleagues at Homeworld Command weren’t quite at the point where they would be up for beer and a game with the boss.

Taking the job in Washington had involved a lot of upset to his life: new city, new command, new people. He’d adapted to most of it easily enough, but he found that it was leaving the team that he was the hardest to adjust to. Oh, they still scheduled semi-regular get-togethers— Jack made sure that his job took him to the mountain ever four to six weeks and, assuming that SG1 wasn’t offworld, they’d get together at Sam or Daniel’s place. But it definitely wasn’t the same.

Oddly, the thing that everyone had been most worried about, the fact that, for the first time in seven years, he was going to be without a guide, hadn’t really been much of an issue. His senses had been fine, no spikes or zones, and he hadn’t had any bad reactions to the new environment (except for the aforementioned chafing problem).

Of course, after seven years going through the gate, he was pretty used to controlling his senses and reactions in alien environments, but before, he’d always had Sam. Sam might not have been his guide— they barely made the cut for pro tem partners in terms of compatibility— but she had been a guide, and a goddamned talented one too. Their accord had been insubstantial and unobtrusive, but Sam had made it work harder and better than many full bonds he’d seen, and now that it was gone, he found that he missed it. Not the way he missed Sam herself— he had always been much closer to Sam his 2IC than to Sam his pro tem guide— but the way a person missed an inexpensive but often-worn piece of clothing, something that was valuable because of its history, not its quality.

God. Now he was getting maudlin. He needed to get out of the apartment before he started singing songs from the fifties.

Suddenly he remembered the conversation he’d had with A.J. Chegwidden when he’d contacted the D.C. alpha sentinel to tell him he was moving into his territory:

“It’s easy to be isolated in this city, so don’t be shy about reaching out to the pride. The Center hosts gatherings two or three times a month, and if that’s not your style, Rabb and I have an informal get-together at our place most Sunday afternoons. People bring food and the booze of their choice and we watch whatever game is on.”

Jack checked his watch, then glanced at the half-full dresser. With a decisive shove, he shut the t-shirt drawer, grabbed his wallet and keys off the nightstand, and headed for the door. He stopped half-way there and backtracked to the kitchen, where he fished out the six pack of Heineken that was sitting in the fridge. Then he left the apartment and headed for his car, whistling absently as he went.




“You look like hell,” Harm said bluntly, leaning against the refrigerator.

Tony glowered at the other guide. Yes, he knew he looked like hell. He’d had the crap kicked out of him and had come uncomfortably close to being executed by a seriously disturbed individual, thank you very much. Of course he looked like hell after that.

“You don’t have to rub it in,” he said, returning to the onions he was chopping.

He’d somehow ended up agreeing to make homemade pasta sauce last time he was here— there may have been a little disagreement concerning Ragù, authenticity, and the honor of Italian cuisine involved— and was now elbow deep in ingredients in Harm and Rabb’s kitchen.

“Are you okay, Tony?” Harm asked gently.

“Long week,” Tony deflected, tossing the onions into the pan and beginning to add olive oil, herbs, and spices.

“Uhuh,” Harm said, his tone making it clear that he meant ‘bullshit.’

“No, really,” Tony said. “We had this case, and Ziva and I had to go undercover, but we hadn’t gotten all the intel, so things got really dicey…”

“Tony,” Harm said sternly. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Tony blew out a breath and stirred the onions.

“It’s just been… there’s a lot going on right now,” he said. “Ziva’s still settling in, the new director is having some kind of power struggle with Gibbs, and Abby has this new lab assistant who, swear to God, reads like Hannibal Lecter half the time…”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Harm said, straightening up from his casual position against the fridge. “Back up, Tony. Hannibal Lecter? Who is this person and why, for the love of God, are they working at NCIS?”

Tony’s eyes widened at Harm’s sudden shift in affect and he accidentally dropped the oregano jar into the pot. Cursing, he fished it out.

“Jeez, calm down man,” he said.

“Tony, you just compared the employee of a federal agency to a cannibalistic psychopath,” Harm said. “Now, call me crazy, but that seems like a cause for concern.”

“I don’t think he’s actually a serial killer, and he totally isn’t a cannibal,” Tony protested. “I just meant that, empathically, he’s a little creepy.”

“How creepy is ‘a little creepy,’ Tony?” Harm said. “Because if a Mossad agent who killed her own brother, and who I know for a fact has done more than her share of wet work over the years, doesn’t bother you empathically, I’m shuddering to think what you might actually find creepy.”

Harm and Tony had had a bit of an argument when Ziva first joined the team the previous month. The circumstances surrounding her arrival had been very shady, involving fallout from the Ari Haswari case, some agenda of Director Shepard’s, and Gibbs’s daughter complex. Tony didn’t like the situation, and playing the guide/chieftain/tribe card to make Gibbs tell him what was going on had not made him like it any better, but he hadn’t been on board with Harm’s demand that he veto Ziva’s appointment. As an active guide in a federal agency, Tony technically had the right to refuse to work with someone who disturbed his empathic landscape, but Tony couldn’t do it.

At first, he simply hadn’t wanted to create trouble for himself. For one thing, he was pretty sure that Madam Director and Gibbs would both have his hide if he interfered in their battle to see who was top dog. For another, he really did not want a repeat of Peoria. Sure, he’d stood up against corruption and helped show the world that carrying a badge did not give someone the right to break the law, but he had also broken the unwritten LEO code: if you had a problem— be it harassment, discrimination, or empathic distress—  you’d better suck it up and deal with it yourself.

Nobody liked a troublemaker. Especially a righteous one.

But, after a few days of working with Ziva, he had found that she didn’t bother him on an empathic level. While Ziva was harder to get along with than Kate on her most difficult day, psionically speaking she was incredibly restful to be around. Most people had at least a little dissonance between their outward presence and their psionic presence— Gibbs’s cold, stoic exterior versus the pain and love he carried inside, McGee’s outward insecurity versus his actual competence, Abby’s outward immaturity versus her compassion and understanding— but Mossad Liaison Officer Ziva David was exactly what she appeared to be: a deadly assassin trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional assassin family. She was scary as hell, but not disturbing, any more than a wolf or a cougar or any other apex predator was disturbing. In fact, while Tony was dubious about her driving, her moral compass, her understanding of civilized society, her intentions towards the U.S., and her grasp of American English, he was more comfortable with her watching his six than he had been with any other partner aside from Gibbs. If Ziva ever had a reason to kill him, she would kill him, but she wouldn’t hang him out to dry out of selfishness or stupidity.

Chip, however, was a whole other ball of wax. Tony sighed. He knew Harm wasn’t going to let this go.

“Look, the guy just has some… issues,” he said, beginning to slice the Italian sausage.

“What kind of issues?” Harm asked, and Tony huffed, because now Harm was using his lawyer voice.

“He’s just very… hostile,” Tony said.

“Towards you? Or towards everyone?” Harm pressed.

“Well, definitely towards me,” Tony said, “But also towards Gibbs and McGee. And Abby sometimes, but not all the time, because he has a big old crush on her, which is disturbo in itself. And a lot of people are hostile, but there’s this undertone to it that’s… it feels vindictive. Like he’s not going to be content with just lurking in Abby’s lab thinking unfriendly thoughts indefinitely. It feels like at some point, he’s going to want to do something about it.”

Tony stopped chopping, realizing as soon as the words were out of his mouth exactly what he was saying.

“Okay,” he admitted, “ That didn’t sound good.”

“No, it didn’t,” Harm agreed. “Tony, I may have been wrong about Ziva, but this sounds serious. Forget your own comfort, do you really want this guy working near Abby? Or handling evidence? Because if he does decide to act on his hostility, she’ll be directly in the line of fire, and when it’s all over, you can bet my office is going to be reopening every case he’s worked on. Do you really want a killer to walk free because your agency hired a psychotic lab tech?”

“Damn,” Tony cursed, realizing that Harm had caught him. “Okay, I’ll file a Guide Injunction tomorrow. You know, this is what I get for ignoring Rule 13.”

“Rule 13?” Harm asked, cocking his head.

Tony smirked at him.

“Never involve lawyers,” he said cheekily.

“Oh, is that why the MCRT is so bad-tempered whenever one of our people is there?” Harm said, grinning. “I thought you were just all perpetually miserable individuals.”

“C’mon, Harm,” Tony said, “You know me better than that. I mean, sure, Gibbs is Papa Grumpy-bear most of the time, but I would never allow my team to live in misery . Why do you think I have to glue McGee to his keyboard every so often?”

“I don’t know, Tony,” Rabb said, “That wouldn’t exactly cheer me up.”

“I know, right?” Tony said, tossing the sausage in with the onions. “But for some reason, it makes him relax. Actually, I don’t think it’s getting glued to his keyboard that makes him relax, I think it’s getting frustrated with me. See, normally he’s intimidated by me. Not as intimidated as he is by Gibbs…”

Tony trailed off, suddenly distracted by… something brushing up against his psionic awareness. Harm tensed beside him, sensing the sudden shift in Tony’s focus.

“Tony?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Tony said. “There’s something… whoa!”

“Okay, whose spirit animal decided to go walkabout on the poker chips just when I’d finally gotten a decent hand?” asked Tobias Fornell’s irritated voice from the living room.

It was still early and not a lot of people were there yet, so Chegwidden, Fornell, and a new sentinel and guide pair who had just moved into town from Milwaukee or somewhere like that had set up a poker game on the coffee table in the living room.

A coffee table which was now occupied by a large, agitated coyote.

“Wiley?” Tony yelped.

Wiley yelped back, then, for reasons known only to himself, began nudging at A.J. insistently with his snout.

“DiNutzo,” Fornell growled. “I might have known.”

Despite how grumpy he sounded, Fornell’s psionic profile was both amused and oddly fond.

“Tony, there anything you want to tell me?” A.J. asked.

“Uh… no sir?” Tony said without conviction. “Wiley, stop that!”

“Easy, boy,” A.J. said kindly to the coyote.

At that moment, three things happened: Wiley’s head came up sharply, the front doorbell rang, and Tony felt a sudden, overwhelming pull deep inside him.

Tony swayed and made a grab for the counter.

Wiley yipped at A.J., then jumped off the coffee table and ran for the door.

Harm instinctively expanded his psionic presence to wrap around Tony, soothing and shielding him at the same time, while A.J., curious, but unperturbed, got up and followed the high-strung spirit animal into the front hall.

Tony heard the front door open and heard A.J.’s calm, even voice greeting the person on the other side:

“Well, hello there, General. Was hoping to see you one of these days. How’s Washington treating you?”

“Hey there, Admiral,” said a light, impatient voice. “Normally, I’d be happy to make small talk about your lousy weather and the Capitals’ offense, but I’m pretty sure that the coyote having a tizzy over there belongs to my guide.”

[1]Michaela Walker is a fictional Secretary of State to Stargate’s President Henry Hayes. In real life, the position was held by Condoleezza Rice, who was Secretary of State to President George W. Bush from 2005-2009.