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The Stargate Protocols

Chapter Text

“‘C’mon, Wile E. Coyote?” Major General Jonathan O’Neill protested, keeping one eye on the road and the other on his guide of fourteen hours. “You couldn’t have come up with a more badass name for your spirit animal? I mean, that poor sucker gets outsmarted by a rabbit. Regularly.”

“Gimme a break,” Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo said, laughing happily at his sentinel’s indignation. “It was 3:30 in the morning, I was drunk off my ass and literally under the table, and this massive coyote crawls under there with me and starts licking my face. So I did what any self-respecting drunk frat boy would do: I screamed like an eight-year-old girl and started yelling for someone to get Bugs Bunny, because Wiley was trying to eat me. My frat brothers never let me hear the end of it.”

Tony was sprawled in the passenger seat of Jack’s car, relaxed and content, as they headed across town from the D.C. S&G Center towards the Pentagon.

If Jack had had his way, he would have kidnapped his guide last night and be in Minnesota by now, allowing their shiny new second level accord— which was only supposed to be a first level accord, but had somehow deepened to the second level when they weren’t looking— to settle in peace and privacy. They might not be ready to bond yet, but the accord was causing Jack to have some serious territorial impulses, and it would be nice to have Tony all tucked up and safe in the cabin with nobody to challenge their new connection except the bears and the squirrels (it was a well-known fact that the only fish up there were the ones in Jack’s imagination).

However, it was not to be. Jack had been able to play hooky for the morning, but there were a couple vital things he had to sign off on, and there was a weekly briefing scheduled for  this afternoon. He would have loved nothing better than to blow it off, but if he did that, then he would start getting panicked calls from the DoD, the JCS, the DoS, and the White House, which would actually be more distracting than just dealing with the briefing.

The good news was— thanks to the brand spanking new Union IDs in their wallets, which made them legally one person in two bodies and so automatically granted each of them the other’s security clearance— Tony was coming with him. Of course, Tony would have to sign a crapload of NDAs before he got to see anything cool— neither Jack, nor anyone else at Homeworld was about to entrust the security of the program to what really amounted to a legal fiction— but as soon as he’d done that, Jack could take him anywhere he pleased.

He was really looking forward to seeing the looks everyone’s faces when Tony waltzed into the conference room this afternoon like he owned the place.

“So, because you drank too much at a frat party when you were a sophomore in college, your spirit animal is stuck with the name of an incompetent cartoon character?” Jack clarified.

“Yup,” Tony replied, unrepentant. “So, now you’ve heard how Wiley got his name. Your turn. How did that lazy lion of yours end up as ‘Massoud’?”

“Well, don’t laugh— ” Jack said.

“Hah!” Tony interjected. “After the shit you just gave me about Wiley? Dream on!”

“— But Massoud is named after an Afghani military leader.”

Tony’s jaw dropped.

“Afghani?” he said stupidly. “Like, they guys we’ve been fighting with for, oh, say, ever?”

“Thought that was the Russians,” Jack said, grinning.

“Smartass,” Tony said.  “Okay, this I gotta hear.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see Tony settling back into his seat, his vivid green eyes bright with anticipation.

“So, back in the late 80s and early 90s,” Jack said, “I was on a Special Ops team running deep covert operations. Now, the main show in town back then was the Gulf War, but there were also quite a few side attractions, so a lot of our work had fuck-all to do with the Gulf. Afghanistan was one of the big things on our radar, what with our old pals the Soviets occupying it and all, and one of the things I remember is, every now and again, we’d get intel on this insurgent leader in Northern Afghanistan, name of Ahmed Shah Massoud, who didn’t seem like them there any more than we did. His nickname was ‘the Lion of Panshir’ because he and his people held the Panshir Valley against Soviet forces during the Soviet-Afghan War. When the Soviets finally left, he became the Afghani Minister of Defense.”

Jack took the turn that led to the secure parking area for Homeworld Command.

“So,” he continued, “1996: I’m on a super- super black ops mission, helping a different group of, um, insurgents in another desert that’s… hell and gone from Afghanistan. But when this big old lion shows up right in the middle of it, the first thing that comes into my head is the Lion of Panshir, because the situation we were in, we could really some of that guy’s mojo. So, when I figured out that he was actually my spirit animal, I said what the hell and named him Massoud, because hey, it couldn’t hurt, right? And whaddaya know, the insurgents won, we didn’t all die, and the U.S. didn’t get blown to smithereens. Which, believe it or not, was a possibility for a minute there. And the two probably aren’t connected, but I’ve still got a soft spot for that guy. After the Taliban took over, he ended up going insurgent again, eventually ended up as the head of the Northern Alliance. He got assassinated right after 9/11.”

“Okay” Tony said, “You win. Your spirit animal naming story is way cooler than mine. Also, I’m not sure whether I’m curious or terrified that a super-black black ops mission could have ended up with the U.S. being blown to kingdom come.”

“Welcome to my world,” Jack said, pulling into his dedicated parking spot.

Lt. Colonel Paul Davis, bless his inkstained little heart, had called ahead to security to tell them that the general had his new guide with him, so their entrance into the Pentagon was smooth and painless. Tony clipped the temporary ID that Paul had sent down to his belt and smiled genially at the security guards.

“This is kinda wild,” Tony said as he followed Jack. “Usually when I’m here, I’m either interrogating or arresting someone. Although there was that one case with the hacker and the Navy Captain’s daughter—” he broke off as they entered Homeworld Headquarters and then stopped dead, staring at the glowing black and white representation of Earth on the wall and at the words “Homeworld Command,” which were written across it in a tastefully understated bold font. “Okay,” he said, “This is… not what I was expecting.”

They were intercepted immediately by Paul, who already had two folders under his arm.

“General,” Paul said, nodding, “Congratulations. Guide DiNozzo, welcome. I’m Lt. Colonel Paul Davis, Deputy Head of Homeworld Command. If you’ll come this way, please, I’ll set you up in the conference room.”

“The conference room?” Jack asked, grabbing a still stunned Tony and steering him after Paul. “What’s wrong with my office?”

“Well General, until Guide DiNozzo signs the NDAs, your office is a security breach,” Paul said. “Also, it’s hard enough to get your undivided attention on your paperwork on the best of days. If Guide DiNozzo is in the room with you, there’s no telling what you might sign off on.”

“Jack,” Tony said in a preternaturally calm voice, “What the hell are you guys up to here?”

“Hang on just a minute, and I’ll tell ya,” Jack said, directing Tony deftly into the conference room and pushing him into a chair. “After you’ve signed a few hundred forms, that is.”

Paul proceeded to give Tony the usual speech— national security, binding confidentiality agreements, nameless but sinister consequences should he ever breathe a word of what he was about to hear go anyone. Jack tuned it out, content to simply enjoy being in the presence of his guide. When Paul handed Tony the stack of forms— all helpfully marked with fluorescent yellow sticky tabs where Tony needed to sign or initial—  and the pen, Tony gave Jack a pleading look.

“I’m your guide, right?” he said plaintively. “So you wouldn’t let me sign away, like, any vital organs or the rights to my soul or anything?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jack said. “I signed all that stuff, and I’m fine. Granted, I haven’t checked lately to see if I still have all my kidneys and stuff…”

“You do, sir,” Paul assured him. “You had a physical last month. I have it on file.”

“There ya go,” Jack said.

Tony gave him a long, dubious look, but he began to sign pages.

Ten minutes later, when he had initialed and signed next to the last sticky tabs, Paul took away the forms and set the other file in front of Tony.

“So,” Jack said, clapping his hands together, “As you’ve no doubt figured out, this is Homeworld Command. I’m the head of the program, and Paul is my deputy— basically I yell at people while he actually runs things. Our mission goal is the protection of Earth and her allies.”

Tony blinked slowly at him, and Jack could smell a very familiar combination of scents coming off of him. Jack called it “Brainmelt #9,” and it usually appeared right before some poor soul started screaming for the guys with the straightjackets and the tranquilizers.

“Earth. And. Her. Allies,” Tony said slowly, enunciating with care.

“Yup,” Jack said cheerfully. “Now, what you’ve got there,” he pointed to the folder, “Is a standard briefing packet on the Stargate Program.”

With evident misgivings, Tony reached out and twitched open the folder. He stared at the first page, which was actually a glossy 8.5” x 11” photograph of a huge metal ring filled with what looked like glowing blue water.

“That,” said Jack, “Is the stargate. It was discovered by some archaeology types in Egypt back in the 30s…”

Tony didn’t say a word through the entire introductory speech. Nor did he say a word when Paul asked if he minded if he borrowed the general while he read through the briefing packet. When Jack and Paul left the conference room, Tony didn’t even look up, already immersed in the contents of the folder. The last whiff of his scent that Jack got before the door closed was pure shock, with no underlayers at all.

“Do you think he’s alright?” Jack asked Paul anxiously as the two of them headed towards his office.

“I took the liberty of pulling up Special Agent DiNozzo’s file this morning after you called, sir,” Paul said. “From what I read, he seems like a very resilient and adaptable individual. I believe he will adjust much better than most of the people we have to read into the program. Also, may I just say sir how relieved I am that we are finally getting a trained investigator?”

“Wait, what?” Jack said as they entered his office and Paul shut the door. “Hang on. Getting an investigator? Where did you get that idea?”

“Well, I’m assuming that you’ll be bringing him into the program?” Paul said.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Jack said, throwing himself into his chair. “We haven’t got that far yet. We only just met! And he’s already got a job, one that I gather he’s quite fond of. Besides he’s only just being read in right now, so he doesn’t even know what kind of job we’d be offering him. Hell, I don’t even know what kind of job we’d be offering him.”

“I can enlighten you, sir,” Paul said, settling into parade rest in front of Jack’s desk.

“You can?” Jack said. “Okay, well, good. But Tony needs decide whether he even wants a new job before we start clearing him out an office.”

He was keeping half an ear on Tony even as they talked— these territorial instincts were going to drive him crazy at this rate— but so far, all he was hearing was the occasional swish! of the pages in the briefing packet and the slow, steady beat of his guide’s heart.

Paul’s expression had taken on a curious, set quality and his scent pile had shifted to his ‘my boss is an idiot, but I am an officer in the United States Air Force, and I will respect the chain of command even if it kills me’ aroma.

It was a scent he wore a lot.

“Then may I suggest,” he said, “That you use all the means at your disposal to persuade Guide DiNozzo to make the appropriate decision? I am sure that you have many ways available to you to convince him that our need is greater than that of NCIS.”

“Colonel,” Jack said slowly, suddenly distracted from listening to Tony by a nasty suspicion, “Are you trying to pimp me out?”

“General,” Paul said calmly, “I would sell my own grandmother if it meant having in-house investigative capabilities. I have absolutely no problem offering your ass up for the cause. Sir.”

Jack’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped a little.

“Jesus Christ!” he said. “I can’t believe you just said that!”

“I’m perfectly serious, sir,” Paul said stoically.

“Fer cryin’ out loud,” Jack exclaimed. “Do we really need an investigator that bad?”

“Sir, do you know how many incidents occur each week that are directly connected to the Stargate Program, its objectives, its resources, or its personnel and warrant investigation?”

Jack blinked.

“Uh— no?” he said.

“Neither do I,” Paul said stiffly.

Jack sat up. A statistic that Paul did not know was a statistic that Jack wasn’t sure he wanted to meet.

“Okay, you definitely have my attention,” he said. “Go on.”

“Three weeks ago, the FBI was called in to investigate a series of missing persons in Chicago,” Paul said. “There was no connection between the victims, no forensic evidence to speak of, and the FBI could not come up with a profile of the perpetrator, despite having some of the best profilers in the country working the case.”

Jack leaned forward a little, awaiting the punchline with a sick sort of anticipation.

“It was an alien device, sir,” Paul said. “It was reported missing from Area 51 four months ago. We still don’t know how it went missing, how it got to Chicago, or even how the victims came in contact with it. We don’t even know what the device does, so we don’t actually know what happened to all those people. We only managed to recover it because the description of a potential crime scene generated by one of the agents tripped one of our alerts in the FBI’s system.”

Jack remembered this case now— as in, he remembered Paul telling him that the FBI had found a missing whatzit, but there had been civilian casualties, and Jack needed to sign off on cleanup measures. But SG-11 had run into an interplanetary clusterfuck offworld that day and the president had been having one of his fits of do-good-ery that always seemed to end up in Jack having to talk him out of something stupid and he hadn’t had time or attention to spare for missing whatzits.

Apparently, he should have made the time.

“Our scientists are trying to figure out what it is,” Paul continued, “But in order to figure out the rest, we will have to liaise with, at minimum, the FBI, the Secret Service, AFOSI, and ICE.”

“ICE?” Jack broke in desperately. “Why the dickens is ICE involved?”

Paul looked pained.

“Don’t ask, sir,” he said. “The problem—

“Oh, because everything up ‘til now has just been a feature ,” Jack interjected, feeling much aggrieved.

“—the problem,” Paul continued doggedly, “Is that only the Secret Service has any significant number of agents read into the program— they have a division that’s responsible for enforcing NDAs and the like.” He held up the folder containing Tony’s non-disclosure agreements for emphasis. “Of the rest, only the FBI has been briefed, and then only the bare minimum at the very top level.”

“Right,” Jack said weakly, slumping back in his chair.

“So,” Paul concluded, “In order to investigate this incident, I am going to have to come up with multiple— possibly very elaborate— cover stories, generate massive amounts of false documentation, brief and prep possible witnesses… In short, I will spend the next several weeks essentially writing fiction. I do not like writing fiction, sir. I don’t even particularly like reading fiction. I would rather be doing something useful, like running this program.”

Jack scrubbed his hands vigorously over his face.

“I know I’m going to regret asking this, but what about the NID?” he said with distaste. “Isn’t this supposed to be their kind of thing?”

Despite the extensive housecleaning that had eradicated the rogue element of the organization, there was no love lost between Jack and the NID.

“You would think so, sir, but no,” Paul said with a grimace. “In fact, it seems that most of the… problems that we run into on a regular basis fall outside of the NID’s mandate.”

“Of course,” Jack groused. “God forbid they should actually be useful or anything.”

“Sir, my point is, this is just one incident, and we only know about it because an FBI profiler happens to have a photographic memory and a talent for explicatory writing,” Paul said. “Things like this come across my desk almost weekly. Not only does that take my attention away from my actual job, it indicates there are almost certainly many more such incidents that we aren’t aware of because we don’t have the right people looking for them.”

“Okay,” Jack said, holding up his hand, “Clearly we need an investigator— realistically, a lot of investigators. Why don’t we have them?”

Paul hesitated.

“Sir,” he said, choosing his words carefully, “Like any program, we have finite resources. However, unlike most programs, our limiting factor is not our budget, but our personnel. There are only so many people read into the program, and each of them has massive demands on their time. Simply put, sir, this issue has been top priority since Homeworld Command was created, but there have always been multiple much higher priority issues that have to be dealt with first.”

“Okay, so Tony showing up is kinda like a sign from the gods, only without the whole snake thing,” Jack said. “But c’mon, Colonel, he’s one guy. What you’re describing, we really need a whole team here.”

“Then he can hire a team,” Paul said, sounding unconcerned. “As I said, sir, our budget is not the problem.”

Jack hated to burst Paul’s bubble, he really did, but it had to be done.

“I think he’s pretty attached to the team he already has,” he said as delicately as he could. “And I pretty much promised his boss and our pride’s alphas that I wouldn’t pressure him about the whole job issue.”

Paul frowned.

“Sir?” he said.

Jack blew out a breath. He really hated trying to explain pride stuff, it wasn’t his area of expertise and ninety percent of it was too mystical for him anyways.

“Guides don’t always get treated… well,” he said awkwardly. “On paper, we’re equals and everything, but… well, a lot of people think that a guide should do what their sentinel tells them to do. The members of Tony’s— tribe— have made it very clear to me that I had better not be one of those people.”

“I see,” Paul said, frowning. “Well, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to hire Agent DiNozzo’s team as well. In fact, it might even be easier. We could get the president to sign an executive order…”

“Whoa!” Jack yelped. “Hang on! What?”

“You said that Agent DiNozzo likes his current team,” Paul said, looking puzzled. “I read up on NCIS’s Major Case Response Team when I pulled Agent DiNozzo’s file, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to make an argument for appropriating it. As I said, it might even be easier.”

Jack rubbed his temples.

“You want to commandeer an entire investigative team,” he said, making sure he had it straight.

“Yes sir,” Paul replied.

“You want to commandeer the premier investigative team of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.”

“Yes sir.”

“Paul,” Jack whined, “You’re talking about stealing SecNav’s pride and joy. Davenport loves that team. Rabb says he's been rubbing their solve rate in all the other agencies’ faces for years.”

“Well then, he should be very proud when the president personally requests them for a— ah— new task force,” Paul said, undeterred. “I’ll put together a proposal, shall I?”

“Jesus,” Jack said, putting his face in his hands. “Fine. Whatever. But we do nothing until I talk to Tony, understood?”

“I understand, sir,” Paul said. “Now, about this mission to P2X-885…”

They’d made it through ten reports and a… something that Jack didn’t know what the fuck to call it when the rhythmic sound of pages being picked up and laid in the conference room down stopped. Jack froze, head cocked, listening. For a moment, the only sound was Tony’s heartbeat. Then, his guide began to laugh, and the laughter had a hysterical edge to it that had Jack on his feet in an instant.

“Sorry,” he told Paul, “Tony’s done. Gotta go!”

With that, he practically sprinted out of the room.

He found Tony sitting at the conference table with the contents of the briefing folder spread out in front of him, still laughing helplessly. Now that he could use sight and smell as well as hearing to gauge his guide’s state of mind, Jack could tell that Tony was, among many other things, scared, excited, disbelieving, and angry.

His guide looked up as Jack came into the room, his green eyes almost hectically bright.

“‘A different group of insurgents’?” he said between hysterical giggles. "'Hell and gone from Afghanistan’? Jack, you awakened on a different planet! Jesus fucking Christ!”

And then he was off again, laughing so hard that he was gasping for breath.

“Wow,” Jack said, unnerved, “I’ve seen a lot of reactions to this briefing, but I gotta say, this is new.”

“There are aliens among us!” Tony panted. “And you’ve spent the last ten years boldly going where no man had gone before! Fuck! Fuck!”

He choked on his own breath and dropped his head onto his arm.

“O-kay,” Jack said, moving over to Tony and putting one careful hand on the bare skin at the back of his neck. “Take a breath there, Tiger. Breathing’s good.”

Tony shuddered under his touch and relaxed, gulping in air desperately.

“You okay there, buddy?” Jack asked after a minute.

“Yeah,” Tony said in a calmer voice that was still hoarse from laughing too hard. “Just… got a little loopy there. But— damn, Jack, aliens? Honest to God, ‘the truth is out there’ aliens?”

Jack pulled one of the chairs over and sat down beside Tony. His guide was still resting his head on his arms, but he turned it so that he could look at the sentinel. Jack put his hand back on Tony’s neck, burying his fingertips in the short hair at the base of Tony’s skull and rubbing gently.

“Yup,” he said, “Real, honest-to-God aliens. Also, a crapload of humans that got yanked off of Earth and plunked down any old where around the galaxy. Which, weirdly, almost always seems to look like either Canada or Arizona.”

‘My folks came to U.S. as immigrants— aliens—’” Tony mumbled, “‘And became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood, and became an alien.’”

“Um… what now?” Jack asked cautiously.

“Leonard Nemoy,” Tony said. “You know, from Star Trek. He was making a really pointed joke about ‘aliens’ versus ‘aliens’… And, oh God, can you imagine the immigration issues for someone who comes from another planet?”

“Don’t have to,” Jack said laconically.

“Oh, right,” Tony said, letting out another breathless laugh. “The guy with the gold thing on his forehead— Teal-ac.”

“Teal’c,” Jack corrected. “And yup, good old T caused our commanding officer quite a few headaches when we brought him back through the gate. George was a forgiving sort, though, so I don’t think he held a grudge.”

Tony snorted helplessly.

“Oh God,” he said. “But seriously, Jack, you awakened on another planet fighting an alien who was pretending to be an Egyptian god. What the fuck?!”

Jack’s face slid into its favorite ‘what-can-ya-do’ expression.

“Yup,” he said. “Ten years in black ops, including a pretty nasty stretch as a POW in Iraq, and not a thing. But the minute I stepped through the damned gate, everything started going technicolor.”

“I don’t— I can’t even—” Tony said weakly.

“Hey,” Jack said, squeezing the back of Tony’s neck. “It’s okay. It’s like going to the dentist, it only hurts for a minute. And then maybe for another week or so.”

Tony took a deep breath and seemed to get ahold of himself. He sat up and looked at the papers spread across the table.

“It’s just, this is a serious ‘what-the-fuck,’” he said. “Jack, what the hell is your guys’ plan when this all goes public? Because this is fucking terrifying, man.”

“Which is why we don’t have any plans on taking the program public any time soon,” Jack said. “All the egg-heads who do sociall-y people stuff agree that the world isn’t ready for this.”

“Well, no, of course not,” Tony said. “Groupthink, lowest common denominator— it’ll be a madhouse. But you have to know it’s gonna come out, and probably not in a pretty way. I mean, that whole thing in Antarctica…” he waved weakly at one of the stacks of paper in front of him, which appeared, going by the top sheet, to be the information on the Goa’uld, “ Independence Day, Bill Pullman and Will Smith… it’s just shit luck that that guy— Anubis— didn’t park those ships smack over the White House or something.”

“Oh, believe me, we know,” Jack said grimly. “We were all set to declare martial law if the general public got a good look at Anubis’s fleet. It was going to be a total shitshow.”

“So what are you doing to make the program more… viewer-friendly when that shit finally does end up hitting the fan?” Tony asked. “‘Cause right now, Jack, I gotta tell ya, this,” he waved at the papers again, “Is not ready for Prime Time.”

Jack frowned.

“What?” he said. “I’m lost. Viewer-friendly? Prime-time?”

“Well,” Tony said, and Jack sensed an abrupt shift in his mood as he pushed away his shock and the associated terror and turned his attention to a tangible problem, “Let’s say some alien with a beef against us, like Anubis, manages to actually land a fleet on the planet and send out ground troops. Or, maybe not. Maybe one of those guys,” he waved at another stack of papers with the IOA logo, “Has a temper tantrum because he didn’t get the alien toy he wanted and his country decides to go public out of spite. Whatever, the program’s cover has been blown and the American people are clustered around their televisions looking for answers. What are they going to see?”

“Well,” Jack said, “I think we have some sort of emergency press release that we keep current in case things go to hell, and I know the White House always has a statement for the president ready to go. There’s video,” he grimaced, remembering how Janet had been the only person who had really been willing to talk to that reporter, and how her funeral had ended up being part of the footage the film crew had taken, “Video of the SGC and its personnel showing what we do and how we handle offworld threats. And there’s a protocols in place— like I said, if Anubis had brought the battle to the surface, we were ready to declare martial law, but there’s less drastic protocols as well, depending on the scenario.”

“Yeah, obviously you have contingency plans,” Tony said, shaking his head. “But I’m talking about, everything has gone to hell, those plans have been put in action, you, the president, and whoever else go on TV to explain what’s going on: what kind of show will people be watching? Because they’re gonna be looking for something like Star Trek or Men in Black, but right now, they’re not gonna get it. Depending how honest you are, they’re gonna either be watching The X-Files or Doctor Who. And you might think that Doctor Who would be a great choice, since it’s a pretty funny show and the Doctor almost always wins, but it’s actually about a universe that kinda seems to want us dead, or at least doesn’t care very much if we make it or not, and an Earth that is, for the most part, too primitive and too caught up in its own petty bickering to defend itself.”

“That sounds about right,” Jack said.

“People don’t want to hear that, Jack,” Tony said, shaking his head. “They want to hear that the universe is an exciting place populated mostly by funny, friendly aliens, with a few species that are dangerous, but nothing we can’t handle. They want to hear that Earth is being looked after by brave, heroic, and ideally good-looking people who know exactly what they’re doing. Failing that, they want to at least know that, if they meet an alien in the street, we have a system in place to deal with it that doesn’t involve making the alien, them, and their entire family disappear.”

Tony looked meaningfully at a stack of papers that seemed to deal with the NID. Jack winced.

“It’s not like we’re gonna air all our dirty laundry on national TV,” he felt compelled to protest, even though, after the conversation he’d just had with Paul, Tony’s comment was scarily on-point. “We certainly aren’t going to tell anyone about the Trust or the rogue NID.”

“Jack,” Tony said impatiently, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t tell them about the rogue NID. What matters is, if they don’t have any information, that’s what they’re going to assume that we do, because all they’re going to have to go on is what they’ve seen on television and in the National Enquirer. The super-secret government conspiracy to keep aliens secret is a staple of our popular culture. Now, there’s a lot of material there, so there’s a lot of options in terms of what the conspiracy looks like. There’s the friendly kind of government conspiracy where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones run around being handsome and funny while saving the world and just happen to wipe people’s memories while they’re doing it, and there’s the really shitty kind where the Cigarette Smoking Man lurks in dark corners facilitating massive cover-ups that involve unethical experimentation, kidnapping, and murder. Unfortunately, the NID has been doing all of those things in real life, so even if you don’t say anything about them, there have to be a lot of people out there with stories that will confirm that we’ve got something pretty much like the Syndicate dealing with extraterrestrial incidents on Earth.”

Jack held up a hand.

“Hold up,” he said. “Rough estimate: how many major problems like this do you identify?”

Tony frowned.

“Uh, I dunno, Jack,” he said. “Maybe five? But, I mean, I’ve only just found out about any of this, so I haven’t really had time to…”

“Hang on,” Jack said brusquely.

He got up and left the conference room, heading directly for Paul’s office, where he could hear his deputy busily typing away. He stuck his head in without knocking.

“Hey, Paul,” he said, “When do the minions get here for the weekly briefing?”

“They should be here by 3:15, General,” Paul said. “The Deputy Secretary of Defense is running late.”

“Thanks,” Jack said.

He looked at his watch, then turned around and went back to the conference room.

“Can you put together a briefing on the program’s public relations vulnerabilities in the next twenty-six minutes?” he asked.

Tony frowned, puzzled.

“Jack, what are you talking about?” he asked.

“A bunch of underlings are going to be here at 3:15 for the weekly update on what’s going on in our little corner of the galaxy,” Jack said. “I need you to tell them what you’re seeing here. Like you were telling me, only in shorter sentences. And with easier words. And maybe pictures. Bobby is a pretty smart cookie, but Joe isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and the Kenny is a complete moron.”

“Uh…”

Chapter Text

Tony dropped into his chair beside Jack, feeling wrung out and jittery at the same time. Apparently, when Jack said ‘underlings,’ what he really meant was the people who held the number two spots in a lot of very important command chains, like DepSecDef, or people who decided what exactly was worth the president’s time, like the White House Chief of Staff.

He’d held it together though. When all was said and done, even the Chief of Staff couldn’t compare to Gibbs. And he’d had Paul there to do the visuals, since he didn’t have access to Homeworld’s systems yet, so it wasn’t like he was all on his own up there. And, weirdly, there had been a familiar face in the audience, because Homeland was part of this party, and Director Morrow was now the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. But still— Jesus Christ!

Jack squeezed his hand under the table, and Tony was momentarily distracted by just how unfairly good Jack looked in uniform. How did Homeworld Command manage to get anything done with him being so hot all the time?

“I don’t understand,” said “Kenny,” a.k.a., the Deputy Secretary of State. “I thought there weren’t any plans to disclose this program to the public.

Tony kept his face blank, but inwardly he was laughing. Jack hadn’t been kidding, this guy really wasn’t all that bright, because Tony had covered this in part two of his briefing, All the Ways this Secret Could Come Out, With Examples.

“Nope,” Jack said easily, “There aren’t. But we’ve got to face that we’re on the clock here. This is a very big cat trying to fit in a very small bag; sooner or later, it’s going to get out.”

“We’ve known that since the beginning,” “Bobby,” a.k.a. DepSecDef, agreed. “We’ve had contingency plans in place since the second Abydos Mission. What is… disturbing to me, however, is that none of the reports or projections we’ve done so far have even touched on several of the points that Guide DiNozzo just brought up.”

Morrow had an amused expression on his face and his affect clearly said, What do you expect? It’s DiNozzo.

“With all due respect,” “Joe,” a.k.a., the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, condescension oozing off of him, “Are we sure that… Guide DiNozzo is qualified to give any kind of assessment here? I’m sure he’s very good at… whatever he does, and as General O’Neill’s guide, he deserves every courtesy, but what are his credentials?”

“What he does , General, is protect the brave men and women of the Navy and the Marine Corps,” Morrow said softly, his expression showing just how little respect he had for the VJCS right now. “And he does it damned well. I should know, I was his boss.”

“He found out about the program, got the standard briefing packet, and after spending a grand total of half an hour with the thing, he started pointing out stuff none of us had even thought of,” Jack said, smirking at the VJCS. “In this game, that’s credentials.”

“I don’t know how you run your office, General, but—” the VJCS began, but he was interrupted by an intimidatingly groomed and coiffed woman whom Tony had been introduced to as Senator Kristen Duncan of the Armed Services Committee.

“How did you come to these conclusions, Guide DiNozzo?” she broke in smoothly.

“Well ma’am, my primary training is as an investigator, but I also have a lot of experience with undercover work,” Tony said, flashing her the most respectful version of his million-dollar smile. “As I’m sure you all know, undercover operations are all about the cover story: if you can’t sell it, you can kiss your mission and sometimes your life goodbye. And I gotta tell you, I don’t think even Steven Spielberg could sell this story.”

“Well, that’s not good,” Morrow remarked.

“I’m not certain I follow you,” said Ephraim Braverman, the White House Chief of Staff, whose calm placidity had managed to quite thoroughly unnerve Tony the moment he met him. “After all, we’re talking about the eventual disclosure of the program, not the cover stories currently being used to keep it secret.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “That’s a whole other issue. Because ‘deep space telemetry’? Worst. Cover story. Ever.”

“Hey,” Jack protested, “That story’s worked just fine so far.”

“I guarantee you it hasn’t,” Tony said, turning the critique into flirtation with a sly smile. “Everybody who’s ever seen a budget or a deployment list knows that you’ve got a massive top secret project going on at Cheyenne Mountain, they just think it’s a new kind of deep intelligence operation.”

“What?” DepSecDef asked.

“Whoa, hey, what now?” Jack demanded.

“Who are you to—” “Joe” began.

“Well, you’ve got a bunch of hard and soft scientists and a whole boatload of heavy combat assets from different branches of the service stationed at NORAD, of all places,” Tony said, taking a play from Senator Duncan’s book and speaking right over the VJCS. “The only thing I can come up with— besides exploring other worlds and defending Earth from aliens— is an intelligence operation that involves some kind of new satellite technology, deep reconnaissance, and a think-tank.”

“Well, there’s an idea,” DepSecDef said ruefully. “I’m suddenly very glad that China and Russia have both been read in, or we might be looking at a cold war-style technology race in a field we’re not actually working on.”

“Don’t worry, Bobby,” Jack said consolingly, “We’ve got enough tech on the Prometheus alone to win a tech race, even one we didn’t enter.”

“If we may return to the matter at hand?” Senator Duncan said crisply. “If I understand what I’ve heard correctly, disclosure as Guide DiNozzo experienced it may, purely by accident, be as close to the general public’s experience as is possible at this time. By which I mean, he had relatively little warning, and no professional stake in the outcome— as opposed to most of us, who were prepared in advance and knew ahead of time that our jobs depended on how we dealt with the information we were being briefed on.” Her mouth quirked ruefully. “I for one am finding his perspective… enlightening. Not to mention troubling.”

“Joe” snorted.

“The general public are fools,” he scoffed. “I don’t see why we’re even worried about what they think: they will believe whatever they are told.”

“Yes, they will,” Morrow said quietly, “But, as DiNozzo has pointed out, only a small fraction of what they’ve being told about aliens and top secret programs comes from us. Most of it comes from Hollywood and gossip magazines.”

“And online conspiracy theory communities,” Tony felt compelled to add. “Crazy kooks love the internet— where else can they get together with other crazy kooks without actually having to go out in public?”

Morrow nodded in acknowledgement.

“The point being,” he said, “That DiNozzo is very good at putting that kind of thing together. Which makes me agree with Senator Duncan, although for a different reason: this new perspective he’s just given us is one we need to take seriously. DiNozzo’s experience as an investigator and as a UC puts him in the position to evaluate his— unique exposure to this information and to assess the probability and severity of negative consequences in the event of its general disclosure.” Morrow smirked at Jack. “O’Neill here,” he said with dry amusement, “Just happened to do a dry-run of a general disclosure scenario on someone with the exact right skills and experience to understand and assess what it was they were seeing. In other words, he stumbled across vital intel by accident. As usual.”

Tony gulped back a squeak. He had never realized that Morrow thought so highly of him. It was… a humbling experience.

“Oh good,” DepSecDef muttered. “Despite the millions of dollars we’ve spent on risk management, once again it’s Jack’s dumb luck that’s going to save our asses. I feel so much better now.”

Jack made a disgruntled face.

“Hey,” he said, “I’ll have you know, I do things on purpose all the time. Don’t I, Colonel?”

He appealed to Lt. Colonel Davis, who replied with an air of long-suffering indulgence:

“Yes sir. Last week, you decided that we needed a new squadron of X-302s, and I did the paperwork to commission them. You then signed it, on purpose.”

Jack huffed. Braverman turned to Morrow.

“Both you and Guide DiNozzo have mentioned his undercover experience as being vital to this analysis,” he said. “Can you expand on that, Secretary Morrow?”

“Being a UC is basically like being a spin doctor, only with higher stakes,” Morrow said. “To make it undercover, you need to know your mark, know what they want to hear, what they think they already know, and above all, how they’ll react to the story you’re trying to sell. Unfortunately for us, Tony’s always been one of the best when it comes to going undercover. If he thinks we have a problem with our story, then we have a problem.”

Braverman nodded and looked at Tony.

“You say you think the Stargate Program is a story that we… cannot sell?” he asked for confirmation.

“Yeah,” Tony said. “I mean, this is just my gut reaction here— like Jack said, I haven’t exactly had a lot of time to sit with this information— but the way this reads, it feels like it’s going to create fear and uncertainty that could lead to anarchy with the right push.”

“I see,” Braverman said slowly.

“Christ,” muttered Congressman Mayhew, Senator Duncan’s counterpart from the House of Representatives.

“General O’Neill, do you honestly expect us to act on one man’s ‘gut reactions’?” the VJCS asked.

“Nope,” Jack said. “I don’t expect anybody here do anything except report back to their bosses. Except for me, ‘cause I’m damn well going to see what Homeworld can do to head off total anarchy. But as for the rest, well, that’s for people like SecDef and the president to figure out.”

There was a general swell of self-important anger as the people around the table were reminded that they were not at the top of their respective food chains, but before it could gain traction, Braverman spoke.

“I agree,” he said, “This is something that the president needs to hear as soon as possible. Guide DiNozzo, can you have a briefing ready by next Monday?”

Tony’s jaw dropped.

“For the president?” he squeaked.

“Yes,” Braverman said calmly. “I’m fairly confident that he’s going to demand one as soon as I make my report— after he demands antacids and possibly a stiff drink— and I’d like to get that ball rolling as quickly as possible. Monday is the earliest I can get the necessary people together.”

Tony looked at Jack, trying not to panic. Jack grimaced and Tony felt a strong wave of guilty chagrin coming off him.

“Thanks, E-man,” he said to Braverman. “I think you may just have won me a spot on the couch tonight.”

“Apologies, Jack,” Braverman said, not sounding— or feeling— sorry at all.

“Right,” Tony said, pulling himself together. “Sure, briefing for the president. No problem. I don’t suppose he likes sci-fi?”

Soon after that, the “underlings” began leaving for their respective offices. On his way out, Morrow stopped beside Tony’s chair.

“Congratulations,” he said.

Tony smiled up at him weakly.

“Thanks, sir,” he said. “Gotta say, when I pictured the next time we’d run into each other after you left, this was not how I thought it would go”

“You always did have a way with surprises, DiNozzo,” Morrow said, shaking his head. “How’s Gibbs taking it? I can’t imagine he’s very happy. He never did like sharing.”

Tony made a face.

“Well, he’s only threatened Jack… twice so far?” he looked at Jack for confirmation. “So I guess he’s taking it well.”

Morrow nodded.

“Good,” he said. “You need anything, you give me a call, understand?”

“Yes sir,” Tony said. “Thank you.”

With that, Morrow exited the room, leaving Jack, Tony, and Lt. Colonel Davis in the conference room. Tony sagged in his chair, feeling nauseous, while Jack stroked his hand sheepishly.

“Well, that went well,” the sentinel said.

“We’re going to need to get Guide DiNozzo a more comprehensive briefing file as soon as possible,” Colonel Davis said, positively radiating neutrality. “And I think we need to send you both to Colorado.”

Jack grimaced.

“We’re supposed to be letting our accord settle,” he whined, “Not trotting off to play with the crazy people.”

“General,” Davis said, “If Guide DiNozzo is going to brief the president, he needs all the data we can give him. Besides, sir, as your guide, he will be at ground zero if there’s an offworld crisis. He’ll need to be familiar with the Mountain as well as the Prometheus and, ideally, the Alpha Site.”

Tony’s nausea increased. He felt like he’d inadvertently boarded the Kingda Ka at Six Flags and was now hurtling towards a 400 foot drop at umpteen miles an hour with no way off. This was exactly what he hadn’t wanted to happen. He hadn’t wanted to be forced to turn his whole life inside out for a sentinel. And yet, here he was again, and in a way, this was even worse than the first time.

After all, the role he would have ended up in at Penn Presbyterian if he had bonded with Jake would never have involved briefing the Commander in Chief of the freaking US of A.

Jack squeezed his hand and regarded him anxiously, clearly wanting to know what was wrong, but Tony couldn’t tell him. It wasn’t Jack’s fault that Tony had gotten sucked into all this, he’d just been doing his job, and if Tony told him how trapped he was feeling, Jack would feel guilty as well as worried.

A tiny voice in the back of Tony’s head whispered that, alternatively, Jack might be angry at Tony, or, even worse, not care. Tony tried not to listen to the little voice, since he was pretty sure it was full of shit, but it was hard.

With a huge effort, Tony tucked away his fear and anxiety and mustered a bright smile.

“So Dorothy,” he said, “We off to see the wizard? ‘Cause if so, I gotta call my boss. Rule 3 says, never be unreachable, and I have a feeling we’re about to fall off the grid in a major way.”

 

***

 

“Gah,” Tony said weakly as he rematerialized— rematerialized!— on the bridge of the Prometheus an hour later.

“Holy shit,” he went on as he turned around and was confronted by an expanse of clear… something, through which he could see a slice of Earth and… a whole shit ton of nada .

A soft snort caused Tony to shift his focus on an Air Force officer sitting behind one of the consoles.

“Scotty?” he blurted.

“Ah… no sir,” the officer said, hiding a smile. “It’s Marks, Major Marks.”

Beside him, Jack chuckled.

An older officer with considerably more decoration on his uniform stood up from the chair (Captain’s chair!) further back on the bridge.

“Welcome aboard the Prometheus, General, Guide,” he said with a small smile.

“Hey there, Lionel,” Jack said. “Tony, this is Colonel Lionel Pendergast, captain of the USS Prometheus. Lionel, I’d like you to meet my guide, Tony DiNozzo. We’re trying to get him up to speed on everything ASAP— you know, in case the world tries to end before this weekend.”

The two men exchanged a wordless look, and Tony got an almost identical feeling from both of them, a kind of wry resignation mixed with resolve. Pendergast nodded.

“Seems like a smart idea,” he said. “So, you need the five-cent tour?”

“Yup,” Jack said. “Also, I’d like as many of your senior officers as possible to have eyes on Tony. If they ever see him without me, they need to be able to recognize him.”

“Very good, Sir,” Pendergast said, nodding. “Major Womack!”

A younger female officer stepped forward from behind another console and saluted.

“The major will show you around, Colonel, Guide,” Pendergast said.

“Thanks, Lionel,” Jack replied. “Major.”

He saluted the female officer.

“Sir!” Womack said, returning the salute. “If you’ll follow me.”

The tour lasted forty-five minutes, and by the end, Tony’s head was spinning. Since he still hadn’t quite been able to kick the nausea from earlier— although he was doing his damndest to keep it under control for Jack’s sake— the sensation was more than a little unpleasant. But Tony was a professional. He kept a smile on his face and made small-talk with the various officers that Jack wanted him to meet, doing his damndest to keep all of the names and faces straight.

And then they were back on the bridge exchanging farewells and Scotty, a.k.a., Major Marks, was activating the… the transporter beam and suddenly they were standing in low, concrete room with bright lighting, a big red table in the center, and one wall made entirely of glass. Beyond the glass, Tony could see a vast open space dominated by a huge ring of gray metal with a steel ramp leading up to it.

The stargate.

Tony gulped.

An older man in an Air Force uniform identical to Jack’s was standing by a desk in the corner. As Tony and Jack materialized, he pressed the com on the desk and said,

“We have them, Prometheus. Landry out.”

“Thanks general,” said Pendergast’s voice. Prometheus out.”

“Jack,” General Landry said, nodding.

“Hey, Hank,” Jack said. “Sorry for showing up like this.”

“Think nothing of it,” Landry said. “If you hadn’t come out here, I think SG-1 might have gone AWOL. They’re quite anxious to meet your guide.”

“Ah…” Jack said, looking— and feeling— bemused.

General Landry, apparently realizing that Jack was, for the moment, too preoccupied to do the honors, turned to Tony.

“Guide DiNozzo,” he said, nodding, “I’m General Landry. Welcome to Stargate Command.”

“Nice to meet you, General Landry,” Tony said with a bright smile. “And can I just say— wow.”

He waved at the window and tried to ignore just how much it bothered him to be called “Guide DiNozzo.”

Oh, it was perfectly right, according to custom and function. The title was used when someone was acting in their capacity as a guide, and Tony was here because he was Jack’s guide, so it was absolutely the correct form of address. But, even though the position probably afforded him more respect than if he’d been wearing stars on his own collar, being called “Guide” rather than “Agent” rankled. He’d worked damned hard to become Special Agent DiNozzo, and he couldn’t help but feel like he was being forcibly stripped of his own identity and made over into some blank, faceless entity labeled “Guide.” It was how he had felt when Jake had talked about him quitting his job and going to work at the hospital.

“You can indeed, Guide DiNozzo,” Landry said. “You can indeed.”

Further conversation was forestalled by the precipitous entrance of a tall man in rumpled BDUs wearing wire-frame glasses and an excited expression. He was followed by a much more staid and correct blond woman, also in BDUs, who wore her guide gifts— she was a kappa guide, incredibly centered and focused, with a truly formidable amount of control— like a beautiful, understated accessory. Behind them was a formidable figure with a curious gold tattoo on his forehead and an entirely alien (hah!) affect. And, bringing up the rear was an extremely good-looking man  whose whole being seemed to exude apple pie and old-fashioned American values, until you looked closer and realized that there was a whole lotta jet fuel and kick-ass hiding behind all that wholesomeness.

“Hey there, campers,” Jack said, radiating fondness and contentment. “Ya miss me?”

“Jack!” said the man with the glasses.

“Welcome back, sir,” said the blond woman.

“It is good to see you again, General O’Neill,” said the large alien.

“You too, T,” Jack said. “So, guess you’re all here to meet the newest member of the gang?”

“Are you kidding?” the man with the glasses asked. “If you didn’t show up soon, we were getting ready to fly to Washington.”

“They were threatening to steal a 302,” Landry said drily. “Considering SG-1’s track record, I wasn’t entirely certain they weren’t serious.”

“Oh, they were serious alright,” Jack said with a shake of his head and a fond smile. “Okay everybody, gather round, let’s do this properly.”

The smugness that pervaded Jack’s psionic profile gave Tony the briefest of warnings, but he was still caught off guard when Jack took Tony’s hand, pulling him forward to stand beside him, and said,

“I make thee known to the other half of mine own soul. We walk as two so that we may be one. I ask thee to bear witness to our courtship.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and then everyone began talking at once.

“Sir!” the blond woman said.

“Jack, I can’t believe you even know about courting, never mind knowing the words…” the guy with the glasses said.

“I find myself confused as to what has just taken place,” said the alien.

“Huh?” said apple-pie-and-jet-fuel.

Jack let out a piercing whistle, and everyone stopped talking.

“If I may continue,” Jack said, smirking, “Everyone, this is Tony DiNozzo, Special Agent with NCIS and my guide. Tony, Dr. Daniel Jackson,” he indicated the man with the glasses, “Lt. Colonel Sam Carter,” nodding to the blond woman, “Teal’c of Chulak,” pointing to the alien guy with the gold tattoo, “And Colonel Cameron Mitchell,” gesturing towards handsome-and-wholesome, “SG-1.”

“Nice to meet you,” Tony said with a smile, freeing his hand from Jack’s and stepping forward. “Please, call me Tony.”

He offered his hand to Dr. Jackson first, the skin on skin contact giving him a vision of Indiana Jones that had him wanting to laugh.

As an epsilon guide, Tony had a smidgen— and, thankfully, just a smidgen— of the clairvoyant gifts that usually appeared in the more powerful and creative guide classes, most notably omegas and gammas. Tony’s mind had always translated these moments of insight into movie references (it was impossible to tell whether this was the cause or the effect of his habit of dropping such references into casual conversation). He had come to the tentative hypothesis that, because clairvoyance was such a small part of the overall guide package he’d been given, he didn’t really have the tools to interpret what he was seeing, so his brain was trying to pack as much information as possible into a format it could understand. He did know that it could get very confusing. Even more confusing was the fact that other guides with the same ability tended picked up on this quirk and incorporate it into their own visions when they were focusing on him, which meant that he had it coming at him from both directions.

“It’s great to meet you,” Jackson said. “We’re so excited that Jack’s found his guide.”

Next was Colonel Mitchell, who, oddly enough, gave him a flash of Pierce Brosnan as 007. It took Tony a second to realize that what he was seeing was Mitchell’s place in this group: the replacement whose competence and charisma was overshadowed by the fact that he was standing in for an incomparable original.

“Good to meet you,” Mitchell said with a charming smile.

Teal’c was also a surprise. Tony had a massive catalogue of alien characters in his head, but what he saw when he shook Teal’c’s hand was Sylvester Stallone in his role as Rambo. Tony resolved to think more about that when he had the chance.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Tony DiNozzo,” Teal’c said formally.

Finally, he was standing in front of Lt. Colonel Carter. Tony was feeling a bit insecure about meeting her— she had been Jack’s pro tem guide and she was absolutely gorgeous, physically and psionically— so he turned up the charm to maximum as he held out his hand. Carter took it with a gentle smile, and Tony had to use all his self-control not to gasp. It wasn’t because of the character he got— Jodie Foster in Contact— but because, superimposed on his impression of Jodie staring longingly up at the sky, was a kaleidoscope of numbers and patterns that were so bright and complex that it almost hurt to look at them.

They both let go at the same time.

“Wow,” Tony said.

“Holy Hannah,” Carter said at the same time.

They stared at each other.

“God, you’re smart,” Tony blurted out.

“And you’re… everything,” Carter retorted.

“My head kind of hurts from just a few seconds of that,” Tony said, staring at her.

“I feel like a kid in a candy store,” Carter said. “So many options, I don’t know how I’ll ever pick one.

They both grinned.

“O-kay,” Jack said, “Suddenly, the world is seeming just a little bit scarier. Is anybody else scared?”

“Of course not,” Jackson said, puzzled. “They’re admiring one another’s gifts. Why would that be scary?”

“Danny,” Jack said plaintively, “Sam or Tony alone could probably take over the world if they felt like it. Can you even imagine what they could do if they combined forces? ‘Cause if they do, I’m going to be the dumb chump right in the middle of it.”

Jackson looked puzzled, but Mitchell obviously got it.

“Damn,” he said. “Sorry, General. I’d offer to provide cover fire, but there’s no way I’m going up against Sam, never mind Sam and a guide who makes Sam say ‘Holy Hannah.’”

“Don’t worry, sir,” Carter said, breaking eye contact with Tony to smile at Jack. “We’ll find a nice, cozy spot for you in the new world order. If all else fails, I’m sure you’ll make a very fetching concubine.”

Jack spluttered. Landry choked. Jackson went beet red. Mitchell murmured a quiet, “Ouch.” Teal’c raised one eyebrow as high as it would go.

Tony smiled, feeling, for a moment, like he could almost breathe again.

It was clear that everybody was eager for explanations, but apparently, they had a briefing to get through first.

Another one.

Tony realized that briefings had suddenly taken on an abnormally large role in his life, and the good mood brought on by Carter’s totally awesome sense of humor began to evaporate.

They sat down at the table, Jack casually moving his chair so that he could grab Tony’s hand, reminding Tony that they hadn’t actually had their accord for even twenty-four hours yet. Jack was so laid back, it was easy to forget that he was still in the territorial phase, and Tony’s psionic range was long, so as long as they stayed within the same building, he wouldn’t feel any of the anxiety common to guides with fresh accords.

“So, General O’Neill, Guide DiNozzo,” Landry said when they were all seated, “Colonel Davis tells me that Guide DiNozzo is preparing a brief for the president on measures that need to be taken in case of the accidental disclosure of the Stargate Program.”

“Apparently,” Tony said. “It’s more of a… risk assessment? Identifying some of the things that will play badly to an audience that’s just finding out about aliens and stargates, etc. I don’t actually have a lot of recommendations.”

“And in preparation for this briefing, you want to familiarize yourself with the SGC and its mission protocols,” Landry continued, voice neutral.

The empathic tone of the room became suddenly tense at this (technically inaccurate) statement. Tony wasn’t sure of the details, but it was clear that having an outsider come in and poke around making judgments was going down not unlike a lead balloon. Tony turned to glare at Jack, who squirmed under his disapproval.

“Er, it was actually Paul and me that thought he should get a crash course in the program and the stargate,” he said. “Tony kinda got… thrown into all of this without much warning. Thought it would be nice to give him some reference points before he talks to Henry.”

The mood shifted. Teal’c and Mitchell relaxed, while Carter and Jackson were suddenly filled with fond resignation.

“Jack, exactly how little warning are we talking about here?” Jackson asked.

“Well, Tony and I met last night— we were both at a pride get-together at D.C. alphas’ house— so today, after we did everything at the center, we went to HQ and did the whole disclosure thing. And Tony had some insights, so when the minions showed up for the weekly briefing…”

Jackson facepalmed, and Carter’s mouth twitched.

“Sir, let me see if I understand,” Carter said. “You gave Tony the disclosure briefing, then, some number of hours later—”

Here, Tony gave a cough that, for reasons he couldn’t possibly explain, sounded a lot like “Twenty-six minutes.”

“— had him present to, among others, members of the DoD, the DoS, Homeland, Congress, and the president’s personal staff?” Carter finished. “At which point, it was decided that he should be asked to do a— a risk assessment of the program and present it to the president?”

“Hey, he knocked their socks off,” Jack said, just a touch defensively. “And turns out, he already knew the 2IC from Homeland. Apparently, Morrow used to be his boss. So really, it was more like happy families…”

“Sir,” Carter said, sounding both amused and pained, “Stop digging. Please.”

“So,” Mitchell said with a grin that he tried to stifle, “You guys are going through the gate with us?”

“That’s the plan,” Jack said, bestowing a beaming smile on Mitchell. “It’s not like I would trust my guide to any other team.”

Mitchell nodded and turned to look at Tony.

“You’re a federal agent, right?” he said. “So you’ve got combat training?”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “I’ve done all the standard hand-to-hand, plus a few of the advanced classes at Quantico, and I’m qualified with a handgun and a rifle, although I’ve only ever used a handgun in the field. I’ve also done a little sniper training, but I’m nowhere near qualified to take distance shots in a real-world setting.”

“What weapons are you most familiar with?” Mitchell asked.

“I’ve carried 9 mils for most of my career,” Tony said. “NCIS uses Sigs, but before that, I carried Glocks.”

“Okay, sounds like we should be good there— the M9 shouldn’t be much different from what you’re used to. What about rifles?” Mitchell said.

“Mostly the AR-15/M-4 platform,” Tony said. “FLETC was the first time I did more than the basic qualification with an assault weapon, so most of my range time has been with their hardware.”

“Hmm,” Mitchell said, “The teams carry P90s— pack a bit more of a punch, if you know what I mean. Think you could handle with one of those?”

Tony shrugged.

“Don’t see why not,” he said.

“How do you feel about qualifying with one before we go through the gate?” Mitchell asked. “We’ve taken unarmed civilians through before, so if you want to stick with just the sidearm, we can work with that, but…”

“Please, God, no,” Jack interrupted, shuddering. “Tony, I don’t want you setting foot through that damned gate without at least enough firepower to take out a Jaffa. I can’t handle you running around the galaxy with just a freaking pistol, too many of the bad guys seem to wear armor.”

Tony smiled and patted Jack’s knee.

“Don’t worry, Snookums,” he said, causing Jack to wrinkle his nose and mouth ‘Snookums?’ in a way that indicated that he couldn’t quite believe Tony had just said that. “I’ll carry all the heavy ordnance you want. Unless you want me to take a bazooka. I draw the line at anything that weighs more than my television set.”

Jack actually looked thoughtful for a second, but then he shook his head and moved on.

“So,” he said, “Now that’s settled, what’s the mission?”

“We’ve received word from the Tok’ra that the Ori may be constructing another Supergate near P3X-584,” Landry said. “We tried to send Colonel Carter and SG-5 to investigate, but the gate on 584 appears to require some sort of authorization. If it doesn’t receive it, it redirects the gate traveler to another planet. Colonel Carter has devised a method to work around the problem, and SG-1 and SG-5 are slated to try again at 0800 hours tomorrow…”

 

***

 

“Alright,” Jack said as they entered the utilitarian accommodations where they would be staying while they were on base, “What’s going on?”

“Hmm?” asked Tony with forced casualness, dropping his newly acquired gear on the neat, sparse bed.

At least it was a double.

Tony had beamed up to the Prometheus with literally the clothes on his back, so Jack had had to take him to base requisitions to get him outfitted for the next few days. If he hadn’t known, thanks to Jackson, that even the civilians at the SGC wore Air Force BDUs on-base, Tony would have freaked out a little more at being issued a uniform, but even so, he couldn’t help remembering Gibbs’s words from last night:

Tony’s no soldier.

Tony had been hurt at the time— Jack had known, had smelled it, and had threatened Gibbs with bodily harm unless he fixed it— but he now realized that Gibbs had been absolutely right. He was not a soldier, and the very idea of being bound by all those arbitrary rules and regulations made him want to crawl out of his skin.

Okay, so they weren’t actually arbitrary. Most of them had a purpose. Those purposes just didn’t happen to be directly related to the individual members’ immediate comfort and happiness.

Tony looked down at the collection of black and olive drab on the bed and hoped like hell that Jack would keep his word. He did not want to end up wearing this stuff for the foreseeable future.

“Look, I’m sorry about this thing with the president,” Jack said, stepping closer and putting a light hand on Tony’s back. “If I’d known Ephraim was going to do that, I would have…”

He trailed off, clearly unwilling to lie and say he wouldn’t have put Tony on the spot when he knew it was the right thing to do.

“It’s fine,” Tony said, his gut clenching even as he looked up at Jack and smiled. “Sure, it’s a little freaky, but I’ve done worse. I’ve been undercover with the mob, I can handle briefing the president.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed and he huffed out a breath.

“Tony,” he growled, “I am a sentinel, and you are my guide; I can tell when you’re bullshitting me. It makes me twitchy. So cut it out, and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Leave it, Jack!” Tony snapped, jerking away from Jack’s gentle hand. “I may be your goddamned perfect match, but that does not give you the right to know every little thing that goes on in my head!”

He knew, in his rational brain, that he was overreacting, but he had been working so damned hard to keep his unreasoning fear and resentment hidden from Jack, and now Jack was trying to haul them out into the open despite his best efforts, and Tony couldn’t help lashing out.

“Tony, this is not little,” Jack protested. “You’re so upset I can taste it. You have to let me help.”

“I don’t have to let you do anything!” Tony yelled. “Back off, Jack!”

And, wonder of wonders, Jack did back off, both literally and figuratively. He raised both hands in the universal gesture of surrender and stepped away from Tony.

“Okay,” he said, “When you’re changed, the training facilities are on level 17. If you get lost, find an airman, they’ll escort you.”

And with that, Jack turned and left the room, leaving Tony the undisputed master of the field. It was only when the door shut and Tony was left alone with his doubts and his fears that he realized that this was a battle he hadn’t particularly wanted to win.

Chapter Text

“… But Jack, a courtship?” Daniel said, leaning forward on Sam’s desk, poised and quivering in the attitude that Jack had long since labeled “Danny on the Scent,” because it always showed up when he caught a whiff of interesting information ready to be ferreted out by a determined and enterprising archaeologist. “As I understand it, modern day sentinels and guides don’t often engage in courtship anymore. With the rise of complex industrial society, the old tribal system has largely disappeared. The prides are thought to have taken over many of the functions formerly fulfilled by the tribal hierarchy, but they don’t…”

“Danny,” Jack said.

Daniel trailed off, looking sheepish.

“Sorry, Jack,” he said. “I forgot, you and Sam probably know all this already.”

“Most of it, yeah,” Sam said with a fond smile. “However, I’m with Daniel on this one, sir: how in the world did you end up in a traditional courtship? Forgive me, but you just don’t seem like the type.”

Jack sighed and rubbed his face. He didn’t want to talk about this, he really didn’t, not when his nerves were stretched and raw to the point of breaking from his recent— argument?— with Tony and the consequent distance he’d had to put between them.

“Danny, in that massive brain of yours, do you happen to have anything on where in the good old modern world something like the ‘tribal system’ can still be found?” he asked.

Daniel blinked, clearly not prepared for Jack to meet him on his own ground.

“Uh… geographically or culturally insular areas, like Alaska and Appalachia, certain tight-knit social groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and, perhaps most notably, the Mafia, rigidly hierarchical institutions, like law enforcement and the military…”

“So if I were to tell you that Tony’s boss at NCIS is a hard-ass former marine who seems to regard a sentinel wanting to get to know his agent about as kindly as a jock wanting to feel up his debutante daughter…?” Jack plowed ahead.

There was a brief moment of silence. Then Sam said,

“Wow sir,” in that amazingly measured, understated way of hers that always managed to be twice as expressive as Danny’s obvious outbursts.

Jack cleared his throat, suddenly uncomfortable.

“Yeah, well…” he said.

“Jack,” Sam said quietly, her use of his first name signalling that she was speaking guide to sentinel, not colonel to general, “Are you happy?”

“God yes,” Jack blurted out, then winced.

He hadn’t meant to be so obvious.

Sam smiled.

“Good,” she said.

“Now if I could just figure out why Tony’s mad at me, we’d be onto something,” Jack remarked, sighing.

It had only been an hour, and already the separation was driving him insane. God, he couldn’t wait until the accord settled. It was incredibly uncomfortable, not to mention impractical, being so dependent on Tony’s presence.

“Um, sir, it wouldn’t have anything to to do with the fact that you have him scheduled to give a briefing to the president about a program he just found out about, would it?” Sam asked, shifting back to ‘sir’ with seamless ease.

“I don’t think so,” Jack said. “I asked, and he smelled pretty sincere when he said that wasn’t it. But when I asked what was wrong, he got mad at me and told me to back off. Which I did. But it’s driving me crazy being away from him.”

Sam frowned, her scent shifting, and Jack straightened up, suddenly on high alert. That was Sam’s ‘I have to tell my superior officer he’s being an idiot’ scent pile.

“Alright,” he said, “What did I do.”

“Um, nothing sir,” Sam said unconvincingly. “It’s just… he told you to back off, and that’s when you came down here?”

“Yes,” Jack said, eyes narrowing. “Are you saying I shouldn’t have? Weren’t you always telling me to listen when my guide expressed needs and preferences? Especially when it came to giving them ‘space’?”

“Yes sir,” Sam said. “And I’m not saying you were wrong. It’s just… Sir, I don’t think Tony is like me.”

“Er… no,” Jack said, looking at Daniel for help, which was, alas, unforthcoming. “I think I would have noticed if he was, you know, a kappa. Or blond. Or had breasts.”

Daniel winced and sidled closer to the wall. Sam glared.

Jack refused to be ashamed of himself.

“Sir,” Sam said with an air of long-suffering patience, “I expressed a need for space because I am naturally very independent, both as a guide and as an Air Force officer. While Tony is also very independent, I think that it is for very different reasons.”

Daniel looked like he was trying to become one with the concrete at this point, and Jack huffed.

“Explain,” he said shortly.

Sam sighed and regarded him wearily.

“I hope you understand that I am seriously bending the guide code here, sir,” she said, and Jack honestly couldn’t quite tell whether the pun on ‘guy code’ was intentional or not. “What I mean is that both of us have obviously worked hard to achieve a high level of self-sufficiency. However, for me, that was a natural preference. My independence is something that I chose— and have had to assert repeatedly in order to have it respected. For Tony, I think that it is a reaction to not having anyone he could rely on rather than something he really wants. He learned to depend solely on himself because he had no other choice.”

Jack felt something in his chest tighten viciously at the thought of his guide being neglected to such an extent that self-sufficiency was his only option. He took a breath.

“Okay,” he said. “So what do I do? How do I fix this?”

“I’m not sure there’s anything to ‘fix,’ sir,” Sam said.

“But, you said I shouldn’t have left,” Jack said, whining a little.

“No sir,” Sam corrected, “I said you shouldn’t assume he was like me. I actually think you did the right thing by respecting his wishes and giving him space when he asked for it. I just think that, in Tony’s case, you shouldn’t use me as a benchmark when you decide how much space to give him.”

Jack scrunched his face up.

“Huh?” he said, confused.

Sam made an exasperated sound.

“Maybe you should rethink the timeframe, ” she said, tacking on an annoyed, “Sir,” as an afterthought.

Jack’s eyes widened in sudden understanding.

“Right!” he said. “Gotta run! See you guys in the mess at chow time?”

He was already halfway out the door by the time he heard their affirmative replies.

He headed for level 17 at a clip that had airmen dodging out of his way and scientists squawking in startled befuddlement. After all, it wasn’t every day that you saw a two-star general in full uniform sprinting through the Mountain. When he stepped out of the elevator, he scanned the entire tier for Tony’s heartbeat and found it in the gym. Jack turned and made a beeline towards the sound.

He found Tony sparring with Teal’c on one of the training mats, with Mitchell leaning against the wall and watching. Tony’s concentration didn’t waver when Jack entered the gym, but Jack could sense the shift in his body chemistry as he registered his sentinel’s presence.

Damn. Sam had been right. His guide’s relief was so profound he could practically feel it himself.

Jack wandered over towards Mitchell, watching Tony dodge Teal’c’s attempt to get a hold on him while, at the same time, throwing a vicious kick at the back of the Jaffa’s knee. It wasn’t nearly enough to make Teal’c go down, not with the symbiote, but it did slow him down enough to allow Tony to dance away.

“Guy shoots like a Marine, but he scuffles like a street punk,” Mitchell remarked as Jack settled down beside him.

Jack cocked his head, studying Tony’s fighting style. He recognized the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu that had become the standard form of hand-to-hand combat for both military and law enforcement, but Mitchell was right, there was definitely more than a little street fighting mixed in. Tony had the traditional moves down pat, but he was creative with his approach and he wasn’t above playing dirty when the opportunity presented itself.

All of which meant that Tony managed to last about five minutes longer than the average Marine who stepped onto the mat with Teal’c. However, there was absolutely no way that he was going to win against the Jaffa, no matter how clever he was. Teal’c finally got Tony on the ground, his arm around Tony’s throat and one knee planted in his back. Jack had to stifle a totally inappropriate urge to snarl and attack Teal’c for laying hands on his guide, but luckily, Tony didn’t struggle, just tapped out and waited for Teal’c to get off him.

“Damn!” he said, rolling over and taking the hand the Jaffa offered to haul himself to his feet. “I hope I never have to arrest you, big guy! Hey, Mitchell, Jack, if we run into any Jaffa, will you think less of me if I either shoot at them from a safe distance or run away really, really fast?

“Those are, indeed, the only wise choices for a Taur’i when dealing with the Jaffa,” Teal’c said calmly.

Tony’s expressive eyes turned to look at Jack, and Jack’s breath hitched. There was an overwhelming amount of insecurity there, but he was willing to bet that it wasn’t about his inability to take on an exponentially stronger and faster opponent mano y mano.

“Hey guys,” Jack said, not taking his eyes from Tony, “Can you give us five?”

Mitchell, despite his innocent farm-boy act, was nobody’s fool.

“Sure thing, General,” He said. “You up for handing me my ass again, Teal’c?”

“I am perfectly willing to offer you your nether extremities once more, Colonel Mitchell,” Teal’c said gravely.

Mitchell switched places with Tony, who approached Jack almost shyly, his body language screaming his uncertainty. Jack took his hand and pulled Tony over to the side of the gym.

“Hey, look, I’m sorry about earlier,” Tony said in a rush. “I didn’t mean to…”

“C’mere,” Jack interrupted, pulling Tony abruptly into a tight, uncompromising hug.

Tony squawked, but soon settled down, although it did take him a moment to find a comfortable place on Jack’s chest to rest his head against. While Tony had changed into a black T-shirt and cargo pants before heading down to play with Mitchell and Teal’c, Jack was still wearing his uniform, which had all sorts of little poky bits that had to be avoided. After a few tries and an unfortunate encounter with a particularly sharp medal, Tony managed to nuzzle in against Jack’s service ribbons.

“You ready to talk about it yet, or do I have to go away and come back again?” Jack asked, burying his nose in his guide’s hair. “I’m good either way.”

Tony let out a huff of laughter.

“It’s— it’s stupid,” he mumbled.

“No, really,” Jack went on, “I am the most persistent son-of-a-bitch you will ever meet. I will keep bugging you until you’re begging to talk just to shut me up.”

“I just… I feel like it’s happening all over again,” Tony blurted out. “I’m getting sucked into your world, just like last time, only it’s not anything to do with what you want, it’s just happening, and— I promised myself I wouldn’t ever let a sentinel take over my life, but this… goddamnit, Jack, I don’t know how to stop this!”

“Shit,” Jack said, closing his eyes. “I’m sorry, Tony. We can call this whole thing off, go home and forget this ever happened. I’ll… appoint Paul as my field proxy or something, and—”

“No, Jack, it’s not that,” Tony said, lifting his head to look at the sentinel. “Even if you were really willing to do that, I can’t go home now. I mean, I’m going to a different planet tomorrow! It's, like, every twelve-year-old kid's secret fantasy, and I'm actually doing it. How could anyone say no to that?”

Jack frowned, confused.

“I’m confused,” he said.

“I’m just— I’m just scared, Jack,” Tony said. “It’s all happening so fast…”

“What can I do?” Jack asked, grasping for something tangible to hang onto.

“Nothing,” Tony said. “That’s why I didn’t want to bother you with it, you haven’t done anything wrong and I really do want to do this, I’m just— I’m scared of losing myself. I’m scared I’ll wake up one morning and just be your guide instead of being my own person.”

“Not gonna happen, Tony,” Jack said, relieved. “Even if you join the program full-time— and, er, well, this is really a conversation for another day, but Paul really, really wants you, or possibly you and your team, to be the base of a new in-house investigative unit, and he’s a really persistent little shit when he wants to be, so you need to be ready for it when he starts his campaign— but anyways, that’d all be you. I mean, you’d go into the field with me, but you’d also have your own job— realistically, you’d probably have two or three, since we’re ridiculously strapped for personnel, and we don’t have anybody at Homeworld with anything close to your skill-set.”

Tony blinked at Jack.

“Wait, wait, wait,” he said. “Did you just say that Colonel Davis wants the entire MCRT to go work for Homeworld Command?”

“Er… yes?” Jack said warily. “I told him that Davenport would have a fit, but he started talking about getting Henry to sign an executive order…”

“Henry, as in, Henry Hayes, the President of the United States,” Tony said weakly.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I mean, he’s pretty much promised Homeworld— meaning Paul— anything it needs, so he’d totally do it. But if you don’t want to, I’ll make sure Paul doesn’t call him. He’ll be impossible to live with for a few days, but…”

Tony gave Jack a long, measuring look.

“You are incredibly bad at this whole reassuring thing, you know that?” he said at last, but his words were belied by the fact that his scent had shifted from sour anxiety to fond amusement.

“So,” Tony said, “To recap, it’s not you who’s going to take over my life, it’s the Stargate Program and, more specifically, Lieutenant Colonel Davis. Who, I’m realizing here, is way more scary than he looks.”

“You have no idea,” Jack said fervently.

“So, I’m not Tom Hanks’s guide in Saving Private Ryan,” Tony went on. “I’m more like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: red pill, blue pill.” here Tony’s enunciation changed, his vowles shifting and his ‘s’es taking on a slightly sibilant quality, “‘You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.’ And I took the red pill.”

“Uh— yeah,” Jack said. “Sure.”

“Okay, cool,” Tony said, his whole body relaxing. “I’m good with that. I mean, it’s batshit crazy, but I do crazy. Show me the rabbit hole, Alice!”

“Big words for a guy who’s spirit guide is Wile E. Coyote,” Jack said before he could stop himself, because he totally wasn’t letting that go any time soon.

Tony stuck his tongue out, but Jack could feel the relief pouring off him.

“I don’t get it,” Jack said. “You were going nuts when you were thinking this would just be an occasional gig, then you hear that Paul wants to dragoon you into the program full-time and you’re all, ‘show me the rabbit hole.’”

“Hey, I’m adaptable,” Tony said. “I’ve changed careers more often than I’ve changed cars, I’m a pro at rolling with the punches. I just… don’t get me wrong, being a guide is great, and being your guide so far is— really great, but I’ve never wanted to be just a guide, you know?”

At this point, Jack realized that he just wasn’t going to get it. Tony feeling like his life was no longer under his control, that he got. Tony having issues because his former sentinel had been a dickwad, that he got. Lt. Colonel Paul Davis's secret identity as the evil paperwork-wielding overlord of Earth somehow making it all better... that he really, really didn't get. However, he could appreciate two things: a.) whatever had been bothering Tony had somehow been resolved for the moment and b.) Tony liked being his guide. So Jack did the one thing he could be pretty sure wasn’t going to screw everything up and kissed Tony while the younger man was taking a breath.

Tony let out a little “Mmf!” of surprise, then he kind of melted. His body went boneless and pliant in Jack’s arms and his lips parted, allowing Jack to lick into his mouth. Jack closed his eyes, overwhelmed by the taste of guide and mine and please, God, yes.

After an indeterminate amount of time, they pulled apart. Tony’s eyelashes fluttered a little and the look he gave Jack was nothing short of bewitching, all dazed and adoring.

“Jesus,” Jack said hoarsely.

It was at this— very inopportune— moment that Jack’s hearing picked up on an angry mutter from the other side of the gym:

“Fucking mindfucker, flaunting that sick shit wherever, whenever. Like to put him in a room with all the other perverts on this base, see how he likes it.”

Jack’s head whipped around as he latched onto the respiration of the offender, piggybacking sight onto hearing to identify a young Marine corporal spotting another Marine on the bench press.

“Jesus, McLaughlin,” panted the Marine on the bench, “You really are a percy-pants little tulip, aren’t you? Not to mention stupid. That’s the general’s guide, you fucking meatball!”

“Shut up, Behr,” McLaughlin snapped. “You’re a bitch in heat 24/7 anyways, you’re probably getting off on it!”

White-hot rage swept through Jack and, before he could think about it, he was moving across the room with smooth, feral sentinel speed, grabbing the unfortunate McLaughlin by the front of his t-shirt, and slamming him up against the cage of the lat rack.

“Did I just hear you threaten my guide, Marine?” Jack snarled into the terrified kid’s face.

“Oh, shit,” breathed the Marine’s buddy from the weight bench.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” said Tony’s voice from behind Jack’s shoulder. “Jack, what the hell?”

“You don’t like guides?” Jack hissed savagely. “Fine. You go right ahead and be a bigoted little asshole in the privacy of your own head. But you open your mouth and threaten my guide aloud— I get so much as feeling that you’re even thinking about laying a finger on him— and I start thinking about taking you apart piece by piece and mounting your fucking head above the fucking gate. You follow me?”

The hapless McLaughlin made an unintelligible sound of terror.

“Jack,” Tony said, his voice suddenly resonating with power, “Let the baby Marine go.”

Jack’s hands opened reflexively, dropping McLaughlin abruptly on the floor.

“Look at me,” Tony commanded.

Jack looked at Tony, realizing that, for the first time since they’d met, he was hearing Tony’s Guide Voice.

“You did good, Jack,” Tony said, softer now. “He said something threatening about me, and you scared the crap out of him. But you don’t need to kill him, Jack. You only need to kill people who physically threaten me, okay?”

“Okay,” Jack found himself agreeing.

Tony gave Jack a brilliant smile and reached out, twining his fingers through his sentinel’s. An inarticulate sound of anger and disgust from the momentarily forgotten McLaughlin caused both sentinel and guide to refocus their attention.

Tony grimaced.

“I’m technically a base guide at the moment, aren’t I?” he said without enthusiasm. “So I should be playing chaplain here, shouldn’t I?”

“I dunno,” Jack said, “Seems like a pretty cut and dried case of dick-itude to me. I’m pretty sure he needs a discipline board, not a chaplain.”

As a guide, Tony could act a counselor and a spiritual adviser— basically, a secular alternative to a priest, a hold-over from ancient times when guides had been shamans, druids, etc.— so as Jack's guide, he technically counted as an Air Force chaplain. However, Jack wasn't feeling very spiritual right now, and McLaughlin had threatened his guide. He wanted Tony nowhere near the son of a bitch. 

“Oh, you have no idea how untrue that is,” Tony said. “The kid’s head is a mess.”

“Don’t!” McLaughlin yelled, surging to his feet. “Don’t going doing that— that mindfucking shit to me! It’s bad enough that you, you witchy whores have turned the entire goddamned military into fucking perverts, you aren’t going to fuck with my head!”

Behr, showing commendable presence of mind, dived at McLaughlin, catching him in a chokehold before he could physically attack Tony.

“Aw, shit,” Tony sighed. “Jack?”

Jack frowned. Now that he was more or less free of the blinding rage brought on by a perceived threat to his new guide, he could tell that McLaughlin’s scent did not match his words or his actions. The kid smelled… terrified.

“Oh no,” Jack said, realizing exactly where he’d smelled that particular brand of terror before. “Who hurt you, kid?”

 

***

 

“It’s one of those shitty cases where there’s nothing to actually prosecute,” Tony said, taking a bite of stupendously bland meatloaf.

“But surely, if the young man was so traumatized that he was lashing out at you, someone must have done something to him,” Daniel said.

“That’s the problem,” Tony said. “Nobody did anything to him. He witnessed a totally consensual sex act— actually, putting two and two together, a whole bunch of consensual sex acts— that he found traumatizing, but the UCMJ is strictly hands-off until there is actual force involved. Nobody touched him, nobody pressured or coerced him— at least, not overtly— and nobody forcibly kept him from leaving. So, no crime.”

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Daniel said, sighing and picking at his peas. “I’ve worked at the Mountain long enough to know the military culture surrounding sex— I swear, sometimes it feels like living in ancient Sparta. It just seems grossly unjust that committing a sexual act in front of someone who doesn’t want to witness it isn’t at least classified as sexual harassment.”

“No system is perfect,” Sam said, taking a drink of water. “The alternative to the hands-off attitude is to strictly regulate sexual contact between members of the armed forces. That would require officers to be involved in their subordinates personal lives to a degree that would be… really invasive. Not to mention placing an unfair burden on the military’s sentinels and guides. Having to step in when interpersonal relationships, sexual or otherwise, become abusive or disruptive is one thing, but having to report all sexual relationships would be unreasonable and an abuse of our service.”

“Not to mention exhausting,” Mitchell remarked. “If I had to take disciplinary action every time I came across someone doin’ it in a dark corner, I’d never get any sleep. Hell, sometimes the corner isn’t even all that dark.”

“Fucking is one of our favorite pastimes,” Jack agreed placidly, sliding his free hand under the table to squeeze Tony’s thigh playfully.

Tony calmly returned the gesture, choosing a spot several inches higher than the one Jack had targeted. Jack jumped, and Tony gave him a smirk that said, roughly speaking, ‘I have absolutely no shame, so if you don’t want me to grab your cock right here and right now, behave yourself.’

Jack grinned and reached for Tony’s hand instead.

Jacking each other off in public could wait until they had at least had a chance to see each other naked.

“Seriously, is there some requirement that soldiers have a sex drive comparable to rabbits in heat?” Daniel asked sourly. “Do they, what, screen for libido and stamina at the recruitment office?”

“It might be easier if they did,” Tony remarked, “Although in McLaughlin’s case, I think that the problem is less to do with his sex drive and more to do with his general phobia about anything that isn’t one man and one woman in the missionary position with the lights off.”

The guide winced a little, and Jack hid a smile. Tony was an innately sexual creature. The idea of being afraid of something that was so much a part of him must be profoundly disturbing.

Mitchell grimaced.

“Well, ain’t that just a kick in the pants,” he remarked. “If there’s one place you don’t wanna be that repressed, it’s on a military base.”

“It’s not his fault that he’s not wired to appreciate anal sex or mass orgies,” Daniel snapped.

“From what I've seen working at NCIS, soldiers have a lot of sex in a lot of ways and they're proud of it," Tony said. "It's not really surprising that they don't particularly appreciate people who want them to act like choir boys. It's just one of those group things: every group excludes someone. If things were different, maybe all soldiers would be like McLaughlin. Maybe they'd all hate people who were openly sexual, or people who had certain kinds of sex, or guides who have a sexual bond with their sentinels. That doesn’t necessarily make the way things are okay, but as a guide and as someone who also likes sex, I’m kind of glad that isn’t how the dice shook out.”

“So we blame the victim for happening to have sexual tastes that fall outside what the group accepts?” Daniel said. “How is that okay?”

“Daniel, nobody thinks that what happened to Corporal McLaughlin was okay, and certainly nobody is blaming him,” Sam said soothingly. “The system is flawed, we know this. That’s why there is the amount of leeway that there is when it comes to unofficial discipline within the ranks, so long as it's sanctioned by a sentinel or guide. Tony has already talked to the commander of McLaughlin's unit and several of the base guides. While they can’t make the other soldiers change their behavior, they can make them stop giving McLaughlin a hard time for removing himself from a situation if he feels uncomfortable.”

“Oh, yes, because getting their asses kicked in the sparring ring or being assigned to KP for a few weeks is a perfectly adequate substitute for being brought up on charges,” Daniel snarked. “What happened to McLaughlin was assault—”

“Daniel, before you climb up onto your high horse over this, remember that the kid was running his mouth about locking a person who had never done anything to him in a room to be gang raped,” Jack said, his voice hard. “That is assault. McLaughlin may have been a victim of prejudice or whatever, but he turned right around and started dishing out the same shit he was given to the first person who came in handy. With interest. Nobody so much as laid a hand on him personally.”

“Jack, you can't just deny people justice based on whether they themselves have committed a crime,” Daniel said hotly. "If someone commits murder, it's still not okay for someone to murder them."

Tony leaned over to Sam and murmured, 

"Is he always like this?"

"Pretty much, yeah," Sam murmured back.

“What I’d like to know is, why does this kid have such a bee in his bonnet about guides?” Mitchell interrupted.

Jack suspected that the new leader of SG-1 was trying to head off one of his and Daniel’s legendary arguments, something Mitchell was only familiar with through hearsay and seemed keen on avoiding witnessing in person. Jack maintained that his and Daniel’s occasional philosophical differences had been vastly exaggerated by the SGC rumor mill, but, when he had expressed this opinion to Sam, she had taken great delight in informing him that the rumors, while occasionally off the mark in terms of content, were spot on in terms of volume and creativity.

“Well, think about it,” Sam said. “We as a group place great value on our sentinels and guides. Part of the reason that sex is such a prominent part of military culture is because of the role sex plays in pair bonds. When we bond through sex, we are essentially copying the behavior exhibited by our sentinel and guide pairs.”

There was a sudden spike of hormones in both Sam and Mitchell’s scent pile, indicating that they had ‘bonded’ that way at least once. Jack was momentarily side-tracked by the mental image of two objectively very beautiful people doing the dirty, but was brought back to the present by Daniel.

“Historically speaking, this phenomenon has recurred repeatedly in military organizations since the beginning of recorded history,” the archaeologist said, thankfully distracted by the new topic. “What may be even more relevant here, however, is that, until recently, this kind of behavior among soldiers has been almost exclusively homosexual and is still statistically more likely between members of the same sex. That was probably originally a reaction to the relatively low number of women in military organizations and the lack of reliable birth control, but now it’s pretty firmly embedded in the culture. If McLaughlin really does have some kind of phobia about homosexual sex, Jack and Tony’s relationship would support to his misguided idea that the military’s sentinels and guides are responsible for his situation.”

“Yeah, I get that,” Mitchell said. “But why guides? Why not guides and sentinels?”

Daniel sighed.

“Because guides have powers that mundanes can’t access or comprehend, which makes them a more logical scapegoat,” he said. “People tend to fear what they don’t understand.”

“‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate… leads to the Dark Side,’” Tony said in a passable Yoda imitation.

“Exactly,” Daniel said. “Of course, none of that addresses the real issue, which is the unwritten military code which says that a person has to engage in a certain kind of behavior to be fully accepted into the culture.”

“Uh…” Mitchell said, looking around at his fellow officers for some kind of help, because after all, if you thought about it, that was kind of the whole point of the military.

However, Jack had known Daniel much longer than Mitchell and knew that he was talking about the required behaviors that were not essential to function. For instance, either active or passive participation in the frequent and often wild bouts of sex that happened between soldiers during down-time, especially in high-stress postings like the SGC.

He had been relieved to find out that nobody had tried to force McLaughlin to participate in the extracurricular activities— forcing participation was a taboo that ran strong in the service, but some people loved nothing better than to break taboos, and when a whole group decided to take that path, it got ugly— but apparently, the kid’s hang-ups about sex made watching— which was expected, although again, it was not supposed to be actively enforced— almost as bad as doing.

“Danny, you have to remember, the military is just another alien culture,” Jack said. “If we were some village offworld, you’d be telling me about how we used sex to create bonds of loyalty and trust between members of our society or something.”

“But Jack, in that situation, there would be a system in place to prevent abuse,” Daniel said. “What we’re talking about here is the fact that the military has washed its hands of the whole issue. There is no recourse for someone like McLaughlin who has been victimized by the status quo.”

“There is a recourse, Daniel,” Sam contradicted. “It’s just not an official one. Sexual misconduct that isn’t covered by the UCMJ is dealt with by the soldiers themselves."

"After being unofficially judged by a sentinel or a guide, I know," Daniel said. 

"So long as a sentinel or guide vouches for the soldiers’ actions, and so long as the disciplinary action does not exceed certain parameters, the official command does not interfere,” Sam said. "It's not foolproof, but it is a system. Half the alien worlds we've visited don't even have that much."

“I’m not a soldier, so I can’t speak to this personally, but I think I’d rather be court martialed than be sanctioned by the military's sentinels and guides,” Tony offered. “I’ve read about what happened to the officers who were officially exonerated after the Tailhook scandal.”

He shuddered.

Daniel’s expression changed subtly and he studied Tony with interest.

“That’s right,” he said, “You’re a Navy cop, aren’t you. You have first-hand experience with this. Do you really think that unofficial sanctioning is an adequate recourse? And doesn’t putting justice back in the hands of the populace defeat the whole point of having a justice system?”

“Adequate?” Tony said. “No. But it’s way better than anything either military or civilian law enforcement has to offer. I was a police detective before I became an NCIS agent, and let me tell you, trying to prosecute rape through official channels in either system is almost impossible. Not to mention being almost as much of a punishment for the victim as the perp. That said, I wouldn’t try anything like that in the civilian world. Like you say, vigilante justice is tricky. It only works in the military because there’s already a really rigid structure in place that mostly keeps the system from being abused or taken too far, and even then, I’ve seen some really ugly cases where things went really wrong.”

And with that, Daniel's focus shifted completely and he began grilling Tony on the issue of justice versus the justice system and the ethics of corporal punishment. Jack smirked. As unpleasant as the whole incident had been, it was kind of hilarious to watch how it had precipitated Tony's immediate and somewhat aggressive inclusion into SG-1's ranks. Mitchell had liked Tony from the minute he'd seen his scores on his P90 qualification, and Teal'c had taken to him during their sparring match, but it normally would have taken Daniel and Sam a little longer to warm up to someone new. However, when Tony had become the target of a disturbed young Marine with a hate-on for guides and, subsequently, had ended up acting as a chaplain and guide advocated for said Marine, all after being in the Mountain for less than three hours— a timeline which, Jack was pretty sure, beat even Daniel's record— they had wordlessly closed ranks around him. 

Which meant that Tony now had the privilege of being subjected to Daniel's insatiable curiosity, as well as being Shanghaied into the archaeologist's crusade for justice, equality, and world peace.

“Fascinating,” said Teal’c, watching the display.

Jack started. He had forgotten, for a moment, that the big guy was there.

Tony paused mid sentence to stare at Teal’c with wide-eyed shock, then turned to Jack.

“Did he do that on purpose?” he asked, then turned back to Teal’c. “Did you do that on purpose?”

Teal’c raised an eyebrow.

“I am uncertain to what you are referring, Tony DiNozzo,” he said.

“Did you, the stoic alien of SG-1, just imitate the original stoic alien?” Tony asked. “Did you or did you not just quote Mr. Spock from Star Trek?”

The corner of Teal’c’s mouth twitched fractionally.

“Why would I do such a thing?” he asked.

At which point, everyone broke into laughter, except Teal’c who simply folded his arms and leaned back with a smug look on his face.

 

***

 

Later that night, as he and Tony curled up together in the sterile base accommodations, Tony murmured,

“How did you leave them, Jack? They’re just as much your tribe as my team is mine.”

Jack frowned into Tony’s hair. He’d never thought about it that way before, but now that Tony said it, it made sense.

“I guess they are,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s the same as with you and Gibbs, Tony. When I went to Washington, it felt like— like that was where I was supposed to be. I miss them, but at the same time, I feel like I’m doing what I need to do to keep them safe.”

“Huh,” Tony said, snuggling further into Jack’s embrace. “That’s kinda weird. I don’t know much about this stuff, but I thought tribes usually stuck together.”

“I don’t either, but I think it may have something to do with the kind of sentinel I am,” Jack said. “I operate on a— I dunno, different scale? Okay, remember how I said that I’d been in a lot of situations that should have triggered my awakening way before I went through the stargate?”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “I’m still confused about that.”

“Well, when I came back from Abydos, the Air Force was pretty freaked out by me manifesting as a sentinel all of a sudden,” Jack said. “They sent me to the Sanctuary in Yellowstone for treatment and training.”

“Jesus, you trained at the Sanctuary?” Tony said. “That’s crazy. You had, like, some of the best teachers in the world.”

“I did,” Jack agreed, “And they were really interested in why I awakened when and where I did. You know the science-y stuff about how sentinels and guides awaken? A special series of DNA doo-hickeys that switch on under certain conditions?”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “Dormant DNA strands that are activated when a person is exposed to the right set of circumstances. It was the big thing back when I awakened. The guy who did S&G support for OSU said that a large percentage of the population has those DNA strands, but it seems to take just the right push for all of them to activate.”

“Right,” Jack said. “Well, the folks at the Sanctuary figured that I’d never gotten quite the right push while I was on Earth. I guess there’s a certain amount of— subjectivity involved. A person with the winning DNA combo doesn’t automatically awaken because there is a need for a sentinel or a guide. They awaken because there is a need for the kind of sentinel or guide they happen to be. The theory was, I was never in a situation where my particular brand of sentinel-ing was necessary. I mean, you may have noticed, I’m kinda laid back for a beta sentinel. I can be a total hardass when I need to be, but I’m really not interested in settling petty disagreements or whacking people on the nose every time they step over some arbitrary line. But when I stepped through the gate, the threat we were facing was on a whole new level. I might make a crappy beta on a local scale, but when it comes to protecting the entire planet— well, apparently, I won that DNA lottery draw.”

Tony made a choked sound.

“Are you telling me,” he said, sounding strangled, “That you are the beta sentinel of Earth?”

“Um… maybe?” Jack said. “I dunno, I’ve never really thought about it.”

“Jesus, Jack,” Tony wheezed. “Every time I think this can’t get any scarier, you have to add a new plot device that ups the stakes. What’s next? Are we about to find out that the Red October is spaceworthy?”

“What?” Jack said, confused. “I thought that Red October was a sub.”

“Exactly,” Tony said. “But here’s what I really want to know: if your the beta sentinel of Earth, who the hell is the alpha?”

“… Huh,” Jack said.

Chapter Text

Gibbs was at his desk midway through his second coffee of the morning when his cell phone rang. He answered before it had a chance to ring again:

“Gibbs.”

Since Tony’s call yesterday afternoon telling him he would be out of contact and giving him the number for a Lt. Colonel at the Pentagon in case Gibbs needed to get in touch, Gibbs had been on alert. Not precisely worried, at least, not yet, but in a state of readiness. He remembered Guide Montenegro’s words, back when he first brought Tony to Rabb and Chegwidden’s: when the time comes, don’t be scared, okay? And remember, you are allowed to be awesome.

He had a gut feeling that the time had come.

“Gibbs, Morrow,” said Tom Morrow’s voice at the other end of the line. “I’m feeling a need for coffee. Ten minutes.”

Morrow hung up. Gibbs stared at the phone. The only logical way to interpret the message was that Morrow was telling him to go to the coffee shop that the agents frequented, which was all fine and good, except that Morrow didn’t work at NCIS anymore.

Which meant that Morrow was pulling a Fornell.

Ten minutes later, Gibbs and Morrow were walking through the park, paper to-go cups in hand, freezing their asses off. The discomfort was minimal, but Gibbs found it surprisingly irritating, especially when he was impatient for Morrow to get to the point.

“Hear DiNozzo found himself a sentinel,” the former Director said.

“Yuht,” Gibbs replied, stone-faced.

“General O’Neill’s a pretty big name at the Pentagon, these days,” Morrow said. “He’s involved in some very important work and he’s got the ears of some very important people.”

“So I gather,” Gibbs said.

He still had no idea what the hell O’Neill was doing over there, but what he’d been able to gather pointed to O’Neill’s influence extending right up to the top of the chain of command.

“Look, Gibbs,” Morrow said, “I can’t tell you specifics— it’s all way above top secret— but I can tell you there is a briefing for the president scheduled for next Monday. I have it on good authority that one of the outcomes of that briefing is that DiNozzo is going to be offered a position in a new investigative unit in O’Neill’s division. My source also says that you’re going to be given the option to go with him.”

Gibbs’s expression didn’t change, but there was a hitch in his steps and his hand tightened a little too hard on his coffee cup.

“Uhuh,” he said. “Why you telling me this?”

“Because when that offer comes, you— and DiNozzo— need to take it,” Morrow said.

Gibbs continued walking, his brain working furiously. He knew that O’Neill had been going to offer Tony a job in his program— the man had practically said as much— but, reading between the lines, it sounded like the matter either had been or was about to be taken out of O’Neill’s hands.

And the fact that Gibbs was going to receive an offer to go with Tony was completely unexpected.

“Why?” he asked baldly.

“Because there’s a lot at stake here, Jethro, and not a lot of people I’d trust to do the job right,” Morrow said, switching to his first name in a subtle indication that this was both a personal and a professional request. “You and DiNozzo are the best. We need you on this.”

“You give this same speech to DiNozzo, sir?” Gibbs asked, buying time.

“Come on, Gibbs,” Morrow said. “We both know, where you go, he’ll follow.”

“Seems like he should have a choice,” Gibbs said mildly.

“There’s always a choice, Gibbs,” Morrow said, “Sometimes, there’s only one right choice.”

 

***

 

“Alright, let’s see what all the fuss is about,” Mitchell said as he stepped out of the stargate onto the bright green grass of Planet P3X-584 alongside the other members of SG Teams 1 and 5.

“Ah, good old Canada,” Jack said, inhaling ostentatiously through his nose.

Tony stood beside Jack, holding his P90, gaping at what everyone assured him was an alien world, but which did, indeed, look exactly like Canada. Part of the trouble was, travelling through the wormhole felt way more like tripping on funky mushrooms (thank you, Bozo, pharmaceutical expert of Alpha Chi Delta, for introducing him to that particular experience) than crossing time and space. And part of it was just… well, it looked exactly like Canada.

“You want to do that recon mojo y’all do, General?” Mitchell asked, snapping Tony’s attention back to the task at hand.

Jack cocked an eyebrow at Tony.

“Whaddaya think?” he said. “You wanna try doing a median scan?”

Tony’s mouth went dry. He knew theoretically how a sentinel and guide could go into median to do a combined sensory and psionic reconnaissance of their surroundings, but he’d never actually done it himself. Reaching median required a level of harmony between a bonded pair that went beyond the simple affinity achieved between student and instructor during training. Even the first level accord shared by pro tem partners wasn’t always enough to allow them to meld their gifts that way. Tony took a deep breath and smiled cockily.

“Sure,” he said, “Why not. Nothing like being on the spot to add that little bit of extra something to a first time.”

“Oh God,” Tony heard Jackson murmur, “There’s two of them.”

Jack and Tony both clipped their P90s to their vests and Jack held his hand out. Tony took it and, with a deep breath .

“See,” he began, picturing the view from the Washington Monument in his head.

Really good guides didn’t have to resort to the whole imagery— it was, essentially, a grammar school exercise— but Tony had worked so little with sentinels, he didn’t have the skill to synch up his psionics with Jack’s senses without remedial help.

“Hear.” Maria Callas singing Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro”— his mother had loved that song, had played it over and over when he was a kid.

“Smell.” Coffee, dark roast, nutty flavor.

“Taste.” Full-bodied Nero de Troia with a hint of cocoa.

“Feel.” This one was tricky; in college, he’d used the feeling of a woman’s hand on his bare skin, but somehow, that didn’t seem right with Jack, so instead, he substituted Jack’s hand on his neck, fingers buried in the hair at the base of his skull.

Tony felt something click in his his psionic awareness— all of Jack’s senses were now being channeled through his psionic filters. So far so good, but that was just the regular sensory stuff. To reach median, there was one more step.

Tony took a deep breath.

“Know,” he said.

He’d never quite figured out a good image for this step— he’d never actually had to use it— so he pictured Wiley and Massoud on Harm and A.J.’s kitchen floor. After all, he and Jack were trying to take a half-step into the Spirit Plane, just like their spirit animals took a half step into the mundane world when they visited their human counterparts. There was a momentary tingle in his head, and then everything around them shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum and Wiley and Massoud appeared beside them.

“Okay, wow,” Jack said. “This is… wow.”

“Focus, Jack,” Tony said, although he totally agreed. This was wow.

“Alright,” Jack said. “No hostile life forms life within a… five mile radius,” here Sam let out a muted gasp, “And no active technology besides the gate. No weird stuff in the air or soil, and all the plants I can smell are pure Canadian. There’s some passive…”

“Jack,” Tony interrupted.

Wiley and Massoud had left their sides and slunk towards the thing that Sam had said was called the DHD when she’d been giving him the tech run-down for the mission. They were both making hostile noises, their eyes fixed on… well, in the half-Spirit Plane, it looked like a weird, glowy, kind of out-of-focus snake wrapped around the base of the device, although in the mundane world, it was just another bit of alien tech, indistinguishable, to Tony’s uneducated eye, from all the other alien tech.

Synched with Tony like he was, Jack automatically followed Tony’s gaze.

“Huh,” he said. “That’s Goa’uld.”

At that point, Tony blinked, his mind momentarily overwhelmed by a series of overlapping images. In one, Ellen Ripley faced off against the Alien. In another, Jean Luc Picard stared down a Borg cube. And in another, Jack himself stood facing something that looked a hell of a lot like a Black Rider from Lord of the Rings: a dark robe with a seemingly empty hood.

“Anubis,” Jack hissed.

“What?” Carter said sharply. “Sir, what about Anubis?”

“Whatever that thing on the DHD is,” Jack said, pointing to the snake/tech thingy, “Anubis put it there.”

“Sir, we’ve never been able to see a difference between pieces of Goa’uld technology created by different Goa’uld…” Carter began.

“Yeah, no, that part’s not sensory,” Jack said. “That’s… Tony has us partway into the Spirit Plane, and… well, I’ve no idea what he’s seeing, but I’m seeing our spirit animals staring at a half-ascended snake.”

“Um, I’m seeing a snake having a really bad day,” Tony said. “I don’t know what half-ascended looks like, but this thing’s all… glowy and fading in and out.”

“Yup,” Jack said, “That’s Anubis.”

“Uhoh,” Jackson said.

“This is not good,” Carter agreed.

“Wait, wait,” Mitchell said, “Are you guys telling me that the security device on this gate was placed by Anubis? Half-ascended Goa’uld, attacked Earth, put me in physical therapy for over a year? That Anubis?”

“Yup,” Jack said, “That Anubis.”

“Well, shit,” Mitchell said.

Tony was starting to feel the strain of holding them in median, and, by unspoken agreement, he and Jack released the connection. The world shifted back into the yellow and red spectrums.

“There’s no immediate threat that I can sense,” Jack said, “But I for one would like to do what we came to do and get out of here.”

“Well, we'll have to wait till nightfall to get a visual confirmation of the black hole,” Carter said, concerned. “In the meantime,” she turned to Major Altman from SG-5, “Major, you can set up the gravity sensors.” Altman nodded, and SG-5 moved off. “I’m going to see what I can do about disabling that device,” Carter said, moving towards the DHD.

“I’m gonna phone home, tell them the bad news,” Mitchell said.

He moved over to the MALP and activated the radio.

“SGC, this is SG-1 leader,” he said. “We have arrived safely, but have encountered evidence of Goa’uld. Our sentinel and guide say that the security override on the DHD is of Goa’uld origin and was placed there by Anubis. Say again, the security override was placed by Anubis.”

There was a brief pause.

“Acknowledged, Colonel,” said Landry’s voice over the radio. “Is there any evidence of current hostile activity?”

“Negative,” Mitchell said. “Guide DiNozzo and General O’Neill report no hostile life forms within a five mile radius.”

“Very well,” Landry said. “Proceed with caution, hourly check-ins. The Prometheus is standing by.”

“Hopefully that won't be necessary, sir. Mitchell out.”

Mitchell turned off the radio and the gate shut down. He turned to look at the rest of them.

“Considering what we just found out, I'd rather not wait around two weeks for a ride,” he said.

“I got a vague sense of passive tech in that direction before we got distracted by the snake-thing,” Jack said, pointing off to the left of the gate.

“Alright,” Mitchell said, “I’ll cover Carter. You guys, go with Teal’c and Daniel to check it out. And General?”

“Yes Colonel?” Jack said.

“Try to stay out of trouble. I’ve read your mission reports.”

Fifteen minutes later, as Jack, Tony, Mitchell, Jackson, and Teal’c (Carter had joined Major Altman’s team working on the gravity sensors) stepped into a Goa’uld ring device, he found himself wishing that Mitchell had kept his mouth shut. What was that old saying? “Speak of the devil and he shall appear”? Only in this case, it was trouble that should really never be mentioned if you didn’t want it to show up.

They found themselves at the mouth of an underground cave. Once the rings deactivated, everything was pitch black, and everyone reached for their flashlights.

“I don't think anyone's been home for a while,” Mitchell remarked as they stepped through the opening.

The cavern they had entered was filled with alien equipment that Tony did not recognize or understand. All of it was dark and silent, which he guessed, based on Mitchell’s comment, indicated inactivity.

“Looks like some kind of science lab” Jackson said.

“This looks familiar,” Teal’c said, approaching a raised circular platform on the floor. “ It's Nirrti's DNA Manipulation Device.”

“Oh, great,” Jack muttered.

“Nirrti?” Mitchell said. “She was the Goa'uld that was trying to create an advanced host, right? Ended up with a bunch of super freaks who turned on her. That was a cool file.”

Jackson went over to a pedestal thing and started pressing symbols. Abruptly, a giant hologram of a double helix appeared above the DNA Device, causing Tony to let out a stifled yelp.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Huh,” Jack said, studying the hologram.

“Huh? What huh?” Mitchell asked.

“This writing’s in Ancient,” Jackson answered, walking towards the hologram and pointing to a line of unintelligible script beside what Tony thought might be a gene.

“General, your senses picking up anything here?” Mitchell asked.

“There’s something over that way,” Jack said, pointing. “Feels kinda like the stasis thingy at the Antarctica outpost. To be honest, it’s freaking me out.”

Mitchell shone his light in the direction Jack had pointed.

“Oh, I was wrong,” he said, walking over to an odd-looking object on the wall. “There is someone home.”

He shone his flashlight at the object, and suddenly, Tony was looking at a half-naked Swedish Adonis in some kind of glass pod thing. The moment he saw it, his spidey-guidey-senses tingled.

“Okay, that’s—” he began, but at that moment, Mitchell reached for a panel on the side of the device. “Whoa, no!” Tony yelped.

“Mitchell!” Jack barked at the same time.

“Wait, wait!” Jackson yelled.

But it was too late. Mitchell had pushed the button. There was a suspicious kind of ‘activating’ sound. Everyone glared at Mitchell.

“Nice going, Colonel,” Jack said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“What?” Mitchell said. “I was looking for the light switch.”

Jackson walked right through the hologram and shone his flashlight accusingly at Mitchell.

“New guy!” he scolded.

Tony’s empathy was picking up on… something from the stasis thing, something muddled and uncertain and really fucking dangerous.

“Hey, you touched that!” Mitchell protested, pointing at the pedestal.

Uh, I know how to read that!” Jackson retorted hotly.

“Oh, shit,” Jack said, clearly sensing something equivalent to what Tony was feeling.

“Guys,” Tony said. “Something’s—”

The glass cover over Stockholm Adonis went opaque, then disappeared, and the gorgeous blond guy went tumbling straight into Jackson’s arms. Tony would have made a dirty joke about that, but his empathy was going crazy and Jack was radiating alarm beside him.

“I got a faint pulse,” Jackson said.

Suddenly, Creepy Swedish Guy started convulsing.

"Carter,” Mitchell barked into his radio. “Get back to the gate. Tell the SGC we need a med team here, right away!”

“Belay that, Carter!” Jack said immediately, keying his own radio. “Tell Landry to have the med team meet us at the Alpha Site.”

“General,” Mitchell snapped, “I am in command of this mission—”

“Well then, consider this a direct line to Homeworld Command, Colonel,” Jack barked. “I don’t know who or what that guy is, but he reeks of Anubis. I’m not letting him anywhere near Earth until I am convinced he’s not a threat.”

“Yeah, I’m not so sure that’s going to happen any time soon,” Tony said, eyes still fixed on Sleeping Swedish Beauty.

Wiley and Massoud had appeared on either side of Jackson and both spirit animals were snarling at the stranger.

“Guide DiNozzo?” Mitchell demanded.

“Psionic signs say, this guy is dangerous,” Tony said. “I don’t know why, but our spirit animals kind of seem to want to eat him.”

“Colonel? General?” Carter’s voice crackled over the radio. “Please confirm orders.”

She sounded pissed.

Mitchell stared at Tony for a long moment, then keyed his radio again.

“Confirm, Carter,” he said. “Request a med team to meet us at the Alpha Site. Repeat, med team to the Alpha Site. Mitchell out.”

 

***

 

“As General O’Neill said, the planet originally seems to have belonged to Anubis,” Jackson said ten hours later, staring solemnly at the image of General Landry on the vid screen. “However, contrary to what Khalek told us, the man he left behind is not the victim of experiments. He's a genetic hybrid. He was grown in that lab.”

“I'm sorry?” Landry said over the vid screen.

Jack, Daniel, SG-1, Dr. Lam, and Colonel Ben Pierce, the commander of the Alpha Site, were all standing in the communications suite of the Alpha Site. On the main screen, General Landry and Chief Master Sergeant Walter Harriman were looking back at them. Harriman’s expression was one of mild interest, but Landry looked fit to be tied.

“The log at the lab on P3X-584 says that Anubis managed to replicate his pre-ascension DNA using the genetic manipulation device,”  Daniel said. “Then, he combined it with human DNA and was able to rapidly grow our— our friend there.” Daniel paused for a moment, then continued. “General, the Goa'uld pass on genetic memory. Now he may not have a snake in his head, but the man we defrosted and brought back here has Goa'uld DNA intermingled with his own. He may as well be the—the son of Anubis.”

Tony pressed his shoulder gently against Jack’s subconsciously wanting to ease the tension he could feel radiating from the other man. He’d been on high alert ever since they brought their handsome friend through the gate to P4X-650, the cold, mountainous planet that the SGC used as an Alpha Site. Dr. Lam, the SGC’s Chief Medical Officer, had met them in the Alpha Site’s emergency medical suite. After she had stabilized the patient and checked Carter, Mitchell, Jack, and Tony over, they had put the alien in isolation. When he had regained consciousness, he had told them that his name was Khalek and that Anubis had captured him and imprisoned him in the lab on P3X-584.

However, when Daniel and Teal’c, who had stayed behind until SG-5 gated back to Earth in order to do a more extensive exploration of the lab, had reached the Alpha Site, they had a different story.

“The analysis I did suggests that Khalek is significantly more evolved than we are,” Dr. Lam said. “Much more in line with the human form of the Ancients prior to ascension.”

“So he could have all kinds of super funky powers?” Mitchell asked.

At that point, the conversation began to get a little too referential for Tony to follow as they tried to pinpoint when and how Anubis had created Adonis, a.k.a., Khalek, and what they should do with him. Tony did manage to gather that here was a strong argument for putting him back in stasis, but nobody was quite sure how to do it.

“I think we need to consider whether we want to preserve him at all,”Daniel finally said.

There was an uneasy silence.

“Look,” Daniel said, “The fact is, we don't know how successful Anubis was. Khalek is advanced, yes, but we don't know how far along he actually is. Now, if he is aware of his own state of evolutionary advancement, and I'll bet you anything he is, it is possible the only thing keeping him from ascending right now is that he hasn't figured out how.”

“And what would it take for him to figure out how, Danny?” Jack asked, speaking up for the first time.

“I don't know,” Jackson said. “But if he can do it. If—if he knows how or figures out how, at the very least, we're going to have another Anubis on our hands. And at that point, it's going to be too late to stop him.”

“Shit,” Jack said, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Okay, whatever happens, he’s he does not get anywhere near Earth. Hank, I want you to lock down access to the Alpha Site until further notice, on my authorization. Communications only. We still need to be able to go back and forth to P3X-584, but this gate does not open to Earth until we’ve got this sorted out.”

“Understood, General,” Landry said. “But that still leaves the question, what are we going to do with him?”

“Look,” Jackson said, “You know I would never suggest this lightly. But he is what he is. And given the danger he poses, I think we have to ask ourselves, what is the point in keeping him alive at all?”

Carter nodded tightly.

"Whoa, wait," Tony said. "You're serious? Aren't you the guy who was arguing for the rights of murderers and bigots and saying the military needed a more stringent sexual harassment code?"

Daniel sighed and rubbed his eyes under his glasses.

"Yes," he said. "I believe that, as a society, we have the responsibility to live up to our own ethical and moral ideals to the best of our abilities. But I also know, both as an archaeologist and as a member of the SGC's first contact team, that a society which does not protect its own people is at risk of committing an even greater breach of ethics." He looked up with a bleak expression. "It's the same old moral dilemma: someone has a gun pointed at a child, you have a gun pointed at them. What should you do? Is it a greater crime to take a life yourself, or allow someone else to take a life when you can stop them?"

“But... we can’t just kill him,” Tony protested. “I mean, he’s dangerous as hell, but he’s also sentient, and our prisoner. I don’t quite get how Earth rules translate to offworld situations yet, but surely the Geneva Convention still means something, even out here?”

“No,” Jackson said, "It means something on Earth. But only because enough Earth nations have agreed to abide by it, at least ostensibly, to give it power. The rest of the galaxy has never heard of it. The Asgard are an incredibly advanced civilization, and they would kill Khalek in a second if they had him.”

“What is the protocol in this kind of situation?” Tony asked, looking at Jack.

“Fly by the seat of our pants and hope like hell we don’t get our asses blown off,” Jack said. “Seriously, we’re making it up as we go along. We’ve never faced this particular situation before.”

“Tony has a point, sir,” Carter said reluctantly. “But Daniel’s right: Khalek may be too dangerous to keep alive.”

“Then we freeze him again just as soon as you figure out how to do it,” Jack said. “In the meantime, Hank, you need to tell Washington what’s going on. The President and SecDef should be aware that this could turn into an Amber Alert situation if Dolly down there manages to figure out how to ascend. Daniel, Dr. Lam, Tony, we need to learn as much as we can about our friend. Especially whether he’s likely to start reading our minds or imitating a day-glo jellyfish before we can get him back on ice.”

 

***

 

“Why me?” Tony asked Jack as they headed for the isolation room where Khalek was being kept. “Why not Colonel Carter? She’s met people who have— ascended before, right? So she’d know what to look for.”

“Two reasons,” Jack said. “One, I’m really more interested in getting this guy back in stasis than learning more about him, so I need her working on that. Two, Carter and I don’t have an accord anymore, so I can’t shield her like I can shield you.”

“You think shielding is going to be necessary?” Tony asked, his stomach fluttering unpleasantly.

“Remember how Dr. Lam said that Khalek is like the Ancients?” Jack said. “Well, the Ancients really were more ‘evolved’ than we are, but they were also just plain different— Danny calls it an alternate evolutionary path. They all have abilities similar to sentinels and guides— heightened senses, extra strength, all the ESP stuff— but they aren’t really anything like us— even at a DNA level, they don’t have any of the same doo-hickeys. And, just to make it more exciting, there’s this— Carter calls it dissonance between their psionic gifts and guides’ psionic gifts. We’ve only met one pre-ascension Ancient, so I don’t know if they’re all like this, but Carter said that Aylana was— uncomfortable— to be around, and she was playing nice. I don’t know what a pissed off one could do. So if I have to send a guide in there, I want it to be one I can shield. Worse comes to worse, I can shut down your psionic field completely until I can get you out of there.”

“You can do that?” Tony asked, not sure whether he was impressed or creeped out.

Unlike guides, sentinels had absolutely no reference points when it came to their counterpart’s gifts— Tony couldn’t see what Jack could, but he was at least familiar with the experience of sight, while Jack was literally flying blind when it came to Tony’s psionic abilities— so it was more difficult for them to assist their guides than it was for guides to assist their sentinels. Actually being able to control their partner’s psionic field… well, that was hard-core.

“Yup,” Jack said. “I had to learn, there’s too many things out there that can mess with a guide’s head. These days, Carter and the others carry a miniature version of the dampening device that the Asgard gave us, but before that, it was down to the sentinels to pull their guides back if they got into something and couldn’t get themselves out. Now, we’ll have someone standing by in iso to turn the PDD back on, but we haven’t actually tested that technology on an Ancient, so I don’t know if it will do the trick. I want a backup plan I know works.”

Tony shuddered slightly. He knew about the psionic dampening device— Carter called it, predictably, a PDD— because there was a full-sized one in the Alpha Site’s iso room, but he had to admit, the very existence of such a thing gave him the creeps, even though Sam assured him that it acted on the area around it, not the guides in that area, like a white noise generator. Suddenly, another thought distracted him and he frowned.

“Why doesn’t Carter have a pro tem partner?” he asked. “I know it’s not mandatory for the military to provide guides a sentinel like it is to provide sentinels with a guide— and don’t get me started on that double standard— but Earth doesn’t really have a lot of things that can actually attack a guide directly. It sounds like the rest of the galaxy is a different story.”

Jack grimaced.

“Short answer, bureaucracy,” he said. “Long answer, it’s a policy that I and a lot of other gifted members of the program know needs to be put in place, but it’s gonna involve a massive amount of red tape, and the guides themselves are adamant that they’re fine. Of course, they’re Air Force and Marine guides, so they’d say they were fine if they were bleeding psionic go-juice all over the Mountain. The point is, it’s like the investigative unit Paul wants you on: it’s top priority, but there’s about a hundred other top priority issues ahead of it, and not enough people with enough authority to deal with them.”

“Yikes,” Tony said. “This is what you meant, when you said I’d probably have two or three jobs if I let Colonel Davis give me the red pill, isn’t it?”

“You would be a prime candidate for the position of official S&G Rep if you wanted it, but you definitely don’t have to,” Jack said. “But yeah, pretty much.”

They reached the isolation room, and the conversation ended as they all got situated and Jackson took his place at the intercom.

“Just tell me when you’re ready,” said the technician sitting at the console that controlled the isolation suite.

Tony looked at Jack, suddenly nervous. It was one thing to play guide when Jack was the star of the show, but now, all the focus was on him.

“Neck or hands,” Jack said easily.

Tony blinked.

“Beg pardon?”

“D’you want me to touch your neck or your hands?” Jack amplified. “Carter always liked the neck, because she usually needed her hands for something, but I don’t know which you prefer.”

“Oh,” Tony said. “Uh… for this, hands. But for less intense stuff, I think I’m with Carter: I like having my hands free.”

“Okie dokie,” Jack said, reaching out and taking Tony’s hands in his. “You relax and do your thing. I’ll be right here. Don’t worry about trying to signal me if you need help, with this level two accord we’ve got, if things go FUBAR, I’ll know.”

“Okay,” Tony said, his throat tight.

He’d never had someone to watch his back when he did this kind of thing before.

He took a deep breath and let his psionic field open up. He expected intense feedback from Jackson and the tech, as well as the guy in the iso room when he let down his shields, but all he felt at first was Jack’s solid, undemanding presence.

“Okay, wow, that’s new,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Jack said, “That’s just me.”

“Uh, yeah,” Tony said. “I’ve got that. The weird part is, it’s just you. Neat trick. Hang on, I gotta…”

It took a lot of concentration to reverse the habits of half a lifetime. For once, he had to deliberately reach out to sense the people around him rather than having to pull back and filter out those he didn’t want to hear. After a few moments, he felt like he had the hang of it.

“Wow,” he said. “This is… pretty awesome. Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do this thing.”

“Alright,” Jackson said. He reached down and flicked the switch on the intercom. “Khalek, can you hear me?”

 

***

 

Twenty minutes later, Tony sprinted down the corridor, barely making it to the head before throwing up everything he’d eaten that day. As he heaved his guts up, Khalek’s words echoed in his head:

“Millions of slaves bowing before me. A galaxy of desperate, pitiful life-forms at my feet. That's clearly intoxicating. I can almost taste it, as if it was me there and not those whose memories I possess. Oh, but nothing, nothing do I anticipate more than the sweetness I know I will feel when I kill for the first time. I can hardly wait to watch as fear stops a man's heart. So much more intimate, one-on-one. To watch as the blood flows from his veins and savor his ever-fading hope for life.”

“Jesus, Tony,” Jack said, slipping into the bathroom behind him.

“If you thought what he said was bad, what he felt was even worse,” Tony said weakly.

“Aw, Tiger,” Jack said, kneeling beside Tony and reaching out to take one of his hands in a firm grip. “I wish I could have done more to help. I knew you were getting too much feedback, but I couldn’t figure out how to shield you without blocking him out completely.”

“No, Jack, you were awesome,” Tony said. “I’ve never had anybody shield me like that before, I can’t even— I know what he was feeling, but I didn’t feel it, you know? No, this is— God, I think Daniel’s right, Jack. We should kill the guy now, while we still have the chance. He’s— he’s a complete psychopath, but more than that, he’s a sexual sadist— he gets off on causing pain and suffering. Even if he was just a normal guy on the street, I’d be calling in a Guide Sanction on him, but Daniel’s also right that his abilities are still developing. He’s already got some really creepy kind of telepathy, and there’s something else coming— I think it’s the telekinesis Lam and Mitchell were talking about, but without getting Carter in there, I can’t rule out ascension.”

“Damn,” Jack swore. “Let’s hope Sam can get him back on ice before he starts moving stuff with his mind.”

At that point, Jack’s radio crackled and Colonel Pierce’s voice came over the connection.

“General O’Neill and Colonel Mitchell to the comms room. General O’Neill and Colonel Mitchell to the comms room. We’ve got the SGC back on the line.”

When Jack and Tony got back to the communications center— Jackson and Mitchell joining them along the way— General Landry and a fussy little man with a bald head and a bad suit were on the vid screen. Landry looked like he’d eaten unripe limes, while the little bald guy had a supercilious expression on his face. Mitchell’s face went completely blank, and Jack’s lip curled.

“Mr. Woolsey,” Jack said with distaste. “What an unpleasant surprise.”

“General O’Neill,” Woolsey said in a persnickety voice, “Colonel Mitchell.”

“To what do we owe the dubious pleasure?” Jack asked, folding his arms and settling his hip against a console.

“Mr. Woolsey is here about the ‘recommendation’ that Khalek be put back into stasis,” Landry said, voice dripping with disgust. “I gather that the IOA disagrees. They would like to study Khalek to see if he holds the key to fighting the Priors.”

“You understand how dangerous he is,” Jackson said coldly.

“Since what we sent was a report to prepare the President and the Secretary of Defense for the possibility of an Anubis-level threat, I’m also a little fuzzy on where you get the idea that this is a recommendation, Mr. Woolsey,” Jack put in.

“We understand how dangerous you seem to think he is,” Woolsey said mildly, ignoring Jack in order to answer Jackson. “There's very little corroborating evidence at this point. That's why more study is required.”

“Now, that’s where you’re wrong,” Jack said. “We’ve gotten quite a bit of ‘corroborating evidence’ since we sent our report back to Washington. Danny? Tony?”

“Khalek does indeed retain Anubis’s genetic memory,” Jackson said. “In addition, he seems to share his… progenitor’s attitudes towards his past actions in general and towards the SGC and Earth specifically.”

“He’s got the psionic profile of a psychopath and possibly a sexual sadist,” Tony said. “He feels no guilt or empathy and derives a sexual pleasure from the suffering of others. If he gets loose, there’s no question that he’s going to try to follow in dear old Daddy’s footsteps.”

“I’m sorry,” Woolsey sneered, “But who is this?”

“Guide Anthony DiNozzo,” Landry told him with a pleased smirk. “General O’Neill’s guide and, what’s more, a Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. If anyone would know what a psychopath looks like, it’s him.”

General Landry was obviously engaging in hyperbole, since he’d never seen Tony’s file, but considering how annoying Woolsey was, Tony didn’t blame him.

“Yup,” Tony agreed. “I know my psychopaths— I once spent two days handcuffed to a serial killer. And, based on what I got from Khalek, I’ve got more than enough to declare a Guide Sanction on him. He may not have done anything yet— although, since he has Anubis’s memories, that point’s a little fuzzy— but he presents a clear and present danger. He wants to cause harm, and he has abilities that will make doing it ridiculously easy for him. His telepathic gifts are developing rapidly, and I’m seeing the beginnings of what, based on Dr. Lam and Dr. Jackson’s analysis, is probably telekinetic ability. If his development progresses along the lines they predict, ascension is only a matter of time.”

“Well, that’s all the more reason to study him,” Woolsey said, but Tony thought he looked slightly flustered. “Physiologically he may be very much like the Priors of the Ori… First and foremost, studying him, may be the key to learning a way to fight the Priors. Not to mention the fact that he may be the missing link between ourselves and ascension. Certainly that merits more research. The members of the Committee feel very strongly about this.”

“Well, that’s too bad,” Jack said, “Since, as I reported to the President, we’re putting him back in stasis the minute Colonel Carter tells us how.”

“And, as I said, the Committee disagrees,” Woolsey said. “Furthermore, if this Command doesn't have the ability and security in place to take full advantage of an opportunity like this, then we believe we need to reevaluate its leadership. And ultimately, its operation.”

Jack drew himself up, and his voice went soft and deadly.

“You know,” he said, “I’m getting awfully tired of you people threatening the SGC and its people whenever you don’t get your way. Nobody has the security or the ability to contain this guy if he turns into Anubis 2.0, so I suggest you let the SGC do its job and protect Earth.”

“That is precisely why we need to study this specimen,” Woolsey said, “To protect Earth. This Command demanded increased funding because of the Ori threat, and yet, in the months since then, this is the first discovery that offers any sort of viable avenue of research. And you want to freeze him.”

“Yup,” Jack said. “And since Homeworld Command’s mandate is the defense of Earth against all threats, I’m obligated to do just that. My first-contact expert has told me he’s pretty much Anubis reborn and my guide has Sanctioned him as a clear and present danger to the tribe. My responsibility here is pretty clear. Khalek is an immediate threat to planetary security and he will be neutralized.”

“And if the Committee orders that Khalek be returned to Earth for study?” Woolsey demanded.

“Then remind the Committee that Homeworld Command does not answer to them,” Jack said. “And before you get the bright idea of trying to order SG-1 to bring him back against my orders, remember, the SGC may be a joint command, but the Alpha Site is solely under my jurisdiction. And I say that nobody from this base is going back to Earth until Anubis’s spawn is safely back in stasis and secured off-site. That includes SG-1. Also, you might also want to mention that ignoring a Guide Sanction is just begging to be brought up before a World Court if it results in any type of harm to any person or persons.”

“The president will being hearing about this,” Woolsey blustered.

“Oh, you can count on it,” Jack said with an icy smile.

Then, in a move so reminiscent of Gibbs that Tony blinked, Jack looked over at the comms officer and made a slashing motion across his throat.

The vid screen went dark.

“You know,” said Mitchell conversationally, “Suddenly I’m damned glad that you redirected us to the Alpha Site instead of taking this guy back to the SGC.”

“Yeah, I thought someone might try something like this,” Jack said. “That doesn’t excuse me skipping around on the chain of command, though. I never did apologize for that, by the way. Sorry.”

Mitchell waved a hand.

“It was your first time out with us since you took the big chair,” he said. “So long as it doesn’t happen again, it’s all good.”

“When that Woolsey guy said ‘study,’” Tony said slowly, “What exactly did he mean?”

Jack and Mitchell looked puzzled, but Jackson figured it out almost immediately. He grimaced.

“Pretty much what you think he meant,” the archaeologist said with distaste.

“Human experimentation,” Tony said, just to be sure.

“Well, Khalek isn’t precisely human, so I imagine the IOA would argue the same ethical guidelines don’t apply,” Jackson pointed out.

Tony looked over at Jack.

“This isn’t good,” he said.

Jack looked uncomfortable.

“I know, Tony,” he said. “But Danny’s right: Khalek’s not human.”

“It doesn’t matter, Jack,” Tony said urgently. “Any kind of experimentation in this context is just… bad. Look, Scenario One, the SGC experimented on Joe Normal— or, in this case, Joe Swedish Normal— and everyone wonders if he really was an alien or if he was just a human with some minor physiological differences. In which case, they might be next. Scenario Two, the SGC experimented on an alien, and everyone wonders if the alien’s buddies are going to return the favor. In which case, they still might be next. This is a no-win situation, Jack.”

“You know how I feel about this, Jack,” Jackson said. “I may have been the one to bring up eliminating Khalek—”

“Hey, I’m coming around to your way of thinking there,” Tony interjected. “I’ve seen The Wrath of Khan, I’m not sure keeping this guy around, even in stasis, is a good idea.”

“— But I will never support experimenting on sentient life-forms,” Jackson continued. “And it’s not about their rights— like I said before, I’m not sure we can afford to give some of our enemies rights if we want to survive— it’s about us. Butchers didn’t used to be allowed to serve on juries because it was thought that their profession inured them to pain and suffering— a pig screaming sounds pretty much the same as a person screaming, you know? Khalek may not be human, but he can talk, and feel, and, one assumes, scream like a human. If we ignore that now, how much more ready will we be to ignore it again? And again? And again? Killing is one thing, but torture… I don’t think we can afford to get used to that.”

 

***

 

“I’m so turned around,” Tony complained to Jack as he sat down on one of the cots the Alpha Site’s quartermaster had stuck together for them and kicked off his boots. “Is it morning? Afternoon? Midnight? What?”

“It’s midmorning on P4X-650,” Jack said, “But at the Mountain, I think it’s around 2300. Which makes it 2100 in D.C., where you’re body thinks it is.”

Tony groaned and flopped back on the bed.

“Is going through the gate always this exciting?” he asked.

“Generally,” Jack said, shucking off his jacket and sitting down to take off his own boots. “Some missions are dead boring— especially if there’s potsherds involved, Danny loves his potsherds— but most of the time, it’s crazy aliens and things going to shit right, left, and center.”

“I feel like I should be doing something,” Tony confessed, allowing Jack to reposition them so they were lying together on the combined cots.

“Welcome to the military,” Jack said, pulling Tony so close that he was practically lying on top of him. “‘Hurry up and wait’ isn’t just a line, even in the SGC.”

“Mmm,” Tony said, suddenly less interested in the conversation than in feeling of Jack pressed against him from head to toe. “God, this is going to be torture, isn’t it?”

“Probably,” Jack said agreeably, “But I’d be able to give you a better idea if I knew what ‘it’ was.”

“Keeping my hands to myself,” Tony said, arching against Jack’s body and discretely pressing his groin against his hip.

“Ah ah ah,” Jack reproved, swatting Tony lightly on the ass. “Behave.”

Tony groaned and pressed into him harder.

“That’s not the way to get me to behave,” he managed to get out, voice breathy.

“Really?” Jack said, his voice falling an octave. “My guide likes a little pain with his pleasure?”

Tony’s breath caught and he went abruptly still. He’d had this particular… quirk of his misinterpreted enough not to want Jack to get the wrong idea.

“Not— I’m not—” he stammered, “I don’t like, you know, whips or, or paddles or anything like that. And if you want me to call you ‘Master,’ well you’ll have a long wait. And leather, it’s good for jackets, but I’d really rather keep it away from my cock—”

God, he was babbling.

“Hey, hey,” Jack interrupted soothingly, “I get it. It’s okay, that’s not really my scene either. So, no fancy extras. Just good, old-fashioned sex with— a bit of an edge to it.” He rubbed his hand down Tony’s lower back. “We already know you like this,” he murmured, sliding his hand lower and giving Tony’s ass another sharp swat. “I wonder what else?”

Tony moaned. He was impossibly hard now, and that thing Jack was doing with his voice should be illegal.

“Teeth?” Jack wondered, stroking Tony’s back again. “Not enough to break skin. Just enough to bruise, maybe?”

Tony’s hips moved of their own accord, rubbing his aching cock against Jack’s hip.

“Mmm,” Jack said. “You like that, huh? What else? Maybe being held down? No ropes or cuffs, just my hands on your wrists, maybe squeezing a little too tight?”

Tony keened as Jack took his free hand and suited action to words, wrapping his strong, callused fingers around Tony’s wrist and squeezing a little too tightly. Jack lowered his head so that his low, rough voice was right in Tony’s ear:

“Maybe some time when you’re really opened up, all relaxed and oiled, I’ll fuck you so hard it hurts,” he rasped.

Tony cried out and came hard, hips stuttering against Jack. He shuddered helplessly and buried his face in the fabric of the sentinel’s t-shirt.

“Shit!” Jack said, his voice rising.

“Sorry,” Tony slurred, almost incoherent from surprise and embarrassment, “Oh God—”

“Tony, no,” Jack said, wrapping his arms tightly around him and hugging him close. “Don’t be sorry. God, that was fucking hot, sweetheart, I can’t even— But we said no fooling around, and I knew I was pushing it, but I didn’t expect—”

“— me to come in my pants like a goddamned teenager?” Tony moaned into Jack’s chest.

“You were so fucking gorgeous like that, I can’t even tell you,” Jack said. “But I shouldn’t have pushed you that hard, not when we had agreed not to.”

Tony let out a breath of relief. Jack wasn’t laughing at him.

He pressed himself deeper into the sentinel’s arms, tangling his fingers in the fabric of his shirt.

“‘S okay,” he mumbled. “I didn’t— It was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you. God!”

“How’s the accord?” Jack asked.

Tony checked, but didn’t sense any change in their connection, except for the fact that it was content and thrumming with sexual energy.

“Happy,” he said, tilting his head back to smile up at Jack dopily. “Horny. Still a level two.”

“Okay, good,” Jack said. “When we bond, I’d really like it to be on purpose.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, although right now, he was having a hard time remembering why he cared.

Jack snorted.

“Alright, Tiger,” he said, “Time to get you cleaned up and in bed.”

“Mmm,” Tony murmured happily.

Chapter Text

Whoever set this up, Tobias, is a pro,” Gibbs said quietly. “ If this were to go to court right now, DiNozzo would not stand a chance.”

Supervisory Special Agent Tobias Fornell raised an eyebrow at his sometimes-friend and all-the-time-pain-in-the-ass.

“He can’t be that much of a pro, Jethro,” he said. “He doesn’t seem to have factored in that Tony’s a guide. This will never go to court. Not a mundane court, anyways.”

They were standing in an out-of-the-way corner of the NCIS bullpen while Special Agent McGee and Special Agent David tormented Fornell’s agent, Ronald Sacks, over by the MCRT’s assigned desks.

Gibbs’s jaw set.

“Lotta mundanes wouldn’t know that,” he said. “As far as the forensics go, this is airtight. Whoever this is, he’s dangerous. Besides, I do not want Tony put through a conclave if I can help it. Rabb’s messed him up in ways I can’t describe, and he was just a participant. You fix this, Tobias. Before your pride has to go digging through Tony’s head.”

Tobias grimaced, amusement turning to sympathy. As a mu guide, he wasn’t as vulnerable to the deeper types of empathic penetration as the other classes, but Tony… yeah, an epsilon guide might very well be a mess after a conclave, unless they were a shaman in their own right. Christ, what a clusterfuck. A pair of severed legs with no body and no discernable TOD found in a training area at Quantico positively covered in forensic evidence that linked them to Tony, including a bite mark that perfectly matched Tony’s teeth.

How the hell did DiNozzo find this kind of trouble?

“I’ll take care of him,” he promised Gibbs. “And anyways, with the short window at the crime scene, this could become a whole lot easier after just one phone call. You got any idea where he and O’Neill decided to have their little accordance honeymoon?”

“Sentinel can’t alibi their guide, Fornell,” Gibbs protested. “You know that.”

“No,” Fornell said, “But O’Neill works for the Pentagon, and they wouldn’t just let him disappear. Chances are, they’ll have had eyes on him at least part of the time. Which means that they may well be able to say exactly where Tony was— and wasn’t— between late Tuesday night and early this morning. So, you got any idea where they went?”

Gibbs frowned.

“Tony called me Monday, told me he was going to be out of contact,” he said. “Gave me the number for an Air Force Lt. Colonel at the Pentagon in case I needed to get ahold of him.”

“Okay, I’ll need that number,” Fornell said. “By the way, you contact Chegwidden yet? He’ll want to know what’s going on.”

“Right before the Director called you,” Gibbs assured him. “He approved you handling the case on behalf of the pride.”

“Nice to be appreciated,” Fornell said as they headed back to the team’s desks. “Sacks!” Fornell said. “Take care of requisitioning the evidence, then work with McGee and David on a list of people who might hold grudges against DiNozzo. I want suspects!”

“Suspects?” Sacks demanded. “We have a suspect! We have to arrest him, Fornell. Bite marks don't lie.”

Gibbs went taut as a tripwire beside Tobias, and McGee and David began eying Sacks with a look reminiscent of wolves eying a wounded gnu. Tobias sighed. Subtlety, thy name was not Special Agent Ronald Sacks.

“The U.S. attorney's gonna see this as a heinous crime,” Sacks rattled on, seemingly unaware that his popularity had just taken an epic nosedive in this branch of the federal law enforcement family. “It is a heinous crime, Fornell.”

“Tony didn’t do it,” Fornell said, trying to stop Sacks before he landed himself on McGee and David’s shit-list for life.

It was too late to keep him off Gibbs’s.

“It'd be remiss if we didn't detain him,” Sacks protested. “ People are gonna think we're orchestrating a cover-upFederal agents suspected of crimes don't get special treatment in my book.”

Ah well. Tobias hadn’t liked Sacks all that much anyways. When his credit mysteriously got trashed and nameless, faceless off-book espionage experts began to sabotage every single thing he had ever touched or would touch, Tobias wouldn’t shed any tears over it.

“Special Agent Sacks!” Fornell barked, giving up on preserving whatever scrap of credibility Sacks might still have had with his brother and sister agents at NCIS. “Evidence and names! Now!” Tobias turned to Gibbs. “I need that number,” he said. “Can I use your conference room? I’d like to get this sorted out as soon as possible.”

“Sure thing,” Gibbs said.

Ten minutes later, Tobias came out of the conference room feeling like he’d just had a head-on collision with Santa’s sleigh team and, possibly, the Easter Bunny.

“Well?” Gibbs asked as he rejoined the other agent at his desk.

“Kid’s got an alibi,” Tobias said slowly.

“You don’t sound too happy about that,” Gibbs said, eyes narrowing.

“Oh, I’m plenty happy about that,” Tobias refuted. “What scares the shit out of me is how incredibly helpful Lt. Colonel Paul Davis was being. The Pentagon is never helpful, Jethro. Especially when it comes to top secret missions so classified that they can’t even confirm that there is a mission.”

“What?” Gibbs demanded. “Tony and O’Neill are on a mission?”

“Ah ah ah,” Tobias said, holding up his hand. “I didn’t say that. I said that the Pentagon cannot confirm that there is a mission. What they can confirm is that last night, when those legs were being dumped at Quantico, Tony was very far away surrounded by highly decorated officers who can only testify so far off the record, we might as well be talking radio waves from Venus. Reading between the lines, I don’t even think he was in the U.S.”

Gibbs’s jaw flexed.

“I think I’m gonna have to have a little talk with O’Neill,” he said.

“Good luck,” Tobias said. “In the meantime, let’s figure out who was clever enough to fake the forensic evidence, but dumb enough not to realize that forensic evidence wouldn’t be enough to get a false conviction against a guide.”

 

***

 

Jack and Tony were, of course, at the furthest part of the Alpha Site when the base klaxon began blaring. Major Sheffield, Colonel Pierce’s XO, was giving Tony a tour of the base as per Paul’s instructions and they were at the far end of the landing field when the siren began letting out its ear-splitting racket. Jack winced, dialling down automatically.

“Are you alright?” Tony yelled over the din.

“Fine,” Jack yelled back. “Infirmary, now!”

One bracing sprint later, and they were skidding around the corner into the infirmary section. The entire corridor was in chaos and half the base seemed to be milling around shouting. They managed to get to the observation room, where they found Mitchell doing a field dressing on a somewhat banged up Sam’s arm while Daniel typed furiously on a laptop in the corner. On the screen, Khalek was strapped to his chair, unconscious. There was blood on his hospital gown and a hasty bandage on his chest. The room itself was something of a wreck, with broken equipment scattered about and the smoking shards of what might have been a monitor littering the floor.

“What in the hell?” Jack asked.

“He woke up while Dr. Lam was administering more sedative,” Mitchell said. “Carter was checking the monitors, and I was covering them with one of the zats. He— well, he blew up the monitor, then he held out his hand, yanked the zat right out of my hands and started firing. I pulled my sidearm, but he managed to stun Dr. Lam before I put two in his chest. Which did bupkis, apparently.”

He gestured to Daniel and the data he was analyzing.

“He’s fine,” Daniel said, looking up briefly. “He’s already healing.

“It’s been fifteen minutes!” Jack protested.

“I should have emptied the clip,” Mitchell said grimly, finishing with Sam’s arm and moving on to check the bruise on her forehead.

“You alright, Carter?” Jack asked anxiously.

“Fine, sir,” Sam said. “Got knocked down when the monitor exploded, took some shrapnel in the arm.”

“We should get Dr. Harris to check you out,” Mitchell said.

“The base medical staff are all busy with Dr. Lam,” Sam said.

“It’s a zat blast,” Mitchell said dismissively. “I’ve taken dozens of ‘em and they’ve only made me stronger and better-looking.”

“You’ve taken two,” Daniel said flatly. “But you may actually have a point there: I think that you shooting him is going to help Khalek advance.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mitchell asked, blinking.

“Well, according to the research, the way it works is, the subject gets a treatment in this machine, and certain physiological changes are made in the brain,” Daniel said. “Then it takes some time — weeks, months — to adjust. The individual needs to get used to the changes, learn how they work. It's a gradual process. Now eventually, with enough physical evolution and mental control, he will reach a critical stage where he will learn to shed his physical body and exist as energy. To ascend.” Daniel paused, blinking owlishly at them from behind his glasses. “One phase of these ‘treatments’ is harming the body and letting the advanced healing kick in. I’m pretty sure that the healing process helped him to learn another aspect of his advancement.”

“Oh, fer crying out loud,” Jack said.

“How close are we to being able to freeze this guy again?” Tony asked.

“I’m not sure,” Sam said. “I have to go back to P3X-584 to make sure I have everything right.”

“How hard can it be?” Jack said. “You stuck me in that thing in Antarctica without so much as reading the manual.”

“This system is a bit different, sir,” Sam said, “Not to mention, when we put you in stasis, we weren’t really concerned that some random person might just wander in and wake you up.” She gave Mitchell a look. “Also, there is the very real possibility that Khalek has already advanced far enough that he might be able to mentally mess with the chamber, even in his sleep.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Jack said. “You up for the trip?”

“I’m fine, sir,” Sam said.

“I need to go too,” Daniel said. “The log we took from the lab is incomplete. Anubis seems to have been stopped before he could finish his experiments. I need to see if I can get some kind of idea of where exactly Khalek is in this process— and how likely it is that he could disable his stasis chamber from the inside.”

“Okay,” Mitchell said. “You guys will go back to 584 with Teal’c, after Dr. Harris checks you out.” He gave Sam his own version of the look. “Tony, the General, and I will stay here and keep an eye on our guy.”

He glared at the monitor.

 

***

 

The hours that followed would have been tedious, except Tony was there, and Jack still hadn’t gotten over the delight of having his very own perfect match within arm’s reach, just brimming with everything Jack had never known he needed.

Yesterday’s downtime had largely been occupied with work— Jack had been able to go over some of the issues the Alpha Site was having, while Tony had been able to use the site’s data banks— which served as backup data storage for the SGC— to do some research on the program. Today, however, they were on guard duty, so instead they were doing some of the sentinel and guide exercises that all new pairs did to increase their working skills. I seemed ridiculously ordinary after all the chaos that has filled the first sixty odd hours of their new partnership, but Jack found that, with Tony, ordinary was anything but boring.

They were doing the psionic synchronization exercise— which basically involved Jack concentrating on regulating his breathing and his heartbeat while Tony did something he couldn’t feel on the psionic plane— when Jack’s hearing picked up the sound of the Alpha Site’s gate activating.

“They’re on their way back,” he said, opening his eyes and looking at Mitchell.

His instinct was to meet the team at the gate, but this was Mitchell’s show, and he’d already broken the chain of command once.

“Go,” Mitchell said from his place by the monitor.

Jack and Tony reached the gate room about a minute after Teal’c, Sam, and Daniel came through, while they were still sorting out Sam’s equipment. As soon as Jack and Tony appeared, Daniel stopped what he was doing and came over to them.

“We can’t use the stasis pod in Anubis’s lab,” he said in a rush. “584 is the last place we should be taking him right now.”

Jack blinked. Well, wasn’t this just a nifty development?

“Explain,” he said.

“Remember how I said that Anubis didn’t finish the experiment?” Daniel said. “Khalek isn’t done. His abilities will advance to a certain point and then plateau. He'll never be able to ascend in his current state. He needs more treatments from that machine to make it happen.”

“Okay,” Jack said, “Isn’t that a good thing?”

“Yes and no, sir,” Sam said. “Even with his current— upgrades, he’s still too dangerous for us to contain long-term. We still need to put him back in stasis, but—”

“— the one place we can't send him to is the lab on that planet. I'll bet he's been waiting for us to try,” Daniel finished.

There was a tickling of something in Jack’s brain, the faintest brush of doubt and anxiety that wasn’t his. He glanced at Tony, puzzled.

“Sorry,” Tony said. “We’re still synched. I’m not used to it, my shields are—”

“No, this is good,” Jack said. “Any part of that whole psionic radio package that goes with this gig can only help us right now.”

Tony flushed and ducked his head.

“Okay,” he said.

At that moment, Jack’s hearing picked up the sound of yelling and the sharp staccato retort of machine-gun fire. A moment later, the klaxon started sounding again.

“Shit!” Jack said. “Tony?”

“Got it,” Tony said, reaching out and putting one hand on Jack’s arm, just below the sleeve of his black Air Force-issue t-shirt. “Okay, we’re still synched, so you’re good to go. Turn it up, Jack.”

Jack turned it up, sorting rapidly through the information his hearing was giving him, using Tony’s psionic power to make sense of the overwhelming input.

“Khalek’s out,” he said, opening his eyes. “Mitchell’s down, but not seriously hurt. One SF wounded, one dead. Pierce is trying to lock down the base, but— I don’t think even the blast doors are going to do more than slow Khalek down.”

“He’s going to head here,” Daniel said.

“You think he— heard us?” Sam asked. “Even with all the sentinel- and guide-proofing in the iso room?”

“He’s not a sentinel or a guide,” Daniel said, shrugging. “It’s possible none of that works on him. But whether he heard us or he figured it out on his own, he’s going to try to get back to 584. He wants to finish this, to take the final step.”

“We have to stop him,” Sam said.

“And now that he’s out, he can hear us and read us,” Tony added. “He’s going to know everything we think or say.”

Maybe not everything, Jack thought, catching Tony’s eye.

He felt a faint brush of surprise, then a sense of acknowledgement.

You think your shields will work against this guy? He asked mentally.

A tentative affirmative.

“You guys hold the gate,” Jack said aloud to Sam, Teal’c, and Daniel. “We’re going to go help Mitchell.”

Okay Tony, he thought, Here’s what I need you to do…

 

***

 

Jack headed back to the iso rooms, cursing at each of the blast doors. While Pierce securing the base as best he could, he couldn’t lock it down until someone got a location on Khalek. He’d taken out the main power first thing, and while the base was now on backup, security had been knocked out. Pierce’s men were going to have to go through section by section.

Of course, Jack didn’t think Khalek was going to stick around that long.

He made sure to stay as close to the other people in the hallway as he could so that Khalek wouldn’t be able to tell that Tony wasn’t with him, even if he was listening. Which seemed likely. He was doing too good a job using the base’s acoustic infrastructure to keep Jack from tracking him to not have some sentinel-like senses. Jack was able to get a hint of his position every now and again, but his accord with Tony was too new for his guide to help from a distance, and on his own, he couldn’t get any more. He was, however, able to ascertain that Khalek was indeed working his way slowly towards the control room. Jack thought about radioing Pierce, but decided against it. It would draw too much of Khalek’s attention to him, and besides, he needed Pierce’s SFs running around keeping the guy busy, not piling into the gateroom and waiting like sheep.

He found Mitchell outside the iso room being fussed over by Dr. Lam.

“I’m fine,” he was protesting, trying to stand up.

“No you're not,” Lam said. “You have a concussion. You need to stay put!”

“Ah look, my head can wait,” Mitchell said, actually making it to his feet this time. “He went nuts and killed two SF's—”

“Only one,” Jack said. “The other’s critical, but he’ll pull through. How you doing, Colonel?”

“I’m fine,” Mitchell said. “We need to— to figure out where he’s going.”

“Gate room,” Jack said.

“Gate room,” Mitchell repeated, pulling himself together and, against Dr. Lam’s protests, setting off… in the wrong direction.

“No no no!” Jack said, grabbing Mitchell by the shoulders and physically pointing him in the right direction. “Gate room!”

“Why aren’t we contacting Pierce?” Mitchell asked as they plastered themselves against the wall to allow a platoon of SFs to run by in the other direction.

“Let Pierce do his job,” Jack said. “We do ours.”

However, this was easier said than done. The lack of power was making the doors a hit-or-miss kind of proposition, and they had to redirect their route twice. Thus, they reached the corridor to the gate room only to find that Khalek had beaten them there. In fact, they almost tripped over a pile of SFs and Teal’c, who were picking themselves up from where they had, apparently, been thrown by Khalek’s new superpowers.

“The clone’s telekinetic abilities have grown, General O’Neill,” Teal’c said, even as he joined their mad dash for the gate room. “He possesses the ability to stop our bullets, as well as the power to throw several of us bodily through the air at once.”

There was more weapons fire from the gate room, and they came around the corner to see Sam and Daniel pinned behind the gate platform, firing at Khalek through the empty ring. Khalek was, indeed, telekinetically stopping their bullets while, at the same time, using the one of the gate room’s computers to dial the gate. As Mitchell, Teal’c, and Jack rounded the corner, the last chevron locked in place and the wormhole opened.

“Hey!” Jack shouted. “Over here!”

He started firing, as did Mitchell and Teal’c, but Khalek casually raised his hand, halting the bullets in midair and dropping them to the floor. It was then that Jack heard it: a single, sharp ping! of a rifle up on the maintenance catwalk near the ceiling of the gateroom. A bloom of red appeared between Khalek’s eyes. He didn’t fall, but he did appear… mildly puzzled.

Jack didn’t wait for him to figure out how to put his brains back together.

“Give him everything you’ve got!” he yelled to Mitchell, Teal’c, and the SFs. “Don’t stop until you run out of bullets!”

What was left of Khalek by the time everybody emptied their weapons wasn’t pretty, but since it had taken so much work to accomplish, Jack was privately rather proud of it. When the last clip ran out, he looked up, searching past the glare of the suspended lights, and found his guide crouched in the shadows, the sniper’s rifle he’d liberated from the armory on Jack’s (telepathic) instructions still aimed at the mess that had been Khalek.

Jack grinned at him. Tony grinned back.

Mitchell followed Jack’s look and gave Tony a half salute.

“Nice shot,” he said.

“Thanks,” Tony called down. Then he lowered his voice so that only Jack could hear and added, “Please don’t tell Gibbs I used a sniper rifle to take a shot that he could do with a beebee gun.”

Jack laughed, and Tony picked the rifle up and squirmed off the catwalk. Jack’s senses tracked him as he wriggled back through the baffling and climbed down the ladder in the other room. The SFs were checking the mess on the floor for signs of life and SG-1 was checking each other over when Tony finally reached his side. Jack immediately turned and drew Tony into a hard, searing kiss, his empty M9 still in his hand. Tony came to him willingly, opening his mouth and sucking eagerly on Jack’s tongue. One of the SFs let out a wolf whistle, and Mitchell laughed softly.

“Good job,” Jack said when they finally broke apart for air.

“How the hell did you know that was going to work?” Tony asked, leaning his forehead against Jack’s.

“I had a hunch,” Jack said. “Danny said he’d been grown in that lab, so no matter how fast he was learning or how many of Anubis’s memories he had, his body was still brand new. No muscle memory, no ingrained reflexes. I figured if we could take him by surprise—”

“— he wouldn’t be able to react in time,” Tony said. “Brilliant.”

“Hey,” Jack said, “They don’t give stars to trouble-makers like me just because I look pretty.”

“There’s something I have to tell you,” Tony said.

“Mmm?” Jack asked.

“Our accord? It’s deepened again. It’s third level now,” Tony said, sounding less upset than Jack would have expected— probably still a little high on the adrenaline.

“Huh,” Jack said.

He thought about it for a moment, then kissed Tony again, taking his time this time. Tony’s lips were the perfect combination of firm and yielding, and there was just the right amount of give and take between their tongues.

And, of course, he tasted amazing.

The kiss ended, and Jack pulled back a little.

“You guys!” he called to SG-1. “Get over here!”

“Jack!” Tony protested laughingly. “What—?”

Sam, Daniel, Teal’c, and Mitchell all crowded around and Jack turned to look at them, one arm still around Tony’s shoulders.

“I need witnesses,” he said.

“Witnesses for what, Jack?” Daniel asked, sounding wary.

“This,” Jack said, turning back to Tony and looking him in the eyes. “I pledge to guard thee as thou guardest me, and to stand at thy side as thou standest by mine,” he said, stumbling only the tiniest bit over the antiquated verb forms.

Tony’s green eyes widened and he let out a soft whoosh of breath. For a moment, Jack thought that he wouldn’t be able to answer, but then he swallowed and opened his mouth.

“I pledge to guard thee as thou guardest me, and to stand by thy side as thou standest by mine,” he said hoarsely.

He had barely gotten the last word out before Jack was pulling him in for yet a third kiss.

“What was that?” Mitchell murmured to Carter and Daniel.

“In the west, it’s called the Shield Brothers’ Pledge,” Daniel murmured back. “It’s part of the old sentinel and guide courtship rituals, but it’s only used under special circumstances. Rather than pledging guard and protect their guide in battle, which is the normal oath, the sentinel pledges to stand beside them. As an equal.”

“I find this very appropriate for General O’Neill and Tony DiNozzo,” Teal’c remarked.

“I agree,” Sam replied.

 

***

 

Jack snuffled a little and slapped sleepily at his pillow. For some reason, the damned thing refused to stay put, and it was aggravating him. A low thrum of laughter echoed pleasantly in his ear.

“Oh my God,” said low voice just above him. “This is too adorable.”

Jack opened his eyes.

He found himself in the familiar cabin of the C-21A (which, c’mon now, it was an off-the-shelf learjet, exactly who did the brass think they were kidding with the Air Force designation?) that he usually used when the Prometheus wasn’t available to beam him around. He was sitting in one of the double seats at the mini-table, half slumped over and drooling on…

Ah. That would be his guide.

“Wakey wakey, sleeping beauty,” Tony said. “Captain just radioed, we’re gonna be landing at Bolling in ten.”

“One more ‘adorable’ comment and I’ll— I’ll—” Jack frowned, unable to come up with a suitably terrible punishment that he could actually imagine carrying out.

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, laughing. “I’m shaking in my shoes, tough guy.”

Jack grumbled a little and sat up, scrubbing his hands over his face.

“Told you, I’m the brawn,” he mumbled into his hands.

“Wow,” Tony said. “Post-mission you is like a whole different animal, isn’t it? I can’t even describe to you how awesome this moment is.”

“Gimme a break,” Jack whined. “We’ve slept, like, eight out of the last forty-eight hours.”

He dropped his hands and looked over at his guide, who was frowning trying to work out the math. Considering that there were four time zones and three planets involved, that was no easy proposition.

“Actually, I think it may have been closer to ten out of fifty-t—” he began, but was silenced by Jack reaching over and clapping one hand over his mouth.

By the time they landed, Jack was fully functional again, although he was looking forward to another ten hours or so of uninterrupted sleep. However, he had realized while they were still in the air that they hadn’t had the conversation yet about where they were going to set up camp over the coming weeks. The accord had settled, as Rabb had promised, but still Jack wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of parting with his guide for very long. Working in separate places would be fine, though not ideal, but only if he knew Tony would be coming home to him.

Unfortunately, his utilitarian apartment was anything but a home. He’d had a home before, so he knew what one felt like, and his apartment wasn’t anything like it. He hadn’t even wanted to take Tony there that first night.

Jack was still mulling this problem over as they exited the jet and crossed the tarmac to the car Paul had arranged for them. It was already getting dark and Jack was keenly aware that, nap on the learjet notwithstanding, they seem to have mislaid a night’s sleep between cleanup at the Alpha Site, debriefing back at the SGC, and meeting the plane at Peterson.

Thank God Paul had sent the plane. If they’d had to take a military transport, Jack might have had to yell at somebody.

His musings were interrupted when they climbed into the Escalade SUV only to discover that, besides the driver and Paul, there were two other occupants in the back.

“Jesus Christ!” Tony yelped. “What they fuck are you two doing here?”

Chapter Text

“This is a nightmare,” Tony said quietly to Jack as they drove through the rush hour traffic.

For reasons that Tony had not been able to firmly come to grips with, they were heading, not towards his apartment, nor towards Jack’s, but instead, were driving towards Gibbs’s house. Gibbs himself, meanwhile, was currently in the back seat of the SUV glaring at Tobias Fornell.

“But— Fornell said they caught the guy,” Jack said.

Jack wasn’t dealing with any of this much better than Tony, although at least he had the advantage of not being the main character in this little situational comedy.

Apparently, while Tony had been off playing cowboys and aliens, everyone’s favorite little psychopathic lab tech Chip had tried to frame Tony for murder (and didn’t Tony wish he’d been a good little guide and filed that Guide Injunction Rabb had been so keen on right about now?). Using forensic samples deviously (and creepily) collected and constructed from things Tony had discarded in various waste baskets at the Navy Yard, dear old Chip had taken a pair of severed legs off the body of a Jane Doe from a hospital morgue and covered them with damning evidence. The motive was revenge for Tony getting him fired several years ago during that whole tainted evidence shitshow in Baltimore.

“No, not that,” Tony said to Jack. “Believe me, after a decade in law enforcement, I’m used to having people do really stupid things because I’m good at my job. No, I mean that.”

He gestured behind them to where Gibbs and Fornell were synchronizing their death glares. Gibbs was peeved with Fornell because, while both teams had been distracted by the wrong suspect, Abby had ended up alone with the real perpetrator and had briefly been held at knifepoint. Fornell was exasperated with Gibbs because this incident had ended with the perpetrator disarmed and trussed up with duct tape and Abby in the picture of health, so in his mind, no harm had actually been done. Tony was, of course, with Gibbs on this one— nobody got to hold Abby at knife-point— but he wasn’t about to get in the middle of this fight.

“It’s like being in the car while mom and dad are fighting,” Tony whispered.

“Which one’s mom?” Jack wondered, trying to lighten the mood.

“Gibbs,” Tony said fervently. “Definitely Gibbs. Fornell just yells. Gibbs yells, but he also does that whole ‘you’ve disappointed me’ thing. Classic mom. Plus, he’s way scarier— in the wild, it’s always the females with young you really have to watch out for.”

Granted, this analysis was based more on Spanish soap operas and nature documentaries than personal experience, but Tony still thought it was fairly sound.

“I heard that, DiNutzo,” Fornell growled, finally breaking the staring contest.

“And exactly what are you objecting to?” Tony demanded. “Did you want to be mom?”

“I’m plenty scary, kid,” Fornell said, glaring at Tony.

“Hey, it’s okay Fornell,” Tony said consolingly. “I mean, sure, compared to Gibbs you’re a big old puddy-cat, but nobody is as scary as Gibbs. You gotta love yourself for who you are, not judge yourself by impossible standards.”

“I don’t care whether you’ve got a fancy new sentinel hovering over you like an overgrown German Shepherd, I will hurt you,” Fornell said mildly.

“Lion,” Tony corrected. “Jack’s a lion. You know that. Get with the program, Fornell.”

“DiNozzo!” Gibbs said tersely. “Behave.”

Tony shut up and behaved.

“Here’s what I want to know,” Jack piped up. “How does all of this lead to us staying with Agent Gibbs tonight? From what I understand, the bad guy is in custody and the original ‘crime’ has proved to be the severing of a pair of legs from the body of a woman who died of natural causes. Where’s the danger here?”

Tony cocked his head at Jack. That was an excellent question.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“Alpha Sentinel Chegwidden was… a little miffed by the whole thing,” Fornell finally said.

“Miffed?” Gibbs said. “He was pissed.”

“And Alpha Guide Rabb may have— threatened a few people,” Fornell went on.

“Like the Director of the FBI,” Gibbs amplified.

“And the Director of NCIS,” Fornell added.

“And the people who handled the original case in Baltimore.”

“And every single person who dropped the ball between then and now to allow Charles Sterling to sneak by NCIS’s background checks in the first place.”

“Gather they thought we weren’t taking proper care a’ you,” Gibbs summed up, smirking at Tony, who huffed indignantly.

“Yes indeed,” Fornell said, nodding. “There was a definite vibe of ‘look after our guides better or we will bring down the wrath of God, Buddha, and Blair Sandburg on your heads.’”

“So, we’re staying at Agent Gibbs’s because Sentinel Chegwidden and Guide Rabb are on a tear and you think… what, feeding and sheltering us will get you brownie points?” Jack asked, apparently trying and failing to find the logic in this plan.

“Let’s just say we’re providing some protection from the fallout,” Fornell said. “Chegwidden and Rabb have every law enforcement agency and department from here to Maryland in an uproar, and we don’t want you two to get caught in the crossfire.”

“I thought it was an excellent solution, sir,” Paul put in from the front seat.

Jack’s head whipped around.

“You helped coordinate this?” he demanded.

“Yes sir,” Paul said calmly. “It appeared the most prudent course of action. Also, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for you and Agent Gibbs to discuss— the other matter.”

Paul’s expression was perfectly bland, but it was impossible not to notice the satisfaction in his empathic profile. The guy was up to something, and after hearing about his devious plan for the MCRT, Tony wasn’t about to underestimate him. Everyone in this car right now needed to be very, very afraid.

They reached Gibbs’s house about five minutes later. The driver got out and produced, seemingly from nowhere, two suitcases and a garment bag containing, Tony presumed, everything he and Jack would need to present themselves at their respective places of employment in the morning. Paul, meanwhile handed Jack two unmarked folders with a meaningful look. Then Gibbs, Tony, and Jack were smoothly and inexorably pushed out of the car and the SUV drove off.

“Jesus Christ,” Tony said weakly.

“C’mon,” Gibbs said. “Steak’s ready to go, and beer’s in the fridge.”

After a few beers and some truly excellent cowboy steaks, Tony felt a lot more mellow about the whole situation. He settled back on the sofa in Gibbs’s living room and listened with half an ear as Gibbs filled them in on the finer details of the case. Then, somehow, the subject changed and Gibbs was saying,

“Had an interesting conversation with Morrow Tuesday morning. Seems you and I are about to be hand-picked by the President to head up some kind of new investigative unit over at the Pentagon.”

Tony choked on his beer and Jack sat up straight beside him.

“What?” Tony coughed.

“What the hell?” Jack demanded. “I told Paul not to move on that until I’d talked to Tony!”

“Think things may have moved out of your hands,” Gibbs said mildly. “Morrow mentioned a briefing that’s supposed to happen Monday, and implied that the president was probably going to be making some decision based on it that would lead directly to us receiving an— offer— that we are being strongly encouraged to accept.”

“I— what the— gah!” Tony spluttered.

“Son of a gun,” Jack said in the manner of one who had come to a sudden realization.

“What?” Tony choked weakly.

“It’s like you were saying about that movie,” Jack said, “The one with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.”

“Men in Black ?” Tony said, bewildered.

“Morrow must have realized the same thing you did,” Jack said, “That the NID isn’t going to be able to fit the new criteria for the law enforcement agency dealing with— our kind of problems. He must have called Paul— maybe about that, maybe about something else— and Paul told him his plan. And Morrow agreed with Paul that you and Gibbs—”

“— would make the perfect real-life Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones,” Tony finished. “Holy shit.”

“Someone care to fill me in?” Gibbs asked quietly.

Tony gulped. Jack sighed and set aside his beer, then hauled himself to his feet and left the room, leaving Tony uncomfortably on the spot.

“I think—” Tony stammered, “See— it’s all to do with that top secret program Jack’s running out of the Pentagon. They want to— well, I just kind of… showed up as Jack’s guide, but then they read me in and— see, apparently, they haven’t had the time or the personnel to put together an in-house investigative unit, but oh man, do they need one, it’s not even funny— and we kind of come… I dunno, ready-made? The deluxe federal investigator starter pack?”

Jack returned to the living room with two folders and a pen. Tony’s eyes widened as he recognized the folders from his own debriefing at Homeworld Command four days ago. Jack set the first folder in front of Gibbs and proceeded to give him a very brief version of the  ‘talk-and-you-die’ shpiel. Gibbs listened, stone-faced, then took the pen and signed the NDAs. When he finished, Jack handed him the second folder. Then, for the second time in four days, Tony listened to the bizarre and outrageous story that began:

“So, that’s the stargate. It was discovered in the 1930s…”

Jack told the story, and Gibbs read through the briefing packet. It took twenty-eight minutes. Gibbs’s expression never changed and his empathic profile remained solid as a rock. Tony, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck, fidgeting beside Jack until the sentinel finally had to pull him into his arms and stroke his hair to calm him down. All Tony could think was, I’m going to lose him. Tony was pretty firmly caught in the middle of this whole aliens/stargate/top secret program madhouse, but Gibbs was under no obligation to follow him down the rabbit hole.

Gibbs finished the last page of the briefing packet and closed the folder, setting it down neatly on the coffee table. He looked up and waited patiently until Tony could bring himself to meet his eyes.

“I’m in,” he said softly.

It was then that, for the second time that week, that Tony broke down sobbing.

 

***

 

“Is there anything you would like to add, gentlemen?” Director Jenny Shepard said, eying Tony and Gibbs across her desk with the air of a conductor whose lead soloists had just delivered less than a command performance.

They had just delivered an accounting of the past four days— minus the classified details of where exactly Tony had been since Monday, which had not gone over well with Madam Director— and it had been… gruelling. Tony had thought he would get off easy, since he hadn’t even been there when the investigation went down, but Rabb had happened to mention that Tony had been about to file a Guide Injunction on good old Chip, which had put him in the hot seat right alongside Gibbs.

“Actually, yes,” Gibbs said calmly.

Tony gave his boss a disbelieving look. All he wanted to do was make his escape and salvage what was left of his nerves. After being formally interviewed by Fornell, then grilled by Director Shepard, he was already frazzled, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.

Director Shepard raised one perfectly groomed eyebrow.

“Oh?” she said archly.

“DiNozzo’s new sentinel, General O’Neill,” Gibbs said.

“Yes, I received the bonding paperwork,” Shepard said, and oh, she was not happy— Tony didn’t know if it was the administrative headache or having one of her lead agents so closely linked to the Pentagon, but her empathic profile read ‘royally pissed.’ “Congratulations, Agent DiNozzo.”

Despite the righteous snit she was in, she didn’t turn a hair.

“Thank you, Madam Director,” Tony said faintly.

“You know what O’Neill is doing over at the Pentagon?” Gibbs asked.

“I gather that he is heading up a top secret program that has been classified need-to-know,” Shepard said cooly. “So far, I haven’t found anyone in the law enforcement community who actually needs to know.”

“Uhuh,” Gibbs said. “Well, Morrow gave me a heads up that the program is going to have to fill that gap in their operations ASAP— orders from the top. And, because of its connection to the General, one of the top picks for the job is the MCRT. Gather there’s still some things to hash out, but what’s pretty definite is, some time in the next few months, the president is going to sign an executive order transferring at least me and DiNozzo, and possibly McGee and David, over to O’Neill’s program.”

Director Shepard let out a breath.

“I see,” she said.

If she had been pissed before, it was nothing to what she was feeling now. Tony wished that the floor would, in the time-honored tradition, open and swallow him up.

“Just wanted to give you a heads up,” Gibbs said.

“Thank you, Jethro,” Shepard said. “I think that will be all for now.”

Both men made to stand, but Shepard’s rich voice interrupted them.

“Agent DiNozzo,” she said, “Can you spare a moment?”

Tony sat back down with the air of one awaiting his own execution. Gibbs gave him a solid, reassuring look and headed for the door.

Tony waited.

“Agent DiNozzo,” Shepard said, fixing him with her gorgeous, implacable dark stare, “Would you mind telling me why you waited so long to file a Guide Injunction on Mr. Sterling?”

Tony blinked, momentarily taken aback. He had thought she was going to ream him out for the getting Gibbs mixed up in the whole president/task force/Pentagon fiasco. She couldn’t give him an shit over bonding, but she could make her displeasure known at having him drag her lead agent down along with him.

“Um…” he said intelligently.

“Because Guide Fornell assures me that Mr. Sterling’s empathic profile was enough to give him cause for concern upon first meeting him,” Shepard continued, “And you had far more extensive contact with him than Guide Fornell did. Yet, according to Alpha Guide Rabb, you only agreed to file an injunction against Mr. Sterling this past weekend, at Alpha Guide Rabb’s particular behest.”

Tony winced.

“Honestly, Madam Director, I didn’t want to make any trouble,” he said. “Whiners and tattle-tales don’t tend to make it very far in law enforcement, even if they’re guides. As I’ve discovered first-hand— that’s why I ended up getting transferred out of Peoria.”

“I see,” Shepard said softly, leaning back in her chair.

Her empathic profile had shifted again, now leaning more towards pensive than angry.

“For what it’s worth, I am sorry,” Tony said. “Even before all this went down, Guide Rabb made me— aware that I’d made a bad choice by not bringing this to the agency sooner. Of course, neither of us could have predicted that the consequences would be this—” he waved a hand weakly, trying to indicate the bizarre situation they found themselves in.

“Farcical?” Shepard offered with a small quirk of her crimson lips.

“Yeah, that works,” Tony said with a wan smile.

Shepard’s expression became stern once more.

“I agree with Alpha Guide Rabb that you should have brought this to our attention as soon as Mr. Sterling was hired,” she said. “You are a federal agent and it is your duty to protect both the people under our jurisdiction and the members of this agency. In this case, you failed.”

Tony winced.

“I agree, and I will accept the consequences of my actions,” he said stiffly.

Shepard held up a hand.

“No,” she said, “This is not a formal reprimand, Agent DiNozzo. While I agree with Alpha Guide Rabb, I am also aware that our… culture here in law enforcement makes breaking ranks in such a way very difficult, especially in a case where making a complaint will involve the complainant in— internal politics.”

Tony shifted uncomfortably at the oblique reference to Gibbs and Shepard’s contest to see which was bigger: Gibbs’s balls or Shepard’s ovaries.

“No,” Shepard continued, “This is an informal discussion to determine where the critical failure in our lines of communication occurred. You have admitted that you should have spoken up sooner, but I am concerned that you lacked the trust in our agency necessary to do so. So I would like to ask, off the record: would you have filed a Guide Injunction sooner under Director Morrow?”

Tony let out a long, slow breath. He hesitated, trying to figure out how to phrase this as diplomatically as he could.

“When I was first hired? No,” he said at last. “After I’d been here for six months? Yes, probably. Depending on whether the MCRT’s solve rate was up high enough that week.”

Shepard nodded.

“So it is your opinion that trust is developed over time,” she said, “And that you have simply not yet had enough time to develop your trust in me. Or failing that, to know how to make sure I am in a good mood me when you need to tell me something that I won’t like.”

Her mouth quirked again.

“Pretty much,” Tony said, with an answering smile. “But that’s just me. Like I said, I’ve gotten burned before, so I’m not very trusting. And other people,” he flicked his eyes towards the door that Gibbs had just exited through, “Don’t have any problem delivering bad news, good mood or not. So I still think me not speaking up is on me.”

“As I said, I do not disagree with that assessment, Agent DiNozzo,” Shepard said. “However, while the burden is, indeed, on our agents to do what is right, regardless of pushback from above, we have to be practical. If we do not create an environment where they feel reasonably safe speaking up about problems within the agency, most of them will remain silent. It is a simple fact.” She paused and offered him a small smile. “I think that will be all, Agent DiNozzo,” she said, not unkindly.

“Madam Director,” Tony said, nodding and getting up.

He headed for the door, but her voice stopped him as he laid his hand on the handle:

“Agent DiNozzo.”

He turned.

“Yes ma’am?”

“I understand that your remaining time with us may be brief,” she said, her manner unthreatening, but hard as steel, “But, for however long you are I here, if you have— misgivings about something within this agency, I want you to come to me. Immediately. Is that understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Tony said.

He turned and slipped out the door with as much haste as was decent under the circumstances. As dressing downs went, that had been one of the more gruesome ones he’d ever received, precisely because it had not involved any yelling or threats of dire punishment.

Reasonable people were so much scarier than unreasonable people.

Gibbs was waiting for him outside the Director’s office. Tony stopped in front of Cynthia’s desk, completely caught off guard, but Gibbs got him moving again, herding him, not towards the stairs down into the bullpen, but towards the elevator banks.

“Thanks boss,” Tony said as Gibbs ushered him into the car and hit the “Down” button.

He was completely unsurprised when Gibbs stopped the elevator before it reached the bullpen.

“How you doing, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked.

Tony let out a slightly hysterical laugh.

“Oh, you know, just this side of ‘completely losing my fucking shit,’” he said lightly. Then his mood shifted abruptly and he looked up at Gibbs anxiously, panic welling in his throat. “You don’t have to do this, you know,” he said. “Leave, I mean. I’ll be fine, and NCIS— it’s your agency, boss. You’ve been pretty clear over the years that the only reason you’d leave is ‘cause you’re in one of Ducky’s body bags.”

“Not married to this job, Tony,” Gibbs said, voice uncharacteristically gentle. “Just never had a reason to leave.”

“And this is a good enough reason?” Tony asked, his voice horribly thin and plaintive.

He knew that his boss could hear what he was really saying loud and clear: I’m a good enough reason?

“‘Yes,” Gibbs said calmly.

Tony caught his breath and swallowed the giant lump in his throat. He summoned up a slightly tremulous smile.

“Okay then,” he said brightly.

Gibbs hit the “Down” button again, and Tony, buoyed up by a sudden bright, happy feeling in his chest, prepared to be reunited with his team after meeting his sentinel, going on a top secret mission to another planet, and being framed for murder.

Abby was going to hug the stuffing out of him.

He kind of couldn’t wait.

 

***

 

“So let me get this straight,” Tony said as he and Jack climbed the stairs towards his humble— but tasteful and stylish— abode. “We’re going to try to cram two grown men into one twin bed because, and I quote, you ‘haven’t finished moving in yet’? Jack, you said you’ve been in Washington for months. And why does it matter, anyways? A bed is a bed.”

“It’s a— ah— sentinel thing,” Jack said, oddly bashful, as Tony dug out his keys and opened the door to his apartment. “My apartment just doesn’t feel like my territory, so I don’t feel— ah— safe keeping you there.”

“Keeping me?” Tony protested, dropping his bag by the door and shedding his jacket as he walked into the living room, flicking on lights as he went. “I’m not a pet, Jack.”

“No, no, I know,” Jack said, following Tony into the kitchen, looking around as he went. “It’s just an— instinct thing. Everywhere we’ve stayed so far— even the Alpha Site— has, well, belonged to someone I trust, so to speak. It’s been someone’s territory, someone I have faith in. But my apartment’s just… in sentinel terms, it’s some random cave in the middle of nowhere.”

“Jesus,” Tony said, shaking his head and opening his refrigerator to survey the contents. “Are we going to have to buy a house, like, right now? Because I am not ready for joint property ownership yet. I’m just getting to the point where I’m not panicking over the idea of waking up with the same person two nights in a row. Which, it sounds like, we will be doing in my twin bed until we can get a new one delivered.”

“… Sorry?” Jack offered sheepishly.

Tony shut the fridge decisively and opened the freezer. Jackpot! Extra lasagna that he had frozen during his last weekend-off-cooking-spree. He pulled the container out and went digging in the cabinets for a decent bottle of wine.

“No salad, I’m afraid— haven’t been shopping in a… very long time— but the lasagna’s damn good,” he said. “Hope red’s okay— white gives me the mother of all headaches.” He found an acceptable bottle and began searching for a corkscrew. “As for your appalling lack of judgment in living arrangements, you can redeem yourself by figuring out how to get a bed delivered on a weekend. Or, realistically, by having one of Paul’s minions figure out how to get a bed delivered on the weekend.”

“Sure,” Jack said, visibly relaxing. “You betcha. Hey, can I help?”

Tony was, at this point, punching buttons on the oven while, at the same time, trying to pry the lid off the container with the lasagna.

“Yeah,” Tony said, gesturing to the wine, “Open that and get the glasses. Third cupboard from the right, second shelf.”

 

***

 

Tony awoke to bright, mid morning sunlight and the warm, snuggly sensation of having an entire sentinel wrapped around him, snuffling quietly in his ear. He took a few sleepy moments to simply luxuriate in the experience, but a particular sensation soon caught his attention. Due to the small size of the bed and Jack’s general cuddliness, Tony’s sentinel was pretty much plastered against him from his neck to his heels. Which gave Tony a front-row seat, so to speak, when it came to feeling and appreciating Jack’s morning hard-on.

Tony groaned quietly, trying— and failing— to keep his hips from thrusting back in reaction to this discovery.

This really wasn’t fair. Celibacy was not in his nature.

Damn it. This was ridiculous. He was not going to spend an unspecified number of months torturing himself.

With determination, Tony wriggled out of Jack’s arms and pushed the covers back, turning over to look at his sentinel. Jack, like Tony, was wearing a t-shirt and boxers, which did nothing to hide how mouth-wateringly attractive he was. Tony leaned down and pressed his mouth firmly against Jack’s, waking the sentinel up with the filthiest kiss he could manage.

“Mmmnnn,” Jack rumbled sleepily when their lips finally parted. “What a way to wake up.”

“How do you feel about me giving you a blowjob?” Tony asked matter-of-factly.

Immediately, Jack was wide awake, staring up at Tony with sharp, inquiring blue eyes.

“Never gonna say no to that,” he said. “But you sure? The accord—”

“Can go screw itself,” Tony said. “I am not going to live like a monk for the next however many months. And besides, all the available wisdom says that, without— um— penetration, we shouldn’t actually bond.”

“And we both know that’s just so much chatter,” Jack said. “Female-female pairs bond just fine, so penetration is definitely not the be-all end-all.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Tony said impatiently. “But it’s a— uh— expectation thing, isn’t it? We have— um—” with difficulty, he tried to dredge up the information from his S&G classes back in college, “— certain ideas about what constitutes full-on sex and the bond happens when those criteria are met…?”

“Except so far, our bond hasn’t acted anything like it’s supposed to,” Jack pointed out.

Tony couldn’t help but notice that his hard-on had not softened one bit throughout the entire discussion.

“We— fooled around while we were at the Alpha Site and nothing happened,” Tony said. “At least, not because of that.” He didn’t know why exactly they were now the bewildered owners of a third level accord— and he really needed to ask Rabb about these spontaneous level changes when he had the chance— but he was pretty sure it wasn’t because of Jack talking dirty to him on P4X-650 and him embarrassing himself in response. “I’m willing to take the risk.”

Jack grinned.

“I love taking risks,” he said.

Then he reached up and yanked Tony down into another kiss. It was slow and hot and sweet and dirty, and Tony moaned. Eventually, Jack let him pull away, and Tony slid down his sentinel’s body until he could hook his fingers under the elastic of Jack’s boxers. He hesitated, looking up at Jack.

“I should probably mention, I’ve never done this before,” he said, slightly sheepishly. “Not as the, ah, active partner.”

Jack groaned and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Jesus,” he said, his voice low and gravelly. “You can’t just say things like that Tony. It makes my brain go all sorts of places it really shouldn’t.”

“Oh?” Tony murmured seductively, beginning to slide Jack’s boxers down. “Like where?”

Jack sat up on his elbows to watch, his eyes bright and avid.

“Like, how fucking hot it is that I’m the first guy you’ve done this with,” he said huskily. “And whether I’ll be your first when we finally get around to doing other things— oh fuck!”

Tony might be a novice, but he’d always been the kind of person who jumped into a new situation with both feet and then figured it out once he got there. He didn’t try and take Jack’s whole cock at once— he might be an amateur, but he’d gotten enough bad blow jobs to have a pretty good idea what not to do, at least, not without plenty of practice. Instead, he took as much as he could and wrapped his hand around the rest. At first, he just sucked gently, getting used to the feel and the taste. Then, when he thought he’d gotten a handle on things (okay, bad pun), he pulled back, then pushed down again. Jack groaned deep in his chest and flopped back on the bed.

Tony smiled around him.

He found a rhythm, then, when Jack was worked up to the point of whining, pulled off and raised his head.

“Jack?” he said softly.

“Christ Jesus, what?” Jack grated out.

“You will be my first,” Tony whispered.

Tony lowered his head and took Jack in his mouth again. All he had to do was suck lightly and Jack was coming with a helpless cry. Tony swallowed as much in surprise as by design, but it wasn’t that bad— Tony was reminded of green olives— so he kept going.

He pulled off as soon as Jack stopped coming— in his opinion, there was absolutely nothing worse than overstimulation— and Jack, showing surprising coordination for a guy who’d just had his brains sucked out, sat up and grabbed him, pulling Tony back down on top of him and wrapping his arms around him like a giant squid.

“Fuck,” he rasped in Tony’s ear.

Tony laughed into Jack’s chest.

“You liked that, huh?” he asked.

“You have no idea,” Jack said, his voice still low and raw. “And you are an evil bastard in bed, you little shit.”

“Hey, I use what I’ve got,” Tony said smugly.

“Including the fact that I am apparently a territorial asshole when it comes to you,” Jack grumbled. “Seriously, I should not get off on the fact that I’m the first guy you’ve blown. Or that, when we bond, I’ll be the first guy you let fuck you.”

Tony shivered and squirmed a little. He was painfully hard, but he didn’t want to break the post-coital mood by trying to get off. Having his sentinel talking about bonding and fucking was not helping his situation, however.

Jack picked up on his discomfort.

“Can you hang on for five minutes?” he asked. “I should have enough brain cells functioning by then to return the favor.”

“Of course,” Tony said indignantly. “Despite my— uh— less than stellar showing so far, my stamina is just fine.”

Jack gave a— rather dirty— laugh.

Ten minutes later, Tony thought— with the small part of his brain that still could think— that he really shouldn’t have made such a cocky statement. He hadn’t known Jack very long, but he knew enough about him to know that the sentinel would take that as a personal challenge. They were standing in the shower, hot water pouring luxuriously over them, while Jack slowly and carefully washed every single inch of Tony’s skin with slow, languorous strokes. So far, he hadn’t even touched any of Tony’s erogenous zones— Tony was pretty sure he was avoiding them on purpose, and exactly which of them was the evil bastard in this relationship?— but Tony was already so turned on that he was little more than a moaning, trembling mess.

“Please,” he managed to get out, his pride and dignity suddenly far less important than ending the torture. “Please, Jack.”

“What do you need, Tony?” Jack murmured, pulling Tony against his hard, wet body so he could whisper into his ear. “Tell me what you need.”

“I need—” Tony stuttered, “I need— your hand, Jack. Your hand on my cock. God, fuck, shit!”

“Okay,” Jack said, and thank God, he wasn’t gloating. “Whatever you need, Tony. I’ll give you whatever you need.”

He held Tony firmly against him with one hand while sliding the other down to wrap around Tony’s straining erection. Tony moaned in relief and slumped against Jack, allowing his sentinel full rein over his body. Jack did not disappoint his trust, jerking him off with gentle, but firm strokes that made him want to coo, come, and cry in equal measure.

He did the first two, eventually, but managed to avoid the third, although it felt so good, it was a near thing.

 

***

 

“I cannot believe I’m doing this,” Tony muttered, nervously adjusting his tie.

“You’ll be fine,” Jack said bracingly. “It’s just the president. You should try briefing the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Now that’s scary.”

Tony, for some reason, did not feel reassured.

They were standing in the waiting room of the Oval Office, Jack in full dress uniform, Tony is one of his more expensive suits. In Tony’s hands was a folder with the Homeworld Command logo containing the results of the past week’s— could you really call finding an insane alien clone while hanging out with a bunch of space explorers research?

The door to the Oval Office opened and Ephraim Braverman poked his head in.

“The president is ready for you,” he said blandly.

Tony forced down his nausea and put on his most charming, confident smile.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

 

 

 

Author’s Notes:

It is slightly unnerving that more people have read The Stargate Protocols in the 24 hours since it was posted than, according to general (but contested) wisdom, the human brain can comfortably think about as separate and unique individuals. As I understand it, after reaching about 250, the brain has to lump people together in groups to keep them straight, and somewhere in the tens of thousands, it just gives up and stops trying (I ended up reading about that when I was trying to figure out the size of an average hunter-gatherer tribe so I could figure out about how many sentinels and guides there would be per capita; even assuming that not every tribe had one of each all the time, the answer is, quite a lot).

Once again, thank you for the wonderful and overwhelmingly supportive response.

The Stargate Protocols gave me more trouble than either The Fourteenth Amendment or Accordance— to go with my metaphor from The Fourteenth Amendment’s Author’s Notes, if stories are like children that the author raises and sends out into the world to live their own life, The Stargate Protocols was definitely the loveable but high-maintenance child that never sleeps, has no fear, and gets into everything. This is not entirely surprising. It is (almost exactly) twice as long as either of its prequels, and involves a correspondingly greater number of characters and plot points, so there’s a lot more to keep track of and a lot more that can go wrong.

Here are some of the major challenges I came up against trying to write The Stargate Protocols. Once again, most, if not all, of the significance and meaning in the story is something that it and the readers cooked up between them. I didn’t put it there on purpose (more on that in a minute).

 

The Name

Names are important. They are short, easily thought up, and generally don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves, but they color how we think about a person, place, or story. A good name, for me, is one that I remember easily, but don’t have to think about too hard— it just fits (several of my romantic partners have had names that did not fall into this category; it is impossible to say whether that is connected to the fact that they were my romantic partners in the past tense). Almost every story I’ve ever written, from when I was first learning to write the alphabet to the present, has gone through multiple names in the course of its evolution. For example, just in this series, The Fourteenth Amendment spent most of its life prior to being published on AO3 under the file name Equal Justice Under Law, while Accordance had the temporary title Men in Black vs. the X-Files (I originally thought that I was going to get to the scene where Tony is read into the Stargate Program in Accordance). But I have to say that, even by these standards, The Stargate Protocols was a special little snowflake.

It started out with the provisional title Disclosure. Like Men in Black vs. the X-Files, this was always meant to be temporary, although, as with Equal Justice Under Law, it did make its way into the final draft as a chapter title. It then became The Stargate Brief, and that is where the trouble started. Although it’s obvious where I got the name, considering the surplus of briefings in the plot, it got inextricably associated in my head with John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief. Thereafter, I could not think of the title of this story without thinking of it as an allusion to the name of Grisham’s crime thriller, which meant that I couldn’t be content unless I could make it a perfect parallel. In other words, unless I could come up with the person, place, thing, or concept in my story that held the same position and significance as the pelicans did in Grisham’s book. This was, of course, my own neurosis at work, not anything that anyone else would care about, but most of my writing is dictated and constrained by the eclectic and convoluted way my head operates, so it’s a little late to cry foul now.  

As you may imagine, this endeavor was doomed from the start.

There just weren’t any pelicans (of course there weren’t, this is a completely different story). I tried a variety of nouns— some proper, some not— but nothing was quite right. The closest I came was The Spielberg Brief, because the problem Tony identifies when he is read into the program is that not even Steven Spielberg could sell this particular alien movie. But I kind of hated it and it didn’t appease my neurosis, so that was a complete loss.

Finally, an embarrassingly long time later, I did what I should have done the moment I noticed my unreasonable fixation and got rid of “brief” in the title. Which is how the story became The Stargate Protocols. If I were a reader, I would think that The Stargate Brief was a fine title— perhaps even a better one— so I’m sorry that my capricious brain was not having any of it. We will all just have to make do.

 

Action!

One of the readers of Accordance commented that that story felt like an episode to them.

Now, as I’ve said many times over the course of these Author’s Notes, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that what readers get out of these stories is probably not anything that I put into them, at least, not on purpose, but this comment really surprised me. Because from my point of view, in order to be an episode, Accordance would have to have some kind of action in it, and from a directorial standpoint, nothing actually happens. If it weren’t for the first scene where Jack is in his apartment, it would actually make a decent Greek drama— one place, one time, one plotline, no actual action onstage.

So imagine my sheepishness when I went back and looked at Accordance and realized that that reader was absolutely right. The pacing, the shape of the story arc, the way the characters interacted, and even the five part organization, all fit to the structure and timing of a TV episode. Furthermore, let’s face it, not all episodes— of any show— are jam-packed with action. There’s plenty that are overwhelmingly character-based and take place in a single location at a single time. I just hadn’t thought about it before then.

So when I say that, if I’m being clever, chances are I’m not doing it intentionally, this is what I mean.

Now, ironically, The Stargate Protocols has everything that Accordance lacked to make it a TV episode in my original estimation, but it isn't episodic. It moves around a lot, there’s a lot of different internal story arcs, and, while there’s still proportionately way more dialogue, there’s also quite a bit of non-verbal activity, but it isn't an episode. The most you could say is that it could be a two-parter, but even then, the pacing is slightly wrong and the story arcs don't quite peak at the right points. None of which is a problem, I just find it funny.

No, the problem was the action, which , up until now, I had managed to avoid writing in this series without anybody seeming to notice or care. Now, it's not that I can't write action, I can, but it doesn’t come as easily to me as dialogue does. While with dialogue, I usually end up with more than I need and have to do outtakes, with action scenes, I generally have to go back and add things (fortunately, my medium is print, not film, so I don’t have to go track down the actors and get the film and sound guys back on the set to shoot new footage).

So in this story, I confess, I struggled.

There is no one place that I can point to and say, here, this was the problem. It was just a continual challenge that kept coming up— every few pages, I'd get stuck on an action sequence or a scene change and have to work through it— and it still sticks in my head as one of my major experiences of writing The Stargate Protocols.

 

The Canon AU

It came as a surprise to me when I realized, halfway through The Stargate Protocols, that I have never written an AU of actual canon events before. I felt somewhat like Fezzik in The Princess Bride, finally figuring out why the Man in Black was giving me so much trouble. Because it’s different than writing events that are before, after, or parallel to canon, and it’s hard .

At least for me.

I already knew, because of Tony and Rabb’s conversation in Accordance, that there was at least a minor AU of “Frame Up” coming, but the decision to do an AU of “Prototype” was a much more involved process. It all started because I really, really wanted to see Tony go through the gate. Call it my impulse to do fanfiction of fanfiction, but there’s a lot of— really great— NCIS/Stargate crossovers out there that end before the NCIS characters actually go offworld (there’s also a lot of great crossovers where the NCIS characters do go offworld, so really, I’m not complaining). I’m not actually going to write sequels to those stories though, so instead, I made my story go offworld.

I played around with the idea of writing my own a mission, but I scrapped that idea for several reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to see Tony really interact with the Stargate Universe, and to do that, I kind of needed to see him interact with something that actually happened in canon. Which led to the second reason, which was that, if I wrote a new mission, I wouldn’t really be able to see how Tony’s presence was changing things. Finally, I wanted to use this opportunity to see how Tony and Jack worked together as a sentinel and guide pair, which wouldn’t quite “pop” as much if it were part of a brand new plotline. So I decided to send Jack and Tony on a mission from canon. “Prototype” was sort of a default choice because it’s the last real stand-alone episode in the Season Nine story arc, but it turned out to work incredibly well, since it referred back to the Goa’uld, who were phased out in Season Nine, but were definitely Jack’s personal nemesis, and to Anubis’s attack on Earth, which was one of the main points that struck Tony when he was read into the Stargate Program.

Almost immediately, I started having trouble keeping track of things. It turns out that my brain really struggles with AU on this level. I couldn’t hold what was canon and what was AU in my head most of the time, which was how the bold font came into play (my apologies to readers who found this annoying; as a reader, I’m ambivalent about it, but as a writer, it is a set of training wheels that I’m just not equipped to do without at this point). I also had trouble finding a balance— I found myself either getting locked into canon, or going too far afield and defeating the purpose of using the canon in the first place.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t fun. I loved writing the scene with Jack and Richard Woolsey arguing over whether to freeze Khalek again— in canon, it’s Richard Woolsey and General Landry, and General Landry just doesn’t have the power or the style to tell Woolsey off properly, although ultimately he, like Jack, ends up saying that Woolsey and the IOA can go to hell. And adding in the Sentinel/Guide stuff was awesome, not to mention working really well in that particular episode. So ultimately, while this was difficult, it was rewarding, and I ended up loving how the original episode and the AU played off each other.

 

Tony’s Brief for the President

Okay, so, in the Author’s Notes to Accordance, I mentioned that I chose Jack to be Tony’s sentinel because of a scene I had in my head that was specific to the NCIS/Stargate SG-1 crossover. This scene, which ended up fading into relative obscurity in the final draft— mostly thanks to Paul Davis who, as a reader pointed out, kind of stole this show— was the one where Tony asks what happens if some alien parks a spaceship over the White House like in Independence Day, and goes on to say that, while the average person on the street would hope that a secret government organization devoted to dealing with alien threats would look more like Men in Black, what the Stargate Program actually has looks like a knock-off of the Syndicate in The X-Files.

That was it. That was the whole scene.

The basic idea stayed the same from way back before I wrote The Fourteenth Amendment until I finally wrote the opening chapters of The Stargate Protocols, but as time went on, the surrounding circumstances changed. For a while, I thought maybe this conversation happened in some sort of conference— a conference with whom wasn’t exactly clear, although there was one hilarious scenario where Tony got dragged along to a meeting with the president because he was Jack’s guide and ended up opening his mouth and sticking his foot in it. It definitely became a pivotal in Tony’s introduction to the program, shaping how he fit into Jack’s world and what his role there was going to be. Finally, it became the catalyst for a briefing that Jack had Tony give which, among other things, highlighted the liability and general irrelevance of the NID, even post-Season Six house cleaning exercise. This would then make way for Tony— and, it turned out, Gibbs, because while the rest of the MCRT is, apparently, expendable to me, that partnership is stuck in my head— to become agents in a new, much more viewer-friendly, and generally much more useful branch of federal law enforcement devoted to dealing with problems of an extraterrestrial nature.

The problem was, none of the speeches I wrote for Tony were truly convincing enough to inspire the US government to get rid of an entire super-secret spy organization and replace it with a new, less KGB-esque one. Also, the NID issue alone wasn’t enough to make Jack make Tony present his analysis of the program to the president, which is what this would ultimately take. Jack would have no problem springing an impromptu briefing given by his new guide on the president, but he was turning out to be more protective of Tony than I was expecting, so he needed more of a push to put his guide in that kind of position.

In the end, I dealt with the problem in two ways. First, I didn’t actually show the briefing— either the initial one to the “underlings” (and wow, I had forgotten how freaking convoluted things get in Washington— I mean, just for instance, the Senate and the House are both part of Congress, but we call Senate representatives senators and House representatives… congresspeople?), or the eventual one to the president. I figured that the readers’ imaginations would create a much better presentation than I could write anyways, so I assumed that Tony gave the equivalent of the Gettysburg Address and moved on. Second, I made it into two briefings and shifted the responsibility for the one with the president from Jack to Ephraim Braverman, my fictional White House Chief of Staff. This led to a lot of very rich material in terms of how Jack and Tony’s relationship evolved, why exactly they needed to go to the SGC so soon, and what Tom Morrow’s role in all of this was, so it turned out to be a good thing in the end, but for a while there, I was very confused.

 

So, there we are: some of the hiccough in the process of writing what ultimately (after much angst) became The Stargate Protocols. Once again, thanks for reading and enjoying!

AthenaAstrea