Attempts at a Wedding
Sara made a loud noise of frustration, her fingers fisted in her hair. “How did you do this? How could you stand it?”
Jack smiled sadly at her, pulling one of her hands out of her hair, wrapping it up in his. There really wasn't anything to say. “We could always elope.”
“I haven't even told my dad we're getting married again, and now I'm supposed to tell him we just eloped?”
“He's gonna be pissed as hell no matter what, so maybe it would be easier.” Pissed was a massive understatement. Shotguns would probably be involved.
“Than what? Not inviting him to the wedding? Not inviting any of my friends or other family to the wedding? What do I tell all of them?”
“What have you been telling them?”
She sighed. “That I've stupidly fallen madly in love with you again.”
“And what are they telling you?”
“Some of them are glad for me; some of them think I'm out of my mind.”
“Are they asking awkward questions?”
“No, nothing I can't handle, but I want a wedding, damn it. Our last wedding was a hurried affair at city hall, trying to get married before you shipped out, and I want the real thing this time.”
Jack wanted to give her the real thing this time, too. “I promise to not speak,” Tana'oa said.
“I know that,” Jack thought affectionately. “But can you vouch for Junior, for Mithras, for all the other friendlies who also want to be at the wedding of their System Lord's best friend and their Guardian?”
Jack almost smiled as Tana’oa tried to honestly say that Junior wouldn’t be an issue. Defeated, Tana'oa said, “If he thinks Daniel is in danger…”
“What's Tana'oa got to say about all of this?” Sara asked Jack.
“That probably all the Goa'uld would behave, but there's no accounting for Junior. And seeing as Junior goes ballistic when he even hears the d-word, and seeing as it's part of our vows-- although now that I'm thinking about it, we should definitely leave that part out.”
Sara smiled a little and shook her head. “What a crazy life.”
“Any regrets? Now's the time to bail if you want out.” He'd asked her this before, his heart in his throat. It was easier to ask this time because he was pretty sure she was in it for the long haul.
“Not a chance, Colonel,” she said, grabbing him by his shirt and pulling him close for a kiss.
He enjoyed himself thoroughly, then pulled back, and held her hands with both of his. “I want you to have a wedding, too. I just don't know, from a security perspective, how we can a) have the wedding off site, b) have non-informed civilians attend along with a bunch of aliens from outer space, and c) possibly talk anyone into vetting said civilians so they can know what's going on. I can tell you that that last part's never going to happen. I got lucky being able to tell you, and that was only because important people owed me one.”
There was a knock at the back door.
“That'll be Daniel,” Jack said, getting up, after giving Sara another kiss.
The housing development was done, or at least Jack's corner of it was. He and Sara had a house built to their specifications at the end of a cul-de-sac. Far enough away to give him a sense of privacy, but close enough for ease of visiting, stood several town homes. Daniel and Teal'c lived in one, Sam in another, Abhay and Vijay lived in the third, and Claude Bausch was in the fourth. Another set of four town homes were almost done, all of which would be lived in by the members of SG-3, Brian, Jeff, Paul and Eric. Not that it really mattered where the four of them actually lived, as they more or less lived wherever he and Daniel happened to be at any particular moment.
Other town homes, as well a few single family homes were in process, as the list of people who needed and wanted them continued to grow. It wouldn't take long until the whole development was filled with human-alien hybrids along with their families and loved ones. Jack wasn't sure what would happen after that. Part of him believed that eventually they'd all end up living off-world, maybe at Earth's alpha site. They couldn't be lucky enough to stay under everyone's radar forever.
“Hey,” he said to Daniel.
Daniel smiled at him, and then his eyes glowed for a second, conveying Junior's greeting. “Am I interrupting?”
“Wedding blues,” Jack explained.
“Not cold feet?” Daniel asked, with a broader grin.
“Nope, Junior blues.”
Daniel looked part surprised, part offended, as he entered the kitchen. He kissed Sara on the cheek. “Junior blues?” he asked Sara, clearly expecting a more understandable explanation from her.
“Jack,” Sara chided.
“I'm not pussy-footing around it,” Jack said firmly. “We're both a little concerned, make that a lot concerned, about the guest list for the wedding. We have civilians Sara would like to invite, and a lot of aliens we'd both like to invite.”
Daniel was still for a minute, and Jack figured it was a combination of Daniel connecting the dots, and also of Junior and him having a rapid-fire conversation. Finally, Daniel sighed. “He promises he'll be good.”
“He always promises he'll be good,” Jack said. “What happens if someone gets drunk and decides to get belligerent? Or worse, what happens if word gets out about the wedding, and the wrong type of guest shows up, like reporters, or the NID?”
Daniel sat down at one of the kitchen table chairs. “I could always not come.”
Jack snorted. “Right, like that's going to happen. You're my best man, Daniel. You kind of have to be there.”
“Which puts me front and center. Maybe it would be better if I was just standing in the audience with everyone else.”
“No,” Sara said. “I'd rather not invite any of my friends than not have you in the wedding, Daniel. You're family. How about if we make it a middle of the day affair, outside, so people could be wearing sunglasses?”
“I will not embarrass Daniel,” Junior said with some asperity.
“It's not about embarrassing Daniel,” Jack said. “It's about you interpreting something, rightly or wrongly, as a danger to Daniel, and deciding to make his eyes glow in front of a bunch of civilians who don't know anything about any of you. It's a security risk.”
“Then I suggest,” Junior said with some bite, “that you ensure that nothing happens to endanger Daniel.”
Sara snickered. “Yeah, Jack.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Right. Remember just last week when that new airman was walking by Daniel in the mess hall, took a look at the pie Daniel was eating, and said, 'I would kill for a piece of that pie.'? Do you remember what you did?”
Junior's expressions on Daniel's face still sometimes took Jack by surprise, but there was no mistaking the chagrin.
“Daniel's still apologizing to the man,” Jack told Sara. “Every day.”
Sara bit her lips, no doubt trying not to grin so as to spare Junior's feelings, but the amusement in her eyes was hard to hide.
“Not to mention that whenever you get riled, every friendly Goa'uld within shouting distance, which means on Earth, gets riled, and the poor guy who just wanted a piece of pie ended up with you with one hand around his throat, along with an audience that consisted of me, Vidrine, half a dozen other officers, and a few representatives from several countries around the globe.”
“Oh, dear,” Sara said. She patted Daniel's hand in commiseration.
Junior fled, leaving a very uncomfortable Daniel Jackson behind. “You've hurt his feelings,” Daniel said accusingly.
“I was making a point,” Jack said. “He's better, I grant you that, and he's learning, and I'm glad he's so vigilant about keeping you alive, but all the kid wanted was some pie. You put a bunch of people together at a wedding, with some obligatory booze, and people will say stupid stuff that Junior will take the wrong way.”
Daniel dropped his head to the table with a loud thunk. “Maybe I could just stand with you for the wedding, and then disappear,” he said into the wood grain.
“That's a possible solution, but that's not really what I want, either. I want you there for the whole thing. Just like Sara wants her friends and her father there for the whole thing.”
Lifting his head, looking sheepish, Daniel said, “I appreciate that, Jack, I really do, but I think it's a good compromise. I'll stand with you at the wedding, and then I'll make myself scarce. That way Sara can invite who she wants, because I know the rest of the friendly Goa'uld, at least the ones who have had them for a while, will be fine. You can have a lot of security around, so if any of the Goa'uld decide to come out and play, they can get whisked away. If people have been drinking enough, they'll find plenty of ordinary reasons for someone's eyes to flash.”
Jack wasn't thrilled by the compromise, but it was fair. “We were thinking about having the wedding here, so you could go hide in one of the spare bedrooms.” He knew it was a little weird, how dependent he was on Daniel being around, and maybe he could blame part of it on Tana'oa, but Jack just felt better when Daniel was around. Around and safe. In some ways, Jack was as bad as Junior.
“You are worse than Junior,” Tana'oa said. “You just hide it better.”
Jack sent Tana'oa an inner sneer which Tana'oa returned with interest.
“Maybe you can help settle another question,” Sara asked Daniel. “Jack in a tuxedo or his dress blues?”
“Dress blues,” Daniel said without a second of hesitation, his eyes taking a bit of a walk over Jack.
Jack couldn't help but preen a little.
“I asked Jack this question when we first got together again, but I think I'll ask you, too, before, well, just before,” Sara said, reddening.
Daniel encouraged her with a nod, sending a quick look Jack's way, but Jack had no idea what Sara wanted to ask.
“Are you sure you and Jack, I mean, you just both love each other a lot, and I saw that little sparkle in your eye when you thought of Jack in his dress blues, not that I blame you, but if you two could, you know, be together, would you?”
Daniel blinked at her. Then he blinked at Jack. He and Daniel stared at each other for a long moment, a really long moment, and Jack gave it some thought. He and Daniel had talked about it and dismissed it, but so much had changed since then. Would he, if he had the chance? The possibility was certainly there, if there wasn't a Teal'c in Daniel's life, and a Sara in Jack's. But there was, and Jack wanted Sara; he always had.
He saw Daniel start to grin, and Jack grinned back, knowing they were on the same page. Seeing as whatever Jack had said to Sara had failed to completely convince her, he let Daniel take the lead. His friend turned to Sara and said, “Jack and I actually discussed this before he finally went to talk to you, and we both knew it would be a terrible mistake.”
“No, you thought it would be a terrible mistake,” Jack told Daniel, winking at Sara.
“Oh, that's right. What Jack actually said was that he'd love to sleep with me, Sam, and Teal'c, preferably all at the same time.”
“Jack,” Sara said, looking scandalized but also laughing.
“Come on,” Jack said. “You've seen all three of them. Can you blame me?”
Daniel let out a beleaguered sigh. “Sara, can you really see us together? We'd drive each other crazy. He needs you to come home to, just as I need Teal'c. What Jack and I have, while maybe deeper and truer than most friendships, is exactly what we need it to be.”
Sara looked half convinced, but Daniel wasn't done.
“However, just because I know that, doesn't mean I can't appreciate a fine-looking man in dress blues.”
“I told you when we met that you had nothing to fear from me, and I meant that. Jack's yours, and I'm thrilled for him.”
“He's yours, too,” she said.
“I know and, trust me, I’m thrilled about that too, but I like things the way they are.”
“What happens if you decide you want things to be different?” she asked, seriously, as if she knew that Daniel would take precedence over her.
Jack just hoped like hell that he'd never be put in a position where he had to choose one over the other.
“I won't, because I love you, too,” Daniel said, tucking a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. “I would never do that to you, or put Jack in that position. Never. Please, put your heart and mind to rest on this. Okay?”
She studied him for a while and then let out a long breath and nodded. “Okay. Forgive me, but I had to ask. I had to make sure.”
“I'm glad you did. But, between you and me, I have about all of Jack I can stand. Really.”
“Hey!” Jack protested.
That really got Sara laughing, and Jack was relieved that whatever shadows had been there when she'd asked about the two of them were gone.
“There's only one person in this room I want to marry,” Jack told her, just in case she needed any further convincing.
“Me, too,” she said, smiling at him.
“Besides,” Daniel said, “Teal'c would rip Jack's arms off if he tried anything with me.”
“That's true. I thought he was going to rip my arms off anyway, just because me and Daniel were friends.”
“Teal'c doesn't like to share,” Daniel said. “At all.”
“He really doesn't,” Jack said. “There are several Chulak warriors who learned that the hard way.”
Sara's eyes widened.
“The problem is that Daniel is so oblivious. Someone tries to come on to him, and he's so glad they want to be friends, so he smiles, and gets them all excited because they think they're about to get lucky, and then Teal'c comes over to let them know just how unlucky they are.”
“It's true,” Daniel said with a wince. “Not the oblivious part, but the other part. He thinks everyone's after me. He's a little paranoid.”
“Everyone is after you,” Jack said fondly. “I think it's because you are so oblivious. It's like a challenge.”
“I'm not oblivious,” Daniel said heatedly.
“You really are.”
“He really is,” said Tana'oa.
Sara was giggling now, and Jack moved behind her to give her a hug. “Feel better?”
“I love watching the two of you. You're like Abbott and Costello.”
“Which one of us is the fat guy?” Jack asked with narrowed eyes.
“You,” Junior said, with some heat.
“Sorry, Junior,” Jack said. “You know I like you, but we’re talking huge security risk here in every way. We can’t exactly set up a metal detector and have people go through.”
“Yes, we can,” Junior interrupted him. “Invite the President, or someone equally important to explain the high need for tight security. You can have metal detectors, perform a preliminary check on the invited guests, and have people show their identification when they arrive.”
“Not bad, Junior,” Jack said, thinking about it. “Not sure the President will come, though.”
Sara was looking dazed. “The President?”
“He likes Daniel.”
“You’re his friend,” Daniel protested.
“Yeah, but you’re a powerful sovereign nation. He’ll come if you invite him.”
“It’s your wedding.”
“I’m sure I can find some book somewhere that says that the best man is responsible for stuff like this.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “I actually think we’ll have an impressive enough guest list without the President to make tight security legitimate. I really think you’d rather have this wedding be about you and not the President of the United States, which is what it would be if he was invited.”
“Spoil-sport,” Jack said.
“Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said from the doorway. “Colonel O’Neill. General Hammond wishes to see us all immediately.” He smiled at Sara. “I apologize for interrupting.”
She waved off his concern. “Is everything all right?”
“I do not know. Captain Costello called and said a situation has arisen and our presence was required.”
Jack grimaced. “That’s never a good thing.”
“Should I be worried?” Sara asked.
“No. Mostly it just means a ton of paperwork that yours truly gets to fill out.”
Daniel snorted. “When’s the last time you actually did paperwork, Jack?”
“I do paperwork.”
“No, you delegate paperwork. I know, because I used to get a lot of it.”
“You’re so much better at grammar than I am.”
Sara was snickering at the two of them, and Jack kissed her soundly. “Sorry to leave breakfast cleanup to you. I’ll call and let you know when I’ll be home.”
Jack rounded Daniel and Teal’c up and headed out the door. Jack wanted to drive, but Daniel’s limousine, provided to him by the Powers That Be, with strict instructions that he use it all the time, was sitting right there, and Paul and Eric were standing next to it, staring at Jack, as if he might try to make a run for it.
Rolling his eyes, Jack allowed himself to be prodded to the limousine, and shortly thereafter they were on their way to the mountain.
Sara listened to the door slam shut behind her soon-to-be-husband, shaking her head at how odd her life had become. It was almost as if she were living two separate lives. One life was a divorced woman who worked at a large marketing firm, with a cubicle, and lunch in the small café. A person who did her errands on the weekend: dry cleaners, groceries, cleaning the house, so very ordinary.
The other life was anything but ordinary. She was engaged to a man with an alien wrapped around his brain stem. She was suddenly surrounded by aliens, a part of the most top-secret program on Earth. She lived in a high security housing complex where she still wasn’t sure any of her friends or family could visit. Sara could only imagine that conversation with her father, assuming he ever wanted to see her after she told him she was getting married to Jack again. Why no, dad, she imagined in her head, you can’t come over. Oh, you want to know why? It’s top secret. Need-to-know only. If I told you I’d have to kill you.
The whole thing made her feel a little sick to her stomach. She rubbed her stomach then rose to get herself some Ginger Ale.
It was insane. All of it. She had no idea how to live with her life being divided in two. No idea how she’d ever maintain a good relationship with her friends and family if she was lying to them all the time. Wasn’t sure how she’d pretend to be excited about the minutiae of an ordinary life that paled in comparison to the real truths in hers. Sara found herself saddened, all over again, at how long Jack had had to play this game. She wondered, if Charlie hadn’t died, whether her marriage could have survived Jack’s constant lying, especially if he’d started going through the Stargate while they were still married.
She tried to imagine Daniel fitting into the life they’d had. They had done things with other couples, sometimes friends of hers, sometimes Jack’s. Nowhere could she have seen a place for someone like Daniel, and oh, how their life would be poorer for his absence. He was such a force for love in their life. Not that he was a paragon. She’d known him long enough at this point to see his pissy moods, his stubborn nature, and his penchant to throw himself into situations that made Jack crazy. But he was a truly good and kind man, and there was no denying his impact on Jack. Sara was still convinced that she and Jack would not be together now if not for Daniel.
Sam Carter had become a real friend, as had Sean, another good and kind man. All the men who protected Jack and Daniel: Eric, Jeff, Paul, and Brian, had also become part of the family, as had Janet, Teal’c, even General Hammond, who had come out to the house for dinner just last week.
Sara had thought herself happy enough before that fateful day Jack had shown up at her door to beg for forgiveness. But, now, she could hardly imagine going back to that. It seemed dull, colorless, like the difference between the black and white Kansas and the astonishing brilliance of Oz.
She looked down at the list that she’d started to make of all her friends and family from her ordinary life and grimaced. Sara knew that Sam had no real friends outside of the SGC. She had some people she went out with now and then, and even dated a little, but she’d confided in Sara that the two just didn’t mix well. It was hard to commiserate with a friend who’d had a bad day on the job while Sam had been protecting Earth by fighting aliens on another world.
Sara had been avoiding it, but she was going to have to choose. Not that she couldn’t have a friend here and there, have an occasional lunch with her father, and continue to work her job, but the facts of her life would force her to withdraw to a certain extent. Or, she needed to tell Jack that she couldn’t do it. Take the ring back off her finger, and put it back into the velvet box, and go back to her lonely bed, and her so very ordinary life.
Sara picked the list up and crumpled it in her hand. No contest.
SG-1 filed into the conference room and arranged themselves at the table. Cameron Mitchell was already sitting there although Jack had no idea why. Mitchell sent a salute his way, and Jack waved him off. SG-3 had been hovering out in the hallway, but came in at General Hammond’s invitation when he arrived.
Jack, Carter, and Mitchell stood and saluted.
Hammond said, “At ease.” Sitting down, he placed several newspapers in front of him.
Jack asked, “What’s going on?”
Distributing the newspapers to Jack, Carter, Daniel, Teal’c, and Mitchell, Hammond opened the last one that remained sitting in front of him. “Please turn to page four.”
Jack looked down at the National Enquirer that was in front of him, his brow furrowing, but obediently opened it to page four. “Well, crap,” he said. Staring back at him was a picture of Cameron Mitchell, his eyes glowing. It looked like he was at one of the local supermarkets.
Mitchell let out an enraged, “Hey! That was not me. I did not do that. Phelan would not do that.”
“Were you at that store?” Hammond asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mitchell said. “Me and Shep were both there, along with some security. We were picking stuff up for Sam’s birthday party.”
That had been a good party, Jack mused. Good food.
There was a knock on the door and when Paul opened it, after a nod from Hammond, John Sheppard was standing there. He saluted Hammond and Jack, and then came in, moving to sit by Mitchell. “What’s up? Sirs,” he tacked on.
A man after his own heart, Jack thought to himself. “Were you with Mitchell when that picture was taken?”
Sheppard snitched the paper and his eyebrows rose. “Yes, but that didn’t happen,” he said firmly, tapping the picture. “No way would Phelan do that. There was nothing going on. We went, we bought food, we left. Nothing happened that would have gotten any of the symbiotes riled.”
Hammond nodded. “I believe you. That doesn’t, however, explain this picture.”
“Any way we can seize the original and see if it was photoshopped?” Carter asked.
“I’ve already got a team working on it,” Hammond said. “The end result is the same, regardless. Someone is pointing a finger at us, and making what some might think are unbelievable accusations, but which are too close to the truth for my comfort.”
Jack read the text that went with the photo. “Aliens among us,” he said out loud. “Terrific.”
Paul was reading over Daniel’s shoulder. “They make it sound like we’ve all been replaced by aliens. That the entire armed forces of the United States are actually aliens in disguise.” He frowned. “Maybe it’s time to leak that tape of Colonel O’Neill protecting Daniel and the symbiotes and get it on YouTube. Give us some of that plausible deniability.”
The last thing Jack wanted was any of that tape where a million people could see it, but he knew it would be doctored enough that no one would recognize him. “You think it’s one of Kinsey’s cult members? Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there who know what’s going on and don’t like it.”
With a sigh, Daniel said, “At some point, the truth of this place will get out, and it will force SGC to go public. Maybe we should think about going public first. Or else we need to admit that Jacob was right, and that we won’t ever really be safe or accepted here.”
“I’m not ready to go there, yet, Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said. “Although it might not be a bad idea to run some projections on worse-case scenarios if we do go public. I’ll speak with the President about that.”
“Knowing him,” Jack said, “he’s already got a dozen of them sitting in a locked safe somewhere.”
“That’s probably true,” Hammond replied. To Sheppard and Mitchell, he said, “You’re both dismissed. Major Mitchell, you will need to stay confined to base for right now.”
“There are enough crazy people out there,” Jack added, “who’ll think this is true, even if it sort of is, and decide the world will be safer without you in it.”
Mitchell nodded, frowning, a quick unhappy glow showing Phelan was equally disturbed. There was a fine line they’d all been walking between taking the risk of letting the humans with symbiotes go out and about, and the increased tension of keeping them locked up. If the excursions off the mountain were going to dry up, Jack needed to see about rotating them all off-world, so they could let off a little steam.
When Mitchell and Sheppard left, Hammond looked at them all. “I don’t need to explain the danger in this, do I? Any of you leaving the mountain, even the ungoa’ulded staff, could be seized by someone with either an axe to grind, or for even more frightening purposes. We’ll need to heighten security everywhere.”
Sara would love that. Their big shindig of a wedding was looking less and less likely. Jack exchanged a look with Daniel; he didn’t look any happier about any of this.
“Do we know who submitted the story?” Carter asked.
“It was from an anonymous source,” Hammond said.
“This rag doesn’t care about the truth,” Jack said, “They just want a story. I guess we should be grateful we didn’t end up on the front page.” He turned back to see the front page story was about a gorilla birthing a human baby.
“I do not understand the purpose of this newspaper,” Teal’c said. He was flipping through the pages. “Most of these stories cannot be true.”
“It’s like a portable freak show,” Jack said. “Instead of spending twenty-five cents at the fair to see the bearded lady, or the two-headed goat, you can spend a couple of bucks on this, and read about it in the comfort of your own home.” He winced at the badly done, but still creepy, photo-manipulation of a young child with bat ears and eyes.
“Humans are very strange,” Teal’c pronounced, shutting the newspaper and shoving it away from him.
“You married one,” Jack reminded him.
Teal’c gave Daniel a look that said he was reconsidering. Daniel grinned and Teal’c allowed a corner of one side of his mouth to rise.
“There must be some trace of who the story came from,” Carter said, still looking at the picture. “Permission to work on this, sir?”
“Granted,” Hammond said. To SG-3 he said, “I’m sure I don’t need to emphasize the importance of keeping Dr. Jackson and Colonel O’Neill out of trouble, do I?”
“No, sir!” came from four voices at the same time.
Jack rolled his eyes.
“Thank God,” Sam said softly to himself. It looked like they might actually have a hunt. Dean was about to drive him crazy with all the inactivity. A bored Dean was a dangerous thing to behold. Any moment now, Sam expected the pranks to start. The bar brawls had already become a weekly occurrence.
“What was that?” Dean asked, from where he was lying on the bed, arms outstretched, as if he’d been crucified.
“Bat ears,” Sam complained.
“Tell me you found something. Please. I’m begging you.”
“I found something,” Sam said, throwing the newspaper at Dean’s head.
Killing Lucifer had been easier than expected. From one day to the next, after being adamant about refusing, Dean agreed to be Michael’s vessel. It had been spectacular. There was no doubt Castiel was a powerful being, but Michael was one badass angel. He pulverized Lucifer, and when he was done smiting the devil, he and the rest of the angels went on a rampage that banished all the demons and angry spirits from the face of the earth. It was over in like two days.
Michael left Dean behind, whole and standing, and he and all the angels, including Castiel, disappeared. Poof.
Castiel vanishing, more than anything, had pushed Dean over the edge. Sam wasn’t sure what had been going on between Dean and Castiel, but it had to be something more than what he’d seen-- which was Dean mostly being pissed off at Castiel-- because Dean fell into a depression that was almost as bad as when Dean had first gotten out of hell.
For days on end, he’d surreptitiously follow Dean only to have him stop somewhere, thinking he was alone, and yell for Castiel. Yell until his voice was hoarse. Yell until he fell on his knees with a look on his face that made Sam’s heart clutch in pity.
Not that he’d ever tell Dean that.
Bobby said, in time, there’d be angry spirits to hunt, as people would keep dying and, sooner or later, some of them would be unhappy about it and share their pain, but for right now it was a hunter’s vacation. Sam was sort of enjoying the hiatus, or he would be if it wasn’t for Dean being a nutcase.
In the silence of his mind--because talking about it with Dean would only have made it worse-- Sam had put Dean on a suicide watch for the time being. Not that Sam suspected Dean would ever put a gun to his mouth or something purposeful like that. Dean was word made incarnate for the phrase ‘soldiering on’.
What Sam was afraid of was Dean finding something to do it for him. That was the one good thing about there being nothing to hunt; Dean couldn’t go out that way. But he did everything he could to incite large angry locals in bars or got too drunk and then drove. It was just luck he hadn’t had his skull crushed by some Neanderthal, or wrapped the Impala around a telephone pole.
“What is it?” Dean said, on his side now, flipping through the pages.
There was a minute of silence as Dean read the short article. Then, Dean was standing and pacing the room, his frenetic energy level wearing Sam out just by watching him. “Shapeshifter?”
“Probably. It’s just as likely a hoax.”
“We’ve gotten plenty of leads from rags like this,” Dean said. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Sam hadn’t taken the time to see where this ‘sighting’ had apparently taken place.
“Colorado Springs.” Dean began stuffing his clothes in his duffel.
They were currently in Georgia. “Dean, it’s the middle of the night. Let’s sleep, and we can leave in the morning.”
“No fucking way. I need to hunt something bad, Sammy. This doing nothing is killing me.”
With a sense of dismay, knowing he wasn’t going to win this one, Sam watched as Dean finished packing his stuff, and then moved on to Sam’s.
“Come on, get your ass up.”
“It’s one in the morning,” Sam tried again, even though he knew Dean wasn’t listening. The adrenaline high Dean was on right now, just at the mere thought of a hunt, would probably get them across country without stopping. Sam ached for the bed in front of him, lumps and all.
“I’m going with or without you.” Dean grabbed both bags and headed for the door, disappearing out of it.
It was an empty threat. Right before the two-day-war that most of the world knew nothing about, Dean might have truly left him behind. Things had gotten so awkward between them; neither Dean nor Sam completely convinced that Sam wouldn’t go darkside. Ever since, every night, Sam thanked God, and anyone else who might be listening, that he hadn’t said yes. Lucifer had seemed so implacably sure it would happen, it had twisted Sam all up inside.
Sam rolled his eyes at the sound of a horn honking several times. Just as well they were leaving with Dean making that kind of racket. He shut his laptop, looked around the room for anything they might be leaving behind, grabbed the coffee bags they hadn’t had a chance to use, and with one last sad look at the bed he was leaving behind, Sam left the room.
“Unscheduled gate activation!” echoed through the corridor as Jack raced down the halls. He saw Teal’c right behind him. By the time he got to the gate room, all of SG-1 was there.
“Who is it?” Jack asked.
“I’m waiting for an IDC, sir,” Walter told him. Then, he said, “It’s Dr. Bausch, sir. He wasn’t due back for another two days.”
“Let him in,” Jack said. Claude had become the friendly Goa’uld catcher, making weekly trips to Chaka’s home world, as well as to Chulak, and any place intel told them there might be a friendly Goa’uld. A couple of SFs who had taken on symbiotes always accompanied him.
Laying truth to Jack’s thoughts, Claude and his two SFs walked through the wormhole covered with nearly mature symbiotes. Jack started counting as he and Daniel moved closer.
“Nine?” he guessed.
“Eleven,” Claude said, handing three off to Daniel, and another three to Jack. The SFs had two each.
“That makes ten,” Jack said, letting Tana’oa do the mental meet and greet to the new kids. He could hear Junior doing the same.
Claude patted himself down like he was searching for a pen, then he reached behind himself and untucked his shirt, grabbing at something. He pulled out the eleventh symbiote. “This guy’s got a bit of an ego,” Claude said.
“Are you sure he’s friendly?” Jack asked, reaching out through Tana’oa to feel him out.
“He’s friendly,” Tana’oa reassured him. “He just didn’t want to come with Claude because he’s waiting for someone special to be his host.”
“Special?” Jack asked. “Like who special?”
“He won’t say. He just says he’ll know his host when he sees him.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“He says he will,” Tana’oa said.
Junior’s mental “Humph!” caught Jack’s attention. “What’s going on, Junior?” Jack could see that Daniel wasn’t upset at all, in fact he looked amused, almost relieved.
“He says he wants someone more special than Daniel!” Junior said, outraged. “There is no one more special!”
Jack agreed, but he had no doubt Daniel was tickled to find a friendly Goa’uld who didn’t automatically kowtow to him. It still bothered Daniel to have the power over them he did.
“I’m not offended,” Daniel said out loud, as he took the symbiote in question. “Really.”
Apparently, though, Junior had given the new symbiote a tongue lashing about how to appropriately treat the System Lord, and the new guy was doing his best to suck up, especially as Junior told him that he would get no host at all unless the System Lord chose to grant him one.
“Junior,” Daniel said. “You know that isn’t true.”
“He said you weren’t special!”
“No, he said he wanted someone more special, and I suspect no matter what Goa’uld you spoke to, they would think, at least I hope they would think, that their host was just a little bit more special than me, because they are their host. Right, Tana’oa? Don’t you think Jack is more special than me?”
Jack laughed at how uncomfortable the question made Tana’oa. “Yes, he does,” Jack answered for him, out loud. “As well he should.”
Daniel sent an appreciative grin his way.
Jack reached out and Daniel handed him the symbiote. “I think we’ll name you Zeus,” Jack said.
“Zeus?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah, isn’t he kind of a stuck up sort of God, all full of himself?”
“He had sex with a swan,” Tana’oa said to him.
Daniel snickered, answering Jack’s verbal question. “Yes, in ancient times, he was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.”
Jack was still stuck on the swan thing, “Zeus had sex with a swan?” he asked Daniel, wincing.
“No,” Daniel said. “There are a lot of legends about Zeus, and different versions of this story, but one is that he took the shape of a swan and seduced a woman named Leda who was married to a king. She slept with her husband and Zeus, in the shape of a swan, on the same night, and gave birth to Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, and also Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband, King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid eggs from which the children hatched.”
“Huh,” Jack said. “The shit you know.” He held up the symbiote. “Zeus it is. But no turning into a swan.”
Zeus turned a figurative cold shoulder to him.
Jack had a feeling he and Zeus were going to get along like a house on fire, and he sent that thought to Zeus, but Zeus was determined to ignore him.
Smirking, Jack followed Claude and Daniel, along with Teal’c and the SFs to the infirmary and the tank.
“Where did you find so many?” Daniel asked Claude.
“I went to a new lake on Kuokoa that I don’t think is attached to the system of lakes I’ve been exploring, although it lies close enough for the symbiotes to leap from one to the other. The lake is crammed full of them. These were all the mature ones, except for one who wouldn’t come near enough for me to grab.”
“I think he was shy,” Claude said. “Nothing I said got him closer than within ten feet of me.”
“Does he understand he’ll die if he stays there?” Daniel asked, perturbed.
“I told him, but he wouldn’t come with me. We might have to take a host to him. Or you’ll have to go get him. Even Max couldn’t convince him.”
They reached the infirmary and, one by one, they slipped the symbiotes into the tank. Zeus gave Jack a glare and flipped some water on him. Jack burst out laughing as all the other symbiotes in the tank turned on Zeus, berating him for his actions.
“Oh, yeah,” Jack said. “I like that one.”
They all watched the newcomers settle in, Teal’c standing behind Daniel, his arms wrapped around his waist. It was the way they always stood when they could, Daniel leaning back on Teal’c’s strength. It made Jack glad Daniel had someone to love; made him even gladder that he had someone of his own. Teal’c and Daniel were murmuring to each other, pointing out the different symbiotes.
Zeus was now glaring at the plastic shark that was trolling the tank. If there was a betting pool on it, Jack would bet on Zeus taking the shark down.
Waite and Morrison got out of the limousine first, glancing around, while Jack sat in the back, pushing down his impatience. After the glowy-eyed picture in the paper fiasco, Hammond had informed Jack he’d won the armed guards and chauffeured limousine lottery. Jack hoped it wouldn’t last. He’d go crazy if he couldn’t be behind the wheel.
He saw Sara peeking through the curtains and hoped Jeff or Brian waved to her, letting her know everything was all right. Suddenly out of patience, Jack got out of the car.
“Sir,” Waite protested.
“Come on,” Jack said. “You really think someone’s out here waiting to kill me?”
“Maybe,” Waite said.
Jack was about to argue when he got the weirdest feeling he was being watched. “Okay, something feels off. You picking up on that?”
“Yes,” Morrison said, his gun drawn, his eyes now glowing. Mel was staring out through Waite’s eyes, and even Tana’oa was taking a look. The Goa’uld had heightened vision, especially in the dark. Jack saw something glint about a hundred yards north and moved to the left to get a better look behind the trees that were blocking his view. All he saw, once he’d shifted ten feet to the left, was a small glen, and when his eyes moved up, the trees were empty.
He and Tana’oa listened intently, then Jack said, “I’m going to check out that glen, make sure no one’s there.”
Waite actually laughed. “Nice try, sir. Please go in the house, and I’ll check out the glen.”
“I’ve been doing the soldier thing for a long time, you know. You probably weren’t even born when I started.”
“I’m older than I look, and when you’re off planet you can be the guy giving orders. When it comes to your protection, you do what I say. Please get in the house.”
Sara opening the front door clinched it, and Jack moved quickly to get her inside. “Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I’m not sure, but honey, when it looks like we’re nervous about something, you have to stay inside. Okay? Promise me that?”
She nodded hesitantly. “Maybe I should get a Goa’uld, too, so you wouldn’t worry about me so much.”
Jack had mixed feelings about that. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the idea of having sex with Sara and someone else.
“She has sex with you and me,” Tana’oa mentioned.
“I know,” Jack said. “And I’m damn lucky she doesn’t mind, but I think I might.”
Tana’oa huffed at him.
Jack decided to kiss Sara, pulling her close to him, sliding his tongue inside her mouth, tasting her thoroughly.
There was a knock on the door and Waite poked his head in. “There wasn’t anything there, sir. We’ll do another patrol, though, just in case.”
“Thanks,” Jack said, letting Sara go to lock the door behind Waite. He moved to the window of the kitchen and looked outside. Jack trusted Waite and Morrison, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was watching.
Jack startled awake when a hand slapped over his mouth. He felt the sharp blade of a knife against his throat. Tana’oa awoke at the same time and Jack heard him send out an alarmed call to any friendly Goa’uld in the neighborhood. The cavalry would be arriving in under a minute, maybe less. He couldn’t believe that neither he nor Tana’oa had heard someone enter the house.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Tana’oa confessed. “They are very good.”
They were very good, Jack thought, and he glanced at his attacker and saw a young, good-looking man glaring at him. His next thought was for Sara and, ignoring the blade against his neck, figuring if they wanted him dead, he’d be dead, he turned to look at her. Another man, taller, with longer scraggly hair, had his hand over Sara’s mouth. The only thing that kept Jack still was that there was no blade at her throat. Her eyes were wide open and frightened, staring at him, her hand finding Jack’s under the covers and squeezing hard.
“Ma’am,” the man was saying calmly, apologetically, “we’re not going to hurt you. I promise.”
“Are you all right?” the guy holding Jack captive said, which made absolutely no sense. “Are you a prisoner here?”
Jack made a bid for freedom but somehow he must have telegraphed his intention, because before he moved an inch, a knee was on his arm forcing it down, and the knife was pressing hard against his Adam’s apple, making it difficult to breathe.
The tall man took his hand off of Sara’s mouth. “Are you here against your will?” he asked, echoing the first man’s question.
Sara shook her head cautiously.
“You sure?” the first man said. “Because we can keep him occupied while you run.”
Jack tried to shoot Sara a look, telling her to take them up on their offer and run like hell. He still didn’t know what the two of them were up to, but he wanted Sara as far away as possible.
Just as Jack heard footsteps racing toward his front door, the first man said, “Look, he’s bleeding, and he’s not writhing in pain. I think we got this wrong somehow.” There was a pause and then he said, “Christo.”
The guy looked like he was expecting Jack to do something but he had no freaking idea what the hell was going on let alone meeting the expectations of some wack-job. The bedroom door burst open, and Brian, Jeff, Paul, and Eric, followed by Daniel, Teal’c, and Claude, all, with the exception of Teal’c, with eyes blazing, hurtled into the room. The four Marines had their weapons out, aimed at Jack’s assailants.
“Fuck,” was said softly to his side.
Assuming the man had to be distracted by the large number of new and unexpected guests, Jack made his move again, and this time he was successful. He was out of bed in a second and had the man disarmed, the large knife clattering to the floor. He shoved the man against the wall by the bedside table.
Jack was very glad he’d worn boxers to bed. “You okay?” he asked Sara, as Jeff and Brian slammed the taller man’s face up against a wall.
She nodded, eyes still wide, the blankets clutched up around her neck. Jack remembered she was naked under there. Realizing it would be a while before he would be getting any more sleep tonight, let alone enjoying all that naked skin, he grunted in annoyance. He glanced at the man he was still holding captive, reveling, as he often did, in his new found strength. “Thanks,” Jack said to Tana’oa.
“You are welcome. Who are they? What do they want with you?”
Jack could feel Tana’oa’s concern radiating at him. “Good questions,” he said out loud. He wrenched up the arm of his captive, eliciting a bitten back grunt and, calling Teal’c over, handed him off. Jack needed to be wearing more than just his boxers to deal with this. “Take them out to the living room. I’ll get dressed and be out in a minute.”
“You’re bleeding,” Daniel said.
“I won’t be for long.”
“What the fuck are you?” the man who’d gone after Jack asked belligerently.
“We could ask the same of you,” Teal’c said, holding him tightly, prodding him to the door.
“Hey, hey,” the man protested, “back off on the strong-arm techniques. It’s not like I’m going anywhere. Nice tat, by the way.”
Teal’c said nothing.
Jack stared at the man who was maybe in his late twenties, barely more than a kid, but with eyes a thousand years old. The other man looked younger than the first despite being several inches taller, but he had haunted eyes as well.
Jack had Tana’oa, five of the men in front of him had friendly Goa’uld, and Teal’c was a Jaffa warrior, but even with all that might on his side, these men made him apprehensive. “Watch them carefully,” Jack warned.
Teal’c studied Jack for a second and then nodded, and they all made their way through the doorway until Daniel, with a last look at Jack and Sara, shut it behind him.
Sara was out of bed in an instant, plastered against Jack. “What was that? Who were they?”
“I have no idea.” Jack hugged her tightly. “Get dressed, but I need you to stay in here.”
“Please. Until I know what they want, I don’t want them near you.”
“They weren’t here to hurt me. You heard them. I think they thought they were rescuing me.”
“I know. Weird.”
“And why did they think you should be writhing in pain because you were bleeding?” Sara asked, touching the spot on his neck that had already healed thanks to Tana’oa.
“I don’t know that either. Go on, get dressed.”
Sara reluctantly pulled out of the comfort of Jack’s arms and quickly yanked on some clothes. Then, despite his wishes, she followed Jack out into the living room, although she stayed as far away from the two men as possible.
Teal’c and Brian had their two captives standing by the dining room table. Guns were sitting on the coffee table, clips removed. Both men wore jeans and heavy shit-kicking boots. The shorter man wore a couple of t-shirts under a leather jacket that had seen better days. Not that he was short; he had to be at least six feet tall, if not taller. The taller guy, who was really tall, had on a t-shirt, that was covered by a hoodie.
“Since when do shapeshifters run in packs?” the shorter guy snapped at Jack.
“Shapeshifters?” Jack said. “What?”
“I don’t think they are shapeshifters, Dean,” the taller man said. “They don’t tend to run in packs, and the silver knife didn’t bother him.”
“Then what the fuck are they?” Dean said.
Even as he was speaking, Jack watched his eyes canvas the room, looking for exits, for opportunities. Jack had seen that look often enough to recognize it. “Let’s talk about who you guys are. According to your pal here, your name is Dean. Dean what? And how the hell did you get past our security?” Hammond was going to fry someone’s ass, and if Hammond didn’t, Jack sure would.
Rather than answering any of Jack’s questions, Dean just let loose with a slew of his own. “Since when does the military employ demons, or whatever the hell you are? How many of you are there?”
“We were all patrolling and we never heard a thing.” Brian said, sounding like he was one step away from sending himself to the brig for his ineptness.
Jack looked at the two guys with a certain amount of respect. “Check for wallets or ID. And they’ve got more weapons on them, so be careful.” Dean was still too confident, telling Jack he had to have an ace up his sleeve.
Jack’s eyes grew round, though, at the sheer volume of crap that ended up on the coffee table. There were several knives, including one with a wicked serrated edge that had etched squiggles on it. There were lock picks, which probably explained how they got in the house, even if it didn’t explain why the alarm didn’t go off. Then wire cutters hit the coffee table, along with shot gun shells, two plastic baggies of a white powdered substance, two small bags tied shut with string, and two flasks. There were, however, no wallets or identification.
Jack picked one flask up and opened it, taking a cautious sniff. It didn’t have much of an odor, smelling more of the metal of the container than the liquid inside.
“Do me a favor,” Dean said. “Pour some on your skin.”
Jack, knowing he was being stupid, but bursting with curiosity and trusting Tana’oa to take care of him, poured some on his skin, ignoring Daniel’s hissed, “Jack.”
“Was something supposed to happen?” Jack asked, staring at his wet, but unblemished skin.
“What the hell is going on?” the taller man asked Dean.
“I have no fucking idea.”
Daniel picked up the knife with the squiggles on it. Big surprise.
“As long as you guys are being so agreeable,” Dean said, “cut yourself with that knife, would you?”
Daniel frowned but looked as if he was willing. Jack grabbed the knife from him. “Forget it, Daniel.”
“But you just poured whatever was in that flask on you. What was it, anyway?” he asked the two men.
“Holy water,” the taller man said.
Daniel’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Is the knife blessed, too?”
“Sort of,” Dean said, looking as confused as Jack felt which made him feel better for some crazy reason.
Daniel took it back from Jack, looking at it more carefully. “I don’t recognize these sigils. What do they mean?”
“Asks the archeologist,” Jack said, taking the knife back. “You can play with the toys later.” Glancing at Dean, he said, “Anywhere?”
“Yeah,” Dean said with a small disbelieving huff of laughter. “Sure. Anywhere.”
Jack nicked the side of his hand until he drew blood.
When nothing happened, Dean scrunched his face up. “Okay, who are you people? If you’re not shapeshifters, or revenants, or demons, then what the hell are you?”
“We’re humans,” Daniel said.
Dean scoffed. “Right. And the glowing eyes? Don’t tell me that’s normal, because it’s not. And it’s not all of you. It’s not him,” Dean said, pointing at Teal’c. “And it’s not that good-looking blonde, or the two Indians, or the woman who was in bed with you,” he said to Jack.
“How long have you been watching us?” Teal’c asked.
“Three days,” Dean said.
“Three days,” Jack said in annoyance, thinking about the fact that security missed two men doing surveillance on them for three days, and Jack hadn’t picked up on anything until tonight. “Where were you?”
“None of your business,” Dean said.
“Yeah, it is my business,” Jack said. He’d bet money they’d been in that glen. Jack had no idea why he hadn’t seen them, or how they’d slipped by SG-3, but Jack was sure of it.
Dean stared at him, but then turned his attention to Paul Costello. “You’re a Marine, right?”
“How can you be a part of this? Whatever’s going down here, it’s not right. These people did something bad to end up this way.”
“You just don’t understand,” Paul said.
“Then explain it to me.”
To Jack’s surprise and consternation, because Paul knew better, Mithras suddenly made an appearance. “We are not evil. We mean no harm. You will not be harmed by us.”
Dean took a step backward, almost tripping over the coffee table. Sam looked equally startled, not that Jack blamed him. He was feeling a little startled himself that Mithras would make such an inappropriate appearance.
“Costello,” Jack snapped. But Mithras stayed put.
“What’s going on?” Jack asked Tana’oa.
“Mithras likes Dean. He is different, somehow. I do not believe he means us any harm. Him or his partner.”
“Different how?”Jack asked. Then, out loud, he asked, “Daniel, you getting all of this?”
“Yes,” Daniel said, sounding as bewildered as Jack felt.
“Okay,” Jack said. “That’s all the weird I can take in my living room. Let’s take this to the base. I’m gonna call Hammond.”
From one second to the next, Dean made a break for it, the other man right behind him. If it wasn’t for the Goa’uld’s extra speed, they might have made it to the window, but they were both brought down, hard, Dean slamming his head against the sill on his way down, knocking him out. The other guy was glaring at Eric, the person responsible for hurting Dean.
“I’m sorry,” Satrughna said to him, from Eric’s mouth. “I did not mean to hit him so hard.”
“Sandler,” Jack ordered, getting pissed at all the stupidity going on around him. “Do you think it might be possible for all of you to get these two to the base, without letting them escape, or giving away any military secrets? Hmm?”
Both Eric Sandler and Paul Costello looked equal parts sheepish and determined, and between the four Marines and Teal’c, the two men were manhandled outside, leaving Jack, Daniel, and Sara in the living room.
“What the hell was that?” Jack snapped. “Since when do the friendly Goa’uld show themselves to civilians?”
“I have no idea,” Daniel said. “Junior likes Dean, but he has no idea why. All he can say is that there is something different about him.”
“Yeah, like the fact that he attacked me in the middle of the night? Don’t they care about that?”
Daniel grinned at Jack, even as he was patting his arm in commiseration. “You know they do, or we wouldn’t all be here. They just don’t believe you were actually in any danger.”
“He made me bleed.”
“I have already healed you,” Tana’oa reminded him.
“That’s not the point.”
Daniel moved to Sara. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. But I don’t want to stay here alone.”
“Of course not,” Daniel said. “You can come with us. Why don’t you pack an overnight bag and plan to stay in one of the VIP suites? Meanwhile, I’ll call Sam. She’ll be furious if she finds out she missed out on all of this.”
“You do that,” Jack said, miffed at being upstaged by Dean being different.
“Stop pouting,” Tana’oa said.
“I am totally allowed to pout inside my own head.” Scowling, Jack picked up the phone to call Hammond.
The first thing Hammond ordered was MRI’s on their unwilling guests. Not that Jack thought they’d find anything, but he supposed it was better to be safe than sorry. Maybe there was a third type of Goa’uld or symbiotic creature they knew nothing about, living inside Dean’s spleen. Maybe that’s what made him ‘different’.
Dean was conscious, although wincing, by the time they got to the infirmary. Janet had obviously been called in by Hammond as she was there to greet them. She insisted on taking a look at Dean’s head, and while she was at it, she coaxed a first name out of their second guest: Sam.
Jack snorted as Dean did his best to flirt with Janet, and rolled his eyes when Janet totally fell for it.
That was when Sam noticed the tank. “What are those?” He stared at the tank with a fascinated revulsion.
To the side, Daniel said to Jack, “They all seem very interested in Dean. Have you noticed?”
It was hard not to. They were all pressed to the side of the tank watching Dean, a few of them also watching Sam. The guy Sam, not Carter. Even the attached Goa’uld were paying attention. Kitty was right there with the rest of them.
Dean glanced over as Sam spoke and was off the gurney, stepping back. “Jesus.” He stared at the tank.
One Goa’uld in particular was noticing Dean. “Zeus seems to be paying a lot of attention to Dean,” Paul said from Daniel’s other side. “He hasn’t taken a look at anyone else.”
“Dean,” Daniel said speculatively, “why did you start watching us?”
“You thinking they were called here somehow?” Jack asked softly.
“I don’t know what to believe,” Daniel said. “The Goa’uld are as confused as we are about it. Except him,” he added, pointing to Zeus who was watching Dean with tremendous focus.
“What does that mean?” Jack asked.
Daniel seemed to listen for a minute and then shook his head. “Let’s wait until later to discuss it. I need to speak with him privately first.” Looking back at Dean, Daniel asked again, “Why did you start watching us?”
Dean kept his mouth closed.
“We really don’t mean you any harm,” Daniel said in his most reassuring voice.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before,” Dean said.
“What can I say to convince you?”
“How about you let us go?” Sam said.
“That’s not going to happen,” Jack said, before Daniel could say something stupid. “In case you forgot, you trespassed on a high security military base, you broke into my house, and threatened me and my soon-to-be-wife.”
“We didn’t threaten her,” Sam said.
“No, you offered to free her, which is even wackier. Wanna tell me what that was all about?”
Sam neglected to say anything else, simply exchanged a speaking look with Dean.
“Okay,” Jack said, tired of the mystery. “They need MRI’s and then they can wait in a secure conference room until we figure out what the hell is going on.”
Janet nodded, gave the lump on Dean’s head another go-over, and declared he was going to live.
Brian, Jeff, Paul and Eric moved to Dean’s and Sam’s sides. “Let’s go,” Paul said.
Dean looked around, and Jack knew he was searching for a way out. Considering the fact that he was twenty-eight floors down, with NORAD sitting on top of him, in a base filled with Tauri-Goa’uld hybrids, Jack wasn’t too worried about it.
“Why do we need MRIs?” Sam asked.
Dean moved a little closer to the tank. “I get the appeal of a fish tank same as the next guy, but you do realize you have a tank filled with giant slugs with pinchers, right?” Zeus smacked against the glass. “Fuck.” Dean backed up into Sam, Sam’s hand coming down on one of his shoulders, pulling them both into one of the treatment cubbies.
Paul followed them in, Jack right behind them, only to find Dean and Sam ready to battle, Sam brandishing an IV pole, and Dean shoving at them with a gurney.
There was a loud screech from the tank, and Zeus looked like he was ready to climb out it. It was distraction enough for Sam to swing the IV pole at Jeff Morrison, sending him flying, crashing into Brian Waite, who stumbled into Daniel. Meanwhile, Paul slammed into Jack when the gurney smacked into Paul.
“It’s like my very own Three Stooges episode,” Jack said. He asked for a zat from one of the soldiers standing on guard who was looking way too entertained. “Step away,” he ordered, pleased to see that, on occasion, he was obeyed. As soon as it was just Sam and Dean in his sights he zatted them both. Once they were down, Jack said, “Get the MRIs done and get them secured. Can we do that? It’s two guys. Two regular guys. What’s the problem here?”
Sam and Dean were lifted onto gurneys, surrounded by humiliated Marines, and taken off to the radiology suite.
“Think they can get this done without botching it up?” Jack asked, only half-facetiously. Then, turning to the tank, “And you, Zeus, what was that about? You could have gotten someone hurt.”
Jack could feel the Goa’uld’s seething resentment.
“Are we sure he’s a friendly Goa’uld?”
“Yes,” Daniel said. “We’re sure. He just didn’t want anyone to hurt Dean.”
“Don’t hold your breath for him as a host,” Jack told Zeus. “First, he’s a civilian, and second, he’s probably going to be carted off to prison.” The glare this time was poisonous. Jack moved to the tank, reached in and pulled Zeus out to glower at him eye-to-eye. “What is your problem?”
The Goa’uld shut down any sort of communication, and Jack felt like smacking him against a wall but, instead, dropped him back in the tank.
“I need to do some research on this knife,” Daniel said. “Our Sam’s looking on-line for information about Sam and Dean. General Hammond wants to meet with us in an hour.”
“Good,” Jack said. “I’m going to check in on Sara, and then I’ll meet you there. You going to quiz the Goa’uld about whatever the hell is going on?” Jack could have done it, but they tended to get much more chatty with Daniel.
Daniel nodded. “I have a lot of questions to ask them. They were acting very oddly tonight.”
“Understatement.” Jack wondered if he should go check on the crew with Dean and Sam and then decided he’d better. Not that he didn’t trust them, but too many things had already gone haywire. He’d check on them, and then go see Sara. “I’ll see you in an hour.”
“What have we got?” Hammond asked.
A long awkward silence permeated the room.
Hammond’s eyebrows went up. “People?”
Carter finally said, “I’ll start. Their names are Dean and Sam Winchester. They’re brothers. According to official records, they’re both dead, killed in a helicopter explosion over two years ago. Before that, they were both wanted for grand larceny, impersonating law officers- plural, credit card fraud, and numerous other counts. Dean was declared dead once before after a string of vicious murders in St. Louis that he was being held accountable for.”
Another silence fell.
“Anything else?” Hammond asked after a few long moments.
“Yes, sir,” Carter said reluctantly. “There’s a full confession on file for Dean Winchester where he confesses to being a hunter of all things supernatural. Demons, vampires, werewolves, spirits, poltergeists. The list goes on.”
“Vampire hunters?” Jack asked.
“I’m not saying that,” Carter protested. “I’m just reporting what I’ve found.”
“They were talking about shapeshifters tonight, Jack,” Daniel said. “They thought that’s what we were.”
“They also mentioned demons, and something called a revenant. I am not familiar with that word,” Teal’c said.
“It has a few meanings,” Daniel explained. “The ones that make the most sense in this context is a corpse that’s risen from the grave, or a corpse reanimated for a specific goal.”
“They thought we were corpses?” Jack asked, cringing at the thought and wondering when the night had slipped into la-la land. “And never mind that, I’m more concerned that Dean was the main suspect in a string of vicious murders. The fact that he broke into my home and attacked me with a knife makes that a whole lot easier to believe than the demon stuff.”
“They move with a warrior’s grace and awareness,” Teal’c said. “They infiltrated a high-security compound with ease, and despite our clearly superior strength, made two impressive bids for freedom.”
Jack glanced at Hammond and could tell that heads were going to roll for the security breach.
“Let me make things even more complicated,” Janet said, moving to the light boxes on the back wall and flipping them on. “I did chest x-rays on them both after noticing something peculiar in the MRI scans. I have no way to explain this.” There were two x-rays showing ribs covered with marks.
Daniel stood and moved next to Janet. “They’re Enochian symbols.” He peered at the x-rays more closely. “This is amazing. They’re all over their ribs. How is that even possible?”
“What’s Enochian?” Jack asked, not really sure he wanted an answer.
“It’s a system of ceremonial magic based on the evocation and commanding of various spirits.”
“Magic?” Jack asked, letting out a heavy sigh.
“Magic,” Daniel said. “The knife is covered with them as well. I’d need to study both for some time to even begin to truly understand what they all mean. I just don’t know enough.”
“So, demons and magic,” Jack said. “Terrific.”
“There’s more,” Janet said.
“Of course there is,” Jack said then noticed that Hammond was already looking exasperated with him. He needed to remember that the general didn’t have the advantage of a Goa’uld to make up for getting woken up in the middle of the night.
Janet moved back to the table and handed out three pieces of paper to everyone. “This first one is a tattoo that each of them has on their chest. When I asked Sam about it, Sam Winchester, that is, he said it was to keep from getting possessed.”
“Oh, boy,” Jack said under his breath.
“Not that long ago, you would never have believed one such as I existed,” Tana’oa reminded him.
That was true enough. “But magic and demons, and werewolves? Come on.” Jack tuned back into the conversation, staring at the next picture. Dean had one hell of a scar on his right shoulder.
“The next oddity is this scar,” Janet said. “Obviously it’s in the shape of a hand. Dean refused to tell me anything about it, and Sam was just as close-mouthed.” She brought their attention to the next picture. “This showed up on the MRI, just as the Enochian symbols did. Dean is the only one who has this, and it’s on his forehead, directly on his skull.”
Jack rubbed his face with his hands, before saying, “Can anyone explain to me how someone gets tattoos on their ribs and their skull?”
“I can’t,” Janet said. “Someone would have had to peel the skin off Dean’s skull, or flay all the skin off their ribs, all the way down to bone, and then put it all back. Not to mention finding an indelible ink that their immune systems wouldn’t object to. Those tattoos look as if they were put there yesterday. There’s no erosion at all. Dean refused to talk about the one on his skull, either, and Sam acted as if he had no idea Dean even had it. I’m not sure even Dean knew about it.”
Another silence filled the room. Jack had no idea what conclusions to draw. His mind kept tilting into the red zone.
“I have more,” Daniel said.
All eyes moved to him.
“I spoke to Zeus and to a few other Goa’uld. All the Goa’uld could say was that Dean was special. They couldn’t speak as to why, but there was a general consensus that he and Sam should become hosts. Zeus, on the other hand, said that Dean was special because he’d been marked by an angel.”
“Like the TV show?” Jack protested. “That makes no sense, at all.”
“I’m just telling you what he said.”
Everyone turned to the television monitor that displayed the conference room where Dean and Sam were sequestered. Dean was making a constant loop around the room, checking the door, air vents, even getting on a chair to try to lift the ceiling tiles, looking for a way out. Sam was simply sitting, occasionally watching his brother, but mostly just looking defeated.
“Have they said anything?” Jack said.
“Yes,” Hammond said. He rewound the tape and started it running.
“We are so fucking screwed,” Sam said, sitting at the small table.
“We didn’t end up sending Lucifer back to hell only to end up spending the rest of our lives rotting in a jail cell.” Dean paced the room.
“I don’t think they’re going to care about that.”
“We stopped the freaking apocalypse. They should care about it. And explain to me why they have slugs in a fish tank. And butt-ugly slugs at that.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Sam said.
“Enlighten me. In small words. I’m tired.”
Jack found himself smiling at that. Something about their dynamic reminded him of the conversations he had with Daniel.
“Something has to make their eyes glow, right? Maybe they eat them and it gives them some special powers. They were all freakishly strong. And fast.”
“Okay, now I’ve lost my appetite. And speaking of appetite,” Dean said, his voice getting louder, staring right up at the security camera, “how about some food? Bring me some pie.”
“I knew I liked that guy,” Jack said.
“You really sure you should eat anything they bring you?” Sam asked. “There could be slug in it.”
“Now I’ve really lost my appetite,” Dean said, sagging down onto a chair. “You really think they eat them?”
“What else could they be for?”
“I don’t know, but didn’t you sort of feel something from them?”
Sam looked like Dean had lost his mind. “Feel something? Like what?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said, now looking like he was sorry he’d opened his mouth. “They just felt noisy in my head.”
“No, just a bunch of emotions.”
“Shut up, bitch.”
“And hey, what’s up with that tattoo on your skull?” Sam asked.
“Something we’d all like to know,” Janet said.
“I think Cas did it,” Dean muttered.
“I know Michael said that I’d be safe if he used me as his vessel, but I wasn’t convinced. Castiel said he had a way to keep me from drooling into a cup in rehab for the rest of my life in case Michael was lying.”
“That’s why you changed your mind?” Sam said, his eyes wide.
“That’s why I changed my mind.”
“I wondered about that.”
“Now you know,” Dean said.
“You know they’re probably listening to us.”
“You refused to tell that doctor about the tattoo before, so why now?”
“I didn’t want to explain about the tattoo. You think anyone who’s listening has any freaking idea what we’re talking about?”
“Good point,” Sam said.
“She was hot, though. So’s that blonde chick. And asshole’s soon-to-be-wife looks like a nice normal person. Not sure why she wants to marry someone who eats slugs, though.” Dean yelled that last line up at the security camera. “Tell her Sammy’s available. And now that the whole anti-Christ danger thing is over, he’d be a great catch. And he’s taller.” He grinned; then the grin slipped off his face and he went back to pacing.
“That’s it,” Hammond said.
“Is any of this making any sense to anyone?” Jack asked.
“We need to talk to them,” Daniel said. “I know what our Sam found on them, but that doesn’t make sense in light of everything else we know. They tried to rescue Sara, the Goa’uld like them, and Zeus has chosen Dean to be his host.”
“Just because Zeus chose him doesn’t mean he’s a good choice,” Jack reminded him. “Fido took a nose dive into a Tok’ra host who was willing to go to war with us over the friendly Goa’uld.”
“But once he was in there, he knew it was a mistake,” Daniel said.
“Are you suggesting we use Zeus to tell us about Dean Winchester?” Hammond said. “What happens if Zeus discovers Dean is a murderer? Does he exit Dean Winchester’s body, leaving a dead man behind?”
Daniel winced. “No, no, of course not. I hadn’t thought that idea through to its most-grisly possibility. I just don’t know of any way to definitively get the truth out of them. Whatever they are, their lives have not been normal. Sam didn’t tell you that their mother was killed in a fire when Dean and Sam were young children. Their father took them on the run with him, after suffering what some said was a psychotic break. Their upbringing was anything but normal, and given their records, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are excellent liars.”
“These are hex bags,” Janet said, reaching for the small bags in the middle of the table. They were lying among all of the paraphernalia that had been removed from Sam and Dean.
“More magic?” Carter asked. “Those baggies have salt in them, plus the shot-gun shells are filled with rock salt. The flasks just have water in them.”
“Holy water,” Daniel corrected her. He leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know what to do. They know about us. They’re reaching the wrong conclusion, but they still know too much. We can’t just let them go.”
“I agree,” Hammond said. “Suggestions?”
“Daniel’s right,” Carter said. “We need to talk to them. Maybe if we separate them, they’ll say more.”
“I disagree,” Teal’c said. “They will not speak if separated. And I believe they will be more dangerous apart, each fearful for the other.”
Jack agreed with that.
“I suggest we reconvene tomorrow. Some of us need to sleep,” Hammond said. “Have someone bring our guests food and bedding. We’ll speak with them in the morning.”
“I’ll go,” Daniel said.
“I don’t think so,” Jack said. “I’ll go.”
“I’ll go with you,” Daniel said with a little heat.
“I will go as well,” Teal’c said.
Daniel sighed. “Fine. We’ll all go.”
“I’m one of those people who need to sleep, so I think I’m going to crash,” Carter said.
“Me, too,” Janet agreed. She and Carter left the conference room together, heading for the VIP suites.
Jack picked up the phone and told whoever answered to have someone meet them with sheets, blankets, something to eat, and plastic toothbrushes. He didn’t think anyone could use one of those toothbrushes as a weapon. “Let’s go.”
Daniel led the parade, Teal’c right behind him, Jack behind both of them. Their four shadows brought up the rear. Jack turned to Paul. “What was up with Mithras, and your symbiote, Eric? Since when do they just decide to chat up civilians?”
“I don’t know,” Paul said. “Mithras certainly didn’t check in with me first. He really felt the need to reassure the guy.”
“Even though he was holding a knife to my throat,” Jack said.
“I can’t explain it,” Paul said.
“I can’t either,” Eric said. “One minute we’re taking Dean down, and then the next Satrughna is apologizing to his brother about it. The Goa’uld all seem to think it’s important that they be treated well.”
“I don’t like anything about this,” Jack said. “I don’t like it that the Goa’uld are acting all strange. I don’t like any of it.”
They arrived at the conference room, an SF standing nearby with his arms full of blankets, pillows, several MREs and two toiletry kits. Brian opened the door and he and the three other Marines fanned the room, weapons out, all aimed at Sam and Dean.
“What the fuck?” Dean said, backing up cautiously, his eyes scanning them with serious intent, silently communicating with his brother, who was also on high alert.
Jack stood at the door for a moment, assessing the two for any unexpected danger. He finally entered, followed by Teal’c and Daniel. The SF brought the supplies in, dropped them on the table in front of Sam Winchester, then left, closing the door behind him. Jack leaned against the door, making sure he’d be the last defense if either man decided to make a break for it.
“It’s late, so we thought we’d call it a night. We brought you some things so you could get some sleep,” Daniel said with an earnest smile.
Dean narrowed his eyes at Daniel. “What’s the catch?”
“No catch. I’m sorry it’s not pie, but trust me, this late at night the only pie the mess hall carries are the leftover pieces no one else wanted. We’ll get you some fresh pie tomorrow.”
Jack sighed with exasperation as he listened to Daniel give away the fact they were watching Dean and Sam remotely.
Dean’s eyes narrowed for a second at Daniel’s words, but then he glanced at the MREs, looking less than thrilled.
“It took seven of you to bring us blankets?” Sam asked.
“You are warriors,” Teal’c said, as if that explained it all.
That got a look from Dean. Not an argument, just a look. A tired, no, a bone-deep exhausted, look. Dean glanced at Sam, and Sam just returned the look with a small weary smile.
For all the fact that Jack didn’t like what was going on, that Dean Winchester was somehow the reason why things were wacky, Jack found himself unwillingly respecting the guy for living through whatever hell his life had been. Both he and his brother. Because it had been something bad. No one had that look in his eyes without something terrible going down. Jack had stared at eyes like that for months after Charlie had died.
“Could you just answer one question for me?” Daniel asked.
Dean didn’t say yes or no, just stood there, waiting, shoulders tight, arms crossed over his chest, expression derisive, looking as if he was about to get offensive really fast if he didn’t like whatever Daniel said.
“Do you understand the Enochian language?”
By his raised eyebrows, that wasn’t quite what Dean was expecting to hear. “What?”
“Enochian. It’s the language on the knife and on your ribs. Do you understand it?”
“Ask genius there,” Dean said, gesturing at Sam. “He’s the research guy.”
Daniel switched his attention to Sam. “Do you understand what the glyphs on the knife say?”
“Just a few of them. I didn’t really have time to learn it all. We just knew what the knife did.”
“What it did?”
Sam looked momentarily uncomfortable, but then his chin came up and he said, “It kills demons.”
“Even if you nick them?” Jack asked, holding up his hand where his long-since-healed cut had been.
“No, a cut that small wouldn’t kill a demon,” Sam said. “But, it would have hurt, and the demon would have made itself known.”
“So you know we’re not demons,” Jack said.
“You might not be demons, but there’s still something wrong with you,” Dean said. “Are you eating those slugs?”
“They are not eating us, Dean Winchester,” Junior suddenly said, sounding exasperated, Daniel’s eyes glowing. “Our hosts keep others from eating us. They are protecting us. We are not their enemy, nor your enemy.”
“Wait, wait,” Dean said, one hand up. “Are you one of those slugs, talking to me right now?”
“Yes, although we are not slugs. We are of the Goa’uld, although we have renounced our heritage.”
“You’re inside him? You all have one of those things inside of you?” Dean asked, his fists clenched at his side, his feet spread, body in a fighting stance. He yelled at Jack, as if this was all Jack’s fault, like Jack could have stopped it from happening. “Aliens, Puppet Masters, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, any of that ringing a bell?”
Jack watched as Junior’s eyes grew amused. “We are not monsters. We would never take a host without permission. All of these people invited us to join with them. We live together in peace. We give them knowledge of the universe, strength, the ability to heal themselves, a long life, and in return they give us a home.”
“Did the man you’re in give you permission to speak to me this way?” Dean asked.
Junior looked a little sheepish. “No, he did not. But it was necessary.”
“So you can take him over any time you want?” Sam asked.
“Use his opposable thumbs to open a Bud when maybe he wants a nice cabernet?” Dean added.
Junior looked stymied. “We are a team, Daniel Jackson and I. We save each other’s lives.”
“But the bottom line,” Sam insisted, “is that any time you choose, you can take over, right?”
“But we would not,” Junior protested.
“But you just did,” Sam said.
Daniel’s eyes cleared, and he said, “He would have stopped if I’d asked him to. Most of the time, anyway.”
“Most of the time,” Sam said, sounding skeptical.
“He knows me, everything about me, everything that’s important to me that truly matters. He is like a soul-mate. He may take control every now and then, but never to use me, or manipulate me for his own ends. He truly wants what I want.”
“This whole thing is seriously creeping me out,” Dean said.
“Who are all of you?” Sam said. “We don’t even know your names.”
“I’m Daniel Jackson,” Daniel said.
“And we’ll stop there,” Jack said.
“We already know too much to need to stop there,” Sam bit out. “Obviously the military is aware of this. You wouldn’t all be living in a high-security housing complex without approval from someone high up the food chain. NORAD is right above us, so I’m guessing even the President and Joint Chief of Staffs are in on this. Unless you have one of those memory sticks the Men in Black did, you’ve already told us, and shown us, way too much. Why did you do that?”
There was no answer from anyone, and Jack had to think about why, exactly, they did do that. There had been no reason to take them past the Goa’uld tank. They could have kept their access to the Goa’ulded humans to a minimum. In retrospect, they shouldn’t have even been brought to the mountain. They could have done a lot of things differently, but they hadn’t. Instead they’d been told the world’s biggest and most dangerous secret. What the fuck?
“Were you in on that?” Jack asked Tana’oa. “Why did we do that?”
“Because you could tell we trusted them, so you did too. Because you could tell we believed they needed to be a part of this, so you did too.”
“Tana’oa says it’s because the Goa’uld like you,” Jack said.
Dean shot him a big fake grin. “Awesome!” It turned into an eye-rolling snarl quickly enough. “Then let us the hell out of here, or at least bring us something decent to eat instead of fucking MREs.”
“So what happens to us now?” Sam asked.
Jack pursed his lips, thinking about it.
“You planning on keeping us cooped up in here for the rest of our lives?” Dean asked. “Because we will find a way out.”
Jack believed him, and he had no idea what to do with the two of them.
“What happens now,” Daniel finally said kindly, “is that you eat and then sleep and we figure it out tomorrow.”
Dean grumbled under his breath while Sam sighed, slumping back into his chair.
Jack gestured at Daniel and then they were all out in the hallway, closing and securing the door, leaving Sam and Dean on the other side.
“I’m a little stumped,” Daniel admitted, as SG-3 scattered. “Despite the fact that Zeus is interested, how can we give either of them symbiotes given their history? We really don’t know the first thing about them. For all we know, they could both be insane, living in some delusional world their father created for them. And even if we could, I don’t think they’ll agree to take one. And if they don’t, what do we do with them?”
“Perhaps they could be our first Tok’ra spies,” Teal’c suggested.
Daniel and Jack came to a dead stop, staring at Teal’c. “That,” Daniel said, “could be a great idea.”
“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here,” Jack said. “I know the friendly Goa’uld all seem to like them, especially Dean, so that makes me willing not to take them out back and shoot them, but we can’t just put a Goa’uld in Dean if he’s really a murderer.”
Daniel shrugged, his hands conveying that he was out of ideas. “Just think,” he said. “Earlier today, your biggest headache was security at your wedding.”
That conversation felt as if it had happened six months ago. Speaking of Sara, knowing her, she was still awake and waiting for some explanations. “I’m out of here,” Jack said. He walked down the hallway, Daniel’s and Teal’c’s goodnights echoing behind him.
“I don’t like this,” Hammond said, not looking at all rested. The general and Jack were back in the conference room, cups of coffee sitting in front of them.
“You’re preaching to the choir, sir,” Jack said. “All I can say is that the Goa’uld like him. Them.”
“He’s wanted for murder. We could be accused of harboring a felon. The last thing I want to do is hand over one of our Goa’uld to someone like that. Suppose he really is a criminal, Jack. We’d be giving him the means to be a thousand times better at it.”
“I get it, I do. I don’t know what to say. None of it makes sense. The marks on their ribs, the tattoos, the weapons they carry, let alone the weapons in their car, which they finally found this morning, by the way.”
“What was in their car?”
“First of all, it’s sweet, a ’67 Impala, in prime condition.”
“Colonel,” Hammond said.
“Sorry, sir. The trunk was filled with an arsenal: guns, shotguns, ammo, and then all the other stuff, too. Holy water, rosaries, salt, iron, silver, some books on how to kill things, and this.” Jack pushed a leather journal toward Hammond. “This talks about all the things they’ve supposedly killed.”
Hammond flipped through the book. “Demons? Spirits? Vampires? Jack, I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I don’t even know where to start. I thought aliens would be my last frontier. I’m not sure I have it in me to embrace the idea of vampires and werewolves.”
Jack held up his hands. “I get it.”
“Before we go any further, we need to interrogate those men and get to the truth. I won’t hand over a symbiote, even if Dr. Jackson thinks it’s the right thing to do, without more information.”
“I don’t think Daniel’s any more comfortable than you about the situation.” He gestured toward the monitor. “Have you peeked in on the Dean and Sam show?”
At the general’s nod, Jack turned on the remote and then he was on his feet when he saw Daniel was in with them. “I’m going to kill him.”
That got a small chuckle out of Hammond. “He looks to be in no danger.”
That was true; Teal’c was looming right behind Daniel. Sam and Daniel were poring over some texts, the knife sitting between them, the x-rays next to the knife. Dean, Jack noticed, was happily eating pie, ignoring them both.
Jack didn’t want to think about what Dean could do with that knife. As if Dean heard him, he picked up the knife, and Jack was off like a shot, running for the conference room.
What felt like a century later, but was truly less than a minute, he burst into the room, after Paul Costello, looking confused at his haste, opened the door. When Jack got inside, Dean was still holding the knife, showing it to Sam, saying, “I always thought that one looked like a cup of coffee.”
“A cup of coffee?” Sam said, exasperated. “Where did you get that from?”
“Right there,” Dean said, pointing to the symbol closest to the hilt. “That’s the cup and that’s the steam. See?”
“This isn’t a Dr. Seuss book, Dean,” Sam said, grabbing the knife back.
“It would be easier if it was,” Dean griped. He looked up at Jack. “What’s got your panties in a twist?”
“The fact that Daniel’s in here, and so is that knife,” Jack said.
Dean rolled his eyes. “The two eggheads have been staring at it for hours now.” He sing-songed, “Boring.”
Jack found himself grinning and asking inanely. “You a Dr. Seuss fan?”
“Totally. Sam used to be too, back when he was still in his diapers.” That last part was said loudly, making sure to catch Sam’s attention, who just gave his brother the finger. “Yeah, yeah,” Dean said. “You say that now, but back then, it was all, “One Fish, Dean, One Fish.”
Sam was fighting back a grin, even as he pretended to be totally engrossed in whatever Daniel was saying.
Jack was kinda liking these guys, damn it. “So, we need to ask you some questions.”
“Shoot,” Dean said.
“Who’s Cas?” Jack asked.
“You need to answer the questions for this to work,” Jack said.
“Then ask some questions I can answer.”
“You can’t tell me who Cas or Michael are?”
“Is that really what you want to know?” Dean said. “See, I figured you’d rather know if me and Sam did all that stuff you’ve found on us, like if I slaughtered those women.”
“You think I did?” Dean gave Jack a piercing look.
Jack studied Dean right back, deciding that that look was part bluff, and part desperately wanting someone to believe in him. Jack found that he did. “No.”
“Good,” Dean said, “because I didn’t.”
“Why do they think you did?”
“Because some asshole shapeshifter decided to take my face and body on while he went on a killing spree.”
“See, we were doing so well, and then you start talking about that supernatural crap.”
Dean shrugged his shoulders. “Hard to have a conversation with me or Sam without talking about that crap. It’s been a part of my life since I was four years old.”
There was a knock on the door. Jack opened it and found Claude on the other side. “Zeus is making a racket,” he said.
“What’s that mean?” Jack said, surprised he hadn’t felt anything out of the ordinary. “You feel something?” he asked Daniel.
Daniel shook his head as he stood. “What’s he doing?”
“Splashing, squeaking, you know, kicking up a fuss.”
Daniel and Jack stared at each other with furrowed brows. “I don’t feel a thing,” Daniel said. “Is he upset? Are the other symbiotes upset?”
“Are they upset?” Jack asked Tana’oa. Jack was usually the first one to know if something wasn’t okay in Goa’uld-land, but everything was off kilter right now.
“No, not upset, but Zeus want to see Dean.”
“Dean?” Jack asked out loud.
“Yeah?” Dean said.
“No, never mind, I was talking to--Daniel, did you catch that?”
“Yes. One of the symbiotes seems really taken with you, Dean,” Daniel said.
Dean looked deeply disturbed by that news. “I don’t really like it when anyone seems taken with me, unless it’s a frisky waitress.”
“He wants to see you.”
“I’ll skip that party, thanks.”
“Don’t you want to know what he wants?” Sam asked.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” Dean said. “These creatures, who look like they’re from another planet, by the way…hey, where are they from, anyway?”
“Another planet,” Daniel said.
“As am I,” Teal’c said next.
Dean blinked at them both. “Okay, I didn’t expect that. Did you see that coming, Sammy?”
Sam moved to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother. “Come again?”
Dean bit his lower lip, clearly deep in thought. He gave Teal’c a long look and then his eyes moved back to Jack. “Freaking aliens?”
“Are you really telling us that this is a military installation that has contact with alien species?” Sam asked.
“That’s what we’re telling you,” Daniel said. “We have a mechanism, we call it a Stargate, that forms wormholes that allow us to travel all over the galaxy. We’ve discovered many alien races, and countless planets that were seeded with humans millennia ago.”
“And here we go with the telling of more top-secret, highly-classified information,” Jack pointed out.
Daniel frowned. “The rules have sort of gone out the window, haven’t they?”
Jack, Daniel, and Teal’c all stared at Dean and Sam. Dean and Sam stared back. Finally, Dean said, “Hey, don’t blame me. I thought you were shapeshifters. If I’d known you were aliens, I’d have…shit, to be perfectly honest, I have no fucking idea what I would have done.”
“Knowing you, we’d probably be standing right here,” Sam said.
“When we get out of here, we are so going to the Grand Canyon,” was Dean’s cryptic reply.
Sam snickered. “Yeah, okay.”
“All righty then,” Dean said with fake heartiness, clapping his hands together, “Let’s go see what’s up with the alien slugs.”
“I thought you didn’t want to go,” Daniel said.
“I don’t, but somehow I have a feeling that Chuckles here,” and he pointed at Teal’c, “isn’t going to care if I want to go or not.”
“Teal’c?” Daniel said, smiling at the man in question. “He would never harm you.”
“Unless you attempted to do harm to Daniel Jackson, in which case I would kill you,” Teal’c said.
“Terrific,” Dean said.
Jack found himself biting back a grin as he waited for Sam and Dean to leave the room, taking up the back position as they all moved down to the infirmary. He could hear the splashing and the excited squeaking of the symbiotes from outside the doors; apparently it wasn’t just Zeus kicking up a fuss. Jack saw Hammond and Carter standing by the tank when they moved through the doorway. Claude had a symbiote in his hand, seemingly engaged in a one-on-one conversation with it.
The minute Dean stepped across the threshold, the Goa’uld went quiet. All of them.
“What’s going on?” Daniel asked, looking perturbed that something was going on with the friendly Goa’uld, and he wasn’t in on it. He moved over to the tank and put his hand in it. The Goa’uld did their usual scampering to get near him.
Dean and Sam were standing close together, staring at the tank with furrowed brows and looking a little green around the edges.
Daniel pulled Zeus out. “He is asking permission to be your symbiote,” he said to Dean.
“Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said warningly.
“Forget it,” Dean said.
“They really are friendly.”
“I said forget it,” Dean barked back, his voice deep and meaning business.
Daniel nodded and headed back to the tank. Zeus started shrieking, jerking in Daniel’s hands.
“Stop!” Daniel yelped, clearly startled.
Zeus didn’t stop, and the rest of the symbiotes in the tank must have been picking up on Zeus’s unhappiness as the water in the tank was frothing from the Goa’uld zipping from one end of the tank to the other.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Daniel said, his hands holding Zeus tightly. “They’ve never acted this way before.”
“I want out of here,” Dean said. “I want out of this room, away from that tank, away from that thing, and out of this base.”
“I’m afraid we’re not quite ready to release you,” Hammond said. “We still have questions we need answers for.”
“While you hold one of those things over my head and tell me to answer or you’ll induct me into your cult?” Dean threw out. “How the fuck do they get inside of you, anyway?”
Claude, who clearly wasn’t paying any attention to the emotional tenor of the room, too busy focusing on the odd behavior of the friendly Goa’uld, answered absentmindedly, “They burrow through the back of your neck to wrap around your brain stem.”
“What the fuck?” Dean said. The brothers wrapped a hand around the backs of their necks. Dean began to push his way toward the door, dragging Sam behind him.
One of the SFs stopped him, and Dean lashed out with an upper cut that laid the soldier out flat. “Get out of my fucking way,” he yelled at the Marines starting to surround them.
Jack wasn’t quite sure how it all went to shit so fast, but just as Hammond was trying to get everyone to stand down, all the SFs in the room seemed to do the opposite and guns were drawn.
“This is what you mean by no harm?” Dean yelled.
Sam suddenly had a weapon; Jack didn’t even see where he got it from, and the tension in the room ratcheted up another few notches.
Paul and Jeff placed themselves in front of Daniel who was staring around the room as if everyone was insane. “Put the gun down, now,” Paul ordered Sam.
Jeff’s eyes were glowing. “We will not allow you to harm anyone in this room.”
“You’ll get the gun when we’re out of this room,” Sam said. “Away from those things.”
Paul and Jeff had both been aiming at Sam, but now Paul shifted his weapon to cover Dean.
Zeus shrieked loudly enough to hurt Jack’s eardrums, and he watched in disbelief, reliving the last time it happened, as the symbiote wrenched in Daniel’s grip strongly enough to break free. He hit the floor and then was flying through the air, burrowing into Dean’s neck.
Daniel cried out in horror, “No, don’t!”
Dean let out a cry of pain, falling to his knees, eyes glowing, then dimming.
“What the fuck did you do?” Sam yelled at them, his weapon now aiming at Daniel. “What the fuck did you do? You said they’d ask for permission! Get it out of him!”
Jack was honest-to-God paralyzed for a moment, just for a moment, though, and then he was moving on Sam, because that’s where the biggest danger was. “Put the gun down,” Jack demanded.
“I am not kidding,” Sam said in as lethal a voice as Jack had ever heard. “We trusted you. You said they asked permission. Even the goddamn angels asked permission. Get it out of him.”
“Daniel,” Jack snapped. “What’s going on? I need some answers. Now.”
“Zeus,” Daniel was saying; he was on his knees next to where Dean was curled in a fetal position. “Talk to me. Why did you do this?”
Dean’s eyes glowed again, and Jack had never seen an expression like that on one of the friendly symbiote’s host’s face after it had merged. It was completely freaked out. “His life,” Zeus said in wonder and fear, sitting up, “how can he be alive?” He looked up at Sam Winchester. “These lives you have lived…”
That was when Dean started seizing, his body arching, his head slamming onto the floor of the infirmary with a crack.
Daniel stared helplessly at Jack as Janet raced over to Dean. “I don’t understand any of this. I don’t know what to do.” He looked up at Sam. “I’m sorry. This was not our intention. I swear. I don’t know why he did it, and I don’t know why your brother is seizing. This has never happened.”
“Fix him.” This time the gun was aimed at Daniel.
“Clear the area so he doesn’t hit anything,” Janet ordered. “Find me something soft to put under his head. Someone note the time.”
Janet’s voice and interruption didn’t faze Sam at all; his weapon wasn’t wavering at all. On the other hand, in response to Sam holding a gun pointing at Daniel, any weapon that hadn’t been drawn before was being drawn now, and Jack saw everything, and he meant everything, going up in smoke, right now. How could they trust the Goa’uld again? Even Tana’oa wasn’t talking. None of the Goa’uld were talking, although Jack was picking up a shit-ton of confusion from them as well.
And then Teal’c was on Sam, disarming him, forcing him to the floor. Sam, even against Teal’c, was giving him a run for his money.
Dean grunted, his body tensed so tightly, his veins were standing out everywhere skin showed.
“If Zeus leaves him, he’ll die,” Jack told Sam, willing him to understand that they needed some time; this wasn’t something they could solve this instant. “He’ll have to rip through Dean’s throat to get out.”
Suddenly, from one second to the next, there was a flap of what sounded like a thousand bird wings, and a cool breeze swept through the room. There were feathers everywhere, gorgeous golden, glowing feathers that spanned the room. “Release him at once,” a voice said, reaching down to pull Sam out of Teal’c’s hold. Teal’c tried to recapture Sam, and the Marines moved to contain this new threat, but they were all shoved aside like children. The wings covered Sam and Dean protectively, blocking them, as the person who owned the wings glared at everyone else in the room. The Marines pushed against the wings, but they were immovable.
There was a pause as everyone tried to take stock of what they were seeing, a pause during which Jack tried to grasp what sort of danger they were in. Jack heard several gasps, and a few squeaks from the symbiotes. Tana’oa was reverently hushed in his mind, clearly seeing what Jack was seeing: something that looked an awful lot like an angel.
“It is an angel,” Tana’oa said. Jack could hear that echoed by several of the symbiotes.
Jack wasn’t willing to go there. If he started believing in angels, the next step after that was a doozy he wasn’t willing to take. He took the vision apart in his mind instead. It was a man. With wings. He looked like a regular guy wearing a dark suit and tie and a light brown trench coat. With wings. A man with wings who just happened to pop into the 28th floor, underground, of one of the most secure buildings on the planet.
The man--Jack was sticking with man, because he refused to go with angel, regardless of Tana’oa’s internal ooh-ing and ahh-ing inside his head--looked around the room, with piercing and angry blue eyes.
“Sam, what has happened?” the man asked.
“These people used something to possess Dean.”
“We didn’t,” Daniel said with an appalled gasp. “We would never--”
“Silence,” the man said with a voice that made the walls shake a little. He turned to Dean, crouched, and put his hand on Dean’s chest. Dean stopped seizing immediately and slumped into unconsciousness. “Who has done this?” he asked, rising, glowering at them all in a way that made Jack want to take a step backwards.
Who the fuck was this guy? Not much scared Jack anymore, but this person, this man with wings, made his knees wobble.
“I am responsible for the symbiotes,” Daniel said in a respectful but shaky voice.
It made Jack feel better that the guy was spooking Daniel as well. Then Jack decided he’d better man up, so he said, “If anyone’s to blame, it’s me,” Jack said, wanting the heat off of Daniel.
“I’m in command here,” General Hammond said. “I hold the ultimate responsibility.”
“So you all conspired to possess Dean?” the man asked, staring fiercely at them all now, taking a step in Hammond’s direction.
“It was not our intention to harm your friend, although he was our prisoner,” Hammond said.
That got a sharp look.
“He snuck into my house in the middle of the night,” Jack said a little defensively, “and held me at knife point.”
“Sam, why would Dean do this?” the man asked.
“We thought they were shapeshifters,” Sam said. “Their eyes glow.”
“Do you believe they are evil?”
“Not until they did this,” Sam answered, his angry expression and furious voice almost as intimidating as the guy with the wings.
“What’s your name, son?” Hammond said in a way Jack had heard him say a hundred times before, as if he was just your dad and you could relax and tell him everything.
It got a small smile out of the man with wings. But rather than answer, he focused back on Dean. He put two fingers on Dean’s forehead and spoke his name. “Dean.”
Dean’s eyes opened, his normal eyes, nothing glowing at all. “Cas?”
This was Cas, Jack thought to himself. The Cas who put a tattoo on Dean’s skull.
“Get it out of me,” Dean growled.
One second later, Cas was holding a symbiote in his hand. “It is out,” Cas told Dean.
“What?” Daniel said in shock. “How…” He stared at Dean as if he expected him to be dead, blood gushing from a symbiote-shaped hole, but Dean seemed to be in one piece.
Dean sat up with some help from Cas and then leaned on him, glancing up at him with a small smile on his face. “Thanks. Nice timing. And hey, I can see your wings. Why can I see your wings? Am I dead?”
“No. And you called me,” Cas said, as if that explained everything.
“I’ve been calling you for two months. And why can I see your wings?”
“I was detained, and your life has not been in danger,” Cas said. “And I do not know why you are able to see my wings.”
“I could have been dying from boredom,” Dean complained, which got a hint of a smile out of Cas, coupled with a clearly affectionate expression. Dean reached out and touched the part of a wing closest to him and ran his fingers through them. “They’re awesome. I thought they were black, though.”
“That was just their shadow.”
Jack was appalled to find he was jealous that Dean got to touch them. Cas closed his eyes for a second, as if enjoying the caress.
“You can see his wings?” Sam asked, sounding affronted. “I can’t see his wings.”
“Nor can I,” Hammond said, looking startled. “He really has wings?”
Jack nodded, stretching out his arms. “They’re golden, and glowing, and they stretch from one wall to the other.”
Cas looked at Jack. “You can see my wings?”
“So can I,” Daniel said.
Jack took a look around and made a quick assessment that everyone with a Goa’uld could see the wings, and those that didn’t have one, couldn’t. He could tell by the look of wonder in Carter’s eyes that she could too, so maybe you just had to have had a Goa’uld in you at some point, which would explain why Dean could see the wings.
“Hmm,” Cas said. He took a closer look at what he was holding. “What is this? I have never seen its like before.”
“It’s a Goa’uld symbiote,” Daniel said.
“And this was possessing you?” Cas asked Dean.
Dean nodded wearily, attempting to stand. Cas loaned him an arm, and Sam assisted from the other side. Once he was standing, Jack noticed that Dean was leaning a little on Cas, and that he couldn’t seem to stop touching Cas’s wing feathers.
“Dean,” Cas said, pulling his wing away.
Dean made an unhappy noise like someone took his new favorite toy away.
“It’s distracting,” Cas said, holding his wing in front of him like a maiden protecting her virtue.
“Oh, you never should have told him that, Castiel,” Sam said with a grin of his own.
Castiel, Jack thought to himself.
“Why not?” Castiel said. But, before Dean or Sam could answer, Castiel’s brow furrowed. “What was that?” He glanced around. “Someone is…hello?” He lifted his hand with the symbiote until it was eye level and said, “Are you speaking to me?”
With Tana’oa’s help, Jack tuned into what Zeus was saying, listening as Zeus ran through the whole situation about the friendly symbiotes, and Daniel Jackson as their System Lord, and Jack as their Guardian, and how Dean was special, and he knew he should have asked permission, but Dean had been in danger, and Zeus needed to protect him because, and here it seemed as if Zeus were pulling in a deep breath so he could end his litany with a loud, “Because he is mine!”
Castiel furrowed his brow, cocked his head to the side and seemed to study the symbiote for a long time. “I believe Sam and I had first claim,” he finally said to it.
“Claim to what?” Dean asked, sounding a bit put out.
“This creature said that you are his, and I was correcting him.”
Dean rolled his eyes, but Jack could see the surprised pleasure at someone claiming him appear in his eyes before he blanked it out.
The symbiote squeaked.
“Fascinating,” Castiel said.
“Hey, Mr. Spock,” Dean said, sounding aggrieved. “What’s going on?”
“Excuse me for interrupting,” Hammond said. “But who are you?”
“My name is Castiel.”
“That doesn’t help me much,” Hammond said. “Perhaps the better question would be what, exactly, are you?”
“I am an Angel of the Lord,” Castiel said.
“I beg your pardon?” Daniel asked, his eyes flitting between Castiel and the symbiote.
Jack’s brain wasn’t computing. “An angel? Like an honest to god angel?”
“Yes,” Castiel said.
“You mean, like from the Bible type of angel?” Jack said again, not believing it for a second. He was already working overtime to wrap his arms around demons, but angels, too? Impatient and suddenly filled with fury at this unexpected and mind-bogglingly powerful new player in their midst, he demanded, “Do you really expect us to believe that? Tell us what the hell you really are, and what you want from us.”
Castiel walked over to him, his blue eyes snapping with danger. “It would be wise,” Castiel said, his voice like thunder, “not to anger me while I am determining what exactly is happening here.” Jack swore he saw flashes of lightning, and a light bulb shattered somewhere.
Tana’oa squeaked inside of him. “Do not make him mad, Jack,” was his less than helpful advice.
Jack had already gotten that message loud and clear. Even a raging system lord didn’t have this kind of presence.
“Cas,” Dean said, “chill. And you,” he told Jack, “suck it up and deal. None of your guns and weapons will make a dent on him.” Back to Castiel, he said, “Just tell me what that thing is they put in my head,” chin pointing toward the symbiote.
Jack was pitifully grateful to have the man’s attention off of him. He couldn’t imagine how Dean had ended up with a being of such power as a friend. Not just a friend, but a close friend given the nick-name Dean seemed to have for him, how comfortable he was touching his wings, and the fact that he could tell the guy to chill.
“And I thought you said they asked permission?” Dean snapped at Daniel. “What the fuck?”
“They do,” Daniel told him. “They really are, have been, very conscientious about never taking a host without permission. I think he truly thought you were in danger.” Daniel pointed at the symbiote, and asked Castiel, “How did you just take him out like that?”
Castiel was studying the symbiote in his hand and didn’t answer Daniel.
Daniel turned around to glance at Jack, but Jack didn’t have clue one to say. He had no idea what was going on. Right now, whether Jack wanted it that way or not, this was Castiel’s show. There wasn’t much they could do with someone who had the power he did, including removing a symbiote from its host. He felt a thrill of fear at the thought that Castiel might take Tana’oa away from him.
“He will not. He will not hurt any of us, unless we give him cause.”
“In case it escaped your notice, Zeus already did that when he messed with Dean.”
“He will not hurt us,” Tana’oa insisted.
Jack hoped Tana’oa was right.
Daniel tentatively reached for the symbiote. “He should probably go back in the water.”
“He will come to no harm in my hands,” Castiel said. He noticed the tank for the first time. Moving to it, he held on to Zeus with one hand, and put the other on the tank. In a matter of moments, they all came to him. Not the excited goofy way they came to Daniel, but rather with a sense of solemnity. He attempted to put Zeus in the tank, but the symbiote wrapped itself around the angel’s hand. Castiel gave it a curious look, but allowed it to hang onto him.
“Cas, you wanna tell us what the hell is going on?” Dean asked, and the question made Jack want to cheer.
“Dean,” Castiel said, “I do not believe this creature meant you any harm.”
“He friggin’ clawed his way through my neck,” Dean said. “It hurt.”
“He says he is sorry,” Castiel said.
“Great,” Dean said sarcastically. “Can we go now?”
Castiel turned to Daniel. “Your symbiote chose you the same way, taking you without permission. Do you wish him removed?”
“No!” Daniel said, backing away. “Never.”
“They have chosen you as their leader. They speak highly of you.”
“They are a peaceful race,” Daniel said staunchly.
“All evidence of ripping through my neck aside,” Dean griped.
Jack found himself biting back another grin.
“And you,” Castiel said to Jack. “They call you their Guardian. Do you guard them well?”
Jack thought about all the symbiotes dying in this very room a few short months ago. “Not as well as I should.”
“That is not true,” Tana’oa objected.
Junior added his own heartfelt opinion, “We could ask for no better Guardian than you.”
“They look to both of you with love and confidence,” Castiel said with approval. “There is no higher honor for one who holds the responsibility for others.” He sent Dean a speaking look, and Dean’s eyebrows rose in sort of a ‘who, me?’ kind of way.
Jack was dying to know more about these guys. The curiosity was killing him. He didn’t think he’d get anything out of Castiel, and Dean was a slippery bastard. Sam might end up being the best source of information, although he was still looking pretty pissed.
“Hey,” Dean said, as if he just thought of something. “How come you could find us? I know we still have the ‘angel keep out’ signs you put all over our ribs. These guys took x-rays.”
Janet pushed by Jack. “You did that? How did you do that?”
Castiel gave her one of those looks that seemed to be reading everything you ever were or would be. Finally, he said, “I do not know how to explain it to you.”
“He laid his angel mojo on us,” Dean said. “Made it so the angels couldn’t find us.”
“It hurt,” Sam added.
“It was great,” Dean said with a grin. “Cas had to call me on his cell phone to figure out where I was.”
“You have a cell phone?” Daniel asked, as if that was the weirdest thing that had happened so far.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “But I do not require it anymore.” To Dean and Sam he said, “After Lucifer was destroyed, I changed the sigils so I would be able to find you.”
“Just you?” Dean said.
“Just me,” Castiel said.
“And you can always find me?”
“So, you’re sort of like a homing pigeon,” Dean said.
Jack lost control of the chuckle that caused.
“Right, Dean,” Sam said with an evil grin, “and that makes you the roost.”
Dean scowled, but he still reached out to touch Castiel’s wings again.
Castiel sighed, but did not move them out of his grasp.
Oh, yeah, Jack thought. He really wanted to know what was going on with these two. And maybe it was time to move things elsewhere. But then a stray word from a few sentences back popped up in his mind. “Lucifer?”
“Cas, don’t,” Dean said. “They don’t need to know about it.”
Castiel studied Dean, but then nodded his head in acquiescence. “As you wish,” he said. He cocked his head to the side, then lifted the symbiote again. “You have another question?”
Zeus forgot to speak with any sense of confidentiality, and he started broadcasting disturbing images at Castiel, asking if these things had really happened. Jack got treated to the stuff of nightmares, Dean being ripped apart, his chest shredded, Dean on a rack being tortured, his skin flayed off his body, Dean holding a very dead Sam in his arms, Castiel blowing doors open and walking in, Dean shooting him over and over again, and then Dean thrusting a knife in his chest that Castiel just pulled out and dropped on the floor.
It kept going, fast forwards of Dean being tortured again, of he and Sam fighting spirits, ghosts, demons, being thrown against walls, of a woman on the ceiling in flames, more torture, Dean in tears, more torture, a picture of Sam with yellow eyes and blood all over his mouth, of Dean smiling as he threw water on someone and they sizzled and screamed, more fighting, and then he heard yelling, and Jack tried to snap out of it to find Dean yelling at Castiel.
“That’s my life,” he was hollering, angry, fire in his eyes. “My fucking life. It’s no one’s business. Tell him to shut the fuck up. It’s my life!” Dean’s eyes were bright as if he was one step away from either breaking down in tears or committing homicide.
“You must stop,” Castiel said to the symbiote. “You are divulging confidential information. These are not your stories to tell.”
Jack was still being pummeled by all the pieces of Dean’s life, wondering how any of it could be true. How many times could one man die, could one man stay sane being tortured so many times? There was this sense of endlessness to the memories, like Zeus could have gone on for days and barely scratched the surface. “Jesus,” Jack said, feeling winded. He glanced at his watch, thinking that hours must have gone by, but it could only have been a couple of minutes at best.
“No,” Castiel was saying. “I am not sure he will forgive you. He is very angry now.”
And Dean was. He punched the wall closest to him, letting out a string of profanity that had Jack raising his eyebrows.
Castiel walked quickly to the tank and dropped Zeus inside, then moved back to Dean. He took his hand which was scraped and bleeding and put his own hand over it. When he let go, Dean’s skin was whole again.
“Get us out of here,” Dean said.
Zeus was on one side of the tank, while all the other symbiotes were on the other, as if being shunned for his actions.
“Wait,” Daniel said, holding his hand up. “Please wait. I know this has gone so terribly wrong, but we really want to talk to you. We really need to speak to you.”
“Cas,” Dean pleaded.
Dean looked like he was a half a second from losing it big time.
Castiel must have thought so, too, because in a blink of an eye, Castiel touched his fingers to Dean’s and Sam’s foreheads, and they were gone.
“Damn it,” Daniel said.
“Conference room now,” Hammond said tersely, turning around and leaving.
Jack sent a grimace Daniel’s way and followed his commanding officer out the door. He could hear the rest of his teammates falling into place behind him.
It was a somber group that now sat around the conference table: Hammond, Jack, Daniel, Teal’c, Carter, and Janet. No one was talking; Jack wasn’t even looking at anyone. His mind was still reeling from all the horrible pictures he’d been shown.
“Thoughts?” Hammond said.
“Do you suppose that was all true?” Daniel asked. “What we saw?”
“The angel?” Carter asked.
“No,” Daniel said. “Dean’s life. How could anyone survive that?”
“I didn’t see anything,” Carter said.
“Neither did I,” Hammond agreed.
“Nor I,” Teal’c admitted.
“Only the people with symbiotes must have gotten that blast,” Jack said. “Let’s just say that Zeus was asking Castiel the same question Daniel just asked, but doing it by broadcasting what he’d seen in Dean’s mind. I’d just as soon not go into it, but it was bad.”
“That’s why everyone was staring at Dean,” Carter said. “Everyone was looking at him so strangely. It’s what got him asking questions of Castiel about what was going on, why everyone was staring.”
“Was it real?” Hammond asked. “We’re still not sure the man is sane.”
“I don’t know,” Daniel said. “But whatever Zeus found in there, it truly disturbed him. Not enough to scare him off having Dean as his host, but bad enough.”
“Zeus took a host without permission,” Hammond said, addressing the biggest fuckup of the last hour or so.
“I know,” Daniel said miserably. “And I know that’s not all right. I do think Zeus thought Dean was in danger, much as Junior thought I was in danger.”
Junior took over. “I promised that no symbiote would ever do that again, and all the symbiotes have agreed. I cannot excuse Zeus’ behavior, even if I do understand it.”
“What about this Castiel?” Hammond asked.
“He is very powerful,” Teal’c said.
“No doubt about it,” Hammond said grimly. “Are we in danger from him?”
“He seemed very protective of Dean,” Janet said. “I think as long as Dean is safe Castiel won’t do anything to exact revenge.”
“Are we all actually believing he’s an angel?” Jack huffed out.
“It doesn’t really matter if he’s an angel or not,” Daniel said. “He is certainly similar to whatever beings were seen and spoken about in the Bible, but there are other spiritual writings that speak of mythical creatures with wings.”
“He said he was an Angel of the Lord,” Jack quoted, adding air quotes, still very uncomfortable with the idea.
“And there are symbiotes here that call me their Lord, Jack,” Daniel said. “There are gods and lords in every religious and spiritual belief system, both here and on every planet we’ve visited. They’re universal constants. I don’t think that just because Castiel says he is an Angel of the Lord that we need to assume that he means a man in a white robe with a long beard, standing by St. Peter in front of the gates of heaven.”
That made Jack feel better. He’d lost his faith in God after Charlie died, and to somehow have it slapped in his face, forced to accept that there was a God, a God who had angels who took care of people like Dean, but who sure as hell hadn’t taken care of Charlie… Jack closed his eyes for a second, and forced his fists to relax.
“Is Zeus okay?” Carter asked.
“I don’t know,” Daniel said. “He’s upset. He blames himself for upsetting Dean. The other symbiotes are upset with him. They know he upset all of us.”
“Which he did,” Jack pointed out.
“Yes,” Daniel agreed, “but he didn’t mean to. I’m afraid Junior’s leap to save me has obtained almost legendary status, and I think Zeus thought he’d find himself in someone who would as willingly accept him. I know he didn’t realize he was yelling out all of Dean’s secrets.”
“I believe Dean Winchester was angrier about that than anything else,” Teal’c observed.
“I agree,” Hammond said. “Dr. Jackson, what kind of surety do we have that something like this, a symbiote taking a host without permission, will never happen again?”
Daniel winced, not answering at first. “General, I understand the seriousness of your question, and the possible ramifications of any answer I give that isn’t one hundred percent. I’m just not sure how to answer. Before today, I would have said, with no hesitation, that I was one hundred per cent sure. Now? I’d like to say the same, but I was clearly proven wrong.”
Hammond nodded. “We were lucky today. Whatever Castiel is, he was able to remove Zeus from Dean. If he hadn’t, it’s possible Dean might have died, or at the very least, we’d have been stuck with a very hostile human-symbiote hybrid.”
“Do you have any idea why Dean seized?” Daniel asked Janet.
“No,” she said. “But then again, for all I know, he has a history of seizures.”
There was a surge of excitement from the symbiotes and Jack had just looked up at Daniel to see if he was feeling it too, when there was a flap of wings, and Castiel stood in front of them holding Zeus. “This little one keeps calling me,” he stated.
Jack felt a strong need to bang his head on the table. “Welcome back,” he said, doing his best to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“I’m so glad you’re back,” Daniel said and, unlike Jack, doing a great job on the heartfelt enthusiasm. “Really. I wanted to apologize again, and explain what we’re doing.”
Castiel looked far from convinced, but he said, “I am listening.”
“All the symbiotes knew Dean was special. This one told us he’d been marked by an angel,” Daniel continued.
Castiel actually looked startled for a moment, then lifted the symbiote and asked, “You know of us?”
The symbiote must have said something, but he was being very careful now, much to Jack’s dismay, to speak confidentially.
“Incredible,” Castiel said. “I must speak to the Host about this.” And then he was gone, Zeus with him.
Jack lunged for the phone and called the infirmary. When a voice answered, Jack demanded, “Did Castiel put Zeus back in the tank?”
“Who’s Castiel?” was the response he got which made Jack roll his eyes. How had those rumors not swept the mountain? Usually people knew things before he did. He hung up in disgust.
“Can you tell if he put Zeus back?” he asked Daniel. Jack could sense that same level of excitement from before, but it could just be due to the fact that Castiel had come back.
“No,” Daniel said. “I think Castiel took him.”
“So Zeus, our crazy, disobedient symbiote, is playing Goa’uld ambassador to the angels? This just keeps getting better and better.”
Daniel grimaced, took a deep breath, and yelled, “Castiel?” Again, “Castiel!”
A second later Castiel appeared with Zeus still in hand. All he did was stare at Daniel, not a fraction of friendliness on his face.
“May we tell you the entire story before you disappear to fill in your…to speak with the others of your kind?”
Castiel furrowed his brow at Daniel and continued to study him for a long time. Jack was starting to fidget, and he didn’t know how Daniel was taking the never-ending scrutiny. After an even longer time, Castiel looked at Zeus, looked at Daniel, at Jack, and said, “You wish to put one of these creatures in Dean and Sam, and have them become spies for you on other planets?”
Okay, Jack thought to himself, wincing, that didn’t sound like something someone would get in line for. Castiel must have picked a bunch of info right from Daniel’s mind.
“Were you aware that the Earth has been under attack by beings from other planets?” Daniel asked.
“Yes,” Castiel said.
“Why aren’t the angels helping us, then?” Jack protested. “We could have used a little angelic intervention every now and then.”
“If the Earth had truly been in danger of complete annihilation, then the angels would have intervened,” Castiel said.
“Are you telling us that the Earth was in danger of complete annihilation, which is why you ended up assisting Dean and Sam?” Hammond asked.
“Yes,” Castiel said.
“What? How?” Carter said, her eyes huge.
“Are we still in danger?” Hammond asked, looking extremely perturbed at the thought of something so dangerous going on under their noses that none of them had known about.
“No. Thanks to Dean, thanks to them both, the Earth is no longer in danger.”
“Mostly thanks to Dean?” Jack asked, thinking of the eyes on the kid. On both of them. Jack guessed that Sam had played his own role and that it had been painful in too many ways to count.
“Everyone played a part that required tremendous sacrifice,” Castiel said. “I will speak no more of it.”
“We would bring peace to the galaxy,” Junior said.
“You have far to go before you bring peace simply to this planet,” Castiel said. “You may find that easier now than it has been in the past.”
“Because of what we missed?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Castiel said.
The guy was as bad as Teal’c for short sentences. Worse, maybe, because Jack had no freaking idea what they were really talking about. At least he had some context to go on when Teal’c was giving out one word answers.
“Is there still work for Dean and Sam to do here? On Earth, I mean,” Daniel asked.
Castiel pursed his lips. “No, there is not.”
“We can offer them something worthwhile to do. We can help them be stronger, live longer, see things few humans are allowed to see, although I don’t suppose that really counts for much with these two. But, we can give them a new purpose.”
Castiel moved very close to Daniel, cocked his head to the side, and stared at him again. Daniel closed his eyes, and his hands fell into a welcome position at his side, as if he was opening his mind and allowing the angel to root around in there to his heart’s content.
When he broke off the stare, Daniel opened his eyes, looking both exhausted and exhilarated.
“I would not allow them to leave the planet unless I was able to accompany them,” Castiel said.
Jack imagined someone of this man’s, this being’s, power, out there helping their cause. “That would be all right with us,” he said.
“It is not your permission I require,” Castiel said, putting him right back in his place.
Of course, Jack thought to himself, it could also be a problem having someone like Castiel out there whom no one could control or give orders to.
Zeus squeaked, and Castiel directed his attention to the symbiote. “I understand you wish to be Dean’s symbiote, but I doubt he will allow this to happen. Dean is very…independent.”
“No, he is still very angry. He feels betrayed by all of you.”
Jack cringed at that, but then remembered that the asshole had held a knife to his throat. As if picking up his thought, Castiel sent him a sharp look.
Jack was saved by another squeak.
“Will he forgive you?” Castiel thought for a moment. “I do not know. Dean is the most…” Castiel looked around and realized he was the one giving Dean’s secrets away now, and he ceased speaking.
Not that Jack couldn’t guess how that sentence ended. That Dean was unforgiving, that he could hold a grudge like no one’s business, that…Jack took a step back as Castiel now stood directly in front of him, only inches away, way inside Jack’s personal space.
“Dean,” Castiel said softly and implacably, “is the most loving and forgiving human I know.” He looked over at Daniel. “Do not call for me again,” he said in a tone that threatened imminent smiting. Then he was gone.
“Holy crap,” Daniel said, sagging to his chair. “I have to admit he scares me.”
Jack was glad Daniel had said it out loud. He found himself needing to sit down as well; having a close, almost nose-to-nose interaction with the angel was overwhelming. He was also surprised at the angel’s words about Dean. The man hadn’t come across that way. Then again, an Angel of the Lord was his best bud.
“He is, indeed, most formidable,” Teal’c agreed.
“Zeus is in the tank,” Daniel said, after a moment.
“Wow,” Carter said. “What now, do you think?”
“It sounds as if Castiel is checking in with his superiors,” Hammond said.
“Hey, maybe we can call Jacob and tell him we’re negotiating to get him two spies and an angel,” Jack said. “I personally would pay good money to see a celebrity throwdown between Per’sus and Castiel.”
“What I want to know is the story of Dean,” Daniel said. “He has absolutely no fear of Castiel, seems to know instinctively that Castiel will take care of him. How did that happen?”
“And what was that whole thing about Earth being in imminent danger of annihilation?” Carter asked. “How did we come that close to being destroyed and not even know about it? Do you think he was speaking figuratively?”
“I’d like to do some research on it,” Daniel said.
“Until Castiel returns, there is little we can do about the situation,” Hammond said. “In the meantime, I want to know everything we can about the Winchesters. I will arrange for any files that exist on them to be sent here. Before we say or do anything else, I want to have a better understanding of who those men are. While the friendly Goa’uld clearly are in favor, I’m still not convinced that we want them to be a part of what’s going on here.”
“And if he doesn’t return?” Jack asked.
“I have no idea,” Hammond replied tersely. “We have two civilians on the loose, possibly dangerous ones, who know everything about this installation and program. They have something beyond our comprehension protecting them that has the power to come and go as he wishes, including transporting others. To make matters worse, we have offered both civilians symbiotes, even though we know nothing about them, simply because the symbiotes like them and trust a self-proclaimed angel. On top of that, a symbiote took a host without permission. I’m at a loss as to how to explain any of this to the President.”
Jack didn’t envy the general that conversation. Jack had seen Castiel for himself and still wasn’t buying what the angel was selling. He was willing to call him an angel, but that was where the train stopped. “Maybe some of it is on tape,” Jack said. “What happened in the infirmary should be. You could show it to him.”
Hammond nodded wearily. “Considering this is all happening on top of that picture being released to the public, you all need to stay on base for the time being.” With that, Hammond left the conference room.
Jack turned to Daniel. “We need to have a powwow with all the symbiotes. Can you have Junior send out a mandatory invite for all symbiotes to meet by the tank?”
Daniel nodded. “I’d like to start that research on Dean and Sam, but you’re right. We need to get a sense of what they’re thinking, and how to, well, how to…” He stopped, stymied.
“How to spin this?” Jack suggested.
“Essentially,” Daniel said.
“I still need to research where that photo came from,” Carter said, “and I can start gathering more info on the Winchesters.”
All the members of SG-1 looked at each other, and Jack could see the same emotions he was feeling. Half awe, half what the fuck?
Sara watched the activity in the cafeteria. Everyone seemed so normal, like this was any lunch room in any large business. She had to keep reminding herself that all of these people worked for an agency that traveled to other planets. Many of the people helping themselves to sandwiches and sodas were aliens themselves or hosted an alien. It was almost impossible to believe. Almost as impossible to believe as what Jack had just been telling her.
“Hi!” a cheery voice said.
She looked up and smiled at Sam Carter. “Hi, Sam. I didn’t expect to see any of you for a while. Jack had just enough time to pop in to give me a hug.”
“I only have a few minutes, too. Things have gone crazy thanks to Sam and Dean. Did Jack fill you in on the angel thing?”
“Yes.” She’d seen it on Jack’s face, and now saw it on Sam’s, that the angel had thrown them all for a loop. Ironically, the angel seemed more normal to her than the symbiotes. Maybe because she hadn’t met him and so her mental picture was comforting: guardian angels, or the ones who sang to the shepherds about the Christ child, and a dozen other images of beautiful people with wings.
Sam shook her head. “I was staring right at him but couldn’t seem to slot him into place. Still can’t. I thought after being with this program so long that I could handle just about anything, but all I could do was gape at him.”
Sara hoped she’d get to meet him. Or maybe not.
“What are you reading?”
Sara could feel her face redden. “Nothing.”
“I don’t think so, not if it’s making you blush.” She grinned as she reached for the magazine face down on the table and flipped it over. It was an issue of Brides magazine.
“Paul gave it to me,” Sara said.
“Paul Costello?” Sam asked with a laugh. “He’s a bridal consultant now?”
“He said Mithras told him to buy it and, apparently, Mithras has also picked out my dress.”
Sam blinked. “Wow. This I have to see.”
Sara reluctantly pointed to the post-it note, sticking out about midway through the width of the magazine. She loved the dress; astonished that Mithras had picked out a dress that Sara would give her right arm to wear. It was just too bad she’d never get a chance. A justice of the peace wedding was looking all too likely.
“Wow, again,” Sam said. “This is beautiful. Remind me to check in with Mithras the next time I need to get dressed up.”
“I know. It really is beautiful.”
“You don’t sound very happy about it.”
“Think about it, Sam. I’d love one, but we can’t have a big wedding. I can’t invite my friends and family to a wedding where all the friendly Goa’uld will be.”
“Junior?” Sam asked with a wince.
“Poor Junior,” Sara said with a pout on his behalf. “He does have bad press, doesn’t he?”
“He had a rough few months with Daniel,” Sam said. “He died, or almost died, several times right at the beginning. Why can’t you have a wedding, though? I heard Daniel and Jack talking about it, trying to figure out security.”
“I know, and I love them for it, but what happens if something goes wrong here the day of the wedding? I know how things can change in a minute, look at what happened to us the other night when Dean and Sam broke in. What if someone’s trapped off-world or Daniel gets hurt, or something happens to you or Teal’c? What if there’s a threat to the base, like that man who shot the symbiote tank? How can I possibly expect Jack to attend a wedding under any of those circumstances? If you add all those possible catastrophes together, there’s a real chance something could go wrong. I can’t see planning a huge wedding, inviting a lot of people, knowing there’s a fair chance Jack wouldn’t be able to attend.”
Sam looked like she wanted to argue, but Sara knew she had the right of it. Finally, Sam sighed. “You’re probably right, but you sure would look fabulous in this.” She closed the magazine, stared at the cover for a long moment. “Maybe we can make arrangements here for something.”
“Or just have a barbecue at our house,” Sara suggested, “with the usual crowd, and just throw in a justice of the peace with top security clearance.” She snorted. “What a life.”
Sam grinned at her. “Sorry you signed up for it?”
“No, but I’m still not used to it. Tell me about this angel. What was he wearing?” She picked up the sandwich that she had selected and took her first bite.
“A black suit and a brown trench coat,” Sam said. “Weird, right?”
“So no long flowy robes?”
“Small harp? Bow and arrows?”
Sam snickered. “He was sort of hot.” She leaned forward, “And I think he and Dean kind of like each other.”
“What do you mean?” Sara ate a chip.
“You know. Like each other,” Sam said, emphasizing the word like.
Sara’s eyebrows rose. “Like like?”
“Like passing celestial notes to each other in harp-class like.”
“An angel and a man?” That seemed like a biblical no-no.
“I could be totally off-base,” Sam said. “It’s not like I’ve seen other angels around people. But I know he was treating Dean completely different than how he was treating Sam. And when Zeus told Castiel that Dean was his, Castiel said he had first claim. Sam, too, but still. I might just be anthropomorphizing an angel, but that all added up to the two of them maybe being an item.”
A shadow appeared across the table, and Sara looked up to see Sean Lightfoot gazing down at them.
“Hey,” Sam said with a soft smile.
Sean smiled back the exact same way.
“There’s no one looking,” Sara said quietly. “I think you could steal a quick kiss.”
Taking her at her word, Sean quickly kissed Sam and squeezed her hand. Then he sat down with the both of them. “I was sorry to hear I missed our astounding guest.”
“He scared all of us,” Sam admitted. “Even the Colonel. He’s a little--no make that a lot--intimidating.”
“The angels of the Old Testament were frightening to behold,” Sean said. “They were much more about smiting, and less about guardianship. Even the winged guardians of many of the tribes of the Indian Nation were never to be trifled with.”
“Well, he certainly takes his guardianship duties about Dean pretty seriously, to the point of walls shaking and light bulbs exploding,” Sam said. “Thank God he was able to get Zeus out of him.”
“Zeus is miserable,” Sean said. “He needs a host badly. I think being inside of Dean, even for that short moment, pushed him to the point of full maturity. I don’t think he’ll last another twenty-four hours and he will take no other as host.”
“Did you get that blast about Dean’s life?” Sam asked.
“All the symbiotes did,” Sean said. “Zeus is mortified about his behavior, and aghast at his perceived betrayal of Dean. He is sure, especially after speaking with the angel directly, that Dean will not be his host. He is preparing to die.”
Sara felt her eyes prickle with tears at the thought. Both Jack and Daniel would be devastated if that happened. And this was a perfect example; suppose the wedding was tomorrow. How could she expect Jack to show up, put a smile on his face, and be charming to a room full of people, half of whom he could care less about?
“No one’s willing to yell for Castiel, not after he told Daniel not to call him again,” Sam said. “But knowing Daniel, he might do it again to try to save Zeus’s life.”
Sara had no doubt that Daniel would do anything he could to keep Zeus from dying, even taking on an angry angel.
“Oh,” Sam asked Sean. “How did the talk with the symbiotes go? Any resolution?”
“Not really,” Sean said. “The truth is that the symbiotes, just like humans, are not all alike. And one symbiote’s agreement to honor specific rules will go by the wayside in certain circumstances. Just like certain personnel here have chosen to act counter to regulations.”
“Have you been reading our case files again?” Sam asked Sean with a grin.
“It’s like reading the legends of the gods,” Sean responded with a teasing glint in his eyes.
“Rules are always broken,” Sara said, “and sometimes with the absolute best intentions. The real heart of the matter is trust.”
“Exactly,” Sean said. “The symbiotes could promise a thousand times to never do something like this again, and they could still do it. They are an independent people, regardless of the fact that they require a host to truly function. Either we trust them or we don’t. Either we allow them the occasional subjective interpretation of regulations, or we don’t. And either they trust us to trust them, or they don’t. Do we start imprisoning them? Threatening them? And how do we punish a symbiote without punishing his innocent host?”
“Did you actually talk about this?” Sara asked.
“Daniel is an honest man,” Sean replied. “The essential issues had to be put on the table. Along with the honest truth that it was only fair that the humans here be judged the same way. Humans break the rules all the time with the best of intentions.”
“But where do you draw the line?” Sam asked. “Sure, when you’re in the field, there are times when the regulations don’t fit the situation, but you still need them to create a culture of reasonable expectation. If every soldier in a field unit could do what they wanted, just because it seemed important to them, there’d be nothing but havoc.”
“True,” Sean said. “When one of your regulations is broken, a board is convened to look at the facts to determine whether the circumstances warranted the disobedience. If they believe it did, the matter is forgotten, or sometimes medals are awarded. If they believe it didn’t, people are punished, one way or another.”
“You think Daniel will create a similar process for the friendly Goa’uld? Or maybe some sort of Tauri-Goa’uld tribunal?”
“It was one of the options discussed. Daniel wants to solve this as a community, and not one species against another. I believe he achieved a vital first step today, assuring that as we move forward in discussion, we will be sitting at the table as equals, and not as humans who dictate how the symbiotes must live their lives.”
“What happens to a symbiote, like Zeus, if the circumstances aren’t deemed dire enough for the action the symbiote took?” Sara asked.
“I don’t know,” Sean said. “That’s part of the problem. If Castiel hadn’t shown up, the only way to undo what Zeus had done was to potentially kill Dean, or get the Tok’ra involved to try to remove Zeus, something that could have been harmful and potentially fatal to Dean.”
“And for every story like this one, not that I’m judging Zeus as wrong,” Sam said, “there’s a story like Chang Hs’ien who would have died rather than take Svetlana without her permission. I get that Zeus went a little crazy today, but these friendly Goa’uld have tremendous integrity and loyalty, and I’d hate for the respect between them and humans to be reduced because of this.”
“Thanks to Daniel, I think just about everyone who participated in the conversation feels the same way. The real question will be if the people who don’t live with the symbiotes on a daily basis, and who hold the power over this program will agree.” Sean smiled. “On the other hand, Daniel and Colonel O’Neill are very clever and very persuasive.”
Sara knew that was true, they were both very clever, and very persuasive, and it made her feel better about the symbiotes’ fate.
Sam glanced at her watch. “I better go.” With a smile for Sara, and a ‘let’s go’ motion to Sean, they both stood and strode off. Sara put the magazine face down again, and finished eating her sandwich.
Late that day, after hours of talking, files strewn all over the table, Daniel said, “It’s extraordinary, actually. They’re extraordinary.”
“I’m still not exactly sure why Castiel said the Earth was in imminent danger,” Jack said. “I think we were in worse trouble when Apophis was heading this way after Daniel took his trip through the looking glass.” Nevertheless, Jack was impressed with Dean and Sam. Shit, their lives were the stuff of literal nightmares.
There was also some weird porn they’d come across about the two brothers along with Castiel and a whole cast of people Jack had never heard of, but Jack would worry about that later.
“Things were escalating,” Carter said. “At least according to the search parameters I set up. It’s not exact by any means, but natural disasters, arson, murder, other crimes, small towns going mysteriously empty, they were all on the rise. Especially the last few months. There was a huge jump in numbers of deaths when compared to previous years, and if things had continued, it would have risen exponentially. All I can assume is that at some point it would have reached critical mass causing some massive upheaval.”
“It’s extraordinary to think that the Winchesters stopped it,” Hammond said. “However, I agree with the Colonel. I’m not sure how that equates to the end of the world. Castiel seemed quite literal about that.”
“I agree,” Daniel said. “I don’t believe he was speaking metaphorically.”
“Regardless, I believe they would be an excellent addition to the Tok’ra network,” Teal’c said.
“I agree,” Daniel said. “They’re fearless. Well, not fearless, of course, as they had to have been frightened by much of what they encountered, but they’re courageous beyond all expectation. I actually think the life of a Tok’ra, and the things they encounter daily, will be relatively tame in comparison.”
“Except for where it’s not,” Jack said. Dean and Sam didn’t have to deal with different worlds, and the nasty type of Goa’uld, and crazy viruses, and aliens, and pain sticks, and a thousand other unexpected joys his team had encountered on the other side of the wormhole.
“I have concerns about Zeus,” Hammond said. “Will he be as dedicated to Dr. Jackson as the other symbiotes have been?”
“Does it really matter?” Daniel said. “All we need is for them to share the information they find. I have no doubt that Dean would be loyal to Earth, based on how hard he’s worked to keep it safe. Of course, that’s assuming that any of them return, and further assuming that Dean is remotely interested in becoming a host.”
What Daniel didn’t say was that if they didn’t come back, Zeus was toast. There was a moment of sober contemplation of Daniel’s unspoken words.
Finally Jack said, “I think the general asked a good question. Assuming they show up, and assuming Dean accepts Zeus, none of which is looking likely at this point, what if Dean and Sam like the Tok’ra better than us?” Jack asked. “What if Dean likes Freya or Anise?”
Carter grinned, though she didn’t say anything.
“What?” Jack complained.
“I don’t think you need to worry about Dean liking Freya,” Carter said.
Jack frowned. “What am I missing?”
“I think she means that Castiel would smack Dean upside the head if he looked too hard at anyone,” Daniel said.
Jack stared at Daniel. No way was Daniel clued into something Jack wasn’t. Granted, he’d seen something between Dean and Castiel, but he hadn’t taken that to mean what the wonder twins were thinking. “Dean and Castiel? He’s an angel. Can he…is he even…” Jack stopped, not comfortable with finishing his sentence.
“I’m just guessing,” Carter said. “They seemed very close.”
“He protected Sam, too,” Jack protested. He shook his head. “Sorry, I’m not buying it.” Daniel shot him a narrow-eyed glare. “Oh, get over yourself, it’s not the gay thing. Jesus, you’re gay and you’re my best friend.”
“Perhaps we could get back on topic,” Hammond said.
Carter looked chastised, and she straightened up in her chair. “Yes, sir.”
“Do we have anything to worry about with Zeus?” Hammond said.
“I don’t think so,” Junior said, piping in. “Zeus understands and accepts the roles Daniel and Jack play. He, like every merged symbiote, will side with his host, so the real question is whether Dean’s loyalty to us can be obtained. And while I agree with Daniel that he is likely to be loyal to Earth, we cannot know that for sure.”
“Do we have any idea where they are?” Jack asked. “Any angel sightings anywhere? No matter how screwy the source?”
Carter shook her head. “No. The problem is that Castiel could have taken them anywhere. They haven’t used a credit card or anything in their names, so I suspect they had a stash of credit cards in other names someplace other than the car. For all I know, Castiel can wave his hand and supply them with food or anything else they need.”
“If they do return, are we in agreement that we would like the Winchesters to join us?” Hammond asked. Jack knew Hammond was still wary, understandably, as was Jack, but if Dean, Sam, and Castiel, were going to be on someone’s team, Jack wanted it to be theirs.
Jack nodded. “I think we’d be fools not to take them.”
“I agree,” Teal’c said.
“Me, too, sir,” Carter said.
“The trick,” Daniel said, “is just as Junior said. Assuming they do come back, how do we convince them to stay? What do we have to offer that they can’t get anywhere else?”
“I suggest, in whatever time we have until they come back, that all of you come up with some ideas. I think we’ll have one shot at this, people,” Hammond said. Hammond stood, and SG-1 stood as well, Jack and Carter saluting as he left the room.
“Okay,” Daniel said. “What matters most to these two men?” They all looked at each other and then started tossing out ideas.
Jack crawled into bed next to Sara. The general had started letting non-Goa’ulded staff off the base, but not the ones merged with a symbiote. Seeing as he was stuck on base, Sara was staying there with him, taking a few days off from work.
“Hey,” Jack said, kissing her shoulder.
“Hey,” she said sleepily, turning to him. “Everything okay?”
“Only if Castiel shows up with the Winchesters by tomorrow. If he does, and if Sam and Dean are willing to listen, we’ve come up with some psychological warfare to lure them to the dark side.”
“You don’t think they’ll know you’re manipulating them?”
“They might, except that I think we’ll be giving them exactly what they want. Plus, if they come back, it will mean that Castiel is in favor of the idea, and that will help. Besides, did Dean strike you as the sort to be manipulated against his will?”
“No,” Sara said.
“By the way,” Jack said, “is Carter up to something?”
Sara turned surprised eyes on Jack. “What do you mean?”
“She and Daniel were conspiring after our meeting. And Junior wasn’t talking. I know they’re up to something.” Daniel had waved absently at Jack, and walked off with Sam, heads together, thick as thieves. If Jack hadn’t been so tired, and had been a fifteen-year-old girl, he might have been offended.
“Like what?” Sara asked.
“I don’t know. Something that will, no doubt, give me even more gray hair.”
“Not possible, honey,” Sara said.
“Hey,” Jack said. “I have at least a few brown hairs left.”
She took a look at his hair and smiled at him.
He frowned at her.
“Sam and Daniel both adore you.”
“You don’t know the trouble those two can cause,” Jack said.
She stared at him for a moment, then sighed. “Jack,” she began.
He grimaced at her. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, no, it’s just that, I keep thinking about this wedding, and suppose it had been planned for today? Or any day this week?”
Jack had nothing to say about that. “I wish I could tell you that we would have had it anyway, but I can’t.”
“I know,” she said quickly. “And I wasn’t criticizing. I’m just thinking that a nice short ceremony with a justice of the peace, or a quick trip to Vegas might be the way to go.”
Jack liked that idea, but he knew Sara didn’t. He just wanted her to be his wife again; he didn’t care how it happened. But they’d done the justice of the peace thing last time, and Jack had known, at the time, that Sara had wanted a big shindig. Right now, though, with the way things were at the mountain, he couldn’t imagine picking a date and planning anything. “I’m sorry, Sara. I know you wanted a big wedding, and I want to give it to you, but I don’t know how.”
Sara nodded, smiled a little sadly at him, but then leaned in to kiss him. “I love you. That’s the most important thing.”
Jack pulled her into his arms. She yanked her nightgown and his T-shirt off, and lay down on him, skin-to-skin.
A few hours later, Zeus’s condition had deteriorated faster than expected, so Jack and Daniel were in the infirmary on death watch. Neither he nor Daniel had ever had to deal with a symbiote in their keeping actually dying because he didn’t have a host. Both of them were finding it a crap-fest.
“I hate this,” Jack said.
“Me, too,” Daniel said, his voice thick.
Daniel had been holding the symbiote but when Zeus found even Daniel’s touch painful, he had slid him back in the tank. He was there, still, tucked in the corner. Jack and Daniel were taking turns keeping their arm fully immersed in the tank, fingers near Zeus, in case he wanted to feel their touch.
Zeus had clearly been forgiven by all the symbiotes in the tank, and they were all near Zeus, making their own puppy pile, millimeters from the dying symbiote, as close as they could be without actually touching him.
“He’s hardly conscious,” Daniel said tensely. “All I can feel is his pain.”
Jack had a strong memory of Daniel absorbing Chang Hs’ien’s pain, and was glad that Daniel hadn’t offered to help Zeus that way.
“He did,” Tana’oa said. “But Zeus said no.”
Jack had to swallow against a lump in his throat. He really didn’t want him to die. All of a sudden, he felt weird, sort of like when your ears unexpectedly pop, and your head goes dull. It took Jack a second to figure out what it was.
It was completely silent. Not around him; he could still hear the bubbling of the tank and the mechanical sounds of the HVAC system. The silence was in his head.
“Castiel is coming,” Tana’oa said abruptly. “Do not say anything to anyone.”
That was such an odd command coming from Tana’oa that Jack obeyed it, waiting for more information.
“He only wishes to speak with you and Daniel. He has forbidden any of the symbiotes to alert anyone else.”
Jack hadn’t consciously realized there was a hum always going on in the back of his mind of the friendly Goa’uld chattering to each other and to their hosts. It wasn’t words, just this steady and reassuring buzz. It was eerie to have it be so still. There was a part of him that bristled at the thought of Castiel demanding obedience from the Goa’uld, but he kept it to himself. The important thing was that Castiel was back and, hopefully, he had Dean and Sam with him.
“Did you get the same message I did?” Daniel asked in a hopeful tone.
“Yes,” Jack said, standing, getting ready for another fun-filled visit with the angel.
Then, from one second to the next, Castiel was standing by the tank, Dean and Sam with him, neither of them looking particularly thrilled to be back.
Jack looked around and noticed that there didn’t seem to be any movement from the infirmary staff. “Where is everyone?” he asked Castiel, ready to take the damn angel on if he’d done anyone damage.
The corner of Castiel’s lip turned up as if he’d heard Jack’s thoughts and was amused by Jack’s temerity, like an ant threatening to squash a giant. “No one has been harmed. I wished to speak with you alone.”
“They’re probably asleep,” Dean told Jack. “It’s a handy trick unless he’s doing it to you.”
Castiel shot Dean a look, and Dean crooked a smile at him. That was when Dean saw the tank. “Hey, what’s wrong with Zeus?”
Jack looked at the tank and his heart skipped a beat when he thought maybe Zeus was already dead. But then he tuned back in to the pulses of pain. “He’s dying.”
“What?” Dean asked. “Why? Because of what he did to me? He doesn’t deserve to die for that.”
Jack was beginning to see what Castiel meant about Dean. “He could have killed you. He almost did. If Castiel hadn’t been here, we wouldn’t have been able to get him out.”
“He’s just a kid, though, right?” Dean tapped on the glass, but Zeus barely responded. “Cas, can’t you do something for him?”
“I cannot,” Castiel said. “Unless he finds a host, he will die.”
“So give him a host,” Dean demanded. “Why are you all just standing here watching him die? I thought they were your allies.”
Castiel had obviously been talking to the Winchester brothers about what was going on at the SGC. It was Daniel who answered, as kindly as he could. “Some of the symbiotes are willing to take any host of our choosing. Others choose only one. He chose you, and you refused him.” Daniel put up a reassuring hand, “Which was your right. Just as it is his right to choose to die.”
“That’s a crock of shit,” Dean said. “Is this why you brought me here?” he asked Castiel, a wounded look on his face. “So I could watch someone else die because of me?”
“Dean, no,” Castiel said, putting his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “I did not know he would be dying. I brought you here because I believe you and Sam could find a place here, a new direction for your life. I simply wanted you to give these two men a chance to speak with you.”
“Jesus, Cas,” Dean said, running a hand down his face. His eyes flicked to the tank.
That was when Jack saw it. Dean had been living a horror show of a life, having to be the toughest son of a bitch that ever lived to survive, but right under the surface of all that danger and machismo was a heart of gold. Jack bet that Dean considered that part of himself to be his biggest handicap, cursing it every time something touched his heart, ripping it into little pieces.
“How long does he have?” Dean asked in a rough voice.
Daniel moved to the tank and put his hand on it. “About an hour,” he said, his voice shaky. Jack looked at Daniel and found tears in his eyes. Here was another man with a heart of gold.
Dean was looking at Daniel now. He said, “Then you guys better talk fast, and talk good.”
“Dean, will it be too hard for you to stay here while we speak?” Daniel asked. “If Castiel will allow me to call someone else to sit with him, we could all go to a conference room.”
“Why do you call them Goa’uld when they have renounced their heritage?” Castiel asked suddenly.
“We really call them friendlies, you know like friendly Goa’uld,” Jack explained.
“Is not Friendly’s a place to buy ice cream?” the angel asked Dean. “Is that not one of the places you insisted we go?”
Jack wished he could have seen that.
“Home of the Fribble,” Dean agreed. “But they don’t mean that. They mean friendlies, as in allies, the people you don’t shoot in a war.”
“You use a term of war to describe them?” Castiel asked, his head cocked to the side.
Daniel looked disturbed. “I never really thought of it like that.”
“They are not creatures of war. They have no malice. They are companions. Companions of the heart and soul,” Castiel said.
Daniel smiled at Castiel and then stared at the tank for a long moment. “They like that name. They like it a lot. Thank you, Castiel.”
Castiel gave him a small nod.
Dean crouched down to look at Zeus. “He’s really gonna die?”
“He really is,” Daniel said. He crouched down next to Dean. “It’s not your fault.”
“Fuck it,” Dean said. “Just put him in me. If I can’t hack it, Castiel can take him out. I’m not about to just sit here and watch him die. Or have that hanging over me like some giant toon anvil.”
“We can go speak somewhere else,” Daniel said. “I don’t, I mean I do want you to take him, because I don’t want him to die, but I don’t want you to take him only because he’s going to die.”
“You got a better reason?” Dean asked.
“Because you truly wish to merge with a symbiote.”
“Did you want to merge with your symbiote?”
Daniel winced, but then said, “No, but there were extenuating circumstances.”
Dean turned to Jack, “Did you want to merge with your symbiote?”
“No,” Jack said.
“Extenuating circumstances?” Dean asked.
“You betcha,” Jack said.
Dean shrugged. “How’s that different then? These feel like extenuating circumstances. Only difference is that I know Castiel can take him out of me if it doesn’t work out.”
Something he and Daniel had not had, Jack thought. Not that he’d have even considered having Tana’oa removed once he’d gotten inside of Jack. Dean hadn’t had the same warm-fuzzy experience. Of course, given the snapshots they’d all gotten of Dean’s life, it’s not like Zeus had had the luxury of an easy bonding. Jack sincerely hoped the same thing didn’t happen again.
“Are you sure, Dean?” Castiel said. “I can bring you back after Zeus has died, so you may make the decision without undue pressure.”
“Are you sure he wants back in?” Dean asked. “He seemed pretty freaked.”
“Even after he freaked, he made a very loud and unequivocal claim on you. And he has told me he is still willing.” Daniel gestured at the tank. “In fact, he’s willing to die over it.”
“I don’t know why,” Dean said. “He didn’t even see the worst of it.”
Jack kept his face blank, appalled to hear Dean’s words. That hadn’t been the worst of it?
“I’ve done some bad stuff,” Dean said. “Really, really bad.”
“We all have,” Sam said, speaking up for the first time since they’d arrived.
“You signing up for one of these things, Sammy?” Dean asked.
“I’ll let you take a test run first,” Sam said with a smirk.
Dean grinned, although it slid off his face quickly. “He might not want me once he sees it all. It isn’t pretty. None of it.”
“All of us have done stuff we’re not proud of,” Jack said.
“Not like this,” Dean said.
“You told me you didn’t murder those women,” Jack said.
“I didn’t,” Dean said without a moment’s hesitation.
“Dean,” Castiel said, walking over to him.
“Don’t,” Dean said harshly. “Don’t give me a pep talk.”
Castiel frowned, took Dean’s arm and pulled him over to a private corner. Dean didn’t have much choice but to go where he was pulled. He looked mulish as Castiel spoke fervently to him, but after a couple of minutes, he started to look embarrassed. Pleased, but embarrassed. Finally, he put his hand up. “Okay, okay, I get it. Stop.”
Jack glanced over at Sam and saw a strange expression on his face. Jack wasn’t sure if it was because Dean was being reassured by someone other than his brother, or maybe that Sam wished he had someone to reassure him the way Castiel was Dean. It made Jack wish that Sam would take a symbiote so he could see what it was like to have a non-stop cheering section in your head, someone who thought you were the best thing since sliced bread.
“You are,” Tana’oa said faithfully.
“So are you,” Jack replied.
Dean was walking back. “Okay, I figure if he saw what he saw and he still wants me, I’ll try it again, but I’m not making any promises.”
“Fair enough,” Daniel said. “Although don’t make this any harder on Zeus than you have to. He’s trying to do the right thing here.”
“You better hurry,” Jack said.
Castiel put out his hand as if to teleport Zeus out of the tank, but Daniel called out, “Wait.”
Castiel looked at him, eyebrows up asking for an explanation.
“The last time, Dean seized when Zeus got inside him. We never did find out why.”
“I believe it was the tattoo on his chest,” Castiel said.
Dean’s hand came up to cover his tattoo. “I can’t get rid of it,” he said.
“I will be able to keep it from happening,” Castiel said. “I stopped it last time.”
Dean looked dubious, as did Sam, but Dean nodded. “Let’s just get it over with, then.”
Jack wished he was a little more enthusiastic about it, and by the look on Daniel’s face, he did, too, but Jack would take what he could get.
When he next looked, Zeus was in Castiel’s hand, and then he was gone and, Jack supposed, in Dean. Castiel moved next to Dean and put his hand on his chest, over the tattoo, watching him closely.
The expressions crossed Dean’s face faster than Jack could read them, and he wasn’t saying anything. Neither was Zeus, which could mean he’d learned his lesson, or might mean that Zeus was too far gone to rally. Jack was glad he hadn’t had to burrow through Dean’s neck; Zeus definitely wouldn’t have had the strength to do that.
“Is he okay?” Daniel asked worriedly. “Was he strong enough to merge?”
Dean nodded at him.
Daniel let out a relieved sigh, even though he had to know they weren’t out of the woods yet. Dean could still change his mind. In fact, Dean was frowning.
The frown was growing deeper, lines across his forehead.
Jack waited apprehensively for Dean to announce that this wasn’t going to work.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Dean said, glaring at Jack and Daniel.
Castiel looked like he was ready to take Zeus out in a flash if Dean wished it.
“It’s like having a freaking Care Bear in my head,” he complained.
Sam barked out a laugh.
“Don’t laugh,” Dean told him. “You loved those damn things.”
“I did not,” Sam protested.
“Grumpy Bear, I think,” Dean said. “You slept with the damn thing for two years until we lost him somewhere. You wanted him because you were afraid no one would like him because he frowned all the time.” Dean stared at Sam, his mouth open. “That’s where the bitch face comes from. That damn bear.”
“I can’t believe you remember this shit. So is Zeus another Grumpy Bear?”
“No, he’s more like Share Bear.”
“I think it’s creepy that you know all the names of the bears,” Sam pointed out. “What do you watch on TV? I mean besides Dr. Sexy?”
Dean actually reddened, and Jack felt something in his chest unwind. Surely if Dean was going to say no, he would have already. At least that’s what Jack chose to believe.
“Dean,” Castiel said. “Are you all right? Do you wish me to remove him?”
Dean gazed at Castiel for a long time; Castiel stared right back, as if this staring contest was something they frequently engaged in.
Finally Dean said, “He wants to see you.”
Castiel cocked his head to the side.
Dean’s eyes glowed, and it was Zeus who said, “You are so beautiful.” Castiel couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of Dean, and the two of them continued to gaze at each other for an uncomfortably long period of time.
Finally, Dean, or rather Zeus, turned and looked at Sam, walked over to him and put his hands on Sam’s cheeks, cupping his face. Sam sort of jerked a little, as if it was a very unusual gesture for Dean to make. But then Zeus smiled. A smile that spoke of immense satisfaction and a love so strong it made Sam rock back. Zeus said, simply, “Sam.”
Castiel and Sam were both blushing, or at least acting like it, and Jack thought it must be down to their toes given the way they were squirming. But neither of them was complaining. Jack guessed that Dean was the sort of person who told someone he loved them by what he did, rarely by what he said, and even though Zeus had spoken the words, everyone in the room, most of all Castiel and Sam, knew Dean was the one behind the feelings, and Zeus just the conduit.
“Hey, hey,” Dean said, the glow now gone, leaving Dean scowling ferociously at everyone, especially Castiel and Sam. “Enough with the chick flick moments. You never said anything about the non-stop chick flick moments.” That was directed at Daniel and Jack.
Jack supposed having a symbiote in your head was sort of an emotion festival, the good kind, where something in your head, in a way that can’t be disputed, is telling you that you are the cat’s meow.
“Dean,” Castiel said.
“I’m good,” Dean said, although he was still scowling. “He can stay.”
Daniel let out a long sigh.
“But don’t expect me to call you Lord the way some of these guys do,” he said to Daniel.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear that,” Daniel said sincerely.
“You will treat him with respect,” Junior said. Jack thought he sounded just like Teal’c.
“Yeah,” Dean said dryly, “ask him how that usually goes.” He jerked his thumb in Castiel’s direction.
“Dean’s respect,” Castiel said seriously, “is very hard won.” Castiel’s face looked like he’d been fighting that uphill battle to respect nonstop.
“Pick one out for me, then,” Sam said.
Daniel walked eagerly toward the tank. Thanks to Claude, there were still a few Goa’uld…Jack mentally corrected himself…Companions who were mature enough to take a host that hadn’t been promised to anyone yet.
“Wait a minute,” Dean said.
Sam sent an inquiring look Dean’s way. “For what? You having second thoughts?”
“No,” Dean said. “But are you sure you want to do this? I know this isn’t really what you want. I know you still want a normal life. School, a job, a white picket fence.”
“Normal?” Sam asked with a derisive laugh. “What the hell is that?”
Jack knew how that felt. He felt it every time he went to the grocery store, or watched the news, and felt as removed from regular human life that he might as well not be human anymore. Usually a couple episodes of the Simpsons took care of him when he got in that mood. Sara, God love her, had bought every season out on DVD for him. Sometimes she had it running when he walked in the door.
“You telling me you want to stay a hunter? That you still want to be putting yourself in danger, killing things, saving people? This might be your last chance. These guys could probably clear your record so you could go back to Stanford.”
“Already done,” Jack told him. He’d put Carter on that right away.
Dean shot him a grateful look. “See? You could go back. They’d take you back. They know about Jess. They’ll understand you needed time to pull yourself together.”
“And leave you?” Sam asked. “With him?” His chin gestured at Castiel.
“What’s wrong with him?” Dean asked defensively.
“You mean besides the fact that every time he used to show up, you’d end up almost dead, or an emotional wreck? That you’d have been dead half a dozen times if I hadn’t been there?”
“You’re saying he fared better under your care?” Castiel said, the biting timber of his voice raising the hackles on Jack’s neck. “You forget where I rescued him from.”
“That’s not fucking fair,” Sam yelled, truly pissed off. “I wasn’t the one who told Dean to make a deal with a demon to bring me back from the dead. I should have stayed dead.”
“I would not presume to argue with you,” Castiel said.
Jack winced at that. Somehow, he’d failed to pick up on the animosity stewing between these two. And what the fuck? Sam was dead? Deal with a demon?
“Yeah, let’s shut up now,” Dean suggested angrily.
“He went to Hell to save you,” Castiel said, “and we all know how you repaid him.”
“Right,” Sam said. “And where the fuck have you been the last few months? Where are you ever, when Dean needs you? And let’s not forget that right after you saved Dean from Hell, you threatened to send him back.”
“I’m serious,” Dean said, louder. “I’m sick of this conversation. You guys have had it before, and it never goes anyplace good. So, shut the fuck up. Now.”
Neither Sam nor Castiel looked like they wanted to stop arguing, but after sending twin sets of frustrated looks toward Dean, they complied.
After a couple of seconds, Sam looked like he was about to open his mouth to say something, but Dean put his hand up coupled with a look on his face that said he would take Sam down if he said a word. Sam and Castiel shot each other lethal glares.
Jack was glad these guys were on his side. There was a whole world of danger in all three of them. If Sam and Castiel decided to have a knockdown epic fight, he wanted it to happen on a Tok’ra planet. He pitied Dean, though, being in between the two of them.
Dean ran a hand down his face as he considered the two of them, pacing up and down the length of the infirmary. He spared a quick glance at Jack and Daniel, but that was all. However, Jack got a message from Tana’oa. “Zeus says that Dean is really mad.”
Jack couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped. “Sorry,” he said, turning it into a cough. “What the fuck?” he asked Tana’oa. “Is that supposed to be a news flash?”
“He is asking that neither of you try to interfere or offer any helpful advice.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
Daniel shot Jack an incredulous look as if he’d just received the same bulletin. Or it could have been because he had just listened to the same conversation Jack had. Jack saw many hours of the Simpsons in his future.
“Look,” Dean finally said. “We all fucked up. We all made mistakes. As of this moment, it is done. This conversation is done. Grudges are done. I am sick of being the mediator between the two of you. Sam, I did it with you and Dad, and now I’m stuck doing it with you and Cas, and I’m not doing it anymore.”
There was a brief, very human, look of victory in Castiel’s eyes.
“And you,” Dean said, turning on him, “where the fuck were you? Sam’s right about that. That was all I was good for? Slam, bam, thank you ma’am, and I’m not talking about sex, so all of you get your minds out of the freakin’ gutter,” he added with a stern look at everyone in the room.
“Dean,” Castiel said, now sounding penitent.
“I don’t really want an excuse,” Dean said. “And I’m sure you’ll go flying off the next time you get an official order. I get that. But listen up. It might not be my first choice, but I’m fine on my own. And I’d rather not have either of you than be put in a position where I have to choose between you, because I won’t. Cas, Sam is my brother, and I don’t care what the fuck he’s done. He’s my brother, and he’ll always be my brother. He’s family. Is that clear?”
Castiel didn’t look happy about it but he nodded.
“And I don’t know exactly what to call Cas,” Dean said to Sam, “but he’s mine too, and you don’t have the right to fuck that up for me. He gave up everything for me. He gave up Heaven for me just because I asked him to. The only reason he’s not human right now is because Michael was in a good mood after he killed Lucifer. Cas believed in me when no one else did, certainly not you. And he died protecting me so I could save your ass. So leave him the fuck alone.”
Sam swallowed, and he jerked his head once.
“Besides,” Dean said, “I’m not alone anymore.” He pointed at his head, indicating Zeus.
Zeus might be holding his tongue, but Jack picked up his emotional response to that sentence, and the ecstatic glow almost bowled him over. Jack exchanged a quick smile with Daniel.
Dean was still talking. “Get a slug or a Companion or whatever in your head or don’t. But do it because you want it, because this is the life you want, not because you think you need to protect me from Cas, because that’s bullshit. And if you do want one, Zeus says there’s one back on the planet he came from that’s perfect for you.” He turned to Jack. “Please find me some people I can beat the shit out of.”
“You got it,” Jack said. He sent a message through Tana’oa to get SG-3 to the gym. “Come with me.” He felt sort of bad leaving Daniel alone with Sam and Castiel, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. He sent an apologetic message through Tana’oa, and got a reassuring message back from Junior. Apparently Daniel had a plan. Jack couldn’t wait to hear it.
Dean elected to take on all four of SG-3 at once. They were willing but Jack could see they were taking it easy on him. At least they were until Dean laid them all out on the floor.
He was good. SG-3 were Marines, trained fighters, but Dean was better. They would have taken him down as a human, and in fact had, sort of, back at Jack’s house, but with a Goa’--shit, Jack thought, it was going to take forever to remember to call them by their new name--with a Companion, he was brutal.
Jack winced as Paul Costello went flying and slammed into a wall. Paul got up smiling, though, and said, “That was an awesome move!” He jumped back into the melee. Jack rolled his eyes. Only Paul.
Jack started when he realized someone was sitting next to him, and did it again when he saw it was Castiel. “He’s a good fighter,” Jack said, thinking that was safe enough. Castiel’s wings were folded up tightly across his back. Jack was itching to touch but kept his hands to himself.
“He is,” Castiel said. “He was five years old when his father began to train him.” His eyes were on Dean.
“Was his father a good man?”
There was a long pause. “He was a troubled man.”
Jack wasn’t sure how to take that and decided to leave it alone. Hoping it wouldn’t get him in trouble, feeling oddly defensive of Dean, Jack asked, “Did you really threaten to send him back to hell?”
“I did.” Castiel hesitated, and then added, “I was unprepared for his anger and belligerence.”
Jack watched Dean throw a succession of sweet punches, only taking a couple hits in return. “So you thought you’d save his ass, and he’d be all grateful and do what you said?”
“Yes,” Castiel said. “As I said, I was unprepared.”
“He pissed you off?”
Jack found himself snickering. “I’ll bet he did.” Once he started laughing, he couldn’t seem to stop. It was either that or start crying. “Hell? The real hell?”
“I can’t go there.” Jack was shaking his head. “Not even a little bit.”
“I understand. But you need not concern yourself. You will not go there.”
Jack had been talking figuratively, not literally, but that was nice to know. “Dean went to hell. At least if everything I just heard is true.”
Castiel said nothing.
“Of course, if everything I just heard is true, apparently he sold his soul to bring Sam back from the dead. And Dean said that you were dead, too, so all of you have been dead, right? Really dead?”
“Yes.” Castiel looked at him. “As have you and Dr. Jackson.”
“True. Daniel a few too many times.” He watched Jeff get a punch in that made Dean stagger back a few steps. “Are Daniel and Sam still talking?”
“You don’t say much, do you?”
“What would you have me say?” Castiel asked with a slight turn of his face, head cocked a little, as if he was studying Jack.
“What are they talking about?”
“Daniel is offering Sam the opportunity to go to school here, to be an attorney for Stargate Command.” Castiel’s eyes went back to Dean.
“Good idea.” Dean was starting to tire, but he was still fighting for all he was worth. “Is he really okay on his own?”
“Dean is irresponsible with himself. He puts everyone’s well-being above his own.”
Jack barked out a laugh. “Jeez, I know someone just like that.” He paused. “I know it’s none of my business,” Jack started.
“I find that seldom prevents humans from speaking.”
Castiel turned from watching Dean to study Jack. “You are worried on Dean’s behalf?”
“I know it’s nuts, because he can clearly take care of himself, but yes, I am. I didn’t believe it when you told me he was the most loving and forgiving human you’ve ever met, but I believe it now. I’ll bet his heart gets broken all the damn time.” Jack didn’t even know why he was saying this. He guessed maybe it was because he just watched the two most important people in Dean’s life tear into each other at his expense. “And I’ll bet most of the time it’s you and Sam who do it.”
Castiel’s lips tightened, but he didn’t respond.
“I’ve got no way to make you do anything I say,” Jack said, “but I’m gonna say it anyway. Don’t break his heart anymore.”
Castiel looked at him again, for a long time. Finally, he said, “I shall endeavor not to, but sometimes I do not understand humans and what they need, and he will not tell me except for the most superficial concerns.”
“Like ice cream?” Jack guessed, thinking of Friendly’s.
“And coffee,” Castiel said, a small smile curving his lips. “He denies needing much more, even though I know he is lying. He is difficult to approach about such things.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
Dean waved SG-3 off, standing there, hands on his thighs, as he breathed heavily. Brian, Jeff, and Eric were on the floor, exhausted. Only Paul was still standing.
“Aren’t they amazing?” Paul said to Dean, pointing at his head, so it would be clear what he was talking about.
Dean nodded, still a little winded. “Yeah. I wish I’d had one a long time ago.”
“You’ll heal right up, too,” Paul said. “Look, your knuckles are already healing.”
Glancing at his knuckles, Dean stood straight, stretching out his back. “What else can they heal?”
“Pretty much everything except decapitation, or broken bones that can’t be set, or if you’ve got bullets in you. I’ve seen Daniel’s Companion actually bring him back from the dead.”
“Can they fix someone’s paralyzed legs?”
“I think so.”
Dean looked at Jack. “I know someone else who needs a Companion. He’s been a hunter for decades, knows more than anyone. He took a knife to the spine to protect me and it put him in a wheelchair.”
Jack glanced at Castiel, although he wasn’t sure why.
“He is a good man,” Castiel said.
“Shit, yeah,” Dean said. “And hey, we could get Rufus, too. And any others that Bobby thinks are good people.” He winced, “Some hunters are nuts, you know.”
“Some?” Jack said, with a sarcastic smile. “I think we need to call the Tok’ra and have them come for a visit before we start popping Companions into all the local ghostbusters.”
“Bobby at least,” Dean said.
Jack was caught by the fact that all Dean had to do was get Castiel to take a Companion and give it to Bobby. “I know I can’t stop you guys from doing what you want, but if you want a part of this, I have to know that you won’t be running off doing your own thing.”
“You mean like take a Companion for Bobby without waiting for permission?” Dean asked bluntly.
“Yeah, like that,” Jack said.
“I don’t use Cas like that,” Dean said tightly.
Jack glanced at Castiel to find him looking at Dean. Jack had a small suspicion that Castiel would do anything Dean asked him to. “You made him eat ice cream,” Jack said, to both probe a little more and to lighten the mood at the same time.
“It’s not like eating a little ice cream is gonna hurt anyone,” Dean said. “Besides, now we know he likes mint chocolate chip.”
“You do?” Jack asked Castiel.
“I do,” Castiel said.
“Besides, it was fun,” Dean said.
Castiel’s eyebrows rose a little. “The concept of human fun continues to elude me.” There was a marked twinkle in his eye.
“You’re so full of shit,” Dean said.
“I am being called. I shall return shortly.” With that, Castiel disappeared.
Jack blinked at the empty seat next to him.
“He does that,” Dean said. “You get used to it.”
“Good workout, Dean,” Paul called over his shoulder as SG-3 limped their way across the gym floor to the showers.
“You too,” Dean yelled back. He sat next to Jack.
Jack wrinkled his nose at the stink of sweat, but he was pretty used to it. “That was some pretty impressive fighting.”
Dean shrugged. “Most days any fight I lose means I’m dead.”
“Is Sam as good?”
“I’d say we’re evenly matched. He’s got more weight on him, and he’s got that Sasquatch reach thing going on, but I fight meaner.”
Jack could believe that. He had no intention of taking Dean on, even in a sparring contest, and even with Tana’oa. “So you wouldn’t use Castiel like that?”
“It’d be like using a kid, you know.”
“No, I don’t.”
Dean sat back. “Don’t get me wrong, Castiel’s not stupid, and he’s definitely not a kid, but he still doesn’t get a lot of things. Feelings are new to him and so is making decisions for himself. If it were Sam, shit, I’d prank him into anything, but Cas is different. I’ve played a few jokes on him, but he mostly just doesn’t get it. And having to explain a prank to someone who looks at you the way he does sort of sucks the fun out of it.”
Jack felt like that was only part of it. “And?”
“And he’s an angel, you know? He was the first supernatural creature that scared the crap out of me doing nothing but standing next to me. He’s, well, he’s mighty. Zeus is using the word glorious, which feels a little too girly to me, but it gets the point across. There’s something about him that makes you sort of think about getting on your knees, and nothing, trust me, except sex, gets me on my knees.”
“He’d do anything for you.”
“I know it. I know it.” Dean leaned forward again, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “It’s why I’m all over trying to do things with him that loosen him up a little and that help him figure out what he likes and doesn’t like, but it’s also why I’m not about to just use him like he’s nothing more than a lapdog.”
“Dean!” came from across the room, and then Sam was jogging over to him, a bright smile on his face.
“You look happy,” Dean commented. “What’s up?”
“They said I could get my law degree here. That I could study Earth international laws, but also the laws of other worlds. That I could maybe be their first intergalactic attorney, including being able to represent the Companions when I get one.”
Dean looked at him for a long moment and then smiled. “That’s great, Sammy. So what happens next?”
“I get a Companion. I go with you for a while, see what things are like out there, what I might need to know. And then, when it seems like the right time, I’ll start studying.”
“So you’ll be living here?”
“You mean here, like on Earth?”
“No, here, like in Colorado, like in that housing complex.”
Sam looked at Jack, and Jack nodded. “We can’t let the people with Companions wander too far on their own.”
“So I can visit whenever I want?” Dean asked.
“Or I can come visit you,” Sam remarked. “I’m not ditching you, Dean. I’ve done too many times now, and I’ll never do it again. I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you might not be able to keep,” Dean told him. When Sam made as if to argue, Dean put a hand up to forestall him. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I just want you to be happy. I want you to have the type of life you want.”
“What about you?” Sam asked. “Do you still want to hunt? Aren’t you tired of it?”
“It’s what I am,” Dean said.
“You could be so much more,” Sam argued.
“See, and this is where we have to disagree, because I think saving people and getting to shoot things up while I do it, is pretty damn awesome.”
“Me, too,” Jack said.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Sam said. “I know it’s great. I just meant that maybe you could go back to school, too.”
Dean snorted. “I’m not the school type,” he said.
“You could be.”
Dean gave Sam a sharp look. “This still about Cas?”
“Have you noticed he’s gone again? What happens if you go off through the wormhole, and he disappears when you need him?”
“Fuck,” Dean said. “Between Dad, you, and Cas, I’m getting pretty good at that. And I’m still alive to tell the tale. Plus, now I have Zeus, so I’m not alone.”
Zeus’s eyes shone in pleasure at Dean’s words.
“Besides,” Dean continued. “I appreciate you wanting to give me the kind of life you think I want, but I’m good with the one I have.” He looked at Jack. “Did all the shit from our car make it in here? I need some clean clothes.”
“I’ll get you some BDUs,” Jack said, standing up.
Jack looked around and saw that Carter had joined them. “Hey, Carter. We had a busy night.”
“I can see that, sir.” She looked closely at Dean. “You took a Goa’uld?”
Dean nodded. “I sure did, gorgeous.”
Carter rolled her eyes toward heaven as if for strength.
Jack said, “By the way, we’re calling them Companions now.”
“Dean and Sam?” Carter asked, sounding confused.
Jack snickered. “No, the Goa’uld. Castiel renamed them. Companions.”
Carter looked like she was thinking about it. “I like it,” she finally announced.
“Good,” Jack said. “Because if you didn’t, you were gonna be the one to tell Castiel. Did you need something?”
“I traced the photo manip to its source computer,” she said.
Jack had to think for a moment. Hard. “I lost the plot, Carter. What?”
“The picture that was in that newspaper. Cameron and Phelan.”
“Gotcha. That picture.”
Tana’oa broke in, “General Hammond would like to see SG-1 in the conference room.”
Jack nodded internally and externally. “Hammond wants to see us. You can fill us in then.”
Carter leaned in. “May I borrow the key to your house?”
“I need to borrow something of Sara’s. I’ll give it back.”
“Does this have something to do with whatever you and Daniel are scheming about?”
“Yes, sir.” She didn’t say anything else.
“You know where my keys are. Help yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.” She grinned at him and walked off.
“Do you know what they’re planning?”
“No idea,” Tana’oa said, sounding annoyed.
“See if you can get Junior to talk. He can be quite the gossip when he wants to be.”
“I’ll crack him like an egg.” Tana’oa punctuated that line with an evil laugh and, inside Jack’s head, it sounded like Snidely Whiplash. He couldn’t help but chuckle.
Jack looked at Sam and Dean who were still talking, or rather Sam was talking and Dean was listening. Sam seemed very excited, and Dean had a fond smile on his face.
“I’ll get someone to bring you some clothes to change into. Showers are that way,” Jack said to Dean, interrupting Sam, and pointing in the direction SG-3 had gone. “You guys will be on your own for a while. The boss wants to talk to us.”
Dean nodded and Sam started talking again, so Jack left them to it.
Hammond, Daniel, and Teal’c were already in the conference room when Jack and Carter entered. Daniel was at the coffee maker. “Coffee?” he asked Jack.
“I’m good, Daniel, thanks.”
“Dr. Jackson’s been telling me about your unexpected guests,” Hammond said, with a note of censure in his voice.
“Trust me, sir,” Jack said, “we would have told you right away, but Castiel gave the Companions an order, and they wouldn’t break it. He put everyone who might see us to sleep. There was no way to communicate.” He wrapped his hands around the coffee Daniel put in front of him looking forward to the caffeine jolt. Jack sincerely hoped he’d actually get a full night’s sleep one of these days. Even with Tana’oa, he couldn’t survive without some sleep.
“The whole thing’s a little disconcerting,” Daniel said. “Castiel is a real wild card, and we have absolutely no defenses against him.”
“Except Dean,” Jack said. “He’ll do anything Dean says. Or most anything.” After all, the angel still ran off when he was called by whoever calls angels, even after Sam had blasted him for doing that very thing.
“I’d like to continue this conversation at a later time,” Hammond said, “but I believe Major Carter has some information for us.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, “but you won’t like it. I hacked into the newspaper’s system, and found the e-mail that was the source of the story. Whoever sent it had done a fairly good job hiding their steps, but I started a tracer program and got a hit early this morning.”
“And?” Jack said.
Carter winced. “The computer that sent it is here, sir.”
“Here?” Jack and Daniel both said at the same time.
“You owe me a Coke,” Jack told him.
Daniel frowned at him, but then said, “Here? Here as in where here?”
“One of the computers we have set up in the rec room.”
“Does that mean that anyone could have used it?” Jack asked.
“Yes, sir, and it means that it had to be someone from the SGC, because it’s three floors down from the security checkpoint.”
“Crap,” Jack said. “Did Kinsey get someone else inside?”
“We vetted every one of the current staff,” Hammond said.
And they had. Painstakingly. After the whole debacle with Scar and Nala, there wasn’t a person in the SGC who hadn’t had their files checked by Hammond, Jack, and Carter to ensure they didn’t have an NID mole, or some other zealot in their midst.
“That doesn’t mean someone couldn’t have hidden something from you,” Daniel said.
Jack scowled. “If they did, I have no idea how to ferret them out.”
“I think I may be able to ferret this one out,” Carter said. “I’ve been piecing together security tapes from the time the e-mail was sent. Unfortunately, the camera in there scans the room, so it isn’t focused on every computer all the time. But the room has one wall that is all glass, so the cameras from the hallway and from the adjacent room periodically cover that area as well.”
“Any luck?” Jack said.
“It will take me a few more hours. Not all the cameras’ internal timekeepers are synchronized, so I’m taking that into account. I’ve got a program running that should at least identify all the personnel in that room during the time the e-mail was sent, and then we can take a look at those specific people.”
“In the meantime, I’m locking down the mountain,” Hammond said.
Jack could have sworn he saw Carter elbow Daniel hard in the ribs.
“Ow, uh, sir?” Daniel stammered out.
“Yes, Dr. Jackson.”
“Does that mean me? I need to get Sam Winchester’s Companion, oh, and that’s the new name Castiel gave to the friendly Goa’uld.” Hammond frowned at that. “Plus, I need to go see Councilor Tuplo and speak with him about possibly, um,” there was a suspicious hesitation that made Jack frown, “um, taking on a few Companions themselves. I’d feel better about their safety.”
“Companions?” Hammond said. “Is this another case of Castiel laying down the law?”
“No,” Daniel assured him quickly. “He actually pointed out to me, and he was right, that we were using a term of war to describe them. Once he said that, I would have come up with something new anyway. He didn’t mean to name them; he just said they were companions of the heart and soul, and the symbiotes really liked the name.”
Hammond looked only partially reassured, and Jack didn’t blame him. Yes, Jack had sat down and chatted with their very own Angel of the Lord and knew he liked mint chocolate chip ice cream. And, yes, Dean had assured Jack he wouldn’t ask Castiel to do anything bad. But the truth of it was as much as Jack was finding himself liking Dean, he wasn’t sure he was ready to trust him with the entire future of Stargate Command and the security of Earth.
“The Companions trust him,” Daniel said, as if he’d been reading Jack’s mind. “They trust all three of them. I can’t seem to get a reason why out of Junior, but from the moment they met Dean and Sam, they’ve liked them and insisted they become hosts. I think part of that reason is because of Castiel. He may scare me, but the Companions don’t fear him at all. Just look at how Zeus behaved with him.”
There was silence as they considered Daniel’s words. Everything he said was true. And while the verdict was still out on Sam and Castiel, Jack suddenly realized he did trust Dean.
It was Tana’oa who spoke up, surprising Jack. “Castiel would never hurt anyone, unless someone hurt Dean or Sam. He is very protective of Dean, and because Sam is so important to Dean, he is protective of him as well. Once Dean gets to know us, and makes friends among us, Castiel will come to trust us with Dean.”
“We’re about to send Dean off-world to live on another planet,” Daniel said. “That’s not going to give him much time to get to know any of us.”
Jack encouraged Tana’oa to keep talking. “Sam will end up here eventually, and Dean will come to learn that he is in good hands, that he is surrounded by friends. That will predispose Dean to trust us.”
“Or hate us,” Jack jumped in. “Dean’s a little wacky about Sam. He wants him in his sights all the time. At the same time, he wants Sam to have the life he’s always wanted, which would put him out of Dean’s sights. I’m not exactly sure how that’s all going to work out.”
“In hindsight, I’m not sure allowing Dean to have one of the Goa’…Companions, so quickly, was the best choice,” Hammond said.
“Zeus would be dead if we’d waited,” Daniel pointed out.
“Having Castiel around is like pretending the Tyrannosaurus Rex that lives in the basement is tame, and there’s got to be another reason why all your neighbors are going missing,” Jack said.
“You were right there,” Daniel snapped at him. “You were all for it a few hours ago.”
“I know,” Jack said. “But it was sort of like betting on the only horse in the race. If Castiel had suggested that Dean not take a symbiote, I don’t think Dean would have been willing to let Zeus die, and he would have talked Castiel into giving Zeus to him. I’m also sure that if we’d suddenly decided to let Zeus die, instead of putting him in Dean, that Dean wouldn’t have been okay with that. I think he’d’ve asked Castiel to give him Zeus against our wishes, and Castiel would have done it.”
Daniel frowned at him.
“But,” Jack said, a hand up to placate Daniel, “I do think it was the right thing to do. I think Dean will be a good addition.” Jack suspected that a military environment, be it the good old American military, or the Tok’ra one, would be comforting to Dean, assuming they could figure out a way to fit him in. It would make him feel connected, even if he was on his own. “By the way,” he continued. “If this works out, the Tok’ra stuff, I mean, Dean says there’re other hunters he’s sure would join up.”
“Do you believe you have Dean’s loyalty?” Hammond asked Daniel. “Or Zeus’? One of the advantages of having your Companions go work with the Tok’ra was that we’d have their allegiance.”
“I know, and I wish I could more thoroughly reassure you,” Daniel said. “Right now, Zeus is laying low. He knows how angry he made Dean when he spoke out of turn, and he hasn’t said a word to me. And Dean made it quite clear that he would never address me as his system lord.”
Hammond was looking progressively unhappier.
“But,” Daniel said, “and I know we’re using that word a lot, I believe Zeus will, in time, ask to speak with me, and will communicate with Dean the situation. I have no reason to think that Dean isn’t as tied to this planet as the rest of us. He’s been fighting his entire life to keep it safe.”
“I don’t like all these loose ends,” Hammond said.
Jack almost snickered at the thought of Castiel being a loose end. More like a loose Grand Canyon.
“Please trust us,” Junior spoke up. “We trust them, and ask that you give them all a chance. None of them will betray us.”
Hammond gave Junior a terse nod. “I hope you’re right.”
“So may I go off-world?” Daniel asked.
“You don’t need my permission to go off-world,” Hammond reminded him. “Not if it’s about the Companions.”
Daniel looked a little guilty. He’d never been able to lie to anyone convincingly. Jack narrowed his eyes at him, wondering exactly what was going on.
“I appreciate you saying that, and I know that you consider me to be a sovereign nation, but, um,” Daniel said, “the trip to the Land of Light also involves some personal business.”
There was a small smile on Hammond’s face. “You still have permission to do what you feel you need to do.”
“I’ll go with you,” Jack said.
“So will I,” Carter said, “but we can’t leave for an hour. I have to run an errand first.”
He didn’t hear Teal’c volunteer to go along for the ride, but that was a given. If Daniel was going somewhere, his First Prime was right behind him, sometimes in front of him. He shot Carter a narrow-eyed stare, wondering what she was up to, and how she was planning on running an errand when the mountain was locked down.
“Oh, and we might as well take Dean and Sam,” Daniel said. “We could just bring the symbiote back, but we might as well see how they’ll do on another planet.”
Every now and then, someone didn’t take to inter-planetary travel well. Jack, with Teal’c’s help had carried a couple of nearly comatose--or hysterical--soldiers and scientists back through the gate at one time or another.
Hammond let out a sigh, an unusual lapse for him. Jack was sure he wanted to turn back the clock a week and move on from there without a surprise visit from demon hunters and a maverick angel. At least they knew it wasn’t Sam or Dean who sent that e-mail. And Jack knew it wasn’t anyone who had a Companion. They were all about stealth when it really mattered, and they all loved a good practical joke, but not if it compromised Stargate Command. Jack would stake his life on it.
“Take SG-3 with you,” Hammond said. “Meanwhile, I’ll attempt to contact Jacob, and let him know we have…” Hammond’s words dried up.
“Some good news and some bad news?” Jack tried.
Hammond let out a short silent laugh. “I suppose that’s as good a way to put it as any other. Colonel, could you stay for a minute?”
That was a dismissal in everyone’s books, so Carter, Daniel, and Teal’c rose and left the room.
“I don’t like the fact that we’ve lost control, Colonel,” Hammond told him. “And I like knowing the Tok’ra will know that soon enough, even less.”
“I know,” Jack said. “I don’t like it, either. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but you’re right. The truth is, with Castiel at the table, we have lost control. The Companions do what he says, and I’m not sure what would happen if Daniel wanted something different. Last night, when they showed up, all we were focused on was getting Zeus a host before he died, so Daniel wasn’t inclined to argue.”
“Are we safer keeping them here or letting them join the Tok’ra? Their father was a Marine. Would it do any good to induct them? Would they respond better to commands from a superior officer?”
“I think Dean might, maybe, but I have no idea about Sam.” Jack mulled things over for a moment, then said, “General, they were talking last night and the things they were saying, the life these two men have lived, I don’t think anything we say or do is going to impress them. Sure, we have a shiny Stargate, but I think they’ve been dealing with weirder shit than we have. They’ve all been dead, including the angel. I think Dean’s actually been to hell, and I don’t mean figuratively. And Sam’s been through his own kind of hell.”
“Are they a threat?”
“You mean do we neutralize them?” Jack asked, hoping like hell Castiel wasn’t listening in. He snorted. “I hate to say it, but I think Castiel would just bring them back, and he’d take us all out with extreme prejudice.” He leaned in. “I think Dean is a genuinely good guy, even if he’s totally fucked up. I think if we treat him well, if we are loyal to him, if we treat his brother well, if we don’t try to manipulate any of them to do something that puts the others at risk, we’ll be paid back a hundred-fold.” Jack wasn’t sure why he knew that, but he kept harking back to Dean’s nature, the one Castiel was so adamant about. “I just think there’s a reason an angel acts as if Dean sort of walks on water, you know?”
Hammond’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you implying that Dean is the second coming of Christ?”
“God no,” Jack said. “No. I just think that everything hinges on Dean. I think we’ve already hooked Sam. We already know how brilliant he is. Daniel was talking to him about studying for his law degree here, maybe even studying the laws of our allies, sort of becoming our expert on galaxy-wide Stargate legal matters. It remains to be seen if he has the temperament for it; I’ve already seen him lose his temper half a dozen times, but each time it was to protect Dean in one fashion or another.”
Hammond looked intrigued by the idea of an intergalactic attorney.
“I think we should throw our best and brightest at him, give him something to look forward to, maybe bring Paul Davis in, maybe Arthur Simms, shit, maybe the President; he’s a smart guy. I think it’s too soon to separate Dean and Sam, and they think so, too, but I do think we can give Sam the kind of life he’s only dreamed of.”
“I don’t know yet. I can’t decide if him saying he’s all right on his own is bullshit or not. I can’t figure out what Castiel is planning, if he’s going to go with Dean permanently, or just to make sure we’re not sending his charge to his death. I believe Dean will take orders, as long as he trusts the source of those orders.”
“Are you speaking of yourself?” Hammond asked.
“Yeah, I am,” Jack said. “With your permission, I’ll take him on for a while. I think we’ll get along just fine. Maybe I’ll take them on a couple missions, see if Castiel hangs around.” Jack was thinking that Dean and SG-3 would probably get along great, too, now that they’d bonded over beating the crap out of each other.
Hammond considered that for a moment and nodded. “I’ll wait to contact Jacob.”
Jack tried to wrap his mind around adding Dean, Sam, and Castiel to the motley crew he already had, and hoped he wasn’t signing up for a one-way trip to the funny farm.
“I’ll be expecting regular reports. And I’ll need a threat assessment done as well.” Hammond paused. “We might need to give some thought to moving everyone with Companions off planet. If we’ve got enemies on Earth trying to blow this wide open, it might be our only recourse.”
Jack’s lips tightened, but he nodded. “Yes, sir. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“So do I.” Hammond stood up, and Jack followed suit.
Jack went to tell Sara he was going off-world. She looked distracted. “Hey, honey, everything okay?”
She nodded. “Is there some sort of fancy dinner thing going on here later?”
Grimacing, Jack said, “God, I hope not.”
Sara grinned at him, kissing him quickly on the lips.
“Why are you asking me that?” Jack asked. “Did you hear something?” The last thing he wanted to do was attend some boring political event.
“Sam was just asking me about my favorite evening dress.”
“Sam Winchester?” Jack asked, confused as all get-out, trying to imagine that conversation.
“No, idiot, Sam Carter. Remember her?”
“Oh,” Jack said, feeling stupid. “I hate that there are two Sams now. Makes everything confusing.”
“Right, because I’m sure Sam Winchester would be very interested in the clothes I wear. I can see how that could mix you up.” She was definitely laughing at him.
Jack refused to respond.
“I think Dean would look prettier in a dress,” Tana’oa offered up in an amazingly unhelpful manner.
“Ack, stop,” Jack insisted. “Don’t put images like that in my head.”
Tana’oa laughed wickedly again.
“Laugh it up, Dr. Evil. You have totally failed in your mission to make Junior talk.”
Jack refocused on the confusing conversation he was having with his better half. “What was your question?”
“Oh, honey, I hope you can concentrate better than this when you go off-world. Are you sure you should be going anywhere?”
“Hey,” Jack protested. “I was listening. Clothes, Carter.”
“Do you know why Sam Carter was asking me about evening dresses?” Sara asked slowly as if Jack were an idiot.
“No idea,” Jack said. “And I don’t need to think when I go off-world. That’s why I have Carter and Daniel. I just shoot things.”
“Right,” she said fondly, giving him a longer kiss this time. “Be careful.”
“With this to come home to?” he said, grabbing her and hugging her tightly. “You bet.” He gave her one last kiss, then headed for the armory to gear up.
Sam Winchester was the one who touched the event horizon, even though Jack would have bet it would be Dean. “Cool,” Sam enthused, shooting a wide grin at Dean.
Dean didn’t look anywhere near as excited about it. In fact, Jack thought he looked like he might puke. “We really going through that thing?” he asked.
“Kind of hard to get to other planets without it,” Jack said. “Everyone ready? Let’s go, campers.” Sam and Dean had been kitted out just like the rest of them, Berettas and M-5s at the ready.
“Wait,” Daniel said.
Jack frowned at his friend. “Now what? You were the one all fired up about going to visit Chaka-land.”
“I just thought,” Daniel started. He stopped that sentence and started another one, aimed at Dean. “Should you be letting Castiel know you’re doing this?”
“He’s not my keeper,” Dean bit out.
“No, no, I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just not sure how he keeps track of you, and I’m sorry if that’s the wrong way to say it. What I mean is what will happen if you go through the gate, and he loses any sense of you? I don’t want the people here to pay the price for that.”
Dean gave that some thought before letting out a beleaguered sigh. He opened up his mouth after another breath, clearly intending to yell.
“Oh, yeah, here we go,” Sam said tightly.
Dean shot him a look, took another deep breath, started to bellow, “Ca…” then Castiel was there.
Jack did not miss the look Castiel shot Sam but, thankfully, Dean missed it. He was too busy being clearly delighted at Castiel appearing. Jack wondered how often Dean had yelled for the angel, maybe Sam watching him, with no results.
“Wow,” Dean said with a pleased grin, “that was fast.”
“As I told you, I was unable to come when you called for me before because I was detained. I am detained no longer.”
Dean looked a little skeptical, like he’d believe it when he saw it, but he just smiled crookedly at Castiel. “Ready to go on a trip?” He pointed at the event horizon. He looked a little less spooked by the idea now that he had his invulnerable buddy by his side.
“We are going to another world?”
“Yes,” Daniel said. “We’re going to a planet called Kuokoa. The people who live there are our allies.”
“Some of the people who live there are our allies,” Jack corrected him. “They also look like scaly lizards walking on two legs, so don’t let that throw you. It’s also one of the home worlds of the symbiotes, both the unfriendly type, the Goa’uld, and the Companions. Unless you have a symbiote, don’t go in the water, or stand too close to it. Now, let’s go before our thirty-eight minutes are up.” He probably should have briefed Sam and Dean before now, but it had been years since they’d taken someone uninformed through the Stargate, and it had completely slipped Jack’s mind. He’d have to give Daniel hell about that later. He was the one who was supposed to do Jack’s thinking for him.
Paul and Eric went through first, Daniel and Teal’c right after them, followed by Carter. “Let’s go,” Jack said, gesturing at Sam, Dean, and Castiel.
Sam touched the circle again, then, with a nervous smile, stepped through. Castiel approached with Dean, put one hand on Dean’s shoulder, and the two of them stepped through together. Then, Jack entered, knowing Brian and Jeff would be right behind him.
Castiel reminded Jack of Claude Bausch, the first time he’d gone off-world. He was as excited as Jack had ever seen him, dragging Dean along in his wake as he studied this new world.
Dean followed him good-naturedly, while Sam seemed happy to hang out with Daniel. Brains attract brains, Jack thought fondly. Jack stuck closer to Dean, but kept an eye on Sam, making sure he didn’t get too close to the water. Carter was keeping her distance from the water as well, staying on guard, along with SG-3.
“Whoa, whoa,” Dean said, pointing off to the left. He had one hand on his Berretta, another on his rifle. “Is that one of those lizard things?”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “It’s actually called an Unas, and that particular Unas is named Chaka.”
Chaka yelled out a greeting.
“Holy shit,” Dean said, “I can understand him, or Zeus can.”
“All the symbiotes speak a bunch of languages,” Jack said, waving his M-5 at Chaka.
“That’s awesome,” Dean said. “Hey, Sam, I bet I know more than you right now.”
Sam just gave him the finger.
Dean let out a laugh. “Hey, Cas, speak to me in angel. Maybe I can understand you now.”
“I cannot. There are too many others around. I do not wish to hurt them.”
“Right. Good point. Maybe later.”
“Hurt us?” Jack asked Dean.
“Yeah, unless you’re someone ‘special’,” Dean put sarcastic air quotes around the word, “an angel’s real voice makes your ears bleed, and looking at them can burn your eyes right out of your head.”
“And you’re not special?” Jack asked incredulously.
“Apparently not,” Dean said. It sounded like it was a sore subject for him.
“So who is that special?”
“No one I know.”
“Huh,” was all Jack could say.
“We will be right back,” Castiel said, and then he and Dean were gone.
Jack frowned at the spot Dean had been standing in, shrugged his shoulders, and moved to stand next to Sam. “Daniel find your symbiote yet?”
“He was about to ask Zeus,” Sam said. He had one half-captivated, half-revolted eye on Daniel as the symbiotes in the water swarmed to him, and the other eye on Chaka.
“Castiel said they’d be right back.”
“We really are on another world, aren’t we?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, we really are.”
“Will I be able to understand what he’s saying when I take a Companion?” Sam asked.
“Yup,” Jack said. “And a lot of other stuff, too. They’re like a Milky Way Wikipedia.”
Chaka was pounding Daniel on the shoulder in a maneuver that would have pile-driven him into the ground before he got Junior on board. It was just Chaka’s way of saying howdy.
Just then, Castiel and Dean showed back up again. Castiel was looking very smug, and Dean had stars in his eyes and his legs were wobbly.
“You okay?” Sam asked, his brow furrowed.
Dean sat down on the ground very suddenly.
“Dean.” Sam hurried over to him.
“He is fine,” Castiel told him. “He is able to see my true visage now and to hear my voice.”
“Why isn’t he talking?” Sam demanded.
“It is a sight that that few mortals have ever seen,” Castiel said.
Dean seemed to be coming out of it, and he glanced up at Sam. Jack was taken aback at the look in his eyes. It was like he had seen the face of God. It was filled with awe and solemnity, all in a green-eyed gaze. “Sammy,” was all he said. He shook his head.
Zeus chose that moment to take over, and Jack guessed that Dean had handed the reins over so he could process what he’d seen in private. “Junior said you needed me?” he asked Daniel.
“Yes, can you find the symbiote Claude was talking about? I’m not sure which one it was, and whoever it is, they’re not coming forward.”
Dean’s body, powered by Zeus, walked right into the water. As if that was all it had been waiting for, a symbiote swam right over to him and Zeus picked him up out of the water. Jack watched as Zeus and the symbiote eyed each other for a long time.
“I do not know what he is saying, but they are speaking to each other,” Tana’oa said.
Jack really wished he could hear that conversation. He edged a little closer so he could hear the human one.
“Sam,” Zeus finally said. “Dean and I have explained some things. This one would like you as a host if you wish it.”
Sam didn’t look convinced. “Does he know…?”
“Yes,” Zeus said. He put a hand on Sam’s shoulder and spoke softly. “He understands.”
“You don’t know it all,” Sam said. “Dean doesn’t know it all. Everything I’ve done.”
“Just as you don’t know everything Dean has done.” Zeus shook Sam’s shoulder. “Sam, you are forgiven.”
Sam’s eyes grew bright with tears all of a sudden, and he blew out a shaky breath. Zeus hugged him, and Jack heard him say, “Dean is here with me. We love you. So does this new Companion. He is eager to merge with you.”
Sam stepped back so he could glance at Dean’s face, hesitating, as if unsure what to do with a man who looked just like his brother, spoke on behalf of his brother, but wasn’t him at all. He glanced at Castiel, who seemed completely unconcerned by Dean walking around Zeus-powered.
“Could you put it in me?” Sam asked Castiel.
“Yes,” Castiel said, taking the symbiote from Zeus. “If you wish it, let me know, and I will remove it.”
Jack wished Castiel could always be around to put in and, if necessary, take out the symbiotes because, just that easy, it was in Sam, no clawing through the neck or yelp of pain. Castiel put his hand on Sam’s chest, the same way he’d done Dean, making sure the tattoo didn’t interfere with the bonding.
“I hope he’s around when Kitty’s ready,” Carter said.
“No kidding,” Jack replied.
Daniel was watching Sam with the same avidity Jack was, wanting this to be a success. Sam’s eyes opened, his eyes glowing, then they dimmed, and Sam laughed out loud, saying, “This is great! Wow, he knows so much.”
Sighing in pleasure, Daniel gave Jack a happy look. Jack felt the same way. It seemed like years ago that Dean was seizing in the infirmary, with everything feeling like it was falling apart. To have it all work out, even if there were still some mammoth loose ends, felt great.
“Hey, I can talk to Zeus in my mind,” Sam said.
“All the symbiotes can talk to each other,” Daniel said. “You and Dean will be able to speak through them.”
Jack listened as Tana’oa introduced himself, followed by Junior saying hello. Mithras, Satrughna, Mel, and Honus were right behind them. Then they all took a moment to say hello to Zeus. That hadn’t happened before, as Zeus had immediately shut down after merging with Dean. Zeus seemed thrilled to be chatting with his fellow symbiotes at last, and Jack could hear the pleased chatter going on in the back of his mind. Sam was standing there with the broadest smile on his face through the whole thing.
“Please pass my regards to Kenal and Daikoku,” Daniel was saying to Chaka. “We don’t have time to stay long.” It’s not like the Unas went unvisited; Claude was here just about every week.
Chaka was saying something about how it was always good to see his friend Dan-ell, and then Daniel was striding out of the water, Chaka right behind him. Teal’c was there to meet him; he never left the water’s edge when Daniel was in it.
Jack left them to their greeting and glanced over at Castiel. He was speaking with Carter, and his jaw dropped when he saw that Carter had an angel feather in her fingers. How the hell, he wondered, had she finagled that? He could already see her in the lab, putting the feather under one of her heavy-duty microscopes, trying to see if the mystery of the universe was printed on the quill.
Zeus came striding out of the water next, smiling at Sam, but moving to stand next to Castiel.
“Hey, is Dean gonna come back out?” Jack asked.
“He is…pondering,” Zeus said. “He has seen something majestic, and he needs time to contemplate.”
“Gotcha,” Jack said. He frowned at Carter. “How did you end up with a feather?” he hissed at her.
“I asked him,” she said. “It’s so soft.” She handed it to him, and Jack gingerly took it, running his hands down the edge. It really was soft. That kind of captivating soft that your hands didn’t want to let go of. She had to yank it away. “It’s mine. Get your own.”
Jack couldn’t imagine asking Castiel for a feather. Maybe he’d do it later. Maybe he’d ask Dean to get him one.
Paul came over to admire the feather, looking as jealous as Jack felt.
“Everyone ready to go back to the gate for the next planet on our galaxy tour?” Jack bellowed.
Dean blinked his eyes and tuned back in. Jack watched as he took in the feather in Carter’s fingers with a frown, saw his brother Sam babbling in Unas to Chaka, and how Teal’c had his arms wrapped around Daniel. Jack waited for Dean’s reaction to that.
“The two of them?” Dean asked, his eyes still on the two men.
“You got a problem with that?” Jack asked.
Dean’s eyes moved to Jack. “No. But I thought the military did.”
Jack shrugged. “Neither of them are military. Daniel’s a civilian, and Teal’c’s an alien. Technically, Daniel is also a sovereign nation, too, seeing as how he’s the System Lord of the Companions. He sort of gets to do whatever he wants.”
“And the military just deals?”
“The SGC is a little different than most bases,” Carter chimed in. “We have to deal with unusual situations on a regular basis. We go to so many other planets with such radically different societal and religious underpinnings, you either learn to cope with things outside your comfort zone, or you get shipped out.”
“What she said,” Jack said.
Dean snorted at him. “Like angels?”
Jack snorted right back. “Way, way outside my comfort zone.”
“Me, too,” Dean admitted. “When I first met him--”
“He was disrespectful,” Castiel said, with a fond look at Dean.
“Only because you were copping an attitude,” Dean protested, even though he was grinning.
“I am an angel,” Castiel said.
“Yeah, copping an attitude is all part of your gig,” Dean said. “And how come she gets a feather?”
“She asked for one,” Castiel said.
“I want one too,” Dean said.
“They are all yours already,” Castiel said. “You need only ask.”
That answer seemed to mollify Dean, and he yelled at Sam. “Sam, you all slugged up?”
Sam babbled something at Chaka and then trotted over to where Dean was. “Hey, you back with us?”
“Total care bear, right?”
“Yeah, Dean, total care bear. I think I’m naming mine Cheer Bear.”
Dean shot him a horrified look. “You are not.”
Sam grinned at him. “It would serve you right.”
“So what’s his name? I need to meet the new member of the family.”
“I don’t know. He’s waiting for either me or Daniel to name him.”
“That’s completely up to you,” Daniel said. “I’ll only name him if you can’t come up with a name, or would rather have me do it.”
“Be careful, though,” Jack said, “because he gives them all stupid god names.”
“Is that where Zeus came from?” Dean asked.
“No,” Daniel said, with a smug look, “Jack named him. And god names are still better than Dr. Seuss names.”
“No way,” Dean said, looking enchanted. “You can name yours Yertle,” he told Sam.
Jack smiled at Dean, liking him more by the second. “Or Grinch.”
“Good one,” Dean said. “Horton?”
“There’s already one named Horton,” Daniel said, sounding aggrieved.
“I’m not naming him after a Dr. Seuss character,” Sam said loudly.
“You’re no fun,” Dean stated. “What are you going to call him?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” And the look on Sam’s face said the conversation was over.
In an aside, Dean told Jack, “He’ll probably name him after some famous lawyer.”
“Ugh,” Jack said.
“Seriously,” Dean said.
Sam rolled his eyes.
“Daniel,” Jack yelled. “Are we leaving or staying?” Daniel was talking to Chaka again, and it would be just like him to accept an invitation to dinner on behalf of all of them.
“We’re going,” Daniel said, slapping Chaka on the arm.
He jogged over to the rest of them, Teal’c in tow, and they all headed for the Stargate.
“So why exactly are we going to the Land of Light?” Jack asked.
Daniel looked shifty for a moment, but then said, “You’ll see when we get there.”
Jack frowned. “Carter?”
“Sorry, sir, I’m sworn to secrecy.”
“Wait,” Daniel said, pulling a bottle out of his pocket. “Sam, Dean, take one of these.”
“What are they?” Dean asked.
“Good call,” Jack told Daniel. “If you don’t take them, you’ll turn into a Neanderthal. Literally.”
Dean shot Jack a very skeptical look. “Excuse me?”
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s a microbe that feeds on histamine,” Carter said. “If you get infected by the bug, it causes a radical reworking of the human brain, causing people to revert to a more primitive state.”
“Trust me,” Jack said. “It sucks.”
“It happened to you?” Sam asked.
“And me,” Daniel said with a grimace.
“I beat the shit out of him,” Jack announced.
“They were fighting over me,” Carter said with a smug grin.
“Fun times,” Jack said.
Dean and Sam took a couple of antihistamines each.
Jack kept walking. To the side he could see Sam and Dean talking to one another. SG-3 were split up, Eric and Paul near Daniel, Brian and Jeff close to Jack. It suddenly dawned on Jack that he had the two brainiac members of SG-3 guarding him, while Daniel had the two nutty ones. Well, Eric wasn’t too nutty, but Paul more than made up for it. It made him curious as to how that had worked out; Jack hadn’t made that decision.
Carter and Daniel were telling secrets to each other, Teal’c to Daniel’s side. That left Castiel walking by himself, although his eyes never left Dean. Jack kept his eyes on Castiel, wondering what was going through his mind. Would he regret the fact that Dean had Zeus now, as well as everyone in the SGC, as a new sort of family? That he wouldn’t have to rely on Castiel as much? Or would he be thrilled for him? Jack guessed that only time would tell.
When they got to the gate, Jack dialed up the Land of Light, one of the few gate addresses he’d committed to memory. When the wormhole did its kerwhooshing thing, Jack gestured for the team to move out. Sam and Dean went through this time like seasoned professionals, and Jack followed after them.
It was always dark where the gate was, but it didn’t take them long to move into the sunny side of the planet and to approach the main city. As they neared, Jack saw Councilor Tuplo heading for them, his hand out in pleased greeting, his smile broad.
“Colonel O’Neill,” he said brightly. “You have brought many visitors for us today.” He smiled happily at Teal’c, Jack, and Carter, and then beamed at the rest of them. “You do us honor.”
Leedora, his wife, appeared next. “Why do you keep them standing here, husband,” she scolded him. “Bring them inside.”
“Where are my manners?” Tuplo said, gesturing for them to precede him into the city.
“Wow,” Dean said. “Those are some bulls.”
Jack was so used to them, he barely noticed them anymore, but it was true that there were bulls everywhere. There were two huge bull heads at the front gate, covered with flowers. “They worship a bull god,” he told Dean.
“Seriously?” Dean asked.
Jack nodded. “Just don’t kill any of their bulls, and you’ll get along just fine.”
“Good safety tip.”
Everyone they met had pleased smiles for them, and several of the children came up to them with leis of flowers. Jack leaned down and let a young girl slip a lei of yellow flowers over his head. He watched Dean do the same, his cheeks a little pink.
“Are they always this friendly?” Dean asked.
“They like us.”
“I can see that.” Dean snorted.
Jack glanced at him, only to see Dean watching Castiel. The angel was surrounded by children, and he had about a dozen leis around his neck. Then they were through the gates and into the village, and Tuplo and Leedora were bringing them into the Councilor’s home.
Castiel glommed onto Dean, as if the children were frightening him, something Dean clearly found very amusing, as he kept snickering at the angel.
“I thought angels loved anyone with a pure heart,” Dean teased him.
“I have had very little contact with children,” Castiel defended himself.
“You hang out with Dean,” Sam pointed out.
“Shut up,” Dean said, “and name your slug already.”
“You shut up,” Sam rejoined, but there wasn’t much heat in it.
Jack thought Sam looked better than he had since he had first laid eyes on him. The miracle cure of the Companions, he mused. Good for what ails you. Even Dean was looking less haunted.
After they all settled down on the furniture scattered around the main living area, Tuplo asked, “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?” Leedora was missing, and Jack hoped it was because she was about to reappear with food, especially those round little chocolaty-salty things. He liked those.
“Ask Daniel,” Jack said. “This is his party.”
Tuplo swung around to face Daniel. “Dr. Jackson, how may we assist you?”
“We need to get Jack married,” Daniel said.
Jack’s jaw dropped. “What?”
Tuplo clapped his hands together. “Wonderful! Wonderful! Leedora, do you hear? Colonel O’Neill has come for a wife. Assemble the most beautiful women so he may choose.”
There was a shriek of joy from the cooking area, and Leedora came rushing out. “Oh, if only our daughter Melosha was still unmarried. It would indeed be a privilege to welcome you to our family.”
Jack glowered at Daniel. “Daniel.” He left out the words: fix this or else, sure that Daniel would hear them anyway.
“No, no,” Daniel said hurriedly, “I’m sorry, Jack already has a woman he wishes to marry. Her name is Sara. We would simply like to hold the wedding here. If you’re willing.”
Tuplo and Leedora recovered quickly, and flashed a wide smile at them. “We are deeply honored!” Leedora said. “We will hold you a wedding that will be unlike any other.”
“I’ll bet,” Jack said under his breath.
“Come on, Jack,” Daniel said. “You know Sara wants a big wedding. She knows as well as you do that it can’t happen on Earth.”
“We will throw you a spectacular wedding,” Tuplo assured Jack.
Of that he had no doubt.
He saw Carter talking to Leedora, and she had Sara’s favorite dress in her arms, along with what looked like Brides Magazine. Leedora snapped out an order to a young woman who went scrambling to obey whatever she’d just been told to do.
“Oh, boy,” Jack said.
“Family, right?” Dean said, slapping a consoling hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
“Come on, Jack,” Daniel pleaded. “Let us do this for you and Sara. You won’t have to plan a thing. That’s got to count for something, right? All you have to do is show up, you and Sara. Don’t you want to give her a wedding she’ll never forget?”
Jack did, he just wasn’t sure he wanted bulls to be a part of it. But he’d never been able to say no to that look on Daniel’s face, and if this wasn’t a sure-fire way to induct Sara into his world, he didn’t know what was. Plus, not having to do a thing to plan his own wedding? A huge bonus.
“Sure,” he said. “It’s a great idea.” And the crazy thing was that it was a great idea. Tuplo and the gang would have a blast, they could invite all the alien friends they wanted, all the human-symbiote hybrids could attend, and most of the SGC could be there as well. It wouldn’t get Sara’s family and friends there, but seeing as Sara had been talking about skipping out to Vegas, she’d already accepted the fact that the big wedding thing with her family and friends wasn’t going to happen. He reached forward and put a hand behind Daniel’s neck, shaking him a little. “Thanks. I mean it.”
Daniel beamed at him, and Jack found himself grinning back.
Cameron Mitchell looked at the pictures on the table in front of him and touched one. “We spar together.” He touched another, “We’ve gone out drinking a couple of times.” And another, “We dated a little while.” He shrugged. “I know about half of them, but I don’t think any of them had a reason to release a photo-manip of me to the press.”
The pictures in front of him were all the people who’d been on computers when the e-mail was sent to the newspaper. Jack had decided to start with Mitchell before interrogating them.
“Why’d you break up?” Carter asked. “Was it an ugly break-up?”
“I don’t know. I got Phelan, and things got busy, and…” Mitchell shrugged. “We just stopped seeing each other.”
“I do not believe she was comfortable around me,” Phelan added.
“Yeah, that’s right. She got a little weird after I got Phelan.”
Jack wondered if it could be that simple.
“I did not trust her,” Phelan said.
“Maybe with good reason, if she did this,” Daniel pointed out. “You want me to speak with her?” he asked Jack.
Jack shook his head. “I think Carter should talk to her.”
“Yes, sir,” Carter said. After checking her notes, she added, “She’s on duty, so I’ll speak with her now.” She stood up and left the room.
Mitchell scowled. “Why the hell would she do that? I mean, I get a woman scorned and all that shit, but if she’s guilty, she could be branded a traitor and be charged with treason. She’s not that stupid, at least I didn’t think she was.”
“I think she was hoping you’d be the one charged with treason,” Jack pointed out. “And love makes everyone do stupid stuff.”
“Whatever we had? It wasn’t worth her ruining her life.”
Jack agreed. And while he would be glad if it wasn’t anything more ominous than a woman’s scorn, and not some NID plot, it was still a damn shame.
Two hours later and they were back in the conference room, along with General Hammond and Janet Frasier.
“It was definitely her?” Janet asked unhappily. The woman in question, Jennifer Bellows, was one of her nurses.
“She confessed,” Carter said gently. “I’m sorry, Janet.”
“Did she say why?” Janet asked. “And how did one of my nurses know how to send an almost untraceable e-mail?”
“She blames Phelan for taking Mitchell away from her. She doesn’t trust the Companions. And a lot of our computers are set up to be untraceable, as part of our security, so if Jennifer had any idea of what she was doing, she had templates to follow.”
“I’m actually surprised this is the first time this has come up,” Daniel said. “We’ve been lucky that most of the staff here take strange things in stride.”
“Does she seem completely sane?” Janet asked, as if looking for a reason to explain the behavior of one of her trusted staff.
“I wish I could say she sounded like a crazy person, but she was very clear about what she was doing. She was quite determined to make me see her point of view.” Carter glanced up at Hammond. “What should we do with her, sir?”
“A very good question, Major,” Hammond said. “And one I don’t have a good answer for.”
“I know this might sound like a crazy suggestion,” Paul Costello said, hovering in the back of the room, near the donuts. He hesitated before saying anything else.
“Go ahead,” Hammond said. “I’m willing to listen to any ideas.”
“Well, I was sparring with Dean, and he and Sam were telling this crazy story, and a part of it was how an angel took someone’s memories away. Not that I believe the story, necessarily, but I still bet Castiel could make her forget about the Companions, and then you could just reassign her.”
“I appreciate the suggestion, but unless absolutely forced to, I don’t want to begin relying on Castiel’s assistance,” Hammond said. “We managed to muddle through without his help up to now.”
“Besides,” Janet said heatedly, “we don’t have the right to do that. Her memories, her mind, aren’t something we have the right to interfere with, especially without her consent.”
“We could get her consent,” Jack said. If it was a choice of a memory drain or the rest of her life in Gitmo, Jack would bet she’d pick losing a few memories.
“I would like to speak with her myself,” the general said, “and then I will speak with the President. I will inform you when I’ve made my decision.”
“I can have someone bring her up here, sir,” Carter offered.
“Thank you,” Hammond said. “Colonel, please stay. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Carter and Daniel were already whispering before they hit the door, no doubt minds back on the wedding. They were like a couple of teenage girls. Then again, they could be scheming on how to drop Jennifer Bellows off on the nearest volcano planet.
“Sir?” Jack asked, once the room was empty.
“How did the Winchesters do?”
“Fine, sir. Took to traveling through the wormholes like a fish to water.”
“Seemed like he was having fun.” It took a look from Hammond to make Jack realize that wasn’t the answer he was looking for. “Sorry. He barely said a word. Just kept his eyes on Dean and came along quietly. I really think things will work out all right, sir. And I know those words could bite me in the ass, but I think bringing Dean and Sam on board was a good thing.”
“I hope you’re right. Any suggestions about Ms. Bellows?”
“I have mixed feelings about Paul’s idea. People are entitled to their opinion. I’m sure she’s not the only one who worries about the Companions and if we’re doing the right thing here. Before the Companions, I’m sure there were people here who questioned the entire Stargate Program. We need to punish her for what she did, not how she thought. Paul’s idea is the opposite of that, and I think it’s a slippery slope. It’s not far to go from there to brainwashing the masses.”
“I agree,” Hammond said, looking a little relieved that Jack had spoken the words out loud.
“On the other hand,” Jack said, “it would be an easy way out of this mess. What do we do with her? We can’t really court-martial her, at least not publicly. And even if we did, do we give her a dishonorable discharge and then let her go free, hoping she won’t spill the rest of the beans? Or do we send her to prison and put her in solitary confinement? I’m a little stumped.”
Hammond beat out a short tattoo on the table, nodding sharply. “As am I. It’s why I want to speak with her, to get a better sense of what she was trying to accomplish. Was it simply to compromise Major Mitchell, or was she trying to go public with the Stargate program?”
Jack felt a shiver go down his back as he remembered looking down at the crumpled body of a reporter who had also tried to go public about the Stargate program. “Is she just going to disappear, sir?”
“I don’t know, Colonel,” Hammond said, looking disturbed.
“If that’s the case, I’ll ask Castiel myself.”
“Understood.” There was a knock on the door, and at Hammond’s command to enter, Jennifer Bellows was escorted in by an SF. Hammond indicated that she should take a seat. “That will be all, Colonel,” Hammond said.
“He’s staying, right, sir?” Jack asked about the SF.
Hammond looked surprised, momentarily, as if it hadn’t occurred to him that he could be in any danger, but then he nodded. As Jennifer sat down, Jack hissed at the soldier. “Keep your eyes open.”
The soldier nodded sharply, closing the door after Jack left. Jack stood there for a long moment and then started to move away. He only made it a few steps when he stopped again. “What is it? Why am I feeling this way?” he asked Tana’oa, trying to figure out what was making him so uneasy.
“I don’t know,” Tana’oa said, “but that woman makes me uncomfortable.”
“You didn’t even speak to her,” Jack protested.
“I know, but she still made me uneasy.”
That was good enough for Jack. He turned around and walked back to the conference room, just as Mitchell and Sheppard turned the corner. Jack made a signal to them, and they stopped and went on guard, ready to move on his command.
He pressed his ear to the door, but all he heard was the flow of conversation between Hammond and Bellows. Maybe he was imagining things, he thought.
“I don’t think so,” Tana’oa said. “I think she means to do him harm. Think of it, Jack, the chaos that would ensue if the general had to be replaced. It would be a real blow to the program.”
“Even if I replaced him?” Jack didn’t think he’d be that bad at it.
“Do you think it would be you? It might have been before you merged with me, but do you actually believe they would put the SGC in the hands of an alien?”
Jack hadn’t really thought about that part of it. Tana’oa was probably right. Which meant they’d bring someone in from outside, someone who wouldn’t understand what they’d all gone through to get to where they were now, who might want to make changes, sweeping changes.
Sheppard moved up behind Jack, Mitchell right behind him. “What’s the situation, sir?” Sheppard asked, almost silently.
Jack edged them down the hall a few feet. “Your ex-girlfriend is in there with Hammond, Mitchell, and I don’t trust her.”
“Neither do I,” Tana’oa said to all of them.
“Neither do I,” Phelan said.
“That makes all of us,” Flutie chimed in. “She was creepy.”
“I didn’t think she was that creepy,” Mitchell protested.
“You just thought she gave good blow jobs,” Sheppard told him. Then, to Jack, he said, “Sorry, sir.”
“What? You think I can’t appreciate a good blow job? Please.”
Sheppard let out a silent laugh. “What do we do?”
“I’ll go for Hammond, you flank her. This could all be a big nothing, and Hammond could have our asses in a sling, but something’s got me edgy.”
“Just give the signal,” Sheppard said, as they moved to the conference room door.
Jack took a few seconds to think the whole thing through and had almost decided he was being overly paranoid about nothing, when he heard Hammond make a surprised sound. Jack burst through the door.
He couldn’t see exactly what was in her hand, but she was heading toward Hammond, so Jack moved between her and the general, his back partially turned. Her momentum carried through, and Jack felt something sharp prick his neck, and her hand, ineffectually, punched his shoulder in anger.
That all happened in about two seconds. Second three, Sheppard and Mitchell were there and were yanking her away, and Jack turned to see that she was on the ground completely subdued. He reached around and yanked whatever it was that had been jabbed into his neck and found a syringe. An empty syringe. “Well, fuck,” he said. He could hear Sheppard call for a medical team.
And that was when he felt Tana’oa. The symbiote had been trying to hide it, but he was hurt. The needle must have gone right through Jack and into Tana’oa. “You okay?” He couldn’t imagine Tana’oa not being able to handle a needle prick.
“Jack, we are not okay,” Tana’oa said in response, sounding completely freaked out. “I am bleeding. We will die.”
That was when Jack felt it. The burning, the sensation of lava creeping through his body from where it dripped from Tana’oa’s, searing into his spinal cord.
“Oh, shit,” Jack said, the syringe falling from numbing hands. His body felt uncoordinated. His knees buckled beneath him, and he fell to the floor.
“Colonel,” Hammond said, crouching by Jack’s side. “Jack?”
Jack found he couldn’t talk. In fact, he couldn’t even move. He realized Tana’oa was right. He was going to die. Tana’oa’s agony, at his own injury, and his guilt at knowing that it was his blood that was killing his host, took what little breath Jack had away. “It’s all right. It’s not your fault.” He didn’t want Tana’oa to die feeling this way. “It’s all right. I don’t blame you. Tell everyone to take care of Daniel. And Sara. Jesus, Sara.”
The lava burned, and burned, and burned, and Jack let out a cry. His body had to be in flames. Why wasn’t anyone putting it out?
The door flew open again revealing Daniel, Teal’c, Dean, and all of SG-3. “What happened?” Daniel said. “Jack?” He ran to Jack’s side, “What happened? Tana’oa?”
Tana’oa was trying to talk to Junior, but even Jack could tell it wasn’t making much sense. Tana’oa was too consumed with horrified emotions to do much more than emote guilt and terror and anguish and fear and his love for Jack.
“Jennifer shot him up with something,” Mitchell said angrily. “Right in his neck. She’d been going for the general, but the colonel took it instead.”
Daniel picked up the syringe. “Why isn’t Tana’oa healing him? What was in it?”
“Tana’oa is hurt as well,” Sheppard said. “I got that much before he went crazy inside of Jack.”
Teal’c knelt down, and Jack could feel cautious hands on his neck. “If you are correct, then it is most likely the symbiote’s blood that is killing O’Neill,” Teal’c reported. “I suspect that his blood, mixing with the Colonel’s, is toxic to both of them. This is known to be true for a Jaffa.”
“What do we do?” Daniel demanded. “We can’t just let him die.”
“I do not know,” Teal’c said. “It has always been fatal for a Jaffa. I know of no antidote.”
“He’s not going to die,” Daniel said miserably. “He can’t. Jack. Please.”
Jack wished with all his heart he could console Daniel; but he didn’t see a way out of this one. He couldn’t even talk.
“Yeah, fuck this. Castiel!” Dean yelled.
Jack could hear the answering sound of wings, and then Castiel was leaning over him.
The last thing he heard was Tana’oa screaming in his head, and Jack lost the fight to stay conscious.
When Jack came to, he felt fine. Truly fine. As if he was just waking up from a nap. No pain, no, wait a minute, what the fuck, no Tana’oa! His eyes snapped open and he sat up, taking in the fact that one of his hands was being held by Sara and the other by Daniel. That meant they were both safe and that was good. It meant he could focus on his primary crisis.
“Where the hell is he?” Tana’oa couldn’t be dead. Jack wasn’t willing to go there.
“He’s fine, Jack,” Daniel reassured him. “He’s just not in your head right now.”
“Why the fuck not?” Jack snarled, even though he pulled it together enough to turn to Sara and pull her into his arms. “Sorry, I’m being a bastard.”
“You’re not,” she said shakily, “I understand he’s a part of you. You almost died,” Sara told him. “If it wasn’t for Castiel, you might have.”
He pulled back, ran his hand down her face, tucking her hair behind her ears. “What happened?” He turned to Daniel. “Is Hammond okay? Where’s Tana’oa?”
“Hammond is fine,” Daniel told him, “and Tana’oa is right there.” He pointed across the infirmary.
Jack looked first at the tank, but Daniel said, “No, there with Dean.”
Dean was on the floor, a tank between his legs, and he was talking to something, and Jack guessed it was Tana’oa. And now that he was beginning to calm down, he could tell it was Tana’oa, a truly despondent Tana’oa.
“See?” Dean was saying. “Look through Zeus’s eyes. The Colonel’s sitting up and looking for you. As soon as Janet says you can go back in him, Castiel will put you back. I promise, okay?”
“We’ve all been taking shifts with him,” Daniel said. “Even though Tana’oa knows Dean the least, he seemed most comfortable with him. I think because he knows if Dean’s here, then Castiel can’t be far away.”
Jack could understand that. The two of them together were a honkin’ huge safety net.
Daniel kept going. “Castiel didn’t know how to heal you with Tana’oa inside of you; he told me he was afraid he would hurt Tana’oa if he attempted to remove his blood from your body. So, he took him out and gave him to Dean, and then Castiel healed you.”
Jack reached out and squeezed Daniel’s arm. His friend’s eyes were haunted; Jack saw a drinking night in the near future for the two of them. Neither of them did well when the other came close to dying.
“We got both of you down here,” Janet picked up the narrative, “and then Castiel healed Tana’oa’s wound, but he didn’t know what else to do. We’re just making sure Tana’oa’s completely healed before he puts him back.”
“I don’t like having him out of me,” Jack groused, even as he squeezed Sara’s hand tightly, not wanting her to think she came second, because she didn’t. She came first, along with Tana’oa and Daniel. Jack couldn’t help it he had too many people to love. It was weird not having Tana’oa snark at him about being a marshmallow; he’d grown accustomed to his private peanut gallery. “I need to see him.”
Dean brought the tank over. “See?” he said again. “He’s right here.”
Jack wasn’t entirely sure who Dean was talking to, but either way, Jack was glad Tana’oa was closer. He laid his hand on his symbiote, wondering at how far he’d come, remembering when just the thought of touching one of Daniel’s babies made him sick to his stomach. He could feel Tana’oa shudder under his fingers. “Is he okay out of me?”
“Not really,” Daniel said. “And I don’t think he has the strength to get into you on his own. As soon as Castiel is back, we’ll try it. We already tried it once, while you were still out of it, but we could tell it was too soon. Even though his wound was healed, something on his body was reacting with your blood. He wanted to stay, but he was in so much pain, we had to pull him back out.”
“Where is Castiel?”
Dean shrugged. “Doing angel stuff. Don’t worry, he’ll be back. If Tana’oa starts getting into trouble, I’ll yell for him.”
Jack had to accept that, even though he felt this yawning emptiness inside of him where Tana’oa used to be.
The general was suddenly there at the foot of his bed. “I heard you were awake. How are you feeling, Colonel?”
“Fine. Except for the fact that Tana’oa is there,” he pointed at the tank, “and not here.” Jack pointed at his head. “Are you okay, sir? Sorry about busting up your party.”
A small tight smile graced Hammond’s lips. “No apologies necessary. You saved my life, and I’m in your debt.”
“Considering how much slack you usually give me, sir, let’s call it equal. Although I think you just joined the bodyguard brigade.”
Hammond smiled tightly, his eyes relieved as he gazed at Jack.
“I hear Castiel saved the day,” Jack said.
“He did,” Hammond said. “I’ve been told you would have died without his help.”
Ironic, Jack thought, considering how the two of them had just been talking about not needing his help. Showed what they knew. Tana’oa shivered under his hand again. “Where the hell is Castiel?” he muttered to Dean.
“Right here,” Castiel said, appearing in front of him, his wings paradoxically taking up all the room while not seeming to be in the way at all.
“Can you put him back in me?” Jack asked. He glanced at Sara and saw a speculative look on her face. He hoped to God she wasn’t thinking that he maybe give it a pass this time. He loved her, he did, but he didn’t feel right without Tana’oa’s presence inside him.
“Of course,” Castiel said. He reached down and picked him up out of the tank and then Jack could feel him back inside. Everything in him relaxed, and he could feel Tana’oa’s frantic relief to be back where he belonged, doing his own checks of Jack’s body. He sort of felt like a junkie, feeling that rush of drug thrum though his veins after too long without.
“Everything okay?” Daniel asked.
Jack conferred with Tana’oa. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, I am back. We are together. I did not like being out of you.”
“Me, either,” Jack said.
“We’re fine,” Jack said to Daniel. “Sorry I gave you all a scare. And thanks for helping,” he said to Castiel and Dean. He didn’t remember much, but he did recall Dean yelling for the angel.
“Hey, us slug-brothers need to stick together,” Dean said.
Jack barked out a laugh, and watched as Dean left the infirmary. He turned to Sara. “You really okay?” He needed to get her alone so he could kiss the hell out of her.
“I am. It was just so strange to see you without him and to realize you’re exactly the same as you are with him. It was, well, reassuring in a way.”
He studied her for a moment, decided she was telling the truth. “So, you’re really okay?”
“Other than puking my guts up when they came to get me, I’m fine,” she admitted sheepishly. “I may do it again,” she added, one hand over her stomach.
“Feel free to puke all over me,” Jack told her. “I totally deserve it for pulling this crap on you.”
“You saved the general’s life,” she pointed out.
“Speaking of that,” Jack said, directing his question to the group at large. “What was up with her? Do we know? Was she working on her own?”
“Yes,” Daniel said, then let out a soft snort. “Castiel looked at her, put a hand on her head, told her not to fear, and apparently that was all she needed to start confessing. She was afraid of the symbiotes, and grew to resent them even more after Cameron stopped seeing her. And she was angry with the general when he didn’t punish Cameron for his supposed indiscretion at the grocery store.”
“I feel badly I didn’t notice her state of mind,” Janet said. “And lucky at the same time. She could have done some serious damage to the Companions in the tank if she’d been thinking more clearly.”
Jack echoed that thought, although he was still thinking about Castiel’s laying on of hands to make the nurse confess. He felt acutely uncomfortable at that thought and looked around, glad to see that no one was really paying attention outside of their small group. “Let’s keep that story about Castiel under wraps, shall we?” That’s all people needed to be thinking, that the angel could get anyone’s secrets out of them with just a touch of his hand, or that Dean was the one who could make that happen. He could already see the NID frothing at the mouth.
Daniel bit his lip and nodded. “Only John and Cameron were there at that point, I mean besides General Hammond. I’ll speak with them.”
Jack knew Daniel would handle it. “What did she inject me with?”
“Potassium,” Janet said. “Enough to cause a massive coronary. Castiel took care of that, too.”
Very handy to have an angel around, Jack thought. “Sounds like just about everything’s been handled,” Jack said. To Hammond, he quietly asked, “What will they do with her?”
Hammond’s mouth tightened. “It’s been taken out of my hands. She’s already been removed from the base.”
Jack glanced around to make sure Daniel hadn’t heard that. Of course, naturally, he had, and he didn’t look happy. “She--”
“Tried to kill Hammond, and would have killed me,” Jack interrupted him. “Would you be feeling sorry for her if I was dead right now? Or if the general was dead? Just because we got lucky, doesn’t make what she tried to do, and what she put at risk, okay, no matter how you slice it. She needs to spend the next few years in a small, locked solitary cell thinking about it. We’re sitting on a powder keg, and the wrong person talking to the right person at the right time, could light the whole damn thing up.”
Daniel sighed. “I know, I know, and no, I wouldn’t be feeling sorry for her at all if either of you were dead. It’s much easier to feel generous when you’re all here with me in one piece. It just seems like such a waste.”
Jack couldn’t disagree with that, but he also understood that even if she was one single woman, she’d made some bad decisions, and pushed the wrong buttons, and she was going to get hit by a proportionate response. “Let this one go, Daniel,” he advised.
Daniel blew out a long breath. “I’ll work on it.”
Putting his attention back on Hammond, he asked, “Will we be able to go to our homes tonight, sir? I’m really ready to sleep in my own bed.”
“Yes,” Hammond said. “I’ve lifted the lockdown. People are free to return to their homes.”
That was one down. To Janet, Jack asked, “Can I go?”
“You almost died,” Janet protested.
“And you know I’m fine. Really. Even if I wasn’t before, Tana’oa’s back, and he’ll fix anything that’s out of whack.”
Janet sighed. “Go on. Get out of here.”
Jack didn’t need any other urging, and he swung his legs over the edge and stood up. He felt stymied for a moment as to what to do then. He really wanted a few minutes alone with Tana’oa. Then he wanted a few minutes alone with Daniel, and he definitely needed a lot of minutes alone with Sara.
Proving Sara was the perfect woman for him, she gave him a kiss on the cheek, said, “I’m sure you need to have some conversations, so I’ll see you back in our quarters. I can start getting us packed up. Don’t take too long, okay?”
“I won’t,” he promised her. “And I don’t deserve you.” He added that one more softly, figuring he didn’t need to spread that around.
That got a little smile out of her, and she said, “Sometimes I think it’s the other way around.” She kissed him again, and then left the infirmary.
Jack had gone with Daniel to speak with Mitchell and Sheppard to secure their silence, and then started walking Daniel back to the quarters he shared with Teal’c whenever they stayed at the mountain.
“If Castiel hadn’t been here,” Daniel began then stopped. “Jack, that was so close, and for something so stupid.”
Jack recalled Daniel talking about the two of them going out in a blaze of glory a la Butch and Sundance. “Yeah, dying on the floor of the conference room would have been pretty tacky.”
“Shut up,” Daniel said fiercely.
Jack stopped walking and put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “I’m fine. I get that it was close, but so many of our brushes with death are. Ergo the phrase: close calls. Besides, you’ve had way more than me, so keep this in mind the next time you decide to do something stupid, and remember how it feels from the other side.”
“Think we’ll ever have a calm and boring life?”
“Maybe fifty years from now,” Jack said.
“Just promise me you’ll still be around,” Daniel begged.
“You got it,” Jack agreed. “You, too. Go home and let Teal’c distract you.”
Daniel’s eyes got a little hazy at that. “He’s very good at it,” he said appreciatively.
“Too much information.”
“You suggested it. And really, he’s very, very good at it. I probably won’t even remember my name when we’re done.”
“Ack,” Jack said, taking a step back.
Daniel grinned at him. “I love you, Jack.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jack said, waving a hand.
Daniel shot him one of his you’re-my-bestest-friend-in-the-whole-world looks, and then walked around the corner. “I really do,” Daniel yelled from out of sight.
“Damn it,” Jack said. “Fine, love you, too.”
Jack should have suspected something when Daniel started laughing, but it wasn’t until Sheppard walked around the corner with a shit-eating grin on his face that Jack rolled his eyes.
“Aww,” Sheppard said. “That’s so nice, sir. Flutie loves it when mom and dad are getting along so well.”
“Shut up, Sheppard,” Jack ordered. “Besides, that was Tana’oa,” he lied.
“It was not!” Tana’oa said to Jack. “Stop using me to hide the fact that you’re a mush ball.”
“Yes, sir,” Sheppard said, without even trying to sound like he believed Jack.
“Where’s Mitchell anyway?” Jack snapped.
“He went to spar with Mad Dog Dean,” Sheppard said.
“Who’s Mad Dog Dean?” Jack asked.
“You know, Dean Winchester. Guy with the angel.”
“That’s what people are calling him. Anyone who really needs to beat the shit out of someone already knows he’s the guy to call.”
Remembering how SG-3 were strewn all over the mat, Jack totally got that. After a day like today, Jack was almost tempted to go see him, except he had a feeling that Dean would wipe the floor with him. Or purposely hold back, which would be just as humiliating.
Just then, McKay walked around the corner and right into Sheppard. “Oh, hey, I was looking for you,” McKay said. “I have some Ancient equipment in the lab I need you to turn on for me.”
“He’s not a light switch,” Jack said to McKay.
“That’s okay, sir,” Sheppard said. “I kind of like it. It’s fun.”
“You kind of like it,” Jack said.
“Come on, come on,” McKay said. “You and Floozie.”
“It’s Flutie,” Sheppard said. “Flutie.”
“Whatever,” McKay said with a who-cares wave over his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
Instead of being at all annoyed by McKay, Sheppard just shrugged, grinned more broadly, and fell in next to McKay, like Mutt and Jeff. Jack stared at them until they were out of sight, thinking he might need to order a psych eval on Sheppard. On the other hand, if he was keeping McKay occupied, that meant less time for McKay to bother Carter, and that could only be a good thing.
Jack started to slowly make his way to the VIP section. He soaked in Tana’oa’s presence, feeling it soothe him. The devastating sense of loss when Tana’oa had been gone still resonated uncomfortably.
“We belong together.”
“I know that. I mean, I really know that now.”
“We will never be parted.”
As sappy as it was, Jack agreed. He wasn’t entirely sure he’d survive without him.
“We will not ever find out,” Tana’oa said severely.
“We almost did today.”
“Only because Castiel was here. Otherwise, we would have died together.”
Jack felt a certain relief in that. Not in dying, but at the thought they’d go together. “I’m not sure Daniel would have survived that.” Not to mention Sara, but in a lot of ways Sara was tougher than Daniel. Not that Daniel wasn’t tough, but he and Daniel had as much of a symbiotic relationship as he and Tana’oa. He felt badly for Sara for a moment, wondering if she had any idea how many demands on his heart there were. He wondered if she’d mind if she knew. Or maybe he was doing her a disservice, and she already knew. So far she’d taken everything he’d thrown at her with an equanimity that staggered him.
Thinking of her made him want to be with her, and he entered their suite, finding it lit only by the bathroom light through the slightly ajar door. “Sara?”
He made out her shape on the bed and crawled in with her. She moved to him, and he realized she was crying. “Oh, Sara,” he said, holding her tightly.
She cried for a long time, her shoulders shaking with her sobs, and Jack could only run his hands down her back, card his fingers through her hair, whispering soft endearments. He could feel Tana’oa’s distress at Sara’s unhappiness, but had nothing to tell the symbiote. Other than his almost dying, he wasn’t sure what had her so distraught.
Finally, the tears started to dry up, turning into hiccoughs and sniffles, and Jack reached over her to grab the box of tissues, yanking several from it and handing them to her.
With a wet, mostly derisive chuckle, she sat up and blew her nose.
“Hey,” he said, a hand rubbing her thigh. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” she said, stuttering a little, the hiccoughs still breaking up her words. “I just feel so…”
“So?” he coaxed.
“So extraneous.” She winced a little at what she’d said.
“You’re not,” he told her. “Not even a little bit.”
“I just don’t, I’m not sure I see my place here. I can’t just sit around our house waiting for you to have time to pay attention to me, especially when what you do is so vital. I don’t really have any skills that lend themselves to a job here. What you do here is so important, and you’re surrounded by people who place such demands on you, and others who have such a hold on your heart.” Her face scrunched up as if she was about to start to cry again.
He wanted to hold her but, channeling Daniel, left her alone to speak her piece.
“I feel like I’m an emotional wreck lately, and I know it sounds stupid, but ever since I realized we really couldn’t have a wedding, it just seems like I’m not sure what I offer you. I know you love me, Jack, this isn’t about that.”
He was glad of that, but kept silent.
“But I was right there when you woke up, after almost being killed, and the first thing you asked about was Tana’oa. And I know if Daniel hadn’t been right there, he’d have probably been the second thing. And I get that. I mean, Tana’oa’s a part of you, and Daniel’s not just your best friend, but he’s your responsibility, in a way that I’m not. The eventual peace of the whole world, the actual galaxy, hinges on him, I get that you need to keep tabs on him.” She let out a watery laugh.
“And I know you felt bad about it. You hugged me and apologized for being a bastard, and it was all right, but I just thought, compared to Tana’oa, compared to Daniel, I’m really not that much. Just a normal woman, who mostly just feels overwhelmed by this life you’ve invited me to share. I don’t know how to be the woman I was out there in the so-called real world anymore, but I don’t know how I fit here.”
Jack thought she might almost be done, but her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, so he forced himself to keep his mouth shut.
“And I know you said that there isn’t anything between you and Daniel, but I know you’re a little bit in love with him. I know it. And I know he’s a little bit in love with you, and I don’t know where that leaves me either.” She did start crying again at that, and this time Jack held her, letting her cry herself out. He could feel Tana’oa’s desire to speak on his behalf, to assure Sara that she mattered a great deal, but Jack held him off.
Instead, he handed her more tissues, and this time, she smiled a little, then shook her head. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. This is important stuff.”
“You’re channeling Daniel again,” she said. “When we were married before, you’d have already been patting me on the back and putting the TV on.”
He grimaced. That was a bit of an exaggeration, at least he hoped so, but it was true that emotional talks used to be almost impossible for him, as scary as facing down a Goa’uld. “I do love him, Sara, and maybe you’re right, and I am a little in love with him. But I’m a whole lot in love with you. If he’s done anything to me, him and Tana’oa, it’s that they’ve taught me...” Jack sighed, still not truly comfortable with this kind of talk. But for Sara, he’d manage. “I’m like the Grinch,” he said. “Or I was. After Charlie died, and after I pushed you away…”
She made a movement as if to console him, but he shook his head. “I did. We both know I did. I was an asshole. And I became more of an asshole as time went on. I shut down, completely. I didn’t give a shit about anything, even being alive. You don’t know how many times I thought about killing myself. How many times I sat with a gun in my hand.”
Sara covered her mouth with her hand, tears in her eyes. “Jack.”
“They brought me into the Stargate Program because they could see my time clock running out. When I went through that gate, it was a suicide mission. I was carrying a bomb that I was supposed to use to blow the gate on the other side. There was very little interest, from the government’s side, in exploring the galaxy. That big metal ring was an invitation to invasion, at least as far as the then-President and his advisors thought. Go through, see what was there, and then blow it up. And I would have done it. Gotten my men back through the ring, and then blown it up, me along with it.”
He could still remember how it felt, that emptiness, that ache to just have it over and done with.
“I wish I’d known,” she said.
“It wouldn’t have mattered. I hated myself, I blamed myself. As far as I was concerned, I was beyond redemption. If you’d come around, I’d have just pushed you away as hard as I could and done even more damage than I did.”
“What happened? I mean, I’m guessing Daniel happened, but you’ve never told me the story.”
“Yeah.” He snorted. “Daniel happened. The most aggravating, stubborn genius it had ever been my displeasure to meet. I don’t even know if I can tell you anything specifically that changed the way I thought about him, but I can tell you, despite being the asshole I was, and I was, and especially to him, he threw himself in front of me and died to save my life.”
“Yeah,” Jack said dryly. “He’s made a regular habit of it. I know I told you that part.”
“I know, but it always surprises me to think that he has actually died, as in dead, and lived to tell the tale.”
“Believe it. Somehow, by the time that mission was over, it was like I could breathe again, like I could imagine going to sleep and not dreading waking up. The crazy thing is that he didn’t even come home with me. I left him there. He’d managed to get married to the chief’s daughter, and he decided to stay. I came back without him and completely lied to my commanding officer, telling him that Daniel was dead, and I’d blown up the gate. He was a bad influence on me right from the start.”
She giggled a little.
“I didn’t see him for a year, and when I did, he ended up staying here, and over the last three years, he became…” Jack wasn’t sure what word to use.
“Indispensable,” she guessed.
“Yeah, that’s a good word. But, Sara, so are you, and so is Tana’oa. And I know I asked about him first, but it was like I woke up without my arms, and I couldn’t think past that. And I knew I had you on one side and Daniel on the other, which is also why I could focus on Tana’oa. If you hadn’t been there, or if Daniel hadn’t been there, I’d have focused on that.”
She made as if to speak, but he put his finger over her lips. “Listen to me. I know there are two things we need to address here, but one’s pretty easy, at least to my mind, so let’s address the other. I was actually thinking of this as I walked here. You’re right. I’m part of a triangle, Sara, and that’s the truth of it. You sort of get me as a package deal, me, Tana’oa, and Daniel. And that might not feel fair to you, or it might not seem like the fairytale ending of having your Prince Charming all to yourself, not that I think you’re saying that, but I do come with a family.”
“You could compare it to marrying someone who had kids,” Jack continued, “who had to put them first sometimes, but still had plenty of love to spare for you. I love you, Sara. I adore you. You add so much to my life, you take away so many lonely moments, and make me feel luckier than I could have ever imagined. And yes, having Daniel and Tana’oa around might be a little untraditional, but there’s a bonus, because Tana’oa and Daniel are both a little in love with you too, and both of them know how to love someone much better than I do, so they’ll help me do a better job.”
“I think that’s the most you’ve ever said to me at one time,” Sara said, with a sniffle and a small smile.
“Can you deal with Daniel and Tana’oa being such an important part of my life? Important enough that I might have to tell you to hold on while I take care of them first? I promise there’ll be times when I tell them to hold on while I take care of you first, too.”
“I just feel so ordinary compared to them.”
Jack sighed out a laugh. “You’re not. Other than Tana’oa, I’m the most ordinary person I know, just a military grunt.”
“Hardly a grunt,” she defended him.
He shrugged. “I have one job, and that’s to keep the people I’m in command of alive and safe. I know who does the heavy lifting when we’re off-world.”
“And I know Daniel would say it’s you, so let’s just stop this ridiculous conversation.”
“I don’t know how to prove to you how extraordinary you are to me, so you’ll just have to take it on faith. The question is, can you? And can you deal with my very odd family?”
“And you really think I can fit in?”
“And that’s the other part of the equation,” Jack said, “and the short answer is yes. You already fit in. But I do get how weird it must be to go off to work when you know what’s happening here. In some ways, it might be relaxing, but I’m guessing that’s not how you’re feeling.”
“No, it’s not. Although at this point, I’m not even sure I have a job. I’ve had to call in sick so often lately.” She smiled to ease his frown. “But, when I’m there, I want to be here.”
“If I could get you a job here, would you want it?”
“Can you? Won’t you be my boss?”
“Yes, but mostly no. Your boss, or your boss’ boss might report to me, but you wouldn’t. Besides, Hammond owes me one. The question is if you want me around all the time? I’d come bug you. Just ask Daniel. I bug him in his office all the time.”
“I’d love it if you’d come bug me.” She leaned in to kiss him. “But I don’t imagine there’s a lot of call for someone with my skills here.”
“There’s a lot you can do.”
“I’m just a glorified secretary,” she said dismissively.
“And you don’t think we need good secretaries here? Jesus, we’d get nothing done if it wasn’t for our assistants. Ask General Hammond how he’d do without his. Claude, the head of the linguistics department, was just complaining about how much he needs an assistant. And I know Vidrine needs one.”
“I’d be much more comfortable with Claude,” she said quickly.
Jack grinned. “Good choice.”
“Won’t the fact that I’m married to you make things awkward for whoever my boss is?”
“Are you planning on slacking off? Being a sucky employee?”
“Of course not.”
“Stupid question then. You’ll do a wonderful job. I still remember how that guy, Frank whatshisname, whatever, how he cried on my shoulder at your goodbye party when I’d been stationed someplace else and we had to move. All your bosses hated it when you left.” Jack thought about it for a minute. “For that matter, Daniel needs an assistant. He can never keep track of where he’s supposed to be. Ever.”
“I’d love to work with Daniel.”
“See?” Jack said. “You’re a little in love with him too. Admit it.”
“I guess I am.” Her cheeks flushed a faint pink.
“You think you can still manage to find a way to love me?”
“Point taken, Colonel O’Neill. Yes, I will always love you, no matter who else I’m in love with.”
He frowned at her.
She laughed out loud.
“Hey, is your stomach okay? I should have made you see Janet after you said you’d thrown up.”
“It’s okay.” She touched her stomach. “I really think it’s nerves. It comes and goes. Once I eat something, it’s usually better.”
“Have you eaten anything since I did my swan dive onto the conference room floor?”
“I had some crackers. I’m not hungry.”
“But you’re okay?”
“Yeah, you are, Sara O’Neill. Convenient that you won’t even need to change your last name. Why didn’t you ever go back to your maiden name?”
“It felt disloyal to Charlie, somehow, and then later, it seemed too much a bother, changing all my credit cards, and my license, my social security card.”
“Well, it might sound territorial, but I’m glad. It makes me feel like you’ve always been mine, even when I was being an asshole.” He gave her a hug. “Ready to go home? I’m really, really, sick of this place.”
“Yes,” she said, “but I didn’t get any packing done.”
“Let’s do it tomorrow. Just grab your toothbrush and let’s get out of here.”
She smiled at him. “I like how you think.”
Sara watched Jack at the table as he chatted with his team. Daniel, Sam, and Teal’c had dropped by for breakfast, and they were all talking up a storm.
When they were married before, they hadn’t had many people over. Jack was gone a lot, and when he was home, he just wanted his family around. He’d rarely mixed business with pleasure, yet here he was, business and pleasure inextricably mixed, and Jack had never seemed happier.
“You okay?” Sam asked her, interrupting her thoughts. Jack was still chatting away with Daniel and Teal’c. Daniel actually; Teal’c never was excessively talkative.
“I am. It’s just nice to see Jack hanging out with friends. We didn’t do that a lot before.”
“Neither did I,” Sam confessed. “I’ve never experienced anything like the camaraderie at the SGC. We really are a family.”
“Thank God for it. Thank God for all of you, including Dean and Castiel. From what I hear, Jack would have died if Dean hadn’t been there.”
“I heard the same thing,” Sam said. “Over time, we’ve all ended up saving each others’ lives. Jack’s saved mine more times than I can count.”
“Dean apologized for breaking into our home and scaring me,” Sara said with a wry grin. “I like him.” She leaned toward Sam. “He’s got quite a smile. All the women, and a few of the men, can’t keep their eyes off of him. At least it seems that way whenever I see him out and about.”
Sam leaned in too, ensuring their conversation remained private. “I still think Dean and Castiel are involved.”
“I’m not sure about that. There’s no doubt that Castiel is proprietary about Dean, and he’s always watching Dean, but I never see anything on his face when Dean is flirting. And Dean flirts, all the time. Even with me.”
“I think it’s like breathing for him,” Sam agreed with a laugh.
Sara watched Daniel take a bite of the last of the muffins he’d brought over. She was glad she hadn’t had to cook. Her stomach seemed the queasiest in the morning; she’d think she was pregnant if they hadn’t taken precautions.
“You all right?” Daniel asked her kindly. “Do you want half of this?” He held up the blueberry muffin.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll eat later.”
He smiled at her then turned back to the conversation. “Sam is right. Sam Winchester is brilliant. There are so many things he’s interested in. He’s like a sponge, soaking it all in. Arthur Simms was very impressed, and so was Claude. I think, if Sam thought he could, he’d start taking classes today.”
“Why can’t he?” Jack asked.
“I thought we were still planning on sending them to the Tok’ra. And even if we decided to keep Sam, I think he would feel badly about leaving Dean on his own. They’ve been through a lot together.”
“Leave Dean to me,” Jack said.
Jack sounded so sure of himself that Sara found herself smiling. She was certain they’d end up with Dean at their dinner table soon, maybe regularly.
“I believe we would be equally wise to keep Dean Winchester with us, instead of sending him to the Tok’ra,” Teal’c said.
“How come?” Jack asked.
“He is a fierce fighter and an excellent trainer. I have already seen him give instruction to several soldiers, and have seen their technique improve. He has an unusual ability to determine where their weaknesses are.”
Sam nodded. “He’s done it at the gun range, too. Sergeant Kelly was telling me that he was correcting some stances. He’d been waiting his turn, along with Dean, watching as Dean got more and more fidgety watching people shoot. Finally he started giving advice.”
“And people took it?” Jack asked.
“Kelly said one person started to give him a hard time, but the person in the next bay reminded him that he was the one with the angel so to back off, and that was all it took. One of the men even changed out his gun after Dean suggested it.”
“Did the scores change?”
“Yes,” Sam said. “Kelly gave me names and I was curious enough to check it out. All their scores improved by at least some degree. Granted, one episode at the range doesn’t mean they’ll stay improved. But the person who changed guns was a civilian who has never shot well, and he almost doubled his scores.”
Jack drank a sip of coffee, thinking about what he was hearing.
“I understand Dean was watching Tana’oa while he was out of you,” Teal’c mentioned.
Sara grinned to herself. They were all trying to do a number on Jack, wanting to keep both the strays they’d accidentally stumbled upon. She suspected that Jack had already decided he was keeping Dean and didn’t need convincing.
“Yeah, he did,” Jack said. “I asked Tana’oa why, thinking it was about Castiel, but Tana’oa likes Dean.”
“They all like Dean,” Daniel said. “They like Sam, too, but I sort of think they like Sam Winchester because he means so much to Dean. Not that I mean to do Sam a disservice, because Sam is great.”
“You act like you can’t wait to get your hands on him,” Jack said.
“I can’t. He’s like fresh clay. Raring to learn, but already seasoned, which is a rare combination. You know that, Jack. Most of the new people we get here, armed forces or civilians, are so raw they can make you cry. You tell Sam anything and he understands its applicability. He’s remarkable.”
Jack made a hmph sort of noise, then said, “Oh, hey, Daniel, Sara wants a job at the mountain. You interested in having an assistant?”
Sara frowned at him, not appreciating Daniel being put on the spot right in front of her. But Daniel’s eyebrows went up and he beamed. “Absolutely. Oh, Sara, would you? You’d be a lifesaver.”
“You don’t even know if I can do the job,” she protested.
“Of course you can,” he said loyally. “You manage Jack, so I know you can manage me.”
“Hey!” Jack complained. “And don’t listen to him anyway,” he told Sara. “I’m a piece of cake compared to him.”
“I’ll talk to General Hammond about getting you oriented. The hardest part will be learning who to talk to about what,” Daniel said, on a roll. “And the first task for you is to figure out when I can visit with the President. I’ve already missed two meetings with him, and I know he’s annoyed with me.”
Jack started to laugh.
Later that morning, Tana’oa told Jack, “Teal’c would like you to go down to the gym.”
“Yes. Mithras is conveying Teal’c’s message. He says there is something you need to see.”
Jack was delighted to have a reason to walk away from the endless stream of paperwork that someone else really needed to be doing. He should have hired Sara to be his own assistant. It didn’t take him long to arrive, and he sat down next to Teal’c. “What’s up?” Castiel was sitting on the other side of Teal’c, captivated by whatever he was seeing.
Teal’c pointed toward the floor. “Dean Winchester.”
Jack followed the finger point until he saw Dean speaking to several women on the mats. “What’s he doing?”
“He is teaching them. There was only one woman here thirty minutes ago, but now more have come. Their Companions are spreading the word. Watch. Listen.”
Watch, listen, Jack mocked in his brain, but he did as he was told.
“I am much stronger now than I used to be,” one of the women said. Jack thought her name was Jia Li, one of Janet’s nurses.
“Yeah, you are. But it won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to fight,” Dean said.
“My Companion would never let anything happen to me,” she argued.
Dean sighed. “Okay, I guess I need to prove this to you. Castiel?”
“I am here, Dean,” the angel said.
“Take Zeus, would you?”
“Of course,” and then Zeus was in his hand.
“Put him in you,” Dean said. “He likes you, and that way he gets to watch.”
Zeus vanished, and Castiel’s eyes glowed for a moment.
“Whoa,” Jack said, shocked. “Holy shit!”
“This is not the first time he has done this,” Teal’c told Jack.
Jack couldn’t imagine handing Tana’oa to anyone, but then again, he didn’t have someone like Castiel to hand him over to.
“I would not choose to leave you,” Tana’oa said. “But, if I had to, Castiel would keep me safe.”
Jack was astonished, both at what Dean had done, and the fact that Tana’oa saw Castiel as a safe haven. Speechless, even.
“Okay,” Dean said to Jia. “Take a swing at me. Pretend I’m some jerk you just met in a bar, and I’m thinking a little time with you in the alleyway would suit me just fine.” He put some swagger in his voice and his body, sounding insulting even to Jack’s male ears.
Jia did her best, but Dean had her down on the ground in an instant, her eyes just starting to glow. “What’s your slug’s name?” he asked as he helped her up.
“Esmun,” she said.
“Let Esmun have control.”
Jia’s eyes glowed, and her entire posture changed because of it.
“Take another swing,” Dean directed.
It was a harder swing this time, but Dean had her down on the mat in a matter of seconds. Esmun glared at Dean, but Dean just reached down a hand and helped them up. He pointed to Jia’s head. “That Companion of yours? All he wants is to keep you safe. But he can’t do that unless you help him. I’m a trained fighter, so it’s not a fair fight, but a couple of regular guys who’ve been in a fist fight or two could take you down right now. I’ll prove it.”
Jack watched as Dean called a Marine over. “You have a Companion, right?”
The Marine nodded.
“I want you to fight me. I bet I can take you down in under a minute.”
The Marine had obviously been watching, as he said, “I don’t feel right hitting you if you don’t have your Companion.”
Dean grinned at him. “Sounds like you’re scared, Marine,” he baited.
“Of your angel,” the man said.
Dean snorted. “Don’t worry about him. He’d only intervene if he really thought I was in danger, and that’s not going to happen here. Come on, take a swing.”
The Marine still didn’t look thrilled with the idea. “I really don’t want to hurt you.”
“Addison,” Jack called. “Go ahead. Take your best shot.”
Addison saluted at Jack, “Yes, sir.”
Dean looked up at the bleachers, apparently startled that Jack was there. “Hey,” he said, looking suddenly unsure of himself. “You okay with me doing this?”
“Absolutely,” Jack said. “All these guys need a good beat-down.”
Addison paused for a moment. “You ready?”
“If you were mugging me, would you be asking me if I was ready?” Dean complained. “Just come at me.”
Addison did as told and Jack winced as Dean mopped the floor with him. The Marine got a couple of swings in, but Dean was all over him. Then Addison’s eyes glowed and the fight grew a little fiercer, but Addison still ended up flat on his back. He grudgingly took the hand Dean held out to help him up. “Thanks,” Dean said. “You helped me prove my point. Sorry about dumping you on the floor.”
Addison looked at him with some respect that hadn’t been there before. “Are you giving lessons, sir?”
“It’s just Dean, and I’m not sure what I’m doing,” Dean said, “but I’d be glad to meet with you later and show you a few pointers.”
Addison nodded, stretched out his back a little, said, “Ow,” and wandered off just far enough to continue to watch the show.
“You see what I’m saying now?” Dean said to Jia Li. “I don’t care how strong you are, if someone is better trained, and most men are better trained than women to fight even if only because of high school sports, they can put you down. I’m guessing the only person in this joint I couldn’t put down is Teal’c. Maybe Sam, but I’ll deny it to my dying day.” A pained look flashed across Dean’s face, almost too fast for Jack to see.
“I am not sure that is true, Dean Winchester,” Teal’c told him.
Dean grinned. “Want to give it a go sometime? I’d like a good spar.”
“I will look forward to it,” Teal’c said.
Jack found himself looking forward to that battle. Maybe he could sell tickets. He’d make a ton of money.
Jack watched as Dean started teaching Jia Li some techniques. Dean had a very unconventional way of getting his point across. He was condescending and rude at the same time he was genuine and caring. It made for an interesting combination. Whatever it was, the women were buying it, as more came to stay and watch.
Two women with the program had been raped while off-world; even Carter had come close on that stupid Genghis Khan planet. And while there were women in the program who were as tough as nails, people Jack wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, and some men who couldn’t fight their way out of a pillow case—case in point being Daniel when he first started—it was the women who often required defensive protection on a mission. There were too many worlds where women were considered property and assumptions were made, incorrectly, about the women who traveled with the teams.
Not that women didn’t bring their own strengths. Look at Carter for God’s sake. They’d be dead a zillion times over if not for her.
Jia hit Dean, but he just insulted her. “Princess, a three-year-old hits harder than that. How about you, Esmun, you got any balls? Come on.”
Jack could see the frustration on Jia’s face, and he watched as she dug deep and slugged Dean across the chin, knocking him to his knees. She let out a gasp, as if she’d done something wrong. Jack wondered for a second how Dean would react.
He came up laughing, clapping her on the shoulder. “Did you feel that? That’s a punch. Right?”
She grinned at him and then looked at her fist, as if it amazed her.
“Come on, let’s see if you can do it again.”
Jack continued to muse. The solution wasn’t to stop using them, not that he’d even considered it. But, this, really teaching them to fight, and fight dirty, Jack liked this idea. And Jack suspected Dean could totally teach them to fight dirty.
Jia punched Dean again. It spun him a little, and Jack could see some blood on Dean’s lip, and then on Dean’s hand as he wiped it away. Seeing as how he put Addison down in seconds, he was just letting Jia use him as a punching bag.
“Dean,” came from Castiel.
“She’s not gonna hurt me,” he protested, but then his eyes glowed for a moment, as Zeus made himself at home again.
“Zeus insisted,” Castiel said. “He wished to heal you.”
Dean nodded and then turned back to Jia, who immediately began apologizing. “No, no,” Dean said, exasperated. “No apologizing. This is sparring. This is where you learn how to fight, how to recognize your weaknesses.”
“I made you bleed,” Jia said.
“Because you got a good shot in. You’re supposed to crow about that. This is a good thing. Do it again. Part of fighting is to get comfortable doing it. When you go up against an opponent, you need to be okay with making him bleed. No mercy.”
“No mercy,” Jia said, sounding only half convinced.
Dean snickered. “Yeah, I’m scared of you.”
Jack thought about the two infirmary staff that had died when Scar had decided he and Daniel had to die. They might still be alive if Dean had taught them some survival skills. This wasn’t the first time Jack had thought about this stuff, but he’d never had the luxury of someone with the time and the absolute skill set to do it.
Dean continued to train with Jia, mocking her and praising her in equal measure.
“As I said,” Teal’c pointed out, “he is an excellent trainer.”
Teal’c was a good trainer, too, but Jack couldn’t see one of the nurses like Jia, or any of the scientists, being willing to use Teal’c like a punching bag. He was too big and intimidating. Dean was a big guy, but he wasn’t huge, and he was a charmer. Even while he was throwing out insults, the most the women did was roll their eyes, although more often than not they just grinned. It was clear he liked women, and that he thought they could be deadly. There were a lot of drill instructors Jack had met throughout his career who didn’t agree with that assessment and who made life miserable for the women they were required to train.
Jack was beginning to think that the Tok’ra maybe weren’t going to get new spies after all--at least not these two.
The next few days whizzed by, although Jack would be hard-pressed to say what had kept him so busy. “Talk to me,” he said to Paul Costello, when he had a moment to breathe. Jack had found that an occasional conversation with Paul kept him firmly in the gossip loop. “How’s everyone taking the angel?”
“Better than I would have thought,” Paul said. “Sean’s been keeping his ear to the ground for religious fallout, but there really hasn’t been any. Part of it is that Castiel isn’t around much, and part of it is that Sean and Daniel are doing a good job spreading stories about other cultures, both here and through the gate that feature angels.”
Daniel had already told Jack he was spreading angel stories. There was so much babbling going on about mythic legends and folklore that people’s heads were probably spinning, deciding it was easier not to think about it. “It helps that the Companions all like Castiel.”
“We do,” Tana’oa said, sounding dreamy.
Jack internally rolled his eyes.
“Absolutely,” Paul agreed. “And they all really like Dean too, so that’s helped Dean not have people on his ass about why he rates an angel.”
“It also helps that neither Dean nor Castiel make a big deal about it.”
“If it wasn’t for the wings, which are hard to ignore,” Paul said, “you’d hardly even know he was an angel.”
“Except for the popping in and out stuff.”
Paul grinned. “Except for that. And the saving of your life and the dark gleam that comes into Castiel’s eyes anytime he even thinks Dean might be in danger.”
Jack snorted. “Castiel and Junior should start a club.” He made a nice pile of the paperwork he hadn’t gotten to yet; he routinely thought about accidentally dropping it all in the shredder. He bet no one would even notice. “How about Sam Winchester? How’s he settling in? Any more conflict between him and Castiel?”
“Nah. Sam’s a nice guy, and Daniel and Claude are keeping him busy. Sam and Dean eat most of their meals together, but Castiel seems to find other things to do when they’re eating. I guess the angel doesn’t need to eat.”
“Didn’t they go off-world a couple of times?”
Paul nodded. “They went to Kuokoa again with Claude, and to the Land of Light with Daniel and Major Carter.”
Jack remembered some Daniel babble about that too, how delighted he was with Sam, and how both Chaka and Tuplo were more than willing to let Sam study their laws. Well, study at the Land of Light. Law was more of a verbal story telling thing with the Unas.
Daniel and Claude had both taken Sam under their wings, and Jack knew he’d been at several meetings with Arthur Simms, General Vidrine, and even Malcolm Barrett from the NID. Jack had also seen Sam and Dean have a couple meals together, although it was usually Sam who’d been talking. Not that that was a bad thing. When Jack and Daniel had lunch, it was usually Daniel who did the talking, Jack who did the grunting.
“So Dean seems okay to you?” Jack couldn’t help but feel that Dean was in a funk.
Paul gave him a studied look. “I’ll watch him more closely. It’s hard to tell because he spends so much time in the gym beating people up.”
Jack snickered at that. “Thanks for the update.”
Paul stood. “Always fun to shoot the bull with the boss.” He saluted at Jack and left the office.
Tana’oa said, “Dean still expects to live off world, and he knows he will be going alone. His brother will not go.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“When will you speak with him?”
“I need to clear things with Hammond first. It’s complicated to bring a civilian in and have him function in a military role.”
He glanced up to see Sara outside his office. Smiling at her, he beckoned her in, until she was close enough for him to kiss. “Daniel set you free?” he asked.
As Jack had expected, Sara loved working for Daniel, despite the caliber of people she was dealing with. And Daniel had nothing but rave reviews for her. Granted, she’d only been at it for a few days, but Jack had no doubt she’d be ruling Daniel with an iron fist in a matter of weeks.
“Yes,” she grinned, kissing him back. “He went off world.”
Jack knew this. Daniel, Teal’c, and both Sam Carter and Sam Winchester had gone back to the Land of Light this morning: Sam Winchester to meet with their version of a lawyer; Daniel and Carter to cause wedding trouble; and Teal’c to watch over Daniel. Daniel’s half of SG-3 had gone as well.
“You look busy,” she said.
He shrugged. “Paperwork. Thank God Tana’oa doesn’t think it’s as mind-numbingly dull as I do, or we’d never get it done.” He put his fingers through the belt loops of her pants. “Are you just visiting, or did you drop by with a specific purpose?”
She looked nervous suddenly.
“What is it?” He couldn’t imagine what she had to be nervous about, unless of course it was planning meetings with the President of the United States, or the fact that she was surrounded by aliens.
“I’m hearing rumors,” she finally said.
“All lies,” he retorted. “Vicious lies.”
That got a laugh out of her. “Jack.”
“What kind of rumors? This place is a rumor mill.”
“I’m hearing rumors about a wedding.”
“Ah,” Jack said, not surprised that rumors were circulating. Very vague invitations were making the rounds. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but your security clearance isn’t high enough for me to discuss that with you.”
“Nice try,” she said, lightly smacking his chest with the back of her hand.
“I have nothing to say,” he tried again. “Really.”
“Is it our wedding?”
“When I say I have nothing to say, I really mean it. You can’t blame this one on me, at all.”
“Who can I blame?” she said, still laughing.
“Daniel and Carter. Absolutely and totally.”
“It’s a surprise. All I did was agree. Period.”
“What did you agree to?”
“It’s supposed to be a surprise. Imagine how disappointed Daniel would be if I told.”
Sara rolled her eyes. “Let me guess then. They’re trying to organize a wedding for us?”
“My lips are sealed. Torture me all you want.” She went for his side, right under his ribs, where he was most ticklish. “Okay, okay. Yes, they’re trying to organize our wedding for us. Trying, being the operative word. The whole thing, between you and me, has me very nervous. Can you imagine what Daniel’s probably planning?” It really didn’t bear thinking about. Jack couldn’t even wrap his mind around a wedding designed by an anthropologist and an astrophysicist.
“It does boggle the mind, doesn’t it?” she said. “Don’t we get any say?”
“But what will I wear?”
“Already taken care of, apparently. And yes, you should be scared.”
“Where is it going to be?”
“That is top secret.”
“Can I invite anyone?”
“No,” he said sadly. “You can’t. Except for people here. I know you haven’t been here long, but if there’s anyone you’d like to attend, let me know.”
“I’m a little confused.”
“Imagine how I feel. I’ve known the two of them for years. You’re just starting.” He took pity on her, and pulled her in against him. “They wanted to do this for us. They understand what we’re dealing with, how impossible it was going to be to have any sort of big wedding here. This might not end up being exactly what you wanted, but it will be unforgettable.”
“Is that why Sam took my dress?”
“I didn’t ask her, but seeing as her idea of a night out on the town is riding motorcycles with Siler, or hanging in the lab with Sean, I’m betting that’s a good guess.”
Sara stayed silent for a long time, and Jack watched her process the news. He wasn’t entirely certain she wouldn’t put the kibosh on the whole thing. “Hm,” she finally said. “They really are good friends, aren’t they?”
“The best. And trust me, this wedding? It’s gonna be one of a kind.”
“When is it happening?”
“There are a few dates floating around. Mostly though, when they grab the two of us and tell us it’s time, then it’s time.”
“Will Daniel still get to be your best man?”
“You betcha.” He tucked a curl behind her ear. “I’m sorry you can’t have one of your girlfriends be a bridesmaid.”
She shrugged. “I think I’d rather ask Sam, anyway.”
“I assume you mean Sam Carter and not Sam Winchester?”
She rolled her eyes again. “How’s Dean, by the way? He doesn’t seem very happy lately.”
“I know. I was actually about to go find him.”
“Oh, sorry,” a male voice said from the hallway. “I’ll come back later.”
Jack looked up to find Dean standing in the doorway.
“No, no,” Sara said with a smile. “I have to get back to figuring out Daniel’s filing system.”
Jack snickered. “Good luck with that. You sure you’re okay with all the clandestine planning?”
“Surprised, but yes, I am okay. It’s actually nice that someone else is doing it. It’s sort of a relief.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I just hope I haven’t ruined Daniel’s surprise.”
“Trust me, no matter what, you will be surprised.”
With a final spurt of laughter, and a friendly hand on Dean’s arm, Sara headed back to Daniel’s lair.
“What can I do for you?” Jack asked.
“I’m ready to go join up with those other folks. Just point me in the right direction, and I’ll be out of your hair.”
Jack furrowed his brow as he studied Dean. “You are?”
“Yeah. Sam seems pretty happy here, so it’ll just be me, and I’m ready to rock and roll.”
“Anxious to rip that Band-Aid off as fast as you can?” Jack asked.
“Never mind. I’m having second thoughts about you joining the Tok’ra.”
Jack wasn’t prepared for the intensity of emotions that crossed Dean’s face. Pain, fear, frustration, anger. Wherever Dean’s head was going, it was the exact opposite of where Jack wanted it to go.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Dean demanded. “I’m not good enough for you? Fine, then I’m out of here.”
“No,” Jack said sharply, afraid that Dean would yell for Castiel, and he really would be out of here. And not just out of here, but gone for good, in some misguided attempt to give Sam the life he’d always wanted. Like somehow that meant a life without Dean. Like Sam wouldn’t take this fucking mountain apart looking for Dean. Wouldn’t hate Dean with a fiery passion for making such a stupid decision on his behalf. Jack wanted to knock their heads together. “And before you leap to the worst possible interpretation of that, let me tell you the reason why is because we want to keep you here.”
Dean’s eyes looked surprised, then pleased, moving on to wary, then back to pleased. Jesus, the kid reminded Jack so much of himself, but he was way too young to already believe that there was a catch to everything, and good news just meant bad news was waiting right behind it.
“Is Zeus saying anything?” Jack asked.
“Zeus doesn’t say anything,” Tana’oa complained. “At least not about Dean. Or Castiel.”
Jack snickered at Tana’oa’s frustrated tone. “I need to talk to Hammond, but we will finish this conversation.
Dean nodded, looking uncharacteristically uncertain.
Jack put his hand on Dean’s shoulder. “Trust me.”
Dean gave him a searching look, part skeptical, part hope, until he finally nodded, and walked away.
Jack went looking for Dean after his meeting with Hammond was done. Daniel had joined them mid-stream, and now it was official: Sam and Dean Winchester were officially part of the Stargate program. Jack knew that Sam would be thrilled; all that remained to be seen was whether Dean would be as well.
He had Tana’oa put out an APB and discovered that Dean was at the gym. Big shock. Jack asked Tana’oa to request Dean’s presence. An hour later, he and Dean were sitting at Jack’s house, steaks on the grill and beers in the cooler. Jack grinned at him. “Bet when you first broke into this house, you didn’t expect you’d be back like this, did you?”
Dean snickered. “No, I didn’t.”
Jack handed Dean a beer and took one for himself. “Me, either. Usually people who hold a knife to my throat end up dead.”
“Sorry about that,” Dean said with a wince.
“To what do I owe the honor of a home-cooked meal?”
Jack considered him for a minute. “I want to offer you a job.”
“Is this about Sam?”
“No. It’s true that we’d like to offer Sam a job too, and Daniel told me that Sam said he wouldn’t consider staying without you.”
“Is that why--”
“No,” Jack interrupted him. “And I want you to listen to me. I’m sure Sam will do a great job at whatever the hell Daniel wants him to do. My eyes were glazing over when he was talking.”
Dean bit back a grin. “I know that feeling.”
“If you didn’t have a brother, or if Sam wanted to be a pastry chef at the donut shop down the hill, or if you didn’t have an angel, I’d want you here. And I want you to know that I asked Hammond for you before Daniel asked for Sam. Got it?”
Dean nodded, doing his best to look unaffected by Jack’s words and failing miserably. It wasn’t the first time Jack noticed that Dean had a hard time keeping his emotions out of his eyes. “What did you want me to do? I can do some mechanic stuff.”
Jack took a swig of beer. “No, I’ve got mechanics that take care of that. What I want from you is something only you can do.”
“Three things. The first is to take on an official role as trainer for the people here at Stargate Command. You’ve got a natural talent for it, and while all the Marines and airmen here can run their obligatory five miles and do a requisite number of sit-ups, you’ve seen how untrained they are.”
“Not all of them,” Dean said.
“Most of them,” Jack said. “I don’t think I even realized how bad it was until I watched you. Teal’c has done some sparring with a few of the brave ones and that’s made a difference, but you do a better job.”
Dean’s eyebrows went up at that.
“You have a way with people,” Jack said. “Half sarcastic bastard, half charm, and it works. It’s a successful combination.”
“Kind of like you,” Dean said.
“Exactly like me,” Jack acknowledged. “You’re a lot like me when I was younger.”
“You said three things.”
“You okay with the first?”
“Hell, yeah! I love that stuff. It’s fun.”
“And that’s why you’re good at it. The next thing is that I want to place you on a Search and Rescue team. See how you do.”
That really got Dean’s eyebrows up, and his beer stopped in midair halfway to his mouth. “What?”
“You’ve lived a weird life, Dean, and I want to take advantage of it. Assuming you do a great job, which I think you will, I’ll build a special team around you. I need an extraction team. I won’t need it all the time, but a dozen or so times a year a mission goes so FUBAR that someone needs to go in and get the job done. It seems to me that you’ve been doing that your whole life.”
“Sam has too,” Dean said.
“Yeah, but see, it’s not in his blood the way it’s in yours. He’s much more like Daniel, I think, at his core. Daniel is my best friend, the best friend I’ve ever had, but we’re like day and night. We complement each other, but we also yell at each other a lot. Daniel’s first instinct is always going to be making friends. Mine’s always going to be figuring out who the enemy is. A lot of times I let Daniel take the lead, because we need allies. There’s a big old galaxy out there filled with people, human and otherwise, and the more of them we get along with, the better, and no one’s better at making friends than Daniel, although I suspect Sam will be good at it, too.”
Dean snorted. “Puppy dog eyes.”
“Lethal weapon,” Jack agreed. “But there are times when I have to tell Daniel to back off; when I know we’re dealing with an enemy that needs to be dealt with swiftly and without prejudice.”
“Wouldn’t you do those missions?” Dean asked.
“Yeah, most of the time, but I’m a little handicapped with Daniel. Because where I go, usually, my team goes, and Daniel’s a member of my team. He doesn’t like to face it, but I’m good at killing. I’ve been in special ops and black ops, and when there’s killing to be done, I can do it without losing too much sleep over it. But every death, even of the enemy, weighs on Daniel.”
“You need me to kill for you?” Dean asked.
“No,” Jack said, “at least I hope not. But I need someone who can take a team and kill if it’s necessary. It’s not that I want you to become a killing machine. This place, this new race we’re creating, that Companion you have in your head, this is all about building a world of peace. I get that. I’m behind it. But…maybe I’m jaded, but I think every peaceful world has some rot in it. And maybe Gandhi and Martin Luther King could change the world through peaceful revolution, but they ended up with a bullet through their chest and head for their trouble, and I’ll kill the whole fucking world before I let that happen to Daniel.”
“Got it,” Dean said. “You said three things.”
Jack wasn’t quite sure how to say this one. “You’re going to be my secret weapon.”
The eyebrows went up again. “For what?”
“First off, is Zeus okay with everything we’ve talked about so far?”
“He’s fine. He’s seen scarier stuff in my memories. Trust me.”
Jack nodded. He took another long swallow then got up to check the steaks. “Want salad?”
“A man after my own heart.”
“Whatever it is you want me to do, just say it.”
“Every Companion in this place is in thrall to Daniel, to a certain extent,” Jack said bluntly.
Jack tilted his head back and forth, feeling ambivalent about that. “Tana’oa is in my head, and puts me first, and understands that I can’t just do what Daniel says. So, I guess the answer to that is no. If Daniel says go left, and I say go right, Tana’oa’s going right, and he won’t make a fuss if I end up dragging Daniel with me against his will. I can’t say that about the rest of the people and Companions here. I need to know there’s someone else here who could drag Daniel off to the right if that’s where I need him to go.”
“So he doesn’t end up with a bullet in his head?”
“Yes, and also so he can’t make a bad situation worse. Don’t misunderstand me,” Jack said, pointing his beer at Dean. “Daniel’s our first contact specialist. He was that before he got Junior, and there’s no one better. Every ally we have is because of him. He sees allies where I see enemies, and I have to give him the benefit of the doubt way past my comfort level. He’s right a lot of the time. Take the Unas, for instance.”
“Chaka told me how to kill an Unas,” Dean said unexpectedly.
“What?” Jack said.
“I talked to Chaka the last time I was there, and asked him how to kill an Unas, and he told me.”
“He told you?”
“Yeah. It’s not like I was going to kill him. I know how to kill a human, but I’m not about to go on a killing spree. But I know you’ve gotten into at least one bad scrape with an Unas, and even Chaka and his village have gotten into some bad scrapes with other bands, and I thought it would be a good thing to know in a bad situation.”
“How do you know about that?”
“I’ve been reading mission reports.”
Jack was impressed. “I thought you spent all your time in the gym,” he said.
“See?” Dean said, “Sam never got that either. Just because I like to fight more than research, it doesn’t mean I can’t.”
“Never said that, and hold that thought, but first tell me how to kill an Unas. I can’t believe you just asked him.”
“Chaka understands the need to kill.” Dean stood and touched his leg where it joined his hip, close to his groin. “Their scales overlap here, but in between is soft skin. A knife there, sliding up, hits major organs.”
“No shit. Hopefully, I’ll never have to try, because I think I’d get my face ripped off while I was trying to figure out how to stab the damn thing.”
True enough. “So are you game?”
“Who watches your back?” Dean asked.
“It sounds like everyone watches Daniel’s back. Who watches your back?”
“Daniel, my team, SG-3. Trust me, my back doesn’t need watching as much as Daniel’s.”
“Maybe I’ll watch your back, too,” Dean said, sounding amused. “In my free time.” He polished off his bottle of beer.
“The Guardian’s guardian?” Jack mused.
“Something like that.”
“And Castiel is your guardian?”
“He likes to think so,” Dean said.
Jack looked at him, eyebrows up.
“Yeah, yeah, he’s my very own guardian angel.”
“Not very many people who can actually say that,” Jack said.
Dean snickered a little. “Not many people who… Never mind. Forget it.” He cleared his throat, his face closing up a little. “Do I have to join up?”
Jack let the conversation go. He figured if Dean didn’t want to speak about something, Jack probably didn’t want to hear it. “No. I thought about it, but I can’t have an enlisted man lead a team, and without a college degree you can’t be an officer, at least not one who’s respected, not off the bat. As a civilian, it’s still a little tricky, but I think you’ll excel so much at what I need you to do, that after a while no one’s going to give it a thought.”
“Do I have an official title?”
“I haven’t gotten that far. Call yourself whatever you want. You’ll report to me, and only to me, and I’d like people to not be entirely sure what you do. International man of mystery, so to speak.”
Dean grinned. “I can do that.”
“I want you to get your Bachelors degree and then your Masters.”
“Cry me a river. This is something you need to do. It will change the way you relate to people. It will give you credibility to the people who won’t automatically give it to you because you know how to fight and handle yourself in the field. I have my Masters. You’d never know it, I don’t talk about it, but you better believe the President knows it. Expects it.”
“I’m not good at that stuff.”
“Bullshit,” Jack said. “And it doesn’t matter because you know what?”
“What?” Dean said churlishly.
Jack tapped his forehead. “You’ve got a study buddy who’ll be awesome at that stuff. Let him study and take the tests. What he knows you know and vice-versa.”
Dean’s eyes glowed in amusement, Zeus making an infrequent appearance.
“See? He likes that idea,” Jack said. “You won’t have to go to some college somewhere. We have people who can teach you here, or you can design your own curriculum. Talk to a couple of people, I’d suggest John Sheppard and Cam Mitchell. They both have Masters Degrees. Talk to them about a sensible direction for your Bachelors. Or see what Zeus is interested in. The two of you can think about what might help you the most to do your job. Get a degree in Phys Ed or Physical Therapy if you want.”
“I really have to do this?”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “You really have to.”
Jack smirked at him.
“What about Castiel?” Dean said.
“What about him?”
“You okay with him hanging around?”
“Is he going to be hanging around? I haven’t seen him as much lately.”
“Yeah, I know. He’s got other angel things to do sometimes, but he talks like he’d like to hang around. He’s gotten kind of used to being with me.”
“Right,” Jack said. “And I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with you wanting to hang with him.”
“Shut up,” Dean said.
“It seems like you have a good handle on what you’re willing to ask him to do or not. If he can save people’s lives, and help with the Companions, I’d love to keep him around.”
“He likes you guys,” Dean said.
“Good,” Jack said. “I think it’s probably a good thing to have an angel like you.”
“It used to really freak me out,” Dean admitted.
“It still freaks you out,” Castiel said, suddenly in the room with them.
Jack put his hand over his heart, which had stopped beating for a second. “Warn a guy, would you?” He put a steak on each plate, along with a baked pot
ato. “Want something to eat?”
Castiel shook his head.
“Got anything sweet to eat?” Dean asked Jack.
“Cookies,” Jack said. “Maybe some ice cream.”
“Can I…?” Dean gestured toward the kitchen.
“Sure,” Jack said, wondering what Dean was up to.
Dean opened the freezer and pulled out some ice cream. He opened a few cupboards and found a bowl and the cookies. After scooping out a sizeable portion of ice cream, he crumbled up half a dozen Oreos, and then mixed it up a little, leaving the spoon in the bowl. When he was done, he brought it back to the dining room table and handed it to Castiel. “Here.”
“Thank you,” Castiel said with a small smile, taking a bite of ice cream with Oreos sticking to it.
“He doesn’t need to eat,” Dean said, “but he likes the sweet stuff.”
“I do,” Castiel said.
Jack told Tana’oa, “These guys are freaking adorable.”
Out loud, he said, “Tana’oa thinks you guys are freaking adorable.”
Tana’oa let out an outraged huff, “I do not. You do!”
Tana’oa, apparently undone by Jack blaming the word adorable on him, hijacked him and said, “It is Jack who thinks you two are adorable.”
Dean had a grimace in his face; Castiel had his head cocked to the side.
“He is not completely wrong,” Tana’oa said helplessly.
Jack mocked him silently.
“Shut up,” Tana’oa said. “I am curious, though,” Tana’oa added out loud, “about what Zeus thinks of all of this. He so rarely speaks to any of us.”
“Ask him yourself,” Dean said. His eyes glowed and the expression on his face changed subtly into someone else’s.
“Are you happy?” Tana’oa asked Zeus.
It had never occurred to Jack that Zeus’ silence might have been misconstrued as unhappiness or, even worse, coercion to remain silent. He found himself as eager for the answer as Tana’oa.
“Am I happy?” Zeus asked.
Jack wondered, with a knot in his stomach, if Zeus was checking in with Dean to get instructions on how to answer.
But then Zeus smiled, a wonderful smile, and he said, “My host is the most loving and courageous man that ever lived. I am a part of loving an angel and being his beloved. Am I happy? I am blessed.”
Yeah, no way would Dean have told him to say that. Jack felt Tana’oa smile broadly, and felt his own heart take a glad leap. It was schmaltzy and over the top, but the love and bliss coming out in waves from Zeus were undeniable and infectious.
Then it was Dean again, and he was scowling and saying, “Stop, already, okay? Jeez, you Companions and your emoting.” But his eyes were on Castiel and they were soft, and Castiel was smiling that sweet smile at Dean.
Jack snickered. “Totally adorable.”
“He didn’t mean it that way,” Dean said, cheeks pink, pulling his eyes away from Castiel.
“I know,” Jack said. And he did. No matter how much Carter liked to giggle about it, there wasn’t any hanky-panky going on here that he could see. Love, absolutely. He hoped like hell that he and Daniel didn’t look like that when they were having one of their own emote-fests. Dean looked like he was grinding his teeth right now, though, so Jack threw him a bone and changed the subject. “Hey, I meant to ask, has Sam named his Companion yet?” He ate another piece of steak.
“Jess,” Dean said.
“And he named him Jess because?”
“Old girlfriend. Fianceé,” Dean said, sort of shutting down. Jack could see he wasn’t going to get any specifics from him. He glanced at Castiel.
“She is dead,” Castiel told him.
Another story Jack would probably never hear about.
“A long time ago,” Dean said.
“He thought it would honor her memory,” Castiel said. He ate another spoonful of ice cream.
“He thought about naming it Bobby, but I think Bobby would have freaked.”
“Bobby the hunter?” Jack asked.
They all ate in silence for a few minutes, then Jack asked Castiel, “You have an issue with Dean working with us?”
“Not if Dean wishes it.”
“And do you?” Jack asked.
“Absolutely,” Dean said.
“You going to be hanging around?” Jack asked Castiel.
“Yes,” Castiel said. “As long as Dean wishes.”
“And do you?” Jack asked Dean.
“Yes,” Dean said. “I do.” He shot a narrow-eyed look at Castiel as if daring him to go all emotional again.
Castiel flashed him another small smile and went back to his ice cream.
Jack snickered again.
Dean suddenly sat up very straight. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. Cas, you have all your angel mojo back, right?”
“So you can heal Bobby, right?”
Castiel’s eyes widened. “I can.” And then he was gone, his half empty bowl of ice cream clattering on the table.
“Hot damn,” Dean said in glee, his hand slapping on the table. “I gotta call Sam.”
“Knock yourself out,” Jack told him, eating the last bite of his steak. As he finished his beer, he listened in on Dean’s half of the conversation, grinning at the insults flying, but pleased at how it seemed the first truly happy conversation he’d ever seen Dean participate in during the short time he’d known him.
They were all in the conference room, Jack and the rest of his team, Sam and Dean, along with Hammond, when Castiel appeared with an old guy. He was dressed in jeans and flannel, a ball cap covering his graying hair. His face was rough, like it had gone around the block a few times. The man took a look around the table, took in Sam and Dean and protested, “What have you idjits gotten yourselves into this time?”
Dean and Sam were up in a second crowding around him and slapping him on the back. Jack could tell that Dean wanted to give him a giant hug but absolutely refused to go there. Jack was pretty sure this guy was Bobby, and he leaned toward Hammond to let him know. Hammond didn’t look thrilled, and Jack couldn’t blame him. This popping in with uninvited guests had to stop.
Finally the reunion ran down, and Bobby took a very long, very satisfied look at Dean and Sam, and then again at Dean, and said, “Jesus, boy, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Both of you.” He had a hand around both of the napes of their necks, sort of shaking them.
“Let’s finish our earlier conversation at a later time,” Hammond said, standing. “Colonel?” He nodded toward Castiel, and Jack said, “Yes, sir,” even though he was grimacing inside.
“What’s the matter?” Tana’oa asked him.
“I get to yell at an angel. Wanna come?” Like Tana’oa had a choice.
“No,” Tana’oa said.
“Too bad.” Out loud, he said, “Castiel? A word?”
Castiel brow furrowed a little, but he nodded. “You have need of me?”
“I need to speak to you privately,” Jack said.
“More private than this?” Castiel asked, referring to the corner of the conference room they were still standing in.
“Yes,” Jack said. Before he could suggest his office, Castiel’s fingers tapped him on the forehead and they were standing in the middle of a mountain range, thankfully not in the dead of winter. “Where the hell are we?”
“The Rocky Mountains,” Castiel said. “Ten thousand years ago.”
“So, pretty private, then,” Jack pointed out.
“Yes,” Castiel deadpanned.
Jack wished he knew him a little better so he could know if Castiel was just that serious and devoid of a sense of humor, or if the angel was pulling his leg.
“You wished to speak with me,” Castiel prompted.
Jack tried to think of a good way to start.
Castiel helped him out by adding, “You are angry with me for bringing Bobby into the complex.” His eyes pierced Jack.
“Yeah, I am,” Jack said. “Do you understand secrets?”
“Do you understand why they’re sometimes important? That they can mean the difference between life and death?”
“I do. Bobby would never divulge your secrets.”
“You think he would never divulge our secrets, but people do surprising things when they’re faced with stuff like this.”
“He would not…”
“You don’t know that. You told me that Dean surprised you, so I know that you know that people don’t always act in a logical manner. You bring someone into the program because you want their expertise, and the next thing you know, they’re demanding contracts from you, or asking for favors, threatening to blow the whole thing sky high. People go nuts sometimes. There are lives at stake here. The peace of the galaxy is at stake here. That’s more important than bringing Dean and Sam’s father-figure into a top-secret installation.”
Castiel stared at him for a long time. “I understand, and I will not do it again without your permission.”
Tana’oa let out a ‘phew’ of relief, and Jack echoed it back.
“But you truly do not need to worry about Bobby,” Castiel told him earnestly. “He is a hunter and has been keeping secrets far longer than you. He needs very little. He wants Dean and Sam to be happy. They are; you have played a large part in that. He has no need of money, and if he did, I would procure it for him. If someone he loved were hurt or in pain, I would heal them. There is nothing he wants that his family cannot supply for him.”
“Maybe,” Jack said, unwilling to go the full trust route just yet.
“It will be important to keep an eye out for future demonic activity. Bobby is the hunter that all hunters go to. He is their source of information, and they keep him abreast of demonic activity.”
“I thought you guys were done with the demon stuff,” Jack said. “Dean said there was nothing for him and Sam to do anymore.”
“For right now, that is true. But people die all the time, and if they do not willingly pass on, they will become angry spirits. Foolish people will summon demons and other supernatural creatures. It will not be long before the hunters are required again. If you can convince Bobby that you are trustworthy, he may accept your assistance.”
Jack thought it was pretty sneaky of Castiel to somehow turn this around. “Listen, Castiel, there’s something else I want to talk to you about. I meant what I said back at the house. I like Dean. I’d like him to work with us.”
Castiel just stared at him. Tough crowd. Jack continued. “And like I said, I’d like you to stick around, because I believe my people will be safer for having you here. But I need you to tell me if you are ever asked to do something that makes you uncomfortable. I suspect Dean will make sure it never happens, but it could.”
“I will simply not do it,” Castiel told him.
“Which is great, but we’re going to end up in some sticky situations. When you have an omnipotent being around, someone they can see and talk to, meaning you, and you don’t help when someone thinks you should, people are going to get pissed off. Human nature and all of that.”
Castiel just watched him.
“I’d just as soon be able to clear those misunderstandings up by knowing, at least a little bit, what you will and won’t do.”
“I will give your concerns some thought.”
“You are a wild card.”
“I do not understand that reference,” Castiel said, “except in how it applies to a game called poker. Dean has attempted to teach it to me.”
Jack shook his head at the thought. “Never mind. What’s important is that people might go a little crazy knowing there’s that kind of power around. You saw what that woman tried to do just because she was mad at Mitchell. People could get mad at you because you don’t help and they could try to take that out on Dean.”
Castiel’s eyes grew flinty. “They will not succeed.”
“I know that.” Jack held up a hand up in appeasement. “I need you to understand that having you here complicates things, even as having you here makes me think we’ll be safer. You need to be aware of that. Dean needs to be aware of that.”
“What will happen if I prove to be too much of a complication?” Castiel asked.
“Dean will have to make a choice between you and us, and I sure as hell don’t want to put him in that situation.”
“Neither would I.”
“He’d pick you.”
“Perhaps,” Castiel told him, “but I cannot replace what you can offer him. A sense of belonging, of purpose, a community, self-respect. I would not choose to put any of that at risk.”
“So let’s work together to make sure it doesn’t happen, because I want him here. I like him. He has a way of growing on you.”
Castiel’s eyes grew fond. “Yes, he does.”
“Can we go back now?”
And then they were back in the conference room, and it appeared they hadn’t left at all, that Castiel had done all of that from one millisecond to the next. “Cool trick,” he told the angel.
Castiel flashed him a small sneaky smile, and then he moved off to stand next to Dean.
Daniel came up to Jack. “You okay? Junior said you blipped a little.”
“Castiel took me to the Rockies ten thousand years ago, to have a private discussion,” Jack told him.
Daniel looked like he wanted to scoff at that announcement but then thought better of it. “Really? What was it like?”
“No,” Daniel said. “The Rockies. Was it very different than it is now?”
“How the hell would I know?” Jack said. “I was transported to the past by an angel. I was more concerned that all my parts went with me, and then I was busy hoping that me yelling at him wasn’t going to end up with me being smited. Smote. Whatever.”
“You yelled at Castiel?”
“Spoke sternly. We came to a general consensus that neither of us want to screw this up for Dean.”
“Daniel,” Teal’c said, interrupting them, “my symbiotes grow restless. I believe they would like an opportunity to swim in the tank. Will you be all right?”
“I’ll be fine,” Daniel said. “Go. I’m sure Vijay would like a chance to visit with Asklepios.”
“If you have need of me, you need only call.”
Daniel put his hand on Teal’c’s arm. “I’m fine.”
Teal’c looked skeptical, but left the room.
“Nice to see Teal’c still doesn’t trust that you can walk down the hallway without getting into trouble,” Jack teased Daniel.
“May I remind you that the last person to almost die here was you?” Daniel said in a snippy tone. “But he did seem a bit worried, didn’t he?”
“He’s waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Jack said. “It’s been a couple of weeks since you’ve done anything particularly foolhardy, or had someone try to kidnap you, or do you in. Historically, you’re due for some sort of catastrophe.”
“Ha ha,” Daniel said, making a face at Jack.
Jack realized it had been way too long since he and Daniel had had some significant down-time together. Of course, part of that was Daniel’s fault for jetting off to the Land of Light playing the wedding planner. “When am I getting married, by the way?”
“Saturday,” Daniel told him. “Assuming we can keep the crises down to a minimum.”
“Saturday? Today’s Friday. Next Saturday?”
“Oh. No. Tomorrow,” Daniel told him as if this were no big deal. “We’re coming to steal you at ten in the morning.”
“Yes,” Daniel said. “Why? You’re not busy, are you? Whatever it is, you have to change your plans.”
“No, I’m not busy, I mean outside the usual, but why tomorrow?”
“Well, it’s like you said, I know it seems like we’ve been crazy lately, what with Dean and Sam arriving, and was that only a few days ago? It seems like weeks, doesn’t it?”
Months, Jack thought to himself. “And?”
“And, while we’ve been dealing with a few things, it’s been quiet everywhere else. We’ve heard of no Goa’uld activity and received no new threats from Ba’al. The Tok’ra are being very quiet, oh, and by the way, I invited Jacob to the wedding. We’ve only had one assassination attempt, which sucked, but thanks to Dean and Castiel, we didn’t lose you. It seemed a good time to get it done.”
“Before it all goes to shit?” Jack asked.
Grimacing, Daniel said, “Yes.”
“You know you’ve just totally jinxed the wedding, right?”
“No, I haven’t,” Daniel said with a glare. “Everyone’s going. There’s going to be more firepower there than you can shake a stick at. Half the Jaffa nation is coming, at least according to Bra’tac, who swears they all have friendly Companions. Now that we have a Chulakian with a Companion, they won’t make that mistake again. Manauc is doing a wonderful job.”
Jack found it hard to believe they could have a wedding without at least one crisis but he kept that thought to himself. It’s not like they weren’t due to have something go their way without an intergalactic incident. “Do we pack?” he asked Daniel.
“Nope,” Daniel said with a grin. “Sam and I have taken care of everything.”
“You broke into my house again?”
“I have a key,” Daniel reminded him.
Jack frowned at him. “Tomorrow? For real?”
Daniel nodded. “Tuplo and Leedora are so excited.”
Jack screwed his mouth up. “I can’t tell you how afraid that makes me.”
“Oh, ye of little faith.”
It didn’t look like the reunion between Dean, Sam and Bobby was going to end anytime soon, so Jack opened the conference room door and said, “Want to get some coffee?”
“Sure,” Daniel said with a smile. “Think things will work out?”
“With Dean you mean?”
“Well, with Dean and Sam,” Daniel corrected him.
“Yeah, you meant with Dean. He’s the wild card here, along with Castiel. Sam’s already had practice at a normal life. He’ll fit in fine.”
“Are you worried that Dean won’t?” Daniel asked.
“I’m determined that he will,” Jack said firmly. “We’ll have a few rocky moments, I’m sure of it, but things will settle down once he realizes that he really has a place here.”
“Did you tell him that one of his jobs is to keep me safe?” Daniel teased him.
Jack rolled his eyes. So much for his secret weapon. Daniel knew him far too well. “I need all the help I can get,” he defended himself.
Daniel grinned at him. “Are you thinking that Zeus won’t be susceptible to my charm?”
“I’m thinking that Zeus is bedazzled with Dean and Castiel, and doesn’t have eyes for anyone or anything else.”
“You talked to him?” Daniel asked excitedly. “Is he happy?”
“His words,” Jack said, not wanting Daniel to think for an instant that Jack was being this schmaltzy, “were something along the lines of that he was blessed because he loved an angel and he was an angel’s beloved. Or something like that.”
“An angel’s beloved,” Daniel mused happily. “That’s nice.” They walked silently for a few moments. “How do you think he meant that?”
“Not the way you’re thinking,” Jack said. “You’ve been hanging out with Carter too long. They’re just, you know…”
“Like you and me?” Daniel asked with a smile.
“Yes, and that’s enough of that,” Jack said, although he felt an answering smile on his face. It felt good to reconnect, even if just for a little while. “So,” he said, “there’s not going to be any bull worship as part of the ceremony tomorrow, is there?”
Daniel grinned at him wickedly.
“Oh brother,” Jack said.
Jack and Sara quickly cleaned the kitchen after dinner, and Sara turned the dishwasher on. When she was done, she snagged Jack around the waist. “You seem preoccupied,” she said.
“Crazy day. Nothing bad, but, you know, crazy.”
“Daniel said you yelled at Castiel.”
“I knew hooking you two up was a mistake. I’m not going to have any secrets, am I?” he groused.
Smiling, she kissed him. “My big macho man, taking on an angel.”
“Don’t say that too loud,” Jack said. “He might overhear and come down and smite me.” He was only half kidding. Jack knew, absolutely, that the only reason Castiel had allowed Jack to set some ground rules was on Dean’s behalf.
Laughing, Sara turned back to the stove and put the kettle on for some tea.
“Just out of curiosity,” Jack said, “did Daniel mention anything else?” This would be payback for Daniel speaking out of school to Sara.
Sara tilted her head to the side, and considered Jack. “No. Why?”
Jack couldn’t help but let a grin escape. “So he didn’t mention anything about what he was doing tomorrow?”
She gave him a narrow-eyed look. “No. Should he have?”
“It was just something he happened to mention this afternoon. I would have thought, seeing as he seems to tell you everything, that he might have discussed it with you, too.”
Her mouth tightened. “Jack O’Neill, what are you hinting about?”
“We’re getting married tomorrow. At least according to Daniel.”
Her eyes widened comically. “What? What? Tomorrow?”
Jack nodded. “Slipped his mind, I guess.”
“I’m going to kill him,” Sara said.
Yeah, Jack’s work was done. He grabbed Sara’s arm and reeled her in until his arms were wrapped around her. “Sara, would you do me the honor of marrying me tomorrow?”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Sara asked, sounding stunned.
“As a heart attack. He and Carter have the whole thing planned, and just so you’re forewarned, it sounds as if there are more aliens on the guest list than humans. And don’t think it’s because your soon-to-be husband is so important. They’re probably only coming because Daniel asked.”
“Right,” she said skeptically. “Because you do so little for the program or for your allies.”
“Where are we going? Where is it happening?”
“You, Sara O’Neill, are going to another planet tomorrow.”
Her jaw dropped open. “Wha--”
“A little planet we call The Land of Light. Councilor Tuplo and his wife Leedora, are hosting the wedding.”
Sara’s knees started going and Jack eased her into a chair. “You okay?”
“You drop something like that on me, and ask me if I’m okay?” she gasped. “I thought we’d get married at the mountain. Another planet?”
“You get to go through the gate,” he said. “Unless Thor’s helping out. Then he might just beam us there.”
“Beam us there?” she asked, her voice a whole octave higher than usual.
She was looking a little pale. “Hey, you’re not still sick, are you?” Jack asked, suddenly remembering that she’d been throwing up on and off through the week.
“No,” she said. “Well, I’m still a little sick in the morning.”
He frowned at her. “Has Janet checked you out?”
“I’m fine, Jack. Like I said, if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was morning sickness.”
“How can you be pregnant? Teal’c said that this couldn’t happen.” He swallowed hard when he flashed on the Harcesis. He studied Sara, trying to remember what she’d been like when she’d been pregnant with Charlie. He ran his hand over her stomach, but it didn’t feel any bigger.
“Would it be such an awful thing?” Sara asked anxiously. “I mean, if I were?”
“I have no idea.” Jack was already reaching for the phone. He dialed Daniel and, when he answered, said, “Can you and Teal’c come over?” Daniel agreed, and Jack hung up.
“Are you freaking out?” Sara asked.
“I am, a little.”
“You wouldn’t want a child?” she asked, her hand cupped protectively over her stomach.
Jack found himself sitting on the kitchen floor. His head was filled with irrational visions of his child filled with all the genetic knowledge of the nasty variety of Goa’uld, and Jesus, he was in his mid-forties. Granted, he had at least another hundred years on the clock unless something killed him, but a kid? He saw Charlie lying on the floor with his brains blown out. What if he made the same sort of mistake? He couldn’t live through that again. Would he have to give up traveling through the gate? Give up watching Daniel’s back? Jesus. He drew his knees up to his chest, his head on his knees.
He felt arms around him, but he was too busy having a mental breakdown to think about it. He had an alien living inside his head. What kind of dad could he be? He couldn’t take him to baseball games, or hockey games, or let him spend the night anywhere. What if it was a girl? Jesus.
“Jack,” he heard Daniel’s voice say. “Jack, look at me.”
He saw a little girl lying on the carpet with her head blown off. Jack let out a moan, his stomach roiling. He scrambled to his feet and ran to the bathroom, getting there just in time to fall to his knees and throw up everything he’d just eaten.
“What happened?” Jack heard Daniel ask. “He was fine when he left work.”
“I don’t know,” Sara said, sounding as if she was in tears. “You know how I’ve been sick to my stomach a little?”
Jack heard Daniel made an assenting noise. Daniel reached over him to flush the toilet. Someone handed him a washcloth.
“I told him it felt like morning sickness. I asked him if he’d want a child, and he, well, he went so still, and then he was on the floor, and then he was in here. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“He is worried about the child being a Harcesis child,” Teal’c said. “But a Harcesis child can only be born to two Goa’ulded hosts.”
“Have you known a Goa’uld to father a human child?” Daniel asked.
“I have not,” Teal’c answered.
“What are you talking about?” Sara asked, sounding almost as freaked as Jack felt.
“Sara,” Daniel said. “I’ll explain later, but what it means now is that if you are pregnant, your child should be fine. We’ll make sure it is. But I’m guessing that’s not enough to make Jack fall apart like this.”
Jack felt Daniel sit very close to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Hey, Jack, I’m going to make some guesses here. Just nod if that’s what you’re freaking out about, okay?”
Jack nodded, glad he didn’t have to do any talking.
“Sara, you get on his other side.”
She pushed in until Jack was hemmed in tight by the two most important people in the world to him. He tuned in to Tana’oa and could feel him crooning an odd mixture of distressed and comforting sounds. “Jesus,” he said, keeping his eyes shut. He’d completely lost it.
Jack heard Daniel ask Teal’c for something, and he heard Teal’c move away. Then, “I’ve asked Teal’c to pick up a pregnancy test at the drugstore down the street because we might as well know what we’re dealing with. And I want to be the first to say that if you are having a child, the two of you, I think that would be the most wonderful news.”
“Jack,” he continued. “I’m guessing you’ve got Charlie on your mind right now, am I right?”
“And you’re thinking that you’ll be as careless the second time as you think you were the first.”
Jack nodded again, nausea rising.
“Stop,” Daniel said, his hand carding through Jack’s hair. “You weren’t at fault. It was a terrible, terrible accident, something no parent should ever have to go through, but it wasn’t your fault. We’ve been through this. And we agreed that if I wasn’t responsible for the death of my wife, then you weren’t responsible for the death of your child.”
Daniel shifted until he was facing Jack, and he took Jack’s face in his hands. “Look at me, Jack.”
Jack tried to jerk his head away.
“Jack,” Daniel said, more firmly. “Look at me.”
Jack could think of a thousand things he’d rather do, including having his fingernails pried off, than look at Daniel, but he opened his eyes.
“I wish you could understand how deeply, truly, you are loved by so many people. How safe you make people feel. How much you are trusted. And that’s real, Jack. And I know there’s a part of you that thinks it’s a sham because you couldn’t protect your own son, but it’s not. If you really are having another child, she or he will have an enormous ready-made family. Aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews, and an Asgard as an honorary godfather…”
“You,” Jack said, drinking in the affection in Daniel’s eyes, knowing his friend would never lie to him. At the same time, he pulled Sara closer.
Daniel smiled. “I’d be honored. Jack, you and I both know it’s not a perfect world. In a perfect world bad things would never happen. My parents wouldn’t have died in front of me when I was eight, and Charlie would still be alive, and Teal’c’s people wouldn’t have been taken as slaves. There’d be no such thing as the Goa’uld, and they wouldn’t have spent the last who knows how long destroying the Companions. But bad things happen all the time. You know that more than most.”
“And you,” Jack said.
“Maybe,” Daniel said. “But you know what? Good things happen too. Wonderful things. Look at what we do, the difference we make. We’ve got an actual chance to bring peace to the galaxy. You’ve got Sara back, and I’ve got Teal’c. Sam’s falling in love with Sean, and the Companions have a home. You and I became friends, something that never would have happened if you hadn’t joined the program, trust me on that.”
Jack smiled a little at that last part.
“This child, if there is a child,” and Jack heard Daniel give Sara a kiss, “will have guardians the likes of which no child has ever seen. He or she will have demon hunters, and an angel, and aliens, and an international cast of babysitters. I hope it’s a girl. A beautiful girl with Sara’s blond hair and your courage. Her smile and your sarcastic sense of humor.”
“Jesus, Daniel,” Jack said.
“I’m guessing you’re also freaking out at the thought that you might have to stop going through the gate. Am I right?”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I hate it when you read my mind.”
“Lately,” Daniel said, “we’ve been attacked more at the mountain than we have on the other side of the gate. We’re all so much safer now with our Companions. It’s not like you have a choice and can leave the program at this point. You can’t. Not with Tana’oa. And I’m not going to let you go anyway.”
Jack started to feel like he could breathe again. He pulled back from Daniel’s hands, feeling embarrassed now at having such an unexpected meltdown. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“Don’t be,” Sara said.
It suddenly dawned on him that he was sitting on the bathroom floor, and he really needed to brush his teeth. He stood and took care of that, not caring that he had an audience. He leaned back against the counter and looked at both Sara and Daniel, who were watching him in return. Sara had closed the lid and was sitting on the toilet, and Daniel was leaning against the door jamb.
Jack blew out a breath. “I don’t know where that came from.”
“I do,” Sara said. “And in the few moments I’ve allowed myself to even consider that I might be pregnant, I’ve bounced between being excited to being terrified. I knew guns were in the house, Jack. I knew Charlie liked to play with your keys. We were both careless, and we paid the ultimate price for that.”
A part of Jack longed for the days when he knew how to close himself off to everyone and everything. He wanted to crawl into a corner and lick his wounds, and bury everything in a deep, dark hole. Instead, though, he looked at Sara, and said, “There’s a part of me that can’t believe you’d trust me with another child.” God, that hurt to say.
“Oh, Jack,” Sara said, jumping up to hold him, bursting into tears. Jack heard Daniel move and the bathroom door closed, leaving Jack and Sara alone.
Daniel was sitting on the couch when Teal’c got back. He knew his eyes were red, as Jack’s last comment had broken his heart. Teal’c quickly sat down next to him. “Are you all right, DanielJackson? Has something happened?”
Daniel moved into Teal’c’s arms, loving it when Teal’c’s strong arms wrapped tightly around him. There wasn’t any place he felt safer than when he was like this, surrounded by his mate’s strength. “Don’t you ever wish you could go into someone’s mind and just take away a memory?”
“He would not be the Jack O’Neill we know without those memories.”
“I know, but they cause him such pain.”
“We all fail at times to protect those we love,” Teal’c said. “If Junior had been a true Goa’uld, you would have been lost to me. If O’Neill had not taken on Tana’oa, again, you would have been lost to me.”
“I know,” Daniel said. “It’s the awful, terrible, part of loving someone. Knowing they can be taken from you. That no matter what you do, sometimes things are out of your control.” Daniel rested in Teal’c’s arms, then asked, “Are you sure it won’t be another Harsesis child?”
“Yes,” Teal’c said, sounding so implacably sure that Daniel believed him. Something relaxed in him.
“But it’s not normal, is it? For a Goa’ulded human to father a child?”
“All I know is what I have seen, and I have never known a Goa’uld to father offspring through human, sexual means. They have no need to do so. Goa’uld reproduce when a queen creates larva. A Goa’uld would have no use for a human child. The only children they recognize are the symbiotes.”
“How did this happen then?”
“I do not know. It is possible that conception is entirely possible between a Goa’ulded host and a human woman. Given how completely a Goa’uld can control the host it’s in, it is possible that they can ensure pregnancy does not occur through alteration of the ejaculate.”
“Is it possible that something will be wrong with this child? Could it be something like a Harcesis?”
“No,” Teal’c said. “I do not believe this to be the case. The practice of mating to produce a Harcesis is forbidden and requires intense ritual. It would never happen accidentally.”
Daniel pulled away from Teal’c to more clearly see his face. “Are you sure?”
Teal’c’s expression held nothing but complete belief in what he was saying in. Daniel let out a sigh of relief, and then he snorted. “Trust Jack to break all the rules.”
“I believe he would say the same of you.”
“How have you put up with both of us all these years?” Daniel asked.
“It has been difficult,” Teal’c said.
Daniel grinned when he saw the glint of mischief in Teal’c’s eyes. He resumed his previous position, his head resting on Teal’c’s chest, muscles firm against his cheek. He closed his eyes and realized when he heard the bathroom door open, that he must have slipped off to sleep.
He saw Jack and Sara come out, hand in hand, both red-eyed and red-nosed. But Daniel saw a peace in their eyes and decided that some good had come from this, another step toward what would probably be life-long healing from that terrible day.
“Hey,” he said.
They sat across from him and Teal’c, Sara cuddled close to Jack. “So how was your day?” Jack asked.
Daniel let out a laugh. “Same old, same old, you?”
“Went a little crazy,” Jack said.
“So just like every other day?” Daniel asked. He was taking his cues from Jack, willing to keep things light if that’s what Jack wanted.
Jack let out a chuff of laughter. “Thanks,” he finally said.
“You’re welcome,” Daniel said. He reached over Teal’c to the bag that had been placed on the coffee table. He handed it to Sara. “Go end our suspense.”
She took it, clasping it tightly.
“You want me to come with you?” Jack asked.
“And watch me try to figure out how to pee on a stick? I’ll spare myself the humiliation.”
“Call me when it’s brewing,” he insisted.
“Would you two rather be alone?” Daniel asked.
“No,” Sara and Jack said at the same time.
Sara smiled. “I’ll let out a yell when you can all descend on me.” She got up and headed back to the bathroom.
When the door closed, Jack said to Daniel, again, “Thanks. I don’t know where that came from. I mean, I do, but it totally blindsided me.”
“I don’t think that’s something you ever recover from. And you’re entitled a meltdown or two. Lord knows you’ve nursed me through a few of my own.” Daniel found himself thinking of his sarcophagus addiction, and Jack holding him in the supply room while he sobbed in Jack’s arms. He and Jack exchanged understanding glances.
They sat there in silence for a minute, then Sara yelled out, “Okay.”
En masse, they all trooped to the bathroom. Sara was once again sitting on the closed toilet lid; the plastic meter lay on the sink. “That will inform you as to whether you are with child?” Teal’c asked.
Sara nodded. “In about two minutes.”
“Fascinating,” Teal’c said, picking up the box and reading it.
“Do you plan to give your own child a Dr. Seuss name?” Daniel asked Jack.
“Maybe,” Jack said.
“No,” Sara said.
They all sat there staring at the plastic stick. “I can’t look,” Sara said, after sufficient time had passed.
“I’ll do the honors,” Daniel said, and he picked it up.
“She peed on that, you know,” Jack said.
“Jack!” Sara raised her hand in mock-threat to hit Jack.
Jack caught her hand and kissed her knuckles.
“There’s this new invention called soap. You might have heard of it?” Daniel responded. He looked down at the color. “What color means you’re pregnant?”
“Oh my God,” Sara said, clutching at Jack’s hand.
“The box says that any mark indicates a likely pregnancy,” Teal’c told them.
Daniel’s mouth dropped open and then he started to smile. “We’re having a baby.” He and Teal’c both grabbed for Jack when his knees gave out on him.
A gang descended on them in the morning, and a laughing Carter and Janet, accompanied by Sean Lightfoot and Barak, all stole Sara from him. The transportation was courtesy of Thor; one beam of light and they were gone.
It was his turn next. He and Daniel, along with Teal’c and SG-3, went up in the next flash of light. They stopped for an instant on Thor’s ship, long enough for Jack to wave at him and get an acknowledging nod in return, and then they were on the ground, on the bright side of the planet.
There was a carriage waiting for them, something out of the Victorian age, painted red with yellow trim. It was drawn by bulls, something that surprised Jack, as he hadn’t thought they used bulls for manual labor. He suspected it was a tremendous gesture of respect for himself and the SGC.
Both the bulls and the carriage were covered in flowers. Flowers were hanging in long leis around the bulls’ thick necks, and they also adorned the harnesses they were wearing. The carriage itself looked like a float from the Rose Parade. It was covered in every shade of yellow and red, along with some blues and purples that were used to create designs in the overall flower theme.
Up ahead, Jack could see another carriage, equally bedecked with flowers, already on its way to the city. He could just make out the faces of the passengers, Sara among them. As they reached the carriage intended for them, Tuplo was there to greet them. Jack laid it on as thick as he could manage, and he could feel Daniel beaming behind him. A minute later, they were in the carriage and on their way.
“Who’s watching the SGC?” Jack asked Daniel. “Just out of curiosity.”
“Paul Davis came in to take over for Hammond,” Daniel said. “And then I asked Sam and Dean, and hopefully, by extension, Castiel, to make sure nothing got out of hand.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Jack yelped, thinking he should turn the carriage around right now. “Dean and Castiel? Are you nuts? That’s like leaving Paul Costello in charge, except with superpowers.”
“Hey!” Paul complained.
“Sam was glad to do it,” Daniel said. “He’s very sensible, Jack.”
“There are a few Marines hanging around, though, just in case?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Yes. Trust me. The mountain is fine.”
Jack wasn’t quite ready to believe that. “What exactly does someone like Dean Winchester call ‘out of hand’?”
“They can stop a crisis,” Daniel said.
“Or start one.”
“Relax,” Daniel said with a ‘gotcha’ grin. “Thor posted an Asgard ship in orbit.”
“Thank God,” Jack said. Jack had to admire Daniel’s strategy. Between Paul Davis, the Winchesters, an Angel of the Lord, and the Asgard, there wasn’t much opportunity for disaster. Whoever was stupid enough to try something was going to get the surprise of their life. They’d get fillerbusted, get the crap beat out of them, be bored to death with geek-speak, get smited, and then the Asgard would probably experiment on them. Jack almost hoped Ba’al chose right now to invade.
Jack heard a peal of laughter coming from the carriage in front of them, and he smiled in response. “Hammond agreed to all of that?”
“More or less,” Daniel said shiftily. “Most of it.”
Jack debated giving Daniel more shit about it, but then decided he had better things to do. “Good enough.”
“You look so beautiful,” Sam said, staring at Sara. “Really.” The seamstresses here had outdone themselves, taking the picture out of the Brides Magazine and then turning it into something utterly magical.
“It’s the most stunning thing I ever saw,” Sara said, her voice full of wonder. Sam watched, smiling, as Sara stared at herself in the mirror, her eyes sparkling.
The dress was a pale yellow, with tiny embroidered flowers all over it and the center of each flower held a tiny sparkling crystal. It had a tight bodice and full flowing skirt, the fabric light enough to swirl around her legs with every step. With the jewelry Leedora had presented to Sara as a gift, Sam thought she looked like a princess.
Sara twirled around. “I feel like a princess.”
Sam laughed. “I was just thinking that. You are perfect.”
“You are,” Sean assured Sara. “Jack won’t be able to keep his eyes off of you.”
“You have been so extraordinarily kind,” Sara said to Leedora.
Leedora smiled broadly. “We owe our happiness to the Colonel and the rest of his team. We were so pleased to have an opportunity to repay him.”
“You don’t owe anything to me, and I am overwhelmed with your generosity.”
Leedora squeezed her hands, then said, “I must check on the other arrangements. Someone will come for you when it’s time.” With that, she swept out of the room.
“You all look just as beautiful,” Sara said. “That dress is perfect on you. Both of you.”
Sam loved it. She so rarely got the chance to dress up and was thoroughly enjoying herself. She ran her arm through Sean’s and stared at them both in the mirror. Sean looked wonderful, read hot, in his gray suit, his black hair loose and flowing down his back. He consistently took her breath way when he was wearing his BDUs. Seeing him all dressed up made her want to strip it right back off, so she could have her wicked way with him.
She and Janet were dressed in the planet’s traditional bridesmaid dress, provided by Leedora. Traditional they may be, but they were lovely: form fitting, with sexy slits up the sides, both in a rich peach color. They had been presented with jewelry too, and Sam found herself running her fingers over the beautiful bracelet she was wearing, silver filigree with several stones set in it reminiscent of amber, but with flecks of gold, a sparkling silver, like mica, and striaes of a rich lapis-color blue running through it.
“I’m on another planet,” Sara blurted out. “I keep forgetting, and then it sinks in again, and it’s sort of blowing my mind.”
Sam laughed. “The first time I went off-world it was almost impossible to believe. I still don’t believe it sometimes, and I’ve been doing it for years.”
“It’s my first time too,” Sean told her. Sam squeezed his arm; she had forgotten that.
“And I hardly ever get to go off-world,” Janet said, “so this is a real treat, especially when the few times I do go off-world it’s usually to treat someone who’s too sick to drag home.”
A young girl brought in a tea-set and put it down. Sam moved right to it, saying, “They have the best tea. I don’t know what they put in it, but it’s very soothing.”
“Better pour me two cups, then,” Sara said with a quick laugh. “It’s not every day I’m on a spaceship, even if it was just for a minute, and meet an alien who looks just like I think an alien should look. He looked like a fake alien from some Roswell movie. That seemed so weird.”
Sam laughed, enjoying Sara’s fresh take on things. Even if going off-world still took her by surprise, she knew she took much for granted after doing it for three years. “I know. It’s because they’ve been around a long time. People have probably seen them and the stories have passed down through the years. Thor is a good friend; he’s saved our lives a few times.”
“It sounds as if you’ve saved his life as well,” Sara said. “All these people are so grateful to all of you.” She took the cup of tea Sam offered her. Taking a sip, she made a ‘hmm’ sound. “It’s lovely.”
“Sam,” Sean said. “There’s a spaceship landing. Do you know who it is?”
Sam moved to the window and pushed the drape fully to the side. “It’s a Tel’tak, so I’m assuming it’s either the Tok’ra, hopefully my dad, or some Jaffa.”
“Amazing,” Sara said, moving to stand next to Sam. They watched the hustle and bustle of carriage after carriage depositing guests by the main entrance. “And I still can’t get over how large those bulls are by the gate.”
“They worship bulls here,” Sam said. “They’re everywhere. After a while you don’t even notice them anymore.”
“If you say so,” Sara said doubtfully.
“Oh,” Janet said. “I brought my camera. Time for pictures. Sean, would you take one of the three of us?”
“Of course. Like three sirens of old,” he said, taking a picture, “luring men to their deaths with their beauty.” He snapped a couple more pictures, an obvious look of admiration in his eyes.
Sam grinned at Sean, enjoying the way he looked and moved and flattered. She was so glad that Sean had dropped into her life, so she could be fully present at the wedding of her former crush and not have a moment of it feel awkward.
“Let me take one of you and Sean,” Janet said, and Sam happily complied.
Teal’c watched as the hall grew crowded. He had taken command of the Jaffa who had come to honor both the Tau’ri System Lord and Colonel O’Neill, and ensured for himself they all carried Companions. This was one thing Teal’c wished he could do, to tell an enemy Goa’uld from a Companion. But he could not, so he made certain it was done by someone who could; Paul and Eric had been glad to help in that endeavor.
Tuplo had provided several warriors as well, to guarantee that nothing go amiss this day. Teal’c had them interspersed with his Jaffa, so the entire route of the procession was lined with watchful eyes alert for any danger. Teal’c was determined that nothing mar this day.
The two Companions he was carrying leapt within him and he looked behind him to find Daniel moving toward him. Teal’c smiled at him, appreciating him in his navy-colored suit. His mate was a handsome man.
“I hope they can all fit in the hall,” Daniel said. “I really didn’t expect everyone to come.”
“They come to honor you.”
“And Jack. And you and Sam. And the general.”
“Of course,” Teal’c said. But Teal’c suspected that many had come out of respect for Daniel. There were few who could say no to him, especially to an invitation to such a joyful occasion. He had seen representatives from several races: the Tollan, the Nox, and of course, the Asgard. Thor would no doubt beam down at the last moment. They were still transporting people from the Gateroom.
Everyone who had been able to attend was coming, and certainly almost everyone with a Companion had been allowed to come, to honor their Guardian and System Lord.
Teal’c had also seen Jacob Carter, pleased that he had come alone. Teal’c would have had to be twice as vigilant if there were a contingent of Tok’ra to watch.
“Did you see Skaara?” Daniel asked excitedly. “He and Kasuf have come, as well as several others from Abydos. And Catherine and Ernest are here, as well.”
“There will be time to visit after the ceremony.”
“Sean keeps giving me updates on Sara. Apparently she’s having the time of her life. Sean says Jack won’t know what hit him when he sees her. Sean’s also feeding updates to the symbiotes in the tank.” Daniel looked up at Teal’c. “In a way, you gave us all of this.”
“Me?” Teal’c said, surprised.
“This all came to be because you asked me to be your mate. If you hadn’t done that, hadn’t chosen me, none of this would have ever happened.” He leaned up and kissed Teal’c. “Thank you.”
Teal’c kissed him back, never wanting to miss an opportunity. “I believe you had more to do with it than I, but you are entirely welcome.”
Daniel smiled at him. “Junior’s saying that Jack’s looking for me, so I better get back to him.”
“I will see you after the ceremony.”
“Thanks for making sure we’re all safe today.”
“It is my honor and my duty,” Teal’c said with a bow of his head.
Daniel put a loving hand on Teal’c’s face, kissed him once more, and then headed up to the hall to where Jack was getting ready.
“You look terrific,” Daniel told Jack. He did love Jack in his dress blues. “Something about a man in uniform.”
“Stop it,” Jack said. “I’m taken.”
Daniel laughed. “According to Sean, Sara’s having a blast.”
“Good,” Jack said. “When do we get this show on the road?”
“Anxious to see your bride?” Daniel teased.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I am. You all stole her from me this morning and I want her back.”
“I ran into Melosha on the way here, and she said we’ll be starting in around fifteen minutes. Can you last that long?”
Jack gave Daniel a long look and Daniel felt himself redden, even though he had no idea why. “What?”
“Would you ever have dreamed this? A year ago? You with Teal’c, me getting married. Aliens in our heads, an angel in our back pocket. It hardly seems possible that this is my life.”
“I know,” Daniel said, knowing he was grinning madly. He knew there’d be dangerous times ahead but, right now, things were great, and he planned to enjoy every second of it. “Catherine is here, along with Ernest. Did you see them?”
Jack shook his head no.
“I keep wondering what would have happened if I’d told her no that day. If I’d grabbed my suitcase and kept walking.” Daniel shivered. “It doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Jack said. “Even if you were a total geek when I met you who did nothing but sneeze and make chicken noises.”
“God, that seems like a thousand years ago. Who’d’ve thought I’d end up your best friend and best man at your wedding?”
“Not me, that’s for damn sure,” Jack said. “I do not want this to get mushy, but I’m glad you’re here.”
“Me too, Jack, me too.”
“Now reassure me one more time that this baby isn’t some sort of weird alien hybrid that I’ll be fighting the rest of my life to keep out of the hands of the NID.”
Daniel hugged Jack, ignoring his sputtering. “I talked to Castiel and he took a quick peek. Nothing but an ordinary cluster of fetal cells. I promise. He didn’t sense anything weird.”
“Back off,” Jack complained, “you’re messing up the uniform.” Jack pushed at Daniel a little, but kept his hands on his shoulders so he couldn’t go far. Daniel didn’t need a Ph.D. in Jack-speak to see the gratitude in his eyes.
Sara stood at the front of the hall, Sam and Janet on either side, while she waited for Jack. She was a little bemused at being the one waiting, instead of being the one processing, but apparently this was how things were done here, and Sara was determined to roll with the punches. So far, this place, the hospitality, the gorgeous dress and jewels she was wearing, surrounded by her new friends, had far surpassed her wildest expectations. And no matter how weird it got, at the end of it all, she’d be married to Jack again.
It was fitting, Sara thought, that she’d be marrying him on another planet. What better metaphor was there for everything he had brought to her? It was like some fantastical science fiction movie, as she stared out at the masses of people and beings assembled, some in finery, some looking like they were dressed in flowers and leaves, some in robes, and others in Armani. Many of the familiar faces were dressed in the uniforms of the countries they served, others, the civilians, were dressed in their native garb. Abhay and Vijay looked vibrant in their Indian finery, and Jia Li wore a beautifully colored Asian dress and pants affair.
They were all here because of Jack and the work he’d done. Jack and Daniel, and Teal’c, and Sam, and their sweat and blood and tears. And she was included in that by some extraordinarily lucky roll of the dice. She reached for Sam’s hand and squeezed it, smiling when Sam squeezed back.
Finally the people in front of him were moving. Jack hadn’t realized until the last moment that he’d be the one processing in. That was a good thing, as he would have said no, or tried to at any rate. Daniel would have talked him into it, and worn them both out in the process.
Tuplo and Leedora led the procession, followed by dancing girls. Jack snorted a little, but a look from Daniel stopped him. Jack could tell the corners of Daniel’s lips were trying to smile, so Jack nudged him.
“They’re telling a story,” Daniel told him.
“A story,” Jack said. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
“It’s a story about great love overcoming significant trials.”
“Sort of like this wedding?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Oh, here come the drummers.”
After the dancing girls came at least thirty men dressed in bright yellow pants and leis, pounding a riveting beat on large African looking drums. Jack could get behind drumming. “What’s next?” He was almost afraid to ask. He was being sequestered in the back by Daniel, while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade kept coming out from behind this curtain.
“The bulls,” Daniel said.
“I knew there had to be bulls.” And there were. Ten of them, with sharp horns painted in tribal patterns, leis of flowers strewn around their necks. They were followed by several little boys whose job it was to scoop up their shit. “Someone better be videotaping this,” Jack said.
“Several people,” Daniel said. “I knew you’d want a copy to thoroughly mock once we get home.”
“You know me so well. What’s next?”
“Aren’t I a visiting dignitary?” Jack whined. But he watched as first Thor headed down the aisle, accompanied by General Hammond. Anteaus and Lya followed them, Arthur Simms right behind them. Omoc had his usual too-good-for-the-likes-of-you expression on his face, but Jack had to give him points for showing up, even if he knew it was because of Daniel. Colonel Chekov, Zhan Dong Ning, and Anthony Giles went next. Then a half dozen people Jack knew he should know but didn’t walked by. “Hey, look, it’s Kasuf,” Jack said.
“I know. Skaara can’t wait to see you.”
Jack looked forward to seeing Skaara again. It had been way too long, and the last time he’d seen him had been under painful circumstances, burying his sister.
“I can’t believe they all came,” Jack said. He was actually impressed. “What’d you promise them?” he asked Daniel to give him a hard time.
“DVDs of The Simpsons,” Daniel said.
“Even I’d go to a wedding for The Simpsons,” Jack said.
“It’s almost our turn,” Daniel said.
“Thank God. I was gonna have to go pee if it was going to take much longer.”
“Past ready.” Now that it was his turn, Jack could see that the carpet was actually not a carpet but a thick layering of flowers. Thank God he couldn’t see any shit he’d have to sidestep. “Now?”
“Yes.” Daniel cocked his elbow inviting Jack to take it.
“Are you serious?” Jack said. “What? Are you the father of the bride in this scenario? And if so, shouldn’t Hammond be doing this?”
“They don’t do that here,” Daniel told him. “The groom is escorted by his boon companion, the one who will be a part of his new family for all of their days, and who will make an oath to love and support the two of you. Sam will do it as well.”
Jack sighed. “You had to get mushy, didn’t you?”
“Want me to get Hammond?” Daniel asked, a smile curving his lips.
“No,” Jack said. “I think you’ll do.”
“You’re too kind.”
“Any other suprises?”
“A few,” Daniel said, “but I think you’ll survive.”
Suddenly Jack was anxious to see Sara. “Let’s go.”
Daniel cocked his elbow again, and Jack, with a roll of his eyes, tucked his arm through it. They walked up the aisle together, and Jack saw dozens of familiar faces, and almost as many unfamiliar ones, but they were all smiling. Jack had never had as strong a sense of family as he did right now. If he’d been the crying sort, he knew he’d be bawling his eyes out.
They got up near the front, and he finally, finally saw Sara. She looked dazzling, like some perfect picture of a bride in a photography studio, except real, and the smile on her face was all for him. Coaxed by Sam, who looked almost as beautiful, Sara moved next to him. Later, Jack wouldn’t recall what he said, parroting back the words spoken to him by the man who was marrying them. But he would remember Sara’s shining eyes and the sparkles of her dress, and her voice proud and true. He’d remember Daniel’s quiet words telling him what to do and where to stand, and Daniel’s and Carter’s sincerity ringing out as they spoke an oath to love them both and support them in their marriage.
He’d remember Janet wiping tears from her eyes, and Tana’oa’s jubilation, and the deafening yells and cheers as he and Sara were presented as husband and wife.
And he’d remember looking around at Daniel and Carter, Janet and Hammond, and at an assemblage of beings the likes of which had probably never been seen in this galaxy, and thought of his unborn child, hopefully a little girl, and wondered if he could talk Daniel and Sam into doing this again for her first birthday.