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The Guardian

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Kinsey wasted no time in turning the conversation nasty. He sneered at Teal'c. "Who gave you permission to put the symbol for Earth on your forehead?"

"I required no permission except from that of the System Lord I serve," Teal'c said imperturbably.

"I suppose by that," Kinsey spat out like he'd swallowed a bug, "you speak of Dr. Jackson?" His question was followed by a scathing look in Daniel's direction.

Jack grit his teeth, sure he was going to need dental work by the time this meeting was over.

"I do," Teal'c answered again, his tone darkening, eyes growing flinty.

"I recognize no Lord in this room except the one true God," Kinsey intoned. He glared at Daniel. "You, sir, are an abomination."

Teal'c stood up so fast his chair went flying. "You will not speak to him thus," he commanded.

"I'll speak any way I wish," Kinsey said. "All of you may be fooled by what's going on here, but I'm not. Dr. Jackson's allegiance has always been suspect, between his time in Egypt and then his marriage to that woman from Abydos, if you can call it a marriage…"

Carter gasped. "Senator," she protested.

Kinsey kept right on talking, "…as it certainly wasn't sanctioned by my God, or by any duly recognized minister of the United States of America."

"Senator," Hammond broke in, his hand up to keep Carter and Teal'c from saying or doing anything. "I'd suggest you leave that subject alone. You have no right to comment on Dr. Jackson's personal relationships."

Kinsey shook his hand at Hammond as if to smite him. "Afraid I'll bring up the fact that after marrying someone from another planet, he's now engaged in a homosexual affair with another alien? And this is who you choose to lead us in our holy war?"

"Kinsey," Jack growled, unable to keep his mouth shut another second.

Like a dog with a bone, Kinsey continued his tirade, his attention back on Daniel. "You don't represent me, Dr. Jackson. You never have and you never will. And that alien inside of you will never be anything but an enemy that should be destroyed. If I had my way, I'd have that thing pulled out of you for vivisection, lock you in a cell and throw away the key."

Daniel's eyes began to glow.

Oh, shit, Jack thought.

Teal'c was livid. "You touch him," he snarled, "and I will--"

"Teal'c," Jack said sharply. All they needed was for Teal'c to actually threaten the Senator and Kinsey would use all the power at his disposal to get Teal'c locked in a cell as well. For a long moment, Jack wasn't sure Teal'c would heed his unspoken command to shut up and sit down, but finally Teal'c begrudgingly picked up his chair and sat down. "Senator," Jack said, wanting to vomit at having to even pretend to be nice to him, "Daniel's among friends here. You might want to watch what you say."

"Are you threatening me?" Kinsey asked with a please-say-yes smile on his face, staring first at Jack, then Teal'c, then Daniel--or Junior--as his eyes were still glowing. He turned back to Hammond. "As far as I'm concerned, this command center is in a foothold situation."

"You'd have to take that up with the President," Hammond said, his eyes dark with annoyance, "as he is not only aware of the situation, but also supports it."

The door opened and Costello, Waite, Sandler, and Morrison came in, followed by Vidrine. All their eyes were glowing as well.

Kinsey's eyes widened in alarm, and he let out a slightly manic laugh. "You," he said, pointing at Hammond, "have let the barbarians in the gate, and I will be amongst those cheering when they take you away to hang you for treason."

"You," Hammond shot right back, having finally lost his composure, "have outstayed your welcome. General Vidrine, perhaps you would be so kind as to escort Senator Kinsey off base?"

"Gladly," Vidrine said, his eyes no longer glowing, but still irate at the source of Daniel and Junior's fear and anger.

"You will rue the day you let these aliens manipulate you this way," Kinsey said, almost frothing at the mouth in his impotent anger. "And you," he challenged Daniel, "you will be punished by the Lord Almighty for your arrogance."

Teal'c was standing again, and Costello's and Sandler's eyes were glowing with fury.

Jack could see everything quickly going to hell in a hand basket, and the only thing that kept it from doing so was the fact that Daniel somehow managed to keep it together. "Stop," he said to Costello and Sandler, with a look at Vidrine. "Violence is not the answer. Senator Kinsey is welcome to his opinion."

Kinsey sneered at him. "I don't need your approbation, Dr. Jackson. Do not believe for one second that I am vulnerable to your forked tongue."

"All right. Party's over," Jack said, standing. He'd had enough.

Hammond was standing as well, gesturing at Vidrine who put his hand around Kinsey's arm and, with a grip that Kinsey had no hope in hell of fighting off, escorted him from the room. From the hallway, they could hear Kinsey yelling. "Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Because you have sinned against the Lord, your blood will be poured out into the dust, and your bodies will lie there rotting on the ground.'"

Then they couldn't hear him at all. Jack could only hope Vidrine had killed him. He blew out a breath. "Well, that was fun." His eyes rested on Daniel, making sure he was okay. The look on Daniel's face told him he was anything but.

"Why was that man allowed to enter?" Teal'c demanded. "He is not to be trusted."

Costello's and Sandler's eyes were still glowing, showing that Mithras and Sat something or other--Jack could never remember the full name of Sandler's Goa'uld--were in complete agreement with Teal'c's assessment. So was Jack. What an asshole.

It was Carter who asked, "How much trouble can he cause, sir?" The question was directed at Hammond.

"I'm thinking the fact that he's a complete and utter lunatic might make people less likely to believe him," Jack said hopefully.

Hammond's lips tightened as he nodded regretfully to Daniel. "I apologize for subjecting you all to that, especially you, Dr. Jackson, but despite the fact that he's out of favor with the President, he's still the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and still oversees the Stargate program's budget. It was essential that we find out where he was going to fall on this new state of affairs."

"Well, I guess we know now," Jack said sarcastically.

"I can't really blame him for the things he said," Daniel began.

Teal'c's eyes narrowed again in anger. "There is no excuse for the things he said." Then, furious, he added venomously, "Ha' taaka. Rin'tel'noc."

Daniel's eyes opened wide then glowed with Junior's concurrence.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, having no idea what Teal'c said, but sure it was nasty and totally warranted. "What he said."

"Sir?" Carter asked Hammond again.

"I don't know the answer to that, Major Carter," Hammond said. "He is under a security oath, and as such cannot speak to the public about what is occurring here, at least not openly. And I also agree with Jack that he doesn't come across as completely rational, which may help us more than harm us."

"But he could talk to people on the sly," Costello said. "And they could cause trouble."

"Yes, they could," Hammond agreed. "And he will find people, in fact, probably already knows people who agree with his sentiments about this program. While I don't believe he can do much harm officially, especially with the President and the leaders of the most powerful nations around the world supporting us, he can and likely will do his utmost to undermine us in some fashion."

Jack let out a long and frustrated sigh. "Well, let's try to leave Kinsey off all our invite lists in the future." He glanced at Hammond. "I've still got stuff on him, sir, if it comes to that."

Hammond nodded. "Understood." He took in everyone around the room. "I suggest you all take the afternoon off and unwind. Again, I'm sorry you were subjected to that."

Jack gave Daniel a considered stare. Things weren't going to be fun in the Jackson suite this afternoon. Daniel wasn't exactly the most happy-go-lucky guy on the block, and when you threw in Teal'c in one of his I-have-failed-you or I-must-kill-him moods, the damn place would be like a funeral. "Barbecue at my house," Jack offered. "You, too," he told Hammond.

Hammond smiled his thanks. "I appreciate the offer, Jack, but I think I have some damage control to do before I can call it a day."

"You need some help with that?" Jack offered.

"No, you all go on. I'll have an escort waiting for you up top."

"Okie dokie," Jack said. He looked at Daniel. "Junior, you okay?" Daniel's eyes were still glowing unhappily.

"I do not like that man," Junior stated emphatically. "He wishes Daniel harm."

Jack couldn't argue the point. "If it's any consolation, I don't think he has the cajones to actually do anything to Daniel."

Costello patted Junior on the shoulder. "Mithras says we'll all be watching out for him. Come on, let's go eat."

With one last unhappy glance around the room, Junior's glow faded, leaving an unsettled Daniel behind. "That man has never liked me."

"Seeing as the first time you met him you were babbling about alternate realities, I can see why," Jack said with a wry grin. "And then it didn't help that you were right and saved the world from being annihilated. He doesn't eat crow very gracefully, and the President made him talk nice to you."

Daniel winced out a grin to the room at large, then smiled tightly up at Teal'c when he moved to stand behind him, hands resting on Daniel's shoulders.

"I will not allow him in the same room with you again," Teal'c avowed.

Daniel nodded tiredly and leaned his head against Teal'c's stomach. After a couple of seconds, Daniel let out a snicker.

"The boys talking to you?" Jack asked, astonished at how that thought actually amused him instead of squicking him. Jack couldn't understand anything the symbiotes said and was just as glad, but he could sense their pleasure in Daniel's closeness, even as they were agitated by his and Teal'c's anger.

With another nod, Daniel stood. "You sure you want us all to descend on you, Jack?" he asked.

Jack shrugged. "Not like I have to pull out the good china."

"Can Sara join us?"

"I'll call her." Jack was pretty sure Sara would come running. Once her initial freak out that first weekend was over, she had taken to Jack's weird life like white on rice. Jack was still counting his lucky stars for that. He glanced at his watch. "Give me an hour to pick up some food." He counted heads. Team nights were rarely SG-1 anymore. SG-3 always came along on bodyguard duty, and more often than not, some of the other friendly Goa'ulded humans joined them. Word got around pretty quickly between the Goa'uld. He'd get enough food for fifteen. That should cover any unexpected shows. Good thing he had a big grill.

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"Daniel?"

Daniel turned to find Sara standing next to him. "Hello, Sara," he said, smiling, always pleased to have the opportunity to chat with her.

"Hello, back," she said with a smile of her own. "And hello to Junior, too."

"Junior says hello," Daniel returned, after briefly checking in.

"I've been looking for you," she confessed.

"You found me," he said kindly. "Were you looking for me on your own behalf, or is Jack bellowing for me?" Daniel could feel Junior's amusement, and Daniel laughed silently with him. This was something they both shared, their love and commitment to Jack.

"For me," she said. She looked around as if to make sure no one else could overhear them.

"Is everything all right?" he asked her with some concern.

She nodded. "Yes," she said after a moment's hesitation. "Yes, everything's fine. I just wanted to ask you a question."

"A private question?" he asked, sensing her unease, mystified as to its cause. They were in the kitchen and the likelihood of someone joining them was high. "We could go sit out front if you want."

Laughing, Sara shook her head. "Paul would shoot me if I let you do that."

Daniel rolled his eyes. The security contingent, despite his fondness for the individual men and their symbiotes, still rankled. He didn't like not being able to go where he wanted, when he wanted.

//Sorry.// Junior thought at him.

//No, I'm sorry.// Daniel thought contritely. //I wouldn't trade you for anything, dear heart.// he added fiercely.

Content, Junior settled back down.

"Let's just find a quiet spot in the house somewhere," Daniel suggested.

Sara led him to the guest bedroom, a room Daniel was as familiar with as his own home. He sat on the bed, expecting Sara to sit next to him, but she stayed standing, conflict on her face.

"Sara, what's going on?" he asked, concerned.

She bit her lip, opened and closed her mouth a couple times, then blurted out, "Do you think Jack will end up taking a Goa'uld?"

Daniel guessed he should have seen that coming, but he hadn't. He stared at her for a long moment, not sure how to answer her question. Finally, he said, "It's been my experience ever since I've known Jack that he does what he wants to do. Have you asked him this question?" Daniel was torn, because if he were to be truly honest, he wanted Jack to take a symbiote. He wanted Jack to be around for a long time, and to have the safety net a symbiote would provide him. He gave Daniel a lot of crap for getting hurt on a regular basis, but Jack had been hurt just as often, and he'd done his share of dying as well.

"No," Sara said. "I know what he'd say."

"What?" Daniel asked. "What would he say?"

"He'd say 'no way'. He'd say there was no," she put her hands up and made air quotes, "freakin' way he'd share his body with a damn Goa'uld." Even as Daniel grinned at her for her good impression of Jack, she looked apologetic and said, "Sorry, Junior."

Daniel's eyes glowed and Junior said, "No need to apologize. I am quite familiar with Jack's opinions about the Goa'uld." There was no malice in his voice, just humor.

"You know he's mostly talking about the other Goa'uld," Daniel said to Junior, out loud, for Sara's benefit. To Sara, he said, "Why are you asking me, then?" Daniel waited while she marshaled her thoughts. There was no doubt that Jack was quite vocal on the topic of not wanting a symbiote, but he also had been the first to volunteer when any of them had been in danger of dying. He also seemed to get quite a kick out of being able to sense the symbiotes, even if he bitched about it incessantly. If a symbiote chose Jack, Daniel wasn't sure Jack would say no.

Sara sat down next to him. "He'd do it if you asked him to. He'd do anything you asked him to. He loves you."

"And it's because I love him that I'd never ask him," Daniel assured her. "I know how he feels about it. I know he's uncomfortable with the idea of having something inside him with the ability to control him. I won't ask him."

"But if he offers? He told me he offered to be Chang Hs'ien's host. He told me about what happened with Mel. If a symbiote was dying, and you were upset about it, he'd offer."

Daniel was glad that Sara hadn't adopted Jack's nicknames for the symbiotes. Not that Daniel minded, and the symbiotes certainly didn't care as they found almost everything Jack did too amusing for words, but Daniel appreciated Sara making the effort on behalf of his adopted species. "What do you want me to say, Sara? That he'll never take a symbiote? That if one was dying and he offered, that I will always tell him no, and choose him above a symbiote? I would, so would the symbiote, if Jack truly didn't want one. None of them want to be in a reluctant host."

"But if he wanted to? If he was willing?" Sara asked, pushing.

"I'd be thrilled," Daniel said honestly. "I want Jack to live a long time. I don't want to even think about doing this without him." He touched Sara's arm. "But I'm able to separate the two, Sara. I'm able to know what I want and keep clear about what he wants. I will always respect his wishes. Always."

"And if I--" she stopped, biting her lip again.

He didn't sense any anger from her, only confusion. "If you what?" he asked kindly.

"If he…if he became a host, could I?" she blurted out again.

Daniel stared at her, momentarily surprised, but then he smiled. "If Jack took a symbiote, of course you could have one. Have you actually thought about it?"

Sara nodded. "I'm not a soothsayer, Daniel, but if I had to guess, I'd say that Jack will end up becoming a host because, just like you, he'll want to stick around. And I don't want to watch him get stronger and stay the same age as I grow old and wrinkled." She grinned sheepishly at Daniel. "Plus, I've seen what you and the others can do. It would be nice to be that strong."

Daniel could feel Junior ask for permission to speak, and he figuratively stepped aside. "Sara," Junior said. "Any symbiote would be honored to have you as a host. You are the chosen mate of Jack, who is much loved by all the symbiotes. And you are Daniel's friend. You would have many to choose from."

Sara cleared her throat, her eyes a little misty. "Thanks, Junior. I have to admit the whole thing terrifies me, but everyone who has a symbiote acts as if they've won the lottery."

"We are a grateful race," Junior said. "All we had before Daniel was loneliness and certain death. He has given us a purpose again."

The door opened revealing Jack, who complained, "Hey, you two cheatin' on me?" Before he even got an answer, he strode across the room and plopped down on the bed between them, his arms around their shoulders. "Not that I blame either one of you. Cream of the crop, that's what the two of you are."

Daniel's eyes glowed in protest.

"Sorry, Junior. The three of you," Jack amended. "So, what are you two talking about? And by the way, Teal'c's stalking around the house looking for you," he added to Daniel. "People are scurrying to get out of his way."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "If you must know," Daniel said primly, "we were discussing the best way to off you and make it look like an accident."

Sara snickered.

"Yeah?" Jack asked, actually looking interested. "What'd you come up with?"

"DanielJackson," Teal'c's voice intoned from the door. "I have been looking for you." His deep voice was warm and it made Daniel's body heat up.

"Hey, Teal'c," Jack said jovially. "Come on and join the party. Plenty of room for the four of us."

Instead, Daniel stood up, extricating himself from Jack's arm. Teal'c took that as an invitation to move closer, wrapping his arms around Daniel from the back. Daniel relaxed into him, enjoying, as always, the strength of his lover.

"Party poopers," Jack pouted. Then, quick as the special ops soldier he was, he pushed Sara down on the bed and began to tickle her.

As she let out a delighted shriek, Daniel turned around to Teal'c. "I think that's our cue to leave."

"Indeed," Teal'c said.

"Definitely indeed," Daniel said with a pleased grin, noting that the tickling had turned into kissing. He loved that Jack had someone to love. He loved that they could share that. He and Jack. Two people who had spent far too much of their lives alone. "Come on." He took Teal'c's hand, and the two of them went out to join the party, shutting the door behind him, hoping that Jack and Sara wouldn't be missed for a while.

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The next night, Sam entered the infirmary.

"It's called a hematopoetic cascade," Janet was explaining. "All our blood cells, our platelets, red blood cells, and all our different types of white blood cells, come from a single pluripotent stem cell."

"Am I interrupting?" Sam asked.

Janet looked up from the diagram she'd been showing Barak. "No. I'm just teaching Barak about our immune system."

Barak nodded his head politely to Sam and she grinned back. "Hey, Barak." Then she frowned. "I've seen Teal'c bleed. They must have a similar set up to ours." She pulled up a chair and sat down near the two of them. This had become a familiar sight, Janet and Barak with their heads together reading some text book or another. Barak was getting a crash course in understanding how a human body operates. "I guess I always assumed a Jaffa's insides were sort of like ours."

"You'd think so because we look so much alike on the outside," Janet began, only to stop when Barak smiled. She cocked her head to the side waiting for the explanation of his smile.

"Perhaps not so much alike," Barak said, as he looked from himself to Janet.

Sam snickered. While she understood that Janet meant her statement to include humankind as a whole, there couldn't be two people who looked more different than Barak and Janet. Black, white, tall, short, composed, animated. But, even if not in appearance, in many ways they were more alike than dissimilar.

Janet mock frowned at Barak, then grinned. Turning to Sam, she said, "Remember, the pouch for the symbiote takes up the space where most of our intestines are, not to mention other organs like the spleen, kidneys, gall bladder, and liver. Everything, other than the heart and lungs, reproductive organs, and the brain, of course, are arranged differently in a Jaffa."

"How was Hathor able to make Colonel O'Neill into a Jaffa, then?" Sam asked, remembering the Goa'uld queen's attempt to take over the base. She and Janet, and the rest of the women on base, had so rocked as they'd saved all the men on base from Hathor.

"I don't know," Janet said with a frustrated face. "We got him in the sarcophagus before I could examine him." She glanced at Barak, "Can a human be made to host a larva?"

"I have seen it happen," Barak said. "But many of them die. Even a symbiote can not always keep a human alive for long once a Goa'uld has turned them into a carrier."

"So, the colonel could have died?" Sam asked in consternation. "Did Hathor know that?"

"I don't know," Janet answered. "She'd been in that sarcophagus for thousands of years. Maybe she forgot the differences between humans and Jaffa. Or maybe she assumed that all humans had been bred to be Jaffa."

"Or maybe she just assumed with the arrogance of the Goa'uld that she would always get her way," Sam said dryly.

Janet grinned and held up her hand for Sam to give her a high five which Sam enthusiastically returned.

Barak furrowed his brow at their behavior. While Janet started to explain what a high five was, Sam was distracted by a splash. She glanced at the tank and saw that her symbiote was trying to get her attention.

Leaving Janet to her explanations, Sam walked to the tank and put her hand against the glass. "Hey, Kitty," she said. She'd adopted Jack's nickname when Daniel told her the symbiote thought it was funny after Jack had taped a picture of a kitten on the tank glass.

Ganaskidi brushed the glass where her hand lay. Sam closed her eyes, letting the just barely there sense of contentment and longing the symbiote sent her way wash over her. It was happening gradually, but Sam was growing more accustomed to the idea of being a host when Kitty matured.

Feeling very brave, she reached up and put her hand in the water for the very first time. Ganaskidi shot through the water and coiled around it. Sam pulled him out, wishing they were cuter. Somehow it would all be so much easier if they looked like bunnies or chipmunks. "Hey," she said softly.

The symbiote squeaked at her.

Grinning, Sam ran her finger down its length. They were soft; at least they had that going for them. Not wanting his skin to dry out, she put her hand back in the tank. Reluctantly, Ganaskidi uncoiled his grip on Sam, but hovered close in the water.

Sam tapped the glass where Tana'oa was watching. She had a hard time telling most of them apart, but she could always pick him out. She couldn't tell with the accuracy Daniel could, but she thought he'd need a host soon; he looked fairly mature. Jack had told her that Tana'oa had appointed himself the tank guardian, and maybe it was his watchful air that made him easier to pinpoint.

It was even easier when Jack was around. It was as if Tana'oa was at attention when the colonel was by the tank, as if he recognized Jack's authority. According to Jack, the symbiote was a total wise-ass. Like drawing to like, Sam thought. She still thought it was weird that the colonel could sense their feelings.

Just last night he'd been in here with the new representatives from South Africa, Mamello Adannaya and Zwanga Abidemi. While they had been talking with Janet and Barak, every now and then Jack would turn and stare at the tank with either a smirk or a scowl on his lips, picking up something from the symbiotes.

The South Africans had joined him at the tank and Jack's eyes had widened. He'd pointed at another close-to-being-mature symbiote. "He likes you," he'd said to the woman. Tana'oa had come up close to the glass to watch Jack, as if expecting a report. For all she knew, Jack was filling him in.

Barak and Janet joined her by the tank, interrupting her memories. Janet pointed at the Goa'uld Sam had just been thinking about, saying, "I think he'll be ready in two or three days."

"Did Mamello decide to take him?" Sam asked. She'd left when the two South Africans were deep in conversation discussing the pros and cons of taking a symbiote.

"Yes," Janet said, "although not before the colonel had to contact Daniel and have him come down so they could talk to Junior. Of course, that meant Paul and Eric were here with Mithras and Satrughna, and then Brian and Jeff got in on the action, so there was a symbiote sewing circle going on."

Sam was sorry she'd missed that.

Janet was laughing. "It's too bad Mithras and Paul can't take their act on the road. Even the colonel was laughing, and I swear Teal'c grinned a little."

"It was most unseemly," Barak intoned, doing a perfect imitation of Teal'c.

Sam and Janet stared at him, then both of them burst out laughing. Janet put her hand on his sizeable bicep. "You could join their act, Barak," she told him admiringly.

Barak shook his head, not understanding. Sam could relate. With the life the average Jaffa led, it's not like there was much call for stand up comedy. "One of these nights," Sam told Janet, "you need to sit him down and let him watch an old tape of Saturday Night Live."

Janet shook her head. "I'll leave that to the colonel. So much of that humor is off-color, I'd just as soon he had to explain it all to Barak. I'll stick to the medical stuff." She looked proudly at Barak. "He drew his first blood sample yesterday."

"Good for you," said Sam.

Barak nodded his head, much as Teal'c did when acknowledging a compliment. "Tana'oa has agreed to allow me to do a skin--" he stopped, looking to Janet for the word.

"Punch biopsy," she finished for him.

"Skin punch biopsy," he echoed. "Janet has shown me how to use a microscope, and I look forward to studying the cells of a symbiote."

Janet looked just as excited, so Sam simply smiled at them both. To each their own, she guessed. "Where's Vijay?" she asked. Lately, the Indian physician had been in here almost as much as Janet.

"She and Abhay made an early night of it," Janet said. "They're going off-world with you tomorrow," she reminded Sam.

"That's right," Sam said with a grin. She liked both of them so much; it would make for an enjoyable day. "How's the big tank coming?"

"We're having a hard time making it water tight," Janet said with a frown. "I think I'm going to need to have Siler meet with someone at the Aquarium to see if he can pick up some tips. It's hard when you can't tell people what you really need a tank that large for."

"You can't just say fish?" Sam asked.

Janet snorted. "They want to know what kind of fish, are they salt-water or fresh, where did they come from, what kind of room are you putting the tank in, on and on and on. They don't want to give you advice without knowing the specifics."

"I'll work with Siler on it," Sam promised her. "I want to see Daniel get in the tank with them." She couldn’t get over how much they loved him. He barely walked in the room when they were all at the glass waiting for him. Having a sudden thought, she added, "I'm sure there have to be some Naval biologists who would jump at the chance of helping out. I'll mention it to General Hammond."

"Thanks, Sam," Janet said fondly. "Where is Daniel, by the way? He usually comes in to say good night to all the symbiotes."

"Last time I saw him, he was in a bowing match with Suzuki Ichiro," Sam said with a grin. Their newly Goa'ulded Japanese representative couldn't seem to get enough of Daniel.

"It won't be long before there's not enough Daniel to go around," Janet said cautiously.

"I know," Sam agreed. She'd have to talk to the colonel about that.

"Have you heard from your dad?" Janet asked.

"Not a word," Sam said. It wasn't that unusual for weeks to pass without talking to her dad, but Sam had a hard time not reading into it. They hadn't had a conversation since that awkward one on the ship bringing Jacob back from Baal's planet after rescuing him.

"Have you tried to contact him?"

"Yes," Sam replied. "I sent out a message a few days ago, but he hasn't responded." That wasn't like her dad.

"He'll come around, Sam," Janet said consolingly. "It's not like you did anything wrong."

"I know," Sam said. "I just wish--" she cut off, not sure what she was wishing for. For her dad's approval? For some assurance that the alliance between the Tok'ra and Earth wouldn't fall apart? For Daniel's safety from any possible Tok'ra reprisal? All of that and more, Sam supposed. Not for the first time, a part of Sam wished her life was a little bit simpler.

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Late the next night, Jack found himself by the symbiote tank. It had become a sort of ritual for him, a way to shut down for the night before he left to go out into a world that knew nothing about what was going on here.

He knew he gave Daniel shit about it, but he liked being able to tell what was going on with the friendly Goa'uld. Maybe it was because they generally felt so pleased with life; Jack always left with a smile on his face, no matter how rough the day had been.

Today hadn't exactly been rough, but it had been busy. In fact, the entire last two weeks had been busy. Things were heating up. SG-1, on their last visit off world had serendipitously managed to steal a Teltak which Vidrine was very pleased about--once he got over being pissy about not being the one to steal it. Along the way, they'd picked up two more Jaffa with friendly symbiotes who, once over their confusion, had been a big help in snitching the ship.

Jack hoped the Jaffa were always that easy to swing over to their side when they had a friendly symbiote, although he wasn't counting on it. Sooner or later they'd find a Jaffa who chose to stay loyal to their Goa'uld God no matter what kind of buds Daniel and their symbiote were.

The pilots were starting to arrive. He'd spent a couple hours with two of them today, Cameron Mitchell and John Sheppard. They met the criteria: single and a little crazy. Daniel had been off-world so Jack hadn't brought up the subject about how part of this gig was becoming a host to a friendly Goa'uld. He left that for tomorrow when Daniel could spend some time with them.

Tana'oa swam up to stare at him.

"How ya doin', buddy?" Jack asked him.

Tana'oa's report was brief as usual, sort of a blast of emotions that somehow sorted out into individual images. Everything was fine. The nearly mature symbiote was excited that he would soon be joining his host. The System Lord had dropped off some new symbiotes who were settling in well.

At that last image, Jack looked around the tank, seeing if he could identify who was new. Truthfully, for the most part, they all looked the same to him. Butt ugly. Most of them were tangled at the bottom of the tank, sleeping in a big puppy pile. They'd easily adapted to the rhythm of night and day in the infirmary.

Then, in a blink of an eye, they were all awake, the tank almost humming. Jack grinned knowing Daniel must be on his way. He glanced toward the door and saw Daniel enter, Paul and Eric close behind. Jack barely noticed his own two, although he knew they were around here somewhere. Brian and Jeff were very good at being unobtrusive. "Hey," Jack said. "Where's Teal'c?"

"He wanted to Kel-no-reem," Daniel said. Paul and Eric shifted away, giving Daniel and Jack some privacy. He walked right to the tank, pushed up his sleeves, and put both arms in the water.

The symbiotes wrapped around him until not a millimeter of skin was visible. It never failed to both mesmerize Jack and completely gross him out. Just the thought of all that wriggling made him want to scratch all over. "Blah," he commented.

Daniel grinned at him, but then turned back to the tank. He took an extra moment to stroke the more mature symbiotes, one of which was Tana'oa, and then give Sam's Kitty some attention. Then, he pulled his arms out, shook them off, dried them with a towel left there for that purpose, and pulled his sleeves back down. "How was your day?"

Jack shrugged. "Meetings. We've got two pilots. I'll want you to meet with them tomorrow."

"Okay," Daniel said agreeably. After another minute of observing the symbiotes, Daniel asked guardedly, "Have we heard from anyone?"

"You mean like the Tok'ra, any other system lords, Kinsey or the NID?" Jack asked acerbically.

"It's a long list, isn't it?" Daniel said glumly.

"Long enough to give me nightmares," Jack admitted. "And no, not a peep." Not that that meant everything was peachy keen. Jack was just waiting for the shit to hit the fan. He just wasn't sure what direction it would be coming from, and mostly hoped it wouldn't come from every direction at once. "I saw Claude a while ago," Jack observed. "He looked a little damp."

"He's obsessed with finding Nut," Daniel said with a grin. "He spent the whole time on Kuokua in the water with Daikoku."

"Any luck?" Jack asked, watching as the symbiotes slowly went back to whatever they'd been doing before Daniel appeared, except Tana'oa who stayed on guard, watching him and Daniel talk. He wondered how much of what they were saying made sense to him, if any, and wondered if Junior simultaneously interpreted for any Goa'uld who might be listening.

"No," Daniel answered. "But, I do have news."

Jack pulled his eyes away from Tana'oa, swearing the symbiote had pressed up a little closer to the glass when Daniel made that announcement. "Yeah?"

"Chaka took a symbiote."

Jack's eyebrows rose. That was news. "He did?"

"Actually, not just him," Daniel amended. "Three of them did. Kenal found some mature friendly symbiotes that would have died without a host, and he was so broken up about it that Chaka and Kenal's parents each took one."

"Wow." While he wasn't crazy about Unas in the first place, let alone Goa'ulded ones, Jack had to admit they'd be powerful allies.

They stood there in silence for a while, watching the tank. Jack could tell Daniel still had something on his mind. He wasn't in a hurry, so was willing to wait his friend out. In the meantime, he checked in with Tana'oa. You catching all of this? he asked silently, having no idea if his words would be understood.

He got a blast of worry, unusual for the symbiotes.

Jack took another close look at Daniel and decided what he was seeing was sadness. "What's on your mind, Daniel?" Jack coaxed.

"I think I told Sara a lie," Daniel finally confessed.

Jack's eyebrows rose. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, unable to imagine what kind of lie Daniel would tell Sara, in fact, unable to fathom Daniel telling any kind of lie to anyone other than an enemy.

"I told her I could keep it separate," Daniel whispered.

"What are you talking about?"

Daniel's lips tightened. "What I wanted and what you wanted."

Those words sounded familiar. Jack thought it through and finally put two and two together. "Sara told me about the conversation she had with you."

"She did?" Daniel asked, sounding relieved.

"I knew you two were sneaking around behind my back," he griped.

Daniel rolled his eyes but grinned. "What did you talk about?"

"You mean, what did I tell her about becoming a host?"

Daniel nodded.

"That she was right," Jack said. "That if you asked me to, I'd do it. That if the situation warranted it, I'd do it." He turned to face Daniel fully. "And that the situation would, eventually, warrant it."

Hope and maybe relief flashed through Daniel's eyes. "I don't want to do this without you," Daniel blurted out. "I don't know if I can."

"I'm not as opposed as I used to be," Jack reluctantly acknowledged. "They're kinda growing on me." He tapped the glass, feeling relieved vibes coming from Tana'oa. Whatever bad emotional mojo Daniel and Junior had been putting out was obviously over. Daniel and his cosmic guilt.

"But--" Daniel started.

Jack interrupted him. "And about that other thing," he said, "You won't have to do this alone. Not if I have anything to say about it." He shrugged. "Besides, if anything did happen to me, you have a cast of thousands to help you out."

"They're not you, Jack. Not even close," Daniel said.

Jack caught Daniel's eyes, saw the love and affection there, knew it was in his own eyes as well.

"I meant what I said," Daniel said softly. "I don't want to do this without you."

"I hear you," Jack said. "I don't want you to do it without me, either."

They stared at each other for a long moment, long enough to get entirely too mushy for Jack. He turned back to the tank. "So, any of these jokers willing to take me on one of these days?"

"Are you kidding?" Daniel asked him incredulously. "Watch." He put his hand on the tank again and closed his eyes.

The tank almost exploded with takers. The symbiotes were butting up against the glass in an unmistakable, "me, me!"

Jack found himself taking a step back at the barrage of--he didn't even know what to call it--willingness, eagerness, that swept over him from the majority of the Goa'uld in the tank. There were a few holdouts, Kitty among them, a few other symbiotes, Jack guessed, who had already chosen a host. "Yikes," he said.

Daniel smiled fondly at him. "Did that answer your question?"

"Yeah, I guess it did," Jack said, a little stunned. He caught a flash of annoyance and stared at the tank, watching as Tana'oa took it upon himself to calm the symbiotes down, brushing against the glass, forcing them all back to their business. Jack grinned at the symbiote. "Things a little too unruly for you in there, boss?"

"Or he's staking a claim," Daniel threw out.

Jack blinked, but then shook his head. "I haven't felt anything like that from him," he countered. "And I can feel it when they start shooting their 'you will be mine' vibes to someone."

Daniel just shot him a look, but didn't say anything more about it, which was fine with Jack. It might be sort of a kick that they all were willing, but he wasn't ready to be chosen. That would make it all a little too real.

"They all like you, Jack," Daniel said after all the symbiotes, for the most part, had resumed their prior activities. "No, it's more than that."

Junior spoke suddenly, "They respect you, Jack. They call you the Guardian."

Furrowing his brows, Jack pointed at Tana'oa. "I thought they called him the guardian."

"He is the guardian of the tank, but you are much more than that."

"Yeah sure you betcha," Jack said in his 'whatever' tone.

"You are Daniel's Guardian, are you not?" Junior asked.

"Yeah, me and a bunch of other people, including Teal'c," Jack said.

"Teal'c is Daniel's First Prime," Junior corrected him. "You are his Guardian. You are also the Guardian of this institution, of this planet, of our well-being, are you not?"

"I guess," Jack said cautiously.

Daniel took back over, grinning at the look on Jack's face. "Don't look so worried, Jack," he said. "All he means is that you're in charge. They've just given you a formal name for it that makes more sense to them. The Guardian." He punched Jack lightly in the arm. "And just like you can sense them, they can sense you. They know how much you care, no matter how much complaining you do."

Jack frowned at Daniel, then frowned at the tank. "No peeking allowed," he groused at them.

Snickering, Daniel said, "Too late, Jack. They've seen your heart."

"Damn it," Jack sniped, not really minding. There were still plenty of people in the mountain he could terrify when he had a mind to. "The Guardian, huh?" He sort of liked the title. System Lord, First Prime, and the Guardian. An unbeatable triumvirate.

"Did Sara tell you that if you took a symbiote that she'd maybe want one, too?" Daniel asked.

Jack nodded. "How weird is that?"

"She loves you," Daniel said kindly. "She won't want to give you up any sooner than she has to, just like me."

"Okay," Jack said with a frantically waving hand, "you're killing me with the mush here. Stop it."

With a smile, Daniel complied. They stood there in companionable silence until Teal'c came to collect Daniel. Jack bid him a good night, and then made his way to the exit, deciding he'd stop by Sara's on the way home. Maybe it was time to talk her into moving in with him.

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"Don't move," Daniel gasped, his body over Teal'c's, deep inside. If Teal'c even shivered it was going to be all over.

Teal'c groaned in return, using his tremendous strength to stay still as a statue, giving Daniel the chance to wrest some control back from their frantic coupling.

Sometimes, they made love slowly, exploring each other, taking the time for words of love and deep, deep kisses. Other times, like tonight, when they first touched, it was like an explosion, and the clothes couldn't come off fast enough, in fact, Daniel had heard fabric tear. They fought for the right to touch, to bite, to drive each other absolutely crazy.

Slowly, slowly, Daniel backed off from the edge. He gave an experimental thrust, then stopped as it almost proved his undoing. Looking at Teal'c didn't help, at his strong back, his perfect ass, hard as a rock but rounded with muscle. In desperation, Daniel closed his eyes.

"You must move, DanielJackson," Teal'c begged.

Daniel bit back a manic giggle, finding Teal'c's ongoing use of his full name absurd in certain circumstances, this being one of them. "You just feel so amazing," Daniel defended himself, stroking in and out, once. "So damn amazing."

"Move," commanded Teal'c, pushing back on Daniel, impaling himself as deeply as he could.

Unable not to obey, as it was what his body was aching for, Daniel moved and began to thrust into Teal'c, his body slamming against Teal'c's, every plunge accompanied by a heart-felt groan. His hand moved around Teal'c's body to grab his lover's cock. He began to stroke it in rhythm with his own movements, determined to make Teal'c come along with him.

The bed was shaking and Daniel hoped it survived the encounter. With both of them being so strong now, there'd been some breakage in their small apartment quarters. Worth it, Daniel thought to himself. So worth it. That next day, after it looked like a hurricane had swept through the place, he'd put his most prized possessions in safer locations.

He heard Teal'c groan from deep in his chest, heralding his orgasm. Daniel quickened his pace, feeling his own climax approaching. "Teal'c," he managed to gasp out, and then he was coming, his body shattering as he shot deep into Teal'c's body. Teal'c, in turn, came all over Daniel's hand and fingers.

Both men collapsed at the same time onto the bed struggling to pull in air. Being a Goa'uld might have given Daniel strength for a lot of things, but recovering from a mind-blowing orgasm wasn't one of them.

He pulled out of Teal'c's body and lay by his side, twining his fingers with Teal'c's. "Sexy man," Daniel managed to get out.

Teal'c grunted at him and squeezed his fingers. Daniel grinned as he lay staring at the ceiling. Every time they lay together after having sex, he always thought of their first time, when Teal'c essentially proposed. "Thank you," he said suddenly.

"For what?" Teal'c asked, turning his head to look at Daniel.

"For asking me to be with you."

Teal'c's brow furrowed. "Tonight? I believe tonight was a mutual decision," he added with a small but very pleased smile.

Daniel leaned in to kiss him. "No," he corrected. "Not tonight. Back when it started. When you asked me to become your warrior mate. Thank you for that."

"It is I who am thankful, DanielJackson," Teal'c said, stealing a kiss of his own. "And now, because of it, we will win this fight against the Goa'uld. Because you are a warrior like no other."

Daniel smiled at Teal'c. "As are you." He reached out to touch the symbol of the Tauri on Teal'c's forehead. "As are you."

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"It's not like that," Jeff Morrison said from the corner of the room.

Jack actually startled, having forgotten Jeff and Brian were in the conference room with both him and General Hammond as they had their usual morning meeting. He must be getting used to them always being around. "What?" he asked, waving him over to the table. Jeff had been leaning against the far wall, while Brian had been standing by the rear door.

"What you said about General Vidrine, sir," Jeff explained. "It's not like that."

Jack searched back to what he and Hammond had been talking about before Jeff had scared a decade off his life.

Helping him recall, Jeff said, "You told General Hammond that it wigged you out to see Daniel and General Vidrine getting along. You asked him if he ever thought the friendly Goa'uld were hypnotizing their hosts."

That's right, Jack thought. It was a stray thought, but one that kept him up occasionally at night. After spending so long at the tanks last evening and going home in such a good mood, Jack hadn't been able to stop himself putting a possibly ugly twist on it. It wasn't the first time he'd had this thought, and he and Hammond had even talked about it before once or twice. But, every now and then, Jack needed to reconfirm with someone whose opinion he respected, who didn't have a symbiote wrapped around his brain stem or in his pouch, that they weren't all being duped.

"Would you like to explain your comment, Major Waite?" Hammond asked kindly.

"General Vidrine isn't being controlled by his Goa'uld, sir," Brian said sincerely. "He still thinks Daniel's whacked, and he disagrees with almost everything he says."

"True," Jack said. Meetings with the two of them were rarely peaceful, now that he thought about it. Daniel was all about the love and peace, and Vidrine was all about the stealing, the spying, and killing if necessary. Needless to say, Vidrine was frequently all about the necessary. Jack tended to side firmly with him on that one. "Okay, so Vidrine isn't a Daniel clone," he admitted. "But there's still something there that wasn't there before."

Brian nodded in agreement. "I get that. I do. I feel it, too. We all do. But, it's not hypnosis. It's like we get Daniel's vision. The Goa'uld totally understand Daniel, and one of the reasons they love him is because they want the same thing he does. But, whereas Daniel can only talk about it, the Goa'uld can show us. They can make us feel what world peace, real universal peace could look like, because that's what they're all about. They already live it. They're all about tolerance, and love, and respect in a way that makes you believe that we, humans, can be that, too. Does that make sense?" He shook his head. "I'm not explaining it well."

"It's because the Goa'uld are more like Daniel than most humans are," Jeff broke in with a laugh. "They long for peace. They long for an end to a way of life that has been inordinately cruel to them. And we do, too," he added quickly. "I don't mean to imply that we," he made a movement with his hand that included Jack, Hammond, and himself, "don't want this war to end, but they want it to end the same way Daniel does, for it to end with a true peace, a level playing field, where we all learn from each other from a mutual place of respect. A place where respect runs so deeply that the thought of warring on each other is intolerable. Impossible."

Brian picked the conversation back up. "General Vidrine gets that we have a war to fight. He gets that this is an enemy that can't be reasoned with, can't be cajoled into a new perspective. And because of that, he'll always fight with Daniel about the way to get to peace. But, for the first time, I think, for him, and for a lot of others, because of the Goa'uld holding Daniel's vision so clearly, those of us who are hosts can really see the place Daniel wants us to get to at the end of this, and we want it. All of us. It's a future worth fighting for. That's what you're seeing."

Jack blinked at Brian, stared at Jeff for a moment, then turned to Hammond. "That actually makes sense."

Hammond smiled. "It does."

"And it's so Daniel," Jack added.

This time, Hammond let out a little snicker. "Yes, it is."

"It's like his whole dazzle them with kindness routine, except now it's dazzle them with world peace." A peace that, before now, someone like Vidrine, in fact, someone like Jack, never thought could ever happen, at least in his lifetime. No wonder the Goa'uld liked Daniel so much. For all he was human, he was just like them. He was like all their hopes and dreams come to life in someone with two legs who could get around. God bless an opposable thumb.

"Thank you for your explanation, Major, Lieutenant," Hammond said courteously. "Now, would you excuse us for a moment?"

"Yes, sir," Brian said, collecting Jeff up with a head jerk, both of them leaving the room. Before he shut the door, he told Jack, "We'll be right out here when you're ready to go, Colonel."

Jack nodded and when the door shut, sighed. "You really think I need those guys while I'm here?" he asked Hammond.

"Probably not, Jack," Hammond admitted. "I'll tell them to just be available for you when you head off the mountain or when you go off-world."

"Thank you," Jack said with a grateful grin. "Nice guys, but enough's enough."

"And Daniel?" Hammond asked.

"He always needs his," Jack grumped. Then, at a look from Hammond, relented. "Fine, he probably doesn't need his while he's here, either. Lord knows, he complains about them more than I do. Besides, it's not like he can get a hangnail without every friendly Goa'uld running to his rescue."

Hammond nodded. "I'll speak to them tomorrow. I'm sure they'll be pleased to have some time off." He leaned forward. "I know you said it made sense, but did what they said reassure you?"

Pursing his lips, pushing his chair back on its rear legs, Jack nodded. "Yeah, it did. I keep forgetting that Daniel's not entirely human, you know? And that was before he joined with Junior."

Hammond let out another short laugh, more a cadenced exhale than real sound.

"I've been thinking about it, you know," Jack said, surprising himself.

"Taking a Goa'uld?" Hammond inquired, doing Jack a favor and not pretending to misunderstand.

"Yeah." Jack squinched his face up. "I mean, not really, but sort of."

Hammond folded his hands in front of him and looked at Jack, encouraging him to continue.

"It's just," Jack began, "I sort of figure that I'll end up doing it, you know? So, why wait?"

No comment from Hammond.

Jack didn't sense any disapproval, just a gentle waiting, allowing Jack to say what was on his mind. "But then I think about having this thing in me," he said candidly with a grimace, "and I think I'm out of my mind to even consider it. Ya know?"

"Have any of the Goa'uld singled you out?" Hammond asked.

"No, not really." Jack snorted. "All of them." At the general's raised eyebrows, Jack explained, "Daniel asked if any of them would be willing to have me as their host and a whole hell of a lot of hands went up, so to speak. I guess," Jack said, finally getting to the crux of it, "I want to make sure I don't go off and die and leave Daniel alone, and I figure if I’m gonna do this, I should do it before I get any grayer. I don't think a symbiote can do the Grecian Formula for Men thing." He bit the inside of his cheek wishing he felt less like a ping-pong ball about the whole thing. "You ever think about it?"

"I do," Hammond said. "I've thought about it more than once. But, it's not for me. I want to retire, watch my grandchildren grow up and die before them."

Jack could understand that, but he wanted to see what universal peace looked like. And with the exception of Sara, everyone he considered family was here. "So, any comments?"

"About you becoming a host?"

Jack nodded.

"Only that I'm not surprised," Hammond responded.

"Would it make things harder for you having a second in command with a Goa'uld?"

"Possibly," Hammond admitted, "but I'll rest easier knowing Daniel's in good hands. I've seen this revolution started; I'd like to know it has a good chance of getting to the finish line."

Fair enough.

"So, what's on your agenda for the day for your team, Colonel?" Hammond said, bringing their personal conversation to a close, which worked just fine for Jack.

"Vidrine wants to steal another ship," Jack said, "so we need to pick a likely target. I've got two pilots who need to meet with Daniel and be talked into letting alien slugs wrap around their brain stems, and Carter is on the look out for Naval biologists to come help build a bigger tank." The tank was already over full, and while the symbiotes were being good-natured about it, being the little peaceniks that they were, Jack knew they were feeling a little crowded.

In addition, there was a long list of people who wanted Goa'uld, and Daniel was itching to go find nearly mature symbiotes. They needed a much bigger tank for that. And Jack didn't even want to get into how wigged Daniel occasionally got at the thought that friendly symbiotes were dying on the Kahlua planet, not to mention Chulak, and god knew where else.

"Let me know how things go," Hammond said, standing up. "I'll be heading to Washington, D.C. this afternoon to meet with the President."

"You're not taking Daniel, are you, sir?" Jack asked anxiously. He had no desire to be babysitting a half-crazed Jaffa, and the President still wasn't one hundred percent behind this First Prime thing, especially if it meant Teal'c going to Washington with Daniel and hanging out glowering in the Oval Office.

With a small smile, Hammond shook his head. "No, not this time. He'll want to know what plans you and General Vidrine come up with, though."

"One of us will call and let you know what the plan is, sir," Jack said, standing as well, feeling a dismissal coming right around the corner.

"Please do, Colonel," Hammond said. "I'll be meeting with the President at four, so try to call before then."

"Will do," Jack said. Most of the day's chores should be wrapped up by then. "You might want to tell him that we need more pilots. And we'll need to figure out what we do if they say no after telling a pilot about the symbiote thing."

"It's on my list," Hammond assured him. "I'll speak with Major Waite before I leave about the change in duties," he added as he headed for the door.

Meeting over, Jack followed Hammond out the door.

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By mid afternoon, Jack was sitting across the table from their two new pilots.

"You want to run that by me again, Colonel?" Major Cameron Mitchell asked incredulously, eyebrows high on his forehead.

Major John Sheppard had the same pole-axed expression on his face. "A what?"

Yeah. Jack should have waited for Daniel to do this. "Hold that thought," he said, moving to the phone on the conference room wall. He hung up after paging Daniel.

Mitchell tried again. Jack had to give him points for that. "Was that code for something?"

Jack bit his lip not to smile. "Code?" he said, his own eyebrows high.

"Yeah, code," Mitchell said hopefully. "Like, I don't know, like symbiote stands for sodium pentothal, and brain stem stands for deep hypnosis."

"So you thought maybe I was asking you if it was all right for me to drug you and then hypnotize you?" Jack asked, leaning back in his chair. "For what? To see if you could fly under the influence?"

Sheppard and Mitchell exchanged glances that said, clear as day, they weren't sure Colonel O'Neill was dealing with a full deck. Maybe Jack should have had Vidrine do this. Just about now Vidrine could be calling on his symbiote and letting his eyes get all glowy, giving Mack the floor.

Mack. A great name. Even better was the fact that it was from one of Jack's favorite Dr. Seuss stories, Yertle the Turtle. It had become a favorite of the friendly Goa'uld as well, second only to Horton Hears a Who, although it was Tana'oa's favorite. Tana'oa told Daniel it was the perfect saga--past, present and future--for the unfriendly Goa'uld. Jack wished he'd had a camera handy to catch the look on Vidrine's face when Mack shared the fact that his name came from a Dr. Seuss character. Jack had no doubt that Vidrine would have rather kept that little gem a secret.

The only thing that would have been better was if Vidrine's Goa'uld had chosen one of those long never-ending Seuss names that used to make Charlie laugh so hard. Like Ham-ika-Sham-ika-Pam-ika-something or other. Jack would have paid good money to see that name come out of Vidrine's mouth.

The phone rang and Jack stood to answer it. "Daniel?" he asked.

"Jack," Daniel said cheerily in response.

"I need to meet you at the tank with our two prospective pilots," Jack said.

There was a pause. "This is going to be bad, isn't it?" Daniel asked.

"Could be," Jack said honestly. He saw Sheppard and Mitchell exchange another look.

"What did you say to them?" Daniel asked suspiciously.

"Hey," Jack protested. "Not everything's my fault."

Daniel sighed. "Give me twenty minutes."

"Sweet."

"Oh, and thanks for getting me a reprieve from Paul and Eric," Daniel said brightly. "I was actually able to have a whole hour to myself this morning until Claude came by the office."

"Wow," Jack said teasingly. "A whole hour?"

"I told you, he's obsessed," Daniel answered, focusing on Claude rather than himself.

"With Nut?"

"With Nut," Daniel agreed.

"Claude's a nut," Jack said. Anyone who spent as much time as he did on Kahlua-land under the water was certifiably insane.

"What are their names?"

Jack gracefully went with the non sequitor. "Cameron Mitchell and John Sheppard."

"Good guys?"

"They're pilots," Jack said by way of an answer.

"So good guys," Daniel said without a doubt in his voice, making him Jack's favorite person ever.

"You betcha," Jack said back. These guys were all about being heroes. Most of the time it had paid off and they both had a reputation for getting the job done and bringing back their men alive. They had a few black marks, too, when things hadn't gone well, but Jack wasn't worried about those. The program could use guys like these, assuming he and Daniel didn't tag team them into running from the mountain screaming.

"Twenty minutes," Daniel said again and hung up.

Jack hung the phone up as well and sat back down at the table, staring at the two men sitting across from him.

"So, not a code," Sheppard drawled.

Jack shook his head.

"Aliens, sir?" Mitchell threw in. "That shit's for real?"

"Real as it gets," Jack assured him.

Sheppard's turn again. "So is this like that Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan? With those, you know, ear things?"

Jack winced and hunched his shoulders as he recalled that scene where they crawled out of Chekov's ear. "Eww," he said, "those were gross."

"So these aren't as bad?" Sheppard asked, hope once again filling the air.

"Oh, no," Jack said. "These are much grosser. They're a lot bigger." He held his hands out approximating the size of a symbiote. When he saw the horrified looks on their faces, Jack winced. "Shit." He was doing this all wrong, and if Daniel were in here with them, he'd be giving Jack his I'm-so-disappointed-in-you look. Jack hated that look. "They're a lot funnier," he tried.

"Funnier?" Mitchell asked, in an almost comically high voice. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know," Jack said. "Funny. They're funny. They like Dr. Seuss."

This time the look exchanged between the two men was a silent agreement on tactics: who was taking the crazed colonel down and who was going for help. Jack supposed he couldn't blame them. He stood up and moved to the door before he ended up being restrained by two majors who thought they'd be doing their country a favor. "Come on. Time to go meet Dr. Daniel Jackson."

They rose cautiously, Mitchell looking a little disappointed that Jack was slipping out of their grasp. Once in the corridor, Jack set a brisk pace toward the infirmary. On their way, they passed General Vidrine. Both pilots stopped and snapped off a sharp salute.

"At ease," Vidrine said.

They both slipped into a more comfortable posture. "Sir," Mitchell said to Vidrine with just the slightest trying-not-to-be-obvious head nod toward Jack.

Vidrine apparently hadn't been practicing his telepathy skills. "Spit it out, Mitchell, what's on your mind?"

Mitchell barely nodded again and leaned in, as if that might make Jack not hear him. "Is he--" Mitchell sent a sideways glance at Jack, saw that there was no way he could ask what he wanted without possibly ending up in the brig for insulting a senior officer.

"He wants to know if I've got bats in my belfry," Jack offered up helpfully.

"Only when he forgets to take his meds," a voice said behind him. A voice that sounded suspiciously like Daniel. "Did you forget to take your meds today, Jack?"

"Ha ha," Jack said. "I thought you were meeting me by the tank."

"I decided to come look for you, instead," Daniel said in that tone of voice that he always used when, after due consideration, he'd decided one of Jack's orders was just too silly to even be considered. "General," Daniel said politely to Vidrine.

"Daniel," Vidrine said just as politely. Then his eyes glowed, and Mack said, "It is a pleasure to see you, Daniel, and you, too, Junior." Mack was an exceptionally polite Goa'uld, in Jack's estimation. He was always about the how-do-you-do's. Probably not a bad thing considering how many asses Vidrine had to kiss.

"The pleasure's all mine, Mack," Daniel said with an affectionate grin. "And Junior says hello, too." His eyes glowed for a second in greeting.

Back in control, Vidrine turned to Mitchell and Sheppard. "Will you be joining the program?"

"Uh," was all Sheppard could say. Mitchell's mouth was flapping, but no sound was coming out.

"Hmm," Daniel said with a frown at Jack as if this was definitely all his fault.

"What?" Jack said innocently. "We were coming down to talk to you and to see the tank."

Vidrine was on the move again. Over his shoulder, he said, "I'm calling Hammond to fill him in." They'd come up with several great ideas today to relieve the Goa'uld of a few ships.

"Okay," Jack said. "Sir," he added. Damn. He always forgot. He'd gotten lazy around Hammond, who, ironically, was one of the few superior officers who deserved as many sirs as he could get.

"Daniel," Vidrine said in parting.

It was funny to watch all the humans who'd become hosts to the friendly Goa'uld. The Goa'uld hated to leave Daniel. It manifested in the minute hesitation every one of them had when the human host had someplace to be other than where Daniel was at the moment. Vidrine was no exception.

"I'll speak with you later, Mack," Daniel said in understanding.

Vidrine actually grinned at Daniel, no doubt in reaction to the happy back flips Mack was probably doing. His eyes glowed and Mack, back in charge, smiled broadly, and said, "Thank you, My Lord."

Jack snickered, Daniel smacked Jack on the arm, Sheppard, still the only one of the two pilots able to use his vocal chords, stammered, "My Lord?" and Vidrine, allowing Mack one last look at Daniel, turned and headed off to wherever he'd been heading.

"My Lord," Jack mimicked in a mincing voice.

Daniel heaved a what-did-I-do-to-deserve-you sigh, and turned to the pilots. "Hi. I'm Daniel Jackson. Which one of you is Major Mitchell?"

Mitchell lifted a hand and weakly waved.

"So you must be Major Sheppard," he said to the other pilot.

"John," the pilot said. "Pleased to meetcha," he said with a surprising effort at sincerity.

"Really?" Daniel asked, surprised. "Even after talking to Jack? Usually people want to run for the hills."

"Ha ha, again," Jack said in a surly tone.

"You have one of those things inside of you?" Sheppard asked, his sharp eyes belying his casual drawl.

"I do," Daniel said. "As does General Vidrine."

"Do you?" Mitchell asked Jack, finally regaining the ability to speak.

"Nope," Jack said, feeling proud that he hadn't said: hell no. Especially when he'd actually been thinking about it.

"So you can't tell just by looking at someone," Mitchell asked, his brain switching back to the on position.

"Most people can't," Daniel said. "I can tell; anyone who has or who has had a Goa'uld can tell."

"And the glowy eyes sort of give it away," Jack threw in. Before Daniel could say something testy and disrespectful to him in front of a couple of majors, Jack beat him to it. He threw his arm around Daniel's shoulder, and said, "This here's the System Lord of the Tauri. Me and him are best friends." He held up his hand, index and middle finger crossed. "We're like this."

Daniel rolled his eyes, even though Jack could see he was pleased. Daniel was always pleased when Jack called him his best friend. Therefore, Jack was happy to say it on a regular basis.

"Tauri?" Mitchell tried.

"Us," Jack explained. "Humans. It's what we're called on other planets."

"See?" Sheppard began. "This whole other planet thing is sort of throwing me."

Jack pursed his lips. "But the glowy eyes thing is okay?"

"No, that's sort of throwing me, too," Sheppard admitted honestly. "I'd really like a beer," he added. Then, wincing, he threw in a "Sir."

"I don't blame you a bit," Jack said, stepping away from Daniel to avoid an elbow in his ribs. "I think there're some medicinal beers down in the infirmary."

"Whiskey," Daniel corrected him.

"Whiskey would work," Mitchell said.

"Sounds like we have a plan," Jack said, rubbing his hands together with satisfaction. If he got these guys drunk enough they'd probably agree to anything. As if Daniel could read his mind, he frowned, but Junior's eyes were glowing with merriment, as if he, too, could read Jack's mind. "See?" he said with a hand out to Daniel, looking at Sheppard and Mitchell. "They're funny."

This time it was Daniel, Sheppard and Mitchell who exchanged glances, and Jack, with a huff, headed for the infirmary.

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An hour later, the two pilots while not exactly drunk, but certainly not feeling any pain, were sitting on gurneys staring at the tank. Jack had wanted to join them in a drink or three but decided it probably wouldn't be setting a good example to get toasted while on duty. And yes, the pilots were on duty, too, but it was their superior officer who was plying them with liquor.

"Can you tell them apart?" Sheppard asked, his eyes following the symbiotes who were having fun getting thrown about by the eddies.

"Daniel can," Jack said. "I can pick out a couple of them." He got to his feet and walked to the tank. "This, gentlemen," he said, tapping the glass, "is Tana'oa. He's the tank boss." He tapped the glass again. "How ya doin', T?" He frowned. "I guess I can't call you T, can I? I already gave that nickname to Teal'c. Hmm."

He could hear Daniel snickering behind him.

Ignoring his royal majesty, he pointed out a smaller one. "That's Kitty. He's Carter's."

As if on cue, Carter walked into the infirmary with someone in tow. Her face looked thunderous. "McKay, your theory won't work," she snapped at the man behind her.

"What do you mean it won't work?" the man bit back. "You're probably just saying that because you can't possibly understand--What the hell are those?" he yelped, staring at the tank in morbid curiosity.

"The Goa'uld symbiotes," Carter bitched, "which you'd know about if you ever paid the slightest bit attention to anything that wasn't all about you."

Jack raised his eyebrows. Carter usually managed to keep her cool better than this. He didn't recognize the guy and was guessing he wasn't someone sent here to be a host.

Daniel got off the gurney and approached the tank. "Dr. McKay," he said courteously.

"Dr. Jackson," McKay said distractedly. "These are disgusting," he added with a grimace, his hand sort of waving in a they-better-not-come-near-me sort of way.

Oh, boy, thought Jack, preparing to get between Daniel and McKay if need be. Or Junior and McKay.

"I mean, seriously," McKay said, clearly wanting there to be no misunderstanding.

"They're not," Daniel said heatedly. "They're simply a different species."

"Yeah," Jack said, shoulder to shoulder with Daniel. "Besides, they think you're butt ugly, so you're even."

McKay gaped at Jack. "And you are?" in a tone that said it didn't matter, that Jack was essentially the dirt on the sole of his shoe.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill, with two l's," Jack informed him, cutting him some slack only because there was no insignia on his BDUs.

"Oh," McKay said, giving Jack a once over and, from his expression, not overly impressed. He turned back to the tank. "What do they do?"

"Apparently," Sheppard said, joining them at the tank, turning it into a party, "they get inside of you and share your body."

McKay reared away from the tank and smack into Sheppard. "Are you kidding me?" He moved behind Sheppard for protection, peering over his shoulder. "Why are they here? Get rid of them."

"They're our allies," Sheppard said, part explanation, part what-the-fuck.

McKay blinked at Sheppard, then looked at the tank, wincing. "Seriously?"

"Maybe one of them will choose you as a host," Carter said meanly.

Putting his hands on his head, then his mouth, then, weirdly over his crotch, he said in a high nervous voice, "How do they get in? They don't just leap at you, do they?"

Jack tapped the back of his neck. "Through the neck," he offered with a grin.

"Jack," Daniel scolded.

McKay's hands were now around his neck. He looked like he was strangling himself.

"They just want to be friends," Daniel said by rote, as if he knew he was wasting his breath.

Scoffing, McKay shook his head. "No, thank you. Do you have any idea how valuable my brain is? No way am I sharing it with someone."

"As if one of them would want you," Carter muttered under her breath.

"I heard that," McKay snapped. "And they would so," he added petulantly. His eyes widened, "Not that I'm offering." He looked at Daniel. "They do ask first, right? I mean, one of them's not just going to jump in me, right? Not that I could blame them with my brain, but I'm safe, right?"

"They would never take a host without permission," Daniel said. His eyes glowed. "Do not fear, Dr. McKay, you will not be asked," Junior said with some censure.

McKay's eyes opened really wide and he let out a strained whine. Swallowing, he very reluctantly dropped his hands from his neck and straightened his shirt. "Right," he said oh-so-casually. "Good. Okay, then." He totally missed Jack and Carter rolling their eyes. "I'll just get back to my work, then." He glared at Carter. "And my theory will work."

"Go away, McKay," Carter begged.

With a look that was equal parts a defiant who-needs-you and a wistful don't-you-like-me? McKay walked out of the infirmary.

"Who was that guy?" Sheppard asked as if McKay was weirder than the symbiotes.

"Dr. Rodney McKay," Carter said glumly. "Astrophysicist, self-professed genius, and all around pain in the--"

"I heard that," McKay said, peeking his head in the door, interrupting her.

"Go away," she said loudly.

Pouting, he shut the door.

"Thank God," Carter said.

"Hey, at least you know where you stand with the guy," Sheppard said with a lopsided grin. He held out his hand to Carter. "John Sheppard."

"Samantha Carter," she said back with a nice smile, shaking his hand. Then she introduced herself to Mitchell.

"You the one Kitty belongs to?" Mitchell asked.

"Yeah," Carter said, turning to the tank. She spread her fingers on the tank, and Ganaskidi brushed against it like he always did. "He's still young, though. It'll be a couple of years before he's ready."

"And you're just gonna--" Mitchell didn't finish his sentence, just touched the back of his neck and winced.

She smiled in commiseration. "It took me a long time to get used to the idea, trust me. Daniel's been very patient."

"Sam," Daniel protested. "I never asked you to take a symbiote."

"I know," she said, giving his arm a squeeze.

"It wasn't you who convinced her anyway, Daniel," Jack said, touching the tank himself. "It was Kitty, here." Tana'oa swam closer, bursting with curiosity. "You better let Junior fill Tana'oa in. He's dying to know what's going on."

"How do you know that?" Sheppard asked. "Are they speaking some language?"

"Jack can sense their emotions," Daniel said.

"They call me the Guardian," Jack said smugly.

"They do?" Carter asked, her brow furrowed. "When did that happen?"

"Daniel told me last night," Jack told her.

"So you can't actually talk to them?" Mitchell asked.

Jack shook his head. "No. Daniel can. Anyone with a Goa'uld can, but I can't. I can tell you that Tana'oa is always curious, and Kitty thinks Carter's the best thing since sliced bread." He moved closer and pointed toward one resting in the plants, "He gets overwhelmed by all the activity in the tank so likes to hide, and he," Jack pointed to the other mature Goa'uld, "is impatient to merge with his host. Who is he going to again?" Jack asked Daniel.

"Mamello," Daniel said.

"Ah," Jack responded. "Simba and Nala."

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Jack," he said chidingly. "I suspect your penchant for giving the Goa'uld nicknames will not be as well received by our global VIPs. The two South African representatives are Mamello Adannaya and Zwanga Abidemi, not characters from the Lion King."

Jack shrugged. How anyone expected him to remember everyone's names was beyond him. "I keep telling you I need a list," he complained.

Mitchell peered into the tank. "So you're telling us that we can't join the program, and can't fly alien spaceships unless we let one of these guys live in us, sir?"

"Oh, I imagine you can still join the program," Jack said carelessly. "After all, we can always use more military…on the ground."

Sheppard actually winced at that. "On the ground, sir?"

"Not much cause for flying on other planets," Jack explained, "other than alien spaceships, and you won't know how to fly any of them."

"Jack," Daniel said vehemently, "they have to choose this of their own free will. It's not like getting a tattoo."

With an innocent spread of hands, Jack said, "They do get to choose. I'm just letting them know what the situation is."

Daniel frowned at him then turned to Mitchell and Sheppard. "I'm sure this seems frightening to you, especially given Jack's no doubt stellar explanation--"

"Hey!" Jack protested.

"However," Daniel pressed on, ignoring Jack's outburst, "I can promise you that no one who's become a host has regretted making the decision. These creatures are very loving," he said, the affection he had for them evident in his voice, "and all they want is a chance to live." He put his hands on the glass and every symbiote in the tank rushed over to say hello.

"So, they'll die if they don't get a host?" Sheppard asked.

"Yes," Daniel said sadly. "They'd been dying for millennia until we discovered them."

"Until you discovered them," Jack corrected, smiling fondly at his friend.

"I can't stay," Carter piped up, "but Daniel's right. Ask anyone here who's a host. They'll all tell you the same thing." With a nod at Jack and a smile for Daniel, she pointed over her shoulder. "I better get back to the lab before McKay blows something up." There were a chorus of byes, and Sam left.

Sheppard was staring at the tank. "He looks pretty mature," he noted, pointing toward Tana'oa.

"He'll need a host sometime soon, as well," Daniel agreed.

Jack frowned.

"Maybe I could have him," Sheppard suggested.

Jack frowned some more.

"You're just gonna do this?" Mitchell asked, eyebrows high.

"Sure," Sheppard said. "I wanna fly alien spaceships," he added with an excited grin and a waggle of eyebrows.

Daniel grinned back at him.

"Maybe you should think about it a little more," Jack said, feeling grouchy all of a sudden.

"No," Sheppard replied. "I'm good. And I'll take him," he said, pointing toward Tana'oa.

With a bright grin, Daniel put his hand in the tank. "Let's see what he has to say about it."

"Uh," Jack said. Weirdly, Tana'oa seemed reluctant to go to Daniel, something Jack had never seen. "Looks like he's not interested," Jack said quickly. "Guess you'll have to choose another one."

Daniel shot Jack a sharp glance, studying him. Then he looked at Tana'oa. Then back at Jack. He pulled his hand out of the water. "I believe," Daniel said slowly to Sheppard, "that Tana'oa has someone else in mind, but he thanks you for your offer," he added. "He says he's sure there will be another Goa'uld who would suit you better."

"Okay," Sheppard said with a frown. "How long will it take? It looks like the one for Simba and this guy are the only mature ones."

Jack grinned at Sheppard. He liked the guy already.

"Mamello," Daniel said in a world-weary tone. Exhaling loudly, sharing his pain, he added, "There are many more mature symbiotes on Kuokoa and Chulak."

"Other planets," Jack explained.

Just then there was a loud siren, and red lights began to flash. "Unauthorized gate activation," came a voice over the loudspeaker.

Jack took off for the control room, Daniel, Mitchell, and Sheppard right behind him. He considered telling them to stand down, but if they were joining the program, they'd be seeing it all anyway. Plus, Jack had already told them the creepiest thing about this place, and there was no putting that cow back in the barn.

By the time he made it to the control room, Davis looked up and said, "It's Teal'c's IDC."

"Excellent," Jack said, breathing through the adrenalin. "Let him in."

The iris dropped and Jack, after telling Mitchell and Sheppard to stay put, headed down to the gateroom to welcome Teal'c, and with him, Bratac. Teal'c and Daniel exchanged affectionate glances, and the older Jaffa greeted them all.

"I have brought two mature symbiotes," Bratac said, proffering one of the small coolers filled with symbiote-safe fluid that Janet had been handing out like Star Wars lunchboxes. "I do not know if they are friendly or not."

Daniel took the cooler from him. "Thank you, Bratac."

"I also bring news," Bratac announced, this time more seriously.

"Bad news?" Jack asked.

"I believe it is," Bratac said soberly. "I believe Daniel Jackson is at risk."

Really bad news, then, Jack thought to himself, especially as he took in the look on Teal'c's face. "Okay, first we'll take care of those," he said, pointing at the cooler Daniel was holding, "and then we'll talk in the conference room." Then to Daniel, "Are they happy campers?"

Daniel shook his head. "One of them is unfriendly."

"Right," Jack said. "All of you, out of the gate room," he said to the SFs. The door opened and he ushered them all out, leaving only Daniel, Teal'c and Bratac, who had his zat out and ready.

Jack got back up to the control room to find Sheppard and Mitchell plastered to the glass watching the proceedings below. Daniel opened the cooler and one of the symbiotes launched itself at him with a shriek. Daniel batted it away and it skittered across the floor. Before it could launch again, Bratac shot it three times with his zat.

"What sort of weapon is that?" Mitchell exclaimed in sheer envy.

"That is a zat," Jack said smugly. "Very cool alien space gun."

Daniel was opening the cooler again, but whoever was in there wasn't coming out. Crouching, Daniel put his hand in the cooler, speaking softly. Slowly, the symbiote curled around Daniel's arm, and he was lifted out. "Hey," Daniel said. "You're amongst friends now."

As if they all took the same class, the symbiote rearranged itself until it's head lay on Daniel's hand, the rest of it's body coiled up his arm. He was definitely mature, no doubt about it. Jack tapped Sheppard on the shoulder. "There's your new buddy."

For some insane reason, Sheppard didn't look the least disgusted. Jack needed to remember to introduce this guy to Paul Costello. They were obviously cut from the same cloth. Reaching for the microphone, Jack said, "Okay, show's over. Everyone back to their stations."

The SFs moved back into the gateroom assuming their positions. Jack sauntered down the stairs, Mitchell and Sheppard behind him. By the time they got there, Daniel had put the symbiote back in the liquid.

"Do I get that one?" Sheppard asked.

Daniel looked momentarily surprised that Sheppard had apparently meant what he said. "Let's take him to the infirmary and ask him," he suggested.

Jack agreed. There was no way they were doing this here. Not that anyone who worked here didn't know there was funny stuff going on, but that didn't mean everyone needed or wanted to see symbiotes tunneling their way into a human. Jack had already seen it way too many times and it still creeped him out. "So, infirmary first, then the conference room. Good for everyone?"

Bratac nodded, and they all trooped off after Daniel.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"You sure?" Daniel asked again.

"Yeah, seriously, man, are you sure?" Mitchell asked Sheppard.

Daniel was holding the Goa'uld who was thrumming in Sheppard's direction.

"I'll get to fly alien spaceships, right?" Sheppard asked.

"You betcha," Jack said.

"And they go faster than 200 miles per hour, right?" Sheppard asked.

"They go way faster," Jack said, delighted to be in a conversation where he totally got the point. Hanging with Daniel so long had made the feeling of being lost in a conversation a daily event.

Sheppard shrugged. "So, yeah, I’m sure."

Jack had to admire Sheppard's coolness. He looked at Daniel. "You're on."

Costello was leaning against the tank, grinning like a Cheshire cat, and about five of the symbiotes, including Tana'oa, were paying close attention.

"Do you want some privacy for this?" Daniel asked Sheppard.

Sheppard shook his head. "Nah." He swallowed, letting Jack know he wasn't quite as cool as he was pretending to be. Clearing his throat, Sheppard asked, "What, um, what do I do?"

Jack was glad to see Daniel moving over to him; the waiting was always the worst, and having a peanut gallery wasn't helping.

Then, Sheppard was dropping his head, baring the back of his neck, Daniel's hand moved and Sheppard's eyes were glowing, and just like that, Stargate Command had its first human-Goa'uld pilot.

The first thing Sheppard did, the same thing they all did, was look at Daniel. This was the part that always got Jack, how much they all loved him. Maybe it was because Jack totally got that, and that was without a Goa'uld of his own.

Then, Costello was taking Sheppard under his wing, and Mitchell was following them both, looking part wigged out and part intrigued.

"Time for the bad news?" Jack asked Bratac once they were gone.

"I am afraid so," he said in apology.

"Let's take this to the conference room," Jack suggested. He found himself spreading his hand on the glass by Tana'oa as he left the room.

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Teal'c settled himself next to Daniel, while Jack sat across from him. Bratac was at the head of the table, and when Carter slipped in, she sat next to Jack.

"Okay," Jack said. "Lay it on me."

Bratac and Teal'c exchanged glances that made Jack's gut clench. Bratac pulled a scroll out from inside his leather vest and pushed it to Jack. Opening it up, Jack saw a hand drawn picture of Daniel. It sort of looked like him, the way a police sketch looks like a criminal. "I'm assuming it's a wanted poster?" Jack asked. "What does it say?" It was written in Goa'uld.

Daniel held out his hand, and Jack gave the scroll to him. Jack watched as Daniel read the paper, wincing occasionally.

"Well? What?" Jack snapped. "Share with the class."

"Baal has put a steep price on DanielJackson's head," Teal'c intoned. "And it is a very high price indeed."

"But it is worse than that," Bratac added. "He is also offering to pay for any information about DanielJackson, a newly proclaimed System Lord, as well as his First Prime, the sholva Teal'c."

"Damn," Jack said. That meant Baal already knew way too much.

Daniel put a hand on Teal'c's arm. "I'm not thrilled he knows about you."

"He also mentions Barak, and offers to pay for information regarding his whereabouts," Teal'c said.

"He's already connected some dots," Carter said.

Too many dots. Jack could tell there was more when Bratac and Teal'c exchanged another glance. He stared at them, hands up and open, impatiently waiting for the rest.

"He is torturing Jaffa for information," Bratac said with a heavy sigh. "I fear for our loyal Jaffa. Many of them know far too much."

"Great," Jack said morosely. "Is that more money than that bounty hunter guy said you were worth?" Jack asked Daniel, pointing at the bounty poster.

Daniel nodded.

"A great deal more," Teal'c said.

"Well, we knew it was gonna happen," Jack observed.

"Do you think he knows about the symbiotes?" Daniel asked worriedly.

"I do not know," Bratac answered. "But, despite the danger, many Jaffa will do their utmost to keep us apprised of Baal's movements."

"Maybe you shouldn't go out on any missions for a while," Carter suggested to Daniel.

Jack snorted. Right. Like that was gonna happen.

"With Junior, I'm safer now than I was when Aris Boch captured us," Daniel told Sam oh-so-reasonably. "We've all had a price on our heads for a long time."

"And lived to tell the tale," Jack said with some satisfaction.

"I agree with Major Carter," Teal'c said sternly. "It would perhaps be best if you chose not to put yourself in danger."

"Teal'c," Daniel said, "I have to go out there. I may not know all there is about being a leader, but I certainly know it's not about hiding while other people fight the war without me."

"Not for good," Carter gave it another try, "but you could at least wait until we know more about what Baal knows."

"And let innocent Jaffa die on my behalf?" Daniel said indignantly. With a glare, Daniel turned to Jack, "Aren't you the one who said you wanted to take this fight to the system lords?"

"Hey," Jack protested, "do you hear me saying you should stay behind?"

Daniel thought about it, then conceding, said, "No, you're not," with a nice little smile for Jack.

Jack preened. "That's because I know better." He leaned forward. "But, if we do go anywhere, we're taking a lot of extra protection with us." At the start of Daniel's frown, Jack stopped him with a glare, "And that's not open to debate."

Teal'c still didn't look happy, but he seemed willing to accept Jack's compromise, especially as Daniel wasn't arguing other than his slightly sulky expression. Jack glanced at his watch. "Can you stay, Bratac? We could all do dinner."

"I cannot," Bratac said with an apologetic air. "I must return to Chulak. But, before I leave, I do have some good news for you, Daniel Jackson."

Daniel's eyebrows went up, encouraging him to continue.

"I believe we have found a host for you on Chulak. It is a woman healer named Manauc, from Kaufic, a small sea town to the east."

"That is good news," Daniel said with a smile.

"Now you'll have your own truffle snuffling pig," Jack said jovially to Bratac.

Daniel shot him a look, although Junior managed to sneak in a merry glow. Bratac had a large smile on his face. Jack had shown him a picture of a pig snuffling truffles the last time he was here. "I do not believe I will show Manauc a picture of your pigs who snuffle truffles," Bratac said.

"Good idea," Daniel said dryly.

With that, Bratac stood, prompting everyone else to stand. In short order they were back in the gateroom seeing Bratac off.

As they were climbing the stairs back up, Davis called down to Carter. "Major Carter? Lieutenant Sean Lightfoot is waiting to see you."

" Lieutenant who?" Jack asked.

"He's the new Naval biologist, sir," Carter told Jack. "He's here to help us build a bigger tank for the symbiotes."

"Does he have any idea what he's here for?" Jack inquired, imagining the look on the guys' face when he was given his assignment.

"Not the slightest idea," Carter said with a grin. Turning to Daniel, she added, "You want to meet him with me? It might make things easier."

"I'm assuming he has adequate security clearance," Jack asked, just to be sure.

"As high as mine," Carter said. "He's worked on some top secret projects."

"So, how'd he end up drawing the short straw for this assignment?" Jack asked.

"Jack," Daniel grumped at him.

"Oh, come on, Daniel. From top secret projects to building a fish tank?"

"He knows Paul Costello," Carter explained.

"Got it," Jack said. Another one of those. They were getting thick on the ground. "And what's with that name?"

Still grumpy, Daniel snarked, "You'd rather it be Sean Yertle?"

"As a matter of fact--" Jack started.

"Where is he?" Carter asked Davis, interrupting Jack.

"He's at the main security check-in for level 28, Major," Davis informed her.

"Great," Carter said. "Daniel?"

Daniel gave Jack a haughty stare as he passed him, completely befitting his prissy system lord status, and Jack just grinned at him.

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"Um, hi," Sam said, barely remembering how to speak.

Sean Lightfoot was gorgeous. Drop dead gorgeous. If the last name hadn't given it away, he was clearly Native American, with long black hair tied back, smooth bronzed skin, and about six feet five inches tall. His eyes were a chocolate brown, and he had a broad friendly smile.

Sam knew Colonel O'Neill was giving her a look, probably expecting introductions, but she couldn't stop staring at the vision in front of her. "Uh," she tried.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill," Jack finally said.

Lieutenant Lightfoot saluted, "Sir."

Jack waved him off. "We don't stand on a lot of ceremony around here, Lieutenant."

"What he means is that Jack doesn't stand on a lot of ceremony," Daniel said with a smile. Holding out his hand, he introduced himself. "Daniel Jackson, civilian."

Sean shook his hand, smiling again. "Sean."

"And this is Major Samantha Carter," Jack said, nudging her with an elbow.

She blinked. "Right. Sorry. I'm pleased to meet you." So gorgeous.

"Major," the lieutenant said in response.

"What's with the hair?" Jack asked.

Sam had wondered about that, too. It was midway down his back, thick and black. She was surprised the military hadn't insisted he cut it. For a small instant, she wondered what it felt like, what it would feel like cascading down her body. As she felt her nipples harden, Sam ordered herself to get it together.

"Religious reasons, sir," Sean explained. "I'm also the Shaman for my tribe."

"What tribe?" Daniel asked, as always interested in everything.

"Navajo," Sean said.

Sam made a mental note to go home and google the Navajo so she wouldn't say anything stupid.

Daniel's face brightened. To Jack he said, "Interestingly enough, the Navajo theory of the origin of man centers around a worm. An earthworm, but still."

Jack stared at Daniel for a moment. "Only you would know that."

"And me," Sean said with a grin for Daniel.

"Well, once you find out what you're here for, you'll find that little tidbit of information nicely ironic," Jack said. He signed Sean in at the security checkpoint and got him a visitor's pass. "You'll need to sign some confidentiality papers before you go any farther," Jack said, taking the clipboard handed to him by the guard on duty.

"I expected as much, sir," Sean said agreeably, starting to sign the stack of papers Jack had handed over.

Sam sighed. Not an ounce of fat on him. He was in really good shape.

"You're drooling," Jack whispered in her ear.

Sam had a hand to her mouth to check before she realized the Colonel was having a little fun at her expense. Pulling it together, she shot Jack a sidelong look and smiled at Sean. "Ready to find out what you're here for?"

"The suspense is killing me," Sean said. "Major," he added.

"Sam is fine," Sam assured him. If he decided to stay, she'd have to make sure that he wasn't in her reporting structure.

"So, you like worms?" Jack asked.

Sean shot him an odd look. "Sure, I guess. They make good bait for fishing."

Daniel's eyes glowed, and Sam wasn't sure if Junior was annoyed or amused. "We prefer not to be eaten alive," Junior informed Sean emphatically.

Annoyed.

"He didn't mean anything by it," Sam soothed Junior. "You can hardly blame him for not understanding."

Junior gave Sean a good look, as if trying to decide if Daniel were safe in his presence.

Five seconds later, Costello showed up. "Hey, Daniel, everything okay?" Then he saw Sean. "Sean! How the hell are you?" He reached out a hand and clasped Sean's eagerly. "Welcome to Wonderland."

Sean gave Costello a friendly shake, smiling, but his eyes were stuck on Daniel and his glowing eyes. "For some reason, I really believe you when you say that."

"That's Junior," Paul explained, gesturing at Daniel's glowing eyes. "He lives inside of Daniel." To Junior, Paul said, "What's going on, Junior? What's got you all worked up?"

"Sean thinks worms make good bait," Jack explained.

Paul laughed. "Come on, Junior. I personally vouch for Sean. He's a good guy."

Daniel's eyes slowly lost their glow and Daniel blinked. He winced a smile at Sean. "Sorry about that. He has a thing about being eaten."

Sean blinked back. Then, he turned to Paul, questions written all over his face. Amazingly, Sam thought, it made him even better looking.

"Okay, Mr. Biologist," Paul said with a wide grin. "Time to meet a whole new species. You ready? You're in for a hell of a ride."

Sean nodded, observing Paul closely. "You have one, too, Paul, don't you?"

Paul's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"You can tell?" Sam asked, as surprised as Paul.

"I can sense two spirits about you," Sean explained. "And you," he said to Daniel.

"Two spirits," Daniel repeated. "I like that. Is it your Shaman training that allows you to sense that there are two of us?" he asked excitedly.

"You guys can get all mystical later," Jack interrupted. "Let's go to the infirmary and let the Lieutenant here get introduced to the gang down there." He gestured for Sam to lead the way, which was too bad, because she had really wanted some time to scope out Sean's butt.

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Two hours later, after Sean had been regaled with the tale of good and bad Goa'uld, Teal'c and Daniel had retired to their quarters, and Jack had left the mountain, Sean and Sam still sat by the tank. "Unbelievable," Sean said, for about the hundredth time.

Sam grinned at him.

"And that one's yours?" he asked, pointing out Ganaskidi.

Nodding, Sam put her hand in the water. Kitty came shooting toward her and wrapped around Sam's wrist. She brought him out and showed him to Sean. "He's still young." She gestured toward Tana'oa. "They look like that when they're more mature."

"May I touch?" Sean asked.

Absolutely, Sam lusted to herself. As Daniel had filled Sean in, she'd gone to find Janet so Janet could get all hot and flustered, too. Janet had let out an appreciative woof when she'd laid eyes on him. Sam held out her hand, implying permission. "Everyone calls her Kitty, but his real name is Ganaskidi."

Sean looked at her in some surprise. "Ganaskidi?"

She nodded.

Smiling, he stroked down the length of Ganaskidi who thrummed in response. "Ganaskidi is one of the Navajo's benevolent gods," he said. "He is the god of harvests and plenty, and--"

"Mists," she said, joining him. "Yeah, I know." She'd forgotten it was Navajo, though. Weird. She was so taking it as a sign.

"Ganaskidi belongs to the Mountain Sheep People," Sean said. "He can appear in the form of Rocky Mountain sheep. In ceremonies where the Harvest God takes part, it is believed that the sheep's body has curative powers. Water from a sheep's eye cures sore eyes, a horn, from a ram, pressed against the patient's head, can relieve headaches."

He stroked Kitty again, saying, "So, here we are, me, a Navajo, sitting in the midst of the Rocky Mountains, petting a creature from another planet, who has taken on the name of a Navajo Rocky Mountain sheep god." He smiled broadly at her. "What are the odds of that?"

Laughing, Sam said, "I don't think even I could calculate those odds." With a grin at his star struck expression as he continued to stare at both Kitty and the tank, she teased, "Glad you came?"

He slowly shook his head. "Honored." He put his hand on the glass. "I will make you a home as a sign of peace between my people and yours," he promised the symbiotes.

Sam found herself blinking against a prick of tears.

"They thank you," Paul said from the doorway.

"They can understand me?" Sean asked.

"Not as such, but they can sense your intentions, and I filled in the rest," he said with a grin as he joined them at the tank. "Hey, Kitty," he said to Sam's symbiote.

With a smile for Paul, Sam put her symbiote back in the tank. As much as she wanted to hang out with Sean, who was seriously growing on her by the minute, it had been a long day. "I better say good night," she said to both men. To Sean she added, "I'll see you in the morning, and we can get started."

"I'll look forward to it," Sean said sincerely.

Feeling like a high school girl, Sam could feel her cheeks blush. "Good night, then," she said. She touched the glass, said her good nights to Vijay who was in Janet's office, on call for the evening, and left for home.

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"How was Washington, sir?" Jack asked Hammond, late the next day after his return.

Hammond sighed, unusual behavior for him.

"That good, huh?" Jack guessed.

"Senator Kinsey has not changed his opinion about Dr. Jackson or this program," Hammond finally said, a sour look on his face.

"Is he getting through to the President?" Jack asked, alarmed. Jack didn't know what the fuck would happen if the President decided to shut this whole thing down.

"No, he's not," Hammond assured him, "but Kinsey came as close to threats as he could, without actually saying anything."

"More than he was doing that day he was here?" Kinsey hadn't exactly been all about the balloons and roses when he'd more or less threatened Daniel with righteous vengeance from God, complete with rivers of flowing blood.

"He's a clever man, Jack, for all his posturing. I think he could do this program, and possibly Dr. Jackson, some damage."

"From bad PR, you mean? Dropping a line to the National Inquirer?" Jack could imagine the mountain surrounded by rabid reporters all wanting to see the 'aliens'. On the other hand, Jack was constantly surprised it wasn't happening on a regular basis. Then he thought about Armin Selig, and he wasn't so surprised. He wondered how many more accidental deaths of civilians could be laid at SGC's door.

"More focused than that," Hammond said slowly. "All it takes is one fanatic with a high powered rifle."

"Daniel?" Jack said, the thought making his stomach roil. "You think there's that much of a risk?"

"Possibly," Hammond said. "I've never been a fan of Kinsey's, but there was something in his expression. Satisfaction, surety. I'm not sure exactly how to describe it, but it made me think he's already done something."

"Daniel doesn't leave the mountain, then, at least until the housing development is done," Jack said firmly. "He won't like it, but he'll deal."

"I tend to agree," Hammond said.

"Of course, I'm not sure he's going to be especially safe going through the gate, either." Jack pushed a translation of the wanted poster toward the general. "Bratac dropped that off yesterday. That's an English copy."

Hammond took a moment to read the content of the message and his lips tightened unhappily. "Well, we knew this would happen."

"Yeah, that's what I said," Jack said, leaning back. "Now comes the fun part, trying to protect Daniel when he'll want to be off haring all over the place to make sure his symbiotes don't pay the price for his notoriety."

That almost got a grin out of Hammond. "You've got your work cut out for you, Colonel."

"Don't I know it," Jack groused.

"We could keep him grounded altogether," Hammond suggested.

Jack shook his head. "The war's out there," he said, pointing toward the gate room. "Daniel's right. He'd be a lousy leader if he stayed under his desk. Besides, as brutal as the system lords can be, at least they tend to fight their battles face to face, as opposed to hiring some faceless sniper."

Hammond nodded, "I agree. In a confrontation between Daniel and an unfriendly Goa'uld, I'd put my money on Daniel."

So would Jack. Especially if you threw Teal'c, the rest of SG-1, and SG-3 into the mix. Let alone any friendly Goa'uld who happened to be hanging around. Daniel's chances were much better off planet.

"Anything else going on, Jack?"

"We have our new Naval biologist working with Siler and Carter on the larger tank," Jack said, leaving out the part where Carter was embarrassingly lusting after the man. He'd never seen Carter go to town like that. He was looking forward to the next team night so he could give her shit about it. "Oh, and Major John Sheppard, one of the pilots sent our way, took a symbiote. According to Paul, the other pilot, Cameron Mitchell, is giving it some serious thought."

"That's good news," Hammond said with a satisfied smile.

"With Sheppard on board," Jack added, "Vidrine can pull himself a team together to start regularly grabbing ships. He's champing at the bit to get going."

"I'm sure he is." He glanced at his watch. "Anything else?"

"Tessa and Kayla anxious for you to get home?" Jack said with a grin.

"Tessa has a recital tonight," Hammond admitted.

"Then you better get going," Jack ordered. "Sir." As an afterthought, he added, "You might want to think about being careful, yourself. We've already seen how this place falls apart without you in charge."

"I'll take that under advisement," Hammond said seriously. "If there's nothing else, I believe I'll say goodnight."

Jack stood, thinking about how true his words about Hammond were. There were way too many ways this place could be sabotaged. Maybe he'd have to put a word in the President's ear about getting the general some bodyguards. Grinning at the thought, Jack went in search of Daniel.

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Sara brought two mugs of hot chocolate to the table and placed one in front of Sam, the other in front of herself. Then, she went back for the whipped cream. "Best part," she said with a grin, topping her hot chocolate with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

Grinning in complete agreement, Sam topped off her hot chocolate as well, and then scooped out a spoonful of hot chocolately whipped cream and slurped it off the spoon. "Okay, you ready?" she asked Sara.

"Ready as I'll ever be," Sara said, pad of paper in front of her, picking up her pencil.

"The important thing to remember about lying is that for it to really be convincing, it needs to be wrapped around the truth. So, the number one lie, which really isn't a lie, is that we all work for the government, for its deep space telemetry program."

Sara wrote down 'deep space telemetry'. "Got it."

"It's all part of NASA's Deep Space Network, which is," Sam grinned, "an international network of radio antennas that support interplanetary spacecraft missions, and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe."

Sara's eyebrows went up. "That's exactly what you guys do," she said in some surprise.

"Exactly," Sam said with a grin. "That's why it's a perfect cover story. Not that we were exactly what they had in mind when they created it," she snickered. "While people can find out about the Deep Space Network on line, the government has scrubbers that make sure that we, individually, can't be found through any sort of internet search. If people try to find out more about Jack, for instance," Sam said, taking a moment to scoop up some melting whipped cream, "they'd eventually find out that he works for the Deep Space Network, but not a whole lot more."

Sara wrote down 'Deep Space Network'.

Sam pushed over a folder. "This is everything about the program that's either available for public review, or stuff that you'd likely know being married to someone who works for the program. You can talk about any of this stuff without getting in trouble." She opened the folder and showed Sara the papers on the left. "This is information you can impart with the air of sharing a confidence with a friend or family member, because most people don't know this stuff."

Sara shot Sam a grateful look. "This is wonderful, Sam, thanks. I haven't even called my dad, yet, which is unforgivable, because I haven't had any idea what to tell him." She tapped the file, "And not just about this. Also about Jack." She grimaced. "My dad doesn't think too highly of Jack. He won't be happy we've gotten back together."

"Because of Charlie?" Sam asked gently, doing a quick self-monitoring check to see how she felt about Sara and Jack being married. Not that they were yet, but they would be soon, if Sam was any judge. To her relief, she didn't even feel a twinge. Of course, their gorgeous new Naval biologist might have something to do with that, Sam grinned to herself.

"Dad never blamed Jack," Sara said, "not really. It was more how Jack--" she stopped.

Sam guessed Sara didn't want to talk badly about Jack to one of his co-workers, and Sam respected her for that. She helped Sara out, "How Jack checked out?" At Sara's nod, Sam said, "Jack told me about it." To make sure Sara didn't feel weird about that, she added, "He told me about it when he wanted my opinion on whether you'd ever talk to him again."

Sara stirred her hot chocolate, and then added another dollop of whipped cream to her mug. "When I thought about my future a year ago," Sara said, "even two months ago, never, in a million years, did I think I'd be back with Jack, back in love, and thinking about getting remarried. It all still hurt too much." She let out a breathy laugh, shook her head, and shot Sam a lopsided smile. "But here I am."

Sam did find herself a little envious at what Sara had. Not Jack, per se, but the being with someone. "I used to have a crush on Jack," she confessed. She had decided to tell this to Sara when the opportunity availed itself, just in case someone else chose to spill the beans. Sam knew she hadn't exactly been subtle about it.

Cocking her head to the side, considering Sam, Sara asked cautiously," Used to?"

"Very used to," Sam assured her. "And Jack never felt that way about me. Not that he can't flirt when he wants to," Sam said, grinning, "but he made it very clear to me, painfully clear," she added with a wince, "that I needed to get my head out of the clouds."

"Ouch," Sara said in commiseration.

"Actually," Sam confided, "it was a relief to get it said and over with. I just needed a reality check." She paused. "At the end of our first year together, something went wrong with the Stargate system and it threw me and Jack out into what we thought was an ice planet. Jack was badly hurt, and it's likely he would have died if Daniel hadn't figured out where we were. We were both freezing to death and were huddled together. Anyway, Jack kept calling me Sara," she finished up.

The story brought tears to Sara's eyes. "He did?"

Sam nodded. "I don't think he's ever stopped loving you."

Sara sniffed, wiping at her eyes. "That's what Daniel said."

"Well, if Daniel said it," Sam said on a half laugh, "then you have to believe it."

Sara laughed, too, her laugh a little soggy. "How did the two of them ever become friends?" she asked, a little mystified.

"They are an unlikely duo, aren't they? I didn't get it for a long time," Sam confessed, "how close they were, especially when I was in the midst of my high school drama and wanting to be numero uno to Jack."

"I hate feeling stuff like that," Sara sympathized with a wince.

After making a disparaging noise, Sam nodded, "Me, too."

"Don't get me wrong," Sara said earnestly, "I think Daniel's wonderful, beyond wonderful, you all are, and I can totally understand wanting to be friends with him, but he's so different from anyone Jack's ever been friends with."

"I can't explain it," Sam said. "They just clicked. But, trust me, they get pissed at each other all the time. I can't remember a mission where the two of them weren't arguing about something." She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe because they argued all the time about everything, it just became easy to say the truth to each other because they had nothing to lose."

Sara considered that over the last of her hot chocolate. "Does Jack get hurt a lot?" she asked casually.

"What we do is dangerous," Sam admitted cautiously, "I'm sure you've figured that out."

Sara nodded, eyes wide and unhappy.

"But I can tell you," Sam said, just realizing this herself, "that none of us have been hurt since Daniel took on Junior and turned everything upside down. Having a bunch of superhuman body guards, Daniel included, has made a huge difference. Plus, with the Goa'uld healing device, Daniel and the rest of the Goa'uld hosts can heal just about anything."

Sara sighed. "I know Jack's always done dangerous work. And I know he's been seriously hurt before, but there's always been this big space between what Jack did for a living, and me. Now it's not there and it all feels a lot more real. And scary."

There wasn't much Sam could say to that. It was real, and it was scary.

Peering into her now empty mug, Sara said, "And just for the record, Samantha Carter," she grinned, "are you sure you're over Jack?"

"Totally," Sam said in complete honesty. "In fact, I am in total lust over this new guy."

Sara grinned. "Really? Tell me about him."

Delighted to be able to wax poetic about Sean without Jack around to roll his eyes, Sam launched into her new favorite subject. She'd get back to the rest of the lies later.

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Jack had chosen the infirmary, right in front of the tank, to inform Daniel that he'd been restricted to the base while on Earth. He thought all of his wormy friends would help lessen the blow.

"Because of Kinsey?" Daniel asked, a rare look of intense dislike on his face.

"Or whoever else he's infected," Jack said. "The general thinks he's gonna be a problem. And knowing Kinsey, he'll let someone else do the dirty work for him."

Daniel let out a sigh and focused on the tank, his annoyed expression fading to one of affection as he eyeballed his tank buddies.

Jack mentally congratulated himself. Daniel was willing to put up with almost anything if he knew it was for the good of someone else. Daniel staying alive mattered to the symbiotes. Jack wasn't sure what their fate would be if something happened to him. As the thoughts of something bad and Daniel crossed his mind, Jack swore that Tana'oa glared at him. Even though he knew it was foolish, Jack sent a mental apology toward the tank.

"I can still go off world, though, right?" Daniel asked.

"You betcha," Jack said.

"I can't never leave the mountain," Daniel argued, "but I'm willing to go along with this for a while. I won't agree to forever."

"Just until we think the danger's passed," Jack assured him, leaving the time frame nebulous. Jack actually thought it would pass, eventually. Even if he had to do something himself to make it go away.

Daniel shot him a look, letting him know that the vague answer hadn't satisfied him, but he was willing to let it slide for the moment.

Jack was willing to take what he could get. At least he had Daniel's promise to stay put for the time being. For the second time in the last ten minutes there was the sound of machinery around the corner. "How's he doing?" Jack asked.

"Sean?"

Jack nodded.

Daniel grinned. "Good, now that Sam's not around to fluster him."

Snorting, Jack grinned back.

"He's trying different welding materials to see which holds up best against this fluid." Daniel touched the corner of the tank. "It's leaking," he said, as he showed his damp fingers to Jack. "Not much, in fact, slowly enough that none of us noticed, but it is. The floor's always wet, what with them splashing, and people putting their hands in the tank, so we might never have caught on. We're lucky he came here," he said solemnly, "or this tank could have just fallen apart." Daniel put his hand on the glass as if to reassure himself that all the symbiotes were alive and well.

Jack frowned at that comment. "No, shit?" He touched the corner as well, frowned deeper when his fingers came away damp. "Does he have any idea how long this tank will hold together?"

"He says he'll have the new tank done well before then," Daniel assured him.

They stood there, Daniel with his brow furrowed, Jack with his hands in his pockets. The furrow on Daniel's forehead grew more pronounced. "What's on your mind, Daniel?" Jack coaxed.

"Sean wants a symbiote. He wants to stay, and he wants to be a host."

"You say that like it's bad news," Jack said, puzzled.

Daniel let out a long sigh. "He's asked for Tana'oa."

"What? Is Tana'oa like the blue light special all of a sudden?" Jack sniped, anxious and not liking the reason why at all. "What did Tana'oa have to say about that?" Maybe Tana'oa had said yes, and Jack could put the whole thing out of his mind. In fact, that would make his whole life a lot simpler. Despite his thoughts, he still found himself holding his breath, waiting for Daniel's answer.

"Tana'oa," Daniel said, with a sidelong look at Jack, "is being remarkably ambiguous."

Jack glanced up at the tank to see Tana'oa behaving as if he was following the conversation with avid interest. Maybe Junior was filling him in. Jack tried to sense what the symbiote was feeling and picked up some excitement, some anxiety. Neither was surprising considering the fact he was due to need a host any moment.

As if reading his mind, Daniel said, "He'll need a host soon."

"Yeah," Jack said.

Daniel chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. "You know where I stand on this, Jack, and I'll, hopefully," he added in typical Daniel honesty, "never pressure you to be a host, but if you know you're not interested, you need to tell him. It's not really fair to him. He's turned down two hosts, and I think we both know why. I'd hate for him to mature and be in urgent need of a host, and--"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jack said, waving Daniel to a stop, the situation crystal clear to him. And he wasn't in the mood to even conjecture about Tana'oa biting the big one.

"Or is that what you want?" Daniel asked.

Scowling, Jack turned to Daniel. "What?"

Daniel was busy studying Jack.

"What? What?" Jack demanded.

"I'm just wondering if you're waiting for it to be an emergency so the decision gets taken out of your hands."

Sometimes Jack hated how well Daniel knew him. "Maybe, sort of," he admitted.

"So are you hoping you're around when that happens," Daniel asked, "or that you're not?"

Jack wasn't honestly sure.

"Should I tell Sean to stick close?" Daniel asked, persistent.

Jack was feeling pressured, despite Daniel's pretty words of just a moment ago, and he didn't like feeling pressured. "Yeah," he said tersely. "You should have him stick close." He saw a flash of disappointment on Daniel's face, quickly hidden, and when he glanced at the tank again, Tana'oa was hidden, too, gone to ground amidst the plants. Jack felt like a first class shit.

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Claude surfaced from the water, annoyed that, once again, Nut had eluded his grasp. He'd found a surfeit of immature larvae riding the gentle swells of the lake and he'd followed their trail, sure that this time, Nut would be at the end of it. But, she hadn't been.

The fact that she remained so elusive had convinced Claude she wasn't a friendly Goa'uld. Surely, by now, word would have gotten to her, and she would have made herself available if she was friendly. Not that Claude was any less eager to meet her. It just meant it would take him longer, and he might need to have some of the Goa'ulded Unas help him.

He heard a yell, and turned toward the shore. There were Unas there he didn't recognize. In his aquatic journeys, this was now the third time Claude had come across different tribes. Each time, he spoke to them in Unas, and each time they threatened him. He hadn't quite figured out what he was doing wrong, and vowed to talk to Daniel about it and share with him his welcoming speech to see if, due to poor sentence structure, he was telling every Unas he met that his mother was ugly.

Fortunately, as long as he was in the water, and the Unas didn't develop projectile weapons, he was safe enough. The two young males on the shore were jumping up and down and pointing. Claude turned around to find an adult and very unfriendly symbiote racing his way. "I already have one, friend," he told it as, with a lightening quick move, he ripped it out of the water and held it aloft.

An idea struck him and, Goa'uld in hand, he swam a little closer to shore. Both Unas backed away. Before they got far, Claude ripped the head off the Goa'uld and threw its carcass onto the shore. "Naan," he called. Food.

That got a response. Claude wasn't quite sure what kind of response, but there was a lot of indistinguishable grunting, and Claude couldn't make out any words. He asked Max //Is there more than one Unas language?//

He could feel Max paying close attention. Claude had thought himself a good linguist, or a fair one, compared to Daniel, but that was before he'd been merged with Max. Max blew his mind on a regular basis with the ease he picked up languages, and then just passed that knowledge right on to Claude. //They are speaking Unas, but it is heavily accented, and they are using some words I do not understand.//

//That must have hurt to say,// Claude teased his symbiote.

Max sent him a mental glower.

Another unfriendly symbiote swam by, this one focused on its targets on shore. Again, Claude caught it, tore it apart, and tossed it at the feet of the Unas. "Naan," he called again.

"Naan," one of them finally agreed, picking up the two tails segments, leaving the heads on the ground. With that they turned around and headed back to wherever they were going. Maybe afternoon tea.

//Hmm,// Claude thought. //Not exactly a stellar first contact, but at least they spoke to me.//

Done with his pouting, Max said, //They are foolish to miss the chance to speak with you further.// Max was Claude's staunchest ally, and he basked in the glow of Max's sincerity.

Deciding it was time to head back, Claude began swimming toward Chaka's lake. It took a while, but he could swim for hours and not get tired, thanks to Max. As he surfaced near his destination, he heard shouting. It was Kenal and Chaka, and even from here, he could sense Daikoku's displeasure, and Chaka's symbiote, Jacksun, named after Daniel, was just as upset.

Besides Chaka and Kenal, there were four men on the shore. All of them had Goa'uld in them, and they weren't friendly. They weren't particularly unfriendly, Claude thought with confusion; they felt sort of weird. On second perusal, Claude thought maybe one of the symbiotes was friendly, but it was too frantic to know for sure. He was in the tallest man, and it was he who Kenal and Chaka were yelling at, singling out that one in particular.

 

Claude strode out of the water. "What's happening?" he demanded, letting the symbiote tank he'd carried on his back--now full with two friendly symbiotes--slide to the ground.

The three older men crossed their arms over their chests, staying silent, however, Claude noticed that their fingers were close to their weapons. Kenal and Chaka started blabbing away in Unas, their words tripping over each other until it was nothing but gibberish.

Surprisingly, it was the unknown friendly Goa'uld who explained, the tall man's eyes glowing. "I do not wish to stay in this host," the symbiote blurted out. "He does not accept Daniel as our System Lord. He does not intend to take me to him. He only wanted a symbiote so he could find others of our kind. He does not like the Tauri or how strong they are becoming with us as their allies. He does not intend to allow the Tauri to become any stronger. He wants to stop Daniel Jackson." The last was said almost in a wail.

This must have been a symbiote that Daniel had communed with in the lake on one of his visits for it to already be so dedicated to Daniel. Or maybe it had just been visiting with Daikoku or Jacksun. They passed on their love for Daniel faster than the speed of light. "Who are you?" he asked the men.

"We are Tok'ra," the oldest man said. "I am Lumbel."

"And I am Guldia," said the voice of his Goa'uld.

Merde, Claude thought to himself. He'd never met a Tok'ra before, but he'd heard plenty of colorful stories about them, none of them particularly good. "How did you end up inside him?" he asked the tall man's symbiote. "And what's your name?"

"My Lord has not named me yet," the Goa'uld said. "This being saw me being held by Kenal, saw that I was ready to take a host. He told Kenal that My Lord had sent him to become a host. Kenal is young and took the words for truth. I took Kenal's words for truth." The glowing eyes grew angry. "But it was not the truth," he spat out.

"So come out," Claude said. "I'll take you back with me, and we'll find you another host." He felt no allegiance to these men who had aligned themselves, if not necessarily against Daniel, certainly not with him.

The other three men had their weapons out in an instant, all focused on Kenal. "If he leaves his host," the older man threatened. "We will hurt the young one. It is not our desire to hurt someone so young, but if it proves necessary, we will do what we must."

Claude stepped in front of Kenal, running into Chaka who had had the same thought. "Try again," Claude bit out. He wished he had a weapon within easy reach. With Max's help, he might be able to take down one of the men easily, but three Goa'ulds, all with weapons, was beyond him. And even if Chaka helped, and Kenal got into the fray, which he would, one of them would get hurt, and Daniel wouldn't be happy about that. Not that he was going to be happy losing one of his symbiotes. In fact, neither was Claude, and he'd be willing to get a little hurt, even if it pissed Daniel off, to help him. "Get out of him," Claude told the symbiote.

Deciding a different threat might be more affective, the weapons turned on the tall man. "If you leave him, we will hunt down Daniel Jackson and kill him."

The symbiote inside the tall man was so upset his emotions almost bowled Claude over.

"Do you honestly think Daniel will stand by as you steal one of his symbiotes?" Claude asked.

"They are not his," one of the other Tok'ra said in anger. "Daniel Jackson has assumed too much. We have been fighting this war against the Goa'uld far longer than the Tauri. We will not stand by as the Tauri become too powerful to control. They are too young a species to have that kind of power, unchecked. Especially with someone who is ill equipped to lead them, and has the temerity to take the title of system lord."

"It sounds to me as if you are too young," Max said, taking over in his anger. "Daniel Jackson brings peace. What do you bring? Anger? Fear? Threats of death if your commands are not obeyed? You know not what you speak. If you do this, you will become our enemy. Daniel Jackson freed us so we may choose our host and our host may choose us, so we may live as one. By demanding this symbiote stay in a host truly not of his choosing, you deny us that right."

"You are the one who does not know of what he speaks," the older man's Goa'uld said haughtily. "We will end the reign of the Goa'uld. We will destroy every system lord until there are no more."

"Including Daniel Jackson?" Max demanded. Claude could feel him vibrating with anger.

"If he stands against us," the Goa'uld said firmly. "He has been invited to join us. It is his place, indeed, all of you who have taken a symbiote, to stand with us. We understand war, and it is through that understanding that we will persevere."

"Daniel Jackson understands peace, and because of it, we will achieve it," Max said stubbornly. "You understand war, and thrive on it, and because of this, your war will never end." He looked at the tall man. "Leave him," he ordered the symbiote. "Do not be a part of this."

The tall man lurched forward as the symbiote ripped out of his body, falling to the ground with a wet thud. The man hit the ground right after him, gasping in pain, blood geysering out of his body, the light in his eyes dimming. As a zat blast enveloped him, Claude saw no more.

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Jack was standing against the wall in the back of the room as Vidrine ran down what they knew about the Goa'uld ships to John Sheppard and Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell hadn't decided to take a Goa'uld yet, but by the gleam of excitement in his eyes as he listened to the wonders of an interstellar Teltak, he'd be taking one soon. And, griped Jack to himself, he'd probably want Tana'oa.

It had been a fairly uneventful day. The last time Jack had checked, Teal'c and Daniel were in Daniel's office, working on a translation. Carter and Sean were out on a shopping trip for stuff for the new tank, Hammond was buried in paper work in his office, and SG-3 was off doing whatever SG-3 did when they weren't on missions or following Jack and Daniel around.

For whatever reason, a sort of hiatus was going on, and a lot of their non-Goa'ulded VIPs had chosen this time to go back home and report in. The mountain felt empty, which suited Jack just fine. Lately it had seemed as if it might burst at the seams.

"This is so cool," Sheppard announced to the room at large.

"What?" Mitchell asked. "What's so cool?"

"I know how to fly this. Well, he does," he amended, pointing at his head. A lopsided smile formed on his face that made Jack assume he and his symbiote were having a little entertaining chat.

"What'd you decide to call him, anyway?" Mitchell asked, seeing as Vidrine didn't seem to be taking it amiss that Sheppard had decided to start talking in the middle of his presentation.

"Flutie," Sheppard said. "After Doug Flutie."

"That," Jack said with great satisfaction from the back of the room, "is a great name. I get that name."

"Yeah," Sheppard said enthusiastically, turning around to include Jack, "and when you get yours," he told Mitchell, as if it were a done deal, "you can call him Phelan."

"Hail Mary," Jack said, always glad to be reminded of one of the best moments in football.

Sheppard grinned at him in appreciation. His eyes even glowed a little, Flutie, apparently, liking the conversation.

"Gentlemen," Vidrine said, with a slight hint of sarcasm, as if this hadn't been the first time Sheppard had gone off on a tangent, "could we get back to the business at hand?"

"Sorry, General," Sheppard said, actually sounding contrite. "When do I get to fly one of these things?"

"Tomorrow," Vidrine said. "Before our mission on Thursday, I want you to have a trial run. We'll be heading for the alpha base."

"Where's that?"

"On another planet," Jack piped in.

"So cool," Sheppard said with a beaming grin.

The alarm went off, Walter's voice announcing an unscheduled gate activation. Jack took off for the control room at a run. He heard footsteps behind him, but didn't stop to see who it was. He almost ran into Daniel and Teal'c as they came around the corner from the opposite direction.

"Any idea?" Daniel asked.

"Nope," Jack said. "There're only a couple teams off-world."

Daniel frowned and looked over Jack's shoulder at whoever was right behind him. "Flutie?" he asked in some confusion.

Flutie must be ratting his name out to Daniel, and Jack was sure his friend had absolutely no idea who Doug Flutie was. He'd have to see if he could find a copy of that game, or at least that particular play. Daniel had no doubt been up to his elbows in sand in Egypt at the time.

They got to the control room just as Walter said, "It's Dr. Bausch's IDC."

"Let him in," Jack said. "When was he due back?"

"Not until tomorrow," Walter said. The iris slid back revealing the event horizon, and Claude walked through, looking very grim, one of the small Goa'uld tanks clutched in his arms, Kenal and Chaka right behind him.

"Hel-lo," Jack said to no one in particular. The look on Claude's face was enough to tell him something had gone for shit on Kahlua. Bringing Kenal and Chaka told Jack it was even worse.

"Claude," Daniel said, as he entered the Gateroom, "what's going on?"

"We're in trouble, Daniel," Claude said harshly. "And what I did didn't help. But first things first. He needs you." He handed Daniel the cooler. "Fix him, and then we'll get to the bad news." As soon as Daniel sat down at the edge of the ramp, Claude hovered close. "Am I too late?" he asked anxiously. "Is he dead? I stopped sensing him right before we came through the gate, but I couldn't just leave him there."

Looking confused, Daniel opened up the cooler. Jack peered in and saw a lifeless mature Goa'uld symbiote floating in red-tinged liquid.

Gasping, Daniel reached in and picked him up. "What happened?" he asked in consternation. "Whose blood is this?" The symbiote moved weakly in his grasp.

"Thank God," Claude said gratefully, "he's not dead." He looked heavenward as if thanking someone, and Max's eyes glowed for a second in an equal relief.

The symbiote was alive, but it was a disaster. Its emotions buffeted Jack, made his chest tight, and made him want to hug the damn thing. Daniel didn't look like he was having much luck making sense of it all, other than the indisputable fact that he had a symbiote on his hands that was chock full of fucked up feelings. Jack tried to work his way through the emotional buffet. Part of it was this longing, this yearning to be with Daniel, coupled with a disbelief that he was actually with him.

Guilt was the next strongest emotion, a sense of not deserving to be with Daniel. Jack fought for the right word. Cringing. The symbiote was cringing inside. Then sadness, fear, and that desperate yearning again that put a lump in Jack's throat. "Jesus," Jack said, his voice sort of strained as it worked its way past the tightness in his throat. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure yet. I'm mostly getting images." He looked up at Claude. "Someone died?"

Claude nodded. "His host," he said grimly.

Daniel's eyes opened wide. "His host died?" he exclaimed. "How?"

More cringing. Serious, serious cringing. Junior must be interpreting all of Daniel's words to the symbiote in Daniel's hands.

Max answered, "He left his host, and the host died."

That must have been ugly, Jack thought to himself with a grimace. "Why did he do that?" No wonder the Goa'uld was freaked if he'd killed his host.

"Because I told him to," Max said, half apologetic--aimed at Daniel--part I-was-right-so-leave-me-the-fuck-alone, aimed at the rest of them.

"Why?" Daniel asked in consternation, still holding onto the symbiote but dunking him in the fluid to keep his skin lubricated.

"His host was Tok'ra," Max said, his voice sharing Jack's sentiments about the Tok'ra.

Kenal broke in at this point, speaking in Unas, gesturing wildly. Sheppard looked like he was sort of following the conversation, Vidrine, not so much. Vidrine's symbiote obviously didn't come with the language package.

"Hey, hey," Jack interrupted when Kenal showed no signs of slowing down. "What's he saying?"

Daniel looked up at Jack and his expression was now equally as grim as Claude's and angry as well. "A group of four Tok'ra showed up on Kuokoa in search of friendly symbiotes. One of them found Kenal and fooled him into thinking I'd sent them. He gave them a friendly symbiote."

"Fuck," Jack said.

"No kidding," Claude echoed.

Kenal's symbiote picked up the story. Jack could never remember his name, Di-something.

"Kenal is young," he explained in as gentle a tone as an Unas' throat could manage. "He had no reason to believe the man was lying. And before I could counsel him to wait, this symbiote joined with the host. I called for Chaka to help as the four men then wanted to take the symbiote away. But the symbiote did not wish to go once he knew what type of host he was within."

Jack started to clue into something else. This symbiote really needed a host. Jack was starting to recognize the feeling now. Sort of like the feeling after you've stuffed yourself sick on Thanksgiving day, sure that if anyone touched you you'd explode into a million pieces of stuffing and mashed potatoes. "He needs a host bad, Daniel," Jack said.

"I know," Daniel said softly. "But he doesn't believe he deserves one." He glanced up at Claude again. "The host is really dead?" he asked again, as if maybe, hopefully, he'd misunderstood.

"Very," Claude responded with dour satisfaction. Then, with a wince at Daniel, he added, "Sorry. But, you didn't hear what they were saying. You didn't hear what they threatened that symbiote with. They said they'd kill Kenal. They said they'd kill you if he tried to leave."

"He was nothing but loyal to you," Max said, in the symbiote's defense, his eyes glowing hotly out of Claude's face.

Teal'c's eyes were looking fierce, as if he'd wished he'd had the chance to throttle the Tok'ra before the symbiote had ripped itself out of him.

Daniel curled around the symbiote now, crooning to it, trying to reassure him. The symbiote was inconsolable, though. It reminded Jack of Charlie when he was four or five and decided to make Sara breakfast on Mother's Day, and accidentally set the pan on fire. Sara had ended up burning her hand trying to rescue her kitchen, and while Jack had been smearing her blistered fingers with ointment, Charlie had cried and cried, nothing able to break through his misery at ruining everything. That was how this Goa'uld felt.

"No, no," Daniel said soothingly. "It's all right. You're safe now. There's nothing to forgive, but if you need me to say it, I do, I do forgive you."

Eyes were glowing all around Jack, and it didn't take long for Paul, Jeff, Brian, and Eric to come flying into the Gateroom, having picked up on Daniel's distress.

"No, no," Daniel said again, stroking the symbiote, "anyone would be glad to be your host. They'll understand, I promise."

Yeah, Jack could see how the Goa'uld might think his market value had plummeted.

"I'll be his host," Mitchell said. "I mean, whoever he killed was a bad guy, right?" He looked at Claude, "Right?"

"Yes," Max answered. "He was a bad man. He threatened our System Lord. He threatened our new life. He cared nothing for our freedom."

"I mean," Mitchell said, sort of back pedaling, "he's not gonna decide I'm a bad guy, and kill me, is he?"

"No," Daniel snapped out. "He's not."

Mitchell suddenly found himself surrounded by annoyed glowing eyes and he put his hands up in an I-come-in-peace-don't-shoot-me gesture. Jack recognized it well, as it was one he used on a regular basis.

"Hey," Jack said to Daniel, risking his ire. "It was a reasonable question. And a pretty nice offer."

Daniel closed his eyes for a second. When he opened them he winced a smile at Mitchell. "It was, and I'm sorry. And no, none of these Goa'uld would ever hurt one of their chosen hosts. He was essentially kidnapped, and he chose to be free. That's all."

More cringing from the symbiote. But the longing continued unabated, and the need for a host grew. He'd be in serious trouble soon. "Will he take Mitchell?" Jack asked.

Shaking his head, Daniel said, "He keeps saying he doesn't deserve a host." To the symbiote he said, "I don't want you to die."

It was like old Chang all over again but without a happy solution in sight. "Will he take me?" Jack asked, knowing it was wrong somehow, but having to ask. He pushed thoughts of Tana'oa aside.

Daniel just shook his head, entirely focused on the symbiote. "No, young one, I can't be your host. I'm already a host." There were a few moments of silence, then Daniel's eyebrows went up. "Someone like me?" His brow furrowed.

Jack snorted. "He wants someone like you? Good luck with that."

"Someone like you, how?" Claude asked Daniel.

Eyes bright with pity, Daniel said, "He wants someone he knows will forgive him." He blinked a few times, his lips tight.

"Shit," Jack said, his mind running furiously over everyone who was on the list to be a host who was a softie like Daniel. Not that Jack couldn't forgive just about anyone offing a nasty Tok'ra, but Jack would give the Goa'uld shit about it. Mitchell would, too. It was just their way. This symbiote apparently needed some serious TLC, maybe a counseling session or two.

Paul Costello snapped his fingers. "I know just the person. Tell the little guy to hold on." He whipped out his phone and dialed a number, his foot tapping impatiently as he waited for whoever it was he was calling to answer. "Sean?" he said quickly. "Get your ass back to the mountain as if you had wings." There was a pause. "Are your feet moving? Are you running? Drop it, we'll go back to get it later. I mean it. There's a symbiote in serious trouble and he needs some of your shaman mojo." Another pause. "He's dying, Sean. Hurry."

"Sean," Daniel said softly. "That's a wonderful idea, Paul, thank you." To the symbiote, he asked, "Can you hang on a little longer?"

A surge of longing so powerful coming from the Goa'uld forced Jack to turn away and knuckle his eyes. The upwelling of more guilt and grief didn't help. This was one fucked up symbiote. Jack had to feel bad for the kid. One minute he thinks he's getting a host and heading to Daniel-land, and the next second everything's gone to shit.

And that brought Jack back to the situation at hand. The Tok'ra had tried to get a friendly symbiote, no doubt in hopes of leveling the playing field. Which meant they totally got that Earth had a leg up now and the Tok'ra were outmanned and outgunned.

"What were the names of the Tok'ra?" Teal'c asked Claude.

Kenal sat next to Daniel and, gently, given his huge hands and long claws, stroked the symbiote. Maybe Jack would get to see another Twilight Zone faith healing service.

"Only one of them," Claude said. "The oldest Tok'ra said his name was Lumbel, and his Goa'uld was named Guldia."

Jack had never heard of them. To Teal'c he asked, "Sound familiar?"

"No, I do not recognize those names," Teal'c said.

Jack wondered where the hell Jacob had gotten himself to and if he knew, and even supported, these tactics. Jack sure as hell hoped not, or Carter'd be out one dad.

Hammond finally joined them in the Gateroom. "Colonel?" he asked. Jack had seen him look down as soon as he'd arrived, to make sure Jack was there handling things.

"Trouble, sir," Jack said. "The Tok'ra showed up on Chaka's planet, looking for a friendly Goa'uld all of their very own."

Hammond's face tightened. "What happened?"

It was Max who answered. "This symbiote was misled and he chose a Tok'ra to be his host. When he found out treachery was involved, and that they meant harm to Daniel and his people, I told him to leave his host, even if it meant his death, and he did as I told. His host is now dead."

"And they let you go free?" Hammond asked, reminding Jack that there were still a few unanswered questions.

"Good question, sir," Jack said to the general. Then, looking at Max, he asked, "What happened then? Are they all dead?"

"No," Max said. "They attacked us, shooting us with a zat'nik'atel. If not for Chaka, we might all be dead or taken. He did not succumb to the weapon blast as I did."

At this point, Chaka started blabbing away. Jack tried to follow the conversation by watching Chaka's gestures as he waved his club around, but all Jack could get out of it was 'club up club down club all around'. Not exactly an attention grabber as story lines go. "Someone wanna translate?" he asked all the glowy eyes. They weren't exactly a happy group right now.

Not that he could blame them. Daniel had been threatened, a symbiote had been used and abused, and three of the hosts had been attacked by Tok'ra. A bad day all around for the friendly Goa'uld.

It was Chaka's symbiote, Jacksun, who filled in the gaps. "They attempted to take Kenal," he growled. "They dragged him to a circle in the sand, and I believe they intended to use transporter rings to return him to their ship."

Daniel was listening to the conversation with sad eyes, but most of his attention was still on the symbiote in the tank in front of him.

"My host and I recovered very quickly from the blast of the zat'nik'atel," Jacksun continued, "and fought the Tok'ra to save Kenal."

"I'm guessing one or all of them are dead?" Jack guessed.

"I killed one," Chaka said. "Da-nell," he then said to Daniel, sorrow in his eyes.

Daniel shook his head to stop any further words. "You don't need to apologize. You had every right to protect Kenal. I'm just sorry it happened at all."

"So two of them got away?" Jack asked with a scowl, thinking everything might have been easier if all four of the Tok'ra ended up becoming fish food.

"That's not the worst of it," Claude said, crouching by Daniel.

Shit, Jack thought to himself. What now?

"I'm sorry, Daniel," Claude said miserably, "but while Kenal and I were unconscious, and Chaka was fighting for Kenal, one of the other Tok'ra took my symbiote tank. There were two mature symbiotes in it. This cooler here was one of the ones you'd left with Chaka."

"Shit." This time Jack said it out loud.

"If I'm understanding this correctly," Hammond said unhappily, "the Tok'ra now have two mature friendly symbiotes to merge with a Tok'ra host?"

Claude nodded miserably.

"They will not," Jacksun said firmly. "I spoke to all the symbiotes within hearing range, and told them not to merge with anyone unless their System Lord was present. I told them there were traitors in the midst of us who wished to do Daniel harm. They will not merge."

That was sort of a relief. Except…

"Then, they're as good as dead," Daniel said softly.

Except for that. And it's not like Daniel could even mount a rescue mission as they had no idea who the remaining Tok'ra were, or where they'd gone.

"Did I do wrong, my Lord?" Jacksun asked, down on one knee now.

A long moment passed, then Daniel shook his head. "No. No, you didn't. I don't think those symbiotes would have been any happier with the situation than this one was," he gestured toward the tank where his hand was submerged and hidden by the symbiote that was wrapped around it. "I just wish…" His somber eyes closed for a second, but he didn't finish his sentence.

He didn't need to. Everyone in that room knew what Daniel was wishing for. Jack, on the other hand, was busy worrying about what had happened, and what the repercussions were going to be. He glanced around the room and caught Hammond eying him. The general gestured toward the door, and Jack followed him. Vidrine came with them and they made their way up the stairs to the conference room, and then stood by the window looking down.

Daniel was talking again to the symbiote, Teal'c standing behind him on guard, as if dozens of Tok'ra were due to explode on the scene at any second. Chaka and Kenal were to the side, and Claude was sitting next to Daniel, shoulders slumped, face in his hands. SG-3, Sheppard and Mitchell were hanging close, worry on all their faces. Jack wasn't sure if it was because the symbiote was running out of time, or because Daniel was unhappy, or because they all were figuring out just how bad this whole situation was.

"Did we just declare war on the Tok'ra?" Jack asked Hammond. "Or did they declare war on us?"

"I don't know, Colonel," Hammond said. "If we're lucky, it was an unsanctioned mission, and there'll be no reprisals."

Jack snorted mirthlessly. "And if we're unlucky?" Which we always are when it comes to the Tok'ra, he added silently and sarcastically.

"Then we've potentially made some serious enemies today," Vidrine said grimly.

"Maybe we should look at it from the other side," Jack suggested, "and say that the Tok'ra just made some serious enemies today. They took us on, and they lost." If there was anything good to be gotten out of today's events, it was that.

"Do you think Dr. Jackson is correct, that those symbiotes would die before taking a Tok'ra host?" Hammond inquired.

Glad he was someplace where Daniel couldn't hear him, Jack said, "I sure as hell hope so." Vidrine caught his eye and slowly nodded in agreement. Jack hoped they died with the fierce satisfaction that they were protecting their system lord, because that was the damn truth, and he'd make sure to remind Daniel of that when he had a chance. They didn't die for nothing. If the Tok'ra were setting themselves up as enemies, the only chance Earth had was the exclusive rights to the friendly symbiotes.

"I hate to say it, because those creatures don't deserve it, but I hope so, too," Hammond sadly agreed.

Jack watched the tableau below, nothing about it cheering him up. Daniel was looking grimmer with every passing second, and Paul was pacing, eyes glowing intermittently. He kept looking at his watch, muttering what looked like, "Come on, come on." Jack hoped Sean got here in time; that symbiote deserved a second chance.

"Well," Jack said, "they say bad things come in threes. Maybe we're at the end of it for a while."

"Three?" Hammond asked.

"Baal, Kinsey, and the Tok'ra," Vidrine recounted immediately, as if he'd been thinking it himself.

"And all hating our guts and gunning for Daniel," Jack said morosely. "And the worst of it is that they all have access to Earth and this mountain, one way or another." Jack knew he'd dream of cloaked Teltaks tonight. Hundreds of them all filled with the NID. With glowing eyes. Fuck. Jack was sleeping with the lights on tonight.

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Sara stared at the phone, finally picking it up, dialing her dad's telephone number. It was time to bite the bullet.

"Hello," came her father's familiar voice.

"Dad?"

"Sara, where've you been? I haven't heard from you and you haven't been returning my calls. I was about to send out a posse."

"I'm sorry. Life's been a bit hectic," she said, throwing out one of the biggest understatements she'd ever made.

"Everything okay?" her dad asked in concern.

There was no easy way to say this. "I'm back together with Jack," she blurted out.

There was a long, and getting longer, pause on the phone.

Sara bit her bottom lip, waiting. As the seconds ticked by, she said, "Dad?"

"What did that asshole say to you to make you forget the way he treated you?" her dad spat out.

"He's changed, Dad," Sara defended Jack. "And I know it sounds inadequate, but he apologized in a way that made me believe him."

"How long?"

"What do you mean?"

"How long has it been since he came sniffing around again?"

"Dad," she protested.

"How long?"

"A month," she said.

Another pause. "It seems to me if this was something you were really happy about, you wouldn't have let a month go by without telling me," he said bitingly.

"I let a month go by," she countered, "because I knew you were going to be unhappy. I know you don't like Jack. I know you think he abandoned me."

"He did," her dad said angrily.

"I know," she said soothingly. "I know he did. But, I hope I'm never the sort of person who can't ever let someone apologize when they're finally ready to admit how wrong they were. Jack knows what he did, and I know if he could, he'd do it differently now."

Another pause.

"Dad," she finally said. "I still love him. I always have."

Her dad grunted. "I need some time, Sara. I'll call you later." He hung up.

Sara stared at the phone in her hand and slowly hung it up. That had gone about as well as she'd expected. She drummed her fingers on the table for a few seconds, then tapped the small velvet box sitting on a stack of napkins. "In for a penny, in for a pound," she said softly. Then, she got up, picked up her purse, and headed off for work.

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Jack was back down in the gate room when Sean arrived. Daniel pulled the symbiote out of the cooler, but by now he was looking pretty limp.

"I'm sorry," Sean gasped out, as if they'd run across the city and down all 28 flights of stairs. "We got here as fast as we could."

"Traffic was horrible," Carter added.

"Am I in time?" Sean asked, crouching in front of Daniel.

"I don't know," Daniel said worriedly. Teal'c's hands were tight on his shoulders in consolation.

"Why me?" Sean asked. "Surely I'm not the only prospective host around."

"That was my idea," Paul said. "This symbiote's in some serious misery, and I know you'll be good for him."

Sean studied Paul for a moment and then nodded. "What do I do?"

"Will you hold him for a moment?" Daniel asked. "Just try to communicate to him that you'll take good care of him."

"Will he understand if I speak to him?"

Daniel shook his head. "Not your words."

Sean held his hands out and Daniel placed the quiescent Goa'uld on his palms. Then, moving to the other side of the gateroom, away from everyone else, Sean held the Goa'uld close to his chest and closed his eyes. Everyone was quiet, waiting to see if the symbiote could rally.

After a while, Jack began to worry it was going to need to go back in the cooler soon or it would dry out. He glanced at Daniel only to find him smiling. By the time Jack looked back at Sean it was over, and he'd missed it. Sean's eyes were glowing.

Then Sean was back in control, and he walked over to Daniel and crouched again in front of him. "He feels very badly about the whole thing, but he is so grateful you were willing to give him another chance."

"Will you convince him that he has nothing to feel badly about?" Daniel said, somewhat plaintively.

"Yes," Sean said solemnly.

"Thank you," Daniel said, grateful.

"I think we need to be alone now," Sean admitted, "so he and I can talk. Is that all right?"

Daniel sighed. "Sean, you can do whatever you want. Neither you nor your symbiote need to ask permission."

"What you want," Sean countered, "is important. What you desire for these Goa'uld is praiseworthy. They serve you willingly. They will do anything you ask. They would die for you, and be grateful for the opportunity."

"It frightens me," Daniel said, "to have that power over anyone else. I don't want anyone choosing to die for me."

Jack could feel the consensus in the room from every Goa'uld present that Daniel was shit out of luck. And it wasn't only the Goa'uld. Jack would give his life for Daniel in a New York minute if it came down to it. There was no doubt that Teal'c felt the same. Carter, all of SG-3. "Hey, Daniel," Jack said with affection, "I think you're just gonna have to suck it up."

Daniel rolled his eyes at Jack, but looked relieved that the heaviness in the room had been dispelled. "Go," he said to Sean. "I'll find you later and we can talk." He smiled. "And I promise I will think of a name for you," he added, obviously to Sean's symbiote.

For the briefest of moments, Sean's eyes glowed, but then it quickly receded as if the symbiote still wasn't quite sure of its reception. Sean nodded, stood, and left the gateroom.

Closing the small tank, Daniel pushed it to the side and leaned back, blowing out a breath that ruffled his short bangs. "How much trouble are we in, Jack?"

"Let's talk about that someplace a little more private," Jack suggested. He'd like to take the conversation to a good steak house, but Daniel was still under mountain arrest, not to mention a vegetarian.

Chaka said something and Daniel nodded and called up to Walter. "Will you dial Kuokua? Chaka and Kenal want to go home."

Walter nodded and started dialing. They all cleared the ramp while Daniel spoke to the two Unas, clapping them both on the shoulders. They said their goodbyes to Claude as well, who thanked them. A minute later, they were through the event horizon and the iris was shutting closed behind them.

By that time, Jack had thought better about a big pow-wow. Before they made any kind of decision, he had to find out where Jacob stood on things. "Carter?"

"Yes, sir," she said.

"Send another message to your dad, will you? Tell him if he decides to pay us a visit, to come alone."

She nodded, but then asked, "Is it safe for him to come here?"

"Does it matter?" he asked back.

"Jack," Daniel chided.

"I'm serious, Daniel," Jack said. "If he doesn't know anything about what happened, then he's safe. If he was a part of the decision-making that sent out that team of Tok'ra, then he has some explaining to do." He gave Carter a hard stare. "Is that going to be a problem for you?" He felt Daniel's hand on his arm, but he didn't let up. He needed to know where Carter was going to fall on this.

Carter's lips tightened but she shook her head. "No, sir, it's not a problem. I love my dad, but I won't side with him against all of you."

"Sam," Daniel said, shifting his attention to her. "I'm sorry you're being placed in this position."

"I am too," she answered with a sad smile, "but it's not like I didn't know it could happen. We all saw how unhappy he was when we rescued him from Baal's planet. As the days have gone by without any contact, I've been sort of assuming the worst."

"I'm still sorry."

"I know," she said. "Thanks."

Jack glanced at his watch, astonished at how late it had gotten. "Let's call it a day, boys and girls. I need to talk to the General, and there's not much we're going to get accomplished tonight."

Not surprisingly, he didn't get any arguments.

"Hey, Dr. Jackson," Mitchell called.

"Daniel, please," Daniel said.

"Right. Daniel. Think I could go see if that Tana whatsit guy will give me another chance? Seeing as this new symbiote went to someone else?"

Daniel flashed Jack a look. "Um," he said.

"Sure," Jack said heartily, fighting off the urge to rip Mitchell's beating heart out of his chest. "Good idea."

"Jack," Daniel said softly, unhappily.

Jack couldn't deal with it. He wasn't fucking ready to make a decision. He wasn't. "General Vidrine will be in seventh heaven if he scores two Goa'ulded pilots today," he said. Which was true. They definitely needed Goa'ulded pilots.

"So it's okay?" Mitchell asked Daniel, looking between him and Jack.

Daniel gave Jack another look, his brow furrowed confused dismay.

Jack looked away. Maybe if they didn't have an audience, and it was just him and Daniel, he'd try to explain. He knew Tana'oa was running out of time, and the symbiote deserved someone who was totally committed to being a host. Besides, Tana'oa would have a blast running around stealing spaceships.

"Would you all excuse us?" Daniel said. "I need to talk to Jack."

Jack rolled his eyes. Of course, Daniel was fucking with his plan. And of course, no one argued with Daniel; they all just left like good little sheep.

Suddenly angry, Jack turned on Daniel after everyone had cleared the room. "Is that what you think I'll be like? That you'll ask me to leave, and I'll just go? Just one of your many happy devotees?"

Daniel blinked at him. "What?"

"I'm not ready," Jack said forcefully. "And you keep saying you won't pressure me, but you keep looking at me like I've kicked your puppy."

"What?" Daniel snapped, starting to get annoyed.

Good. Jack was in the mood for a fight.

"Is that what you really think of me?" Daniel hissed. Then, looking around, he dragged Jack behind the gate, away from prying eyes.

"I'm not ready," Jack said again.

"Fine," Daniel said harshly. "So not the point, now. You really think that's how I think of them? All the Goa'ulded humans, and the symbiotes, and the soldiers here who, by the way, do not have Goa'uld. That they're my slaves? That I expect them to do exactly what I say?"

"You told them to leave and they did," Jack said, beginning to feel stupid.

"Because it's you, Jack," Daniel said angrily. "Because they know how I feel about you. Because they know I'm safe with you. Because they honor both of us. Don't belittle that and turn it into something ugly just because you're scared shitless."

This time Jack blinked at Daniel. "Whoa," he said.

As quickly as he'd gotten angry, Daniel deflated right in front of Jack's eyes. "Never mind. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost my temper."

Jack decided he'd rather have Daniel mad; he didn't like the defeated look on Daniel's face. "I am scared shitless," Jack confessed. "I know Tana'oa wants me as his host. But I'm scared, and I'm not ready."

Daniel nodded. "I know. And I’m sorry you feel like I'm pressuring you. I just…" He stopped and shook his head. "Should I see if Tana'oa will accept Mitchell?" he asked quietly. "Should I tell him you won't be his host? He'll understand."

Jack wasn't so sure. He wanted to say yes, but couldn't. He wanted to say no, but couldn't. He just stared at Daniel, his hands fisting, completely mute.

"I wish he had a few more weeks so you could figure it out, Jack," Daniel said as kindly as he could, which was still sounding a little pissed, "but he doesn't. He needs a host, and as long as he thinks he has a chance with you, he won't accept another."

Jack nodded. He understood that. He still found it impossible to speak.

"I'll talk to him," Daniel finally said. "Jack…"

Jack looked at his watch. "I'm gonna be late. I was supposed to meet Sara thirty minutes ago."

He fully expected Daniel to yell at him, or at the very least to stalk away, shoulders rigid. What he didn't expect was for Daniel to hug him. Though unexpected, Jack hugged him back tightly. "Don't hate me," he managed to say. "Don't hate me for this."

"Never," Daniel said fiercely. He pulled back, hands cupped around the back of Jack's head, thumbs over Jack's vampire spots. "Never. I could never hate you. Don't ever think that, even for an instant."

Jack took some comfort in the love and sincerity he saw in Daniel's eyes. "I gotta go," he whispered. "Call me when…" he didn't finish his sentence.

"I will," Daniel said. "Give my love to Sara."

With another nod, Jack left Daniel there, and strode away.

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Sara was sitting on the couch, reading, when she heard Jack's car pull up. He'd called her when he left work, letting her know he was on his way. She tucked her hand underneath the pillow by her side, felt the small velvet box there.

The key rattled in the lock, and Brian came in followed by Jack. Brian smiled at her. "Mind if I take a quick look around?"

"Of course not," she said with a returning smile. "Where's Jeff?"

"Looking around outside," he said. With that, he disappeared into the house while Jack rolled his eyes at the fuss.

Sara was getting used to the ubiquitous bodyguards. Once they'd checked things out, she never saw them unless Jack called for them.

Jack closed the door behind him and leaned heavily against it.

She took one look at him and said, "What happened?"

Jack let out a mirthless laugh. "Shitty day."

"Did the world almost explode?" she asked, hoping a little humor would bring a smile to his face.

It didn't. He walked over to her, leant down and kissed her. "Sorry. I probably should have just gone home. Not sure what kind of company I'm going to be."

"I'd rather you were here. Tell me what happened."

He shook his head. "Wanna beer?"

"No," she said, "but can I get you one?"

"I'll get it," he said, and made his way into the kitchen. "Brian?" he yelled.

"Yeah?" Brian yelled back.

"Wanna beer?"

"I'll pass, sir, thanks."

"Okay."

Sara heard the sounds of a beer cap making its way into the sink as opposed to the garbage, something Jack had done as long as she had known him. For some reason it made her smile.

He came back in and slouched down on the couch, pulling her feet up onto his lap. "It's good to see you," he said.

She wiggled her toes at him. "You, too," she said. "So, shitty day?" she coaxed.

Sighing, he said, "It's complicated."

"How complicated?"

"Really complicated," Jack said, weariness evident in his tone.

Sara gave him a look.

Sighing, Jack squeezed her feet. "Okay. Short version, and all the questions are gonna have to wait for tomorrow. Otherwise we'll be talking all night."

"I'm all ears," Sara said, thrilled that he was actually going to tell her, that things really were different than before, that he would share this part of his life with her.

Then, paradoxically, she found herself hoping that he wasn't about to tell her that the world almost did explode today.

"Remember the Tok'ra?"

She thought for a moment, then nodded. "Sam's dad?" She grinned. "Barbie Tok'ra? The allies you don't really like?"

"Yeah, well, after today, I really, really don't like them. In fact, we might not really be allies anymore."

"What happened?" Sara asked, thinking how odd it was that she was only one of a handful of people on the face of the Earth who knew that there were aliens out there, let alone ones that Jack was pissed off at.

"A couple symbiotes are dead, and it's because the Tok'ra tried to steal some for themselves. They're not happy that the friendly Goa'uld are ours and not theirs, and that we're not sharing."

"And remind me again why we're not sharing?"

"First of all because they haven't asked," Jack griped. "Ever since we told Jacob, we haven't seen hide nor hair of the Tok'ra, and it's not because Carter hasn't been trying to get a hold of him."

"So, if they asked, we'd give them some?"

Jack shrugged. "Daniel told Jacob when we rescued his ungrateful ass that the friendly Goa'uld would be given the option to live with the Tok'ra."

Sara shot Jack a wry grin. "Which none of them would do, because they all want to be near Daniel. So, he'd have to order them to do it, and he won't."

"No, he won't, because he's not any crazier about the Tok'ra than I am, and he'd feel badly about asking any of the Goa'uld to live with them."

"Sort of a catch-22, then," she offered.

"Yeah," Jack said, "but knowing Daniel, if the Tok'ra came, and asked nicely, Daniel would probably work something out. But they didn't ask. Today, they went to one of the planets we get a lot of the symbiotes from and tried to steal some of them. And along the way they attacked a few of our, well, one of our people, and a couple of the aliens who live on that planet who are our allies."

"Did they get away with some symbiotes?" Sara asked worriedly. Teal'c had finally shown her the symbiotes he carried, and while Sara tried to be more polite about it than Jack, she thought they were pretty horrific looking. She was very glad that once inside someone, they didn't come back out. Despite all that, though, every friendly Goa'uld she'd met who was inside a host was more delightful than the next and she'd come to appreciate them very much as a race and wouldn't want any of them to come to harm.

Jack nodded. "Yeah," he said again, "but before they got away with them, Jacksun, Chaka's Goa'uld, managed to tell them not to take a host because it would put Daniel in danger. And if they think Daniel's at risk, we know they'll do as they were told."

"And that means they'll die because they won't merge with a host when they need one," Sara finished for him.

Jack nodded as he took a long swallow of beer. "That means they're probably already dead. They were both mature and ready for a host." He took another swig of beer, looking even more depressed.

"What else, Jack?" she asked, knowing they hadn't even gotten to the real reason for Jack's mood. While the death of two symbiotes was bad, Sara was reasonably certain that casualties of war, however disheartening, unless it was Daniel, or someone else Jack loved, wouldn't account for the haggard look in his eye.

He sat there for a while, not answering, drinking his beer.

"Is Daniel okay?" she finally asked.

Jack sort of nodded. "We kind of had a fight."

"You guys fight all the time," she said.

That got a small smile out of him, and he drained the last of his beer.

"You want another one?" she asked. "Or something stronger?"

"Nah," he said, putting the empty bottle down on the side table, then wrapping his now cold hand around her ankle with a wicked smile.

She kicked at him, laughing, "Jerk," she called him fondly, the chill already leaving his hand. "Come on, Jack, talk to me." Sara had too many memories of him coming home like this and not saying a word, and she couldn't go back there. For a brief, despondent moment, she wondered if that small velvet box was going to find its way back to being tucked in a seldom-used drawer.

"That biologist that Carter's so gaga over?" Jack said in a seeming non sequitor.

"Yeah?" Sara said, brow furrowed, wondering how Sean tied into this.

"He's got a Goa'uld now."

"Is that a good thing?" Sara asked, wondering how Sam felt about that.

"Sure," Jack said. "And we got one…" Jack ran a hand over his face, "maybe two pilots to take a Goa'uld today, so General Vidrine is off to a running start for his teams."

They were getting closer. Sara just waited.

He reached for the remote, played with it for a few seconds. "There's this Goa'uld named Tana'oa," he finally said.

"A friendly Goa'uld?"

He nodded. "Did you know they call me the Guardian?"

"Who?"

"The friendly Goa'uld," Jack said, throwing the remote back on the coffee table. "I need to take you to the mountain one of these days and show you the tank where they keep the symbiotes. Maybe after Sean builds the new big one. They're actually pretty entertaining."

"I'd like that," Sara said honestly. The thought of watching symbiotes didn't necessarily appeal, but learning more about Jack's life certainly did. And they all talked about the tank with such humor. She prodded his thigh with her toe. "And?"

"What would you do if I came home one day and had a Goa'uld?" He turned to look at her. "Seriously. What would you do?"

"Do you, Jack?" she asked, wondering if this was what was going on. "Do you have a Goa'uld?" Part of her was scared shitless about the thought. Part of her felt its inevitability.

"No," he said. "And I think I might want that second beer." He gently pushed her feet aside, and stood. "You want one?"

"Yes, please." She stood as well.

"I'll get it," he offered, waving her back down.

"No, let's move this into the kitchen," she suggested. They'd always talked best in the kitchen.

They walked in, and Jack got beers for the two of them, flinging both caps into the sink. Sara saw more broken garbage disposals in her future. She sat at the table while Jack leaned against one of the kitchen counters near the sink.

"Answer my question," Jack said. "What would you do?"

"I don't know, Jack," she said. "Get to know him, I guess. Tell him he's an idiot for having chosen you," she added with a small grin.

"So, you wouldn't run screaming for the hills? Decide you made the right decision divorcing my ass?"

Realizing how serious Jack was being, Sara gave it some thought. What would it be like to suddenly know that Jack had an alien inside of him? That there'd be someone else privy to everything they did together, everything they talked about, someone who'd be in bed with them. "It'd take some getting used to," she finally said. It was something Sam might possibly be needing to get used to, too. That made Sara feel a little better, knowing she'd have someone to talk to about it.

"That Goa'uld, Tana'oa? He wants me as his host." Jack scrubbed at his face with his free hand.

"And are you going to be his host?" Sara asked. "Is that what this conversation is about? Are you asking me if I'm okay with it? Were you seriously thinking you would lose me?"

"The thought crossed my mind," he said ruefully, "but, no, that's not what this conversation is about. Not really."

"So, you're not going to be his host?"

Jack shook his head. "No. Another pilot's going to take him." He turned to look out the kitchen window over the sink, the muscles in his jaw clenching and unclenching.

Sara tried to put the pieces together. "Is that what you and Daniel fought about?"

"Sort of." Still not looking at her, he added, "Daniel thinks I've been leading Tana'oa along, making him think I'd take him. That I've been putting him at risk, because he needs a host, and doesn't want anyone else if he can have me." Angry now, Jack spit out, "And Daniel thinks I'm a fucking coward."

Sara didn't believe that for a second. "No, he doesn't. He would never think that about you."

"Fuck," Jack said. He finally turned around. "No, he wouldn't. But, I am. I am a coward," he said raggedly, his face tight with his imagined shame.

She got up and moved to him, sliding her arms around his waist. "Because you don't want to share your body with an alien?" she asked. "That's not being a coward, Jack, that's a natural response. Especially when it's other symbiotes just like these that have been your enemy for years, and been responsible for a lot of death and misery to people close to you."

Sara was grateful that Jack let her hold him, and even gladder when his arms moved around her, pulling her close. He buried his face in her hair, like he always did, making a small moaning noise. Her chest tightened at the sadness in his tone.

"It scares the shit out of me," he confessed softly.

She pulled back a little so she could see his face, trying to understand why this was bothering Jack so much right now. "Will he take another host? Will he take that pilot?" she asked, wondering if it was the potential death of a mature symbiote that was weighing on Jack's heart and mind.

"If Daniel tells him to," Jack said.

"And is Daniel going to tell him to?"

Sara could see Jack start to close down. Not surprisingly, he pulled away and took a swallow of his beer. "Yeah. It's probably already done." Jack cleared his throat, took another sip of beer.

Watching him, Sara finally put the pieces together. "You wanted him, didn't you? This Tana'oa? You wanted to be his host."

"I told you I was a coward," he said harshly.

"Listen to me, Jack O'Neill," Sara said sternly, "you are not a coward."

"If there's anyone in the world who knows I'm a coward, Sara," Jack countered in self-condemnation, "it's you. I get scared, and I fucking run." He wouldn't look at her, and cleared his throat again.

Sara had no idea how to fix this. She wished Daniel was here, thinking he'd probably know just what to say. Then again, maybe not, if he and Jack had fought earlier today. Then, out of the blue, her mouth said, "I talked to my dad today."

He snorted, surprised. "How did that go?"

"Not great," she said.

"Smart man," Jack said derisively. "He knows what kind of man I am."

"Jack," she said. "Look at me."

It took a few moments, but he finally did.

"What my dad knows is that a man who lost his son couldn't deal. Welcome to the human race. And yeah, it hurt me, but as much as I hated you for it, I understood. We wouldn't be here today if I hadn't."

Jack shrugged off her words.

"I'm not done," she snapped, angry now at how unforgiving he was being to himself. "What my dad doesn't know is how you've given your life to keep the rest of us safe. That you've suffered all that in silence. That you've been injured and lost and alone. He doesn't know that you are loved by incredibly worthwhile people, some of whom know you better than I ever will. People who aren't blind, and who know your faults, just as I do, but who know that all the good parts of you outweigh anything bad about you by a landslide. I love you, Jack O'Neill, and so does Daniel and Junior, and Sam, and Teal'c, and my dad's just shit out of luck if he thinks his opinion about you is going to make me love you any less."

That got her reeled in and held tightly, almost too tightly, but she didn't say a thing as Jack's arms held her so closely. "Jesus, Sara," he said roughly, "what the hell did I do to deserve you?"

"I love you," she just said again. "So much."

They stayed that way for a long time. Finally, he pulled back, and stared at her. "You are something else, you know that?"

Grinning, she told him, "Hold that thought." She walked to the living room and slid her hand under the pillow, bringing out the velvet box she'd hidden there. Clasping it tightly, she went back to Jack. She sat him down at the table, and she sat down kitty corner from him. "Put out your hand," she ordered.

He did.

She put the box in his hand. "Remember this?"

His eyes widened as he took in the name of the jewelry store emblazoned on the lid. "You kept it?"

"I kept it," she said. "Will you marry me, Jack?"

He stared at her, finally eking out, "You sure you want me, bad knees and all?"

"I'm very sure," she told him, no doubts at all.

He opened the box and pulled out the engagement ring he'd given her so many years before. "Then, hell, yeah, I'll marry you," Jack said with a pole-axed grin on his face. She held out her hand, and he slid the ring on. "You really sure?" he asked again. "Not that I'm letting you change your mind, but are you really, really sure?"

She hated the uncertainty on his face. "I'm surer now than I was the first time you asked me," she told him. Then grinning, she added, "Even if I'm doing the asking this time."

He grinned back, his face lighter, so much lighter than it had been when he'd walked in. She could still see shadows in his eyes, but he was grinning, and he loved her, and they'd be together, and hopefully, over time, those shadows would dim.

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Late that night, Daniel stood at the tank observing Tana'oa watch over the tank. Teal'c was behind him, his arms wrapped around Daniel. He loved having Teal'c so close; it made him feel safe and protected and loved. "He might not change his mind," Daniel said to Tana'oa, who had, once again, turned down Mitchell. Even without facial features, Daniel could see the implied look of scorn at Daniel's doubt.

"He is as stubborn as O'Neill," Teal'c observed.

Laughing softly, Daniel agreed completely. "Two of a kind." To Tana'oa, he said, "Just promise me, if it comes down to it that you'll choose another."

Tana'oa gave him the cold shoulder.

Sighing, Daniel rested back against Teal'c. He wished he shared Tana'oa's faith that Jack would change his mind, but he didn't. Jack could be as intractable as Daniel, and he'd dug his heels in pretty deep. Daniel knew Jack didn't want Tana'oa to go to anyone else, that it had killed Jack earlier to give him up to Mitchell, but he'd still done it.

He heard a noise from someplace he hadn't expected, and craned his neck to see what it was. He'd thought he and Teal'c were alone here, other than the SF on guard. Even Barak and Janet had left to get a late dinner. Together. Daniel wondered what was going on between the two of them. He'd have to pry later when he next got Janet alone. "Hello," he called out. "Is somebody here?"

Footsteps, and then a face, darker than Teal'c's, appeared out of the darkness. At his appearance, Teal'c stepped back, no doubt the better to deal with any danger.

Daniel smiled when he saw Simba. Damn, he thought to himself, Jack had him doing it now. "Zwanga," Daniel said, forcing his mouth to say the right name. He could feel Junior's merriment at the almost mistake. "What are you doing here so late?"

"I like to watch the tank," Zwanga said. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

"No, it's fine," Daniel said. "I like to watch the tank, too. I find it very relaxing." He pointed at the nearly mature symbiote. "He'll probably be ready by the day after tomorrow at the latest. Is Mamello ready?"

"She is," Zwanga said.

"Did you know her name meant patience?" Daniel asked.

"I did."

"And do you know what your name means?" Daniel inquired with a small smile.

"It means mine," Zwanga said. "Or that which belongs to me."

For some odd reason, Daniel felt a chill race down his spine and he shivered. Teal'c, thinking he was cold, ran his large hands up and down his arms in an effort to warm him. It felt good, so Daniel didn't stop him. "Have you given any thought to becoming a host?" he asked Zwanga. He and Mamello were so different. She was gregarious and talkative, while Zwanga only spoke when spoken to, and even then his words were sparse, spoken in excellent but accented English, his posture proud.

"No," Zwanga said. "Not at this time."

Daniel nodded, accepting, even if, in his heart of hearts, he thought--in Jack's parlance--the man was nuts.

//They do not understand what they are missing.// Junior crooned to him.

//No, they don't.// Daniel said back affectionately. //And it is their loss because of it.// Daniel couldn't even imagine his life pre-Junior. It felt so cold and sterile compared to this constant warmth and never ending source of love and affection.

//Fides was grateful for his name.// Junior said, switching subjects.

Fides was Sean's Goa'uld. He had asked Daniel to name him, and Daniel had given him the name Fides, after the minor Roman god of faith and loyalty. When Daniel had given it to him, he'd felt a moment's protest, then acceptance coupled with the Goa'uld's fierce determination to be worthy of the name.

Daniel had wanted to argue the point but let it go. Sean had already done wonders with the traumatized symbiote, and he would continue to heal under Sean's guidance and wisdom.

//Paul chose wisely.// Junior observed.

//Yes, he did.// Daniel agreed, reminding himself to thank Paul again. Without the suggestion of Sean, Fides would probably have chosen death; foolishly sure that he'd failed Daniel and deserved such a fate.

"I will say good night," Zwanga announced, interrupting Daniel's conversation with Junior.

"Good night," Daniel said warmly. Teal'c gave Zwanga a friendly nod.

As Zwanga left, Daniel asked Teal'c, "Have you talked to Sam?"

"I have not," Teal'c said.

"I was wondering how she was feeling about Sean taking a symbiote," Daniel mused.

"I saw them together in the cafeteria a few hours ago," Teal'c said. "She was eating blue jello and seemed no different than at any other time she has been with Lieutenant Lightfoot."

Daniel sincerely hoped it made no difference. He knew he'd been lucky that Teal'c had grown up around symbiotes and, to a certain extent, took their existence for granted. Turning to Teal'c, he said, "Have I told you today that I love you?"

"You have," Teal'c assured him. "You rarely leave my side without telling me."

"Good," Daniel said, settling back into his favorite position, leaning back against Teal'c's chest. He smiled when Teal'c wrapped his arms around him again. "Because I do."

"Rest assured, DanielJackson," Teal'c rumbled in his ear. "You have given me no room for doubt."

They stood like that for a minute, Daniel's eyes resting on the antics of the symbiotes, Tana'oa swimming back and forth, fulfilling his guardian duties.

"Did you call O'Neill and let him know that Tana'oa refused Mitchell's offer?" Teal'c asked.

"No," Daniel admitted. "I would have called him if Tana'oa had merged with Mitchell, but I wasn't sure I wanted to hear what Jack would say if I called him to say Tana'oa is still hoping he'll change his mind. I already had one argument with him about it today and I really didn't want another. Besides, it's not like I can force Tana'oa to take another host."

Daniel realized he sounded defensive, which meant he should have called Jack. He'd wanted Jack to stew a little, and he now felt ashamed. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he saw it was way too late to call now. As a way to make it up to his friend, Daniel decided he'd greet Jack with a big cup of his favorite coffee in the morning.

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Long after Sara had fallen asleep, Jack lay awake, staring at the darkened ceiling. He ran his fingers over the diamond Sara now wore on her hand and wondered how he could feel so in love, so rich and so whole, and still feel so empty.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next morning, Daniel was waiting for Jack at the last security checkpoint. As soon as he'd signed in, Daniel handed him a cup of coffee. Jack took it, sniffed appreciatively and noted that it was his favorite. With furrowed brow, holding the cup up as evidence, he asked, "Not that I don't appreciate it, but what's the occasion?" He felt tired, brittle, too little sleep, and too much on his mind.

"For not calling last night," Daniel said with an apologetic wince. "I'm sorry about that."

"Pissed at me?" Jack asked as the two of them walked to the elevator.

"A little," Daniel said honestly, "but I still should have called."

Jack had realized that his friend hadn't called after Sara had fallen asleep, but by then it had been too late to call Daniel to find out what had happened. "How's Mitchell?" Jack asked as nonchalantly as he could manage. The door opened and they both stepped in. Jack punched 28 on the keypad.

"Goa'uld-less," Daniel said. "Tana'oa said no."

The relief almost bowled Jack over. "Jesus," he said, leaning against the elevator wall, thankful it was there to hold him up.

"He's as stubborn as you, Jack," Daniel observed wryly.

"Stupid Goa'uld," Jack griped. Along with the relief came the realization that he was firmly back in the soup, decision still ahead of him. "Fuck."

"Jesus and fuck," Daniel noted. "Starting the day off with a whole panoply of curses."

"Pan o'what?" Jack asked.

"Impressive array," Daniel defined. "Wanna go see him?"

"No," Jack said. "Yes. No. Damn it. Yes." Double fuck. An impressive array of double fuck.

The elevator arrived with a ding, and Jack stalked off. Daniel stopped him with a quick grab to his arm. "Jack."

Feeling like he was facing his executioner, Jack turned. "What?" he scowled.

"Listen to me," Daniel said.

It wasn't like Jack had much of a choice. The iron grip on his arm wasn't letting him go anywhere. He kept forgetting that Daniel could break him like a twig these days. "So, talk," he said petulantly.

"I meant what I said yesterday afternoon," Daniel began. "You mean everything to me, Jack O'Neill, whether you ever take a Goa'uld, whether you take Tana'oa, or whether you mock them 'til the day you die. This is your decision, and yes, I might be disappointed if you choose never to take a Goa'uld, but that's because I'm selfish, and I want you around for a long time, and I want you to experience what I have. But I'll get over it. Tana'oa will, too. And they won't take your title away, and I won't take my friendship away. Ever."

Jeez, Jack thought to himself. It must be tell-loser-O'Neill-you-love-him-week or something, not that he didn't appreciate it just as much from Daniel as he had from Sara. Without the two of them…Jack stopped. He didn't want to go there. "I hear you, Dr. Jackson," Jack said. He'd have maybe even hugged the guy if a couple of Marines weren't clomping by.

"You sure?"

"Yes," Jack complained. "Stop it now."

Daniel grinned. "Sorry, wouldn't want to tarnish your oh-so-very-macho reputation."

"Can I drink my coffee now?" Jack asked snidely. He took a sip, found it barely warm enough.

"There's a microwave in the infirmary," Daniel suggested.

Fine. He'd go see Tana'oa, tell him he was stupid, and then get to work. He was a busy man.

As they headed toward the infirmary, Jack asked, "How's Sean and his Goa'uld?"

"They're okay," Daniel said. "Fides is still upset, but Sean's done wonders for him."

"Fides?" Jack asked.

"Yes, Fides, and when I told him you'd probably end up calling him Fido, he took it amiss, thinking it would mean you didn't like him, so take it easy on him for a while, will you?"

"Yeah, yeah," Jack said, having to admit that after feeling what the symbiote had put himself through yesterday, he wasn't in any mood to add insult to injury. "I'll leave his pigtails alone."

"Just for a while," Daniel said with a grin. "Sooner or later, when he's feeling better, he'll feel left out if you don't give him crap. Especially once he figures out how much the rest of the Goa'uld enjoy it."

Nothing like a Goa'uld to appreciate good snark, Jack thought to himself. It was one of their saving graces, as far as he was concerned. They arrived at the infirmary and had to make their way around several repair men working on the door to the infirmary. "Something broken?" he asked one of the men.

"Yes, sir," the man on the ladder said. "It's locking when it's not supposed to lock. At least that's what my work order says." He started to pat his various pockets down as if to find his work order but Jack waved him off. The infirmary door was someone else's problem. Thank God. He'd see a requisition form sometime in the next few weeks cross his desk for his signature, long after these guys had come and gone.

Then they were at the tank and there was Tana'oa, big as life, waiting for them. "What the hell happened to him?" Jack roared out when he saw a bluish round sore on his side.

"Relax, Colonel," Janet said as she walked around the tank, Barak by her side. "He volunteered to let us do a punch biopsy on him, so we could study their tissue."

"Did it hurt?" Jack asked, not reassured in the slightest.

"Paul held him so we could communicate with him while we did it. Tana'oa said it stung," Janet said soothingly, "but otherwise said he was unhurt."

"Suppose it gets infected?" Jack demanded.

"It won't," Daniel said. "It's a Goa'uld. He'll heal quickly."

"It already looks much better than it did," Janet observed, leaning in closer.

Jack grimaced, glad he hadn't seen it when they'd first done it, then. Stupid Goa'uld, he thought at Tana'oa.

Tana'oa flicked his tail as if to splash Jack, sending his own version of thought snark which amounted to 'Right back atcha'.

Jack barely avoided making a face at him. He knuckled the glass by the most mature symbiote in the tank, observing, "He's starting to feel it."

Daniel nodded. "I think tomorrow, if not tonight. I spoke with Sim…damn it, Jack," Daniel exclaimed.

Jack grinned at him, proud as always, when he screwed his kids up.

"Zwanga. I spoke to Zwanga," Daniel said firmly, "and he said Mamello was ready."

Good, Jack thought. One less to worry about. He glanced at his watch. "Come on, we'll be late for our meeting with Hammond and Vidrine." With a smile at Janet, Jack said, "Gotta go, Doc." Then, more sternly, "And no more punching holes in Tana'oa."

She saluted him. "Yes, sir, Colonel," she said without a hint of respect.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Say good bye, Daniel."

Obediently, Daniel said, "Good bye," and allowed Jack to tug him out of the infirmary.

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They were just putting the finishing touches on their first official ship raiding party, when the lights started flashing red and the klaxons let loose. "Unscheduled off-world gate activation," came the announcement.

"At least we're close this time," Jack said. "I was getting tired of all that sprinting."

Jack and the rest of his team started down the stairs, right behind Hammond. Vidrine stayed up top with Mitchell and Sheppard.

"It's Jacob Carter, sir," the gate technician told the general.

Hammond shot Jack a look, and they both headed down to the gate room. "Look lively," Jack told the SFs. "This could be trouble." When they snapped into position, looking glad for the opportunity to finally shoot the shit out of something, he winced. "Okay, look a little less lively." If Jacob was coming for a friendly visit, Jack didn't want him to feel too unwelcome.

Jacob stepped through with three other Tok'ra, immediately setting Jack on edge. "I think the invitation was just for you, Jacob," he said. He recognized the woman, Anise slash Freya. Even after that weird kiss, he still couldn't remember which was which. The two other men weren't familiar.

"I know, Jack," Jacob said soothingly. "But after that unauthorized debacle of yesterday," he stressed, "you can hardly blame the Tok'ra for being less than sanguine about sending me into the lion's den."

"Unauthorized?" Jack demanded. "Then how do you know about it?"

"Because the two remaining Tok'ra thought it wise to tell us they might have started a war between us," Jacob said with some derision. "As a sign of faith, I've returned these." One of the Tok'ra handed Jacob a very familiar cooler.

Daniel made as if to sprint up the ramp, but Teal'c grabbed him. Good thing, or Jack might have shot him.

Jacob held out the cooler. "One of them's in bad shape, Daniel. We tried to convince him to take a host, even promised him we'd bring the host here, but he refused."

Jack took the cooler from Jacob and handed it to Daniel. Then he yelled up to the crew in the conference room who were all watching the proceedings. "Tell Mitchell to get to the infirmary. We got a hot one." And if that rubbed things in just a little that they had hosts to spare, Jack was more than fine with that.

"I suggest we move this up to the conference room," Hammond suggested. Then, to Jacob, he said, "It's good to see you, Jacob."

"It's good to be seen," Jacob said with a smile. Then, he opened his arms to Carter. "Come give your old man a hug."

Carter quickly complied, and Jack decided that things weren't going to go to hell in a hand basket, and he could relax. A little bit.

Daniel and Teal'c, cooler in hand, left for the infirmary, and everyone else trooped upstairs.

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The two symbiotes Daniel had feared dead were alive, Cameron Mitchell now had his Phelan to go with John Sheppard's Flutie, whatever that meant, they'd already put a call into the next person on the host list who hadn't been chosen by a symbiote, and all was right with Daniel's world.

"We should return to the meeting," Teal'c advised. "General Hammond will be waiting for us."

Daniel nodded. "You up for that?" he asked Cameron. "I'm sure the general would understand if you needed some time."

"Nah," Cameron said, "I'm good." He grinned at John Sheppard who had accompanied them to the infirmary, and John grinned back.

Daniel smiled at their excitement, so pleased everything had worked out all right. Just as they were about to leave, Claude came racing into the infirmary. "Is it true?"

Never ceasing to be amazed at how fast news traveled around a base that should be good at handling secrets, Daniel said, "It's true. The Tok'ra brought them back and they're fine. Cameron here just took one of them."

Claude's eyes glowed, and Max spoke to Cameron. "I am pleased to see you are alive. I feared for your death, or worse."

Cameron's eyes glowed in return. "We heard Jacksun's words. We were prepared to die to keep our System Lord safe."

"Well," Daniel said sharply, "I'm just as glad you didn't, if that's all right with you." Daniel was heartily sick of the 'we'd-die-for-you' talk.

"Is that the other one?" Claude asked, moving to the tank, pointing at a fairly mature symbiote.

"Yes," Daniel said.

Claude sighed happily. "I'll just visit for a minute, I think." He pulled up a stool and sat down.

With a smile, Daniel left him there, and he, Teal'c, John and Cameron headed for the conference room.

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Jack covered his mouth to hide a yawn, and promised himself he'd get some serious shut-eye tonight. That was assuming this meeting didn't kill him first. They'd been talking for hours, and they kept coming around to the same point, which was that the Tok'ra weren't happy with the situation.

"It's not my freakin' fault that they all love Daniel so much," Jack finally said. "They want to be here, where he is. Even if we gave you some symbiotes," he added as if he was talking to an idiot, "they'd want to be here."

"But if Daniel…"

Jack interrupted Jacob. "But, he won't. He'll ask them, but he'll give them a choice, and they'll choose to be here. With him." He shrugged his hands. "I didn't make up the rules. He did," he said, pointing at Daniel's head. "It's Junior's fault."

Junior's eyes lit up with that I'm-so-entertained-by-you-Jack glow he had.

"Well, it was," Jack said again. "Am I wrong?"

"No, you are not wrong, Jack," Junior said. "I did indeed name Daniel our System Lord, and made all the Goa'uld look to him."

"James Bond," Daniel suddenly said apropos to absolutely nothing.

"What?" Jack said, wondering what the hell Daniel was talking about.

"James Bond," Daniel said again.

Jack sighed and said to Hammond, "I'm sorry to tell you this, sir, but Daniel's apparently gone insane."

A small smile graced Hammond's face. "Dr. Jackson, would you care to explain why you're bringing James Bond into the conversation?"

"Jacob," Daniel said earnestly in answer, "one of the reasons I've been so hesitant about asking any of our human-Goa'uld hybrids to go with you is as much on behalf of the humans as the Goa'uld. You live a hard life, putting yourself in danger every day."

"And putting us in danger, too, and usually first," Jack muttered. Not quietly enough, though, as Hammond, Daniel, and Jacob were all shooting him looks.

"But what would happen if we recruited spies?" Daniel continued. "CIA, FBI, MI5, spy agencies from around the world, and told them we needed off-world spies. Maybe we could even get police officers. If they said yes, they'd be taking on that lifestyle willingly, and they'd be experienced at living a life fraught with danger."

"Go on," Hammond said, clearly intrigued.

"They'd still be mine," Daniel said apologetically to the Tok'ra. "I really can't do anything about that, but we could send you as many as you need to help do the important work you do, the way you do it."

"The intelligence the Tok'ra have brought us has been of much value," Teal'c observed in support.

Jack just barely managed not to snark. It dawned on him, suddenly and weirdly, that if he had a Goa'uld, especially a snarky one like Tana'oa, that he could have a snark fest in his head anytime he wanted.

"They'd need to be able to see me regularly, with either me going there, or them coming here," Daniel added.

"And just so we're completely clear," Jack threw in with a snarly smile, "they'd, naturally, tell us everything they tell you. No more secrets."

"Jack," Daniel said disapprovingly.

"They need to understand," Jack said unrepentant. "They need to get that while we can supply manpower, they will never be Tok'ra. Do you get that?" he asked Jacob.

"Loud and clear," Jacob said, bristling a bit.

"I think that's the best offer you're going to get today," Jack said.

"Dad," Carter said. "We can really be allies. Equal, the way it should be."

"And what's to stop your spies from telling you information that they don't tell us?" Freya said. Or Anise.

"Because Daniel doesn't think like a Tok'ra," Jack snapped. "He honestly believes we should all be one happy family."

"Colonel," Hammond said warningly.

Jack leaned back and shut his mouth. He'd said what he wanted to say, anyway.

They spoke for a few more minutes, and then Jacob said, "We'll need to talk to the Council about this. Can we get back to you?"

"Of course," Hammond said graciously. They all stood up when he did. "Jacob, you're welcome to stay."

"Thanks, George," Jacob said with a smile, "but I better get back." He gave Carter another hug, laughed and shook his head in disbelief at Daniel, mostly ignored Jack with the exception of another one of his looks, and said his goodbyes.

Hammond accompanied them downstairs, SG-3, who had been hovering close by just in case, keeping him company.

"James Bond?" Jack said to Daniel.

Daniel shrugged, grinning. "I thought it was a good idea."

"It was," Carter said. "I think it could be a good solution."

"It's a great idea," Sheppard said. "I mean you did it with us. We're pilots, it's what we love to do. And our Goa'uld love it because we do. You find spies or cops or people like that who love what they do, and then you tell them that their primary job is to find out stuff that might hurt Daniel, and they'll take to it like a fish to water."

"I agree with Major Sheppard," Vidrine said to Daniel. "Good job. It's possible we might end up with stronger allies instead of enemies. The Tok'ra have been out there fighting a lot longer than us, and they know the politics and the background of all the Goa'uld better than we ever will. If we can come to an agreement, it might be worthwhile to add a Tok'ra operative to each of our raiding teams."

"Let's hold off on that suggestion for a while, sir," Jack counseled. "Let's see if we come to an agreement first, and then let's see how well they hold up their part of the bargain. I still don't trust them as far as I can throw them. Then, maybe, we can let them go steal things with us." That was a big maybe to Jack. Maybe one of Daniel's James Bond Goa'uld. Jack could get talked into that.

Vidrine nodded and stood, and Sheppard, Mitchell and Carter stood as well, and Jack pulled himself to his feet. He'd barely stood when Vidrine said his goodbyes and swept out of the room with his pilots in tow. Jack sat his ass back down.

To Carter, Daniel said, "I'm glad your dad didn't know."

She beamed at him. "Me, too."

Jack was pretty glad about that, too. While he hated the Tok'ra, he'd always sort of liked Jacob. "Yeah, no kidding," he said. "They suck bad enough being allies."

"We would be at a significant disadvantage were the Tok'ra to become our enemies," Teal'c agreed.

"Although," Jack said, hating to be a party pooper, "if there were four renegade Tok'ra willing to take us on, there might be more. If they go along with Daniel's plan, they're putting themselves in a position of needing us more than we need them. That's gotta grate."

"Whatever happens, happens," Daniel said. "I'm just glad Jacob wasn't in on it, and that those symbiotes are okay."

"I'll drink to that," Jack said. Two great things. And hey, there was another great thing. "By the way, you guys are talking to an engaged man."

This time it was Daniel beaming at him. "Jack, that's wonderful. Congratulations."

"Congratulations are indeed in order," Teal'c said.

"Congratulations, sir," Carter said with a very pleased smile. "Have you talked about a date?" She grinned. "We'll have to give you a bridal shower."

"Groom shower," Daniel said with a conspiratorial grin.

"Lingerie," Carter snorted.

"Sex toys," Daniel added.

Jack rolled his eyes. "I'll pass, thanks." Although, somehow he was sure that one of these weeks, he'd walk into a room and find it full of Marines and the rest of SG-1 along with a pile of brightly wrapped, suspicious looking boxes. And he knew it would be Daniel's fault, without a doubt. "And on that disturbing note, I'll be leaving now."

"Bye, Jack," Daniel said innocently, as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Jack knew the second he left, the three of them would be conspiring on how to totally humiliate him. That was all right; he'd find a way to pay them all back. Grinning, now, hopefully in a way that made them all exceedingly nervous, he gave them a jaunty wave, and left the room.

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Early evening, the same day, after glancing at his watch, Jack decided it was time to go peek in on his team, check on the symbiotes and then call it a night. He pushed away from the chair in his office, proud of the amount of paperwork he'd actually accomplished, a rare event these days.

It was weird, he thought, that only a few months ago if he'd seen a tank of Goa'uld larvae anywhere, he'd have opened fire on them. Daniel had, once. Of course, he'd been consumed with guilt about it, which was one of the reasons they were where they were now. But, four months ago, Goa'uld larvae, in Jack's mind, equaled enemy.

Now, it was part of Jack's daily routine to check on the symbiotes at least twice a day to see how they were doing. And it wasn't, by any stretch of the imagination, his worst chore of the day. He actually enjoyed it.

His memories were dim, thank God, but for a short period of time, he'd almost carried one of those suckers around inside of him when Hathor had tried to take over the base a couple years ago. Jack stopped in his tracks as he realized it would have been one of Daniel's. Not that it made the idea any more palatable, but Jack wondered if any of them had been friendly symbiotes, carrying Daniel's DNA around inside of them. Of course, they'd had Hathor's twisted DNA, too, but Jack preferred to think that Daniel's genes would have been dominant. Now that Daniel was the System Lord and all, Jack could have been carrying around royal progeny.

Snickering, deciding he was totally losing it, Jack headed toward Carter's lab. On his way, he felt the symbiotes' excitement, telling him Daniel had just shown up at the tank. It never failed to amuse Jack how tickled the symbiotes were with his best friend. Smiling, he arrived at Carter's lab and smacked on the door lintel. "Hey," he said to both Carter and Sean. "What are you two up to?"

They both looked at each other, and then at him, smiling back. "Hi, sir," Carter said. "We're estimating how thick the glass needs to be on the new tank given the tank's dimensions and the extra viscosity of the liquid."

"Of course you are," Jack said. Oy, he thought. Fun date. Not.

"How's Fid--" Jack fought it, tripping over his tongue, and finally managed to say, "des."

"Good catch, sir," Sean said, laughing a little, before he started acting a little nervous as if Jack's rank made that inappropriate.

"Please," Jack said. "Laugh away." If Sean was laughing, obviously little Fido wasn't too upset with Jack's faux pas.

"Sir," Carter said, something clearly on her mind.

He stared at her, eyebrows raised, waiting for the rest of it.

"We were, that is, I was wondering--"

"We were wondering," Sean said, correcting her kindly, sharing the blame for whatever the hell this was.

She smiled at him.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Sometime tonight?" He caught a strange whiff of emotion from the symbiotes. Not quite anxiety. Curiosity maybe?

"Sorry," Carter said. "We were wondering what department Sean was going to be assigned to."

For a moment, Jack felt like fucking with them and saying that Sean would be in Engineering, reporting to Carter. But, when he sensed something more worry and less curiosity from the symbiotes, he said, "Sciences, under Daniel." To Sean, he said, "Fido picking up on anything?"

Sean shook his head. "No, but he's not…he's happy right now sticking close to home, if you know what I mean."

Carter frowned. "Are you sensing something?" she said to Jack.

"I don't know," Jack said. "I'm gonna head down to the infirmary."

Then, like an ice pick to his brain, the worry went off the scale into full bore panic and it was like a thousand symbiotes were in his mind screaming for him. "Fuck!" he yelled and took off at a run.

"Colonel?" he heard behind him in a loud surprised voice, but Jack ignored it.

"Call for back up," he hollered. Then, saving his breath, he just ran. Like a mantra, keeping his feet in an even stride, he kept praying: Don't let it be Daniel, Don't let it be Daniel. One foot after another. Out of the corner of his eye he saw glowing eyes, other symbiotes picking up the all points bulletin distress signal. Feet were pounding behind him, and Jack kept running.

He was in the final stretch when he heard gunfire. Looking behind him, he found an SF with glowing eyes. "Give me your gun," Jack snapped. The SF quickly handed Jack his gun, and Jack was grateful for the symbiote, knowing it was his presence that had the SF reacting so quickly and without question.

Jack entered the infirmary and saw Daniel lying on the ground in a pool of blood. At the same time a bullet slammed Jack in the shoulder, spinning him around, the shocking pain making his stomach nauseous. He heard someone say, "O'Neill's in, lock down the door." Then he heard, "You weren't invited," and several more shots being fired, a body falling into the hallway. Jack had no idea who the unlucky bastard was who had tried to follow him into the infirmary.

Jack did his best not to fall on his ass, in fact, managed to get a few shots off himself. He wasn't exactly sure what the fuck he was firing at, aiming instead at where the unfriendly fire had come from, hoping like hell that a Marine hadn't shot him by accident.

Jack heard some serious locks slide home, and he remembered those fucking repairmen from early that morning, and could have kicked himself for not making sure they were supposed to be there.

Bleeding like a stuck pig, breathing through the pain, he ducked behind a wall, trying to figure out how many unfriendlies there were. All he wanted to do was go to Daniel and see if he was still alive. He had to be alive. Jack's mind skirted the thought of anything else like it was a live volcanic crater. He took a second to note that, in addition to Daniel, there were five other very dead bodies on the ground. By their uniforms, four of them were friendly, two of those, medical. No one small enough to be Janet, thank God. He couldn't really see the other one, although, startled, he realized there was a dead symbiote on its back.

A bullet hit the wall right by his head, about two centimeters in front of his nose. "Drop your weapon," he was commanded by a familiar sounding voice.

"I don't think so," Jack said.

"Do it, or I will put another bullet in Dr. Jackson."

Fuck. Hopefully that meant Daniel wasn't dead. The misery coming from the symbiotes wasn't specific enough for him to get the details he needed. He tried to get through to Tana'oa, sending a very loud emotional 'what the fuck happened?' to him.

A shot sounded and Daniel's body jerked in response to a bullet being fired into his calf. "I'll give you five seconds," the voice commanded, "or I'll shoot again."

Tana'oa was trying, but Jack couldn't concentrate enough to make any sense of it. He needed more time to figure out what was going on. He needed even more time to come up with a plan. Five seconds wasn't fucking long enough, and he threw his pistol down, not willing to risk Daniel's life on an empty show of bravado.

Then, figuring he was probably dead either way, he left his cover to move to Daniel, falling to his knees next to his friend's body. Daniel was on his front, lying awkwardly, the side of his face one massive laceration. Most of the blood was from his head, but there was a new pool forming around his lower leg. It looked like he'd been knocked out cold by whatever had hit his head.

Praying to every friendly god he knew of, which coincidentally, were the names of most of the friendly Goa'uld, he reached out and felt under Daniel's jaw for a pulse. Jack closed his eyes in faint-headed relief when he sensed one. Daniel's eyes glowed for a second, and Junior's eyes met his. Jack took a long look and decided it wasn't Junior's panicked "fuck, he's dead" look, but rather, a "yes, he's hurt, but I'm going to fix him" sort of look.

Jack's head was pounding, and then he grasped that part of the commotion was coming from the door. He could hear Teal'c, his voice lower than the rest, but there must have been a dozen people outside the door trying to get in. Only then did Jack look up to see who he was dealing with. When he saw who it was, he guessed who the fifth dead body was: Nala. And the man with the gun was Simba. Jack should have nicknamed him Scar. "Are you out of your mind?" Jack said. "Listen."

The pounding continued, and it would only be minutes before Carter had some sort of equipment out that would cut through it. Meanwhile, Marines would be crawling through ducts, falling through the ceiling any time. Not that he and Daniel couldn't be dead before then, but the fact that they weren't dead, yet, meant that Scar had a plan. And plans took time. Jack just had to hope it was enough time.

Scar smiled.

That was when Jack realized Scar wasn't alone. He had a few hyenas with him. "You're all dead," Jack said, wishing he'd get to do the honors.

Scar kept smiling. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he said, "I believe I have at least four minutes before they are able to break through. And, when they do, I have diplomatic immunity," he said calmly. "I will kill you and Dr. Jackson, and then I will surrender. The worst that will happen to me is I will be sent home to Africa, which is what I wish for."

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. He turned to hyena number one. "You think that's gonna protect you? You guys are completely fucked." Jack's shoulder was hurting like a son of a bitch, and he needed to put something on it to stop the bleeding. As a stop gap, he put his hand up and pressed it in tight, hissing at the pain. He glanced up to see Tana'oa bumping against the glass as if he could get to Jack.

"These men are under my protection," Scar said. "They will come to no harm."

"And you believe him?" Jack scoffed to hyenas one, two and three. "You'll be lucky if you ever see daylight again." He pointed toward the tank. "Even if you kill me and Daniel, there're about thirty witnesses right there."

'Ah, yes," Scar said. "The Goa'uld."

Jack was suddenly really sorry he'd mentioned them. He didn't like the look in the man's eyes as he stared at the tank. Trying to pull attention back to himself, Jack stood. Not very gracefully, but he managed to stand, putting himself between Scar and Daniel. He wished he could protect the tank, too.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Daniel's healing device, sitting on top of the crash cart. With all his heart he wished it was a P90.

"She agreed to let one of these infestations enter her body," Scar said, pointing to Nala on the floor with his gun. "She has paid the price."

Jack wondered how the symbiote had gotten there. Given how mature it was, it was probably the one that had chosen her. Maybe it had tried to save her, making a futile leap out of the tank, but considering her head was blown open, there'd been little hope of that. Someone had shot the symbiote, too, its weird colored blood still dripping down her sides to the floor.

"The rest of them must die as well, and that will put an end to this satanic experiment," Scar said.

"Satanic?" Jack said. "Let me make a wild guess," Jack sneered. "You a personal friend of Senator Kinsey?"

Neither denying nor agreeing, Scar simply said, "I was given these instructions: Hurt them, make them suffer, then tell them that those who blaspheme God will suffer the consequences of their guilt and be punished. Let O'Neill watch as you kill Dr. Jackson, then kill the infestation."

His gun came up and Jack prepared himself, ready to take a bullet for Daniel if it came to that. But, instead, Scar aimed at Jack's thigh, shot him, and then opened fire on the tank.

Jack staggered in agony, not just from his own pain, but from the pain of symbiotes hurt and dying, either from the bullets, from shards of glass slicing them, or them falling to the ground. Stumbling, Jack fell into the crash cart, sending it slamming into the wall where it toppled for a moment, top heavy with all its equipment, and then fell in his direction. Unable to move fast enough it smashed into his hurt shoulder making him see stars, skirting the edges of unconsciousness.

Fighting back, not willing to give up that easy, he shoved the crash cart away, ignoring whatever damage he might be doing to anything in its path. He saw a symbiote on the floor and thought it might be Kitty. Crazed at the thought of Carter's symbiote dying, maybe dead, he picked it up, and forced himself to his knees. Kitty wiggled a little in his grip and the realization that he wasn't dead filled him with renewed determination to stop this fucker.

While Jack was on his knees, marshaling all his strength to stand and fling himself on Scar, the African, with a smile, shot Daniel in the back. Low, Jack thought, the workings of his mind in a battle situation instinctive. A gut shot. Nowhere near Junior.

He heard scrabbling in the ceiling and the sounds of torches being turned on. Every floor was protected top and bottom by metal shielding. It wasn't just a matter of kicking out an acoustic tile and coming to their rescue. Regardless, the sound was like music to Jack's ears.

Jack tried to stand, putting his hand out for balance, almost slipping as his hand got caught in something. He looked down and saw the healing device. Tangled around it was something with gold coils. The pain, the anger, the blood loss, Jack blamed them all for the fact that it took him a few seconds to realize he was looking at a ribbon device.

Through some piece of luck, Jack looked up just as Scar was pulling the trigger again and he staggered to the side, taking both devices with him. The bullet tore into the flooring. In retaliation, Scar shot one of the symbiotes, blasting it into an unrecognizable blob on the floor.

Consumed with hatred, Jack saw his death, Daniel's death, and all the symbiotes as well as Earth's future being destroyed by one man and Jack refused to let it happen.

"See if he's conscious," Scar said to one of his hyenas. Obeying, the man walked over to Daniel and flipped him over.

Jack used the opportunity to slip the ribbon device on. Kitty wasn't mature enough, and even if he was, he wasn't the right Goa'uld. Jack could hardly bare to look, afraid he'd find that Tana'oa was dead, his mangled body shot to bits, or hung up on the jagged edges of broken glass. Instead, his heart suddenly beating so loud he couldn't believe the floor wasn't shaking, he found Tana'oa on the ground, near him, waiting. Hoping. Hoping so fiercely it made Jack's eyes sting. "Yes," he whispered, even as another bullet slammed into his side.

He curled up, hiding Kitty, and waited for the excruciating pain of Tana'oa ripping into the back of his neck. It was over in an instant and Jack felt Tana'oa's strength and fury, his equal need to protect, and his raw determination to succeed surge through his body like the rush of the best cocaine. Along with it came the knowledge of how to use the ribbon device, and he was on his feet, and blasting it at Scar so hard it pushed him right into the wall. The hyenas were next.

They fired at him, but it was as if Tana'oa had made him bulletproof as they missed him, giving Jack long enough for him to slam them back against the walls, their guns flying. One of the bullets might have grazed him, but he ignored it. Between his and Tana'oa's rage, the need for vengeance superseded everything else. He did have the presence of mind to carefully place Kitty back in the tank where there were still a couple inches of liquid to keep him safe.

Making sure the hyenas were unconscious, Jack limped over to Scar. Despite having made a man-shaped dent in the wall, Scar wasn't dead. Yet. Jack had seen the travesty of diplomatic immunity in action, and he wasn't taking any chances. There was no fucking way this asshole was ever getting near Daniel again. By the noises outside the door, Jack knew he only had seconds, so as much as he might have preferred torturing the man to death with the ribbon device, he picked up the closest weapon and put a bullet through the fucker's brain, right between his eyes. Tana'oa was viciously gleeful about the whole thing.

Jack supposed it was just as well they managed to get the door open right then, or he would have shot the hyenas, too. The door slammed open with a resounding reverberation and Teal'c, Carter, Siler, all of SG-3, every Human-Goa'uld hybrid, Hammond, Janet and Barak, and it seemed like every Marine on the base, all entered the room like the flow of a mighty river. It was like the Marx Brothers movie, a Night at the Opera.

He stared at them all, then rallied, needing to make sure Daniel was all right. "Daniel, first," he snapped to Janet over his shoulder. To everyone else, he said, "Get the coolers, help the Goa'uld." When Janet looked like she was thinking maybe he needed help first, he shook his head. "I'm fine, go to Daniel."

"Sir," she protested.

He let Tana'oa peep out his eyes. Tana'oa said, "He is fine. I am tending to his needs for the moment. Attend the System Lord."

Jack couldn't have said it better himself.

Janet's eyes widened, then narrowed, but she went to Daniel.

//You're gonna pay for that.// Jack said to Tana'oa.

//I believe that you will pay for that,// Tana'oa said smugly. //She will exact her revenge upon your body.//

//Hey,// Jack protested. //I thought you guys were supposed to be all about the love.//

And then he felt it, like standing under a waterfall, Tana'oa's love for him, for Daniel, his dedication to Jack, his respect, his gratitude that Jack had chosen him, allowing him to help save those that mattered most to him. //Yeah, yeah, yeah,// Jack thought back at him. //I get it. Stop it.// Jack practically yelped. He was afraid he was gonna start bawling in a second. //You and Daniel are gonna be the death of me with all this mushy stuff.//

Smug again, Tana'oa shut the flow off, like a faucet, although tendrils of it were still wrapped around Jack's heart.

Able to focus again on the here and now, Jack moved to Daniel's side, or as close as he could get with Teal'c hovering, looking grim and furious. Jack could only imagine what Teal'c had been going through out in the hallway. It made Jack glad he'd been the one in here, even if he was sporting a few too many bullets, and had a freakin' Goa'uld in his head.

He felt Tana'oa's less than pleased response to being called a freaking Goa'uld.

//Sorry. Habit.// Jack said. //No offense.// Jack tried.

//Some taken.// Tana'oa grumped in return.

But Jack could tell Tana'oa was grinning and it was hard not to grin in response.

//We belong together.// Tana'oa said quite fiercely.

//You try to make me a vegetarian,// Jack said warningly, //and you'll see how fast we don't belong together.//

"How is he, Doc?" Jack asked. He knew it couldn't be too bad as under the Goa'ulds' general distress, there wasn't the freak factor that would be there if Daniel were at death's door.

"He'll be fine," Janet said, her welcome words made heavy by the sadness in her eyes. She'd lost two of her own in this altercation. "He was lucky. The bullets went right through him. Jia Li will have him fixed up in no time."

Jack heard the hum of a device being turned on and saw Jia Li, one of the first nurses to take a Goa'uld, start running it over Daniel. Seeing that Daniel was in good hands, he turned toward the tank and, for a moment, watched Paul and Sean bark out orders to save the symbiotes.

//How many of them are dead?// Jack asked Tana'oa. //Can you tell?// There were too many people in the way to be sure.

//Several,// Tana'oa replied sadly. //Many more are hurt.//

"You next, Colonel," Janet said, in a voice that would brook no argument.

Ready to argue anyway, it was as if all his marionette strings were suddenly cut, every ache and pain turning to fire, and he felt his knees buckle. "Ow," he bitched. //What gives?// he demanded of Tana'oa. //Aren't you supposed to be fixing me?//

//I have been shielding your pain so you could do what had to be done. Your body is in need of care. Get on the gurney so the small doctor can see to your wounds.// Tana'oa said sternly.

"Great," Jack muttered. "My own private mother hen." But he got on the gurney, and let Janet poke around a little.

"You need surgery," she announced.

"No, I don't," Jack said. "Just let someone use that healing device on me."

"Unlike Daniel," Janet argued, "your bullets are still inside. I need to get them out. Then, they can use the healing device."

"Crap," Jack said. He hated surgery.

//You will be recovered fully when you wake.// Tana'oa reminded him.

Jack brightened at the thought. "I need to talk to Daniel first," he said.

"Now," Janet ordered.

"I need to talk to Daniel first," Jack ordered right back at her. There was no fucking way he was going under the knife without seeing Daniel's baby blues.

Tana'oa spoke, "Doctor, it is important. Please allow this. I will protect Jack while he waits for Daniel to be healed."

Janet frowned, but she nodded. "Don't move from this gurney," she instructed. Not giving Jack time to even respond, she turned to face the general havoc, trying to determine where she could best be of assistance.

//Thanks,// Jack thought, feeling better already thanks to Tana'oa's help.

Tana'oa clearly felt thanks were unnecessary.

//Thanks, anyway,// Jack thought again. He got a sense of pleasure in return. As he watched Daniel slowly return to consciousness, Jack found his thoughts turning to Sara. He did his best to hide his fears.

Unsuccessfully. //Will she turn from you because of me?// Tana'oa asked worriedly.

//I don't know,// Jack said honestly. Sara had said she wouldn't, but one look at Jack's glowing eyes and that could be all she wrote.

//Do you…do you wish for me to leave?// The question was halting and full of anguish.

Jack didn't even need to think about it. //No fucking way,// Jack said. Even though Tana'oa had only been inside of him for a few minutes, Jack couldn't even imagine letting him go. Everything every other host had said was making total sense. Tana'oa fit. He filled in all the empty spaces inside of Jack and if he left, all those empty spaces would feel like the Grand Canyon.

"Jack?"

In the middle of assuring Tana'oa that he wasn't about to get tossed out with the morning paper now that he'd helped Jack out, Jack missed it first time around.

"Jack?"

Jack blinked and looked at the stretcher next to his. "Daniel," he said with a smile. "You're alive." And already tucked into Teal'c's side, where he'd be lucky to budge from even to pee.

"Thanks to you," Daniel said with an affectionate grin. "And Junior." Then, his eyes widening, he added, "And Tana'oa." His smile grew a little anxious. "You all right with that?"

Jack nodded. "Yeah. I am. He's all right. And he saved your sorry ass," he crowed smugly.

"And yours," Tana'oa threw in, hijacking Jack's mouth.

"Hey," Jack protested. But it was too late. Daniel was snickering.

"Time to go," Janet said to Jack.

"Wait," Jack said. "Daniel."

Daniel stood, managing, to Jack's surprise, to get away from Teal'c. He moved to Jack's side. "What is it?"

"Would you go find Sara, talk to her?"

"About Tana'oa?"

Jack nodded.

"I will." He squeezed Jack's hand. "She'll be here waiting for you. I'll bring her here myself." Then he frowned. "Now it's time for you to go. I know Tana'oa's doing a good job helping you out, but you're a wreck." Then, to Tana'oa, Daniel said, "Thank you for helping him, for saving him. I'm in your debt."

"It was my privilege," Tana'oa said. "You owe me nothing, my L…Daniel," he finished with a frown.

Daniel grinned as if he knew what had happened.

//I say it to honor him,// Tana'oa griped.

//There is no freaking way the words 'My Lord' are coming out of my mouth,// Jack said firmly, //unless it's to give Daniel shit. He may be your system lord, but he's my best friend, and he needs to know he can depend on that without any of this holier than thou crap, from me or you. Got it?//

Tana'oa thought about it for a second and Jack could tell there'd be a few arguments about this coming up, but Jack knew he was right, and he wasn't budging.

"Now," Janet ordered, gently shoving Daniel out of her way, and getting an orderly to push Jack's stretcher. Then, in less than a minute he had an oxygen mask on, and he felt the gentle rush of drugs drag him into sleep, Tana'oa promising to keep guard.

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They barely had enough coolers. Every wounded Goa'uld needed to be in its own cooler so its blood couldn't do any harm. There were far too many of them, and there were two that Daniel wasn't sure would survive as they were so badly hurt.

Twelve dead symbiotes. Fourteen wounded. Only ten unharmed.

Daniel sat on the floor, surrounded by coolers, trying to calm the symbiotes down. They seemed to be having a hard time believing he was okay, having an even harder time believing Jack was okay, as he wasn't here to prove it to them.

The dead bodies had been removed, both human and symbiote. Sean was working with Paul and Siler to get another tank set up, the largest the closest fish store had in stock, while Claude had raced off to Kuokoa to get more water from the lakes there, as well as some fresh plants that weren't covered in glass slivers.

Hammond, as angry as Daniel had ever seen him, had the entire base scrambling to find out how those men had gotten in to help Zwanga, and he'd already called the President to find out who'd vetted the South African. Daniel had little to tell him about the events that had occurred, other than that he'd entered the infirmary to find Zwanga and Mamello having a disagreement about Mamello taking a Goa'uld. It had all gone to hell so fast, and when Daniel had tried to intervene, he'd been pistol whipped hard enough to knock him out cold. For someone who hadn't had a Goa'uld, Zwanga had been freakishly strong.

Since being healed, Daniel had tried to interrogate the Goa'uld as gently as he could, but they didn't have any answers for him, only images of what had happened to Jack and then the tank. "Jack saved Kitty," Daniel told Sam, apparently assigned to him to hold his hand. Daniel welcomed her presence as a balm to his aching heart.

"He did?" Sam asked. Next to her was Kitty's cooler, Sam's hand in the water, Kitty coiled around her fingers.

"He's telling me that when the tank exploded, he fell to the floor, and Jack picked him up, keeping him safe until he could be returned to the water." Only the knowledge that Jack would be safe himself, thanks to Tana'oa, was keeping Daniel from completely losing it. That was probably the main reason the Goa'uld weren't calming down well. They were still feeling how upset Daniel was.

Sam smiled a little, her face reflecting the somber knowledge at all they could have lost tonight.

Teal'c was sitting by his side, glowering, and Daniel suspected that the one day he'd enjoyed being without a constant bodyguard was now a thing of the past. He'd have Teal'c, as well as Paul and Eric, stuck to him like glue for the foreseeable future.

There had been a few saving graces. First, Kitty was fine. Siler's Horton had also gotten through the ordeal with only a few scratches. The symbiote so miraculously returned by the Tok'ra was more seriously hurt, but should recover. Hopefully he'd recover quickly, though, because he needed a host soon, and as long as he was bleeding, he couldn't go near a host.

And then there was Tana'oa. Alive, and responsible, from what Daniel could see, for keeping Jack alive. And Jack, taking Tana'oa, had saved them all. He hoped, as hard as he'd ever hoped for anything, that Jack wouldn't regret it.

//He will not.// Junior assured him. //He and Tana'oa belong together.//

Daniel could hardly dispute Junior, as he had no doubt Junior and Tana'oa had spoken, but he needed to get that reassurance from Jack. Junior understood and didn't speak of it again. And speaking of Jack, he had to talk to Sara. Mentally reassuring the symbiotes the best he could, knowing they wouldn’t be happy at his departure, Daniel got to his feet. "I have to go see Sara and bring her back here."

Paul scoffed at Daniel from where he and Sean were setting up the air filter for the new tank. "You're not going anywhere, Daniel. You'll be lucky if you can leave your quarters."

"I'm not asking," Daniel said firmly, suddenly furious at the thought that someone might keep him from fulfilling the favor Jack had asked of him. His rage wasn't proportional, he knew that, it was spilling over from what had happened here, but it consumed Daniel.

Surprised, feeling Daniel's anger through his symbiote, Paul stopped what he was doing. "Daniel?"

Daniel ignored him, even pulling away from Teal'c's grasp. "I'm going to see Sara."

Teal'c grabbed him again. "Do you wish to allow your enemies a second opportunity at you?" Teal'c hissed. "Have you not already cheated death once this day?"

"Be sensible," Paul tried. "We can send someone to get Sara, bring her here, and then you can talk to her."

"I am not letting some strangers show up at Sara's house," Daniel said angrily.

"I can go," Paul said. "She knows me."

"I can go, too," Sam offered.

"O'Neill would not want you to put yourself in danger," Teal'c said.

But Jack had asked, knowing what he was asking. Daniel was sure of it. And he knew he had to be the one to talk to Sara, to go to her. Besides, right now, Daniel knew he was safe. They had tried to kill him already, here, in the one place everyone thought Daniel to be safest. There wouldn't be another attempt so quickly. "Again," he said clearly, "I'm not asking. I'm not taking a vote. This is something I'm doing." With that, he shook Teal'c off again and headed for the infirmary door. Before he left he glanced at Sean, "You'll take care of the symbiotes?"

"You know I will," Sean said with a small bow as if aware of the great honor being paid him in being asked.

Knowing the symbiotes were in good hands, Daniel walked out.

"Shit," he heard Paul say behind him, and he heard a phone being lifted and Hammond being paged. Daniel ignored it all and headed topside, Teal'c doggedly following him.

Teal'c said nothing to him as they made their way to the elevator, his disapproval radiating from him like shrapnel.

When he got off the elevator, he found Hammond waiting for him. "Dr. Jackson," Hammond said formally.

"You're not changing my mind," Daniel said stubbornly.

"You agreed to stay on the mountain," Hammond said reasonably.

"That was before Jack almost died saving our lives," Daniel said. "Sara needs to know, and Jack asked me to be the one to go find her, to tell her what happened. Jack asked me, and I'm not letting him down."

"He was seriously injured at the time," Hammond said, "and I find it hard to believe that, in his right mind, he would have asked you to do anything that might put you in danger."

"He knew what he was asking," Daniel said stubbornly. "And Tana'oa was keeping the pain at bay. The enemy came here," he said, a finger pointing to the ground on which he stood, "to destroy us all, and they failed. Today of all days," Daniel continued, "I'm in no danger out there, which is more than I can say for in here. And I'll be damned before I let them, whoever the hell they are, keep me from doing a favor, an important favor, for my best friend."

Daniel knew, deep down, that he was being unreasonable, that he was putting an undue strain on his friends, and that the last thing they deserved was his ire. But after seeing what Jack had gone through, what Jack had done for him, knowing he'd done nothing to help, even if he'd been unconscious at the time, made him have to do at least this simple favor.

Hammond opened his mouth to speak.

Daniel put up his hand to keep him from speaking. "Don't try to stop me, General," he snapped, out of patience. "I'll agree to whatever security precautions you feel are necessary, but I'm going."

He had always counted on the general being a wise man, and Hammond didn't disappoint him this time. "All right, Dr. Jackson," Hammond said. "Give me fifteen minutes, please, to put those security precautions in place."

Daniel could hardly disagree although he chafed at the delay.

As Hammond walked away, Teal'c glowered, "This is foolish."

Turning to him, Daniel asked, "Do you really think I'm in danger right now? That someone else, having nothing to do with the attempt on my life today because they surely expected to succeed, is waiting outside for me to leave so they can take a shot at me?"

Daniel could see that Teal'c wanted to say yes, wanted to enough that he was considering lying but, reluctantly, he said, "No. I do not."

"So, let me go. Come with me," Daniel said.

An exasperated look crossed Teal'c's face. "Did you think I would not? Do you think I will be letting you out of my sight?"

Smiling softly, reaching up to kiss Teal'c, Daniel shook his head. "No, I'm not that foolish."

"That is wise of you," Teal'c said, pulling Daniel to him roughly.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," Daniel whispered in his ear. He could only imagine how crazed the whole thing had made Teal'c. Teal'c said nothing, but squeezed him hard enough to break ribs if Daniel had been fully human.

Daniel heard footsteps and looked up to see SG-3 coming around the corner, armed and looking ready for bear. Hammond's work, Daniel suspected. Paul's eyes glowed. "My Lord, your vehicle awaits," his Goa'uld announced formally.

Not arguing the title this time, Daniel said, "Thank you, Mithras. Thank you all." Then he frowned. "Who's protecting Jack?"

"The Guardian is well protected," Mithras told him. "Tana'oa is alert and able to warn of any danger, and General Hammond has surrounded the area with many soldiers. Tana'oa speaks for the Guardian and says that it would be the Guardian's desire for you to be equally well-guarded."

That was probably true enough, and it was also true that Jack would probably tear Daniel a new one when he realized he was taking his favor so to heart and putting himself, potentially, at risk to fulfill it. For a brief second, Daniel thought about telling them all to forget it and taking Sam up on her offer to go get Sara.

But only for a brief second. He knew he was the right person to tell Sara what had happened, the right person to deal with whatever reaction she had. "Let's go," Daniel said, trusting Mithras' words.

Paul and Eric stepped in front of him, Teal'c marched by his side, and Jeff and Brian walked behind him. For the first time, Daniel actually felt the weight of his title, felt the pomp and circumstance as something more than a waste of time. Saw it as a gift, a tangible way for these people for whom he cared so much, to show him how much he meant to them. He'd never be comfortable with the title System Lord, or being called Lord, or the subservience, but for the first time, he understood it, and today, accepted it.

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He looked out the window as they approached Jack's house, knowing Sara was there. There was no way she could possibly be missing the caravan pulling up outside. Daniel was in a limo with Teal'c and SG-3. There were two vehicles behind, one in front, and he was sure he was hearing helicopters directly above.

Daniel made to open the door, but Jeff stopped him with a look. Daniel sat back, reminding himself that he'd agreed to all this hoopla. The least he could do was try to be minimally gracious about it. Jeff exited the vehicle, Brian behind him. In a few seconds, Jeff put his head back in and said, "It's clear."

Barely managing not to roll his eyes, knowing it would not be well received right now, Daniel got out of the limo. Sara was already standing in the doorway. "Daniel?" she called out. "Is Jack with you? He's late."

Daniel wasn't sure exactly how to answer that. It suddenly dawned on him that he might have used the time in the limo a little more constructively to actually come up with something to say.

His hesitation made an impact. "Daniel," she said again, her face crumpling. "Don't tell me. Do not tell me…"

"No, no, Sara," Daniel said, aware that he was totally blowing this. Some favor. "He's fine. Really, he's fine."

"Then, where is he?" she asked sharply, shifting so Brian and Jeff could get around her and check out the inside of the house. Teal'c was close enough for Daniel to feel the heat of his body, and Eric and Paul were closely monitoring the outside. And yes, that was definitely the sound of helicopters. "What is all this?"

Jeff nodded at Daniel from behind Sara, and it was Paul who said, "Can we take this inside, please?"

Sara stumbled a little, and Daniel caught her elbow, smiling at her as reassuringly as he could while he helped her inside. Again, he said, "He's okay. I promise."

Wiping tears from her eyes, Sara nodded a little wildly, and allowed Daniel to lead her inside. Teal'c came in, of course, as did all of SG-3. Daniel watched as several SFs surrounded the house. Not exactly subtle. It would be a miracle if a neighbor didn't call the police.

Shaking off all those concerns, he turned to Sara, giving her his complete attention. "I'm sorry for all of this, Sara. There was an attack on the base tonight, and security is going to be a nightmare because of it."

Sara wiped at her eyes again. "Where's Jack?"

Daniel turned to Teal'c and SG-3. "I need some privacy here."

Brian and Jeff were already closing the blinds all over the house. "Go to the guest bedroom," Brian said. "That's the room with the fewest windows."

This time Daniel did roll his eyes. "See what I mean?" he asked Sara. Without giving her a chance to reply, needing to say what he'd come here to say so she could start dealing with what Jack had done, he took her hand and led her to the bedroom. When they got there, he realized Teal'c had followed him. "Teal'c," Daniel said. "May we have some privacy?" he asked.

Teal'c crossed his arms over his chest, an immovable mountain.

Sighing, Daniel realized he wasn't going to win this battle. "Close the door a little, at least?"

Complying, Teal'c shut the door completely, then leaned against it, his eyes not leaving Daniel.

Still holding Sara's hand, he pulled her to the bed, where they'd sat just a few nights before, having a conversation of a similar vein. Sara sat stiffly on the bed, a marked difference from the last time. "Jack was hurt, but he's going to be fine. He's in surgery right now."

Biting her lip, more tears falling, Sara squeezed Daniel's hand. "How badly?"

There was no easy way to answer that without either causing Sara unnecessary alarm, or without springing the news about Tana'oa on her.

Junior came to the rescue. "Sara," he said gently. "Jack saved Daniel today. He saved us all. And in doing so, he suffered greatly. But, in his great need, he turned to one of us to aid him. And, because of it, when the surgery is complete he will be completely healed and without pain."

She looked at him, initially confused, trying to make her way through his words. Then, she gasped. "Tana'oa?"

It was Daniel who answered. "Tana'oa. He'll take care of Jack. Jack only had to have surgery to remove the bullets still inside of him. Once they're gone, Tana'oa will heal him. He's fine, Sara, but it's because he merged with a Goa'uld. And he asked me to come tell you. And if you want, to bring you to him."

"If I want?" she asked with a disbelieving laugh. "Did he think I wouldn't want to?"

"I think he wanted to give you the choice," Daniel said kindly.

"Will he still be the same?" she asked shakily. "Will he still want me?"

"Jack will be the same. He'll just be more. He loves you. And now, Tana'oa will love you, just as Junior loves everyone I love."

Sara started shaking. "Would he have died? If he hadn't done this, would he have died?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes. He would have died, along with me, and all the symbiotes. Jack did what he had to do to save us all."

"What if he doesn't want Tana'oa now?" she asked, fearful for Jack. "Once he's healed, he might not want a symbiote. He was so…he was so scared of doing it. You know that." Sara started to cry.

Daniel was suddenly very glad he'd listened to his instincts and insisted on coming to see Sara. Daniel knew he was the only other person besides Jack that Sara would speak of her fears right now.

"I don't know how to explain it to you, Sara," Daniel said, pulling her close, letting her cry against his chest. "You're right, Jack was scared, and I can't blame him for that. I was scared, too. Sharing your heart and mind and body is a scary enough proposition with another human, let alone something that actually lives inside of you. But, I promise you, he's all right. I asked him. It was the first thing I asked him."

"What did he say?" Sara asked soggily, not showing her face.

Daniel let out a snicker. "He said that having Tana'oa inside him was all right, and then he bragged about how Tana'oa had saved my sorry ass." Daniel snickered again. "Still Jack, Sara, through and through."

Sara pulled back, smiling a little, her eyes red, her face streaked with tears. "Then what did he say?"

Grinning, Daniel said, "Actually it was Tana'oa who then pointed out to Jack that he'd saved his ass, too."

That got a teary chuckle.

"Then he asked me to find you and tell you, and then they whisked him away to surgery."

"Was he in pain?"

"Only for a second," Daniel said honestly, "and then only so Tana'oa could prove a point and show Jack that he needed to do what Janet was saying. Before that and after that, Tana'oa was blocking his pain."

"Were you hurt?"

Disgruntled, Daniel said, "I was unconscious through the entire thing, and needless to say, of no help to Jack at all."

Junior disagreed, "You were alive, and that was all the incentive Jack needed to make sure you stayed that way."

"I can hardly take credit for that," Daniel countered. "The only reason I was still alive was because of you."

Sara sniffed. "It's so weird when you talk to yourself that way." She hiccoughed, and hand on her chest as if it had hurt, sort of smiled. "I guess I better get used to it."

"Teal'c?" Daniel called.

"Yes, DanielJackson," Teal'c answered.

"Will you come here for a minute?"

Teal'c came and stood in front of Daniel and Sara, waiting. Daniel patted the bed next to him, and Teal'c sat down. "Was I different?" he asked Teal'c, turning to him, letting Sara just listen. "From before I had Junior and then after?"

"You were not, other than the physical boon of having a symbiote."

"Did I love you just as much?"

"You did."

"Did you have any doubts?"

"I did not."

"Did you find it odd having sex with me after I had Junior?" Daniel hoped Teal'c wouldn't be offended by the question, at this invasion of his privacy.

"I am not aware that he is there," Teal'c said without hesitation.

It made Daniel love him so much for being willing to share this, to help Sara cope with what had happened to Jack.

"He understands it is a private thing between you and I, that it is you I desire," Teal'c continued. "Although you have informed me that he greatly enjoys our lovemaking."

"He does," Daniel said, smiling at Teal'c. "And do you want to know why?"

"You have told me it is because you love me," Teal'c said with some satisfaction.

"That's part of it, and I do, of course, but it's also because he loves me, and he wants me to be happy, and you make me happy. He would never, ever, do anything to jeopardize that." He leaned toward Teal'c and kissed him gently on the lips, thanking him silently.

With a slight head bow, Teal'c stood and moved back to the door. Turning to Sara, Daniel said, "These symbiotes are not like humans. They are not cruel or jealous or afraid of the truth. They simply love. And Tana'oa loves Jack, because it's his nature. And he'll love you, because Jack loves you, and because Jack in love is a happy Jack, and that will make Tana'oa happy."

Wiping up a few more tears, Sara sniffed again, looking altogether pitiful. Daniel was glad she was getting this out of her system now, so she could keep it together when he brought her back to the mountain.

"So, he'll really be the same?" she asked one more time.

"There might be a few differences," Daniel said with a grin.

Suspicious, she narrowed her eyes at him. "Like what?"

"Lots of stamina."

Sara whacked his arm. "Daniel."

Laughing, Daniel continued. "His knees won't bother him anymore. He'll have a lot of energy. He'll heal quickly from any wounds, and he won't get sick. He'll be able to speak a couple languages, and he'll know stuff now that he didn't know before about the Goa'uld and the universe. But, he'll think most of that stuff is stupid, and he'll still want to watch hockey, and eat pizza, and stare at the stars. He'll still be the Jack I love, and he'll still be the Jack you love."

She searched his eyes for a long moment, then apparently finding what she needed, she nodded. "When will he be out of surgery?"

"I don't know," Daniel said ruefully. "I didn't think to ask before I left." He turned to Teal'c, only to see Teal'c slip out of the room, no doubt to ask Paul to call the base. He thought of one more thing. "Sara, I'm not sure he'll be allowed to live here anymore. Not with the need for security this high."

"Is that housing development close to being done?" Sara asked.

"It's getting there, but it's still a couple months out."

"Where will he live? And even more importantly," she said with a look of determination on her face, "can I be there with him?"

Grinning, Daniel said, "Do you really think he'd accept being without you that long? Knowing Jack, he'll make everyone's life so miserable they'll have people working on the housing project 24/7 just to get him out of their hair." He sighed. "Right now I'm not sure what they'll do with the two of you, but we'll think of something, I promise you."

Teal'c came back in the room. "He will be out shortly, DanielJackson. If you do not wish to keep him waiting, we must return."

"Do you need a few minutes?" he asked Sara kindly.

Her hand went to her hair. "I must look terrible."

"I'm sure Jack will think you're the most beautiful woman he's ever seen," Daniel said with a smile.

She reddened with pleasure. "I'll be ready to go in five minutes," she said, standing.

Daniel stood as well, and as they left the guest bedroom she turned left to go to the master bedroom, while Daniel went out to the living room. He went right to Paul and said, "I'm sorry I was so bossy."

His statement startled a laugh out of Paul, who gave Daniel a genuine smile. "You're allowed to be bossy. You're the boss." When Daniel made as if to speak, Paul shook his head, saying, "Daniel, it's good you came. It's good you didn't let any of us stop you."

Finding it hard to meet Paul's eyes and gracious words, Daniel looked at the floor.

Paul wasn't done. "On the other hand," he said sternly. "If I'd really thought you'd be in danger coming here, if any of us thought that, you wouldn't be here."

"I concur," Teal'c said.

"Fine," Daniel said. "I deserved that." To Paul he said, "But thank you for knowing the difference. You, too," he said to Teal'c.

"You're welcome," Paul said with a grin.

Feeling better about the whole thing, deciding he owed one more apology to General Hammond, Daniel turned as Sara walked out. "You look lovely," he told her.

Smiling, she said, "Just take me to Jack so I can slap him upside the head for scaring me so much."

"With pleasure," Daniel said with a laugh. Holding his arm out for her to take his elbow, he escorted her, surrounded on all sides by security, to the limousine.

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Jack was already waiting for them when they arrived, and Sara flew into his arms. The look of gratitude Jack shot his way made Daniel even gladder that he'd gone to get Sara.

Jack took Sara into the conference room for some privacy, and Daniel went in search of General Hammond. He tracked him down to his office and knocked on the door jamb. "General?"

"Dr. Jackson," Hammond said. "Mission accomplished?"

"Yes," Daniel said. "And I owe you an apology. You didn't deserve my anger, and I'm sorry."

Looking like he appreciated the apology, Hammond said, "Apology accepted. It's been a difficult night for everyone."

It didn't feel like enough to Daniel. "I just want you to know that I do value your opinion, and I don't plan to make a habit of ignoring what you say."

Hammond gestured for him to sit down. Then, hands folded on the desk in front of him, he said, "I believe you. And while I think you surprised a few people here tonight, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. In many ways you're still the man you once were, in other ways you're not, and it's not bad to remind people of that every now and then. I expect you'll occasionally make decisions that will turn everything on its ear."

"I don't mean to be a problem," Daniel said with a wince.

Letting out a soft laugh, Hammond said, "I think it's too late for that, son." Daniel made a noise of protest but Hammond interrupted with a kind smile. "Daniel, when I accepted your apology, I meant it. And I'm not worried that you're going to go off half-cocked all the time. As far as tonight goes, I respect your friendship with Jack, and I'd like to hope that if I was ever in need of a favor, that I'd have someone like you around to take it so seriously."

Letting out a breath, Daniel said, "Thank you, General. I appreciate that."

"Now I suggest you get down to the infirmary and check in with the symbiotes. I know everyone's doing their best, but they'll be happier to have you nearby."

"That was my next stop," Daniel assured him. "Have we found out anything?"

"Yes," Hammond said, suddenly grim, "but I think it'll keep until we can all sit down and debrief. I've scheduled a meeting for 8 am. Meanwhile, the base is on high alert."

"Jack and Sara are going to need someplace to stay," Daniel brought up.

"Jack's already been assigned some quarters, very near to yours," Hammond said. "I suspected that this might happen sooner than later."

"I didn't," Daniel complained. His stress level might have been a bit more bearable if he'd known for sure that Jack was going to take on Tana'oa.

Hammond just smiled, not giving away any of his secrets. "I'll see you at 8 am sharp," he said.

"I'll be there," Daniel said, standing. "If you need me, I expect I'll be in the infirmary, probably all night."

"Thank you, Dr. Jackson, and let it be understood that I hold myself responsible for what happened here tonight." He looked as weary as Daniel had ever seen him.

"It wasn't your fault," Daniel protested.

"I'm responsible for everything that happens on this base," Hammond contradicted him, "and it's ultimately up to me to ensure it doesn't happen again. I give you my word that I'll do everything in my power to make sure of it."

"I know you will," Daniel said sincerely, "but I think I need to share some blame for not taking better care of the symbiotes when I know they can't protect themselves. I made a naïve assumption that we were safe here, and I should know better. We've been compromised a few too many times for that."

"We all made the same assumption, son, but it's my job to make sure we don't do that. Everything's changed now, and we can't look at anything the way we used to."

Daniel sighed, anticipating many changes ahead; most of them labor intensive security procedures that would require voluminous amounts of paperwork. The symbiotes should be glad they couldn't sign their name on anything. "I hear what you're saying, General, and respect you for it, but I certainly don't hold you to blame, and I know the symbiotes won't either. I blame Zwanga and whoever got to him to get to us."

Junior chimed in with, "There will always be fanatics, General Hammond, and one cannot always be prepared for the damage they will cause. You are held in high esteem by the Goa'uld, and that will not change."

"Thank you, Junior, and you, Dr. Jackson. And now, if you'll excuse me, the President's expecting a call from me."

"Absolutely," Daniel said, wishing he could say more. Jack would feel responsible as well, and it would be a while before everyone wasn't jumping at shadows.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sara could feel Jack's extra strength just in the way he held her. He was being careful, she could tell, but it was still a bruising hug. Not that she minded. She would have crawled inside of him if she could; she'd come so close to losing him. "I thought you were dead," she said, teary again. "When Daniel showed up without you."

"I know. I'm sorry," he said, pulling back so he could look at her, "but I wasn't sure how long I'd be in surgery, and I didn't want you to hear it from anyone else but Daniel."

"I cried all over him," she confessed.

"He can handle it," Jack said with a small grin. "You should ask him about Ernest Littlefield sometime. The man was completely naked and Daniel still hugged him." He paused for a moment, scrunching his face up. "Are you all right with all of this? I know we've had a lot of hypothetical conversations about it, but that doesn't mean you're okay now that it's actually happened."

Sara took a step back and gave him a long look. She could see it in his face, too. He looked younger. Not a lot younger, but a few botox shots younger. His eyes were bright, and he was brimming with energy. "Let's get to me in a minute. How are you?"

"My knees don't hurt," Jack said in amazement. "I feel great. Really great." He opened and closed his fingers, which normally would have resulted in a loud snap, crackle and pop, and they were quiet. "I don't hurt anywhere." He pushed his shirt to the side revealing his shoulder. "I don't even have a scar. Tana'oa took care of everything."

"Kiss me for a minute," Sara said, needing more proof that he was her Jack.

"Gladly," Jack said with a smile, pulling her back in his arms and kissing her soundly. Not fooled by her in the least, when they came up for breath, Jack asked, "Still feel like me?"

She nodded.

"So are you okay?" Jack asked worriedly. "You're not saying much." He gestured at his head. "Do you want to…you know…say hello?"

Sara had mixed feelings about that. A part of her wanted to just deal with Jack for a while until she really believed it was still him. But, she also knew that Tana'oa was a part of Jack now, and she needed to start getting used to him. "Okay," she said, hoping it came across as definite.

Even though she'd seen it happen a dozen times or more, it still startled her when Jack's eyes glowed. "Hello," Tana'oa said guardedly.

It was so odd to see an expression on Jack's face and in his eyes that Sara knew didn't belong to Jack. It was clear that as nervous as Sara was at meeting Tana'oa, he was equally nervous, if not more so. "Hello, Tana'oa," she said kindly. "Thank you for saving Jack. And Daniel."

"It is important that they both live," Tana'oa said simply.

Words to live by, thought Sara. She tried to think of something to say.

His eyes growing bleak, Tana'oa asked, "Do you wish me to leave him?"

He wasn't just nervous, Sara realized. Tana'oa was terrified. Of her. That she would tell Jack that he had to get rid of him. "No," she said. "No. I would never ask that. Not unless Jack…" She wasn't quite sure how to finish that sentence without sounding cruel.

"He has welcomed me," Tana'oa said, "and has told me that he does not wish for me to leave, but I would not want to be responsible for his pain if you find Jack unlovable now because I live within him." The words were honest and heartfelt, despite their also being incredibly fearful.

"I will always find Jack lovable," she reassured him. "And if he's fine with you, then so am I. It'll take some getting used to, and you'll have to forgive me if I'm ever startled by you, but I'm sure we can become friends."

The broad smile of relief was charming, even if it wasn't Jack's.

Sara remembered Junior's topic of conversation when he was trying to relax her and wondered if all the Goa'uld were as enamored of children's poetry. She tried it. "Do you like Dr. Seuss?"

"I do," Tana'oa said eagerly without missing a beat. "My favorite now is Yertle the Turtle. Jack read it to us while Mithras interpreted," Tana'oa told her. "Now he will not need an interpreter." Then, he smiled at her, an endearingly shy smile. "Jack would like to speak with you now. It was nice to meet you."

"It was nice to meet you, too," she said, liking him. It would still take a while to get used to it, but he, just like all the other symbiotes, was lovely.

Then, Jack was back and blinking. "It's strange when he takes over like that. My eyes feel weird."

"Are you sure you're okay?" Sara asked, more worried about Jack than herself at the moment.

"You mean about Tana'oa?"

She nodded. "And the rest of it. Daniel said you all could have died."

"Yeah, it was pretty bad," Jack confessed with a wince. "The guy was a complete psycho." The shadows in his eyes told a lot more than his sparse words. "Daniel's okay, right?"

Sara nodded again. "He's fine. Do you want to go see him?" Jack might be in love with her, but there was no doubt that Daniel was Jack's touchstone, much as Jack was the same for Daniel. Jack always rested easier when he knew Daniel was safe.

"Do you mind?" Jack asked. "I should probably go down to the infirmary anyway, check in on the symbiotes. Tana'oa says they're asking about me."

Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, Sara nodded. "It's okay for me to be here, to see everything?"

"You've got clearance from the big guy himself," Jack said. "Might as well take advantage of it."

"Daniel said you might not be able to leave," Sara brought up.

"Crap," Jack said. "I hadn't really gotten that far." He sighed. "Maybe I can talk Hammond into it if I take enough security with me." His words weren't really convincing. Sighing again, he yanked her in and kissed her one more time. "Sara, I’m sorry. I've already turned your life inside out and now it's going to be upside down, too. You sure you want to sign on for this? I'd be miserable, but I'd understand if you needed to think about it."

"At this particular moment, I'm not sure about much," Sara admitted, "but if there's anything I am sure about, it's you. I don't care what you do, you're not getting rid of me, even if it means I'm sleeping on a military cot with you." She patted his chest. "So if letting an alien inside your body was all a ploy to get rid of me, too bad, pal. You're stuck with me."

The beaming smile she got this time was all Jack.

"What does it feel like?" she asked him. "Having him in there?"

"It's hard to explain." He thought for a moment. "It's like he's always been there. He's like this sort of background hum, like having a dog sleeping at your feet on a cold night with a warm crackling fire." He tucked her hair behind her ear. "And he says it's completely up to you as to how much you want him around."

"Let's play that by ear," she said. "I'd like to get to know him better, but the whole thing still feels a little strange to me to know he's in there."

He nodded, and she was grateful that Jack had been so resistant to the idea of taking on a Goa'uld, no doubt making it easier for him to understand her need for time. "You got it," Jack said, slinging his arm around her shoulder. "Now, let's go find Daniel."

Sara found herself snickering, amazed at this new Jack, not the one with Tana'oa, well, that too, but the mostly new and improved Jack she'd fallen in love with. A Jack who loved freely, and who'd opened his heart and his life to an astonishing number of friends, freely admitting his need for them. And instead of any of it feeling like competition, Sara felt privileged to be a part of it all.

She wanted to see Daniel, too. And say hello to Junior, and thank Teal'c for being so honest with her about Daniel. She wanted to see the tank, and meet the people Jack spoke of but she hadn't been introduced to yet. She wanted this life, this weird, astonishing, inconceivable life. "Let me talk to Tana'oa again," she suddenly said.

Jack blinked but then his eyes glowed. "You wished to speak with me?" Tana'oa said slowly, as if unsure as to the tenor of what she might say.

She leaned forward and kissed Jack on both cheeks. "Welcome, Tana'oa," she said. "Welcome to our lives. I hope you find as much joy here as I have."

He began to smile.

Leaning in again, she said in a dramatic whisper, "And between you and me, you picked the best host around."

"He is the Guardian," Tana'oa said proudly. "I chose him long ago, but he did not know it."

"Very sneaky," she said approvingly.

"Just as Junior keeps…" he stumbled for a moment, then recovered, "Daniel safe, I will keep Jack safe," he avowed. "And I will help keep you safe, as well," he promised.

"I have no doubt of that," Sara said. "Now, I think we should all go see Daniel."

Tana'oa's eyes lit up at that, his love for Daniel evident in the glow. Daniel would be the recipient of a double whammy now every time he was around Jack. "Thank you, Sara. May I call you Sara?"

"You may," Sara said graciously. "And whenever you want to speak with me, you go right ahead."

There was a pleased glow, then Jack said, "You'll be sorry you said that. He's on his best behavior now, but when you get to know him, you'll find out he's twice the snarky bastard I am."

Laughing, Sara said, "I'll look forward to seeing that. After all, I have a thing for snark."

That got her another kiss that left her dizzy. She wondered how long it would be before they could be alone someplace private with a padded horizontal surface. Whenever it was, it couldn't be soon enough.

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As Jack walked down the hallway with Sara by his side, Brian and Jeff silent shadows behind them, he was surprised at how many people stopped to talk not only to him, but to Tana'oa. Somehow, despite the fact that Jack had also liked Tana'oa, he hadn't realized the symbiote had been somewhat of a tank favorite.

"Now at least I get why Tana'oa wasn't interested in me," Sheppard said with a grin.

"Or me," Mitchell added.

"Well, can you blame him?" Jack quipped. "Why settle?" He put his arm around Sara's shoulder. "By the way, this is Sara. My ex-wife soon to be wife again."

"The very best kind of ex-wife to be," Sheppard drawled with a flirty grin. "John Sheppard," he offered.

"Cameron Mitchell," Mitchell said. "And I've got Phelan," he added with a brief moment of glowing eyes. "He's got Flutie," he added, pointing toward Sheppard whose eyes also glowed.

Sara blinked at them both. "Hello," she said a little faintly.

"You on your way to see Daniel?" Sheppard asked.

"Yup," Jack said. "He doin' okay?"

Sheppard shrugged. "A lot of them are dead," he said, suddenly sober, all traces of humor gone, "and even more are hurt. A couple of them might not make it. He's a little freaked. We all are. He'll feel better once you show up."

"Then you better stop talking to me," Jack complained, his feet already moving. He probably shouldn't have asked Daniel to go to Sara; it couldn't have been easy to leave the symbiotes. But, the fact that Daniel did leave, and that he did it for Jack, sort of made him feel warm and fuzzy all over.

//You're a marshmallow,// Tana'oa observed. //No, more like a…// Jack could feel Tana'oa searching his mind for a better analogy. //Like a strawberry candy thingie.//

"What?" Jack exclaimed.

Sara looked up at him, confused, and an airman walking in the opposite direction came to a complete stop, ready to see if Jack needed assistance.

Jack waved him off. "Go away. Everything's fine."

"What what?" Sara asked.

//How am I like a strawberry candy thingie?// Jack asked with as much hauteur as he could imbue his mental voice with.

Tana'oa just snickered at him. //All hard on the outside and gooey on the inside,// Tana'oa said, vastly amused.

//Ha ha,// Jack said, not amused. Much. To Sara, he said, "Tana'oa's calling me names."

Sara bit back a smile, patting Jack on the arm in a totally fake commiserating fashion.

//Is that really what they're called?// Tana'oa asked. //Strawberry candy thingies?//

//No.// Turning to Sara, he asked, "What are those strawberry candy things I like? You know, the ones that have that strawberry goo inside?"

"You guys are talking about candy?" Sara asked, eyebrows raised.

"I like candy," Jack protested.

Rolling her eyes, Sara said, "They're called Strawberry Delights."

//Strawberry Delights,// Jack informed Tana'oa.

//I can hear her, you know// Tana'oa informed Jack right back.

Muttering, trying to think of something appropriate to snark about, he could suddenly feel the emotions coming from the infirmary. Both he and Tana'oa were as one, feeling an urgent need to get inside. A firm grip on Sara's arm, Jack moved quickly.

Pushing through the doors, noting with some satisfaction the glut of security, Jack honed in on Daniel, finding something inside of him calming down having him in eyesight. The symbiotes, while revved up, weren't exactly freaked, but they were definitely needy. He sauntered over to Daniel who, wearing some sort of wet suit, was stepping into the new tank that was sitting on the ground instead of on a stand like the old one. It was about half again as large as the one Scar had shattered. "You have a bathtub in your quarters, Daniel," Jack said helpfully.

Daniel turned quickly and almost slipped, would have, if Teal'c hadn't grabbed him. "Jack!" Daniel said, pleased to see him. Junior was, too, who told Tana'oa, who told Jack. Sort of a version of operator that actually worked. When Daniel saw Sara, he gave her a nice smile, too. "Sara. Welcome to the zoo."

Despite the smile and the welcome, Jack could see the strain of it all in Daniel's eyes. "So, bath?" He noticed that the symbiotes in the water were all waiting at the other side of the tank.

Turning back to the tank, Daniel got his other leg in and slowly worked his way down until he was sitting, the water coming close to lapping over the top of the glass. The symbiotes wasted no time in securing themselves around his person, and Jack could feel how much better they felt being near him. "There's room for you, Jack," Daniel offered. "They'd feel even better having you in here."

Jack doubted that. He knew the symbiotes liked him, but they adored Daniel.

"I'll hang out here and stay dry if it's all the same to you." Jack snagged a couple of chairs, gave one to Sara, and set his right next to the tank, close enough to put his arm in the water if he decided to get up close and personal with the symbiotes. Right now, the Goa'uld wanted to be with Daniel. Jack got that. He wanted to be with Daniel. "You okay?"

"Twelve of them are dead, Jack," Daniel said, which was answer enough.

"I know, Danny," Jack said. "I'm sorry I couldn't save them all."

"I saw the tape," Daniel said fiercely. "You did everything you could and so much more. I can't thank you enough."

"I brought up the Goa'uld in the first place," Jack argued, still annoyed with himself for doing that.

"He was going to kill them anyway," Daniel said. "You know that. He was very clear about his objectives."

"What tape?" Sara asked.

"Nothing," Jack said, at the same time Daniel said, "The tape of Jack saving the day."

"You don't need to see it," he told Sara, sure that the last thing she'd want to see was him getting pumped full of bullets.

"You should let her see it," Paul Costello said from behind him. "Let her see what a hero you are."

Then, in addition to Paul, Sean and Carter were there. "Thank you for saving Kitty," Carter said, her eyes bright.

"In the right place at the right time," Jack said, playing it down. He might have been the hero, but it was after making too many mistakes, starting with racing into a situation without any information.

"She saw the tape, too," Paul said. "It was a little more than that."

Sean was leaning over a cooler. "Daniel, I think this one is healed now." He pulled it out and brought it over for Daniel to take a look. "He says he feels fine."

Daniel nodded. "Put him in the water."

Complying, Sean put the symbiote in the water and he zipped to Daniel, jockeying for position, managing to get wrapped around Daniel's wrist. Jack had a flash of memory that felt like years ago, but was in fact only a little over a month ago, of Junior being wrapped around Daniel's wrist after they'd rescued him from the Unas. So much had changed since then, Jack could hardly believe it.

"Sara," Carter said with a smile, "I just realized that was you sitting next to the Colonel. I guess I didn't really expect to find you here."

"Hey, Sam," Sara said. Whispering, she added, "Is that Sean?"

"Oh, yeah," Sam said in a whisper, grinning.

"Nice," Sara told her.

"Hey," Jack complained quietly, nudging Sara, "no falling for all the pretty boys, or I'll never have a chance." Not that he was worried. If she hadn't fallen for Daniel, Jack felt like he was safe. He could sense contentment coming from Tana'oa. He was angry, still, about the attack, but he was with Jack, and Daniel was nearby, and that pretty much floated his boat.

Jack had had some tight friendships over the years of his life, but he'd never been surrounded, literally, by people he loved as much as he loved all of these guys.

//Marshmallow,// Tana'oa teased.

Jack didn't have the energy to argue. Not that there was much point. It's not like it wasn't the truth.

//Your secret is safe with me. I will help you be twice as frightening to the new recruits,// Tana'oa promised.

//You better.// Jack groused. "You getting pruney yet?" he asked Daniel.

"Past pruney," Daniel said. Looking at his hand, he added, "Or I would be if I didn't have Junior. Good thing, because I think I'm staying here all night." He gestured at the symbiotes that weren't budging.

"I think this one is good, too," Sean said, bringing another one over. "Thank goodness they heal so quickly." At Daniel's nod, Sean slipped him into the water where he shot straight for Daniel. Daniel waved a free finger, and soon it was covered in a coiled Goa'uld.

"They feel good," Sara said. "I mean, I can't actually feel what they're feeling like you can, but they just sort of feel good."

"They do, don't they?" Janet said, suddenly appearing.

"Sara, meet Janet Frasier, M.D., our very own Napoleon," Jack said.

"I can still find reasons to stick needles in you, sir," Janet said with a scary smile. To Sara, she said, "Very nice to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you."

"They live in fear of you," Sara said with a grin. "Your needles, anyway."

Janet winked at her. To Daniel, she said, "You can't stay in there all night, Daniel."

"Actually, I think I can," Daniel said. He held up his hand. "No prune lines. With Junior's help, the water isn't bothering me." Then, kindly, sadly, he added, "Janet, I'm sorry you lost some people. Who were they?"

"Two of my newest," she said. "A nurse and an orderly. I'm not sure you'd even met them yet."

Jack still wasn't sure who he'd lost. "Who else died?"

It was Paul who answered that question. "Three Marines. Fortunately, that last one he tried to take down had a Goa'uld, and he'll be fine."

Jack was glad to hear that. It was probably the Marine who had given Jack his gun. "No hosts?" Jack had just assumed that hosts would get in the door first, as they would have gotten the same inner alarm Jack had.

Paul shook his head. "I don't know how that happened. There are hosts all over the base but you were the next on the scene," he told Jack.

"You got here before any of the hosts?" Daniel asked in surprise.

"You should have seen him," Paul said with a grin. "He was flying like the wind."

Daniel shot Jack a look of appreciation.

Jack sort of shrugged. "Can't help it if they're all as slow as molasses."

"I think you got the warning, first," Brian said. "I didn't even know something was going on until I saw you running. Then I heard Junior yelling for help."

In a confessing tone, Junior said, "I was unable to think for a second. Daniel's surprise, and then his pain, kept me from acting as quickly as I should have. It was the rest of the symbiotes calling for you, Jack, which made me aware of the need to call for assistance."

"They just exploded in my head," Jack said, miming an explosion at his temples with his hands.

"He was standing there one second," Carter agreed, "and then he was running down the hallway yelling at us to get some backup. I wasn't even sure where he was going."

Barak appeared with a cup of coffee for Janet. "Thanks," Janet said with a soft smile.

Jack pursed his lips at the two of them, then said, "Sara, this is Barak. He's a Jaffa like Teal'c."

"It's nice to meet you, Barak," Sara said with a smile.

"And you," Barak said with his usual brevity.

"He's also a chatterbox like Teal'c," Jack said. "You can never shut him up."

At the same time, as if they'd choreographed it, Teal'c and Barak both put up one eyebrow. Jack snickered.

Claude came bustling in right then with a big box of something. Plants, Jack guessed, if the fronds hanging over the top were any indication. "How is he?" he asked, putting the box down by one of the empty gurneys, and almost skidding over to one of the coolers.

"That's Claude Bausch," Jack explained to Sara. "Linguist. His Goa'uld's name is Max. A great name, by the way. And," he said to Daniel with a sly look, "apparently your appeal has worn off." Usually, all the Goa'uld paid attention to Daniel before anything else. Claude had raced right by him.

One of the Goa'uld nestled near Daniel flicked his tail and sent a spray of water right into Jack's face.

Mentally affronted, Tana'oa sent a command to another one of the Goa'uld who flicked his tail and sent a spray of water into Daniel's face. Jack waited for it. He got what he expected from all quarters. Daniel started laughing. Tana'oa was appalled at himself for daring to flip water in the System Lord's face, and the poor symbiote in the tank was horrified that he'd done as Tana'oa commanded without thinking it through.

Tana'oa wanted to apologize, but Jack wasn't having it. He refused to let Tana'oa take over his mouth. //Look at him,// Jack commanded Tana'oa. He's laughing. //This is what I was talking about. He wants people to think he's just like anyone else. If you apologized, you'd ruin it.//

Tana'oa was but-but-butting like a motorboat.

Daniel, meanwhile, was scooping up the symbiote that had had the audacity to spray his face, doing his weird crooning thing, calming him down. The ones who had been displaced when Daniel had picked the symbiote up, swam closer to Jack. Taking off his outer shirt, leaving him in his black t-shirt, Jack put his arm in the tank. They immediately came to him and wrapped around his arm. He looked up to find Daniel beaming at him.

Jack rolled his eyes.

Claude came back carrying a mature symbiote. "This is the luckiest damn Goa'uld in the whole universe," Claude announced.

"Sara," Jack said, getting tired of introductions, "meet Claude and Max, Claude and Max, meet Sara."

Claude nodded and then held up the symbiote. "This symbiote," he told Sara, clearly needing to tell someone, "was in Kuokoa yesterday."

"Another planet," Jack explained.

"I found him in another lake that I don't usually go to, and put him in my cooler to bring him home here. So, lucky event number one. If I hadn't found him, he would have died when he'd matured and didn't have a host. Then," Claude said, just warming up, "he was stolen by the Tok'ra and we all thought he was dead."

"He's one of the ones you told me about?" Sara asked.

Jack nodded.

"But," Claude continued dramatically, "the Tok'ra brought him back, alive. Lucky event number two. So, in the tank he goes." He points to the tank as if it were exhibit A in a court case. "As all of you know, earlier this evening, the tank gets blown into smithereens, killing," he adds, somberly, "many symbiotes and injuring several others, including this one. But, he survived, lucky event number three. And look at him now!" he exclaimed, holding him up for Daniel to see. "Lucky event number four. He's almost healed. He can definitely take a host by tomorrow."

"I agree," Daniel said with a relieved smile. "Do we have a host lined up?"

"Dozens of them," Janet said. "After the attack, all the ones who'd lost their symbiote wanted to stay on the list, and a bunch more added their names." She prodded Jack in the shoulder. "I think seeing you on tape went a long way to convincing just about every soldier on base that they wanted one."

Jack let out a disgusted noise. "How is it that everyone is seeing this tape? Nice to know how tight our security is. Is it gonna end up on You-Tube?"

"That's not a bad idea," Paul said with a contemplative look on his face. "We'd have to doctor the faces, and make it all seem like some scene out of a soon-but-never-to-be-released science fiction movie, or maybe something hokey some kid made in his basement. Could help us later with some plausible deniability."

"Oy," Jack said, slapping a hand over his face.

"Can I see it?" Sara asked.

"No," Jack said, watching Claude put the symbiote back in his cooler.

She frowned at him.

He rolled his eyes. "Sara, it's real life, and it's not pretty."

"But, it's your life, and these peoples' lives, and I think I need to see it," she countered.

As if only waiting for a cue, Carter turned on one of the monitors. There were a few seconds of static but then it started playing, a little grainy but clear enough. Jack figured out the camera angle and looked up behind him to find a camera mounted. "When did that get there?" He really needed to start reading his memos.

"Two days ago," Barak said.

"Nice timing," Jack said. Maybe Scar's diplomatic immunity wouldn't have held up with this kind of evidence.

The tape was centered on the tank. You could see several feet around it, but nothing else of the infirmary. On tape, the symbiotes started making a fuss, and then, a few seconds later, Daniel appeared. They did their usual cavorting around with happiness having the big kahuna around.

//I was not cavorting,// Tana'oa complained.

//You were thinking about it,// Jack said.

It took Daniel a moment to realize he wasn't there alone. Pulling his attention away from the Goa'uld, he smiled at two people the camera wasn't picking up. "Hello Zwanga, Mamello," Daniel said congenially. Gesturing at the most mature symbiote, Daniel added, "I think tonight, Mamello. Are you ready?"

"She will not be taking a Goa'uld," Zwanga said.

"I will," Mamello said adamantly. "Nothing you have said has changed my mind."

"Then perhaps this will," he said.

The real Daniel winced at this point, letting Jack know the fun was about to begin. He reached for Sara's hand and held on tight.

As if from nowhere a gun appeared, and he shot Mamello with it. At such close range, it blew half her head off. Before Daniel even had a chance to react, Zwanga smacked him across the face with his weapon, twisting Daniel's head around far enough to have snapped the neck of a regular human. His cheek burst open, the skin splitting, and Daniel fell to the ground, out for the count.

The Goa'uld in the tank went wild, churning the water in their dismay. The mature one leaped out of the tank on to Mamello, attempting to get inside of her. Zwanga shot it and, after a quiver, it lay still on Mamello's back.

"Jesus," Jack said, remembering at the last minute not to squeeze Sara's hand too tightly; he'd break all the bones in her hand. He'd seen Mamello and the Goa'uld already dead, but seeing it happening was worse. "You sure you want to see the rest of this?" he asked Sara.

She nodded grimly, although her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

At this point, the two infirmary staff had come out to see what was going on, and three SFs had burst through the door. Without a moment's hesitation, Zwanga killed them all.

"I'm glad he's dead, Jack," Daniel said angrily.

To Janet, Jack said, "Not to minimize the deaths of your staff in any way, but it was stupid for them to reveal themselves that way after they'd heard gunshots. The rest of your staff and I are going to have a serious talk."

Janet nodded, her lips set in a tight line. Somehow Jack thought the verbal whipping they'd get from him would be nothing on what Janet was going to say.

Zwanga walked closer to the door, out of camera view. That was when Jack sprinted through the door.

Jack knew how this played out, and he winced at his own stupidity. At Daniel's look, he nodded. "Yeah, I know. Stupid."

Daniel's second look told him he was completely and irrevocably forgiven for being stupid. It didn't make Jack feel any less stupid, but it did make him feel better.

Sara gasped as Jack got hit in the shoulder.

"It gets worse," Jack warned her.

She was biting her lips and definitely teary-eyed when the crash cart fell on Jack.

"Yeah, that hurt," Jack said.

Tears were rolling down her face when the tank exploded.

"There," Carter said a few seconds later. "That's when you saved Kitty."

Jack watched himself pick up Kitty and hold him close. Even though it had felt like hours when it was actually happening, it played out in seconds: Jack being shot yet again, bullets being pumped into Daniel, Jack putting on the ribbon device, saying yes to Tana'oa. The pain on his face as Tana'oa buried in was brief, and then he was on his feet, ribbon device extended, activated, and Scar was being put through a wall, along with the hyenas.

Mercifully, the camera hadn't picked up Jack going over and putting a bullet through Scar's head, but the shot was heard clearly enough.

Jack thought they could probably use this as a training tape of everything not to do when in a foothold situation.

//You saved everyone,// Tana'oa griped on his behalf.

//You saved everyone. If it had been up to me, we'd all be dead. I entered a room by myself, inadequately armed, with no intel except that something bad was happening. Stupid. If I'd come better prepared, maybe no symbiotes would have died.//

//Or maybe more soldiers and hosts would be dead. Daniel is safe. You are safe. We will grieve and then we will go on.//

Jack felt a hand on his face and, snapping out of his conversation with Tana'oa, fully expected it to be Sara. But it was Daniel. "Jack," Daniel said, letting his fingers slip away, "I know you're probably beating yourself up with everything you think you did wrong, but just stop."

"I made every tactical error in the book, Daniel," Jack said, deciding they might as well have this conversation now, even if it was in front of an audience. Maybe they could all learn something.

"Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know what might have happened if you'd let other SFs come in first, or if Teal'c had arrived on the scene first, or any of the other hosts. Maybe they'd all be dead, too. He was killing everyone who came in the door. You showing up next probably stopped the carnage, because it was you he wanted. I'm sorry anyone had to die, humans and symbiotes, but from where I’m sitting--"

"In a tank filled with water," Jack mocked.

"From where I'm sitting," Daniel said again, glaring at Jack, daring him to open his mouth again, "you were damned awesome." He grinned, batting his eyes. "My hero."

Jack sighed.

"Mine, too, sir, for saving Kitty," Carter said.

"Totally awesome," Paul chimed in. "You and Tana'oa."

Deciding he wasn't going to win this fight, and figuring he'd let Hammond chew him out later to make him feel better, Jack waved them all off. "Stop," he bitched. "You're embarrassing me." Although he was enjoying Tana'oa's warm and fuzzy glow from Paul including him in his praise. Glaring at Daniel, he said, "Especially you, not that that's any surprise."

Daniel just grinned at him.

"However," Teal'c said sternly to Jack, "if you ever do that again, and leave me behind where I cannot assist, I will throw you myself into an ekhulukhuthu."

Jack winced at the thought, remembering Jacob lying pierced at the bottom of one. "Gotcha, big guy," Jack said. "Trust me. I'd have been happy for your company."

Teal'c frowned, clearly still not recovered from being left out of the action. Not that Jack could blame him. He'd have been going insane if he'd been on the other side of the door.

Jack turned to Sara. "You all right?" he asked cautiously, still sure it hadn't been a good idea for Sara to watch the tape.

She was staring at him and Daniel. "You were both so badly hurt. I can't believe you're both fine."

"Thank the Goa'uld for that," Carter told her. "They can heal just about anything."

"Then, I will," Sara said surely. Capturing both Daniel and Jack with her eyes, she said, "Junior, Tana'oa, thank you so much for keeping them both alive."

"Ditto," Paul said.

"Agreed," Teal'c intoned.

"Absolutely," Carter said.

"No arguments here," Brian agreed.

Daniel's eyes glowed and Junior said, "You are very welcome."

Tana'oa spoke next, "It is our honor to keep our hosts alive. Even if it is a very taxing job."

Sara snickered, but then bit her lips and put her hand over her mouth as if worried she'd offended. But then a few people giggled, and then everyone was laughing, and as shitty as the day had been, it felt to Jack like it was finally over.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Carter shut off the tape the following morning at the debriefing. Hammond glanced at Jack who said, "I know. I did everything wrong. Please, yell at me. I'd feel better about it."

"Jack," from Daniel.

"Colonel," from Carter.

"O'Neill," from Teal'c.

Three protests in his favor. He appreciated it, but he waited to hear from Hammond.

Hammond folded his hands in front of him and said, "You did make mistakes. We all did. After speaking to Dr. Jackson, I'm not sure the outcome would have been improved if you'd waited for reinforcements."

Jack sighed. Shit. He'd really wanted Hammond to yell at him.

"However, I would like a report on your tactical performance, and a plan on how to best use the evaluation of your actions to train our troops should a similar situation ever arise."

"Thank you," Jack said. At least it was something.

"And now that that's been said, I believe this base owes you and Tana'oa a debt of gratitude."

Jack thunked his forehead down on the tabletop. He couldn't stand any more praise. "Can we just get past this?" he asked the table pitifully, "And maybe spend our time on figuring out how it happened and how to make sure it never happens again?"

"I would like to focus on these things as well," Teal'c said, in a tone that said he was nowhere ready to forgive Jack for being in the middle of the action while he'd done nothing but pound on a door.

"I'm betting on Kinsey as being our mastermind," Jack said.

"Because of the words Zwanga said about blaspheming?" Daniel asked.

"It sounded like Kinsey," Jack agreed with a nod. "All sort of biblical and plaguish. Is there a connection between Kinsey and Scar? Simba? Whatever." Jack couldn't keep the names of the good guys straight in his head, let alone the bad guys.

"Zwanga," Daniel tried again.

"Yes, there was," Hammond said heavily. "I was not aware of it, but Kinsey submitted several names to the President which the President chose to accept as an apology and sign of acceptance of our initiative here from Kinsey."

Jack snorted.

"A reaction," Hammond said, his eyes flinty with annoyance at their Commander in Chief, "the President now admits, privately, was naïve."

Jack snorted. //Ya think?// he snarked to Tana'oa.

Tana'oa was too busy listening and trying to absorb the politics to snark back.

"Who were the other names?" Daniel asked fearfully.

"Good question," Jack said. "Anyone we need to be putting in a holding cell?"

Hammond shook his head. "No. They're still on the list, but the only representatives to arrive on Kinsey's list were the South Africans."

"Was Mamello against us, too?" Daniel asked, shaken.

"I don't think so, Daniel," Jack said. "They all knew the Goa'uld would be on to anyone who was a traitor. Just look at what happened to Fido. I think Zwingo was the plant."

"I agree with Jack," Hammond said, not bothering to correct Jack. "And, while the price was high, we've learned a valuable lesson. We've been lax with security, much too lax."

"How did those guys get in, sir?" Carter asked.

"They never left," Hammond informed her.

"The guys fixing the door," Jack said with a scowl. "The guys I just trusted were there doing what they said they were." The President wasn't the only naïve one around here.

"Exactly," Hammond said seriously. "And when one of them left, and security pointed out that there were still three unaccounted for, the one leaving made some sort of joke about them not knowing how to write, and he was allowed to leave, signing out for all four of them."

Jack was disgusted. "Not one of our better days, was it, sir?" he said to Hammond. "What happened to the guy who left?"

"He's been secured," was all Hammond would say.

"And the security guy?" Daniel asked.

"He'll be held accountable for his actions. If he'd chosen to obey regulations, all of this might have been avoided," Hammond said sternly.

"Or he could be dead," Daniel countered.

"And instead, five humans, and twelve symbiotes are dead, because three unauthorized men were allowed to stay on base to help Zwanga achieve his ends." The tone in Hammond's voice let everyone know that there would be no leniency.

Daniel's brow furrowed, but he kept his mouth shut.

//Hey, Tana'oa,// Jack said, //tell Daniel: Smart man.//

He got a look from Daniel which told him that the Operator game was working just fine. This could make meetings so much more fun.

"What about Kinsey?" Jack asked. "I'm thinking he should be thrown into one of the eku lulu things Teal'c was talking about."

Hammond stared at them all for a moment, then sighed. He reached for his briefcase and opened it up, pulling out today's paper. Opening it up, he showed the front page to them. Across the top it read:

Senator Kinsey Dead From Car Bombing

You could have heard a pin drop. It brought up bad memories for Jack, even if he was viciously glad the man was dead.

It was Daniel who finally spoke. "Who ordered it?" he said tersely.

"I don't know, son," Hammond said, "but, even if I did, I wouldn't be in a position to tell you. What I know, what you know, is what's in this article."

"So who did it, according to that article?" Jack said.

"Wait, wait," Daniel said loudly, interrupting. "Is this how it's going to be? Anyone who doesn't agree just dies? How is that right? How does that make us any different from the Goa'uld we're at war with?"

Another uncomfortable silence filled the room.

"The deaths yesterday weren't enough?" Daniel asked in a shaking voice.

"The deaths yesterday," Jack snapped, "were because of Kinsey. You told me you were glad Zwingo was dead. If Kinsey had been in that room, holding the gun, and I'd killed him, would you have been glad? Because he was, Daniel. Maybe he wasn't there physically, but he got to the man, twisted his mind, and gave him the access to kill us all."

Daniel just looked at him, lips tight, eyes pained.

With permission, Jack took the newspaper away from Hammond and thwapped it a few times on the table. "Whatever this article says is a lie. You know and I know it. We also know Kinsey was a risk, to everything. And if he was still alive, he'd still be a risk. He had a lot of friends, fellow fanatics. He'd have brought this house of cards down in a New York minute, destroying everyone along the way."

"It's murder, Jack," Daniel said.

"So's what I did to Simba yesterday," Jack snapped out. "He's dead because I put a bullet between his eyes. And I'd do it again. He's an enemy, Daniel, just like the unfriendly Goa'uld, just like Baal, and Ra, and Apophis. Therapy and anti-depressants weren't going to fix it."

"I know, but--"

"Daniel," Jack said.

"But who decides who the enemy is?" Daniel protested, ignoring the warning tone in Jack's voice. "Where does it stop?"

"A dead nurse, a dead orderly, three dead soldiers, and the death of twelve of our allies decided it," Hammond said. "Would you have wanted their murderer to walk free?"

It looked like it just about killed Daniel to admit it, but he reluctantly shook his head. "No," he whispered.

It made Jack want to hug him. He sent a mental one to him through Tana'oa. It took a second, but Daniel shot him a grateful look alleviating some of the pain in his eyes.

"It just frightens me," Daniel admitted. "If I don't know who decided this, who set this in motion, how can I trust it? Even if I understand, and I do, that it was necessary."

"I'm sorry, Dr. Jackson," Hammond said, breaking the resultant silence. "But, in this, I'm afraid you're going to have to trust me."

Daniel stared at Hammond for what felt like a long time. "I do," he finally said. "I do trust you." He looked around the room. "I trust all of you."

"You need to," Jack said softly. "Because there's more dying ahead. Good guys and bad guys. System Lords, unfriendly Goa'uld, the Jaffa who'll die trying to get information to us. Your James Bond Goa'uld, whenever they start showing up. Rules of engagement. We're in a war."

"I know it," Daniel said. "And I know I've done my fair share of killing when we've been out on missions, I just…I just hate it."

Jack knew that. They all knew that. But, there wasn't any chance in hell that there wouldn't be more killing. Deciding to change the conversation a little bit, Jack asked, "So, new security?"

Eagerly, all of them jumped on the new topic, as if glad to leave the killing behind.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Late the next day, the four of them, Jack, Teal'c, Carter and Daniel, were sitting in Daniel and Teal'c's quarters. Brian, Jeff, and Eric were loitering close by, but were giving them the semblance of privacy.

"Where's Sara, sir?" Carter asked.

"Home packing," Jack said. "Or at least that's what she says. She's probably at the Mexican border by now. I can't imagine why she wants to move in here with me."

"Me, either," Daniel said with a cheeky grin.

"She's actually moving in?" Carter asked.

"Weekends, mostly," Jack said with a sigh. "It takes so damn long to get in and out of security, getting to work most days would be a nightmare." To Carter he asked, "When's that housing place going to be done?"

"Do I look like a general contractor?" Carter asked.

"Nice," Jack said, admiringly. Carter had been totally loosening up around him lately.

"Sorry, sir," she winced.

"And see, there you go ruining it," Jack complained.

"I'll check with the quartermaster tomorrow, sir," Carter said. "He should know."

"Maybe I should do it," Jack said. "I can make my eyes all glowy if I don't like his answer."

"Jack!" Daniel said, shoving at Jack's thigh with his socked foot.

"Hey," Jack shot back. "Tana'oa's promised to make me scary any time I need him to."

Daniel just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"Where's Sean?" Daniel asked Carter.

"He's out with Paul and a security contingent of his own to finish buying the things we didn't get to when Paul called him back here."

"Why aren't you with him?" Jack asked.

"Because we needed to be together," Carter said, gesturing at the three of them. "We're a team. The four of us."

"The Four Musketeers," Jack said, agreeing with her sentiment.

"The six of us," Junior said, with some asperity.

Tana'oa bristled with agreement.

"Sorry, sorry," Jack said hurriedly. "The six of us." He shook his head, "It doesn't have the same ring," he said sadly. "And now we can't use their slogan: 'all for one and one for all'."

"Actually," Daniel said, reaching over and putting his hand over Teal'c's abdomen. "Eight of us."

"Wasn't there a TV show named after us?" Jack asked.

"Eight is Enough," Teal'c informed him.

"And how scary is it that you're the one who knows that?" Jack said. "Although I agree with the title."

"When I get Kitty, there'll be nine of us," Carter said frowning.

"The room is feeling really crowded all of a sudden," Jack quipped. "Nine. What's great about the number nine?"

"Nine muses?" Daniel offered.

"Nine innings?" Jack threw out.

"There are nine planets within your solar system," Teal'c said.

"Cloud nine?" Carter said with a grin.

Jack frowned. "When do you get Kitty?"

Carter looked at Daniel, who said, "I have no idea. A couple of years, less now. Janet's keeping track of all the changes they go through so we'll have a better idea as time goes on."

"Well, we have between now and then to come up with something," Jack said. "I liked the Four Musketeers," he griped. "Plus, what happens when Thing One and Thing Two get hosts, and Teal'c only has one symbiote. That'll throw everything off."

"Maybe we should stick with SG-1," Daniel suggested. "And I say we still use the slogan: All for one and one for all."

There was a general chorus of agreements, beers were obtained from the refrigerator, passed around, and toasts made.

Jack felt himself relaxing between the contentment of Tana'oa and the presence of his best friends. Yeah, maybe his life was completely fucked up, including having an alien curled around his brain stem, but he wouldn't give it up for a damn thing.

The End!!!!!

4/29/07