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A Star to Steer By

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Dealing with the free Jaffa was always a tiring proposition, even with Bra’tac’s help. Teal’c stalked down the stargate’s ramp without any sign of his long exhaustion, but he was well aware that he most likely had a lengthy debriefing to look forward to before he could take sufficient time for kelno’reem.

The tau’ri were many things, yet even they had not managed to escape the obligations of bureaucracy.

Master Sergeant Siler managed to surprise him, coming out of the operations booth before Teal’c could make it past on his way to General Hammond’s office. “Good news,” the Master Sergeant declared. “Colonel O’Neill’s back.”

His dour tone belied the relief overlapping it. Teal’c raised a brow. “And the bad news?” He had already received word of Colonel O’Neill’s return, and Siler had to know that. Therefore, the Master Sergeant was trying to smooth the way for something far less fortunate.

Siler’s jaw worked for a moment, then he shook his head. “He came back with a squad of Jaffa and a prisoner goa’uld. He swears they’re friendlies, and...then he went and...‘voluntarily’ became host for that goa’uld.”

Teal’c did appreciate the claws of sarcasm Siler presented around “voluntarily,” but he doubted even several weeks of potential mental manipulation could convince O’Neill to surrender his autonomy in such a fashion.

The need for kelno’reem was suddenly much greater, though he suspected it was even further from his grasp. “I see. I must still take my report to General Hammond.”

The tau’ri was already shaking his head again. Negation this time, not disgust, though quite a scowl crossed his face. “Not right now, you’re not. After Medical, you might want to wait around, but the general’s been going for hours politicking, and it doesn’t look like that’s letting up any time soon.” At Teal’c’s polite headtilt of inquiry, Silar sighed. “Jack and the goa’uld refuse to let the goa’uld leave until folks settle custody for it with someone other than NID.”

That would indeed be best, if the goa’uld was something akin to the Tok’ra. Teal’c nodded. “Thank you for the news.” They parted ways, and Teal’c remained under close watch as he was escorted to Medical.

Dr. Fraiser was in residence, talking to Major Carter and Tok’ra Selmak. They quieted their conversation upon his arrival, and Major Carter’s expression was exhausted relief. “Good to have you back,” she greeted him, and Teal’c returned it with a nod. He went through the usual ritual of removing his jackets for a better ultrasound scan. As Dr. Fraiser checked to make sure he had no unexpected passengers, Major Carter brought him up to date on a remarkably strange situation, even for the tau’ri.

Teal’c considered his options as both were finishing their work. His report would be a lengthy exercise in finding all the correct words to convey “nothing useful happened, and no aid was given.”  O’Neill’s return negated what little urgency there was of informing General Hammond that the suspected status remained quo.

“What about the Jaffa?” he asked instead, stoically wiping the snot-like gel from his neck. The tau’ri had also not escaped the tendency for medical procedures to be excessively burdensome.

Major Carter frowned and gave him a look of inquiry. “The cloned Jaffa?”

“Yes. You said that one had been here for healing, what happened to him and the others?”

“They’re back in detainment.”

“Has anyone spoken with them?”

She made a face, crossing her arms and restraining her temper. “Maybourne. I looked over the notes, and there’s not much of use there. He thinks they’re hostile, unlikely to ever cooperate, and given half a chance they’d bring the whole place down around our ears.”

The last time SG1 had been captured by enemy forces, they had done a great deal more than cave in a ceiling or two. Teal’c would hardly fault these soldiers for a similar attempt. “I would like to speak to them.”

Dr. Fraiser was the one to negate the decision. “Absolutely not,” she snapped. “I only got Daniel to take a cot less than an hour ago, and if anyone wakes that man I will taze all parties involved.”

Ah, the perpetual, boundless joys of limited linguistics. Teal’c frowned. He would not tempt Dr. Fraiser’s wrath, and his understanding of Ancient was limited to a few written words.

“What would you even ask them?” Major Carter asked, her endless curiosity leaving her looking at him with genuine interest.

“I greatly wonder what these new Jaffa think of their goa’uld.”

Major Carter nodded slowly, while Dr. Fraiser sighed. “I’m just glad they’ve been model prisoners, so far. For what it’s worth, the one we brought up here had plenty to say to the Jedi, but it was all in Ancient.”

Tok’ra Selmak let out an amused snort, their stance a little unbalanced in a way that Teal’c suspected was laced with exhaustion. “They were quite comfortable with each other’s presence. Irreverent, too.”

Teal’c raised an eyebrow as he and the other two turned to look at the Tok’ra. While body language was quite useful for character insights, Selmak was not speaking as if their insights were so limited. Selmak was lifting their chin with a hint of arrogance, a minuscule wry grin twitching across their face. “I’ve never actually spoken Ancient before. It’s something we Tok’ra get as part of our genetic memories, but I wasn’t confident in my comprehension at first, and Dr. Jackson seemed to have everything under control.”

Major Carter had the brow of her nose pinched, though it did not look to be helping her headache. Dr. Fraiser had already calculated Teal’c’s plans, and thus was giving them both a suspicious glare.

Teal’c, in the meantime, nodded respect and appreciation to the Tok’ra. “Then would you be able to translate for me if I wished to speak to them?”

Tok’ra Selmak hesitated, then their chin lowered and Jacob Carter raised their head. “What the hell. It’s better than cooling our heels waiting for the next round of political brawling. Another source of information can’t hurt, unless it’s to our pride if we translate wrong.”

Rex had settled into the corner of his cell. He was chewing over Ion’s report as the men quietly went about their business of not going absolutely stir crazy. Several were off-shift, curled up on bunks. A few were quietly exercising as best they could, short of actual sparring that would reveal combat capabilities. The rest were clustered in small groups, chatting about things Rex was working very hard to not overhear.

If he had to acknowledge even one bet about how fast he was going to transfer as the General’s Second, the men would just get more blatant about their teasing.

A soft whistle from Grease brought everything to a quick halt. The two who didn’t rouse immediately were nudged by their brothers, so that a few moments later they were all standing and watching the main door to the area.

It was still almost amusing that the guards opening the door blanched – again – to see them waiting. He didn’t think they were incompetent, but it looked like they hadn’t figured out that approaching visitors were easy to hear coming by a dedicated watchman.

Some new faces marched in behind the grunts. A blonde woman, and two men – one older, one the most blatant warrior Rex had seen in a long time that didn’t have a brother’s face. Ion scooted over to Rex, giving the new arrivals a look. “Older one’s a Tok’ra,” he murmured, slotting into place at Rex’s shoulder. “Woman had his back, not sure who she is. Never seen the bald guy.”

“Tok’ra. You sure?”

“Well, General didn’t seem to like him, but he wasn’t trying to Force-shove him through a wall, either. And they all kept throwing that word around a lot.”

Well, it would have to do for now. Rex stepped forward, meeting the older man who approached their cells as an equal. The man looked at him, then his eyes took on a faint golden hue. “I am Selmak of the Tok’ra,” he declared in a strange, dual-tone voice. An odd expression crossed his face, then he gave Rex a wry grin. “My host is General Jacob Carter of the tau’ri.”

Interesting, how that got the Tok’ra funny looks from his allies. Rex nodded to him, hearing a faint, rueful curse at his shoulder. Another speaker of Basic, and Ion hadn’t picked up on it. Great. Sneaky bastards. He thought he might approve. “Captain Rex, Second to Jedi Master General Obi-Wan Kenobi.” There. Let the bastards try to figure out what credits went where, and in the meantime it avoided any messes about where exactly he fit in to particular battlegroups.

Selmak blinked. “Cap –? I thought you were a commander.”

Lucky pumped a discreet fist, meaning that bastard had once again been betting that Rex’s title would confuse things, and quickly.

Rex just rolled his eyes. “Historical quirk. My rank is commander, my title is Captain.”

“I...see. My companions are Major Samantha Carter and Teal’c, former First Prime of Aphophis.” The woman had a sharp eyed look of curiosity, watching them all closely. The man nodded as he was named, and Rex nodded to both of them.

“Jack speaks highly of you. Though he’s never mentioned this First Prime thing, whatever that is.”

Teal’c met Rex’s eyes as the Tok’ra translated. His voice was a serene rumble, face as neutral as a Jedi mid-meditation.

“What is a Second?”

Interesting challenge. Demanding information before granting any. “I am General Kenobi’s host, and leader to his troops when he is unavailable.”

Major Carter frowned at the translation, repeating some words in a skeptical tone. Even as the Tok’ra inhaled to translate, Teal’c raised a hand. He glanced away from Rex for only a moment, giving Selmak a rebuking look. His words were clear but unhurried, commanding in their gravity.

Selmak looked like they’d bitten down on something sour. After a moment, and a quick glance between their two allies, the Tok’ra resettled their shoulders. “The First Prime is the elite soldier in command of a system lord’s troops. It is considered a great honor, and a most difficult feat.”

Jack might have left that part out when he’d said the man had defected from his Sith overlord. Rex nodded to him, an acknowledgement of one soldier of rank to another. “And ready to serve as a host as well?”

Emotion flickered across Teal’c face, mostly hidden save in the eyes. Revulsion, hard distaste, and a strange curiosity. “Never. A Jaffa would serve as a system lord’s host in only the most dire emergencies.” When Rex nodded, Teal’c leaned forward.

“Do you willingly serve your –” Selmak broke off with a sigh. “He said ‘goa’uld,’ but I am under the impression that ‘Jedi’ is the preferred term.”

Rex nodded. “Yes. We all do.” He gave the assembled beings a look. “You don’t?”

Upon the translation, the blonde shook her head, having some sharp words.  The Jaffa was more solemn as he made his declaration.

“The tau’ri fight against the goa’uld. The Jaffa, however, are slaves to their masters the system lords.”

That got a growl from behind Rex. Most likely Jab or Moon; they’d both spent a tour helping shut down slave trade from the Outer Rim to the Core, and while the Republic didn’t allow active slavery within her borders –

It was a big galaxy, and some beings would do anything for a few credits.

Selmak obviously noted the response, but they didn’t pause for long. “Teal’c wishes to know if you being hosts is also a volunteer post, or is that mandated by your duties?”

Rex paused as if in thought, glancing aside to see the cell next to his. Kix was already standing at attention, assent written clear across his face. Rex nodded to him. “Best ask someone who has more experience on that front,” he declared, dry as possible.

“I’m Kix,” the medic said, grabbing the trio’s attention. “Medic in the 501st legion, Torrent Company. Being a host is entirely voluntary, and that status can be changed. I used to be a reservist.”

The Tok’ra stumbled over their words a little while translating for the other two, then shook their head. “I know the word, but I am not sure I understand the meaning as you use it here.”

“That’s what we call troopers who are on record as declining to host.”

“It’s that simple?”

Huh. The Tok’ra seemed surprised, but not entirely skeptical.

Kix made a face. “‘Simple’ underestimates the bureaucracy involved. It’s listed on our official record, and anyone can change their mind either way, though that’s not done lightly. Reservists also have special undersuits, with the necks made of a fiber that’s a different texture and appears a vibrantly different color to Jedi eyes.”

Selmak looked quizzical, which had to be what pushed Boil’s buttons enough. The man was leaning against the cell bars, arms crossed and disgruntled expression stonier than usual. “If the situation’s gone that badly tits up, the Jedi might not have time to stop and ask. Markers on the helmet seals too, right?”

Rex could see understanding flash across the tok’ra’s face mid-explanation, some odd emotion in his eyes. Or was it the host instead? Impossible to tell, and he had to wonder if the lack of change in eye color was local custom, an attempt at subterfuge, or just sloppiness.

Even as Kix was nodding, the translation continued in that weird double toned voice.

Major Carter shook her head, frowning“What if those markers are lost?” she asked, her chin jutting out in challenge as Selmak translated.

Kix nodded. “Barring an explicit verbal invitation, the Jedi would find someone else as a host. We’ve strict laws in the Republic. Hosting a Jedi is voluntary. No circumstances excuse otherwise.”

The tightness around Major Carter’s eyes and the carefully blank expression confirmed it for Rex. That was the look of bad memories being stuffed back in their box; given the topic under discussion, Rex could take a stab at what had happened, either to this woman or someone close to her.

How many?   he wondered, emotions a knot of fury and grief. How many survivors of this kind of travesty are we going to run across? If this was what they were encountering even before getting actively involved in the battle, he could only imagine what it would be like when they got into the Sith’s home territory.

Major Carter shook it off, repeating the word she’d said earlier.

Selmak nodded, a little too eager to change the conversation. “You said you were ‘leader to Kenobi’s troops when he is unavailable.’ What would make him unavailable?”

Jack’s words that the local Jedi didn’t or couldn’t use the Force had to be true, the way not one of the three seemed to pick up the affectionate frustration that had to be radiating from the troops. “Not in residence, otherwise occupied, or I want to be in charge.” The blank stares from the locals were worth it. Rex shrugged. “Have to indulge my hobbies sometime.”

Selmak was starting to sound like they were translating on auto-pilot. Major Carter seemed just as astounded.

Teal’c nodded slowly at the translation, then asked a question that got him glared at. He placidly gazed back until Selmak sighed and gave Rex an apologetic glance. “What hobbies might those be?”

He bit back the first few sarcastic responses, but snickers from some of them men meant it was impossible to treat too seriously. “Reading and teaching shiny new troops that I’m everywhere and see everything.”

It took Selmak a few moments to go from gaping further to translating. The Major seemed amused, though Teal’c nodded. “Worthy pursuits.”

In what was possibly an attempt to cover her humor, Major Carter asked a question. “What happens if you want to retire, or for those who don’t want to fight in the first place?”

“Pension. Opportunities, depending on a person’s interests.” At the surprise he saw, he braced himself. He suspected, but he had to know for sure. “Do your people have alternatives, under these system lords?” he asked Teal’c.

The head shake he understood. He was willing to bet several paychecks – hazard pay included – that the single word he heard was “death.”

Selmak jumped a little instead of speaking, hand moving to a small box on their belt. They checked it, then made a face. Rapid words were traded amongst the three, then Major Carter and Teal’c gave the collected troopers polite nods bordering on bows. The Tok’ra meanwhile sighed and met Rex’s eyes. “I must go. Politics, but we might be making headway on guaranteeing freedom for you and your General. I hope we can speak more later.”

It was Spark who dared to speak up first, when the locals were gone. He was hesitant, but smart enough to stick to Mando’a. “Think we can trust them?”

“Teal’c, yes. That’s not someone who would go back to being a slave. The Major, I think so, though she doesn’t trust us. The tok’ra?” Rex snorted. “We’ll see.”

Someone had stored a cot in his office again. Daniel rolled over, pulling his jacket further over his head. He knew it was his from the old book smell and the traces of incense he sometimes used to remind himself that there was a world outside of work and other worlds.

That was probably Janet. She didn’t think his old couch was sufficient for naps –

No, wait, he felt mentally waterlogged. That hadn’t been a nap. He blinked at his jacket lining, struggling to sort memories from nightmares from –

Daniel went still. “Oh, no,” he muttered. He swiped the jacket off his head, scrubbing his face for as long as he could stand. It had been a long time since he’d word-vomited that much emotion at anyone, and he’d done it to – to Jack, at least. Maybe.

Or a goa’uld.

Bouncing through the foster care system had quickly taught Daniel to show people the face they wanted to see, and nobody wanted a problem child. Technically he was an archeologist and a linguist, not an anthropologist, but Egyptology by necessity required the skills to navigate different cultures and languages, and that, too, required knowing what face to show and putting his own likes and dislikes and cultural norms on the back burner.

Remembering the pain and insecurities he'd let show to Jack made him want to turn over and go right back to sleep. The military that Jack was very much a part of was not known for its touchy-feely emotional displays, and Daniel felt exposed and off balance after his admissions.

Daniel was a private person at the best of times. Being emotionally open with friends – the few he had – was hard enough. With strangers? No, not if he could help it.

Jack hadn’t reacted badly, which was at least a silver lining to this whole mess, but so much insanity had happened to SG1 over the past two years that Daniel still wasn’t sure how he even felt about a positive reaction.

If it’s not just Jack’s brainwashing twisting his usual reactions , Daniel tried to remind himself, but unless this was an entirely new method of mental manipulation, there were really none of the behavioral tics or fanaticism that would indicate something like that.

Except for the fact that Jack was willing to host in the first place.

Daniel heaved a sigh into his hands, mind revving up to its usual frantic bouncing after a sluggish start. Lying here was just going to give him more time to get lost in the echo chamber of his mind, so he might as well get up and face the day.

A quick shower and a fresh mug of coffee had him feeling more human, but the opportunity to chew through the sheer number of times members of SCG had found their memories and minds fucked with hadn’t helped much. A large part of Daniel wanted to believe. A whole new group, large enough that had no need to play games with Earth? Though how much was a republic’s worth of goa’uld? For that matter, “republic” implied elections, representation of peoples.

There was no way any system lord would go for that. Their egos wouldn’t be able to stand it, for starters.

Hope was difficult. He tried very hard to keep it alive.  When he was out in the field, it was easier. Passing through the stargate made for an easy mental switch from ‘Dr. Jackson,’ resident linguist and civilian, to ‘Dan’yel,’ tau’ri, member of SG1. The peacemaker, the finder of words, and bearer of ideas.

‘Dan’yel’ had hope. It was part of who he was, why he traveled the stars.

‘Dr. Jackson’ had a lot of trouble finding and keeping anything but disappointed cynicism and a faint dream.

‘Daniel Jackson’...  Well. The civilian lifestyle wasn’t exactly his cup of tea anymore.

He shook that off, squaring his shoulders and heading towards the detainment area. Jack may or may not have been Jack, but he had had a good point about who to ask.

The Jaffa were in their cells – no, their leader wasn’t. More interrogation? He didn’t think there was someone else who spoke Ancient, but he hadn’t kept abreast of some of the other linguists’ progress lately. He wearily hoped it wasn’t something unpleasant, then straightened as one of the men stepped forward. Shaved head, square patch of a goatee. Something strange for a name, noun but not quite.

=You speak basically, yes?=

=What?= He stared blankly, wondering if he should’ve had more than the half a mug of coffee.

The man’s face creased into a smile. =This tongue. You speak it, right?=

One of the clones said something in a completely different tongue, rolling vowels with a few harsh, sliding sounds to it. The one talking to Daniel looked over his shoulder, snapping something back in the same language. Daniel had no idea what it was, but a small part of him itched to find out. Eighty thousand systems. What sort of languages do they have out there? He bit back the old, soft wonder, shoving it down into its corner where it belonged. =Yes. Why?=

=Your Tok’ra stopped by earlier to talk, but they had to run off quick. What kind of term do hosts sign up for?=

Nope. Not nearly enough coffee. =What sort of terms do they normally have?=

=Ten years between renewing.=

Daniel blinked. He turned the translation around in his head, and his grip on the mug tightened. =Not – not that,= he managed. He and the man – Candle? Something about wax? Waxed, maybe? – stared at each other for a long moment, then the man nodded and turned away.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck, he was seriously supposed to believe they had terms? Ten years could be an awful long time, but for all that, maybe not for a willing host, someone who wanted

Daniel shut that train of thought down. Not now, later.

He headed to Medical on auto-pilot, since Janet was the most likely to know what was going down, even if she was the most likely to yell at him to go get more sleep. The odds were decent that if something significant had happened, then the infirmary was the best place to be.

He stopped as he entered, since Janet had Jack in a chair, with all sorts of electrodes tagged on around his head. It might not have been quite that odd, except for the fact that Jack’s now blue eyes were half closed, his hand upraised and splayed out towards a penlight.

A penlight, floating a foot above the table.

Daniel blinked, and stared down at his coffee mug. The hell is the commissary putting into this stuff? Janet didn’t seem bothered, so –

Fuck it. He’d get some sort of explanation later. It probably wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d seen this month.

“I have no idea how you’re doing that.” Janet sounded frustrated, the same kind of frustrated that Sam was when science was thumbing its nose at her.

The penlight settled back onto the table, and Ja – Kenobi grinned at Janet. “I can see if you’ve another text book I can –”

The eyes snapped back to brown. “Nope,” Jack declared at his most indignant. “We are not cramming another year of medical school into my head!”

He got such a look from Janet for that. “If you think that’s a year of medical school –”

Jack’s eyes went blue, his posture changed, and it was a droll expression of apology sent Janet’s way. “I assure you that I most certainly do not,” Kenobi declared in that voice that was not Jack’s, for all that it came from his mouth. “My basic physiology, emergency first aid, and healing course was more than enough – a Healer, I’m not.”

They transitioned back to Jack, who rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, no disrespect,” he muttered, scrubbing at his face. “Though where you were when I was going through the academy?”

Daniel stood silently.  He couldn’t believe he was handling this so well. No yelling or anything.  Both Janet and the– the Jedi ignored Jack’s kvetching.

“So you’re sure that this new information is being integrated properly?” Janet asked.

Jack made a face. “The Ancient download made my brain feel like an overstuffed clown car. This is weird, but it doesn’t feel like my brain’s bigger than my skull and still growing.”

Janet nodded as if that made sense. “Any comments, Kenobi?”

“I do know what I’m doing, thank you.” Apparently goa’uld could do dry pretty well. “It might take a bit of time to feel normal, but it’s perfectly safe.” He frowned, prim and disapproving. “Unlike that mess of a data download.” Kenobi blinked, and tilted his head a little, listening to the voice only he could hear. “I swear, Jack, your language habits are surreal.”

Jack’s eyes swapped back. “Bitch, bitch, bitch. First my eating habits don’t meet your approval–”

“They are abysmal,” Janet said, starting to unhook the electrodes.

“ –now my language is surreal –”

“In...your defense, it really kind of is,” Daniel said, not quite able to help himself. He took a quick drink of coffee, feeling the pressure of three sets of eyes as two people looked over at him.

Jack hesitated almost too long, and Daniel couldn’t tell what the expression in his eyes was. “How is that in my defense?” he asked, sounding grumpy, but normal.

“He could have called it something a lot worse.”

Jack gave him a ‘gee thanks’ look. “Look, so long as I can speak English and Ancient without needing a boot to the head to switch between them, I don’t care how weird it sounds.”

Daniel leaned forward. “That got fixed? What was that?”

Jack gave a frustrated eyeroll, then his eyes went blue. “I did call it a mess. Whatever idiot thought that an unconstrained information dump was a good idea ought to be shot. It never had an opportunity to mesh, so Jack was stuck alternating between language modes.” Kenobi made a face. “So to speak.”

“All that,” Janet grumbled, “and several textbooks, and he still can’t give me a good idea of how he does the eye adjustment. It’s like talking physics with Sam, but now there’s telekinesis involved.”

Kenobi made a helpless gesture that wasn’t quite a shrug, or apologetic grin, but somehow managed to convey a sheepish acknowledgement anyways.

“It’s, ah, a very...interesting trick. Why...?” Daniel gestured near his face.

“Multiple reasons. The most important is to distinguish the Jedi from their host. It’s not required, but it is rather rude to not indicate who is speaking.”

A goa’uld. Concerned about rudeness. It was worse than a damned alternate reality, because Daniel was fairly certain that this was his reality. “So. Huh. How do you manage that?” At Janet’s glare, he held up a hand. “Vaguely, in layman’s terms.”

The thoughtful pause had nothing of Jack to it. “The voice alteration is easier to explain. That’s temporarily, carefully changing the shape of the vocal chords to match my notion of my voice. The eye color is...similar, but involves more delicate work.”

Telekinesis. Changing the – Daniel shook his head. “How experienced, how powerful do you have to be to do that?”

Kenobi shook his head. “It doesn’t require much power, but it requires a certain amount of finesse. It’s an early skill to learn. One of the first, really.” He made a face. “Admittedly, given the Jedi genetic memory, in most cases I mean learn as in experiencing the process and refining knowledge into actual, functional understanding. Having the knowledge and having the ability are two different things.”

Daniel felt lightheaded, off-balance. This was too much even for him. He kept talking, strongly ingrained habit pushing him to question, to keep getting information in the hopes that more data would provide the glue needed to make things make sense.  “Most cases?”

A rueful grin flashed across the stranger wearing Jack’s face. “In all matters, there is at least one exception.” As if he knew Daniel wasn’t tracking intel that well, and his answer had been thoroughly unsatisfactory, Kenobi continued. “Anyone who thinks they’ve learned their lesson about theory differing from practice gets reminded pretty quickly when they pick up, I suppose the closest translation would be ‘lightsaber.’”

Oh thank the gods. Language, he could work with. “What’s the original word?” Kenobi pronounced it carefully, watching closely as Daniel chewed through the linguistics. Some kind of ritual weapon, maybe? It did have a mystical ring to it. “Blade of...sunlight? Or is it starlight?”

“Both. Basic – Ancient, as you call it – has only one word for a star, though several words for modifying it. ‘Local-star’ would be the closest in connotation to what English calls a ‘sun.’”

He blinked. Then he let out a groaning “ooh!” and swiped his palm over his face. “That’s the modifier!” At Kenobi’s look, Daniel forced himself to yammer on about a particular passage he’d been trying to translate for a few weeks.

It helped, and it really, really didn’t, that the few intentional blunders Daniel tossed in, Kenobi accurately corrected. Hope was so damn hard to believe in. They’d been burned so many times.

“Excuse me.” General Hammond didn’t sound apologetic – he sounded grim and exhausted. Daniel turned to see Hammond entering the infirmary, ending up at an examining table and bracing himself against it. Behind him trailed an equally haggard Jacob Carter.

“I’m skipping to the chase here people, because I need at least a few hours of sleep before we get into any more delicate negotiations and we’re on a timer now.” Hammond scrubbed a hand over his face. “We’ve got some Washington bigwigs coming here in less than twenty-four hours, and at least one of them is going to be a friend of Colonel Maybourne’s.”

“Sounds like a barrel of fun,” Jack said in his verging-on-insolence tone of voice. Daniel was torn between believing the visual and verbal cues and disbelieving anyone who had a snake in their head.

“Then we’ve got the Tok’ra coming in to meet – and vet – our newest not-exactly-a-Tok’ra ally. They’re at least being polite enough to give us about thirty-six hours before they come knocking.”

Kenobi’s eyes narrowed. “This sounds like there’s going to be quite a bit of diplomatic dancing required.”

Selmak let out a snort. “I’ve done what I can to smooth the way, but you must understand you are quite the wild card in a centuries-long cold war.”

The smile between the two goa’uld was cold and precise. “A bit of a speciality of mine, it seems.” Kenobi shifted his look over to General Hammond. “So matters shall be resolved in two days, then?”

“I’m desperately hoping so, but in the meantime, we have clear but temporary custody of you and your men.” A strange expression flitted across the general’s face. “If you wish to return to your previous host-”

“Yes, please,” Kenobi said firmly.

“I’ll have him brought up immediately,” Hammond said with a nod.

Janet had two nurses set up some screens while they waited, and threw everyone who wasn’t strictly needed in the infirmary out the door.  Even Jacob.

Daniel tried to make himself disappear into the furniture, but after a considering look, Janet let him be.  Sam and Hammond were also allowed to stay.

Jack’s muffled snicker pulled Daniel out of his worrying. “What?”

“Ah, nothing. Just wondering where to place a bet,” Jack grinned.

Daniel gave what he suspected was a sickly smile in return, but he still couldn’t settle on where he fell between hope and screaming horror.  Sure, Jack seemed okay, but that was the problem.  This was the man who’d said he’d never, ever trust a goa’uld – direct quote – and who barely got along with the tok’ra, even Selmak.  It was a bad day when something biting SGC in the ass would have been a relief.

Two guards showed up with the blond clone between them.

=General?=  Rex asked, curiosity and caution in his voice.

=Just a moment,= Kenobi said, a bright eagerness in his blue eyes.  It wasn’t an expression of avarice or sly success. The hasty way he thanked Hammond, the subdued smile as he hopped off the examination table and behind a privacy screen –

Daniel swallowed and looked away. All the tell-tale clues spoke of someone coming home.

It was absurd.

A look at the clone showed the same dawning relief.

Fuck, Daniel didn’t want to believe.

“God, that’s still weird.”  Daniel started as Jack came back around the screen, orange and tan goa’uld wrapped around his forearm like a pet snake. Without the hurried, clandestine nature of the day prior – and without a barrier between Daniel and it – the goa’uld seemed even stranger than Daniel remembered. There was none of the flailing, or gnashing of fangs, or those unholy shrieks like a rusty gate, the ones that made Daniel’s skin crawl and his whole body seize. Instead it was arced up like a periscope, beady blue eyes fixed on Rex.

Jack held his arm over the examining table, ignoring how everyone but the clone drew back.  =He’s all yours,= Jack said to Kenobi, or the clone, or maybe both. The goa’uld slithered off Jack’s arm, coiling up neatly and waiting.

Rex looked down at Kenobi.  Eyes narrowing, the man put his hands on his hips and covered up a grin with a scowl.  =What have I told you about being outside like this?=

Daniel felt his jaw drop.

Kenobi turned his head away, abashed, and squeaked a little goa’uld squeak. There was a beat of silence, then the goa’uld tilted its head back up just a fraction and the following squeaking chirrup was sassy. It wasn’t squealing, the sound wasn’t piercing, it was all sorts of wrong but none of it the type of wrong that Daniel expected.

The clone’s mock frown melted into a wide grin he held his hand out. =Come on, then.=

It wasn’t a mad lunge, but the goa’uld eagerly flowed into the hand and wound around Rex’s arm. Daniel had finally managed to get his jaw shut, but he could not look away from the snake.

He could see Janet and Sam move a bit aside, clearing a wider path to the privacy screen, but it didn’t matter. It all happened so fast that it took Daniel’s brain a few moments to catch up to what his eyes were seeing. The snake drew up, cobra-like. Rex cupped his hands to provide a stable platform as he lifted them up near his mouth. He let the goa’uld slide in as if it were nothing, as if it were normal, so prosaic that he didn’t even close his eyes or brace himself or anything.

Daniel couldn’t look away, and part of him braced for the glowing eyes, the threats, the veneer of civility being replaced by maniacal posturing. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel could see General Hammond braced a bit more than necessary, and the guards at the door had a ready hold on their weapons.

None of which their guests seemed to notice.  Rex lowered his hands, head canting to the side as he blinked rapidly. He muttered a few shaky words probably in the rolling language Daniel had heard earlier, then shook his head. “That’s a new one,” he muttered, hand going up to lightly scrub the side of his head. The English was accented by that same tongue, so that just as Kenobi sounded vaguely British, Rex’s words sounded vaguely Australian. There were still some odd twists and curls to his pronunciation, but it could pass as terrestrial.

He shook his head, bringing down his hand and standing straighter. He scanned the room, nodding to Hammond, Janet, and Daniel. Then he grinned at Jack. “You didn’t tell us your planet came with an entrance exam.”

“Courtesy of the NID. How ya doing?”

“Better service than in the last cell I had.” They grinned at each other, and Rex turned to General Hammond. “Now that I can speak for myself...” He saluted, casually dropping out of that to give him a nod of respect. “Captain Rex, commander in the Grand Army of the Republic, second to General Kenobi. Thank you for your assistance, and safe haven, sir.”

Hammond nodded back, cautious and covering bewilderment with remarkable aplomb. “You’re quite welcome, Captain. I was under the impression I’d be speaking to General Kenobi, however.”

“General’s getting situated, and he had to make sure I had enough language to hold a decent conversation. Looks like he’s set now, though.” There was none of the Tok’ra stiltedness in the way that Rex’s eyes went blue, or the body language relaxed from military straight to calm and dignified. It matched the way Jack had been positioned when possessed, so that was probably a good sign.

Kenobi smiled and bowed to Hammond. “General Hammond. Since we finally seem to be having an official conversation, I would like to thank you for the valiant efforts, especially on your part, to keep my men and I safe.” Like with Rex, there wasn’t the faintest trace of sarcasm or mockery in the man’s tone or demeanor.   “I have no idea how your leaders will approach matters, but for what it is worth, I can pretty much guarantee that the Jedi Order would be more than happy to ally with you in your battle against the system lords.”