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A Star to Steer By

Chapter Text

It wasn’t the first time Jack had been kidnapped, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. He’d seen snake helmets before a lucky zat blast had gotten him,so he figured it might be Apophis. Then again, he’d been left to come to all on his own instead of being strung up by his toes, so who knew, maybe it was some other snake-guy.

Jack put a hand to his pounding head and struggled upright, trying to figure out where he was. Supporting hands helped him sit up, which was nice. Wasn’t nearly often enough that he got a helpful cellmate. Wasn’t one of his team, either. When he was finally vertical enough and his eyes would focus, that was pretty obvious. His new roomie was some darker-skinned guy with a blond buzzcut.  The guy wore white and blue armor that looked military instead of the fancy snazzy metallic crap way too many idiots preferred. It was more like SWAT or TAC team gear on steroids than anything else.

They figured out in short order that they didn’t have a language in common, though Blondie’s language sounded sorta familiar. Hell if Jack could place it in the middle of a post KO headache, though.

Rex – if the usual Tarzan and Jane method of introduction remained reliable – was just as disgruntled as Jack was, if slightly less beat up. Since there wasn’t anything to do until Sam and the rest came to bust him out, or the local goa’uld got torture-happy, Jack kept up a sporadic stream of idle commentary as they checked over their cell for any weaknesses.

Nothing useful came of it, though Rex seemed to have more patience for idle chatter than the typical Jaffa would, so that was a good sign he might actually be human. He’d even respond occasionally, in a tone that didn’t sound like “shut up before I find a way to shoot you,” which Jack also took as a positive.

The language itched at the back of his brain, like it almost made sense but not quite. Mostly he was too busy nursing his zat hangover to worry about it too much.

No escape routes were obvious, but that wasn’t a huge surprise, since they seemed to be in the standard cell of a ha’tak. It was anyone’s guess if it was grounded, in space, or somewhere in Oz.  Jack spent awhile trying to trade words with his cellmate, who seemed to tolerate it well enough.

A set of nearby explosions had them both on their feet and ready to party when the rescue arrived. For a change, it wasn’t SG-1, or anyone else Jack recognized. A few folks in more white and blue armor, outnumbered by folks in white and yellow armor, came around the corner, guns blasting. They moved together as a military unit, smooth and professional. Between that and the explosives, this was the kind of rescue Jack could get behind. They busted the cell open with a professional glee that he highly approved of, and didn’t seem to mind him following along in their wake. Certainly they didn’t seem to mind once they swept past some fallen Jaffa and Jack got to claim his very own zat. One of the guys near him even gave an approving nod at some of Jack’s cover fire.

The new guys all had full helmets, somewhere between pulpy sci-fi and knight in shiny armor style. Those meant their voices were all slightly distorted to sound the same, and the more he heard – especially in the context of what had to be “over there,” “duck,” and other usual mid-firefight profanities, the more he could swear he knew this language.

Several of the fellas had wrist walkie-talkies, and there was a sudden rise in chatter from those. Jack could feel the emotional pressure in the room ratchet up a few notches before his new buddies hustled up. They were moving with serious purpose now. Several corridors later, there was a burst of weapon-fire which died down quick enough. Another guy in white and yellow popped around the corner and did an actual double take at them.

It was easy enough to tell something had gone pear shaped, the way the guy hauled ass over to them. He was absolutely babbling, charging over to Jack’s former cellmate and grabbing him by the arm to haul him back where the new guy came from.

Something about the new input kicked the back of Jack’s brain into gear, and it was like someone had flicked a switch on the world’s soundtrack. These guys didn’t stop sounding like they were talking the way Danny did when he’d stubbed his toe, but now it was intelligible.

Well, he understood the words, though the sentences still seemed to be a mishmash of who knew what. There was a confusing babble of voices, all asking if a General was all right, and what had happened to seventeen. Seventeen what was a very good question, but no one else seemed to be in the dark about it. Seventeen soldiers, maybe?

Jack’s buddies pelted into a small cul-de-sac, where a handful of white-and-yellow armoured soldiers were crouched around a fallen figure. Jack was swept along with them into a pained, hushed circle.

Aw, hell. Jack tried not to wince when he saw what the white-armored figures were huddled around. One of them had taken a direct staff-blast. How the poor bastard was still breathing with more hole than abdomen, he had no idea, but it was clear the man didn’t have much time.

Neither did they, until more Jaffa showed up, but it was clear why Jack’s cellmate had been pulled aside. The fallen soldier could have been his twin, once you got past the gore and the dark hair instead of blond. Jack swallowed and looked away, trying to keep a low profile as the other soldiers pressed close, their body language showing just as much concern and grief as Rex’s. It was – it was good, that the poor bastard had family, but god, that was hard. People shouldn’t have to see their family die.

“General.” Rex’s voice was quiet as he knelt down, tone sorrowful but determined. “Sir, can you hear me?”

The dying man shook his head ever so slightly, his lips skinning back from bloodied teeth. ”Can – can heal…”

The man – the General? – coughed, swallowed blood. He tried to speak, needing to swallow again first. Then he managed more, voice suddenly thick with the same accent Rex had. “W’all due r’spect sir, shut th’fuck up ‘n get mov’n. ‘M dead.”

Jack blinked. What.

Rex put a hand on the dying man’s shoulder. “General Kenobi. I am ready and willing to do my duty.”

A moment for a labored, bloody breath, then the General’s face twisted up in a mix of sorrow and acceptance. He gave a small, jerky nod and opened his mouth.

Jack’s breath quietly whooshed out of him like he’d gotten punched in the gut. A goa’uld slithered out of the dying man - world’s ugliest un-butterfly leaving its cocoon. The damn thing was large, obviously mature, and so streaked with blood it was going to create all sorts of new nightmares. It slithered onto the dying man’s chest, silent instead of making the usual nails-on-chalkboard hiss.

The now ex-host blinked, brows smoothing. “Huh. s’no pain,” he slurred as his eyes drift shut. “th’nks genrl…”

Jack felt too hot and too cold. His face was blank, frozen, which was probably for the best, given he liked the whole breathing, not being tortured thing. Was this some new System Lord? Had he stumbled over some kind of goa’uld infighting? The goa’uld didn’t usually go in for military ranks, and more active, warlike goa’uld were such a fun idea. He considered taking off, just getting the hell out of Dodge, but so far they hadn’t recognized him as Tau’ri, so he’d possibly be better off trying to play it like he was just another hapless victim.

The damn goa’uld reared up, snake-like. Instead of striking at something, it gently put the exposed fangs at the front of its snout against the dead man’s chin and began to emit a low keen.

The hairs on the back of Jack’s neck stood straight up at the sound, all the creepier for the fact the snake hadn’t made any noise so far. What the everlovin’ hell is going on? The soldiers crowded around remained silent, but their posture wasn’t the usual stoic servitude of Jaffa. These men stood subdued, grieving even as the – hell, it was insane. Even as the snake did.

None of this made sense. Not even Tok’ra would act like this, show emotions like this.

"General," Rex said. It was a tone of voice Jack recognized. Sympathetic, but knowing that they couldn’t afford to stop right now. How many times had he heard it, used it himself? Yet here it was, being used on a goa’uld, of all the damn things.

Madness, all of it.

"Sir, you can’t be outside like this," Rex tried again.  The snake fell silent, and Rex placed his hand down next to it, palm up. "Please, General Kenobi."

Jack tried to hide his wince at the soft tone. Just how brainwashed were these poor idiots?

He couldn’t quite stop a shudder and way too many flashbacks of the Hathor incident as the snake curled up onto Rex’s hand. It twined around his wrist, smearing bright red blood across the battle-scarred white and blue. The soldier didn’t even pause, bringing the brain-snake up to his mouth and letting ‘the General’ slide in. Rex blinked and shook his head a bit, all without the signature Tok’ra head bow of adjustment. Jack braced himself for the glowing eyes, the distorted voice, the sneer of superiority.

"You were all en-route to an extraction point, Trooper…?" Rex asked, and there was no sign of the snake, from the eyes, to the voice, to the knowledge that should have been present.

"Boil, Sir,” the man he’d addressed answered. “There’s heavy resistance in the direction we came in through, so we were trying to find a different way out."

"Captain Rex," another soldier said, holding out a metal cylinder to the goa’uld. "Kenobi’s lightsaber."

Rex nodded and took the cylinder – some kind of goa’uld device? Like the men’s armor, it looked utilitarian instead of flashy. ”Okay, then let’s move. See how far we can get while the General’s getting himself situated.”

"Sir!" came a chorus of voices, eerily similar underneath the distortion of the helmets.

All of this was getting seriously weird. Jack was having a strong debate with himself about trying to slip away, and he wasn’t sure which side was winning.

"Who’s the tag-along?" someone asked as they started down the corridor.

Rex glanced back at Jack. “I don’t know, but he can point and shoot. For now he’s with us.”

Well, for now, maybe he was.


Chapter Text

Jack was impressed with his new friends, goa’uld flunkies or no. Every last one of them were good shots, taking out the local jaffa like experienced Stargate teams.

That bothered him a lot – if these guys’ snakes turned out to be the typical megalomaniacal evil overlords, Earth might be screwed but good. Their little group made it down several corridors before the press of locals sent them for cover in another small room. Jack ended up as one of the guys at the door, so he had a clear view of the tail end of the group. One of the guys in yellow was lugging along the body of the dead host, hightailing it into the room and tucking his shoulder against the wall, his body language defensive, wounded, though the white and yellow armor didn’t show any damage.

Jack had to shake his head at the guy. Who the hell had given that sort of harebrained order? Bringing along a dead host not only didn’t make a lick of sense, it was flat out dumb. It was at least one less gun they had on their side, and that guy might well slow them down before long.

Rex noticed too. A whole parade of expressions washed over the man’s face: surprise, disgruntlement, understanding, determination. The now-host grabbed the free shoulder of the guy lugging the body, pulling him close as the rest of the crew went for a combo of cover fire and more carefully aimed shots.

“Leave him!”

Even with the helmet on, the stubborn lift of the head was obvious. “Like fuck!” Jack could hear the man’s voice crack with emotion, something fierce and protective and not quite broken. From the sound, maybe another brother, which made some sense.

Rex shook his head, frustration and sympathy front and center. “We don’t have the resources! We need all the blasters we can –” He blinked, glancing away for a moment. When he looked back, his eyes were quite impossibly a pale blue instead of the pale brown they’d been a moment before.

It might not be the usual goa’uld glow, but human eyes did not do that. Fuck fuck fuck, they’re heeeeeere, Jack’s mind chanted, skin crawling as his cellmate stood differently, holding himself in a far snottier pose. Shoulders back, chin up a little, though not so much as to be sneering down his nose at the soldier.

Then the goa’uld shifted his hand on the man’s shoulder, going from grabbing him to something that looked like a reassuring pat instead. “Spark, you know 17 would kick your ass if you let this get yourself or others hurt,” the goa’uld declared softly, accent totally different and weirdly refined.

Jack blinked. Wait, what? What just happened?

‘Spark’ seemed to be glaring just as defiantly even in the face of his brain-snake lord and master. “I won’t, Sir. But I’m not leaving him for these bastards! You saw the same torture rooms I did, I’m not leaving him here for them to fuck over, living or dead!”

Jack’s jaw dropped as the goa’uld paused and nodded. “Don’t get shot, then. Keep an eye on our rear.” The goa’uld patted Spark on the shoulder, then glared towards the door. His expression went hard, with a fierce grin as he strode forward. “Now let’s get out of here.”

Wait wait WAIT what? Jack stared at the man – host stalking past him. A goa’uld had just tried to reason with one of their minions? Had just let that minion win the argument, then reassured him? He ran a quick check, but as far as he remembered he hadn’t run across any reflective surfaces, so he probably wasn’t in some parallel universe of fucked up shit.

So this made even less sense.

The goa’uld grabbed the tube he’d been handed earlier, flourishing it so that a beam of bluish light extended from the end. This didn’t look like a fancy flashlight; the beam was too strong, somehow limited to a length like a –

Oh, fuck no. Staff weapons are bad enough, now we have – He blinked and shook his head. “Light saber.” Shiiiit, that was LITERAL?

Jack was more than half convinced he was in some sort of dream, because the goa’uld stepped right into the doorway, putting himself smack in the middle of a firefight, fancy light-sword flashing around and making swooshy noises.

Somehow, impossibly, the snake was right in the heart of incoming fire, and blocking it.  He was stopping incoming zat and staff blasts with the sword, moving the blade with pinpoint precision to field the deadly blasts, and even reflecting them to down more than a few of the jaffa who were shooting at him in the first place. The soldiers were shooting around the goa’uld, and between them, the incoming jaffa were going down like toys.

Jack was suddenly a lot more worried about this “General.”

Between the cover and the creepy ass sword-work, they cleared the corridor. “Come on,” the General growled, leading the way back down the halls.

Jack stared as a goa’uld charged into the teeth of danger.

Goa’uld didn’t do that.  Everything about this snake – from listening to a regular foot-soldier to charging headlong into danger – was standing Jack’s store of knowledge about their snakey enemies on its head.

Their small group made its way further into the ha’tak, the corridors getting wider, the cover sparser, and the enemies thicker. They were partway down a large hall when a metric ton of jaffa came around the far corner, staff weapons already blasting. Jack was fairly certain it was Spark hollering that they had enemies climbing up their backside, too.

In the middle of the pack he had enough of a breather to glance around, all of them trying to figure out cover or anything useful. He spotted one of the ornate doors dotting the hallway had a nice big stargate design on it.

Fortune favors the stupid, Jack thought, darting over and shoving the left door open. Jackpot! “Hey!” he hollered, waving an arm and starting to take potshots at incoming jaffa. His new buddies piled into a gate room, clearing as much of the hallway behind them as possible before slamming the door shut and barring it with a staff weapon.

The men spread through the gate room, swinging wide of the DHD. Jack watched them closely, trying to plan for the most efficient way out of this clusterfuck and back to safety. Let the snake take the lead, if he insists on a group trip hang back and give Sparkie a little lovetap and drag him to a manned beta-site – gotta get word back about these new guys. Partying against them will not be fun.

Some of the helmets turned towards the stargate, but turned away again, dismissing the ‘gate like it was an ugly piece of art. A few gave the Dial Home Device the same treatment, but nobody started dialing. Even the snake barely gave it a look, glancing around the room while apparently figuring out defense. The General started ordering his people to defend the bottleneck of the doorway, as well as asking one of the more talkative yellow guys if he could raise someone called ‘Anakin’ on the com.

It was pretty clear that the world wasn’t going to make sense any time soon. Jack tossed his hands up for a moment, then tucked his zat into his belt. “Ya want something done,” he muttered as he shoved past some blue and white guys to get to the DHD. Long experience with inputting coordinates under time pressure meant that he’d gotten six symbols in before anyone did anything.

“What are you doing?” It seemed to be Rex who grabbed his arm.  The man’s eyes were back to brown, and the rough, broad accent made his annoyance sharper.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Getting us out of here.”

The blond did a sharp double take. “I thought you didn’t speak Basic?” he accused, still seeming way too human.

“You wanna debate languages, or d’you wanna get out of here?”

Rex glared at him suspiciously for a moment. “How do you intend to get us out? There’s nowhere to go.”

Sometimes, the setup was too perfect. “Like this.” Jack gave him an eyebrow waggle and hit the last chevron, punching the center activation button.

Rex took a swift step back as the stargate whooshed open, all the soldiers in the room spinning to bring weapons to bear on Jack, the Gate, and anything else looking at them funny. “Stars –!” Rex yelped, then his eyes went blue.

What is that?” the goa’uld demanded, hand back on his lightsaber.

How the fuck did you rate a host if you don’t even know what the hell a stargate is? “A wormhole. It’ll get us the hell off this ship.”

“A what?”

“Wormhole! Y’know, a thing that takes us from here to there, there being anywhere but here.”

The goa’uld didn’t look away from the ‘gate, his expression of awed disbelief highlighted by the rippling glow from the open portal. “Are you telling me that’s a stable wormhole?” he asked in hushed awe, tone just as disbelieving as his expression.

“For cryin’ out – Yes!”

“General?” one of the guys near the door called. Both Jack and the snake looked over, and Jack winced. The doors were starting to heat and buckle under a barrage of staff blasts.

The snake made a face, then looked over at one of the other guys in yellow. “Were you able to raise Anakin?”

“No Sir, they’re still jamming all signals. Nothing in or out, just here in the interior!”

“This thing’s starting to give!”

The General looked at the melting door, the stargate, then back at Jack. They held eyes for a moment. Without looking away, the goa’uld declared, “…Go.” He turned towards his men. “Everyone through the circle!”

“Sir?!” the guy on communications yelped.

“You heard me, move!”

Jack could hear the goa’uld yell at his soldiers, but Jack was already halfway up the ramp and going strong. Time to get the hell out of here.

Chapter Text

Jack hurtled through the 'gate, very glad that the area was clear of anything other than birds, trees, and the DHD. He hesitated at the DHD and, just for a second, considered disengaging the connection.  Then he shook his head and looked up as the first soldiers stumbled through the wormhole, disoriented and shivering.

"C'mon, get clear, more guys comin' through!" He gestured them over, grudgingly impressed that as soon as they found their feet, their guns were up and ready to take on any too-inquisitive squirrels, or whatever the local equivalent was. This was supposed to be a safe location, a reasonable escape-hatch destination, should things go pear shaped.

Watching handful after handful of soldiers hurtle through the gate with more grace than several rookie teams he'd seen, Jack was pretty sure things were very, very pear shaped.

Last man through was the snake, who staggered like a drunk before collapsing right on the dais. Jack had a moment to gape before Rex started spasming, body twitching and arching like he was being shocked with a live wire.

Three guys holstered their weapons and pelted over, yammering at each other the way medics do.

Jack was staring down the barrel of every other weapon.

His hands were already skyward, but damn if he didn't itch to close the 'gate and scramble the signal elsewhere, even as he was keeping an eye on the still twitching goa'uld, who'd mostly graduated from spasms to puking up who the hell knew what.  At least the three medics were getting him clear of the mouth of the ‘gate, not even their near-panic enough to make them forget the danger it now represented.

"Fellas, if I don't close the door, we're gonna have some really angry guests, real fast."

One of the guys in yellow snarled at him, pointing at a few soldiers who swung around to face the gate. "I don't know what game you're playing at, but you've already pulled two fast ones on Captain Rex, and I'm not about to let that be three!"

"Look, I'm not trying for any funny business, I just don't want more Jaffa crawling up — damn!"

The 'gate rippled, a handful of snake-helmeted Jaffa sprinting forward with staff-weapons blasting. A second wave was already coming through as most of the soldiers swung around and returned fire, the medics hauling their General to cover even as they were blasting away too.

Jack figured closing the 'gate was worth the risk of getting shot. He slammed the center button, barely waiting for the shimmering event horizon to dissipate before punching in new coordinates. Anywhere but here, anywhere but here, his mind chanted, even as he tried to scope out the damage. Two guys were down, one motionless enough that he was either dead or zatted. Several guys were wounded but ignoring the hell out of their injuries.

By the time the ring spun up and whooshed open, the Jaffa were all down for the count. Jack had enough time to congratulate himself before someone grabbed his shoulders and shoved him away from the DHD, someone else knocking his legs out from under him. He had his hands on his head before his knees hit the ground.

He was honestly more than a little surprised that nobody took the clear and easy shot.

It creeped him the hell out too, since once again these new not-exactly-Jaffa were displaying a military discipline the Goa’uld never seemed to encourage, and the very nature of that "throw more Jaffa at the problem" mentality made survival so much easier. This was very bad news.

Hell, several of the soldiers were methodically going around making sure that the Jaffa were actually dead and not faking. Efficient, disciplined, and above all, scarily competent. Jack wasn't sure even Teal'c would have been that thorough, back in the day.

He saw the General stagger upright with help of one of his men, who assisted him over to where Jack was waiting to find out what the hell they did with prisoners. Instead of pulling out some kind of ribbon device, Rex glowered at him. "What the entire fuck was that? Trap didn't work well enough? Or were you hoping– "

"Whoa, whoa whoa! Look, I don't know what happened there! I've seen more Goa’uld travel through the gates than I ever wanna think about, and that back there was a first! I don't know what makes your squirmy little friend special but most hosts stride through there like they own the place."

The guy at Rex's elbow practically growled at him. "You really think any of us are going to buy that?"

"Hell if I know, but it's the truth, so I figured I’d try that first. Want me to make up a lie instead?"

That made the guy pull back a little, sputtering. Rex in the meantime was tilting his head, eyes distant even as he winced at the movement. He put his hand to the back of his neck, looking for all the world like a newscaster trying to get a better signal from the idiot on the other end.

"Hold up," he declared, distracted. "Waxer, give me a second." The guy at his elbow subsided, but didn't look happy about it. "General says he's —" He broke off with a snort, rolling his eyes a little. "Like hell you're fine." He paused, then shook his head in disapproval. "Okay, General says he will be fine; he just needs some downtime. The damn circle did a number on his system." He moved his hand slightly, like he was trying to fine tune a radio to the right station. Then he made a face, looking pretty disturbed for a moment. "Interfered with his connection to the Force, somehow." He nodded as if acknowledging new orders and removed his hand to look at the troops. "He got zotted, but he's coherent and awake."

The guy next to him — Waxer, apparently — nodded. "So we're taking orders from your ugly mug, then?"

Someone behind Jack uttered a quiet, uncomfortable snicker. "Hey, we resemble that remark."

Neither of the two seemed to hear the comment, and Rex nodded. "Unless the General wants something else when things have calmed down, yeah. Waxer, you're in charge of details until I get to know everyone." Jack could almost feel a ripple of relief go through the soldiers at having a clear chain of command reestablished. Then Rex turned to look at him. "You didn't know what would happen when we went through?"

"I really didn't, I swear."

"We believe him?" someone asked incredulously from his right.

Jack sweated for a long moment at the host looked at him. Then Rex nodded. "…for now. Let him up."

The pressure on his shoulders disappeared, and gun muzzles lifted. Jack dusted off his pants as he stood. "Well, while you're believing me, that thing has a time limit." He nodded towards the stargate, watching as several of the group slid sideways to keep a clear bead on him. "As soon as it shuts down, they'll be dialing back in. I thought we could skip worlds until we lost 'em, but– "

Rex shook his head. "Yeah, not happening. We're not taking General Kenobi through another round of that. How long do we have?"

"About thirty minutes."

The host nodded. "Then we've got half an hour to get the hell away from this thing. Let's move."

Jack put on his most innocent, 'I'm just a rube from Earth who wouldn't harm a fly' smile. "I don't suppose you'd just let me head home now, would'ja?"

'Waxer' whipped around from where he was already directing guys to helping the injured. "You are kriffing unbelievable. You almost kill the General and you think you can just– "

Rex held a hand up to his second in command, shutting the tirade down before it could start. Even with everyone glaring at him, Jack couldn't help but envy the man. That was skill, and oh if only he could shut up various folks back home with that kind of ease.

Yup, still scared shitless of fighting these guys.

Rex shook his head, still giving Jack one hell of a look. "I appreciate that you got us out of there, but in the end, we still got stuck on an unknown planet through unknown means by some guy who likes playing language games. No. You're coming with us."

Jack shrugged.  It'd been worth a shot. He didn't like the way several guys looked like they'd be happy to enforce that at gunpoint, but he could always look at it as a chance to gather more intel.

This was such a great day.

Chapter Text

The planet – PX-e-i-e-i-double-oh-seven or something – was a darkish place. It might have been dusk, or dawn, and cloud cover and tall trees dimmed the light even more. The tangled underbrush was damp from recent rains, soaking Jack’s uniform in short order.

There were a lot of trees. The stargate dais had been in a small open patch, barely large enough to be called a clearing, in the middle of of forest made of tall trees with broad, prickly leaves of dark green. The trunks were at least pale, lending some light to the place. The stippled bark made for subdued beacons amongst heavy underbrush.

Just the kind of place Jack was looking to slog through. He glared up at the clouds scudding overhead and sighed. They were probably due for more rain before long.

It actually took almost twenty minutes before rain started dribbling down past the thick leaves, making for a light mist with the occasional plop of wet right down the neck. Of course all the other bastards had helmets, which kept them drip-free, so he couldn’t even carp about that.  Not that he had the breath to spare.  The forest dampened sound and ate voices, but Jack could swear he heard someone yelling orders back behind them, and two or three white helmets kept glancing back, one soldier even dropping back behind Spark to take the position that was now more dangerous than up front.

By that time, it was clear they’d arrived at dusk. Things had gotten steadily darker until, as if on a pre-set timer, the spots along the tree bark started to light up. It was dim bit of fluorescence, almost lightning bug yellow with bits of darker orange along it.

Jack seriously hoped it was moss, or natural to the trees themselves, because it if was bug related, he was reserving the right to a serious case of the heebie jeebies.

Jack decided to ignore it for the time being, since this gave just enough light to see what he was tripping over. Nobody else seemed to have that problem, probably due to the helmets, which looked high-tech enough to have low-light vision built in. Rex finally motioned someone over, and a guy in blue quietly took up a position behind Jack, switching on helmet-mounted flashlights.

He really wanted one of his own by then.

By his estimates, they’d been hiking for almost an hour, keeping up a steady pace he remembered far too well from boot camp nightmares. When they stumbled over a tiny clearing, they got a tiny rest break, and Jack found a whole new reason to be intimidated by these strange Jaffa. The medics made the rounds, checking over the injuries. It was all quick, professional. The armor plates popped off easily enough, functional rather than fancy.  There were some nasty burns, but they all seemed happy enough to pull out patches of something with a few LEDs, slap it on like it was an oversized but terrifyingly effective bandaid and walk away. A few scrapes and minor injuries spread over wider areas warranted a light coating of reddish goo from a jar, which the medics slathered on before wandering off.  Jack hadn't seen a hint of a ribbon device, but then, these Jaffa didn’t appear to want or need the extra help.

All the soldiers kept as much armor on as possible, shoving black body-suits away from wounds with a casual disregard for how that might not be the smartest thing to do around injuries.

By the time they got back to hiking, Jack could see the injured Jaffa were moving more easily, their injuries either numbed or partially healed already.

He didn’t know if he wanted some of that goo, or he just wanted to hightail it to the gate and home.

A few more hours of shoving their way through underbrush, then the rain cleared out, and they settled down for another break. With the clouds clearing away, a bright aurora had sprung up, helped by a large, mostly-full moon, and leaving them with halfway decent visibility. Jack was sprawled near the back of the group, leaning against a rock – no trees for him, thank you very much – and Spark sat nearby, his grisly burden laid carefully on the ground. The kid had done a valiant job carrying along a guy who looked to be as big as he was, but everybody could tell he was going at least as slow as Jack, the only guy without decent lighting or armor to push through underbrush.

Rex paced over to Spark, and Jack tried not to tense as he saw blue eyes, and the almost mincing way the man moved to crouch next to the kid. Once again, the goa’uld put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Spark, I don’t think we’re getting out of here any time soon.” His snotty accent couldn’t hide what sounded like actual grief and regret. “We need to move as fast as possible if we hope to find someplace to go to ground.”

“...I know.” The kid’s voice was subdued, and he bowed his head as if in grief, not subservience.

The goa’uld’s voice was just as soft. “We can’t afford a pyre, but we can bury him properly.”

Spark pulled off his helmet, and Jack winced. Yeah, they had to be triplets. Spark had a faintly softer cast to his face, dark hair trimmed short but not quite the buzzcut Rex or “17” had. The kid swiped a hand across his cheek, leaving smears of wet earth and grime that was probably old blood. “Won’t – won’t that take a lot of time?”

God damn, but Jack hated hearing someone that young, that earnest, sound so damn lost. He shook his head a little, calculating how long it might take the twenty-odd of them to move enough earth.

Jaffa or not, goa’uld servants or not, no way in hell was he sitting this one out.

“I’ll take care of it,” the General declared, giving the kid’s shoulder a reassuring shake.

Spark looked down, his nod covering what was probably more tears. “Thank you, Sir.”

Kenobi, or whatever the hell his name was, nodded back with a faint, lop-sided smile that took some obvious effort. Then he stood and walked to the center of what passed for a clearing they were sprawled in. The soldiers started sitting up, not quite at attention, but giving the strange scene an air of seriousness, or ritual.

Kenobi knelt down, pulling off his gloves to place both hands flat to the damp, rich, leaf-covered ground. He stayed there for a while, eyes closed, then he stood and walked over to a patch that didn’t seem much different from any other. He sat down, crosslegged, hands on knees and breathing slow but deep like Teal’c meditating. The air seemed to go still, a hush falling over the area, and the hair on Jack’s neck started to rise. It wasn’t just the soldiers falling entirely silent and watching their General; something was happening.

Eyes still closed, Kenobi reached out, gripping the air then raising his hands. A block of damp earth lifted up out of the forest floor like a giant child’s play-block. It was roughly three by six, at least four feet deep, and shorn clear like some kind of fancy exhibition piece, not even dribbling dirt or pebbles. Kenobi took another deep breath and opened his eyes. They were still blue, but now they were glowing from the inside. Goa’uld eyes.

Kenobi twisted his body to the side, carefully setting the block of earth aside like he held puppet strings to the world in his hands. Jack’s skin kept crawling as the goa’uld settled the dirt down, still moving slow and precise and without any evidence of a ribbon device, or anything else the SGC had ever run into.

There was now a hole in the ground decently sized for a body, and it had taken less than a minute.

The General took another deep breath, then he stood. “Spark.”

The soldier carried 17’s body over, cradled in his arms instead of draped over his shoulder again. Someone else in yellow helped him ease the corpse into the grave, and Spark arranged 17 in an approximation of attention, hands at his sides. The rest of the group gathered around the grave, solemn and quiet as the snake was. The closest soldiers offered hands to pull Spark out once he was done, and for a moment they stood in respectful quiet around their fallen brother-in-arms.

One by one, the soldiers started taking off their helmets, tucking them underneath the left arm in a smooth, practiced move.

The eerily identical maneuver was made even stranger by the fact that it was the same face, over and over and over again. There was a range of variation in hair and facial hair, tattoos and scars and a handful of piercings, but the face was exactly the same.

They’re not triplets, Jack thought in a daze, his eyes wide and maybe a little panicked. Thankfully, no one was looking his way, and after a moment the General cleared his throat and began to speak.

“17 was – was my first host. I’ve been with him since I was only a padawan. He saw the start of the war with me, and carried me through all of it. We didn't agree on everything, but he was loyal, and courageous, and I could always count on him, even when I was pulling the craziest stunts. He always did his best by his brothers – by all of you. He will – he will be missed. May the Force be with you, 17.”

A quiet mutter passed through the crowd, a phrase in some new language that he didn’t know and thank God it didn’t seem to be knocking at the back of his skull.

The General started to turn away, then his hands clenched and he turned back. Voice still subdued and threaded with emotion, he looked over at the man standing closest to the grave. “Spark, could you hand me 17’s face? That, at least, we can take with us.”

Wait, what? He – he could not have heard that right. Besides, even if he had, they all had the same damn face anyways.

He could not have heard that right.

“Yes, General.” Spark climbed down into the grave, once again standing near the dead man’s head, and Jack could not look away, no matter how gruesome a picture his imagination was painting. Spark reached down, gently sliding 17’s helmet off, and Jack had to fight off another shiver at that same damn face, slack and pale in death, blank eyes glaring out at the world. Spark’s shoulders hunched, then he slid a hand over the corpse’s eyes to close them.

Turning, Spark grabbed another offered hand up, and hauled himself out of the grave, brushing dirt off the helmet before handing it over to Kenobi.

“Thank you,” the General murmured, voice thick with emotion as he slung the helmet under his arm.

The helmet. Sonnova- The damn brain-snake mean the helmet.  What the hell? Relief washed over Jack.  So did the urge to shake the damn snake until it started making sense.

In the meantime, the goa’uld stretched out a hand, his eyes lighting up again as the block of earth lifted back into the air. He directed it back into the grave, even tamping it down to bury the former host.

Kenobi cleared his throat, sounding almost normal as he looked around his men and nodding. “We should move out.”

There was a quiet murmur of “yes Sir”s, and, professional once again, the men pulled on their helmets. Now that he was looking, Jack could see how there was a variety to them. While they all retained the signature color, there were stripes and designs, all distinct, some of the patterns extending even to the body armor. A bunch of identical men, wearing individualized armor and each with their own style of “face.”

He didn’t know what to think as he followed the strangest Jaffa he’d ever run into deeper into the trees, though he did glance back once, at the equally strange grave.

Chapter Text

The enemy Jaffa were persistent, if not very efficient. Jack heard faint voices two more times, and once the General’s group had to hunker down behind a fallen tree and some tall bushes to avoid a search party, but the drenching rain was dampening the enemy’s effectiveness along with everything else.  A good thing, too – there must have been at least a dozen enemy Jaffa in the search party.  The General’s group was larger, but it wasn’t about being able to take them all down – if this group went missing it would tell the rest of the forces where to concentrate their search.

Jack might have been grateful for the rain, except it never stopped for more than an hour or two at a time. It wasn’t freezing, but it was cold enough to suck the heat right out of him, leaving him half-numb as well as exhausted and aching.  He couldn't make out helmet designs well enough to figure out what bright bulb observed that it must be a rainy season, though he plotted a bit of metaphorical revenge anyways.  It kept him warm, or at least able to pretend, and they kept marching on. 

By the end of their first 24 hours, Jack had reluctantly decided that whatever the hell these guys were, they weren't the usual Jaffa.  There was none of the subservience, the unthinking obedience that he was used to. He'd even tried pointing at some stripe of jackalope-squirrel-thing, which was several sizes too large for any kind of tree rat, and yelling "Kree!" He got stared at, then someone decided to look where he was pointing. There were some baffled mutters, but no shooting.

Even Teal'c still twitched, even if it was just around the eyes, when he heard that. The kicker was that there seemed to be a collective shrug, and he had to put up with the not-squirrel things being called "kree" after that.

The sna– The General didn't seem to expect any impossibilities, or special treatment. They all shared the same godawful granola bar things that tasted way too much like Daniel's favorite incense, and the General even slogged through mud with the same resigned look of any soldier Jack had seen on a forced march.

The host — sometimes when Jack caught a glimpse of his face, the eyes were brown, not blue — never claimed a helmet, and he and Spark swapped off who carried "17's face."

They all foraged as they marched, snagging twigs with berries that looked potentially edible.  Sleep was caught in snatches, cat naps when the drizzle let up long enough to pretend they could be drier and less mud coated.

Early on what was probably the third day, someone with the oh-so-fortunate name of 'Boil' even tagged something that wasn't quite a lizard, wasn't quite a deer, and was altogether too fucking large. Still, meat was meat, and the Jaffa seemed to do an ordinary amount of bitching about carrying notadeer parts.

 They didn’t have to complain long – hardly ten minutes later, as Jack trudged after the guy ahead of him, the light disappeared almost completely.  It took Jack’s exhausted mind a moment to realize they’d walked into a cave.  They’d found a decent tunnel system going into some of the rocky hillside they'd been following for a while. Jack trudged a few steps further in, following the trickle of water that collected into not a tiny stream, which was probably the reason the tunnel existed in the first place.

Kenobi, looking as bedraggled and un-goa'uld as possible, stood in the center of a semi-circle that formed almost naturally as the last few guys came in from the rain. "It's not the most comfortable spot in the world, but it's uninhabited, shouldn't flood, and the water's only coming in from the one direction. Someone set up a latrine area, keep the water clear for drinking, someone see to the meat, and everyone else, get some sleep. Grab ration bars from Brakes' supply if you need food. I've got the watch."

There was a quiet, relieved murmur, and Waxer stood up to pick the short straws for actual work. Someone plastered a few strips of some luminescent green glowy shit on low points in the cave, either as a warning sign of a low bridge, or for actual light. Several guys dumped some soaking wood down in a clearer area, while some kind of flares were unloaded from the hard backpacks a few soldiers wore. The flares didn't provide much light, but whatever the hell it was, it was warm, and Jack was glad enough to huddle close to it and the drying wood that would presumably replace it once that shit was dry. Nobody else seemed to be freezing, so either those black bodysuits were well insulated, or these guys came from some frozen wasteland of a planet.

Within half an hour, the only one vertical was Kenobi, seated on a rock near the entrance in a lotus position, eyes closed and face serene. If the snake’s own life hadn’t depended on it, Jack would have assumed the General was sleeping.  Jack was staring at that as he fell asleep, wondering yet again what the hell was with these guys.

Jack came awake hard, eyes snapping open even as his brain caught up with a fabulous collection of annoyed curses in more languages than he could keep track of. He discretely checked the watch near his face, and he blinked.

A good six hours. The only reason he was awake was because the soft murmur of voices was in the wrong languages. His hindbrain recognized fellow soldiers moving about, taking care of business, and generally trying to collect themselves after the really, really sucky part of an op.

Please don't be too evil. He sighed and sat up, stretching the kinks out of muscles that still thought they should be marching. There were still some fellas knocked out, which was reassuring. The rest, though, had efficiently made themselves at home. A bunch had stripped off armor, and had been hard at work clearing away mud, gun damage, and random crap that had collected on the buff white material. Several others were standing guard near the cave entrance, facing outwards and looking like they were actually pulling real sentry duty, not just being pretty bookends.

No matter what the state of anyone's armor, every last weapon he could see had already been meticulously cleaned.

No, really, please don't be evil. That would suck.

One of the guys walking by was down to the bodysuit, a high-necked footie-pajama setup that should've looked ridiculous, but the low mohawk and sideburns somehow managed to counterbalance it. He was carrying several of their 'ration bars,' and when he saw Jack he hesitated, shrugged a little, and held one out to him. "Here," the fella said quietly. "We're waiting on the meat for when everyone's reasonably conscious. If they're sleeping still, then they need the rest."

"Thanks." Jack took it with a polite tilt of the head, then sighed as he unwrapped the covering. "Don't suppose I could get one with less sandlewood?" At the blank look, he shook his head. "Never mind. Thanks." He tried to keep the salute as unmocking as possible, then started gnawing on the damn thing.

It gave him a good opportunity to scope out the goa'uld. The General had claimed what might laughably be called an alcove, and was seated with someone with a mostly shaved head who was holding some kinda oversized graphing calculator thing. There were three piles of foliage next to the goa'uld. Jack leaned a little to the side to get a better view, squinting in confusion.  A glimpse of red made him realize the foliage was the berries and other scavenged foodstuff.  He was a little surprised to find he was disappointed. He'd thought they'd be doing a more egalitarian approach to the foraged food, and finding the goa'uld was —

He blinked. The goa'uld was turning green, and spitting out some dull brown berries while vigorously shaking his head. Kinda-Shaved-Head made a face, and nudged a branch from one of the smaller piles towards the largest.

"The hell?" he muttered, taking an absentminded bite as he tried to figure out what was going on.

"Checking for poisons," a soft voice — the same damn soft voice, if he was going to be honest, which was still damn creepy — declared behind him.

Jack made the turn and raised brow look casual, not like he wanted to reach for the zat he hadn't been allowed to keep. "What?"

The guy behind him was mostly in armor, yellow trimmed. The helmet next to him had some kind of stylized Y shape over the left eye-slit, and the right side had what looked like a kill count of hashmarks over and around a light gray…design. It was either some kind of exotic dagger, or a two bladed crab spaceship thing. The guy had dark hair, just long enough to be tugged back into a tight, low pony tail, and a surprisingly patient expression. "A Jedi's not going to get poisoned the way we would. If a taste doesn't make him sick, he can also tell if there's likely to be long term effects."

"Jedi," Jack repeated, trying to wrap his head around the new vocabulary, since that was easier than trying to get his brain around the notion of a goa'uld playing taste-tester for his Jaffa.

"Yeah. General Kenobi."

"Wait, the goa'uld?"

The soldier blinked. "What's that when it's at home?"

"The — the brain snake." Jack rubbed the back of his neck, not sure how to communicate "evil mind controlling psychopath parasite with a god complex."

The man gaped at him like Jack had just insulted his sister, then he scrubbed a hand over his face. "Well that's a new one. I'm — ok, look, it's pretty clear you're not a fan, but war's over, I don't care if you're a Sep, a conscientious objector, or a gods damned pirate, so long as you keep in mind we're all in this mess together. How about we stick to "Jedi"? Or gould, if you insist?"

"Three syllables. Goa'uld, with an A in the middle. Sure. You're telling me he's making sure shit is edible?"

The man grinned. "You really don't have much experience with Jedi, do you."

Oh, killed a few. Ra, if that name means anything to you. Keep fighting them, kicked some serious snaky ass, nah, I'm clueless. Jack bit back what was probably not the smartest comment to make to a Jaffa and shrugged. "Apparently not. He do this sort of thing often?"

The man rolled his eyes. "More often than we really like. Barrel, by the way." He held out a hand, which Jack shook with more reluctance than he wanted to show. Fella looked a little surprised, then returned the gesture once before sliding his hand forward into a wrist clasp.


Barrel blinked and tilted his head. "Really? Just Jack?" he asked, sounding way too interested.

Not since I was ten, thanks. "No, but — Look, I already have one crazy Jaffa calling me "Jack O'Neil" all the time, so I try to keep it simple."

"Ah." Weirdly, the man didn't look disappointed. Instead he just nodded. "Ok, so what’s a Jaffa?"

"Hang on, why do you care what my name is? Do you want rank and serial number too?" Huh. If he was this defensive and cranky, he should've tried for more sleep. Not likely to happen, but it might've been nice.

Damned if Barrel didn't look intrigued again. "Sure. What militia?"

"…Congratulations, you've officially made this the weirdest conversation I've had all week, and with friends like mine, that's saying something." Jack gave him a casual half salute. "Colonel Jack O'Neil, United States Air Force, Earth. Did that actually tell you anything?"

Fella looked way too amused. "If you're using the term right, you outrank me."

Jack was still trying to process that when he saw Barrel's eyes flick up over his shoulder. Jack was already turning to find Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy with the graphing calculator thing approaching them, eyes on him. Here we go. "Excuse me," the man declared, clearly not caring too much if he interrupted. "General would like to talk to you."

Jack grinned at Barrel, who didn't seem to think this was a big deal. "Wish me luck."

"K'oyacyi," the man declared, giving him a little nod.

"Well." Jack gave Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy a look. "That was nice. I think."

The General was leaning back against the wall of his "alcove," looking greener than before and like a guy suffering his first major hangover. Jack decided protocol could take a leap, and he sat down on the outcrop that Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy had been using as a seat. "Howdy."

The goa'uld didn't move or open his eyes. The voice was the more cultured, slightly higher pitched one, though. "How the blazes did you fake ignorance of Basic that well?"

"Basic what?"

The goa'uld cracked open an eye. "The language. That we're speaking right now. Galactic Basic."

He'd had enough time to work through weird brain shit that he had a pretty good idea where he'd picked up a different language, but… "You mean this isn't Ancient?"

The other eye opened, and Jack earned himself a look. "It's fairly old, yes, but I've a sneaking suspicion you mean something else."

Jack snorted. "Yeah. The language. That we're speaking right now. Ancient."

The goa'uld sighed and ran his hands over his face. "Fantastic. You don't even call it — Look, where are we, exactly?"

"Hell if I remember the name of it, and it's not like we ever found any locals. I dunno what they'd call the planet."

The General actually rolled his eyes at him. "No, not the name – I doubt that would do us much good anyway. I meant, where in the galaxy? I can tell from the stars we're not anywhere near the Core, but are we Mid-Rim? Outer-Rim?"

Jack couldn't keep his eyebrows from climbing pretty far up. Not only did the terms make no sense, he was pretty sure everyone there thought this was as common as "Jedi." "You guys get around, huh?"

The goa'uld gave him a flat look, then he sighed. "…You have no idea where we are, do you."

"Not Kansas, that's for sure. Look, we do 'gate travel. I can write down the ‘gate coordinates of where we are, if that helps." It wasn't like it could compromise things any further.

"Gate. The circle? You regularly travel by wormhole?"

Jack had no idea what the hell to think about a goa'uld sounding both skeptical and impressed by 'gate travel. He decided to toss in another breadcrumb and see what happened. "Hey, we're Tau'ri. Using a Stargate is a thing we do. Why, how do you get around?"

"Star cruiser, usually." Kenobi blinked and shook his head. "I thought hyperspace was considered the only reliable means —" He shook his head again, as if to clear the weirdness out. "Well. We'll have to talk more about that at some point. So you never did say how you were faking ignorance."

What. The hell. There hadn't been the faintest reaction to 'tau'ri.' That…made no sense. "I wasn't faking," he protested automatically, trying to figure out if he'd run across the universe's most ignorant goa'uld, or what. "I just…didn't remember it yet."

He couldn't help but feel that the look he got saw a lot more than he liked. The General finally grinned a little. "There's a very strange story behind that, isn't there."

"Oh, I wouldn't say strange. Kinda odd, maybe."

Damned if the goa'uld didn't laugh, and it wasn't even the usual creepy laugh that probably involved blood and/or torture. It sounded…human.

"We have got to trade stories sometime, then."

Fuck. Goa'uld didn't do senses of humor. Jack couldn't stop himself from staring. The host tilted his head and raised a brow. "What, do I have something in my teeth? I thought I got rid of all the foliage."

The stare graduated to boggling. "Yeah, a sense of humor."

The General snorted, and dry as Jack could be, he shook his head. "Force forfend. Quick, how do I get rid of that?"

Jack held up a hand. "…'scuse me, I need to reboot my brain."

A look of faint curiosity flashed across the man's face, then he grinned and pointed. "Latrine's over there. That should give you some privacy."

"Stop that!"

Fuckall if the grin didn't widen into a smile. "What?"

"Cracking jokes! That's just unnatural!"

This time, the eyeroll was exasperated. "Oh please. Don't tell me you're one of those people that think Jedi are perpetually serious types that wouldn't know a joke if it tripped them?" He paused, looking a little contemplative, then he shrugged. "Admittedly some of us aren't very good at making jokes, but that's what alcohol’s for."

Jack could not stop staring. Fuck, he hated that he wanted to like this snake. The weird Jaffa, well, that was no surprise, but a goa’uld? He pointed at the host. “You’re now the most fucked up conversation I’ve had.”

“Oh what is your problem?” One of the soldiers passing by had stopped, turning to glare at Jack. He was one of the boys in blue, helmetless and head shaved with some strange glyphs tattooed on his head.

Damn if the goa’uld didn’t sigh and hold up a hand. “It’s all right, Charger –”

“With all respect, Sir, it's not.” The man crossed his arms and glared challengingly at the snake. “We're stuck here because of him, and he's acting like you're some evil demon out of a youngling’s tale? There’s nothing right about that.” Several of the nearest soldiers had turned to listen in, their body language just as defensive, protective as the outspoken man’s.

Yet the snake just shrugged, expression stoic. “It happens, Charger. There are millions of beings who've never met a Jedi, and not all the stories about us are complimentary.” He grinned, expression turning wry. “We do tend to be a bit scary, sometimes.”

“A ‘bit scary’?” Jack knew it would be smarter to shut up and listen, but he could not let some goa’uld sit there and carp on, holier than anything. His big fat mouth earned him a raised brow and a challenging look, which ticked him off but was better than the blow he still more than half expected. “Ya-huh, sure, because enslaving entire planets is only ‘a bit scary.’ Whatcha do for encores?”

“What the – What are you talking about?” Charger sputtered, taking an aggressive step forward. More of the soldiers were shamelessly listening in, expressions ranging from incredulous to stoically blank.

“Okay, I don’t care what you call yourselves, but you are all the weirdest Jaffa I’ve ever run across.”

Charger’s eyes narrowed, and his hands clenched into fists. “You got a problem with clones or something? The hells does ‘Jaffa’ mean?”

“Minions!” Jack half roared, arms flailing a little. “You’re soldiers, competent soldiers, and you take orders from that fucker!” He jabbed a finger at Kenobi, who blinked and pulled back. If his eyes hadn’t been blue, Jack would’ve sworn the snake had retreated to leave his host to deal with shit. “How the hell did you miss the ‘planetary domination, crush rebellions beneath gold-plated boot-heels’ memo?”

There was a very awkward silence, broken by someone in yellow – Waxer? – muttering, “...I don’t even know where to start with that one.”

“There...may be a grain of truth,” Kenobi finally ventured. “There usually is, after all, but stories also tend to grow in the telling. Perhaps a diplomatic incident gone bad, a few generations ago...?”

A few –’ What the hell did I do to get the universe’s most ignorant goa’uld ever dumped in my lap? “...Who do you think was trying to kill us on that ship?”

The snake blinked and leaned forward, going from politely uncomfortable to hawk sharp in an instant. “...Are you trying to tell me...That was a Jedi’s – No. Not possible.”

Very possible,” Jack declared flatly, crossing his arms and trying to get his cool back.

Kenobi shook his head, looking baffled of all things. “No. There are some Jedi who went missing in action during the war, but I do not believe any of them could have fallen so far, so quickly.”

He snorted. “I know you guys look at time differently, but thousands of years ain’t quick to the rest of the universe.”

The General kept staring blankly, then he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Force, we are talking past each other.” He looked up and held Jack’s eyes. “Look. You are clearly a soldier. I understand there are certain things you won’t discuss, for security reasons. But please, if it’s not sensitive information, could you tell me everything you know about these Jedi you’ve run into?”

...A goa’uld just said ‘please’ to me, and sounded sincere. Seriously, what reality am I in right now? Some of it was the novelty, some of it was that doing a little reputation-shining for the Tau’ri could never hurt, and yes, some of it was that stupid little please. Jack started talking. He began with Ra, ancient Egypt and Abydos. He tried to keep calm about Sha’re, and Skarra, and Teal’c. He didn’t know what the hell to do as jaws dropped fast and hard, then clenched tight in rage he could almost understand. Some of the soldiers – clones? Really? – looked ready to charge right back and take the fight back through the ‘gate, and he could hear the word “abomination” tossed around in furious little mutters.

It both was, and very much was not reassuring. On the one hand, that was again not the usual Jaffa thing. On the other, this kind of loyalty was either earned under hard fire, or these Jaffa were so seriously brainwashed that the odds of clearing any of their minds up were slim to none. This wasn’t Teal’c’s fear for his family held hostage, suffering under generations of slavery. This was ‘I like my boss and someone is fucking with him so now they need to be stopped and hard.’ There would be no prying these guys away from their snaky overlords by dangling freedom and rebellion in front of them.

Most telling – and terrifying – of all, was Kenobi’s reaction. The goa’uld was the first to gape, the one looking the most disturbed and offended. He looked so damn human; horrified and outraged at atrocities that were all in a day’s routine for most goa’uld. He was finally sitting back, shaking his head in disgusted bewilderment with a hint of rage in those blue eyes.

“Let me get this straight. These ‘goa’uld’ have been...passing themselves off as gods? For thousands of years?”


The man looked away, shaking his head. “The Council’s going to have voorpaks.”

“Fuck voorpaks,” Waxer muttered. “It’s gonna be rancors.”

That got a faint snort of amusement from the snake, and a look. “I was going for understatement.”

“So was I!”

Kenobi gave another little snort, then shook his head and sobered with brutal swiftness. “Any communication officers here?”

A guy in blue raised his hand. “Ringo, Sir.”

Kenobi nodded to him. “Throw everything we’ve got into trying to get ahold of Anakin, the fleet, anyone Republic affiliated, and as quickly as possible. I don’t care if we have to send up smoke signals; the Council has got to get this information.” There was a quiet rumble of “Sir”s, then the General turned back to Jack. “Thank you for the discussion. We obviously have a lot to talk about, but right now, I need to confer with my men.”

It almost bothered Jack that it was easy to nod, give a casual salute, and go back to the warmer spot near the flare.

It really bothered him that it hadn’t bugged him a hell of a lot more.

Chapter Text

Being Kenobi’s host was really nothing like training. It was the difference between a speeder and a fully powered starfighter. Sure, they’d both get you where you were going, but the starfighter packed a hell of a punch, in comparison.

The forced march had been stressful, but it had also been one hell of a distraction. Now, Rex had The Negotiator in his head, asking swift, directed questions of the mixed company, churning through grisly possibilities and factoring in who the hells knew what.

Amongst all that, the Force hummed through them, a swell of power that could crush droids or hear the whisper of minds, as Kenobi directed.

Kenobi, sensing his unease but misunderstanding the cause, sent a brief wave of reassurance to him. Feeling an emotion from outside himself flowing through his mind, knowing it wasn’t him, was just as odd, but he appreciated the effort.

Kenobi had already talked to most of the men, checking details and seeing if the strange human’s words corroborated what the others had seen on the weird pyramidal ship that had captured some of the 501, then been invaded by the 212. While only a handful of the men had run into the potential Jedi, the details did line up.

There hadn’t been a lightsaber in evidence, or any discernible Force-usage. However, glowing eyes, a strange, dual-toned voice, and an absolute disregard for their allies were things all the witness agreed on.

Plus torture chambers which had seen recent and thorough use.

No one liked the picture they were uncovering.

It was...reassuring, at least, that most of the men had the same impressions of Jack that Rex did – a decent being, out of his depth and outnumbered, but still rolling with the punches.

The fact that via the General, Rex could feel that the man was sincere was even more reassuring. They’d all run into enough backstabbing assholes in the Seps, or their sympathizers, and Jack didn’t feel at all like that to Kenobi. It seemed to amuse the Jedi to no end that instead, the human practically radiated an emotion the General labeled “confused flailing.” Since for the most part, that was covered by professional snark, Rex was fairly certain that the human could be trusted to one degree or another.

The news he had, though, was horrific.

Sith. The men had danced around the word, not wanting to disturb the General with the certainty that Kenobi could sense anyways. Still, they all politely pretended. It was easier to slip into that protocol than glare directly at the notion of Fallen Jedi, mad beings with delusions of grandeur that seemed to enjoy enslaving and torturing entire planets.

Goa’uld, he recited to himself in the private corner of his mind that Kenobi had promised would remain private. Ra. Apophis. Klorel. Hathor. He ran down the list of Sith Jack had given them, names spat out with personal grief and squirming distaste verging on hatred, memories of pain flickering so brightly that Kenobi could see it even without the Force’s help.

No one had mentioned that in training, either.  Kenobi picked up empathic imprints from the people around him – small echoes of their emotions and their intent.  Maybe the padawan Rex had hosted – M’bele – had been too young or too inexperienced for that, or maybe being in classes of clones, with Jedi instructors to make sure everything was on the level, meant there weren’t any foreign thoughts to intrude.

Even as Rex was working to compose himself, Kenobi was giving Waxer details about who to contact and what to do in the worst case scenario. Rex could catch occasional flickers of fond bemusement, hints of words that didn’t quite declare “the man’s no Cody, but good officer material” though Rex could hear it anyways.

Rex tucked a bit of insecurity into that private corner too. Cody really was the one who ought to be replacing 17. Rex was friends with the man, and they’d commiserated plenty of times about their Jedi. For all that, he knew that Cody would volunteer in a heartbeat to make sure the General was safe.

Either General, really, though the notion of Fives doing enough stupid shit to get dead was never reassuring. Whoever had thought Skywalker hosting in Fives was a good idea needed their head examined, then a long bacta bath for whatever the hells was wrong with them.

It was at least reassuring that he hadn’t hesitated, when Boil had seen him and remembered that name aside, Rex was a Commander.

It was not reassuring at all that he’d spent less than a week with the General in his head, and he already didn’t want to give it up.

Kenobi was clasping Waxer on the shoulder, giving it a little shake as the clone gave him a dour look. “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to take any risks.”

“It’s never your intent, Sir.” Waxer shook his head, grinning faintly before nodding a salute to the General and walking off.

#Ah, never any respect,# Kenobi sighed with amusement to Rex.

#Plenty of respect, just not the belief that you’re a fraction less crazy than Skywalker.#

#Some days I do wonder what I did wrong to make the Council think I’m actually a responsible adult.#

He bit back a mental snicker as Kenobi stretched, a strange agitation shimmering through them that was all the Jedi. They walked over to the cave mouth, where weak sunshine was struggling to break through the ever-present clouds. Rex could feel some kind of longing slip into that agitation, all swiftly wrapping up into determination.

#I think I’d like to take a bit of a breather.# Rex waited for the little tingle that would indicate he was back in charge of the body, but there was an odd hesitation instead. #No, not–  Outside, I mean.#

A series of memories flickered by Rex, of 17 bitching – though whenever had the man not? – about Kenobi being outside, of a planet and delicate negotiations where Jedi were so foreign, that it was far better for matters if Kenobi was conspicuously outside his host, visible rather than ‘hiding’ in who knew what body, taking over none of the locals could predict what.

Most Jedi rarely left their host, other than during the occasional migrations to a new one, or formal Council Meetings.

Rex reeled a little, as he finally put together fragments of gossip he’d never quite understood.

Kenobi enjoyed spending time outside his host.

#Sir, I think this officially puts you ahead of Skywalker in the crazy category.#

Amused, wry agreement washed over him. Tentatively following that was logic, all tinged with longing. A new host, which had come as several levels of a shock. Travel through that damned “stargate,” which had shocked the Jedi’s system and for a time, left his connection to the Force so tentative that he’d been virtually helpless, barely able to communicate with Rex at all. Days of slogging along at a march, senses spread wide to avoid the rather large fauna as well as their pursuers.

Tucked in the back was something Obi-Wan considered a ridiculous, hedonistic fondness for feeling sun on his fins.

#You ought to stay close, though,# Rex cautioned, finding himself unexpectedly protective.

#As if I wouldn’t.#

Rex sent wry, gentle disbelief back at his Jedi even as Kenobi passed control over to him, and the Captain stepped outside the cave. It was telling, how none of the 212 soldiers batted an eye as Rex cupped his hands, and he could feel the gentle disconnect of Kenobi from his mind. As in training, there was no sensation as the Jedi slipped free from his place around Rex’s spine, not until Kenobi slid over his tongue. It was movement, not taste except for a hint of copper curling at the back of his teeth, a bit of blood he’d probably have to spit out once the General was clear.

It seemed to take longer for the Jedi to leave than it had for him to enter, but at last Kenobi slid entirely out into Rex’s hands. The Jedi twisted, light glimmering off the reddish-brown iridescence of his fins, squeaking at Rex in a tone that could only be called smug. His blue eyes shining a little with the Force, the Jedi twined himself along Rex’s left arm.

He snorted amusement before turning to spit blood. He could feel the General tighten his hold just a little, along with a very distant sensation that was clearly affectionate apology. That was a surprise. Jedi were strong conduits for the Force, but they needed a host to truly exercise their abilities. Without the host, they tended to be limited to very minor expressions of the Force. A touch of empathic projection, maybe some tiny telekinetic feats. To get that strong an impression from Kenobi, even if there was some residual connection from hosting him –

He’d heard that Kenobi was strong with the Force, but few Jedi were quite so...flamboyant as Anakin Skywalker, and he was the norm Rex had gotten used to. Both Kenobi and Tano were far more discreet about their use of the Force, so he’d gotten the impression that they both were, well, weaker. Should’ve known better than to underestimate Kenobi, he thought ruefully.

Something about the apology seemed to have set off the General, though. When Rex looked back, the Jedi had hunkered down along his arm, fins flattened closer to his body and an almost dejected line to his form. They sat still for a long moment, the Jedi motionless except for the fluttering of his breathing, and Rex chewed on the change in atmosphere.

17, he finally decided. I did something that reminded him of 17. He couldn’t stop his own quiet moment of grief. He and the volatile ARC had never quite seen eye to eye, but some of that was just that Alpha-17 could be an absolute utter bastard. Rex admired that the man got shit done, but the methods sometimes grated. From what he’d heard, they sometimes didn’t sit well with Kenobi, either.

Still. Kenobi’s first host. The Jedi had to be at least three hundred by now, and that was a long time to be with one host. It was a damn long time to be with any being. Rex was just surprised that the Jedi had managed to partition his emotions off enough that Rex hadn’t been able to pick up on it.

It...bothered him, on a level he couldn’t quite understand, to see the Jedi so listless. The only other times he’d seen any Jedi outside of a host had been when Echo had begun hosting Tano, and during the training Rex had gotten on his promotion to Commander.

After reaching a certain rank, field soldiers had to get training with Jedi to make sure they could host without any difficulties, since war made life risky. Sure, any clone could do the job, what with guaranteed compatible genetics, but not fighting the Jedi for control could mean any number of lives saved when a transition occurred.

Classes for Commanders had been small, quiet affairs, hosted Jedi going to each clone and presenting the Initiates for a few days of hosting. The Initiates had already had their first lessons with specialized trainers, but that hadn’t made the experience any less odd for Rex. Feeling the Jedi slip into his mouth, then just the odd not quite lack of sensation as the Force and numbing secretions from the Jedi’s fins kept pain at bay as the Initiate moved into place.

Initiates were...eager. Oh, they were polite and respectful enough, but not a one of them hadn’t been squirming around like they were still swimming in the crèche pools. Kenobi’s stillness and grief was a far cry from those excited younglings.

So Rex...dared. He reached out a little cautiously, running a finger down the Jedi’s side along the main dorsal fin. He could feel the way the General’s stillness went from melancholy to something that was probably confused astonishment, but there was no sense of protest or negation from him. Rex kept up the movement, long steady strokes that he was trying to pretend weren’t petting because that really couldn’t be something one was supposed to do to one’s Jedi.

Admittedly, Jedi didn’t really leave the host in the first place, so maybe it was all moot.

Then the General relaxed a little, snugging closer to Rex’s vambrace as his body started to shake a little. That gave the clone a moment of hesitation, until he realized there was a high-pitched, rattling hum vibrating from the Jedi.

No one said they purr, too, he thought dazedly, trying to grasp that this seemed to be the right thing to do. He shifted a little to the side, angling his arm so that the faint sunlight slanted down towards Obi-Wan. I’m petting a Jedi. My Jedi, for the moment. How the hell is this my life?

The General twisted a little, curling a bit tighter around Rex’s wrist like he heard those thoughts. Maybe he did, through that vague, quiet connection. Maybe he just could tell from Rex’s body language, who knew. In an attempt to cover his awkwardness, Rex shifted from petting to the occasional solid stroke along the head, between the top set of eyes. Kenobi churred differently, a deeper, contented sound and he stretched out. For a bit they stayed like that, trying to take in what passed for sunlight on this gods-forsaken planet.

Finally Kenobi lifted his head, mandibles stretching wide. Then a movement rippled through the Jedi, a flex of muscles starting at his head and curling along his body one muscle cluster after another. Kenobi gave a contented little squeaking sigh after the stretch, fins no longer huddling tight near his body, and he nestled his head down near Rex’s gauntlet.

Rex stared, not quite believing as the Jedi’s eyes dimmed, the rib-cartilage fluttering more slowly as Kenobi dozed off.

He had a Jedi, wrapped around his arm, who had just passed out. He supposed the situation could be more surreal, but only if Kenobi started snoring or something, and wasn’t that an amusing mental picture.

For all that, he settled down onto a rock carefully, working to not cradle his arm like he or the General were injured. This being, the length of Rex’s arm, was somehow responsible not just for the entire 212th, but so many of the Republic’s victories during the Separatist Uprising. He’d fought in the Stark Hyperspace Conflict, had negotiated who knew how many conflicts in the universe, could lift boulders with just his mind, and regularly finagled some truly spectacular – and insane – plans from thin air. Yet no matter how many droids Rex had seen Obi-Wan Kenobi shear through, at this moment he literally fit into Rex’s hands.

He’d seen Tano outside of Echo only the once. He hadn’t ever seen Anakin, hadn’t even known his old friend Fives was a host until the man had gone from sheepish to cocky and his eyes had changed color.

Kenobi was so small, compared to humans – most sentients, for that matter. Yet the Republic hinged upon the Jedi. They were needed to lead troops in war, to settle disputes, to be the arbiters of justice for the entire Republic and the broad outskirts of civilization that she interacted with. People asked so much of the Jedi, and these small beings just stepped up and took care of it, as if it were their due responsibility.

Rex was no fool. General Kenobi was a powerful Jedi, sneaky and competent in ways that any Mando’ade could appreciate. He sure as hell didn’t need any coddling.

Despite that, Rex’s mind kept circling, returning to words he would never, ever have used to describe a Jedi before. Jedi were not “delicate” or “vulnerable.” Ever. Not even the padawans he had seen could be called that.

Yet this sleeping being coiled around his arm could be. He’d never felt more protective of a Jedi than any of his brothers, but it seemed that had changed too. He’d always been loyal to the Republic, never been remotely like one of those clones who wanted nothing to do with the Jedi or the Order. The life of a farmer, or who the hell knew what those brothers did when they left the service, did not appeal to him. He was made for the Republic, and for the Jedi. He’d always known and accepted that, and done his best to work for and with those institutions.

He wanted this, to host this Jedi, take on what were bound to be strange responsibilities and the duties of hosting one of the twelve Jedi Councilors. That, of course, didn’t even touch the fact that this was Kenobi, who’d taught Skywalker. Even though Anakin Skywalker hadn’t been raised in the crèche pools, all that crazy wouldn’t be so...gleeful, without at least some encouragement.

I am in so far over my head, aren’t I. He kept petting his Jedi anyways, because Force take it, if this was temporary he was going to make the most of the opportunity.

He heard Jack well before the man got to him. The man wasn’t trying to be quiet, or sneak up on Rex, but neither was he the type to go bumbling around. It was also reassuring that Kenobi gave another little squeaking yawn, eyes glimmering back to full brightness before the new guy got within range.

Not so asleep, then.

“That? That is not a cat.”

Rex blinked and turned to see the man standing a good distance away, glaring at the General with distaste and a hint of panic in his eyes.

“What the hell’s a ‘cat?’

“A small furry thing you pet. Eats rodents and leaves hairballs everywhere. Pretty far spread in the universe, from what we’ve seen.”

Ah. That could be any number of creatures. Rex shrugged. “No, he’s not.” He could not resist poking the man, though, not with that expression. He shifted a little, extending his arm towards the man. “He seems to like it, though. You want a turn?”

“Uh. No. Thanks.” It was pretty obviously taking all Jack’s self-control to not hightail it back to the cave, so Rex pulled his arm back, shrugging as casually as he could.

“He doesn’t bite.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how many shits I don’t give.”

Even as the clone was snickering, Kenobi turned a little and nipped at the fingertip moving past his head. It wasn’t nearly strong enough to draw blood; more a gentle bit of scolding that came along with the mental image of a voorpak and a strong sense of negation.

It might have left a stronger impact if the impression of a dressing down hadn’t been underwritten by gentle hilarity.

Rex frowned right back down at his Jedi. “Not normally, at least.”

Kenobi gave him a string of reprimanding squeaks even as the newcomer shook his head, disbelief coloring the distrust in his expression. “Nothing,” he declared, pointing a finger at Kenobi, “is normal about him, or this.”

Then Jack sneezed, near doubling over with the force of it.

Both Rex and Kenobi sat up as Jack straightened, trying to maintain some kind of dignity around a hell of a sniffle.

That’s not good. Rex nodded towards the man. “What kind of thermals does your ‘suit have?”

He had a hell of an expressive eye-roll. “Sorry, I left my long johns at home this mission.”

What? He shook it off and snorted. “You’re telling me your unit doesn’t even bother handing out decent uniforms?”

“They’re perfectly decent, and I’ll have you know camo is all the rage this season.”

“Do you bother making sense more than half the time?” Rex stood, Kenobi twining around his arm closer to his hand. He cupped them together, bringing the General up to his mouth.

“Aw no, not aga – Guys! For crying out loud, you’re in public and everything.”

Kenobi settled in, sending a disoriented burst of affirmation, affection, and encouragement to him. Rex straightened, rolling his shoulders a little as if his armor hadn’t quite settled right, even though it was more his brain or body instead. “Come on,” he offered, nodding towards the cave. “Kix probably has a spare bodysuit, and you need to be healthy when our ride out of here arrives.”

Jack didn’t move, instead pointing an accusatory finger at him. “That is such a reassuring thing to hear from a guy who just voluntarily swallowed a goa’uld.”

Rex decided to ignore that, turning around and starting to walk. “Bodysuit, undersuit, call it what you like. During the last push on the ‘Rim sieges Kix was complaining about how he couldn’t keep a clean kit, so chances are good he’s got a spare.”

“Sieges? You guys have sieges?”

The man sounded flabbergasted. Rex had to pretend to misunderstand. “Not in the last few months or so, no.” Kenobi sent another burst of amused scolding.

“You guys have the weirdest lifestyle,” Jack muttered, finally following them.

Rex snickered. “Sounds like you’re not too normal yourself.”

“That is true,” Jack allowed, sneezing again as they entered the cave.

Chapter Text

Jack appreciated the loan of heated footie pjs, no matter how weird they looked. Sure, they were a little snug in some unfortunate areas, and looked absolutely ridiculous, but they were comfortably and continuously warm.

Kix, as it turned out, was Mostly-Shaved-Head-Guy with the graphing calculator thing, and apparently the head medic. Fella didn’t bitch a bit about loaning out a spare suit – as soon as Jack sneezed, the man made a face and practically shoved the suit at him, insisting he wear it, now.

Medics. Some things were just unfortunately universal.

Admittedly, up close and in slightly better light, Jack could understand why the medic had a spare suit. Anyone who spent enough time to get lightning bolts shaved in his hair and got what was most likely some message tattooed on the side of his head had to give a few damns about his appearance.

Since Jack also gave a few damns about his appearance – on occasion, at least – he pulled his usual gear on over the footie pajamas. He couldn’t quite resist poking Kix as the guy ran some kind of scanner over him. “Hope you don’t mind me covering up your generous gift like this.”

The medic blinked and stared blankly at him for a moment, then shrugged. “Your gear, your face.” Then he nodded. “Yeah, you’ve got a cold. Keep the undersuit on, try to stay out of the rain, and don’t be stupid.”

Jack boggled as the clone wandered off, poking at his not-a-graphing-calculator. No medical type should have let him escape that easily.

“You okay?” someone asked him. Jack blinked over at the guy who’d passed him food earlier.

“I guess?”

“Sound pretty confident, there.”

Jack shrugged. “He’s medical, right?”

“Kix? Yeah.” Mohawk-and-Sideburns crossed his arms and raised a brow. “Why?”

“Where’s his penlight of doom?” At the blank look, Jack shook his head. “No, seriously, please don’t be evil.”

The guy snickered and shook his head. “You’re funny.”

“No, I’m Jack.” He held out his hand, and after a moment the guy shook it, then turned it into a wrist-clasp, a perfect mimic of what Jack and the other guy – Barrel – had done. Huh. Fast learners.


“Pleased to meetcha. I meant it though.”

“Yeah, evil’s not on today’s schedule. Next week, you might be out of luck, though.”

“Well damn. If we’re not off this bog by then, I might join you.” Ion seemed to think this made for a good reason to sit down near him, watching closely as Jack sniffled and sneezed his way into a more comfortable position. “So are you my babysitter?”

Damned if the guy didn’t grin at him. “I think Barrel volunteered. Nah, I’m just curious.”

“That makes two of us. Congratulations, we can swap trivia.”

“Okay. What’s a penlight?”

He blinked. He hadn’t expected the guy to be that persistent, or that curious. “Bitty light shaped like a pen –” He stopped at the politely demanding look he got. “Shaped like a writing tool, that doctors use to check your eyes.”

“For what?”

“How annoyed you get at them blinding you, I think. Don’t look at me, I didn’t go to medical school. What’s with you guys and faces?”

“We have them,” Ion deadpanned. “What do you mean?”

He jerked a thumb over towards Kix. “He said ‘your gear, your face.’ Not the first time I’ve heard you guys use that weirdly.”

Jack was a little surprised at the wry grin he got for that. Ion held up a finger, then got up to fetch a helmet. The yellow trim highlighted some of the edges, giving it weird raccoon eyes and lining the rim. “We wear these buckets most of the time,” Ion said, sitting back down and presenting the helmet. “On duty or in battle. They’re blank when they’re issued.” He gestured towards his head. “We all have the same face, too. So of course we customize ‘em both. Your ‘face’ is the way you look to the world, and it’s up to you how you customize it. Nobody’s gonna complain about you keeping your uniform and mixing it with ours, believe me.”

A very disturbing notion started poking at Jack. Before he could ask, Ion leaned forward and grinned. “So what’s sandalwood, and why would it not be in food?”

“You figured that one out, huh? It’s wood a lot of folks use in incense. You shouldn’t eat it. At least, I don’t think you should. Doesn’t smell like you should. How many of you are there?”

Now the man pulled back and gave him a level, evaluating look. His eyes flickered for a moment past Jack, and one of the others snickered behind him. Jack turned to find Barrel sitting there, arms crossed and leaning against the wall. “How many are there of you?” the soldier asked.

Jack spread his arms and tried to look affable. “Just the one of me, sad to say. Sorry, fellas.”

Barrel smirked at him. “Tell you what. You give me a reason we should trust you, and I’ll give you a handwavy vague number.”

He hesitated, weighing his options, then he shrugged. He’d pretty much already admitted it to Kenobi, so... “You guys seem pretty blasé about space travel. We stick to stargates. You need one on each end. If you’ve never seen one before, it’s decent odds we can’t come knocking.”

Barrel pulled back a little, then nodded. “Several million on active duty.”

Jack managed to keep his reaction to a blink and a slow nod. “Huh.” That was probably pretty telling anyways, but he did his best to keep his mental swearing under wraps.

“That you guys play around a lot of planets.”

The clones shared a look, then Ion turned to motion towards a guy in yellow. “Oi! Trey! Trivia time. Republic planets?”

The man made a face right back. “Oh fuck you, do I look like some Senate specialist? Ask the General, he brought three or four in. He oughta know.”

“The General,” a refined but shaking voice declared from the alcove, “is trying to not throw up. Ask later, and stop fucking shouting.”

Ion and Barrel winced a little, and Barrel shrugged at Jack. “Eighty thousand and change, depending on if you’re counting shit that’s inhabited, things that were inhabited, and shit that’s in Republic space but no one wants to go to.”

“Geonosis,” someone muttered from the side, earning a heartfelt grumble of agreement.

...Great. We’re fucked. Jack forced himself to take a deep breath. “Oh.” This time, he was more than a little high pitched, but fuck it. “’Scuse me, fellas, I need to get a breath of fresh air.” He was gratified that Barrel hung back, and nobody tried to keep him from sniffling his way to the mouth of the cave.

It had been one hell of a day, for sure, leaving Jack feeling shellshocked as he shuffled around trying to find a more comfortable spot. Jack was gratified that the new suit kept him warm, but he did kinda wish there was a little more padding. Sleeping on mossy rock was a lot less appealing when not stumbling along in utter exhaustion.

Admittedly, that was pretty much the least of his worries.

He rolled on to his side, glaring away from the banked fire.  Far as he could tell, he had two options, and they both sucked pretty equally.

The easier of the two, the worse of the two, was that he was being played. Over eighty thousand planets, or at least occupied territories, with several million experienced, competent soldiers on hand. Who the hell knew what their reserves looked like. They had to have some serious space flight capability, with reasonably fast travel speeds to maintain any kind of cohesion between that many locations. If these guys were lying to him, then either these were fanciful numbers they thought were impressive and would intimidate the hell out of him, or they were seriously undercounting.

Either way, if they were lying it meant he couldn’t trust a single damn thing he thought he’d learned.

If it was the truth....

Then the moment this “Republic” decided they wanted Earth added to their roster, or kill count, they’d probably roll right over it.  Maybe with some work and fast talking and probably the loss of a major metropolitan area or three, Earth could counter the incoming army, but an orbital bombardment? Hell, even a handful of spaceships would screw the pooch but good.

These weren’t Jaffa – or at least, not typical Jaffa.

They were good. Ready battle skills, tactics that would work against an organized, reasonably advanced civilization, and not, god help him, the mindless obedience that most Jaffa showed.

Earth was possibly pretty well fucked.

His mind kept chasing the idea around, trying to find a useful angle. It really sucked that he wasn’t seeing many useful approaches.  Earth’s track record with offworld encounters was anything but encouraging. Typical ‘gate interactions were usually hostile, subsets of “evil assholes trying to take over.” Those that weren’t hostile, were usually folks in need of help of some sort. The rest were either technologically advanced snobs not willing to help others, or pious “allies” that were almost more dangerous than Earth’s enemies.

He wasn’t sure where these guys and their Jedi fit in.

Too much time to think was obviously bad for him. While he was very glad the rest of SG-1 wasn’t stuck on PX-EIEI007 with him, he missed them.  He wondered what they would make of his new playmates. Danny would probably be all over the situation, talking culture and language with Kenobi and the soldiers. Sam and Teal’c would be good to have at his back, and also useful for intel – he was pretty sure Sam would be going spare about that ‘lightsaber’ and the physics that made it possible, and Teal’c might at least know about this Republic thing.

Eighty thousand planets. Good grief.

It had taken him a while to regain some composure earlier, lounging near the two guys on sentry duty.  Hunger and the smell of roasting meat had finally brought him back into the cave for some notadeer meat – gamey and with a texture like shoe leather, but at least it wasn’t like trying to eat a scented candle. Some of the guys had busted out a card game, which as far as he’d been able to figure was like trying to play poker with a tarot deck. He’d pulled out a spare deck he had on him – soaked, but viable – and taken a stab at teaching them poker.

The hilarious thing wasn’t that they picked up on it well enough, it was that they immediately started asking the best ways to cheat.

To catch cheaters, obviously. Of course.

Even that entertainment hadn’t completely pulled him out of his funk, and his cold had settled into proper sniffles and pain in the ass nose leakage. He’d tried sleeping, and it had worked for a while. Now, though, it was oh-dark-who-the-fuck-cared, with most everyone bunked down and snoring. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been lying there and brooding when a goa’uld wriggled into his field of view.

Jack froze, wondering if this was some kind of hallucination or fever dream. He kinda hoped it was, because the alternative meant that it was real. The main reason he didn’t reach for the nearest rock was that the snake was well out of reach, and didn’t look like it was paying the slightest bit of attention to him.

“The General” slithered further into the cave, finally off to the side where everyone was giving Spark some space to himself. The kid – if he really was; it could just be that everyone treated him as junior guy in the squad, and therefore he was automatically everyone’s kid brother – had been coping well enough, but he still had moments of grieving and needing to be left the hell alone.

Jack let out a tiny breath of relief as the snake went right past the kid too, only to blink as it glided up to the helmet Spark had carted around since the funeral. For a long, strange moment, the goa’uld reared up a little, glowing blue eyes directed towards the battered markings. Then it moved slowly, first twining around the helmet, then gliding underneath the curve of the side to sit under it. It was those eyes that Jack could still see, dim spots of neon as the brain-snake curled up underneath the helmet and snugged its head up close to the side.

Bad Jack, he told himself, trying not to read too much into the snake’s body langauge.  No feeling sorry for a snake.  Fuck if the damn thing didn’t look lost and dejected though.

During the short, infrequent rest stops on the forced march, they’d all had opportunities to spot Rex with blue eyes, holding the helmet from time to time, staring down at it with a faintly sad expression. Whenever he realized he had any type of audience, he’d politely put it down and done a good job of playing nonchalant, but even Jack had treated it the same way they did Spark. They just quietly went about their business, giving the man enough space to do...whatever.

Helmet. Face. Face of the goa’uld’s first host, which sounded like first ever. It was really confusing to realize he had some actual sympathy for a goa’uld.

A soldier.  That broke his brain a little bit more. This...“General” who had lost – what? A friend? God damn, it was hard to look at that way, and he was more than pragmatic and experienced enough to know that humanizing the enemy could be a very bad idea leading to very ugly messes. For all that, he didn’t want these people – brain snake thing aside – as “the enemy.”  People were people, and Jack kinda liked people, no matter how much he tried to protest it.

This meant he found himself in a very, very strange situation where he just kept quiet, the way you did in the barracks when you could hear the new guy a few bunks down reacting to his first real firefight, or the guy whose squad didn’t make it, or the fellow officer who had to make the best of a really lousy engagement. It was never a comfortable feeling; being on the outside, seeing or hearing grief, and for whatever reason not daring to do anything about it.

Having your meat-suit kick the bucket hadn’t been high on Jack’s list of reasons to give someone that kind of space, but he couldn’t quite get past that keen the snake had made, crouched down on a dead man’s chest. It had pressed up against the man’s chin the same way it cuddled close to the helmet, the “face.”

Deep down inside Jack was cursing himself out for several hundred kinds of a fool.  He wanted to like these guys, brain snake included.

When Kenobi finally slithered away from the helmet, back towards his alcove and what seemed to be a sleeping host, the movements were slow, almost reluctant. Jack found himself really regretting the Loony Toons marathon he’d inflicted on Teal’c not too long ago, because reading that much into a goa’uld’s body language was cracked.

Ah, FUCK. The goa’uld froze when its path was closest to him, and Jack was pretty sure it looked at him. There was a moment of what had to be hesitation, then the front end, finny and fangy and creepy as hell dipped down towards him. A nod, a bow, Jack wasn’t sure what if anything he’d call it, but Kenobi gestured to him, then went back to his slow slither home.

It took Jack a damn long time to fall asleep.

Five more days of heavy, endless rainfall made everyone twitchy. Kenobi and Rex didn’t say anything to Jack about the little midnight walkabout, so he figured the first didn’t want to talk about it, and the second didn’t know.

Keeping secrets with a goa’uld felt really damn weird. It was also nice that Kenobi let him have his zat back that first day, but it felt more like respect than bribery. Jack didn’t know what to do with that.

Kenobi had also did more of his freaky telekin-whatsis that day, lifting up some impossibly huge boulders with the puppetry hand gestures. It bothered the hell out of Jack that this was what made the snake’s eyes glow, instead of the anger, threats, and torture it usually accompanied in goa’uld.  Jack definitely wasn’t in Kansas, in more ways than one.

On the plus side, the new near-blockage of their cave both made it a fraction more snug, and meant that three large groups of Jaffa had wandered by without seeing a damn thing.

The enemy goa’uld was still looking for them, and it looked like it had ramped things up given the size and urgency to the search efforts.

Everyone had gotten fed up with sabacc by day two, so Jack had resorted to teaching card tricks and other stupid shit to guys who had nothing better to do and memorization skills that kinda creeped him out.

He was taking a break near the cave mouth when Waxer wandered over to Rex, who had taken half of the guard duty and spent the entire time glaring out at the rain. “Sir?” Waxer was speaking softly, but Jack never let an opportunity to eavesdrop sneak by. “You’re making the men twitchy, being all broody and crap.”

Rex grunted an almost laugh, then shook his head. “General’s being twitchy. Won’t tell me why, and it’s driving me nuts. Better to brood than end up yelling at everyone. Did he do this with 17?”

Waxer sighed. “Way too often.”

The silence between the two stretched out, and Jack frowned. The why was pretty obvious. The food was due to run out that day, and the rain didn’t look like it was going to let up anytime soon.  The notadeer had been a lucky find, but with almost twenty soldiers it hadn’t lasted long.  They’d managed to zap a few small animals, including some ‘kree’, but the heavy rains were driving the local fauna into hiding.  Between that and the absence of edible plant life, barring some berries that gave some pretty bad stomach cramps, or apple sized nuts that tasted like socks, their food stores were diminishing rapidly

At least Jack had mostly recovered from his cold, but three other guys had come down with even worse colds looking for more socknuts, and it looked like the local area had been swept clear.

It was way too early in the morning when Jack found himself jolted out of sleep in a cold sweat. There was just something about the way goa’uld fins rattled that gave him the shivers, and he really hoped it wasn’t another night of grieving or what the fuck ever.

Then he realized the noise was heading away, towards the mouth of the cave.

Shit. What if that’s not Kenobi? Jack sat up, moving quiet and careful. The two guys on guard duty weren’t acting unusual, so either it was, or they’d missed it. A small, dark slithery thing, in the dead of night ducking out into rain?

Yeah, it’d be easy to miss.

Such. A. Bad. Idea. Jack sauntered to the cave mouth as casually as he could, nodding to Longshot and Freight. Longshot’s bucket tilted in question, and Jack mimed “stir crazy, need a quick walk.” Longshot gave him a “get the hell out of here you madman” wave right back, and Jack stepped out into the rain.

There was something that might be a wriggling little furrow in the muck. He followed the trail as best he could, glad that the furrow reflected lightning well enough that he could see...something.

It didn’t go far. On their way to the cave, they’d passed a little body of water maybe five minutes’ walk in crappy light, horrible mud, and no one knowing where the hell they were going. It was now a reasonably sized pond, or maybe even qualified as a small lake. Judging by the scrubby plantlife, it looked like there might be another few feet of accumulation in its future.

This planet sucks.

He heard a “plop” noise, and he was almost able to make out a snaky finned monster dropping into the water. Jack let out a soft curse, because if it wasn’t Kenobi, then they were seriously screwed. He cautiously walked over, trying to figure out what the hell was going on

A tense minute or two of looking and – huge surprise – finding nothing, a strange shape flew out of the water, almost splatting on his boots. Jack hollered and stumbled back, then down onto his butt. His zat was out and aimed at –

He blinked.

Holy fuck. It was a fish.

At least, he thought it was a fish. Finny, bulgy eyes, half the length of his forearm, not really the scales, but close enough. A fish had just tossed itself right at his boots. What the hell?

By the time he’d gotten his head around the concept, another fish – this time a smidge larger, and still flopping, flew towards his boots.

One fish with a foot fetish, he could buy. He’d seen a lot of crazy shit over the years.

Two oddities, however, meant enemy action.

A third fish came flying in on the metaphorical heels of the second, and smacked him right in the gut. “Oh fuck you, Kenobi!” Jack yelped, realizing only a second too late he’d yelled at a goa’uld like –

Fuck. Like someone who just pranked him good.

For crying out loud, he’d seriously gone all in down the rabbit hole, and was treating a fucking brain snake like a fellow soldier.

A fourth fish almost got him in the face, and he had to admit that Kenobi had some decent aim. Sure, like you’re making it difficult for him. Jack scrabbled to his feet, cursing under his breath and not caring that no one could hear or make sense of it, not even him.

Since he’d blown any chance of anything staying dry, he pulled off his overshirt and started gathering kindafish in it, as Kenobi continued to hurl more out of the water. He finally just spread the shirt out like a damn picnic blanket, settling down in the light drizzle as the world got a little easier to see in what passed for early light on this muckball.

I’m babysitting a goa’uld tossing food at my shirt for a target. How is this my life?

They had a nice stash, possibly enough for a day or two, when Rex came charging down towards them, expression absolutely murderous. Thankfully, the host took one look at the situation, gave Jack a dirty glare, then stomped over to the water’s edge.

It...was kinda funny hearing the man bitch out a goa’uld who just calmly tossed more fish at him – aiming so that Rex either had to catch them or let them fall back in the water. Jack couldn’t decide if it was mean or hilarious, but he stayed put, grinning like a fool and not caring at all that Kix was gonna have his hide for being an idiot. The entertainment was worth it.

Chapter Text

Jack wasn’t really sure what a kriffing hutt was, or why being its spawn with a diseased jawa would be an inherently bad thing, but he was impressed with Ringo’s invective. The clone was swearing a blue streak, recoiling from one of the wrist com things which had possibly been working before it exploded. Several of the men drafted to help with the little electronics project went to work extinguishing it and trying to air out the cave, with the one exception who put another hashmark on Ringo’s shoulder-armor that had been tossed aside early on.

In the chaos, Jack ducked out of the cave, breathing deep of soggy air before sauntering down towards what was now definitely a lake. The rain had let up a little, meaning most of the clones were foraging for sock flavored nuts and the few non-awful berries, with a hopeful side of notadeer.

Figured the “kree” weren’t really edible. He’d have to stop naming things as jokes; it really wasn’t funny with that much irony running around.

Spark and Longshot were on guard duty, talking quietly with each other from sniper spots looking over the lake. Rex was seated on the bank itself, expression vacillating between irked and worried as he stared at the water. He nodded in greeting as Jack sat down, and a kindafish came flying out of the water to land with a splat on the overshirt Jack had sacrificed to the cause. It smelled worse than the sock nuts tasted, by now.

“Ringo having any luck?”

“Depends entirely on your definition of luck.”

Rex finally looked over at him. “Much as I’d like contact with the fleet, I’ll settle for no missing limbs.”

“Another exploded unit and he’s gonna have to start all over on the eyebrows.”

Rex bobbled his head to the side in a resigned nod, then went back to his pensive snake watching. The drizzle kept up, and Jack kept a close eye on the bank of dark gray clouds muscling in from the horizon.  They probably didn’t have more than half an hour before the downpour picked up in earnest. Nowhere near enough time to try and find someplace better to hole up, not with there still being regular Jaffa patrols. It was at least enough time for Kenobi to get some fishing in.

When they’d all gotten back to the cave after that first fishing expedition, Jack’s shirt heavy with food, Kenobi had managed to convince Rex that keeping them all fed was worth the minimal risk of Kenobi being out and about.  There’d been a strange, furious argument about it – one man, sitting alone and scowling, eyes occasionally flitting between brown and blue. For all that, the strained silence had spread through all the men, lightening only when Rex had sighed and started assigning new duties, including snake sitting.

Rex was still visibly unhappy about it, and it remained the same kind of upset as when he’d come storming down the path the first time – anger, yes, but worry and fear as well.

“So.” Jack leaned over a little, trying to catch Rex’s attention. “Explain something to me.” It was as much to distract the man as to satisfy his own curiosity.

“Ask,” the clone said with an absent nod.

“You’re not in the same unit as Kenobi, right? You have the blue markings, and his people have the yellow.”

“Yeah. I’m – I was 501st, under General Skywalker. Kenobi’s got the 212th.”

Jack nodded. “So then why you? Why did you draw the short straw, instead of, say, Waxer, or Boil? Or Spark, for that matter.”

That finally caught the man’s attention. He looked at Jack, head tilting a little. “‘Short straw?’”

Even the Ancient language download didn’t translate all the idioms, especially if there wasn’t a ready counterpart. How Danny managed to accurately navigate between English, Goa’uld, Ancient Egyptian, and whatever other languages he was called on to translate, was a mystery and a miracle, and Jack was gaining an increasing appreciation for their quiet little archeologist. “Ehh, a way to pick a ‘volunteer’ – you have bits of straw or something, and everyone picks one at random. Guy with the shortest one ‘volunteers’ for whatever.”

“Ahh.” Rex quirked a grin. “Comes with the territory. I’m a commander, just below a General and their Second – their host – in the chain of command. When a clone makes commander, we get a week or two of training in case our General needs us and there’s not an ARC trooper around.”

He almost didn’t know what to ask about first, but he had to know. There was– as crazy as these folks were they wouldn’t– Would they? “Training? You mean, they, uh...”

From the sideways look he got, he was only being hugely obvious. “We spend a few days hosting a Jedi. We learn how to best hand off and pick up control, how to communicate comfortably with them, things like that.”

“...Ah.” Well. There was today’s creeped out as all fuck moment. Volunteering for brain-snake classes. Ugh.

“One of the regular troops would have worked in an emergency, but as a commander I was the best choice.”

Another fish came flying out of the lake, this time accompanied by a self-satisfied snake-squeal. It was a pretty big fish, Jack had to give Kenobi that.

“I’m confused. Thought you were a captain, not a commander.”

“By the time I got that promotion, I’d settled into being ‘Captain.’ Part of the name. Didn’t want to change it, and I prefer it by now.”

Jack tried to blink his way around that logic, then just gave up. “Ok.” He tried to rally, moving on to the next point. “ARC trooper?”

“Clones who go through extensive training to be better prepared as hosts.” Rex smirked and sat back. “‘Independent enough to take the reins if their Jedi becomes incapacitated for whatever reason, not so crazy as to run head-first into death without at least a rudimentary plan.’”

“...That’s a quote. You’re quoting someone.”

“Fives. Friend of mine who is an ARC.”

“Huh. Is he, ah, currently hosting, or just prepared to?”

Rex grinned, shaking his head a touch ruefully. “Currently hosting my commanding officer, General Skywalker. Nothing quite like finding out your friend recommended you as Commander because he knew the two of you and his Jedi would get along like a house on fire.”

Dammit, Jack was getting tired of continuing to get his mind blown by these people. The idiom didn’t help, and it wasn’t exactly ‘house on fire’, more like an oblique reference to ‘ground zero when a bomb hits,’ but it had the same meaning. Jack was seriously putting Danny up for a commendation for his translation work. “Screaming, running, lots of carnage and property damage?”

“Hah! Almost sounds like you’ve heard of him.” Rex’s grin melted with a sigh, and he shook his head, glaring back at the lake. “Compared to him, General Kenobi always seemed so rational. I wasn’t expecting him to worry me this much.”

“Oh that’s encouraging.”

“I’ll tell you about Geonosis later.” Rex grinned at him as another fish came flying to land with a splat next to the others.

“Everything went wrong and then there were explosions?”

Rex smirked, but didn’t confirm or deny.

“So. You’ve been prepared for, what, years to share headspace with a goa’uld?”

Rex leveled a cool look at him.  “You don’t want to share your brain and experiences with another being, fine. Don’t tell me I can’t choose to do that.”

Rex’s serious expression turned into a small grin as Jack tried and failed to come up with something to say. So Jack shut his gob and thought about it. He supposed that it wasn’t completely impossible – the tok’ra weren’t exactly fluff and cuddles, but they were a step up from the regular goa’uld nasties. The possibility that somewhere there existed a type of brain-snakes a step up from that was admittedly a little mind-boggling, but he’d seen some really damn weird shit over the last few years.

The problem was that it seemed too good to be true. In Jack’s experience, that meant there was something nasty waiting to sit up and bite SG-1 and Earth in the ass, and the better the situation seemed at first, the worse it would be.

“Okay, but if the choice is cake or death, you’re not going to pick death, are you?”

Rex looked baffled. “What?”

“You guys are all clones, right?”

“Yes, we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t choose,” Rex nodded, not taking offense.

“Yeah but, clones don’t just happen. I mean, someone made you to order.”


“So, what happens if you don’t want to be a soldier? Look, I’ve seen a lot of Jaffa, and some of them are sadists who like their jobs, but a lot of them are scared, or just don’t see a way out. That’s not a real ‘choice.’”

“The Grand Army isn’t like that,” Rex said firmly.

“Yeah? Why is your regime of brain-snakes any better than the goa’uld?”

Rex’s frown darkened into a scowl. “Clones are given as much freedom as natural-born younglings in many systems. We’re given training, as well as basic education. Yes, it’s to fight. We’re good at that. We come from Mandalorian stock. Our progenitor was considered the best bounty hunter in the known galaxy, and that was centuries ago, when things were a lot more lawless and wild. Most of us like to fight. But you’re right, some don’t. Our options are explained to us at an early age, and those options are open all the way until we enter service or cryo. If you want to walk away from the Army, you’re given alternatives and civvie training. Even a stipend for five years, while you’re figuring things out. We don’t suffer under a regime of ‘brain snakes;’ they take care of us.”

“You’re telling me they put all that time and money into creating a perfect soldier, and then just, what, let you wander off?”

“Yes. We’re created for the Army and the Jedi, but we’re not mindless drones, and we’re not prisoners. An unwilling soldier will be the first to crack in the field. We don’t need that.”

“And that’s it? Training’s the only reason you guys are so loyal?”

Rex side-eyed him. “Are your soldiers not trained to follow orders?” Then he seemed to mull it over, glancing back out at the lake as another fish came flying their way. “It does have something to do with Skywalker and Kenobi. Most Jedi are okay. There are a couple of assholes, but the Jedi Council deals with those when they find them. Kenobi and Skywalker though…they’ve got a reputation.  They get the impossible missions, because if anyone can do it, it’s Kenobi and Skywalker.

“You saw him with 17. If there’d been a hope in hell of saving that man’s life, or even keeping him alive long enough for medical attention to possibly help, Kenobi would have done it.” He sighed and rolled his shoulders a little, adjusting the placement of his armor. “The mission comes first, and we all know that, but they’ll bring as many of us through alive as they can.  Not just that.  Kenobi and Skywalker are right there with us, risking their own necks – they lead from the front. Always. And Tano looks set to follow in their footsteps.”

Jack nodded slowly, taking the splash of another tossed fish as an excuse to look away. They sat on watch until the heavy clouds rolled in, leaving Rex to gather up his General and Jack to grab dinner.

The only thing that surprised Jack was that it took Kenobi two days to ask for a private talk. Jack was giving Ion some one-on-one poker lessons – and sleight of hand practice – when Barrel lightly tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey.” Barrel motioned him, not towards the alcove, which was empty, but the mouth of the cave.

“Kenny wants to see me, huh?”

Barrel stopped so fast Jack almost walked right over the guy. “What? You–”  Barrel glared back at him, and Jack winced. Crap, he’d found a line. It was at least a few feet behind him, probably more.

“Do not do that,” Barrel scowled.

“Do what?” Jack asked with wide-eyed innocence.

The clone snorted. “Mess with someone’s name.”

“I’ll have you know I’ve got nicknames for all my friends.”

“Yes, but they invite that, don’t they. Or accept it, whichever.”

“Yeah, and?”

He expected Barrel to roll his eyes, express sarcasm or something. Instead, he got a narrow-eyed look, then a bit of a sigh. “Ion told you about faces. What makes you think names aren’t part of that?”

Well that made zero sense. “Run that by me again?”

“Jedi aren’t allowed possessions. It goes against what they are. Like us clones, all a Jedi has is their face – their name and appearance, and the host has as much input on appearance as the Jedi. Even a clone has more than a Jedi does.

“Do not disrespect a Jedi’s name. Kenobi might put up with it for the sake of the mission, but it won’t gain you any friends. I understand you have a bad history with the Sith. Stop thinking General Kenobi is one of them.”

Point apparently made, Barrel spun around and kept walking to the cave entrance. Kenobi was the only one there on guard duty, and while he shot Barrel a funny look, he kept quiet. It was a bit of a relief that the clone gave Jack what seemed to be a genuine nod, like he was irked but not so pissed as to make a feud of it or something.

Then, of course, he walked off and left Jack alone with the goa’uld.


Crap. That lecture had hit home pretty hard.

“Soo. General. Fancy meeting you here.”

“He’s not too angry with you. Mostly just frustrated.”


Kenobi glanced over with a sympathetic grin. “Have the men been kind enough to talk to you about anything we Jedi do? Or has it really been just cultural exchange with moments of mad frustration and mass confusion?”

Jack slowly sat down, going for an almost casual shrug. “Door number two.”

The…Jedi made a face. “I’m sorry. We really haven’t been out beyond Mid-Rim much lately, and – damn. That probably means nothing to you.” He grinned ruefully. “I suppose I can understand the frustration. So. How about we try having a reasonable conversation, as three somewhat responsible sentients trying to work together to get out of a bad situation?”

Of all the things, it was the number that threw him, but he rallied. “Sure, we can give that a shot. Have a nice tea party, invite all the cool kids.”

“Perhaps it would be better to start with the very basics.” Kenobi turned to face Jack head on, then sat up a little straighter. He dipped down into a strangely solemn little bow, head canted to a weird, almost regal angle. “I am Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am part of an Order, called the Jedi.  ‘Jedi’ is both our species, and our Order. We identify as both of these things.  And ‘Master’ does not mean something nefarious, I assure you. It is one of the three ranks within our Order, indicating that a Jedi has mastered themselves and their skills, to the point where they have passed their knowledge on to a student, who has in turn qualified to be more than just a simple student.”

“You figured I’d think the worst there, huh?”

“On the contrary, I could sense that you were.”

“Sense?” Jack suddenly had a bad feeling.

Kenobi sighed, then ran a hand over his head. “Jedi are inherently strong in the Force. Even when I’m minding my own business, I still pick up on strong emotions, if not thoughts.”

Shiiit. “You’re psychic.” Oh, this was so very bad.

Kenobi shrugged. “Jedi are Force sensitive, if that’s what you mean.”

Jack crossed his arms and gave Kenobi a narrow look. “Less pretty words, more content. I’m just a grunt who wants to go home.”

“Indeed.” Kenobi said in an amused tone, clearly not believing Jack’s description of himself for an instant.  The goa’uld shifted a little, looking thoughtful. “All Jedi have an innate ability to use the Force. That’s the energy that makes up the universe, the connections between all things and all beings.”

Oh for – this shit again? You couldn’t have said this before? Instead you had me thinking you have a 1-800 number and some tarot cards. He probably had that look again, the one Danny complained was the ‘I think your beliefs are dumb and you are dumb and you should stop treating me like I’m dumb’ look. “Atoms. Electrical fields and things, weak force strong force gravitational whatsis. Yeah, I heard about that once.”

Weirdly, Kenobi stared at him blankly for a moment, then shook his head. “No, this is – I mean yes, that’s a part of it, but it’s more than that.”

“Uh huh. Let me guess, you just need to be, what, spiritually and scientifically advanced enough to grasp the intricacies, unlike us lowly mud-grubbing humans?”

He almost jumped out of his skin as Kenobi’s eyes flashed to brown and his body language shifted. It was Rex’s voice and accent demanding, “Who the hell kicked you in the balls?  Someone decided they were more Kaminoan than you, or what?”

The silence stretched, and Jack realized it was apparently a serious question. He held up a hand.

They waited, all polite, and that was almost weirder than the conversation as a whole. When was the last time SG1 had run into a technologically advanced civilization that treated them like equals? Jack cleared his throat. “’Cause everyone else does?  We’re the new kids on the block, and we ought to get off everyone’s damn lawn and let them keep screwing shit up?”

Rex rolled his eyes in what looked like sympathy, then Kenobi gave Jack a commiserating look. “You’ve only run into idiots? That sounds…frustrating.”

That sounded like honest sympathy. Like Kenobi had seen his own share of bullshit. Crap, I don’t want to like a brain snake, even if he does seem like a decent bastard. “Oh, just a little.  So if this Force isn’t some handwavy term for dressed up physics, what is it?”

Kenobi leaned back, cupping an elbow as his other hand came up to settle on his jaw. “As far as metaphors go? It’s water, everywhere. Depending on one’s proficiency with it, how well you can access it, you can feel the currents as it flows from one place to another. You can feel the ripples as other things pass through it, and if you are powerful or skilled enough, you can make out the shape and size and all sorts of details about whatever it is that moved, up to the point where it can be very far away. With time and practice, you can manipulate it, move the water to do as you wish it to.” He paused for a tiny moment, a flicker of emotion crossing his face. “Lifting and moving objects. Healing. Communication on a different level, that of emotion or thought. Knowing where and when and how to best move at any time, in relation to one’s goals and the beings around one.”

Jack fought down a chill. “Your Spidey-sense on the ha’taq. The telekinetic show with the rock. Telepathy and whatever.”

“Just so.” The goa’uld dipped his head in a nod like a bow again. “A Jedi’s connection to the Force is naturally strong, but to best use it, we need a host to channel it through. The connection with another sentient amplifies our abilities, allows the more showy examples.”

Jack swallowed. Psychic goa’uld. That sucked.

Then he realized he wasn’t thinking in terms of Kenobi, or any of his theoretical buddies. He bit back a curse.  He’d done it; he’d finally gone fully round the bend and accepted there were goa’uld who not only weren’t evil, but weren’t Tok’ra shitheads, either. “I really wish there was a decent bar on this planet.”

The Jedi snickered. “I think we all would appreciate that. I take it you don’t have many Force practitioners at home?”

“Oh, sure, so long as you fork over a lot of cash and don’t need them to, you know, prove anything.”

It was interesting to watch the man’s eyes narrow, calculation of some sort passing over his expression before he nodded. “We have been quite the perpetual surprise for you, haven’t we?”

Jack forced an overly casual shrug. “Just a little bit. I’ll admit, it’s at least a nice change from people shooting at us or screwing us over.”

 “This kind of thing happens to you often, does it?”

Jack returned the slow, evaluating look, then shrugged. “I’d say about as often as it happens to you, give or take.”

He got a grin and a wry head tilt of acknowledgement for that.  Kenobi paused, then gave Jack a shrewd look.  “You know, I can’t help but wonder. Hypothetically, if you weren’t a lowly grunt, would you be in a position to negotiate for your world?”

Here we go. “Hypothetically? That depends on what you’re trying to negotiate.”

“Minor terms, nothing outrageous. If your people help us get home, and you want our help fighting these goa’uld, then the Jedi can provide assistance.”  Kenobi grimaced. “We do have our war settled, but we’re still cleaning up some messes, so unfortunately we can’t bring the whole of the army to bear.  But if, say, a hundred thousand troops and a dozen Jedi would help...” He shrugged and glanced back at the rain. “I suspect we’d only be able to spare enough cruisers to carry everyone, so likely only about three. Five, on the outside. They’d all come with fighter squadrons though, and we could supply the pilots.”

Jack leaned back, trying to get his head around the offer.  Kenobi looked out into the dripping trees, giving Jack space to mull over the conversation. A hundred thousand troops wasn’t exactly big news next to the US’s standing army, but every single one of those experienced veterans would be cleared for the top secret crap. SGC wouldn’t have to jump them through bureaucratic hoops, ease them into the whole ‘the truth is out there’ thing, or train them with new weapons. SGC wouldn’t even have to provide basic gear. Sure, they’d come with a handful of brain-snakes, but those would presumably be competent friendlies who really wanted to see the goa’uld dead, if Kenobi was any kind of yardstick for their attitudes.

They’d even come with spaceships.

Fuck, this was way too good to be real. “What’s the catch?”

“We’re allies, not subordinates. You’d be expected to field troops along with us, probably provide intelligence regarding our enemies and their tactics. We’ve never seen ships like that before, and while the weapons are intriguing, they’re also unfamiliar. Training for at least some instructors regarding mutual weaponry and tactics. I'm not sending troops in just to find they and you are bumbling around getting in each other's way. We may need a staging area – in-system, if not on-planet.” Kenobi frowned. “Or at the very least, at a planet with one of those gates. Sending messages is all fine and well, but those can be intercepted, and joint forces will require co-ordination.”

Then, god help him, Kenobi shut up. Like that was it. Like there really weren’t strings or hidden plans for world domination. Sure, the ‘staging area’ could turn around to bite them, but Kenobi had even opened the possibility of doing it via gate, and it was an entirely reasonable thing to ask of an ally.  It all came down to trust.  Jack finally cleared his throat. “What about your Republic? Fancy sounding name for a big organization. What piece of the pie are they gonna want?”

Kenobi rolled his eyes. “I’m sure there will be a few opportunistic Senators who will want to open their own negotiations about whatever this week’s interest is, but we are wrapping up a war. They’ve plenty on their plates as it is. I suppose if you wish to open diplomatic channels, I can assist with that, but it’s certainly no requirement. Our interest is as Jedi, dealing with these goa’uld.”

A very large part of Jack O’Neill wanted to break out into a whooping, giddy dance. No crazy strings attached, no nose in the air attitude problems, no shuffling around grumbling about Earth’s level of sophistication or civilized behavior. Just getting a job done with allies who had a damned sense of humor sometimes.  Fear of brain-snakes aside, his gut was telling him that this was a solid bet.

The cynical part of him was struggling to figure out how the hell he could possibly sell this to Hammond and –

Oh fuck. The NID was going to have a damn field day blowing holes in this.  It was depressing how very little time he spent wrestling with how open to be. He was loyal to the SGC, to his country and his planet.  But keeping secrets could do more harm than good, and sometimes you just had to put your cards on the table.  Jack took a deep breath and looked Kenobi in the eyes. “I have to say I like the sound of that.”

“But?” Damn if the Jedi didn’t have a Spock-ian precise eyebrow lifted.

“We...might have a few factions back home that would love to throw roadblocks in the way. My direct superior’s a decent fella, but some of the idiots over his head wouldn’t know a good idea if it walked up to them on the street and offered to buy them a drink. One of the members of my team almost didn’t get to join up just because he’s an ‘alien defector.’ He only risked his life, his family’s life, and pretty much everything he knew to keep us alive, and you know how that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.”

It was even more depressing that from the disgusted but sympathetic expression, Kenobi knew exactly what sort of stupidity he was talking about. “Bureaucracy,” the Jedi muttered, “a universal plague.”

Jack shook his head. It burned more than a little, but he’d committed to this insanity. Might as well follow through, even if it wasn’t in Earth’s favor. “Look, we know a few folks that think we – Earth, the Tau’ri – are semi-useful allies, but since they have all the shiny toys they don’t need our help much. They probably wouldn’t object to you guys as much.”

Interesting, how Kenobi just looked at him, chewing over what Jack had said without asking for details. “Have these allies of yours ever mentioned the Republic?”


The Jedi nodded once. “Then if you think they can render assistance to us, it’s something to keep in mind. However, either they don’t know about the Republic – which opens up several distressing possibilities – or they have kept this knowledge from you. In either case, I’d much rather risk our lives with you and your people.”

Jack replayed the sentence to make sure he’d heard correctly. “...Why?” he finally managed.

Kenobi leveled a dry look at him, then shrugged. “You’ve had more than one solid opportunity to kill me, yet here I am. You could’ve left us all on that ship, but instead you've worked from the moment you came to in that cell with Rex to make allies and save as many lives as possible. You just warned me of potential pitfalls to working with you, and then offered me alternatives. I've worked to make alliances with far less cooperative assholes, on missions with just as much personal danger. Why should I not trust you?”

“...Oh. …And the good Captain?”

His eyes flickered back to brown, and Rex shrugged.  “You’re weird, but once I got used to that, you’re a decent soldier. You pull your weight and you don’t complain.”

Kenobi quirked a small grin under eyes gone blue again. “Unless you’ve more questions, I think we all have a lot to work through.”

“I will give you that one.” Jack shook his head and stood, still feeling as if the new information was more than his brain might be able to hold.  A goa'uld trusted him. Said brain-snake's host trusted him, and these things didn’t contradict.

Every time he thought he'd reached the bottom of the rabbit hole, another whole level of weird opened up.

 The General called an all hands meeting a few hours later, as the light was fading. He was standing by the small fire, arms crossed and a determined expression on his face. After checking the men over, he shrugged a little. “We can’t stay here. Our foes are determined, if sloppy.  This rain doesn’t look like it’s going to stop, and I think it’s either entering a rainy season, or if the temperature keeps dropping, we’re entering the local winter.”

There was a disturbed grumble from the clones, which Jack heartily agreed with. Neither option was good.

“So we need to either find some other way off planet, or contact the fleet. Ringo? How is that progressing?”

The clone made a face, the expression even odder with the carbon streaks across his face and fire damage to his facial hair. “Basic coms don’t manage squat. Done everything I can find to amplify the signal, and even adding in the powercell from your lightsaber to the mix just made things explode before we could make any useful progress.”

“Thank you, by the way, for making sure the powercell didn’t explode.”

Ringo shrugged with mock casualness, trying to hide a grin. “We thought you might like to keep your toys.”

Kenobi tilted his head into the almost bow, smirking a little. “Once again the generosity of the 501st shines forth. I haven’t been able to make more than fleeting contact with Anakin, so he knows I’m alive, but nothing else. Which leaves us the gate.”

There was another set of grumbles, a mix of acceptance, even eagerness for a fight, and disgruntlement, mainly regarding Kenobi.

The General sighed. “Jack, I suspect the best outcome lies with you. Given your people’s experience with the…goa’uld, would they be willing to give us the benefit of the doubt?”

It was...weird, to trust non-SGC people this much, but he didn’t hesitate. “Yeah. We’d need to make a pitstop on the way there, though. Any unexpected guests kinda get splatted.  After that...they’re not gonna be happy about you at first, but hell, we work with the tok’ra, so it should be possible for me to convince them you’re okay.

Someone behind him let out a soft little “Ooo, that’s gonna be good.”

“General,” Kix started, ignoring the horseplay.

Kenobi held up a hand. “I know, I know. I’m not thrilled with it either. While it was a shock to the system, I think so long as I’m not going through one gate right after another I should be all right.”

The medic crossed his arms and glared. “Sir, we still don’t know all the side effects. We don’t need you breaking things with those spasms, and I have no idea what kind of effect it’ll have on your nervous system, your brain. You’re possibly one big aneurysm waiting to happen, and I’d strongly recommend no more than once every twenty hours or so, until we know what the cumulative damage or lasting problems are.”

“Noted, but we might have to move fast. Jack, please have several potential locations if possible. In the meantime, Kix, if it helps, I will not be hosted when we cro–”

His eyes flickered to brown, and Rex’s expression was steel and restrained ire. “Sir, excuse me, but like fuck you’re not.”

Rex’s eyes slipped back to blue, and the expression went vaguely cross. The clones started shifting about some, and Jack was willing to bet that public arguments were even rarer than usual when your direct superiors shared the one body.

“Rex, this is neither the time nor –”

The switch between voices and posture was disconcerting as hell. “We’re having this conversation now, right here, or I am not crossing that gate.” Rex’s eyes shimmered a little, amused in spite of his ire. “I think I know just how much General Skywalker picked up from you, and I know it’s never a good time. So we’re going to take the least worst opportunity, right now.”

Jack tried to sit quietly and not boggle too much. There was weird, there was Teal’c’s notion of haute cuisine, and then there was this. What. The hell.

Kenobi sighed and shook his head. “All right,” he almost snapped, dry and sharp as he crossed his arms. “Then I shall be very clear. We’re all damn lucky the shock to my system wasn’t worse.  The only reason I stayed as still as I did was that I knew I could kill you if I started thrashing around.  Even now, I’m not sure how I managed that, but it was more than half use of what little of the Force I could reach. For all intents and purposes, I had a seizure. Right now, I’m wrapped around your spinal column, and please, Kix, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I curl the wrong way I can snap that in three different places. That doesn’t even begin to cover the damage I could do if full body spasms on my part put my fangs closer to your brain. So, no, Rex, there’s no way in any hell in any religion from any planet that I am crossing that damned threshold in a host.”

Rex’s expression soured from the snide look Kenobi had worn. He glared over at the medic, who just shook his head and pointed at the host.

“For a mature Jedi? It’s actually four places. He’s got a damn good point, and while no one here is a reservist, there’s absolutely no reason to risk our chain of command. Also, General, you’re coming out early so I can run some scans.” Kix’s expression darkened, and Jack was finally sure the man was Medical. “You said you were fine.”

“Jedi,” someone muttered from behind and to the right of Jack, who, in proper terror of a medic or no, was really grossed out and ready to climb out of his skin. “They always do.”

“Host gets a serious paper cut, it’s off to the healers, now, don’t argue with me soldier, but the Jedi?” someone else snorted. “You ever see Koon and his squad after unarmed practice?”

“He’s used to Kel Dor, cut him some slack.”

Barrel nudged Jack. “You okay?”

“Noooot really,” Jack managed evenly. Then he had to wave away Barrel’s concerned look. “S’nothing.”

“If nobody has any other concerns?” Kenobi brought the conversation back on track.  Nobody spoke up, so he continued. “Take the rest of today to prepare, and get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, weather and medics permitting, we march for the stargate.”

Chapter Text

Oh-dark-oh-screw-it-hundred never really changed, no matter the planet or the unit. There was the quiet murmur of soldiers prepping themselves, the mechanical sounds of armor and weapons being checked over and cleaned one last time. Roasting kindafish and campfire smoke managed to beat back the background tang of mold and damp, while the light from the two small fires and the glowstrips gave things a surreal air that was almost nice.

The fires were totally inadequate to heat the cave, but Jack’s loaner footie PJs worked well enough that he’d already decided that he’d be bugging whoever he had to in order to make those the first item of cultural exchange. They might look stupid, and they’d probably look even stupider in camo, but damn if they weren’t effective.

Thanks to them – and Kix was not getting them back, dammit, uncomfortable fit or not – he wasn’t cold, and the dried-out layer of foliage he’d slept into submission was at least better than the mossy rocks from those first two nights.

So Jack was sorta comfortable and warm when he woke up, which he enjoyed for a luxurious moment. When he sat up and stretched out the inevitable kinks, Ion passed him some kindafish. “Eat up; it’s not gonna keep and nothing else is guaranteed until we’re on the other side of your gate.”

And it’s not like that’s guaranteed either. Jack hoisted the kinda food at him and nodded. “My compliments to the chef, then.”

Ion snickered and shook his head. “Compliment him yourself.” He sat down near Jack and grinned. “You just don’t stop, do you?”

“Sass and charm, that’s me.”

Thunder growled soft and low outside, the patter of rain shushing over the white noise of conversation among the clones as more of them prepped for a march. Jack could see at the back of the alcove, Rex was holding Kenobi while Kix scowled down at both of them. Jack wondered what the hell was going on. He also boggled at the fact that there was a goa'ould right there out in the open, and here he sat, not freaking out or yelling like he should be. When Ion saw him staring, he raised a brow, and Jack just nodded towards the ire of Medical being wrought upon a Jedi.

The clone grinned at him. “Kix is just making sure the General’s still okay. Caught him before he could retreat into Rex again.”

Jack shook his head, biting back the genuine, if crazy, impulse to joke about his complete lack of surprise at a commanding officer trying to weasel out of a medical checkup. He...didn’t exactly want for this to be normal, but he didn’t not want it either, and that still messed with him.

Barrel and Spark wandered over, geared up and helmets tucked under the arm. It was a quiet little group sitting around their fire until Barrel made a face. “I hate the swamp worlds.” There was a faint murmur of agreement, and he glanced over at Jack. “Where are we headed?”

Jack set the last inedible scraps of kindafish aside. “There’s a few options. I want the most hospitable place for us that may try to blow up incoming goa’uld, but I don’t want to piss off any locals.”

Spark gave him a look. “Like the tok’ra you mentioned?”

“Ehh, not so much.” Jack shook his head, trying not to grimace too much. “They're kinda flaky, when it comes to backup. Plus they’re too busy running underground resistance cells. Heckuva time finding where the friendly ones are today, and they don’t trust easy.”

“Sounds like fun.” Ion sighed. “They shapeshifters or something?”

Jack couldn’t quite restrain a shudder. He really hoped that wasn’t a thing these guys ran into a lot. “Nah. Like Kenobi, but way more annoying and less ethical. I think.” He felt kind of bad about comparing the Jedi to the tok’ra asshats. Or maybe he just wasn't looking forward to running into them again.

“Goa’uld?” Spark growled, snapping Jack’s attention back to the men he was sitting with.

They were all staring at him intently, and they’d gone from amiable war buddies to focused soldiers. “...Kinda? They were, but they tried to stop being evil.”

“Details, please,” Barrel demanded, using the tone of “please” that reminded Jack the man was an officer.

Within three minutes, Jack was being dragged over to Kix, Rex, and a somehow disgruntled-looking brain-snake. Soon as Kenobi noticed them, he was slithering over to Rex.

Man, I wish they’d stop being so blatant about that. It was still Rex who gave them the look to spill the beans.

“Sith, sir. They’ve also run into quasi-reformed Sith.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, if we’re doing information exchange, what the hell’s Sith?”

Rex’s eyes flashed over to blue. Obi-Wan hesitated, sighed. "I believe you would call them goa’uld. We call them evil.”

“Wait, but you’re –” He held up a hand for a moment, then pointed at Kenobi. “What’s the difference?

Obi-Wan held up several fingers. “Unwilling hosts. Inappropriate use of the Force. Violation of basic laws and sentient rights.”

Jack gaped. How the hell had the man kept this in his pocket? “Wait. You’re saying that the goa’uld I know –”

“Are criminals by our standards, yes.” He scowled at the wall for a moment. "Horrific criminals.  The Council – leaders of the Jedi – must hear about this, because if we need to muster the entire Order to take care of a whole damned Sith civilization rotting I wish to the gods I knew where, then the sooner the better.” Kenobi took a moment to regain his composure before continuing.

“These ‘goa’uld’ at least seem to have lost some of their ability with the Force, although if they suppress their hosts as thoroughly as they’ve told you, I have a horrible suspicion that they’ve simply redirected it.”

Jack bristled, not quite able to let go enough to address the important stuff about allies. “It’s wasn’t just being told.” While discussing Hathor, he might have left out some of the more annoying details.

Obi-Wan stared at him for a moment, and there was no faking the sympathetic horror. Then he muttered something in a language Jack wasn’t familiar with. "Gods. I had no idea. I swear, we do not take unwilling hosts.”

He crossed his arms and gave Kenobi a flat look. "Never?" It was more sharp than sarcastic, the unspoken ‘well what about extreme circumstances?’ coming through loud and clear.

Kenobi started to answer, paused. The glance off to one side was filled with guilt and shame.  “It…is not completely unknown.”

Damn, Jack thought, stomach sinking. I knew it was too good to be true.

Kenobi looked at Jack again, determination and pain on his face.  “If a Jedi commits this…abominable act…  The sentence is death.”

“Except if there’s a really good reason, naturally.” Jack said, heavy on the sarcasm.

“No. The sentence is death.”

“And if there really is a good reason?” Jack asked, playing devil’s advocate in spite of himself.

“Then it had better be important enough to die for.”

Jack was a little surprised the clones weren’t chiming in, even though there was the hush of quiet attention.  Kenobi’s gaze stayed locked with his, steady now. “I know of only one instance of a Jedi committing such an act in the past three centuries. Death is a risk we take, being in the field. All of us.  Jedi and troopers alike. We can take that risk and do good, or cower in safety, rotting from within.”

It was refreshing to hear, and Jack was glad all over again that they weren’t facing these people as enemies.  “Well. Okay, then,” he somehow managed, and damned if he didn’t want to believe the man. Snake. Jedi.

“So.” Kenobi’s voice was level, but cold, for all that the measured distance didn’t seem to be directed at Jack. “These tok’ra, how ‘reformed’ are they?”

“Well, they’re assholes, but they seem to be on the level about working with their hosts.” He hoped. He always hoped. He still wasn’t 100% sure, but it was good enough for a tentative alliance.

“Hm. Well. I do hope you can introduce me to some when matters have calmed down.”

Jack’s grin might have been a little feral, but the notion of Kenobi and some tok’ra in a small room left him feeling pretty damn warm inside.

The march back to the stargate started before it was properly dawn, and was only slightly more fun than the hustle away. Within twenty minutes, Jack was missing the damn cave. The weather wasn’t quite cold – though Kenobi had made a good point; it was cooler than their first trek through the woods, which didn’t bode well – but the cave had been warmer, and dry. It was nice, though, being with professionals who knew just the right volume for almost inaudible bitching and had some fun new vocabulary for him.

It only made him miss SG-1 more, but at least it was decent company.

By nightfall, everyone was tired and hungry.  They huddled up under trees speckled with phosphorescence for a rest without any bitching. The rain had barely let up at all while the temperature remained cool. At least they'd turned up a few sock-nuts during the day, now that they all knew what the plant looked like, and that took the edge off empty stomachs. Jack missed the kindafish, but he had a sneaking suspicion there couldn't have been that many more of the things left, after a week and a half of Kenobi clearing them out.

The second day and night were much the same, except with more dodging around Jaffa patrols. Those got larger and more common the closer they got to the gate, but attracted only professional disdain from the clones. Jack started a mental drinking game for the disgusted comments about how this was not running a search pattern, and the amount of things it couldn’t find, but he gave up when he realized he’d mentally gotten alcohol poisoning.

It was oh-dark-fuckit again when they charged the gate. The white armor didn’t allow for much sneaking through the trees, but the sentries at the treeline weren’t too alert, and the clones apparently liked being vicious when it came to hand-to-hand. That meant it was only about forty guards on site, most of them huddled asleep under lean-tos. There were still a dozen standing around the gate and DHD, looking wet and pissed and ready to take on any comers.

They went down first, not one shot in the initial volley missing. Kenobi led the charge, lightsaber dazzling in the murky darkness.  Jack went pounding over towards the DHD, Barrel and Ion on his flanks, and he tried to not flinch as the clones again showed a level of skill and professionalism that was just this side of terrifying. He took a few shots with the zat, but taking out the enemy wasn’t his job. He nearly ran into the DHD, flicking on the little flashlight Kix had loaned him to ID the chevrons, and started to pound out symbols fast as he could. Things got interesting real fast, since the Jaffa knew the importance of the DHD. Jack was only a third of the way through when a staff blast hit Ion. Jack didn’t have time to do more than wince, then curse as Barrel stepped between Jack and everything else, half-crouching to snag Ion’s rifle and do a way better job shooting in different directions than any sane person should.

Two more chevrons in, Ion had struggled upright enough to be cursing and firing away with a smaller handgun. Jack could see a disturbing amount of red on the man’s armor, but from the sounds he was doing ok for the moment.

Jack was shouting for everyone to move even as he hit the activation button. The center dais was now mostly surrounded by white armor, with several more guys backing Barrel and Ion. The event horizon swooshed into existence, and Kix and Waxer moved in front of Rex, who crouched down and was letting Kenobi out. Jack grabbed Ion’s arm, Barrel snagging the back of the man’s chest armor and hauling him upright. They ran towards the gate, trailing several others who were carrying bodies that Jack hoped were just knocked out.

Since Jack could see bones instead of parts of Longshot’s armor as Grease carried him through the gate, he wasn’t going to place any bets.

Kix and Rex, with Kenobi wound around his forearm, passed through right before Jack and Barrel hauled Ion up the last step, and they crossed over the shimmering event horizon to the explosions of staff blasts and blaster fire ringing behind them.

Chapter Text

Doctor Jackson was at it again.

All intelligent base personnel cleared out of Janet’s way as she stalked down the corridor, hunting for a wayward archaeologist. She’d had hopes that not finding him in his office meant that the man had gone home to get some sleep, rather than the battered couch he’d claimed, but a quick call down to the front gates meant instead someone was on walkabout.

This had to stop. It had been days now, and when Daniel wasn’t trying to overdose on mess hall coffee he could be found curled up on his couch. At least General Hammond had been able to send Major Carter offworld to see if she could badger the Tok’ra into assisting, and with Teal’c doing the same with the Jaffa rebels.

Which was good, because one member of SG-1 being an idiot whose notion of self-care was “don’t fall unconscious on others” was more than enough.

Since he wasn’t getting food – that self-care thing – and the gate wasn’t currently in use, she tried the third most logical place. General Hammond shot her a look when she peeked in his door, and if the man weren’t a two star General, she would have called it a plea for help.

Daniel was pacing in front of the General’s desk, haggard but enthusiastic enough that she hoped for a moment that he’d once again stumbled upon something brilliant.

“Look, we know what we’re going into, and they can’t have many Jaffa left on site to defend the gate! If we could just take several teams across, move past the Jaffa –”

Damn. No, it was just more desperation. “Doctor Jackson,” she declared, aiming for frustrated yet stern, but not quite ready to kick his ass and sedate him in the infirmary. The man flinched and whirled around, reaction exaggerated and delayed enough that she was already reconsidering that stance. “I understand your position, but my position regarding your sleep habits hasn’t changed. When’s the last time you got any rest?”

He got the mulish expression that meant he was about to lie through his teeth. Before he could open his mouth, the General cleared his throat. “Doctor Jackson, I understand your concern. But it’s been two weeks, and the odds of Colonel O’Neill being held captive at the same location are pretty low.”

Oh shit. The mulish expression turned glacial, and Daniel pulled himself upright. It wasn’t the offended dignity of a civilian being ignored in favor of reality; this was someone with a genuine grievance. “I’m so very glad everyone understands, but understanding isn’t leading to any acting. It would be nice if we could do something about this!”

Internally, Janet winced as she saw the General’s temper crack. Externally, she came at bit more to attention, hands going behind her back at parade rest. “Dammit, Jackson, we can’t be reckless right now! We’ve –” He paused enough to give Janet an exasperated glare, meaning there might be something going on she was cleared for, but wasn’t public yet. Fantastic. “We have enough problems without taking massive risks, particularly not with regards to the lives of our people! If I didn’t have as many constraints right now, I would be all for mounting as large a rescue operation as possible. Hell, I would’ve done it a week ago!”

She struggled to conceal a wince. The NID, then. Dammit. Maybourne had started flexing his muscles not two days after the messy op that left O’Neill MIA, last seen being taken captive, which might or might not be preferable to being dead, knowing the goa’uld. Phrases such as “reckless,” “endangerment,” and “threat” had started whispering around the grapevine within hours of Maybourne’s arrival. The leader of the flagship team, taken like some rookie. How professional was this organization, again? Their efforts to regain the missing soldier had been futile so far, had already cost the life of a US marine, and how was this to inspire confidence in anyone?

Weren’t they supposed to be good at their job?

Janet limited herself to a slightly disapproving look and a glare when she ran into that kind of talk or Maybourne himself, because Maybourne was a slug.

A klaxon blared, followed by an announcement over the PA. “Unscheduled offworld activation. Repeat, unscheduled offworld activation.” Even the voice on the PA held a note of subdued excitement.  Maybourne could take his lack of confidence and shove it up his ass. By the time the announcement was being repeated, Hammond, Janet, and Daniel were out of the office and hustling down the hall.

“Where’s it from?” the General demanded the instant they were in the control room.

“P6X-388. Small planet, known midway point. There are some Jaffa rebels there, and it’s their GDO signal.”

Janet could hear Daniel growling almost inaudibly next to her. “Come on. Come on!”

The gate stayed open, the assembled soldiers ready and waiting for trouble. After an interminable few minutes, the gate rippled and spat out something that was absolutely not a person.

Yes!” Danny punched the air and raced out of the control room, darting down to the gate room proper. By the time the General was letting out a relieved sigh and cancelling the alarms, Janet could make out the object as well. A stick, definitely not from earth, with a pouch of tissues waving off the end like a flag. She was grinning too as she hustled down to the main floor. All of SG-1 had discreetly started making multiple packs mandatory gear ages ago, and to send a white flag like that...

By the time she reached the gate room, next to a coffee-fueled, pacing archeologist, she was braced. Whatever it was that O’Neill was bringing home, it wasn’t going to be pretty.

One quick call to prep Medical, and seven minutes on the dot later, the event horizon rippled. Colonel O’Neill was the first one through, hands up and looking less beat up than she’d expected. He was hollering something she didn’t understand, and it sounded like a whole new language.

That...could not be good.

The gate rippled again, and three men came through, wearing some kind of strange tac gear. White plates that looked almost like battered plastic. Yellow and blue markings, though those didn’t seem to be standardized. Black trim, no, underlining, and full head helmets. The man on the left, in yellow marked armor, was missing the plates on one arm, and the black sleeve of his underlining looked wet. From the red slowly dripping onto the metal ramp, she realized his arm was soaked in blood. The man next to the injured one helped him off the ramp, easing him down on cold cement before stepping back into formation behind Jack, who stood at the foot of the ramp, facing the control room. The third man had shrugged off a backpack of some sort, almost gingerly laying it at the opposite end – very far away from the wounded – then taken his place behind Jack as well.

Both of them stood with their hands on their heads, as the gate disgorged three more armored figures, one of them limping.

“Oh, Jack, what’d you bring home this time?” Dr. Jackson muttered, shaking his head.

A very competent military force, Janet grumbled mentally, as three more figures stepped through the event horizon.  She scanned the wounded and – she winced. One of the three newest arrivals was limp, armor burned away on one side in a way that was clearly fatal. The man carrying him settled the body down next to the wounded, between them and the growing collection of not just packs but weapons. The teams of three were neatly organized – one man carrying someone injured or dead, the third man carrying the packs or bundles of guns that were organized so as to be portable, but not quickly accessible. The two non-wounded deposited their burdens, then joined the ranks growing behind Jack on one side of the ramp.

Neat, organized, and with a military precision that Janet had to admire.

These weren’t the typical visitors to SGC.

After there were five ranks arranged neatly, the gate spat out a new surprise. A man without one of those ridiculous helmets came through, arm curled close to his stomach. Janet was already leaning to the side to see what sort of wound that was, when a yelp came from one of the airmen surrounding the gate.

“Goa’uld!” The tension in the room skyrocketed, and the rattle of rifles being prepared to fire sounded loud and harsh in the room. Janet could see the armored newcomers tense, but her attention was on the blond man. He had a goa’uld wrapped around his arm. It was damn large, mature probably. The only blessing was that something was obviously wrong with it. Instead of the sinuous writhing and spine-crawling noises they all had come to expect, this snake was rigid.

Seizing, a part of her noted, not able to look away even in light of the wounded in front of her. The snake jerked hard, body arching sharply to one side, then spasming helplessly, jaws opening and snapping shut convulsively. She could hear the plastic armor on the man’s arm creak, and the faint pop as it gave way snapped through the room like breaking bone.

Colonel O’Neill said something, still speaking gibberish but obviously aiming for getting everyone to calm down, hands upraised as he stood between the tense airmen and his new friends.

Another wave came through, from their body language glaring around as they walked down the ramp to deposit a limp body and a small stack of weapons. They took their place in the ranks, and Jack kept talking.

“General?” Janet called, wondering when the hell she’d grabbed Daniel’s shoulder to keep him in place. Daniel was staring at Jack with an expression half-bemused, half-horrified, which was never a good sign, but it was better than the revulsion-filled glare he’d been giving the goa’uld. That little horror show had subsided into shivering tremors that traveled through its whole length, and she could only imagine what had happened. Zat blast? Blow to the head? Poison?

“Colonel O’Neill, what the hell followed you home today?” Hammond had a special knack for sounding exasperated and pissed as hell over an intercom. The Colonel looked up at control room window, a frustrated smile plastered on as he shrugged and babbled something.

“Friends,” Daniel declared, and Jack’s head whipped around and he enthusiastically pointed at SG-1’s linguist. “‘Allies,’ to be more precise. Jack, why the hell are you speaking Ancient?”

The eye-roll was pure O’Neill gold. It was amazing that any one human being could convey “That’s the question you ask?” with just one expression.

“More importantly, how did you capture a goa’uld?”

Jack winced a little at General Hammond’s question. He looked directly at his CO, then shook his head and repeated the word he’d just said.


Jack O’Neill had been home for less than ten minutes, and Janet already had a headache the size of the whole damn mountain.

She waited long enough to pick out Hammond’s concession to see to the wounded before totally tuning out his ire at O’Neill’s latest shenanigans. She was the first to the wounded, kneeling down next to a man with serious burns along the upper leg and hip. He nodded politely enough to her, then glanced away as a soldier in yellow called out something. It sounded official, touching at her hindbrain where boot camp had instilled powerful habits. The wounded settled themselves a little, then reached up and removed their helmets.

Silence crashed back over the gateroom. A near repetition of the phrase, and the first row of soldiers moved their hands from their heads long enough to tug off helmets and somehow secure them to utility belts.

Row after row, the soldiers took off their headgear. Janet blinked a few times, then did a double-take over at the blond that was still cuddling the goa’uld like it was his favorite teddy-bear. Different hair color, and her new patient had some vicious scarring on one cheek with an elaborate tattoo on the other, but the two men looked the same.

As did the first casualty, grimacing as his arm was being looked over. As did the man next to him, shaking his head and giving one of her nurses a shy smile; the man standing behind him, helmet hooked to his belt while his hands were settling on top of a low ponytail; and on down the line, marked differently with scars and tattoos and –

Her mind did not want to spit out the obvious. This was – They’d run across some damn strange things but – The sheer logistics of –

Cloning people. Jack had brought home almost twenty clones.

What the hell did you run into? Even for Colonel O’Neill, this was a new one.

“Visk?” Janet blinked at a light touch to her arm, then she looked down. The injured man was giving her a patient look, holding a small jar of some red jelly like substance. He looked like he was after permission to use it.

For all she knew, this was some kind of ritual suicide drug. Or some kind of explosive. Or – oh hell with it. “O’Neill! I need to know if this is medicinal and how much trouble it’s going to cause us later!”

The Colonel turned towards her. As soon as he saw the jar, he nodded and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up before turning back to mutter at the bellowing man in yellow and the blond next to him.

“Holy –” She went from frowning absently at the damage while prepping the man for one of the – too few, of course – stretchers to gaping at his leg. He’d calmly slathered the jelly onto the staff-blast injury, capping the jar and leaning back. The jelly had an absolutely horrific pong, something grossly sweet that clung to the tongue, and the man looked resigned to it. Over the course of a minute, though, as the two corpses were carried away, the edges of his burn had started to heal. It was a slow, creeping regeneration, moving inwards towards the center of the burn – the location of the worst damage – but the man was healing at an impossible rate.

Please let these people be allies, and please let my budget allow a tanker of this. Also, please let it work for normal humans.

The man saw her look, and immediately straightened. “Visk?” he repeated, this time more cautiously.

“If that’s anything like ‘kree,’ no.” She shook her head, then went back to checking him over. He looked very confused at that. She’d have to ask later on.

A burst of startled laughter, immediately followed by what was probably cursing, whipped her head around. The man with the injured arm was clutching the limb while giggling at one of her nurses, who’d rocked back on his heels. The man he’d been checking for a concussion – as if the signs weren’t clear from ten feet away – just shrugged and muttered something before flinching away from renewed investigation.

Trust O’Neill to bring home clones who already knew to fear the penlight.

The mutters of triage quieted as a small squad of airmen came pelting into the room, escorting what looked to be an overgrown fishtank on a cart.

Janet wrinkled her nose. Sam had showed her the experimental tank once, meant as a livable habitat container for goa’uld – presumably tok’ra that might need assistance, or the unlikely scenario of taking a genuine POW of one of the snakes themselves. Good thing, she mentally grumbled, motioning for orderlies to take her patient off to the infirmary. She stood, watching as the blond soldier conferred with O’Neill, then settled the goa’uld into the tank. It floated listlessly there, tiny spastic movements of the fins the only sign of life she could make out. As the airmen snapped the lid into place, securing the tank, one of the other soldiers stepped forward. His bearing had either the absolute arrogance of a multi-star general, or the single-mindedness of a fellow medic. Given the elaborate haircut, she was inclined to think the former, but the red icon on his shoulder armor had her wondering about the second.

The airman who was in charge of the squad snapped out orders to halt, and the soldier glared, chin lifted up and a stubborn expression twisting his face. Medic, she decided, given the implacability to the stance, but the lack of superiority of a command officer.

The clone snarled something, pointing emphatically at the goa’uld. The blond and Jack were calling out something at the same time, their incomprehensible syllables tumbling over each other, and the airman took another threatening step forward, bellowing for the soldier to step back, stand down.

Janet was fairly certain she was learning what had to be Ancient for “fuck you, I’m his medic.” The airman lost patience, though thankfully not in the worst possible way. He took a swing with his rifle, the butt of the gun connecting with the tattoo on the side of the man’s head.

There wasn’t the gut-wrenching tunk she expected to hear. Instead the medic rolled with the blow before it could connect solidly, moving smooth and professional as a trainer demonstrating a technique. He came up in a crouch, hand behind in what looked like an automatic grab for a weapon. His fingers twitched around empty air and he snarled up, looking like he’d be just as eager to go hand to hand a few rounds.

Janet had seen some combat medics in her time, but there was a ferocity here that she hadn’t encountered often. She was keenly aware of the tense at-ready postures of the rest of the soldiers O’Neill had brought home, and she had to wonder what their odds were.

Jack stepped forward again, hands still upraised as he called out to the medic. The man glared over at him for a moment, jaw muscles clenching tight. The blond added in a command, and the medic slowly moved his hands wide, holding them out while glaring at the now pale airman. The medic stood up and moved back to the others, back still stiff with anger.

Oh good. No showdown at the Gateroom Corral today. Janet glared around as the nervous squad rolled the fishbowl out. “We have a bunch of people to check over for more goa’uld, what are you all doing standing around like that? We need to get these folks to Medical, now.”



Daniel didn’t quite know what to think, as he trailed behind the last of the gateroom guards, the new...soldiers marching is disconcerting lockstep ahead of them. A part of him wanted to insist that the Jack who’d come through the gate wasn’t theirs. They had after all run across some really, really strange things. Alternate universes, mockups of SGC, robotic doubles – who the hell knew what this could be? Jack had been gone for two weeks. That was a lot of time as the SGC measured it, more than enough for things to have gone strange. There was no definitive evidence that this was Jack.

This man was supporting a goa’uld. He’d said nothing about the Tok’ra, and as much as all of them disliked their allies, Jack would have mentioned them, wouldn’t he?

If nothing else, that would have made matters much, much easier.

By the time they got to Medical, Daniel had decided he’d try to treat these men as standard Jaffa, and table the Imposter Jack and Potential Tok’ra issues. He shook off the concerns as he stepped into the main examination room. The Jaffa were divided up into groups now, standing in lines as the docs tried to run them through the most efficient and thorough scans possible.

Jack was bouncing impatiently over at the main Ultrasound station, but the one buzzcut blond caught Danny’s attention. He was standing to the side of his assigned line, angled away from most of the room. Danny recognized his look. Loss, uncertainty, a touch of worry. It was all tiny signals, but Danny had been stuck in warrior cultures long enough to crack that particular code. The US army had only honed his skills.

The Jaffa was already looking at him when Danny stepped up, his chin jerking up a little as his expression smoothed into the neutrality of name, rank, and serial number. Danny could not leave the person who’d had to carry that goa’uld without some reassurance. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, ranging from expressions of sympathy and reassurance, to asking who the man had lost to the false gods, even if that was beyond the pale and too close to home, all at the same time.

“Safe,” he settled on, watching his pronunciation of the Ancient. “You are safe.”

The man studied him for a moment, then his eyes flicked towards the door. “He’s not,” the Jaffa declared, then pulled his shoulders back and glared off into the distance, effectively dismissing Daniel. The archaeologist stared at him for a long moment, then turned and walked over to Jack.

There was a shiver creeping down his spine, and he had no idea how to define it. That look.... That had been worry and fear for the goa’uld, not of it.

What had Jack gotten them into?

General Hammond and Dr. Fraiser were already clustered around Jack when Daniel arrived. Hammond was giving Jack quite the look, hands on hips and shaking his head. “You seem to be out of regulation dress, Colonel.”

Jack gave the General a frustrated “I’m being sassed, why me?” expression, as if he had any right to complain. He brightened a moment later when he saw Daniel, pointing at him and making hand puppet motions for talking. He was speaking Ancient, fast and accented, but Daniel could pick out “talk” in there.

“Stop that!” Janet snapped, glaring even as she gooped up the ultrasound device. “You’re not helping this go any faster!”

Of all the damn things, that subdued Jack.

Things were very, very off here.

General Hammond turned to Danny. “Why is he speaking Ancient?”

“Did you get more junk downloaded into your brain?” Janet snapped, looking like she might be ready to toss her hands up in despair, or take a few days off and charge her potential bender to O’Neill. Thankfully the man gave her a dirty look and shook his head.

“He seems to understand us just fine –” Hammond broke off as Jack nodded, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated “yes, we get the point already!” manner, vehemently pointing at Danny again and snapping several words. “Talk,” he enunciated carefully. “Lots.”

Great. Now he was being quizzed on Ancient. Just how he wanted his day to go. “Uh...Well, Sam is –”

“No no no!” Jack shook his head, looking more than a little wild eyed even as Janet was starting to check his neck. “English!” He paused and grimaced. “Sounded wrong and I said it.”

Interesting. Daniel took a moment, reorienting for English. “Well, we didn’t see what system lord grabbed you, though it was pretty clear they recognized we’re Tau’ri. We mounted two rescue attempts, which...didn’t really work. They’ve fortified their end of the gate pretty well. Sam’s seeing if she can shake any information out of the Tok’ra, and Teal’c’s off with the Jaffa resistance. Maybourne’s been –”

General Hammond cleared his throat, giving Danny a look that any idiot could see meant ‘shut up, not the time for more internal political strife.’

As if the NID made for anything else.

Danny rolled his eyes, wondering why the hell Jack seemed to be leaning in quite so much, listening so very intently to what he had to say. “Things have been a little busy, but the usual SG team assignments have been going on, and Janet keeps telling me I need to go home sometimes which is pretty stupid. Uh, anyway, other than that we've been sitting tight hoping you'd find your way back to us, which, uh, you have, so that's good, but you've definitely outdone yourself this ti–”

Jack’s eyes went wide and a hand went up to his head. “Ow.” He made a face. “Man, that stings!” he grumbled in English. “I think that got lost in the zat hangover last time.” Then he blinked and grabbed Hammond’s arm. “Fuck! Don’t let the NID take Kenobi!”

“Who’s Kenobi?” The General looked a little startled, but not horribly shocked. He was glancing around medical, where every last one of the new soldiers had twitched a little at the strange name.

“The snake! He’s a friendly!”

Danny couldn’t keep his skepticism quiet. “He’s a Tok’ra?”

Hammond’s eyebrow rise of ‘You are crazy but I’m listening’ lowered as Jack squirmed a little.

“No, he’s...something else.” The sheepish falter to his voice, along with the head bobble, was all Jack. “But he’s part of a group of planets that is the best damn potential allies I’ve run into, bar none.”

Now it was everyone else in the infirmary who was staring, because that was...improbable news.

Hammond cleared his throat. “Colonel...I’d like to believe you. We all would.” The eavesdroppers took the cue and quickly went back to what they’d been doing, or at least pretended to. “But you have been away for almost two weeks. We can’t discount the possibility –”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Brainwashing, blah blah blah, yeah I know, whatever, look, just keep that asshole Maybourne from walking off with Kenobi.”

The General hesitated for a moment, exchanging glances with Janet. She shrugged and put the last of her equipment away, passing a towel to Jack. “Physically, he’s a bit worn down. He could do with a few meals, certainly. Otherwise he’s fine. Mentally, he seems okay. At least as much as usual.”

Jack gave her an insincere grin. “I missed you too.”

“In the meantime, Colonel?” Jack looked back at Hammond. “What are we to do with the fact that your ‘friendly’ has an entire gaggle of cloned Jaffa running around after it?”

Jack raised a hand, finger in the air even as an awkward grin flashed across his face. “There's a really damn weird explanation for that, but it exists.” He lowered his hand, grimacing and swiping the last of the ultrasound goo off his neck. “General. You want answers, I’m more than happy to give them to you, but if that snake ‘disappears’ into Area 51, I promise you that none of those soldiers will help us. I know this is out of left field, but I am telling you, in all seriousness, we have a good shot at an alliance, with good people. Isn't this what this entire dog and pony show has been about?”

General Hammond heaved a sigh, glaring away. He was looking right at the Jaffa medic, who was in the process of giving the ultrasound machine a skeptical but intrigued once-over. Hammond made a face. “...I’ll do what I can.”



“So let me get this straight.” Maybourne was prowling around Jack like some cheap TV detective, which wasn’t helped by Jack’s absolute disdain for the process – and the Colonel circling him. “The leader of one group of soldiers was a host, and then he got wounded, so badly that the goa’uld had to take a new host, which just happened to be the leader of the other faction around? You think that’s a coincidence?”

Jack rolled his eyes. “They were already allied with each other, and the almost-dead host was almost dead before we showed up. They had pretty much no way of knowing Commander Rex was coming in.”

“You said they have wrist communicators? And they were using them? So why wouldn’t they have known their rescue mission was successful?”

This time, it was the more dangerous flat look Maybourne received. “Well, I’m sure they could distinguish his voice over the communicator he wasn’t using. Given how they don’t sound anything alike to each other, and all.”

General Hammond was struggling to not show the increasing headache he had. Debriefing and negotiations were...not going well. Maybourne was determined to claw any bit of advantage he could out of the Stargate program, and Hammond had already called in most of his chips for previous emergencies. Maybourne wanted the goa’uld, he wanted the Jaffa, and he wanted Jack tripping over his ass and handing all that over on a silver platter.

Maybourne pointedly brought up that Area 51 was better equipped to contain and study the ‘specimen’ and its troops, appealing to the interest of national security and listing all the times Stargate Command had failed to contain this or that ‘threat.’  Another look from Jack urged Hammond to keep going toe-to-toe, but even O’Neill had to see that it was Hammond on the ropes, not the NID.

He shot a look back at Jack, hoping a glare could convey that he only had so many miracles up his sleeve, and SG-1 regularly tested those limits., hell, this was probably beyond his pay-grade. Given the buck stopped with him, it was time to start praying.

Praying, committing treason, or assassinating Maybourne, but really only the first was practical.

Well. If nothing else, he could delay, for at least a little while. A few hours, if we’re lucky, he thought sourly. “Gentlemen, I think we could do well with a break. We’re going to need to have a talk with the Jaffa in any case, so perhaps you could prepare some notes, Colonel Maybourne, so I know what angle you’re going to take? I’m sure it would help Dr. Jackson to know what he’s going to need to translate.”

Maybourne ignored him, since dammit, he had just given the man an opening to his second favorite angle. “I do want to know how you managed to speak perfect Ancient – and only Ancient – and then none at all? It’s got to be the second flimsiest thing I’ve heard lately.”

“Well I dunno, maybe you should–”

Colonel.” Both men took Hammond’s growl for the warning it was. He stood up and glared at Maybourne. “Dismissed.”

Dammit. Maybourne took the time to hold his glare, only turning away when he’d made the point that Hammond was out of leverage. For a moment, it was just George, Jack, and the guards at the door. He sighed and ran a hand over his head. “I’m out of credit, Jack. I’m sorry. We’ve just given him too many holes lately.”

Jack stared down at the conference table for a long moment. Then he sighed. “I get it, George. I just – Look, if there’s anything you can do –”

He was already nodding wearily. “I’ll see if I can’t pull any more miracles out of thin air, but...” He shook his head, then patted Jack on the shoulder. “In the meantime, you’ll have the comfiest cell downstairs.”

“Aw, you’re too good to me.”

Hammond chuckled, but there was no real humor to either of them.



Jack made the MP wait a few before standing. Sure, they were going to stick him a cell, but it wasn’t like anyone considered him a flight risk. Weird side effect of spending so much time advocating for the snake. Jedi. Dammit. It meant that everyone figured even if he was some kind of brainwashed minion, it was the stupidly loyal kind that wasn’t going to pull a runner. Or pull any other kind of shit, not with Kenobi in such a bind.

He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair, gratified that the MP wasn’t twitchy at that, instead giving him a sympathetic grin. Good to know not everyone was an NID twerp.

Why the hell did that make him feel guilty? He frowned and dawdled a little, examining the sensation. Probably some kind of intuition –

Aww, hell. A part of his mind had settled on crazy shit already. Things were still in flux, nothing pinned down in the tug-of-war over the snake. Everyone was still off-balance from the sudden changes, so all he had to do was find himself a snake and –

Jack felt a kind of resigned, conflicted satisfaction as he and his escorting marine wandered into one of the blind stretches on the security grid. It just wasn’t possible to have security cameras everywhere, just most places, and this wasn’t one of them. Jack stumbled, bracing himself against the wall. It was sad, but beautiful for all that, the way the MP stepped forward, all concerned and naive. One quick tussle later, and Jack had a brand new zat, and some poor kid was KO’ed in the corridor.

The first likely location Jack snooped out didn’t have anything interesting going on, beyond normal activity, so he tried some of the more obscure lab areas. One of the doors had two guards in front, which was neither normal, nor uninteresting. He took a deep breath, careful aim, and braced himself for alarms.



Obi-Wan coiled a little tighter in his ridiculous prison, striving for some sense of calm or meditation. It had been a long time since he’d had to meditate without a host, and it was disconcerting to not have that comfortable background hum of 17’s mind gnawing away at whatever today’s target was. Or for that matter, the quieter murmur of Rex going through the exercises taught to the clones so as to not fight a Jedi that they might be called on to host. It was strange, to have a new host.  Rex was willing to accommodate him, but there was still that newness of learning, of caution, of holding himself back so as to not interfere with whatever Obi-Wan might do.

17 had been many things, but cautious had rarely been one of them.

Obi-Wan huffed a near growl, not trusting the feel of the electric field around him. He didn’t understand this culture or their technology well enough to tell if they were recording him – though they’d be fools to not – and he didn’t want to give them any wrong ideas about his intentions.

Even if he did want to flare his fins and fangs to full extension out of concern and frustration. He liked being able to pace, to move limbs in deliberate motions as an expression of his emotions. Even if he was ‘out wandering’ (17 had always had a brittle edge when he’d glared at Obi-Wan about that, unmitigated mother hen that he pretended to never be), he could move as he willed, and to be so closely confined…

It galled him, rubbing emotional wounds much as the minerals in this pisspot of a tank prickled at his skin. Oh, sure, it was better than the muddy little lake where he’d gone fishing, but the emotional mire around him –

The Force was distant, as always difficult to get a strong grip on without a host. He was a powerful Jedi, so he could at least pick up more than just the empty room he was in. Not that it was any picnic – all those shivers of suspicion, fear, anger, hope. It wasn’t Dark, but it was very on-edge.

He was trying very hard to stay distanced from the problem, but it was difficult, being stuck in a tank without a host, after being slammed with two trips through those wormholes. He’d made the decision to trust Jack and his people, now they all had to live with it.

Klaxons blared, the light levels in his tank fluctuating rapidly. No no no, so help me Rex if you’ve gone and done something stupid– ! He twisted through a complicated knot, trying not to squirm too much. It was entirely possible that the locals, being a different culture and world, considered hoots and whoops with blinking lights music, but he’d never run across something that absurd. Someone’s done something stupid. Fantastic.

There was movement in his room, though he couldn’t make out more than emotional dissonance – determination, a lot of fear, protectiveness, a great deal of urgency.

Probably not his host, then? The emotional combination didn’t seem like Rex.

His fangs spread a little in sheer frustration as he reminded himself yet again that it wasn’t official yet. Rex was only his temporary host, Anakin was going to kill Obi-Wan for sneaking away with his top soldier and friend, and in the meantime Obi-Wan hoped rather more than he should that Rex did indeed want the position anyways.

After all, Obi-Wan’s life clearly wasn’t complicated enough.

The person in the room finally came close enough to his tank that he could make out who it was through the distortion of the water. Well. Jack, not Rex. Good. But what the hell?

The human hurried over to the tank, talking the whole way. He sounded frustrated, earnest, and utterly incomprehensible. Whatever it was he was speaking, it wasn’t Basic.

His intent, however, was crystal clear as he flipped the catches on the tank’s lid, shoving the heavy piece of plastic off the tank.  Obi-Wan lost no time hiking himself up onto the rim, keeping on the side opposite Jack.  The human stuck his hand out, wiggling his fingers like he was trying to catch the attention of some idiotic pet. Obi-Wan stared at him, wondering just what the hell had gone so horribly wrong that this man would be offering the kind of sanctuary that Jack both hated and was terrified of.

Obi-Wan pulled back a little, gratified that there was a frustrated eye-roll instead of a wince. Jack gabbled something else, moving his hand closer and glancing over his shoulder at the door, where someone had started banging and yelling. Trouble, and Jack was getting into further trouble, and those alarms had to be about this mess.

How bad is this? There was more frustration and the demanding emotional mess of “get on with this already!” from Jack, but there was still that strong undercurrent of fear, an emotional knee-jerk repugnance. What the man was offering verged on an unwilling host. Resignation to a bad situation was not acceptance, and Obi-Wan had made it clear already that he would take his chances with Jack’s people. This sort of reversal–

Jack closed his eyes and took a deliberate breath.  His emotions settled a little bit, and when he spoke again, it was measured and deliberate.  Obi-Wan might not have been able to make out the language, but he could clearly pick out Rex’s name, and Waxer’s and Kix’s, accompanied by a pointed look. 

Fuck. You absolute bastard. He flared his fins a little, squirming in place. Jack was an emotional mess, verging on unwilling. However, he wasn’t being duplicitous, no matter how much he might play dirty. This wasn’t some form of entrapment – Jack wouldn’t do this unless it was important. Obi-Wan had a responsibility to his men, they all needed to get the information about the Sith to the Council.

The irony was not lost on him that if he was wrong, then the last two Jedi to take unwilling hosts would be in his age group. Like Siri, he would go before the Council without hesitation, if necessary.

Outside the room, weapons sounded, impacting the door. Obi-Wan swayed towards Jack’s outstretched hand. The instant he was within grabbing range, the human’s hand closed on him. It was more than a little too tight, but he fought to keep fangs closed together. There was enough fear and reluctance in the air as it was. He would not contribute to that if he could avoid it.

The room was an indistinct blur as the human brought him close, so all Obi-Wan could clearly see was the expression – distaste, fear, and that sardonic disbelief that rang through the Force like the alarms still clanging through the area. He’d made his decision; there was no hesitation as he moved to connect with the human.

Jack’s mind was an incredible jumble, overwhelming in its chaos. It took all Obi-Wan had just to understand what the human was sensing as the door finally broke and soldiers poured into the room. How the hells did the Jedi who preferred non-clone hosts do it? Clones made sense. Their minds weren’t chaotic and messy and all over the place like this!

Jack raised their hands in the air as weapons were leveled at them, and thank the Force the language finally made sense. “Hi guys! How much trouble do you think I’m in?”

Chapter Text

Jack didn't fight the MPs as they cuffed him and escorted him towards the brig. He was a little busy trying not to panic and grope the back of his neck, because god damn it had been creepy frenching a damn snake, and as an extra-special bonus, it made the scar near his shoulder itch.

Also, please, please, please let Kenobi be doing the logical thing and setting up house, because as much as Jack appreciated it, he hadn't felt a thing since Kenobi had slithered into his mouth. True, it had taken a while for Hathor's little spawny friend to take residence, but it’d been that one’s first rodeo, and goa’uld that knew what they were doing could move scarily fast. Kenobi struck him as pretty damn experienced, so if the bastard was still taking his sweet time — Ok, no, stopping that train of thought before it reaches the Station of Crazy Ideas That Keep You Up At Night.


Jack didn’t freak out, and there wasn’t any screaming. As far as the MPs were concerned, it probably just looked like he'd gotten twitchy around the eyes.

There was a voice. In his head. Craaaaaap. The weirdest part was that it did sound like Kenobi, even from that one little verbal shoulder-tap; mincing little not-quite-British accent and all.

Somehow, he'd expected something more…villainous when it was in his head. So to speak.

Instead, the polite throat clearing noise sounded a little strained, as did the follow-up.  #If it's not too much trouble, since we seem to be going nowhere fast, perhaps you could explain what the hells is going on?#

#Yeah, now is not the time for sarcasm,# Jack snapped back, not sure he was doing it right. Should he be thinking loudly? Mentally yelling it? It was — the whole damn thing was so strange, and in the meantime it really really felt like he was hearing things, but between his ears.

#I would think you would always believe it's time for sarcasm. What happened to my men?#

#Yeah, they're ok, but if you want to see them aga — NO NO WAIT, I didn't mean it that —#

#Yes, I get it, no need to yell!#

There was a really, really weird moment of nursing a mutual headache.

#Okay,# Jack tried again. #They're fine. You're in hot water.#

#I gathered as much. How bad is it?#

#…You were probably a few hours from getting disappeared. Maybe less.#

The MP was nice enough to not even give the regulation shove down into an uncomfortable chair in a small room. Nice, he hadn't realized they had an interrogation room down this corridor. The airmen took up positions inside the door, glaring at him while a lot of activity went on outside.

#Well that's…evocative,# Kenobi finally said. #What would have happened to my troops if I had cooperated instead?#

#…You're joking, right?#

#There is literally nothing here to joke about.#

#You were a lot more fun with Rex.# Jack tried not to sigh as he squirmed around in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position he was pretty sure didn't actually exist. #I'd say two, three days tops, and then they'd go and join you, and in a few weeks we'd get some interesting new places to go. Just a guess, though.#

The silence in his head got to be almost as bad as the silence in the room. Then there was a sigh. #Not…given the limitations of this gate system, and all the places it’s not located. Though from the sound of it, your "friends" wouldn't believe anything about our ignorance.#

#Probably not. Hey, what do you mean, "from the sound of it?" Don’t you get to dig through all my mental dirty laundry?#

It gave him seriously bad goosebumps to feel a controlled anger that definitely wasn't his thrumming through his body. He'd never felt someone else's anger before, and that was…messed up. #Oh, yes,# Kenobi drawled in a biting tone, #let's just have a free for all mental safari in a host that is this side of unwilling, and Force knows that feels like it could tip over the line at any point, and then wave about any and all knowledge I might pick up because of an inferiority complex I obviously have as a lifeform a fraction of your size. What kind of a monster do you thin — HURK!#

The impressive flow of sarcasm slammed to a halt, though Jack was somewhat distracted trying to stuff the vivid images of Hathor’s first incursion back into their box. He could sorta hear something, like Kenobi was whispering curses he didn't quite understand in a variety of languages, but it was faint and distant.

After a moment, Kenobi cleared his throat again. #Oh. GODS. Thank you for stopping that.#

#…stopping what?#

#Do you always have strong flashbacks and mental impressions when someone starts complaining about the “goa'uld,” or was this a special occasion?#

#Well, you ASKED, and it's kinda my head, so you can deal. Also, it's not every day I have an extra passenger up there!# This was a lot messier than Jack had expected, not that he’d thought about it much. Somehow, he'd figured it would maybe turn out to be something Tok'ra-y, with the whole "willing to pass things back sometimes" game plan. Having free reign to do whatever, but with someone else’s emotions and mental commentary pressed against his mind was…strange.

This took ‘back seat driver’ to a whole new level of weird. Even better, he didn't dare take either alternative option: telling Kenobi to drive, or get the hell out.

This was such a fun day.

Kenobi let out a little sigh. Jack seriously hoped it was just mental, because if the damn thing had just expelled a fangy little breath right near his brain he was absolutely-

#No, Jack, I didn't.#

#…so if you're not digging for things, how did you just know about…that?#

#You're thinking it very loudly. Panic can amplify this.#

#I'm not panicking!#

Kenobi didn’t say anything to that – a polite silence, accepting a polite fiction.

Jack sighed, out loud, which made him twitch, which meant the MPs were looking at him oddly. He tried to ignore them, because one strange conversation was two too many. #So how does this work, then? Saying "no unwilling host" is all nice and stuff, but it's not very descriptive.#

There was a quiet little silence. #Your mind, your memories, are as much yours as possible. If you're thinking loudly, I can't help but hear it. So any "oh no I hope he doesn't find this thing!" moments are very counterproductive. I'm told that if there's no training, song lyrics or repetitive verse help distract from that.#

#…are you SERIOUS?#

#You think we're all stodgy 'brain snakes' with no idea how to make this easier?# There was a pause, then another sigh. #…Ah. Right. Well, guess again.#

#…Okay,# Jack grudgingly allowed. #Singing obnoxious songs. What else?#

#Normally, we'd already have worked out who's in charge of what when it comes to combat situations. That's all on you, unless you want assistance.# There was a funny little hesitation, then somehow Jack got an impression of a shrug. #That includes life threatening circumstances.#

#Oh, sure, put it all on me. No pressure.#

#I sincerely hope it won't come up. Are you often at risk in your own home ba — Oh. Oh dear.#

#Yeaaaah, you wanted a quiet lifestyle, you kinda came to the wrong planet.#

#Now you tell me,# Kenobi said, but there was amusement under the exasperation.

The opening door made him sit up straighter, though the look General Hammond was sending his way was not reassuring.

“Sir.” Jack nodded and tried on a grin. “I guess this means I don’t get the comfiest cell on base anymore?”

George sat down across from him, dismissing the guards from the room. Only when they were as alone as they could get in a room with a two-way mirror did the General lose it. “God damn it, O’Neill, I can’t even be sure you’re you! Don’t crack wise with me right now!”

That was a seriously cranky General. Not good. Jack came more to attention, never mind how the chair dug into his spine. Oh fuck please let that not be digging into the friendly neighborhood goa’uld.

He wasn’t sure what he thought of the silence in his head. What the hell did that mean?

Jack shook that off. “Sir, if you can guarantee me that Kenobi gets to come back–”

“We are not even starting to have that kind of discussion!” General Hammond took a moment to try to calm down, but gave up on it as useless fast enough. “And you know better, Jack.” He leaned in closer, staring Jack in the eyes as if hoping to get through to him, past–

Past the goa’uld possessing him.

Oh man, this was doing one hell of a number on his own damn brain. A part of Jack still wanted to jump up screaming because goa’uld, hugging his spine, playing kissy-fangs with his brain.

On the other, dead allies were not usually good allies.

George sat back with a sigh. “There’s absolutely no way – Do you have any idea what kind of a mess this has made?”

“Not nearly as bad a mess as Maybourne would make dissecting General Kenobi.”

George had to clench his hands into fists to keep from throttling the damn fool across the table from him. If Jack hadn't shown more respect towards this ‘Kenobi’ than he's shown towards any other snake, and quite a few superior officers, Hammond would be sure it wasn't Jack talking right there. Yet even before he’d been the biggest idiot on base today, Jack had seemed convinced that an alliance was possible, and that Kenobi was good people.

Which was not helping the local theory of brain washing. Too many people were certain that Colonel O’Neill never did respect of any sort. George knew better, but it was still an easy fallacy to fall into.

A strange, very uncomfortable look crossed Jack’s face, which was oddly the most heartening thing he’d seen in awhile. After all, a goa’uld wouldn’t lose their vaunted superiority so easily, right?

Of course, then Jack had to open his damn mouth. “General Kenobi would like it if I passed along that he’d appreciate not being dissected, thanks.”

Hammond didn’t restrain a glare. “Now is not the time for levity, Colonel.”

“Hey, don’t blame me! I’m not...putting words in his mouth. So. To speak.”

It took rather more effort than normal to not just rest his face in his hands, even with the almost sheepish, far too sly look that was all Jack. Might-be-Jack shrugged. “Okay, so that one was all me, Sir. But he really does have a sense of humor.” Before Hammond could start the sarcastic lecture on how yes, of course, that of all things would be sufficient to convince Maybourne, why hadn’t Jack said something earlier, the Colonel was already leaning forward. “Look, General, we need this alliance way more than Kenobi’s people do. They’d love the intel we have on the snakes, sure, but Apophis and his buddies can’t just roll over these guys.”

“Do I need to remind you that Earth is part of the Protected Planets Trea–”

“Yeah, and that’ll be great right up to the point where the goa’uld figure out a way around that.” The eye-roll, the disdain – it was all Jack, up to and including the scathing look sent George’s way. “You know they will.”

He had to remind himself that the snakes could read any last little detail they wanted out of the host’s mind. “That all sounds very nice. I’d be even happier if I knew it was really Colonel O’Neill speaking.”

“Oh, for crying out – Look. Find a way to get primary custody of Kenobi and his people, and we’d both be more than happy to have him jump ship!”

“What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” He knew he was snappish, but it was better than yelling. George shook his head, glaring at the man behind the goa’uld. “Having you create a damn foothold situation hasn’t helped. Since you were obviously compromised –”

Something so like genuine, O’Neill levels of anger flashed across his friend’s face, Hammond wanted to hit something. “I am not damn well compromised!”

“–even before you invited a snake into residence, you’re going to have lots of time to think this through. Need I remind you that the last time this happened, the only way this stalemate broke involved the death of one of the participants?”

Jack glared away, instead of the snake getting all haughty and huffy. “Maybourne was winning.”

He hated having his hands tied like this. So help him god he wanted to reach in and throttle the damn snake. “So to win this battle, you’d risk costing us the war. Don’t try to tell me you haven’t been compromised.”

Kenobi was nice and quiet during their jaunt to a cell – not at all one of the nice ones. Jack couldn't decide if the whole ventilated plastic theme between the bars was classy, or just dumb. He flopped down on his cot – nice, he hadn’t been certain he’d get one – and he just put his head in his hands. This plan was going so well.

I really, really hope this is the right thing. He hesitated a moment, then shrugged. #You weren’t listening in on that, were you?#

#No, unless you mean the guards talking. You’re getting better about partitioning your thoughts.#

Great. Life skills he always wanted.

#That one, I heard.#

“Still way more fun when you come as a package deal with Rex.” The emotion of amused grief was confusing as hell. Jack lay down, folding his hands behind his head with more care than usual, even if it wasn’t necessary. “The hell was that?”

#I...have to agree with you. However, having Rex as my Second is still rather a new situation for me.#

Jack let out a huff of air, trying not to feel gut punched. #I really shouldn’t like you,# he mentally grumbled, then he froze. Damn. Had he thought that out loud?

For a moment, the voice in his head was quiet, and Jack was trying to come up with some song, any song, but the only lyrics that he could seem to grasp were for the Song That Doesn’t End, and he’d gotten really, really good at ignoring that.

Then there was a sigh. #I’m getting a...“Greatest Hits” list of all the reasons for that, but I am not one of your goa’uld. Also, your language is strange.#

#So are we, thanks.# Jack blinked a few times as he tried to figure out the precise color of the wall, and what kind of paint sample sheet it would come from. To hell with song lyrics. He could do boring. That was a lot better. When he was pretty sure he was seriously considering the difference between eggshell and beige, Jack shrugged. #So. 17, huh?#

#...Thank you for the privacy, that night. I appreciate it.#

#Yeah, well, was the right thing to do.# He shrugged again, wishing he could get that across without actually doing it, the way Kenobi could. That was a neat trick.

After another uncomfortable silence, there was a sigh. #Do you really find it that hard to accept that I’m a reasonable sentient being? Or have these goa’uld poisoned your opinions that thoroughly?#

Oh boy. This was going to be awkward. #Look at it from where we stand. Premier archaeologist helps us open up a door to other worlds. Hello, snaky overlords who want to follow us back and enslave and or destroy everything. Then people we know and care about aren’t just enslaved, but taken over in every possible way, or killed, and we’re fighting for absolutely everything. Not gonna lie; that’s not a good impression.#

There was somehow a peculiar tone to the silence that followed. Then Kenobi spoke in a quiet, incredulous voice. #You can use these stargates, and you still only have humans on this planet?#

#We’ve made some interesting friends. And enemies.# Jack winced a little at how defensive he sounded. #You make it sound like that’s not normal.#

#Not for any planet that’s got any kind of spaceport, or hope of leaving atmosphere.# For a moment, a foreign memory flickered through Jack’s mind, of rows and rows of go-carts in the world’s weirdest stadium, filled with all sorts of things, like some sci-fi convention where crazy costumes were mandatory. Only bigger. Huge.

“The hell was that?” he sputtered, bolting upright and feeling weird and a little overwhelmed.

#Oh, hells.# Kenobi sighed. #I need to work on my partitioning. My apologies.#

“Great, fine, whatever, what was it?”

#That would be the Senate.# really, if you’re evil, I’m going to be so pissed.#

The sound of someone huffing a laugh inside his head was really, really weird. #I shall do my best to avoid that, then. In the meantime, while I’m here, would you object to me...earning my keep, so to speak?#

#Earning your keep, how?# Jack asked, a little bit wary, but mostly curious.

#You have a raging headache that’s plaguing us both. Would you allow me to clear that up? I could also perform what would be considered basic healing and maintenance – healing some cellular fatigue, clearing out toxins that have built up over the years, things of that nature.#

Jack hesitated, because this was a new one.

#Any Jedi offers their host the same, so I've some practice with it. I swear I will only do what you have given me permission to. I understand completely if you do not wish me to.#

It was true Jack had had an on-again-off-again headache since he’d gotten knocked out and kidnapped. Since no one was likely to get him any painkillers any time soon, and it wasn’t like they were going anywhere....

#Basically you want to tidy up. Anyone ever tell you you're a neatnick?#

#I have been accused of that before yes,# Kenobi said, dry amusement clear in his mental voice. #Mostly by my student when I tripped over yet another droid part he'd left lying around.#

Jack grinned a bit. #So, only fixing the headache and a basic tune-up?#


It took Jack a few seconds to weigh his general distrust of goa'uld against Kenobi. #Yeah, okay. Knock yourself out.# He hesitated, then grinned. It was only a little bit forced. #And hey. Thanks.#

Daniel sighed and clutched his coffee mug tighter. He’d had maybe an hour of something approaching sleep before someone thought to tell him that Jack had been incredibly stupid –

Coerced. Not stupid. He took a deep breath and resettled himself as Colonel Maybourne entered the room and sat down next to him. There was no way in any hell Jack would volunteer to –

Daniel was incredibly grateful that the leader of the Jaffa was escorted in. The blond man sat down without prompting, taking a moment to scan the room before glaring off with the thousand yard stare that was becoming disturbingly familiar.

Maybourne either ignored that, or didn’t notice, and Daniel wasn’t in the mood to try and figure out which. The Colonel leaned forward. “Who are you?”

Daniel cleared his throat, wondering why the Jaffa flicked a glance over at him. Power play? Acknowledging the translator but not the speaker was quite an insult. =What are you called?=

=Commander Rex, Cresh-Trill 7567.=

He blinked. That...was unexpected. “He, uh, just confirmed that he’s Commander Rex. And I think, uh, I have his serial number.”

Daniel could see the gears turning, and Maybourne didn’t ask him the expected followup. “Who do you serve?”

It was possibly his imagination, but Daniel thought he could see a flicker of amusement – and possibly disdain – in the Jaffa’s eyes as he translated the question. =The Grand Army of the Republic.=

Mayborne twitched at that, then went predator-still. “What republic?” he demanded, voice harsh.

No, it wasn’t his imagination. There was the slightest flicker around the man’s eyes, like the Jaffa wanted to roll them. =The Galactic Republic, under Supreme Chancellor Satine Kryze.=

“And the goa’uld?”

Commander Rex’s eyes narrowed a little at the word. Apparently Jack had done some language sharing. =My commanding officer is General Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am his Second. I demand to see him.=

“You don’t get to make any demands!” Maybourne smacked a fist against the table, making Daniel’s coffee cup rattle. When he related that, the Jaffa snorted.

=And who are you?= the man asked Daniel, unprompted. =Who do you serve?= His eyes flicked to Maybourne before returning to the far wall. =This one? He doesn't seem too competent.=

Daniel froze, not sure what to say. Maybe if he’d had more rest, been able to sleep more lately. Maybe if he knew who the hell he could trust. Maybe then he wouldn’t be obvious about his confusion.

“Jackson, what did he just say? That was too much a mouthful for acknowledgement!”

Daniel held up a finger, not looking away from the Jaffa. =I am called Daniel Jackson.= He hesitated, turning the Ancient over in his head, making sure he knew what he wanted to say. Blustering demands were easy enough; the imperative usually was. Actual conversation was more nuanced. Given the militaristic tone, he might as well claim some status. It wasn’t like SG-1 was a cakewalk for some college freshman. =I serve General George Hammond. This one is...= He hesitated, trying to find the right rank. Dammit. He’d never liked all the military crap. He was lucky he remembered “Commander,” and that was at least half a guess based on Jack’s testimony.=Maybourne, of several titles lower.= Well, at least butchering the language – and insulting Maybourne – got a tiny lip twitch of a smile.

Then the Jaffa surprised him, turning to meet his eyes. =Does he also serve General Hammond?=

“Jackson! What is he saying?

He gestured with the outstretched hand, demanding more time, because this – this was important. =Yes,= he finally decided, slow and uncertain enough that it would be a clear message if the Jaffa really was friendly, if Jack’s enthusiasm for them was based on something real and not absolutely insane.

Compromised. That was the word they liked to keep using.

He didn’t know what he hoped for.


“He’s being very emphatic about seeing his commander.”

Maybourne glared at him, but Danny had perfected the vaguely distant, idiot savant stare way too many lifetimes ago. Like many pompous idiots, Maybourne responded to the song of his people. He bought it. The Colonel snorted and glared back at Commander Rex. “Nnnnno,” the man enunciated, as if the Jaffa were an incredibly stupid three year old. Then he shook his head. “Why are you here?” Disdain dripped off of every syllable. It left Daniel with slimy feeling in his mouth, even if he did convey it as neutrally as possible.

The Commander’s eyes narrowed for a moment, his gaze sliding from the wall, to Danny, then to Maybourne. He held that noteworthy’s disdainful look with a small, feral smile. =We were told this would be a safe place, where we could rest from battle with our mutual enemy.=

Oh boy. Daniel cleared his throat again. “They were, ah, promised safe haven.”

“By who?”

=Who told you this?= Daniel asked, feeling like an idiot.

The Jaffa didn’t look away from Maybourne once. Very calmly, he declared, “Jack.”

Daniel didn't like the answer any more than Maybourne did.

#Sooo. How’s the tidying going?#

#I have absolutely no desire to know what your diet is. I do not believe half of what I’m finding.#

Jack snickered in spite of himself. #Lately? It’s just been sock nuts and fish.# Then he laughed, because somehow Kenobi was conveying the impression of a side-eyed glare, and Jack was exhausted enough that his body was just not up to maintaining a panic of any kind.

#I suppose I did ask for that.#

#A little bit, yeah. So. Uh. How’s it looking, Doc?#

#Like you regularly eat plas and duracrete.#

#I’ll have you know I’ve been cutting back on Twinkies.#

There was an offended silence. #I thought I said I did not want to know about your diet. How do you have this much heavy metals in you? Lead, mercury, something I don't even recognize...#

#Skill,# Jack snickered. #Ask Janet later. She’ll give you a full lecture. Probably preach against coffee again, while chugging down a mug or three.#

#Aahh. Medics. She sounds terrifying.#

#She is.# Jack moved into a slightly more comfortable position, then sighed. #Why the housecleaning mania?#

#...I prefer having a goal. “Waiting” is not a very useful goal, and meditating within a host, without the host, is a challenge I’m afraid I don’t have the patience for right now.#

“Huuh.” Jack stretched a little. “Always did hear idle fins were the devil’s playground.”

It was worth the mental glare.

Maybourne had ordered Commander Rex hauled out pretty quickly after that, and had switched to “the troublemaker” instead.

Daniel wasn’t surprised to find that was the guy who’d almost gotten pistol-whipped trying to follow the goa’uld. The man sat down, every line of him stiff with anger. He had a mutinous glare for both of them, and he spoke before Maybourne could even open his mouth.

=I need to see to General Kenobi.=

Maybourne’s eyes narrowed. “That was the goa’uld’s name, wasn’t –”

=Jedi,= the man snapped, still glaring. =Not goa’uld.=

Daniel held up his hands between the two glaring men. =Who are you?=

=Medic Kix. Cresh-Mern 8397. My commanding officer – =

Daniel blinked at the rapid torrent of words, coming too sharp and staccato to follow as more than demanding syllables. =Wait wait wait,= he demanded right back, shaking his head. =Slower. I cannot understand. Slower!=

The man stopped, taking a single slow, deep breath. Then he glared at Danny. =General Kenobi was injured. We surrendered. We have been peaceful. We have caused no trouble, even when attacked.= His voice snapped a little on the last sentence, and the arrogant tilt to the head showed off the bruise around script tattooed on the side of his head.

A dead?” Between the bruising and the way the Jaffa moved, Daniel couldn’t make out the tattoo very well. He didn’t like what he did see.

=I need a healer’s report on the General, or a chance to check his health myself. We have cooperated with you!=

“What does this one want?”

Daniel blinked and stared at Maybourne. “What?”

The Colonel jerked his chin towards the irate Jaffa. “I sincerely doubt he’s being that wordy to complain about the accommodations. What does he want?”

“He...says he’s a medic. He wants to know the status of his General.”

Maybourne sneered and shook his head. “Entitled bastards, aren’t they. All right, Jackson. I want this conveyed, and I want you to be precise.” The NID representative leaned forward, locking eyes with the Jaffa. “Your ‘General’ is in our custody. It will be dealt with as we see fit, and given that it took over one of our people, you might wish to consider the value of working with us, rather than it.”

Daniel wasn’t even halfway through when the man jerked like someone had taken a cattle-prod to him. He was absolutely pale by the end, and he leaned forward, cuffed hands coming up to grip the table.

=Who?= he demanded. =Did they offer, or– = The Jaffa shook his head, eyes wide. =I have to check him, this is– =

=Why?= Daniel snapped back, lack of sleep mixing with too much caffeine and far too much stress. =Why is this such surprise to you?=

=Jedi are not the goa’uld you have fought. They do not take unwilling hosts!=

=You just admit you are concerned it did!= Daniel knew he was mangling the Ancient a bit, and did not care.

=I have no idea what that cursed circle of yours has done to him! If he has taken someone without permission, he could be delirious, or dying, or something!=

Daniel pulled back, a cold lump in the pit of his stomach. He knew that tone of voice. He’d heard it, over and over and over again, so many times on so many planets and even from his own throat.

This was what the goa’uld wrought. They inflicted that despair on everything they touched, but not even First Primes despaired for their gods.


Daniel jumped a little, head whipping around towards Maybourne. The man was glaring at him, though the exasperated sneer was a little much. “Any day now, Jackson!”

“He...It’s – ” Complicated? Of course it was complicated. How the hell did he distill this down to the relevant bits? This was wrong, this was off, and the horrified way the medic – “healer” if the words translated accurately – stared at him ate into Danny.

“Is he going to cooperate or not?”

He and the healer stared at each other. Cooperate. Work together towards the same ends.

“...No.” The word almost stuck in his throat. He looked over at the thunderously furious man he was supposed to be helping. Cooperating with. Maybourne turned away from him, angry sneer still in place as he gestured for the guards to remove the Jaffa.


Daniel flinched. He refused to look at the Jaffa, but found himself still talking. =I think he is well.= Why were these words easier? This was wrong. =With Jack.=

The man slumped a little, a touch of color coming back to his face as the soldiers hauled him away. Danny couldn’t tell if it really was a traditional benediction he heard, and he had no idea if it was for him, or just in relief.

Sam stepped through the gate, her father and Selmak a reassuring presence at her back. She didn’t like the situation, at all. The message from SGC had been a genuine relief – Jack had returned. It figured he’d find a way back on his own. The news that he’d brought “friends” back was kind of typical icing on the cake.

The news that he had a previously unknown goa’uld with him was...concerning. It was even more concerning for the Tok’ra, who had insisted on having an immediate emergency meeting of every relevant personage they could think of.

Politics. Sam sighed, taking in the airmen on guard – every last one of them on edge. There were no signs of battle in the gateroom, which probably meant something had hit the fan, but not horribly so.

“Something’s wrong,” Jacob grumbled, and Sam nodded in response.

“We must’ve left before another message could make it through. Let’s go find out what followed Jack home this time.”

=So just what does a man have to do to get some bacta around here?=

Daniel sighed. At least this one – Zeffir – seemed willing to speak. The last five had just glared into the distance, reciting name, rank, and serial number. =What is ‘bacta?’=

=Medicine.= The man gestured to his bandaged arm and side. =I appreciate the wrappings, but I would like to be functional sometime this rotation.=

Ah. Janet had mentioned something... =Red? A...= Dammit. Gel. Jelly? Thick substance? Mud? Would that work?

Thankfully, the Jaffa nodded. =Yes, that. Stinks to the lowest layer and back, but heals good.= He made a face. =You would think after a freeze or two they would have managed to improve the smell, but nooo. They swear oaths that it is required. Medics.=

Daniel was almost certain the man knew he was being obscure, and making matters difficult. =Is this medicine required for you?=

The Jaffa looked at him, then down at his wounded side, then back at Daniel. =Nooo, I love being walking wounded.=

=This is...basic medicine?=

=Force bless, you take the time to check and wrap my wounds, you check my abdomen, I thought you were even going to check my shebs, but no bacta? What kind of a facility is this?=

Sam was impressed. General Hammond wasn’t often this bitingly scathing, but it sounded like it was founded in some impressive shit hitting the fan.

She was less impressed with her father. General Carter plus a cranky Selmak meant they were spending a ludicrous amount of time just talking about the matter. Selmak wanted to know anything and everything about the new goa’uld – A General? And what mythology was “Kenobi” from? She desperately wanted back up. Teal’c might well know something, but word hadn’t gotten back from him yet. Danny had been conscripted for Maybourne’s interrogations. Jack –

Yeah. No.

She sighed and placed herself more at attention. If she was lucky, that might clue someone in that maybe action might be better than yapping.

“The hell with this!” Daniel watched Maybourne shove his chair away from the table, letting it slam against the wall. “I’m taking a break. Let him stew awhile, Jackson!” He stomped out of the room, the silence echoing after the litany of ever louder and angrier questions.

Danny just sat for a moment, hands limp on the table. This was exhausting, and that was even with the last three Jaffa simply glaring. This one, who hadn’t even bothered to give his name, had simply been scanning the room, his eyes always returning to an almost frothing Maybourne.

Let him stew? What did that mean, functionally? Was he supposed to declare this, just walk out as well –?

=Sixteen ways.= He whipped around to stare blankly at the Jaffa. The man glanced at him, then back at the closed door. =Eighteen, if you were not here. Perhaps a few more, if there were no call for a line between incapacitated or dead.=


The Jaffa looked at him, then tilted his head to the side a little until the short pony-tail stuck out to the side behind him. He rolled his shoulders, moving his arms, and Danny froze. The range of motion was too wide.

There was the faint rattle-snap of handcuffs closing, and the Jaffa politely brought his re-bound hands up onto the table.=Not here to fight,= the man declared. =Also, your accent is horrible, but your overall comprehension is decent. Did Jack train you?=

Daniel took a moment to sift through the information. He was pleased to realize the Jaffa counted him as a threat, if a fight were to break out. Still, that did nothing for the headache of having his Ancient criticized by one of the Jaffa that had followed Jack home.

He was absolutely furious with Jack, and he desperately wanted to his friend there, able to snark back and explain what the hell was going on with these crazy Jaffa.

Back, and not a puppet.

Jack rolled off his cot, adrenaline spiking though his light nap at the sudden rush of anger/concern/righteous fury/alarm.

“What? What’d I miss?”

#I thought you opposed the goa’uld!#

“Yeah, and?”

The sensation of something almost slimy; grasping and controlling and proud crept into his mind, foreign as the emotions still clanging around.

Weirdly, it was almost familiar.

Jack straightened out of his crouch so fast he heard something pop. “Damn! The Tok’ra! Sam was visiting –” He shook his head and shut his gob. #Look, they’re assholes, but they’re our assholes, ok? The Tok'ra aren't exactly comfortable allies but they are against the goa'uld. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, that whole deal?#

#You do realize that never lasts, and never ends well? You trust this?#

He bobbled his head a little, waving a hand back and forth. #Sorta. Selmak’s not too bad. Look, outside some Jaffa, they’re the only other people we’ve found that –#

A guard opened the door to the main holding area, and Jack slumped in a bit of relief as Sam and Jacob/Selmak walked in. Okay, now they’d get somewhere. Sam –

Shit. Sam came to a sharp halt and gave him a look. Jack was already holding up his hands. “Hey, I know this looks bad, but I swear I’ve got an explanation for this.”

She did the jaw clench that made her look like she could set something on fire with her eyes, then she glanced over at Jacob. General Carter was already shaking his head, and Sam kept turning to face the guard. She pointed over at Jack. “Who the hell is this?”

Chapter Text

“Uh?” Caught flat-footed by the question, Jack sat, mystified, while Jacob Carter spun around and started having a quiet, heated discussion with the guards on the other side of the door. #Kenobi! What did you do?#

The sensation of secondhand bafflement rippled through his mind. #Nothing that would affect your physical appearance! I swear, it was a routine cleaning!#

Jack held up a hand, frowning. “Hey, Jacob, what d'you mean ‘who is this?’” He worked hard to sound calm and reasonable, instead of angry and annoyed.

From the look Sam gave him, that wasn't going so well. It’d been awhile since he’d earned that kind of a glare. “Who or whatever you are, you're a good mimic," Sam said curtly, "but your information’s out of date. You don’t have Colonel O'Neil’s naquadah signature.”

...what? Jack was still staring blankly as General Carter returned. The man nodded at Sam, looking composed but angry.

“These aren’t the guards who brought him in. No-one saw a goa’uld leave, but no-one was looking for just a goa’uld – he could have slipped by. We should help look for him.”

He stepped forward, raising a hand. “Wait, wait, what?” The goa’uld was right here! He had not gone through all that crap just to –

Sam glared at him again, growling “He may just be a decoy, but I want answers!”

#What the blazes is naquadah?# Kenobi asked quietly, which didn’t help a damn.

#Little busy, hang on!# “Carter, come on, it’s me, and I’ve got witnesses to frenching a goa’uld!” He went still as it hit him what he’d just said. A chill screamed down his spine. #...shit, I am me, right?#

The pause was not reassuring. Sam was talking, but Jack tuned her out, more concerned with Kenobi's answer. #Most of your mind seems to be you.#

#Oh hell, what?#

#You weren’t aware of this?# Kenobi sounded worried again, which meant Jack went from alarmed to pissed and alarmed. #There’s a...I’d almost say super-dense block of information in here that’s not you. It’s mostly not active, and it was added a while ago.#

He sagged a little in relief, then nodded to Sam, interrupting her probably interesting and relevant argument. “Totally me, honest, just now with special passenger.” #Yeah, okay, I know what that is. Dammit. That’s gotta be the Ancient download thing. Almost fried my brain. You’re sure it’s inactive?#

#Well, it seems to be where your knowledge of Basic is stored. Give me a moment.#

Sam pinned him with a glare. “I know what I’m doing, so don’t try being cute with me!”

“Hey, would I do that?”

Jack wasn’t paying a damn bit of attention to whatever it was General Carter was yammering at him either, as Kenobi did the mental throat clearing noise. #The language is the only area of it that’s active. That seems mostly integrated by now, although accessing Basic might be what’s causing your headache.#

Yeah, that was Ancient all over.

#But I’m not some sort of clone or bio-robot or something, right?#

#You’re the same person we met on that ship, and given the build-up of chemicals and strange metals you had floating around, you’ve either been living a busy life for a while now, or you got dumped into one hell of a strange chemical vat.#

Strange metals. No naquadah signature. Housecleaning. Jack slumped back in disbelief. “Oh you gotta be kidding me!”

“What is your problem?” Sam snapped, looking like she was at the end of her rope. Jack shook his head, flailing a hand in her direction.

“Hang on, I can only manage two and a half conversations at once!”

Before he could figure out how badly Kenobi had screwed shit up, let alone what to say, General Carter’s head dipped, then rose. His eyes lit up the iridescent gold of goa’uld getting snotty, and Selmak crossed her arms. “We want some answers,” the Tok’ra snapped, the double-toned voice echoing with attitude.

Inside Jack’s head, Kenobi was tossing a fit, somehow giving off the sensation of bristling angrily, as the slimy outside sensation doubled. #Sith! That is the Dark side! That is how you know them!#

Jack’s headache was back and worse than ever. #Yeah, fine, great! That dirty laundry you weren’t gonna poke through? Go look up naquadah!# “Selmak, put it away! I need to talk to Jacob now!”

Tok’ra had professional grade sneers, every last one of them. “And why should we cooperate with you, whoever you are?”

#That is...Force, that is wrong!# Kenobi snarled.

“Dad, Selmak, stop.” Sam was glaring at her father. “Right now I’m the ranking officer here, so let me do my job –”


In the wake of Jack’s bellow, there was a hugely awkward silence, with Selmak glaring, Sam looking at him suspiciously, and Kenobi–

#Oh, stars.# Kenobi was muttering in consternation.

"Just- gimme a sec, would you?" Jack asked. #Great, let me guess. That means ‘oops’?#

There was a burst of apologetic sheepishness, tinged somehow with the raging desire to deal with this “Sith.” #This naquadah would appear to be the metal I’ve never encountered, yes. You had a distressing buildup of it.# There was the sound of mental throat-clearing. #‘Had’ being the operative word.#

Jack dropped his head down, plonking his face in his hand. Without looking up, he pointed to General Carter. “General Carter, please ask Selmak to stand down; we have enough problems without our friendly neighborhood Tok’ra getting in the way.” Jack shifted his aim to Sam. “Sam, yes, I’m me, with a goa’uld ride along, but I don’t have a naquadah signature because someone was a busybody neatnik.” It wasn’t a conscious decision that he ended up pointing at the back of his neck. “And yes, he’s still here, but you can’t sense him because he doesn’t have naquadah either.”

“That’s impossible.” Sam had that look, right between scoffing and fascinated, eager to hunt down some facts. “It’s in the symbiote’s bloodstream. It’s a biological part of the goa’uld. If you’re going to come up with –”

Jack tuned her out as his mental passenger was sputtering in horrified rage. #That’s POISON! That’s – That’s – It would be like a perpetual bad spice trip! If I’d had what you had in your system filtering into me –# The rant cut off with the sensation of disgust and realization. #Oh gods.#

“Sam, hang on, we have a new problem.” She of course ignored him. Fair enough, he wasn’t really listening to her either. “Just hang on!” #WHAT?#

#These Sith.# Kenobi’s ‘voice’ was subdued, still horrified. #They are literally all mad. A host’s system filtering this metal might make it less...volatile, but then again it might not. I’m no Healer, I don’t know all that this could do. It would be bad, I at least know that.#

...All the goa’uld are crackers. Figures. “Well, that would explain some things.”

Sam let out a frustrated sound. “You weren’t listening to a thing I said, were yo–” She stopped, her eyes widening before she glared, as if blaming Jack for being too much like himself.

General Carter, in the meantime, was crossing his arms and looking disgruntled. “Are we really going to be listening to this crap, or doing something useful like looking for the missing goa’uld?”

Sam hesitated, giving her father a look. “If you and Selmak don't think this is really Colonel O’Neill, why are you playing along?”

General Carter shook his head. “Because an agitated spy is more trouble than he’s worth, and we might still be able to get some information out of him.”

Jack cleared his throat. “Fellas? Still right here, me and my passenger both!”

Selmak may or may not have believed him, but the Tok’ra proved to be making fantastic decisions as usual. Jacob Carter’s head bowed, then lifted, and his body language went haughty and disdainful. “Then prove it. Let us speak with this ‘General’ of yours.”

#These are the reformed Sith?# Kenobi was cold fury to Selmak’s snottiness, the clipped tone conveying just as much disdain.

#I did mention they were assholes, right?# Jack thought back wearily.

The silence in his head had a vaguely thoughtful air, then a sensation of resolution wafted through him. #If we have any basic rights I would appreciate being able to write a note for the Council. You and your people might have your problems, but if I’ve any say in it, you now have the full support of the Jedi in destroying these Goa'uld. If their “reformed” cousins think that forcing an ally to submit as a host is acceptable behavior, and any of the flashbacks I've witnessed mean a thing, then they are unmitigated Sith. That is something we must deal with.#

Jack blinked, crossing his arms and glaring back at Selmak, who was looking way too self-satisfied while Carter was looking to lose her patience. Kenobi had just –

Yes, they would have to get word back to this fancy high council Kenobi kept going on about, but – full support. That sounded like a no-holds-barred, we-might-not-do-this-for-free-but-we’re-not-gonna-fleece-you-either commitment.

It was the determination, the strangely protective air from Kenobi that made up Jack’s mind. The – the Jedi had just said he was going to push to have his people ally with folks who currently had him locked up in a cell. He’d been able to feel the certainty, and he didn’t think that could be easily faked.

It didn’t hurt that Jack was fed up with the stupid. He’d always hated playing Telephone, and while Jack could almost like Selmak sometimes, the rest of the time the damn snake was still an asshole.

After all, it was just the next step in this slippery slope into madness, right? He could keep waging this battle, like General Hammond pointed out, or he could actually fight to win.

Jack lifted up a hand. “Ok, hang on a sec, we need to have a somewhat private talk, and I'd like to keep the peanut gallery down to a dull roar.”

Selmak rolled her eyes, Sam let out an exasperated sigh, and Jack took a deep, steadying breath. #Okay, what do I have to do?#

For a moment, there was the outside sensation of blank puzzlement, which abruptly swapped to astonishment that brought to mind cartoon cats fluffing up their tails and bouncing away in distaste. #You can’t be serious!#

#Stop making this harder than it is!# he snapped right back, because his skin was already crawling. #Snake up, tell me what I need to do, and then do me a favor and rip them a new one, okay?#

#Jack, this – There is nothing like death to this,# Kenobi said, voice soft and earnest and really, really annoying. #You are free to do what you wish. This is your body, which I am at best borrowing. It- #

#It HAS been the end for a lot of people. Good people. People I knew. Now shut up and tell me what to do!#

His hands were in fists, he seriously wanted to punch something, and there was just silence in his head. His brain kept playing through crap, from Skarra to Kowalsky, and finally that mess was cut through by a mental sigh.

#...Float,# Kenobi said softly. #It’s like floating in a calm pool. If you are actively trying to do something, you’re flailing, or swimming. In the meantime, if you let the water move your limbs, your body, then you will remain afloat.#

#Yeah, until you get swamped by waves.# Jack couldn’t keep from bitching, because it kept him from having to look at what he was going to do.

#It’s my job to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m very good at it.#

#Okay. Okay. So – look, your thing. No hurting idiots, or even kinda-idiots, but otherwise, you…have my permission to convince the hell out of them.# His whole body was shaking, just a bit, probably-please-he-hoped too little for Selmak or Sam to pick up on. It was one thing to commit to offering bunkspace, so to speak, to an ally that creeped him out but seemed to have a strong code of ethics.

Kenobi had just talked about committing everything he and his had to dealing with the system lords.

Jack had just given permission to lose control of his body.

#Limits, Jack.# Dear god, Kenobi was still yammering! #Does that include reading your mind, or– #

#Yes now use that as an excuse to figure it out your own damn self and DO this already!#

It was the angriest “floating” he’d ever done, just standing there, trying not to glare, and reminding himself that it was just like a simulation, the silly kind found at malls or amusement parks. Sitting in the stupid chair, watching the pretty pictures, and just letting things move around you. Not so much with the screaming, though, for once.

Then his body straightened, chin lifting all on its own. Yet as his body turned to glare at Selmak, Jack had to admit that Kenobi was more “supremely confident” than arrogant. Especially in comparison to Selmak, who’d cornered the market on arrogant looks.

It was fuckin’ weird, like he was dreaming, and he had to keep reminding himself about the floating thing and trying to accept that no, this really was a dream and it was okay and gonna be the nice kind of dream where maybe he got to say all the rude, inappropriate things to the Tok’ra that he always wanted to but politeness and diplomacy meant he couldn’t in the real world.

Yup. Totally convincing.

“Well,” Obi-Wan commented, “that was quite rude.” 

Sam jumped a little and Selmak gave them a narrow-eyed glare. Understandable, because Kenobi’s voice sounded the same damn way it did when he was in Rex, accent and all. Jack had to wonder how he did that, but he’d already decided it was a dream, a floaty dream, dammit, so he was just gonna watch and enjoy seeing Kenobi wipe the floor with a Tok’ra.

Selmak raised a brow and cranked the disdain up to a dripping eleven. “If you think vocal tricks will sway us, you are less experienced than I’d given you credit for.”

Kenobi snorted, somehow returning the same kind of contempt. “Hardly. I shouldn’t wonder though, if it’s worthwhile to point out that you can’t manage this.” Jack was pretty sure his face was contorting into an “oh please” expression, but he suspected there was more of a sneer than usual.

Jedi or goa’uld, he was pretty sure they just did sneers well.

“I will admit the dual voices are rather distinctive, but it does show a lack of finesse on your part.” Kenobi turned away from Selmak to face Sam, then he gave a polite little bow. “We Jedi prefer a more subtle hallmark to indicate if we, or our host, is the one speaking, so I hope you don’t mind if I take care of that.”

Jack could feel something weird happening, some kind of tingle around his eyes. It was a strange little sensation, like an itch that wasn’t quite, somehow. #Okay, what was that?#

#Eye color,# Kenobi declared, calm as could fucking be. #I hope you don’t mind blue eyes.#

#I want a mirror, and a second opinion.# Jack hesitated, then sighed. #Later, I mean.#

The reactions were totally worth it, though. Sam was gaping, and Selmak looked fascinated but disturbed. Kenobi did another polite little nod to Carter. “I am General Obi-Wan Kenobi of the Jedi Order. Who might I be addressing?”

The resident Tok’ra snorted. “I remain unconvinced, whatever kind of a shapeshifter you are. You ought to have that information immediately on hand.”

Kenobi had a great side-eye of distaste. “Indeed, though some of us prefer more civilized behavior and polite introductions.” He looked back at Sam, and raised his eyebrows a little.

She hesitated, and Jack didn’t blame her for it. It was kinda obvious when she decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. “Major Samantha Carter, Stargate program, United State Air Force.”

There was a polite nod of acknowledgement, then much colder body language when he turned to Selmak. Jack had to admire how a slight shift of the heels and a subtle roll of the shoulders changed the tone sharply.

The Tok’ra snorted, like ‘your stupid posturing games are beneath me.’ “Selmak, of the Tok’ra.”

After an awkward moment of icy silence, Kenobi lifted his chin a little. “And your host? I suppose I am negligent about setting a good example, but Jack is known to both of you.”

Floating, floating, absolutely not smirking or saying anything. Nope!

A sour expression crossed Selmak’s face, then she shrugged. “General Jacob Carter. Are you quite done with your childish power games?”

“They’re not childish if they work,” Jack muttered, only to freeze, surprised. The instant he’d snarked, there’d been that tingle again. Not to mention that Sam was giving him the “Sir, did you really have to?” look, while Selmak just looked offended. “Uh.” He raised a hand a little in a “hold on” gesture, because this was not supposed to happen.

#I did say you are free to do whatever you wish.# Kenobi’s voice was dry, dry, dry, and barely hiding amusement.

Man, he had a headache. At least it was the usual “the people I work with!” stress instead of the behind the eyes burn it’d been lately. #Okay, so can we rearrange this so I’m not screwing up your sass and banter here?#

Then he realized what he just said, what he just meant, and he blinked and blanched a little. He didn’t countermand the request though, and after a moment he could feel slightly grudging acceptance. Kenobi didn’t like it – not that Jack did too much either – but it was a damned request, and heaven help him, Jack really did mean it.

#I will raise the threshold slightly, then.# Kenobi said calmly. #It will still be easy for you to resume control, but you'll need exert a push to do so. Think of it as a speedbump, if you will.#

Jack took a breath, closed his eyes, and went back to trying to float. It seemed to be easier, and he didn’t think Kenobi was influencing that. Meantime, there was that full facial tingly thing, and his body resumed the haughty posture before turning back to Sam and Selmak. “I beg your pardon. We are still working on the exact boundaries of my hopefully short imposition upon Colonel O’Neill’s generosity.”

Sam looked intrigued, but skeptical. “You’re really standing by the claim that the Colonel voluntarily offered himself as a host?”

“It’s the truth, so I don’t see why not.”

“Please.” Selmak was making a huge show of skepticism and an eye roll. “All you have shown so far is that you can change your voice, and that is not convincing. You are not the goa’uld that was contained earlier. Either of us would be able to detect your presence.”

“By this ‘naquadah,’ yes?” Kenobi was not letting that shit pass, meeting each gesture with his own. Jack was keeping count. “A heavy metal, that you believe I, and Colonel O’Neill, should have.”

Sam nodded. “Yes.”

Kenobi’s internal embarrassment didn’t match the superior attitude he showed. “I am hardly about to waste the monumental trouble the Colonel has gone through on behalf of myself and my men, so perhaps you will forgive me if I refuse to come out and talk to you face to face, if you will. However, I have absolutely no objection to a non-invasive examination by any of the local healers – Doctors, excuse me. The results could easily be compared to the ones gained earlier. I suspect a blood test will also show a new lack of naquadah.”

Sam looked a little bit swayed, but Selmak wasn’t. “Shapeshifter,” she snorted, and shook her head. “I think that would be easy for you.”

Kenobi gave her a calm look that somehow managed to convey quite a bit of anger. Jack figured it was something about the curl of the mouth. “First you demand my host surrender his autonomy for your satisfaction. Then that is not enough, and now you demand I surrender both my autonomy, and my safety, without even a token effort to provide for my security. Jack has told me you are reformed goa’uld. I will admit I do have to wonder about his concept of ‘reform.’”

Selmak's eyes flared gold. “We are Tok’ra, not goa’uld!”

The Jedi watched the little display with visible distaste. “I have had the joy of knowing you for less than fifteen minutes. You have control that would shame a first year padawan, your ethics are notably questionable, and you work very, very hard to suppress your host. Was any of that supposed to impress me?”

Sam stepped forward as Selmak sputtered. “You still haven’t done anything to demonstrate your claims that you are a goa’uld, by any name.”

Kenobi seemed to consider that seriously. “What would convince you?”

She took another step closer. “If you really are a goa’uld with a host, then let me talk with Colonel O’Neill.”

Finally, someone talking sense! Jack felt the funny face tingle again, and he shrugged “’Kay. Whatcha got, Sam?”

His second in command studied him for a long moment, then her jaw firmed and she glared. “Where have you been?”

He rolled his eyes. “Camping.” That earned him a nastier look, and he sighed and started to tick points off on his fingers. “Ha’tak located I don’t know where, starting off in a prison cell. Then a swamp formally known as...” He squinted at the wall, trying to dredge up the numbers. “PX...five zero nine two?” He sighed. “Then we had some company that thought they'd leave no trace behind.” At Sam’s suspiciously blank look, Jack sighed and rolled his eyes again. “You know, take out what you take in –”He shook it off before he fell down the rabbit hole of trying to explain a joke. “Look, what do you want from me? I’ve had a week! And then I get back and the NID’s slimed its way into power and when the hell did that happen anyway?”

“We’ve had a week or two ourselves,” she returned archly. “Speaking of sliming their way to power, what’s up with the new friends?”

“Met them on the ha'tak.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “They like blowing things up too.”

Sam’s lips twitched and she was clearly fighting a smile. “You do know how to find that sort. Blowing things up is enough to convince you to host?”

He straightened, trying to hide how incredibly uncomfortable this all made him. “Nope. The NID disappearing a bunch of potential allies, though–” He shrugged. “Desperate times, and all that jazz.”

“They're worth the risk?”


They stared each other down for a long moment, Sam looking for who the hell knew what in his face. Finally she gave the tiniest shake of her head. “Sir, why?”

“We – okay, I’m not gonna go as far as we need this alliance, but dammit, they’re good people, and yes, I include the goa’uld in that. They have ships, they’re willing to work with us, and they’ve got reasonable demands.”

Selmak had a sneer in her voice. “Such as?”

#Go for it. I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole.#

Shit, he did not like that he was getting used to that tingle-posture change thing.

Kenobi was giving Selmak a deliberate cold shoulder, looking at Sam instead. “We will provide assistance in your battle, as allies, not subordinates. Shared intelligence, shared fighting and resources, training for these new weapons and against the forces we are likely to encounter. A reasonable staging area to work from, either in system or accessible by your Gate.”

Jack cleared his mental throat. #Uh, the thing you said earlier –#

#Is none of the Tok’ra’s damned business.#

He had to squelch a little burst of glee. Selmak had decent moments. Most of the Tok’ra did not. #Awesome.#

Not too surprisingly, Selmak had to at least play devil’s advocate. “You trust this? Sam, you can’t possibly just believe that out of nowhere you find a whole new civilization that’s willing to write you a blank check!”

Jack snorted, shivering a little as he took back control. “Finding whole new civilizations is kinda what we do. And conditional. Not blank.”

Sam shook her head, frustrated. “What we need is proof. Brain scans. MRI.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Someone to delay Maybourne.”

Selmak’s head dipped down, and General Carter looked up. “It’s not good enough! It can all be spoofed, and you know there are ways to –”

“Wait.” Sam held up a hand, a weird, uncomfortable grin spreading wide. “Wait, there’s a simple, elegant solution here. You need to be in a host that isn’t compromised, but –”

“Sammy, no,” General Carter growled, stepping over to put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder.

Jack agreed. “Carter, are you nuts? This is the most messed up idea –”

#Excuse me, I have my own piece to say!#

Jack ignored Kenobi in favor of finishing a good rant. “– I have ever heard and –”

#JACK! I happen to have an opinion!#

“– Oh hang on, the non-native is restless.” #WHAT?#

#I have my own opinion,# Kenobi snapped, voice clipped and coldly restrained again. #I would appreciate the opportunity to talk.#

For just one weird, impossible moment, the world seemed to stand on its head. The goa’uld was asking the host for a chance to talk.

That...was not the way it was supposed to work. He swallowed down a moment of unease, wondering how much of an asshole he’d just been. #...Sure. ...Sorry.#

Somehow, behind the sensation of cold anger, Jack felt a wash of somewhat affectionate reassurance. Then Kenobi was glaring at Sam and General Carter. “Let me be very clear. Should my current host want me gone, I understand and accept that his gracious offer of sanctuary is quite reasonably limited. And while your offer is appreciated in the spirit it is given, Major Carter, I refuse.”

Jacob Carter glared, dipped his head, and added glowing gold eyes to the glare. “Because you are not what you claim to be.”

“Because I am not some housepet here to perform tricks for your satisfaction!” Kenobi snarled. “Do you think this is some kind of game where you make demands and see how far you can string along those around you? We have reasonably viable alternatives, yet you will not be satisfied unless I sit up and beg for your approval! Major Carter at the very least is considering the wellbeing of as many as possible, and were we that limited I would consider the offer! In the meantime, if even you, hosted in her father, cannot see that while she is willing to fall on a sword for duty, this is not a free and willing choice, then I have no idea what the hells to do with you! Either of you!” The tense silence practically crackled, then Kenobi took a deep breath. Coldly, calmly, he looked to Sam. “Major, I would appreciate it if you would ask the Healers to prep whatever it is they need for these scans, because I want this over with.”

Janet glared at the stack of papers that still weren’t making any damned more sense. The only thing that kept the data straight was the little photos some bright bulb had snapped of the – Jaffa before they’d been taken to holding cells.

Her brain still stuttered over the concept of clones.

Janet shook her head and rubbed at the headache sprouting behind her eyes. Daniel had promised to get her more information – names, if nothing else, rather than the gibberish assorted personnel thought might be names – but he was still busy helping Maybourne.

There was nothing that did not give her a headache at the moment.

“Janet? Can we get your help here?”

She sat up and turned, not surprised in the least that Sam was coming in. “Jack” was handcuffed behind her, with a cranky General Carter behind him. The Carters looked normal, but Jack was standing totally wrong, poised instead of sloppily prepared for just about anything. The somewhere between amused and pissed expression wasn’t new, but the blue eyes –

“Dear God. What happened to your eyes?”

The possessed man returned her look calmly. The body language remained thoroughly wrong. “We Jedi prefer a visual cue to reduce confusion between the host and Jedi,” he said in a voice that did not sound at all like it could be coming from Jack. Then the man bowed. “I am General Obi-Wan Kenobi. Pleased to meet you.”

She waited for the followup, but all she got was an inquiring little lift to the brows. “What, no threats?” Janet finally asked. “And when do you start slipping into the plural?”

The sigh was thoroughly put upon, but the eye-roll too dignified and subdued. Nevermind that the voice was still all wrong, the accent was fascinatingly difficult to pin down. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. That’s not my style, and Jack has promised to behave.”

...dammit, if this was a scam, then the snake knew just how to press all the right buttons. Jack was right. It did have a sense of humor. Or could at least fake it.

Janet forced herself to nod and look away to give Sam a skeptical look. “This is admittedly a little more regulation breaking than I expected. What took you so long?”

General Carter looked even grumpier. “You expected us?”

Janet wasn’t sure if it was the Tok’ra influence, or the stars he had. She gave him a look. “Colonel O’Neill went and got a goa’uld stuck in his head, and then surrendered. I’ve had every single piece of equipment warmed up and ready to go ten minutes after the alarm stopped.” She looked back at Sam. “What kind of trouble are we up to?”

Sam’s grin was wry and far more uncomfortable than Janet liked. “We need proof this is Jack and a goa’uld, and not a shapeshifter faking it.”

Janet stared. She held up a hand, needing the extra moment to process. A shapeshifter. Pretending to be a goa’uld and host. She pointed at Maybe-Jack. “If you really are Colonel O’Neill, then you’re paying for my post-incident vacation, and I’m insisting on at least a week somewhere nice.”

“And if I am not?” he asked, sounding pleasant and honestly curious.

“I will shoot you myself.” He seemed appropriately impressed. “Sit down.” She pointed at an examination table. “Sam – ” Janet hesitated, then nodded at General Carter, who had a ribbon device. “You and Selmak have my back.”

The goa’uld sat, looking somewhat amused at her melodramatic snapping of gloves. “So. Why do we think this might be a shapeshifter?” she asked.

She wasn’t expecting the goa’uld to answer. “I, ah, may have accidentally made life more difficult for Jack and myself than I intended.”

“Yeah, big surprise,” she grumbled dryly, trying to remind herself not to end up liking a damn goa’uld.

Sam got the quietly-pissed-as-hell expression, and she was glaring at Maybe-Jack. “He doesn’t have Jack’s naquadah signature. I’m not even detecting a goa’uld.”

That pulled her up short. Not the ultrasound first, then. “Uh huh.” She pulled her penlight from her pocket and snapped it up and on.

“GAH!” Jack yelped in his normal voice, recoiling and trying to glare. “Oh come on!”

Janet pulled back too, gaping. Jack’s eyes had just changed in front of her, the usual brown bleeding back from the outside in, overcoming the blue. “How–?!”

Jack blinked rapidly, pulling several faces. “All this, and you use that damn thing too? Can I please get a break?”

“That depends,” Janet snapped back, voice almost steady. “Are you going to explain the eye thing?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The grumbling sounded so damn normal, it sent chills through her. “Gimme a sec.” He closed his eyes, breathed deep a few times, then the posture changed. When the eyes opened, they were back to the blue.

“A minor application of the Force,” that strange, cultured voice declared. “Inducing different pigmentation in the eyes is a useful skill that also requires finesse – it’s a good measure of how precisely a young one can use their abilities. It’s simply a matter of manipulating...ah.” He blinked a few times, looking stumped.

“Manipulating the what?”

He turned a sheepish little smile on her, which was totally not charming at all. Especially not since it was Jack O’Neill’s face involved. “...I could tell you in Basic – Ancient, as you call it – but Jack doesn’t have the medical vocabulary to allow me to translate it into English.” He shrugged, casual enough to come across as absolutely innocent. She didn't trust it for an instant, but it made for a nice change. “If you give us a medical text, I could learn the terms, but this is as far as I can get right now.”

Janet stared for a moment, then nodded slowly. That made some sense, but moreover, she was extremely disturbed that the goa’uld was willing to admit ignorance – especially politely. On top of that, she was certain that for a while there, it had been Jack. That hadn’t been acting, that was pure baseline O’Neill hatred of the penlight – automatic, instinctive, and cranky on a level that had no hesitation or pause.

Maybe if it was an immature goa’uld using Jack’s body, she could see that loss of control, but given the size of the damn thing, this wouldn’t be another Kowalsky situation.

None of this added up.

It was...interesting that the goa’uld didn’t respond to the ultrasound other than raise a brow and sit still. That was almost unbearably unlike Jack, but it seemed to fit the snake. That meant the reaction to the penlight was even more fascinating.

The goa’uld remained quiet and seeming vaguely amused, vaguely irked as Janet cleared off the ultrasound gel. He was docile and even cooperative as Janet traded the handcuffs for an array of zip ties, though the look he gave the MRI machine was skeptical at best. “Well. This ought to be fun,” he sighed as it wound up.

None of them really wanted to acknowledge that even a bunch of zip ties would be about as limiting as wet toilet paper. Selmak was twitchy through the whole process. The goa’uld looked bored.

Janet was not sure what to make of anything.

Obi-Wan grimaced a little as he sat up, popping their ears against the annoying hum the infernal machine had been making. #That

#Yeah, but at least it’s non-invasive,# Jack grumped.

#Neither was that light.#

#That was different and does not count!#

He tried not to snicker, instead meeting the Sith’s cool look with his own expression of disdain. That was more than enough to cool his humor. “I do have to wonder at the way you keep fondling your glove.” He didn’t like the look of it, the narrow-eyed way the Sith kept flexing his hand within the spirals of metal. The smile that was more baring of teeth was no more reassuring.

“It’s a ribbon device, you damned spy. Don’t play ignorant.”

#Yeah, nasty little weapon there,# Jack sighed, sending an impression of its capabilities.

That snapped Obi-Wan’s head up, and he could not stop the look of horrified astonishment he had for this being. These Sith! The more he learned, the more the differences between them and the Jedi left him reeling.

Major Carter caught his expression. “What?” she snapped, irritation exacerbated by tiredness and annoyance at what was probably all the oddness.

The Sith sneered. “Don’t tell me you're scared of a simple ribbon device.”

No, I’m just horrified that you can’t even access the Force enough to use it without focusing crystals, or a full array of them. He closed his mouth, trying to balance the wisdom of revealing his abilities as proof of their claims against the risk of not having more tricks up his sleeve. He temporized, shrugging inside to Jack. #I really don’t know if I should tell them. It can’t possibly improve matters.#

Jack snorted amusement back at him. #You’re starting to worry about consequences now? C’mon, live a little.#

There was a genuine point there, behind the joke. #You and boredom are a very bad mix, aren’t you.# Obi-Wan shared the impression of a head shake and a faint grin. #The last time I ‘lived a little,’ I got us into this mess. I did not think even Sith could have lost this much. Would letting them know that I don’t need a ribbon device – that I basically am a ribbon device, help anything?#

Jack chewed it over, then managed a mental shrug back. The man was a fast learner. #Janet already knows about the eye thing. She’s gonna start asking questions soon, and being on the up and up might prove we’re the good guys. Incriminating evidence that’ll probably come out later anyway might as well bite us on the ass now, when we’re in a good position to deal with it.#

Major Carter had picked up on the silence, and she looked at him a little closer. “Why does this fascinate you?”

#I wouldn’t tell them everything,# Jack cautioned. #Just...something simple?#

#Is anything simple right now?#

#You are such a barrel of laughs.#

Sam took a step closer, head canted to the side and firearm held in such a way that it could be quickly brought to bear. “It’s not like you could use it, without any naquadah in the first place.”

These people should be allies, Obi-Wan reminded himself. If they are not treated as reasonable people, then what hope is there?

“Yes...and no.” There. He’d set his course. He stretched out in the Force, reassured that he could find his soldiers, off in the distance but not unduly stressed. They weren’t alone in this mess. “I can’t use that device, that’s true. Then again, I don’t need to.”

“What does that mean?” the Sith growled, that horrible manipulation of their host’s voice making Obi-Wan grit his teeth.

Rolling his shoulders in a half-shrug, Obi-Wan raised his bound arms in the most helpless gesture he could manage. Obediently restrained, willing to listen and cooperate.

Not something to shoot.

Admittedly he could probably keep them from being shot if he had to, but he didn’t want the mess in the first place.

“I’m not sure why your Tok’ra does need it. The only theory I have is that it ties in with this naquadah, though I’ve no idea how.

Major Carter was starting to look intrigued in spite of herself. “What exactly are you saying?”

Obi-Wan made a slight show of looking around, though the grin was entirely natural as he nodded at a table halfway across the room. “Doctor Frasier, may I use your penlight?”

The medic’s expression turned remarkably suspicious. “ penlight?”

“Yes. No need to fetch it. Here, I’ve got it.” He held his hands out, letting the Force sing through him. He coaxed it into new patterns, getting the little light to rise up in the air. It rotated gently before he caught more solid hold. As soon as it stabilized, it swooped over to him, coming to a halt above his bound hands and settling into them gently.

Doctor Fraiser stared, filled with cautious interest.

Major Carter gaped openly, her curiosity and fascination finally drowning out the fear.

The Sith was caught somewhere between horror and fear.

“I don’t need a ribbon device,” Obi-Wan declared gently. “No Jedi does.”

In the stunned silence, Jack took control back, smirking and flipping the penlight. “So nobody oughta say we’re not cooperating.”

Chapter Text

#...We might have made a miscalculation,# Selmak admitted reluctantly, trying not to gape in shock at the impossible display of telekinesis. It helped that it was Colonel O’Neill sitting there, defiant and smirking, waiting for just that. Lips thinning, she drew their body up straighter.

She had been certain that this could not be a goa’uld. Not having a naquadah signature… It was impossible. If the System Lords got it into their heads to find a way to create an undetectable ashrak, the Tok’ra were likely done for.

This was unprecedented, and terrifyingly fascinating.

#You think there’s a branch of the family that can hide that signature?# Jacob sounded skeptical, and she appreciated that. His cynical moments could be frustrating, but it also meant he had a sharp eye for flaws, especially in logic.

#We have probably heard stranger things.# It was no answer and they both knew it, but she was still trying to process what she had seen. It was of all things the most impossible that had convinced her. When this General had levitated the penlight to himself, Colonel O’Neill’s eyes had glowed almost precisely in the way a goa’uld’s would, though the irises had also been lit glowing blue, instead of becoming backlit circles. It had been so offhand, not played up in the least.

#Ribbon devices also don’t give that kind of precision,# Jacob pointed out, and she bit back a sigh. Little added up, and she was even more uncomfortable with the resulting picture than if this was indeed a shapeshifter, or holographic disguise, or any number of other things. For one thing, in her panic about an ashrak, System Lord, or some other stripe of goa’uld being loose in Stargate Command, she’d been rude, even offensive. Damn.

#We’re off to a wonderful start, aren’t we,# she commented, feeling a headache forming.

“Well.” Dr. Fraiser cleared her throat, breaking the delicate silence. “It, ah, will take a bit for the MRI results to be ready, but the ultrasound was pretty clear. There’s a goa’uld in there.”

“Thank you!” O’Neill grumbled.

The doctor hesitated, then glanced over at the man. “Or is ‘symbiote’ considered more acceptable?”

That impressive, subtle transition occurred again. “Jedi, please,” Kenobi said. “It is both my species and my affiliation.”

“How is it that you don’t need a ribbon device?” Sam asked, shaking her head in disbelief and remaining admirably dedicated to the newest wrinkle. “There’s very little evidence for innate telekinesis in pretty much any of the cultures we’ve run across.”

Kenobi raised his bound hands, giving them an annoyed expression when he couldn’t readily reach his chin. “Training? Lack of exposure to this naquadah? I don’t know. It would not surprise me if these ribbon devices focused innate power, rather than generating it, but I’ve never run across them before.”

Sam seemed to think the Jedi enough of a neutral figure that she could take a step back and not keep her firearm leveled at him. “I haven’t been able to determine the ‘how,’ but we certainly know the ‘what.’ And straight up TK – especially that delicately – is a new one for a goa’uld. Jedi. Sorry.”

Dr. Fraiser let out a soft noise. “I have an idea.” She cast a speculative look around the occupied room, then met Kenobi’s eyes. “As far as I’m concerned, you’ve proven your credentials. However, for purposes of comparison, healing done by ribbon device looks very distinctive. Perhaps if we could get one of your men in here, you’d be willing to demonstrate that?”

Damned if the Jedi didn’t give off a faint air of amusement. “You believe me capable of that?”

“You aren’t?” the doctor challenged, and she got a bright smile for it.

“I would find that reasonable, and a lovely gesture of goodwill. Admittedly I’m also curious about the results. Please, let’s.”

Daniel was braced against the table, face in hands and the world a fuzzy presence of white noise beyond the sound of his breathing. Maybourne was probably still in the room, scribbling away at notes, and Daniel was hoping the man would just go away and leave him alone for a while.

His head hurt, both from the coffee and the bizarre Jaffa. His body had gone from ‘weighted down’ to ‘stuck underwater,’ and breathing took too damn much effort.

He really, really needed some sleep.

Or a few espressos.

A touch on his shoulder jerked him out of the numb state that might have been a twenty-second catnap, and he looked up at the airman standing next to him, concerned expression on his face. The man was saying something, meaningless syllables, which Daniel finally realized was English.

Ah. Right. Not Ancient. He held up a hand, scrubbing his face with the other and inhaling sharply. “Sorry, what?” he asked, only somewhat sure he was speaking the same language.

From the way the man looked apologetic and concerned, Daniel probably was, and it wasn’t the first time the soldier had repeated words. “Dr. Jackson, you’re wanted up in the infirmary.”

The flare of anger was sharp, but exhaustion pulled it back down, leaving dull resentment and frustration that yet again Dr. Jackson was the weedy useless academic who could not handle himself and needed everyone else on the whole fucking planet to mind his business. “I told Janet that I’m fine.”

If anything, the soldier looked even more apologetic. “Sorry Doc, but they need you there to translate between prisoners.”

Prisoners. Infirmary. Scheiße. “I didn’t think any of them were injured that badly.”

There was something off about the way the man was standing, but he couldn’t figure out what. “We’re taking the worst injured one for a checkup.”

Worst injured. The guy with the arm. Mohawk. Sideburns like it was the seventies. Zeffir, that was it.

That made no sense.

“Zeffir wasn’t hurt that badly. And you said prisoners, plural – who else?”

Yeah, the airman was shifting uncomfortably, like he had too much sand in his boxers. Both he and Daniel jumped when Colonel Maybourne almost growled. “It’s the damn goa’uld, isn’t it.”

Fuck. Maybourne was still there. And –

Daniel blinked. “What the hell is Jack doing in medical with the goa’uld?”

The airman had pulled himself up almost to attention. “I really couldn’t say, Dr. Jackson. I’m just supposed to fetch you.”

Maybourne’s smile was cold. “Let’s get moving, Jackson.”

They were halfway to Medical by the time it sank in that he’d made a mistake. The soldier hadn’t meant for Maybourne to come along. Whoops. Well, too damn late now.

Daniel stumbled a little as he went into Medical, Maybourne marching in and yammering at Janet. It was Janet, this was the Infirmary; she’d be fine.

It was Jack that concerned him. Jack sat on one of the examination tables, holding a penlight of all the damn things. There were a batch of cut zip ties on the table next to him, and Sam and her dad were standing nearby, both with weapons ready but neither of them on edge.

It was like some unholy farce, with the role of Jack O’Neill being played by a poor understudy. His posture was all wrong, the expression was all wrong, the –

What the hell. The eyes were all wrong, too. They didn’t have the slightest bit of glow, either, which made no sense.

Hell, the way everyone was sitting around like they were waiting for the movie to let people in to sit down made no sense. Daniel desperately wanted to hit something, or have something try to hit him, because as un-fun as violence could be, at least it made sense.

The clone’s entrance disrupted the fragile weirdness. Due to his injuries he wasn’t cuffed, but he had three MPs around him, and they at least had the sense to be ready to use their guns.

It was strange, how the man’s posture went from stoic military precision to a slightly tense, but relived slump on seeing Jack.

No. The goa’uld.

Zeffir let out an oath. =General? Is that you?=

The goa’uld hopped off the table with a smile that was too small, didn’t touch enough of the face the way Jack’s did. =No, it’s Vos and now I am required to kick your ass.=

Daniel blinked. He shouldn’t be hallucinating yet, should he?

Zeffir looked relieved. =It’s good to see you, General.=

...No, no this really was happening. Daniel took a careful step back, removing his glasses and giving them an absentminded scrub on his shirt. Visual details weren’t important here, body language and words were. They’ll know, an ugly voice whispered in the back of his mind. Jack knows you can see reasonably well without the glasses, and it will be able to read his mind and know He blinked instead of shaking his head, squashing that voice as ruthlessly as he could. Now was not the time for doubts like that.

He had to move quickly, to get his glasses back on before his hands were shaking too visibly.

The goa’uld motioned his Jaffa over. =So. How are the accommodations?=

Zeffir gave a one-sided shrug as he sat where the goa’uld had been. =Spacious enough, but everyone is starting to twitch a bit. Rex is not happy.= The Jaffa gave the goa’uld a cautious look as it started to unwrap his bandages. =Speaking of the bantha in the storage locker, how, ah, are your accommodations?=

Bantha. Daniel took mental note; that was a new one. Name? Animal? Religious object?

Far better to consider the linguistics of that than what the Jaffa was talking about.

The goa’uld made a small humming noise, bobbing his head a bit. Not quite a Jack move – not casual enough. =Jack and I are making this work, but feel free to tell Rex that this is not long term in the slightest, and Jack wants to interject a significant amount of profanity to that.=

Zeffir looked relieved again, his arm held in place but the rest of him slumping back to the casual pose he’d had in the interrogation room. He let out a sigh and the ritual oath of thanksgiving again. =I am not the one you heard it from, but if Rex doesn’t ask for a transfer of allegiance you need to check him for serious head injuries.=

The goa’uld went still for a moment, then grinned. It was – what the hell, it looked almost shy. That was so very, very wrong, never mind that sort of a smile on Jack’s face. =You think so, do you?=

That earned him a reproving look, which was even odder. =I lost a bet before last freeze and ended up on scutt duty ferrying candidates to the Temple. Fives still owes me money from that trip, and I saw him after he and Walker in the Sky partnered up. Never seen such stupid grins as them, but for the once.=

The attempt to hide a smile was all wrong, and didn’t work on Jack’s face at all. =Do shut up. I do not have to heal you, you know.=

The Jaffa perked up, while Daniel went still. Wait, what? What were they doing? And why? Who authorized giving a goa’uld a damned ribbon device? =Someone finally explained bacta?=

The grin in response was impish, almost proper on the face. =No, I have to prove I am a Jedi.=

Of all things, that made the Jaffa sober. =Balding and Bitter over there won’t like it. He’s been trying to get any information he can claw away.=

=Mm.= Neither of them once glanced over at Maybourne, but when even Daniel in his state thought the description was obvious- well. =Hold still so the Healer can see what I’m doing.= The goa’uld moved to the side, looking like it was being gentle as it pulled Zeffir’s arm straight, turning the limb so the raw staff blast wound was topmost.

Daniel wasn't sure what bothered him more - the goa’uld’s pretense of caring about his Jaffa’s comfort, or the Jaffa’s stoic acceptance of pain.

Janet moved in, watching closely as the goa’uld moved a naked hand above the Jaffa’s arm. =Balding and Bitter is greedier than a Hutt and feels worse than Hondo. Not as erratic, but certainly that self-serving. I am aware of the dangers.=

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck the goa’uld’s eyes were finally glowing, including a brilliant blue through the irises which last Daniel knew goa’uld didn’t do what was this –

Daniel made a soft noise as the mangled flesh of the Jaffa’s arm started to repair, as if a ribbon device was actually in use. This was not possible. This could not be happening.

=Please tell me we don’t need to purchase weaponry from him, too.=

Daniel yanked his eyes up from the spectacle to see the goa’uld give his Jaffa a long suffering look. =You are never going to let me live that down, are you.=

=Hondo,= the Jaffa said plaintively. =Absolutely not.=

This was not how the universe was supposed to work. Daniel watched as the goa’uld possessing Jack grinned a little, continuing to move his hand over the clone’s arm. It was slower than a ribbon device’s healing, however this was happening.

He felt completely adrift, the underwater sensation increasing as a goa’uld acted compassionately towards a Jaffa that didn’t seem to be brainwashed but sure as hell acted like it. A goa’uld possessing Jack who said–

Daniel scrubbed a hand through his hair, trying to ground himself on something, anything. This. Was. Madness.

=There,= the goa’uld declared. =How’s that?=

Zeffir flexed his arm, twisting his whole body to check his range of motion. =Good. Damnable stupid waste of healing. Bacta– =

=Would stink for a long time in here. Worse than on the Resolute One.=

The Jaffa paused to consider, then nodded. =The system of airing is awful.=

Maybe he was in the hallucination phase. This was too fucking surreal, too insane, just – the system lord and his Jaffa were joking around and complaining about the air flow.

=So.= Zeffir gave the goa’uld a mischievous grin. =Can you get the cute Healer to check my abdomen again? She only seems to be interested in my arm.=

Said goa’uld didn’t look impressed. =I can stab you with something.=

The grin only got cheekier. =No you can’t; they would flail like gungans if you do. I love this diplomatic crap.=

The attempt the goa’uld made to frown was an absolute failure. =You have been learning far more negotiation from Anakin than is good for any of us.=

Zeffir shook his head. =Padmé. She would find a way to stab me and make it work.=

=And that is why she is a Senator, and we mere mortals need to behave well.= The goa’uld turned, and looked over at Daniel. “I hope we’ve been minding our manners well enough to meet your standards, Dr. Jackson?”

Daniel went still. The question, in a polite tone with a funny accent that was almost Queen’s English, was amused, friendly. It was inviting him to join in the bantering conversation.

He was having none of that.

The goa’uld frowned, then his posture changed and his eyes faded from that strange blue to Jack’s normal brown. “Shit Danny,” it said, imitating Jack flawlessly, “when’s the last time you got some sleep?”

Selmak’s lips thinned as Dr. Jackson looked at O’Neill for a moment, then turned and walked out without a word.

“Great,” Colonel O’Neill muttered, hands going to hips and a look of bafflement crossing his face. “What’d I say this time?”

Dr. Fraiser shook her head, glaring at everyone as if they were personally responsible for cluttering up her infirmary. “Well, I couldn’t follow most of what you said, but I can confirm – this type of healing is consistent with healing done by a ribbon device.”

#...We really might have made a miscalculation,# Selmak muttered, wondering how much worse this day could get. Wonderful. It had been awhile since she’d been involved in causing a mess of this magnitude, rather than cleaning it up. It looked like some serious apologies might be in order.

#Doesn't mean the rest isn't crap,# Jacob reminded her stiffly.

#You don't believe that any more than I do. I just…don't understand HOW.#

All she got from him was the sense of unease with a hint of wonder, tinged with a cold calculation of the old soldier who wanted the abilities of a ribbon device without the potential problems of actually carrying one.

She bit back a moment of amused fondness. As much as she liked him being her host, there were times when Jacob was such a damned General.

“It’s settled, then.” Everyone turned to look at Maybourne, who had his arms crossed and a grim expression on his face. Even the Jaffa was watching him warily, which given his warnings about “Balding and Bitter” was no surprise.

Maybourne glanced around at his audience, and lifted his chin. “We have an invading goa’uld, who brought a military force here, and it not only compromised the best and brightest of the SGC’s lead team –”

“Hey, excuse you,” Jack snapped, looking more irked that Selmak would expect.

She was not however surprised that Maybourne ignored Jack. “–and has routinely been proven to possess not only unknown capabilities way beyond the scope of SGC’s ability to handle, but also that it can lead you all around by the nose.”

O’Neill looked to be a hair away from protesting with more than words. Sam wasn’t too happy. Dr. Fraiser looked like she wanted to hit something, and the Jaffa looked ready to help.

Selmak knew the Jaffa didn’t understand a single word that was being said around him, and still, the sheer damn loyalty he showed, the camaraderie that Selmak had difficulty conceiving of coming from any being but a host –


#You ever just want to yell ‘kree’ and bring that fucker to heel?# Jacob groused.

#You know he'd only mistake that order and try shooting us.#

#Gives a good reason to return fire.#

Such a damn soldier. She couldn’t quite tell if Jacob meant it. #Unfortunately, GOD doesn't outrank Maybourne enough to get his attention, and I think your Colonel O’Neill there is in pretty deep trouble.# She took a deep breath, standing tall as Maybourne strutted a few paces towards O’Neill. #I'm about to do something stupid, and everyone's going to dislike us more than usual.#

#A whole three seconds worth of warning,# Jacob said, dry and pretending awe. #More than I usually get.#

“I was unaware that you would call a friendly force looking for shelter from a common enemy ‘invaders.’” She let disdain curdle in her words, pitching it so that it was an unequivocally Tok’ra voice shattering the tension.

Maybourne rounded on them, giving her and Jacob a look as if they were less than scum. “It’s always rich hearing you get high and mighty.”

#Mine!# A swift head-dip, and Jacob was glaring right back, the military bearing practically a cloak around them. “Colonel, in case you’ve forgotten, I didn’t leave this military, I just took an alternative career path. You wanna reconsider what you just told a superior officer?”

That only made the man hesitate for a slight moment, pity. Then Maybourne stepped up close, dropping his voice in the mockery of privacy and to lend an extra little threat to his tone. “You snakes are all in this together, so don’t think I’m not well aware that you’re just as compromised as he is!” He jabbed a finger towards O’Neill, and Selmak used her disdainful look at it to visibly swap control. “I will not stand for this sort of threat to –”

“Stargate Command?” she demanded, tone just as cool but projecting for all to hear. “America? The world? Colonel, I lead the Tok’ra. We have been declared friends and allies of Earth, so if you really want to create the biggest interstellar diplomatic incident you can imagine, go right on talking. In the meantime.” She turned to face the – oh, fang fracture, it was the goa’uld again. How does he do that eye transition? It was nicely subtle, and to be able to travel anywhere and not need a very visible ribbon device which was a death sentence if found with a non-goa’uld–! “It...seems we owe you an apology. We have never encountered a fellow symbiote we could not detect before. It seemed far more likely that you were something else in disguise.”

Maybourne sputtered, while the goa’uld held her eyes. The control to use O'Neill’s very open face to convey closed off distrust and disdain was…impressive. Not reassuring, but impressive.

Unfortunately, it also gave Maybourne enough time to rediscover words. “Which is yet another reason why —”

It was Jacob’s reflexes that had them turning and snapping at the man from a position of Military Authority, but it was all Selmak’s carefully crafted Tok’ra hauteur in her dual-tone roar. “This is a goa’uld who has pledged to fight the System Lords! He has proven his identity to our satisfaction, though multiple means, and he has been consistent about his claims! By all our standards, save proof under fire, which I think multiple dead Jaffa not three floors away substantiate, this is a Tok’ra.”

The silence held for a delicate moment, even Maybourne taken aback enough to be quiet.

“If your concern is that a potential saboteur cannot be limited here in SGC, then I would like to remind you that we Tok’ra are well used to the notion of having to limit the activities of a goa’uld who is suspect. As allies to the Tau'ri, we are willing to offer access to those facilities, but in the meantime we do not appreciate an ally being treated like a System Lord who waltzed through the gate blasting all and sundry”

Jacob snorted. #Ten bucks he goes purple before he realizes what's best for him#

#Done. Easy money.#

Their usual joking aside, Selmak was worried that the…Jedi, if that was the title he would continue to claim – wouldn’t take well to being adopted. She watched Maybourne, who sputtered his way through regulations which she was just as happy to headdip and let Jacob shoot down.

Sam meanwhile had the “really, Dad?” look they’d gotten used to. The Jaffa still looked ready to murder something, or more likely end up between his leader and anything else. Dr. Fraiser and the various guards were watching with military-trained, neutral expressions she’d never quite figured out how to read.

The Jedi, however, looked almost amused. There was still a tenseness around his eyes, but he stepped forward and returned her nod of recognition. “My thanks, Selmak of the Tok’ra. I hope the change in venue is not required, but your gracious offer is quite appreciated.”

That managed to cut through Maybourne's ranting, because it had an official ring to it, a declaration of a united front that she could see made the Jedi squirm. That was all right; she was used to that sort of enemy-of-my-enemy-but-I-still-hate-your-fucking-guts politics.

#That's another ten you owe me,# she informed Jacob as she head-dipped her way back to the forefront.

#Add it to my rent.#

The Sith made his skin crawl, even as Obi-Wan tried to keep a calm, reasonable facade.

It did not help in the least that Jack was sputtering all sorts of mental invective that basically came down to “that is not a family I want anything to do with thanks so much bye!”

Obi-Wan suspected he would’ve been doing the same, if he hadn’t been able to feel the lessening of the Dark side, the Sith’s angry defensiveness melting into cautious curiosity, a willingness to learn, an interest in understanding. Thankfully, while the offer had been made, and appreciation spoken, nothing was agreed to.

As abhorrent as being named a Sith was, the notion of leaving his men at the mercy of Maybourne appealed to him even less.

It is just a name, he reminded himself. Jack has sworn these are allies. First blushes are not final decisions. Force, but this was ugly.

“Colonel Maybourne,” the Sith finally declared, “we are clearly at an impasse. Our fellow Tok’ra –”

Obi-Wan wasn’t sure if it was the mention of more Tok’ra, or the implication that she considered Obi-Wan to be one of them, but it was too much for the local. “This is not over,” he growled, glaring first at Selmak, then around the room. “Do not for one minute think that your usual approach of blatant disregard for logic, reason, and facts is going to get you anywhere.” He turned and stormed out, leaving an uncomfortable silence.

=Told you he wouldn’t like it,= Ion finally declared.

=Should have wagered some credits on it,= Obi-Wan mused back, trying not to twitch as attention sprang back to them. He forced a polite smile, nodding to the Sith. “So,” he managed, thoroughly dry and hopefully keeping his mental distaste under wraps, “have I really just been adopted?” Please, please, PLEASE let that have been a tactic, rather than earnest.

The Sith glared at the door. “I’m afraid not. I have some pull with our leading Council, but I may have been overstating the case when I said I was in charge of it. I can guarantee sanctuary, and if you want to join up I’m sure something can be arranged.” She gave a half-shrug. “Especially if we can figure out your little trick with the ribbon-device-that-isn’t.”

“...Quite,” he managed, though inside the notion of teaching Sith to use the Force was warring with the continued urge to grab his lightsaber and do something.

General Hammond appreciated that today – tonight, really – all personnel got the hell out of his way. He marched down to Medical, ignoring how his pager was buzzing yet again, because so help him it wasn’t as if the last three weren’t from Maybourne, and damned if he was going to answer this one either.

He was not at that man’s beck and call.

Not yet, anyways.

He shoved the door open, making the assembled miscreants jump. “What. Is going. On?” he growled, glaring around.

Fraiser looked uncomfortable but resolute. Not the instigator, but in it up to her neck. Major Carter was standing at attention, but not avoiding eye contact – responsible for trouble, but not the source. Assorted personnel were at attention, avoiding eye contact, so they were tangentially involved at best.

The snakes in the room, however, were looking at him. Selmak in Jacob was polite and attentive. The new guy was standing –

“What the hell is he doing up here?” Hammond demanded, jabbing a finger at one of the cloned Jaffa. The man was sitting upright, shoulders back and doing a damned good imitation of the airmen around the room.

“General Hammond.” The snake possessing Jack bowed a little, looking far too damn composed. “It was decided that a demonstra–”

“Right now I really do not care.” He glared, trying to hide the disgruntled surprise that all the damn snake did was incline his head. “You are going back to your cell. He is going back to his.” George turned his glare on his subordinates. “I have a certain colonel making even more trouble, and I can only imagine what you have been up to. Carter, Fraiser, you are going to my office now, and you have a lot of explaining to do.” He motioned the MPs to escort the prisoners out. He was trying to not be gratified that Jack went quietly, as well as the Jaffa after a few quiet words.

Hell with it. He’d been awake too damn long, he really was getting too old for this shit, and if it really was Jack, the man would understand.

If it wasn’t, then this most certainly was the right thing to do.

He pointed to Jacob. “You’re coming too, General. Let’s move, people, there’s still almost four hours before we’re supposed to be back on duty.”

Daniel wasn’t sure how long he’d been wandering the halls. His temper had cooled some, but there was still the gnawing anger in the back of his mind. This polite, oh so civil goa’uld was impossible, but everyone was buying the act. Allowing the test of healing at all was proof of that.

Please, if there really are any gods out there, let that be impossible. If the System Lords could – just do all the horrific things they did, with no means of containment or influence or– Earth, and everyone else, would be screwed, but good.

By the time he finally paid attention to his surroundings, there was a part of him that wasn’t too surprised to find he was near the cells they’d been holding Jack in. It figured that his subconscious still wanted to go yell at a goa’uld.

Well, since we’re here...

He took a sharp turn down the hallway, speeding up because he’d had enough. It was a direction to move towards rather than this endless circling. There was a set of guards at the end of the hallway, and they shared a look with each other before the higher ranked one nodded to him.

“Dr. Jackson. We were told the prisoner is snaked and shouldn’t be trusted.”

“I know.” The man nodded to him again and stepped aside, the two ambling a little further down the hallway.

Ooo, nice, they were giving him some privacy. He flexed his hands and marched in, ready to face the little demon.

#That went well.#

Jack ignored him, which wasn’t really a surprise. The man sighed and flopped down on the cot. “This is the best day ever.”

#Indeed. Getting pseudo-adopted by a Sith Order has always been one of my life goals.#

"Better than being dissected, but only just, huh?"

#Quite.# He didn’t try to block any of the exasperation he felt from trickling over to Jack. #Anakin is never going to let me live this down.#

Well, at least it got a snicker out of his host.

An approaching presence declared itself by a wave of emotion in the Force. That transmitted to Jack, who sat up.

#Okay, what was that?#

#A visitor,# Obi-Wan said, gratified that all Jack had gotten was the impression of someone approaching without the actual emotions involved. #Your friend Dr. Jackson.#

As the man stalked around the corner, Jack had an easy smile for him. “Hey, Danny. I’d hoped–”

“Stop,” Dr. Jackson ordered, voice curt and tone clipped. “I’m not in the mood for pretending. I’m talking to the goa’uld right now.”

Jack blinked. #Uh. Danny’s...Danny, right?#

#Having never met the man before today, I can only guess. But I suspect so.# Obi-Wan strengthened his shields under the fury and bitterness battering at his emotions.

#Oh..kaay. Your show then, I guess.#

Jack relinquished control, leaving him to meet the archaeologist’s furious gaze. “Dr. Jackson.” As the human’s hands clenched, Obi-Wan stood tall. “What can I do for you?”

“Let him go,” Dr. Jackson growled, stepping closer to the bars and the duraplast between them. “Now.”

“I’m afraid that for the moment, my preference is to be someplace safe, and unfortunately for us all, he seems to agree.”

“I don’t care what you’ve convinced him of, I don’t care what you’ve brainwashed him into thinking, I want him free!

#What the HELL, Danny?# Jack sounded absolutely bewildered, and the bafflement from one side and the maelstrom of Dark emotions on the other was giving Obi-Wan one hell of a headache.

“That is his decision, not mine.”

Dr. Jackson gave a sharp bark of laughter, the sound a little manic and more than a little broken, if the emotional storm was any cue. “Stop playing dumb. We all know better by now, and not only are you not fooling anyone, you’re only making your situation worse.”

Obi-Wan crossed his arms and sighed. “Dr. Jackson, the last rotation – day – began with a shootout and my understanding that my men were at high risk of ending up missing or dead. I have had several very unfortunate encounters with your damned stargate. Repeated threats of dissection and who knows what else have been heaped upon my head. My identity has been called into question more than the times I have been declared dead. I am well aware things can get worse, and while I understand the prejudice and suspicion against me, from the moment we arrived I have given no cause for it, and have actively co-operated with your people even in the face of imprisonment or potentially worse. The offer to keep me out of Colonel Maybourne's clutches came from Jack, of his own free will.”

“Being compelled is not free will, no matter what language you’re using.”

Obi-Wan let out a hiss of pure exasperation. “I am Jedi, not goa’uld, thank you very much. Culturally speaking, we might as well be two different species.” Oh, he could not wait to be back hosted with Rex, and the possibility of reasonable meditation was only climbing the list of reasons why. “We co-exist symbiotically with our hosts. We aren’t parasites.”

“Is that supposed to impress me?”

Jackson’s brittle fury with its undercurrent of despair made a toxic mix against Jack’s stunned concern. “I neither know nor care, Doctor Jackson, but from my point of view, the hostility shown against myself and especially my troops, who have even less cause to draw your ire than I do, makes me wonder if you-” He swallowed his tirade before it could become truly biting. Dr. Jackson did not deserve that, not with the mental wounds he carried.

#What the hell is going on with him?#

#Long standing hurts often bleed bitterness.#

#Bitter – Whoa whoa whoa. Hang on there. Danny doesn’t do bitter, what are you talking about?#

Oh, for– Obi-Wan scrubbed a hand over his face. The two men were friends, yet Jack had absolutely no idea what was going on with Dr. Jackson. #He’s rather remarkably well versed in it.#

#Prove it.# Jack’s tone was stubborn.

Obi-Wan wavered for a moment, then obliged his host and shared the empathic impression of Dr. Jackson’s mind.

Daniel knew he had the goa’uld on the ropes, the way it was quiet and not challenging him. It managed to surprise him, though, as it paled and blanched. The eyes darkened from the surreal blue to normal brown, and he could almost swear it was Jack looking at him.

“Jesus, Danny, what the hell is going on?” he breathed, and Daniel pulled back. He was caught, square between wanting to unload it all upon the damned snake and demanding it stop pretending to be Jack.

“Just stop,” he said instead, the words more than half snarl. “You can say all the things you want, you can fake it as much as you want, but I’m not going to believe a single. Damn. Word unless and until I’m talking to Jack, only Jack, no goa’uld, and I’m damn well convinced he isn’t fucking well brainwashed!”

The goa’uld masquerading as Jack gave him a look, and it was Daniel’s turn to blanch. He knew that look. He could not figure out why the goa’uld would mimic Jack’s “to hell with this, I think it’s time for something a little crazy” expression. Sure, it never boded well for whoever Jack was glaring at, but that wasn’t reason enough to use it. Jack’s eyes flickered back to blue, then the being with a completely different posture and body language gave Daniel a cool, assessing look that extended to the room around them.

The goa’uld took a precise half step to the left, murmuring a polite – absurd! – request that Daniel not move. By the time it had positioned Jack, Daniel had figured out he was now standing between it and the security camera with the best view.

This could not be good.

Jack hunched over a little, the manic light still in his brown eyes, and –

Daniel yelped, reaching for the sidearm he didn’t carry except on missions. He couldn’t look away, no matter how horrifying it was as one of the damned fanged nightmares emerged from Jack’s mouth. The orange and tan thing slithered into Jack’s hands, coiling around to look at him with blue eyes.

Jack was all kinds of graceful, hacking and spitting off to the side. “Oh, man, that is disgusting!” He grimaced and glared at the snake. “You!” He shook a finger at it. “Don’t go far; this is temporary, you hear me?”

It made a little “weh!” noise and some hisses that somehow sounded exasperated, before lightning quick it slithered down and over to the cot, ending up wedged under the mattress and reasonably in hiding.

“Ok, Daniel, we’re going to have a little talk.”

Daniel’s eyes flicked over to Jack as the man stepped up to the bars. That mad, faintly manic look was still on his face, but so was a more normal concern.

“’re still brainwashed,” Daniel said angrily, scowling.

Jack rolled his eyes. “I am not, nor have I been, brainwashed any time in the last two –no, the last month and a half!” He stopped a small ways from the edge of the cell, and Daniel still didn’t know if he should be watching Jack, keeping an eye on the evil blue gleams lurking under the mattress, or just be thanking every speck of luck he’d ever had that there was plastic or whatever between the bars, because it was on the other side of them.

“You’re angry, Danny. What's goin’ on, man? You’re – ” He flailed for words, hands waving in the air. “You’re like, this close to trying to blow something up, you’re…” Again, he went searching for words, until he shook his head and just gestured in defeat. “Angry! You’ve got a goa’uld –” He turned and called a quick "sorry!" in the direction of the mattress. "- all but rolling over to co-operate and now you’re suddenly against making friends? What’s going on?”

Daniel stared at him. There was that annoying ringing in his ears that could be sleep deprivation, or could be rage. “What’s going on?” he repeated blankly. There was the faintest noise and some rustling from the mattress, and he can see the snake pulling a little further back. “Are you joking? What’s ‘going on’ is that I want my friend back. Want my life back. I actually had one, Jack! I had a wife and a home and a family that I loved, and that loved me, and those monsters took it all away, and now I’m stuck in this damn limbo of trying to get Sha’re back but even if I do the danger doesn’t go away, does it! And SGC’s made almost no useful progress in dealing with the goa’uld. Our allies are pretty much anything but! Every day I can feel more and more slipping through my fingers and I know that as soon as the SGC finds someone else with my skill set and less issues with the chain of command and how the US military does things, someone with less complaints about what we’re doing and how, then I’m getting the boot! I know I’m going to lose any chance of getting back anything, and in the meantime we’re all really just five minutes away from death, dismemberment, or worse!”

What?” Jack yelped, rearing back and shaking his head. “No! Hell no! Goddamn, are you crazy?”

“Yeah, that’s happened too!” Daniel yelled back, fighting down the usual shudder. If he never saw another honest-to-god straitjacket, it would be too soon.

“No, I mean – Daniel, listen to me! You are a part of this, and the skills and stuff you think might lose your job won’t; they’re assets, not problems! And ignoring that, you’re a friend. We are not abandoning you, we are not giving up, and if anyone is monumentally stupid enough to try, all of SG1 and Hammond would revolt, just for a start.” Jack stepped closer to the bars, and the expression on his face shook Daniel. “Helping you has always been one of our priorities, and that is not going to change! So help me I swear I have not been brainwashed, and that snake can honestly, really help us all!”

Damn it all. Jack had to go there. Daniel jabbed a finger at the goa’uld lurking under the mattress. “It’s monsters like that that have my wife. It’s monsters like that who hurt Skaara. You don’t even trust the Tok’ra, and now suddenly you’re willing to let that thing slither into your brain? We’ve been to other planets! We have literally traveled the stars, met new species, encountered alien civilizations, and every! Last! Goa’uld! Hates our guts! They want to enslave us, or use us, or control us! Even the Tok’ra are only interested in us as hosts, or did those little hiccups with Jolinar and Selmak slip your mind? At best they’re condescending assholes who think we’re stupid monkeys who don’t rate a seat at the table!”

Jack looked entirely too stubborn. “These folks aren’t like that –”

Please. You expect me to just buy that? You really expect me to believe that you managed to stumble across an entirely new group of goa’uld, one that’s willing to work with us, that sees us as reasonable thinking beings?” He shook his head, a movement both disgusted and dispirited. “That’s a nice fairy tale, Jack, but we outgrew those on Abydos.”

Jack was already shaking his head. “Aren’t you the guy who’s always saying we should give people a chance? Danny, I don’t know what the hell is going on inside your head, but I’m a little worried –”

“A little worried? A little worried is enough to ditch your new –”

Friend, Danny, so help me God that’s a friend sitting over there and don’t look at me like that, I know it’s nuts and I’m the one saying it, and yes, of my own free will!”

They glared at each other for a moment. He hated this, hated that he didn’t know what to think. He wasn’t sure of anything.

Jack finally sighed and leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “Okay, listen. These guys? They’re part of a little something called the ‘Galactic Republic,’ which has, ohhhh, something like eighty-thousand systems. Earth is one planet. These guys have even less reason to make nice with us than the Tok’ra do – they don’t need a single solitary thing from us. Not hosts, not resources, nothing. But they’d appreciate intel on how to fight the goa’uld. I heard the clones call goa’uld ‘abominations,’ Danny. These Jedi want to help. Because the goa’uld are as much monsters to them as they are to us.”

“They’re evil, Jack. You’ve seen that, time and time and time again!”

Jack hesitated, then got the stubborn expression again. “Look, how do you know that?” He rolled his eyes and waved off the incoming explosion. “I mean usually, overall, throughout history, how do you know? You look at how they treat the people working for them.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “This idiot didn’t want to leave a dying host that was missing most of his digestive system plus the wrappings, because Kenobi was the only thing keeping him alive, and they were hoping they could find Medical. Or a miracle. Talk to the clones. If they’re brainwashed, they’ll all have the same damn stories, too much overlap. They’re legit, and they’d follow him the –” He hesitated. Shrugged. “The same way I’d trust you with my life.”

Silence settled back for a fragile moment.

Footsteps sounded, coming down the hall. Jack cursed and dove towards the bed. Daniel turned away because – because he knew, and he could not watch it. He was just thankful that it was god damned silent.

By the time the soldier made it to the cell area, everything looked like normal. “Everything all right here?”

Daniel hesitated, but what the hell could he say?

Jack did say something. Flippant, probably, but the tinnitus had gotten bad enough all he could hear was the tone.

“We’re...fine,” Daniel managed after Jack fell silent. He nodded to all of them as he walked past, not meeting anyone’s eyes. He couldn’t bear it right now.

He needed sleep. Everything else could damn well wait.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

He couldn’t sleep.

This was ridiculous. Jack flopped from his side onto his back, arm behind his head and glaring at the ceiling. “This is ridiculous,” he grumbled out loud, the sound echoing back from the cement walls and confirming that he was, indeed, alone in his room. Normally he didn’t mind. It was nice to close the door and bunk down with only the occasional sound of people wandering by, but the pair of guards on his door – just in case – were chasing any potential tour groups away.

His ears were still ringing from General Hammond’s chewing out – even if it had ended well, with a grumpy acknowledgement that it was good he was back, and to get ready to diplomat the hell out of the situation as their new ‘Jedi’ liaison, and get some damn sleep.

Like George was one to talk. Man looked half an espresso short of tripping over his own shoes.

Jack rolled onto his other side, grabbing his pillow and pulling it partway over his head.

It was not too quiet. Not, not, not. Nope.

He couldn’t fight back the full body shiver as he slipped a hand over the snake entry wound on his neck. The scar there wasn’t even from Kenobi, it was from Hathor’s squealing little minion. It was stupid, but he let his hand slide back to his spine, feeling along each vertebra even though he knew he wouldn’t have been able to feel Kenobi before.

He still checked all the way up and down his neck.

Another full-body shudder of the heebie-jeebies passed through him, and he let it, no longer having to keep his revulsion buried down where Kenobi wouldn’t find it – the damn Jedi would probably have jumped ship if he’d stumbled over that. Jack shifted until his face was more smooshed into the pillow. This was beyond stupid.

It hadn’t been horrible. There was something seriously wrong when one of the worst possible things in the world was...just sorta there. And he knew from horrible. Charlie getting his hands on Jack’s gun, for instance.

Jack had had to put his little boy into the ground. That had met expectations. It’d been many crappy flavors of hellish.

This...this hadn’t been too bad. Weird as all get out, but not bad. What the hell was wrong with him?

Two weeks, stupid, that’s what. Two weeks of being stuck in a cave with a bunch of clones, living out of each others’ pockets. Then a brain snake.

Way to go, Colonel. Great job of rescuing everyone, when you get lonely for the roommate in your BRAIN.


He lifted his face out of the pillow enough to glare at the clock. He’d been at it for almost two of the four and a half hours allocated for a break.

He kept glaring at the clock.

The eight flipped over to a nine.

“ARGH.” He faceplanted into the pillow again. This was doing absolutely squat. He was on his feet and pacing before he really thought it through, and while the exertion was good, it wasn’t enough. Not to mention that if he went and boxed the empty space in his brain out in the gym, he’d been too bushed to be useful for anything but drooling at the tac meeting.

He tried not to think too hard about what he was doing as he pulled on his boots and regulation black shirt. Man, I miss the longjohns. Gotta remember those. Undersuits as major trade deal. Absolute positive thing. Hope I get mine back after Sam’s been at it.

He opened his door, slow and obvious, giving the guys on guard enough time to realize what he was doing. He appreciated not having any weapons pointed at him as he got the door fully open, and he gave them an overly bright smile. “Fellas. I’m gonna go visit the former roommate. Figure you’d wanna tag along.” The guy on the right was eyeing Jack way too much. He paused on his march out the door to meet the guy’s stare. “You got a problem, just shoot me. At least that way we all get a nice break.”

It got the guy off his back, at least.

They were keeping Rex and Kenobi in Jack’s old cell on Kenobi’s recommendation, just like they were keeping a close eye on the clones who were still in lockup. Hammond had balked a little at the implications of tossing their potential new bestest buddies in the clink before the peace papers were written, let alone signed, but Kenobi had given him the stink eye. “It allows peace of mind for any of your people who have concerns about me, it sees to my safety, my men are quite comfortable, if restless, and so long as someone takes word to them about the new state of affairs, then I don’t see how it could be a problem.”

Jack suspected that Kenobi just wanted the least amount of fuss and the quickest results, and this was a good way to earn brownie points. Not to mention it kept the NID from having anything to whine about.

Rex was on the bunk, cross-legged, eyes closed, and hands on his knees. Just the undersuit on him still looked a little weird, but the guy looked relaxed and surprisingly comfortable.

“How much meditating have you been doing?” Jack grumped, crossing his arms.

Kenobi didn’t open his eyes. “About an hour and a half, I think. I’m still getting a handle on your units of time.”

“So basically after you got done getting yelled at.”

Kenobi opened his eyes, and it was that damned droll smile on his face. “Your General has gone from wanting my head on a stick to wanting an alliance. I’m afraid you probably got all the yelling he couldn’t throw at me.” The smile slipped away, and Kenobi frowned a little. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s...wrong, wrong, just – look, d’you come with side effects?”

The single raised brow still could’ve done Spock one hell of a tribute. “Side effects?”

Jack tried to ignore the guards standing by the door. “Yeah. Y’know, swelling, irritability, rashes, insomnia?”

Kenobi eyed him, but at least there wasn’t something stupid like pity there. “I might not be the one to ask.”

His eyes flickered to brown, and Rex looked at him. His expression was grave, something sympathetic lurking around the edges. “That last one you listed, yes.”

Jack gave a jerky nod. “Y’know, somehow I’m not surprised. Got any tips?”

Rex leaned back, looking awkward in the crosslegged pose in a way Kenobi hadn’t. “Company. Being in lockdown both helped and hurt, but at least Trey’s a great distraction.”

“Yeah, still an only child.”

Rex gave him a bit of a smirk. =Well, turns out there’s only so many ways out of your facility’s holding cells, so we all have our burdens.=

Jack gave him a scolding look as the guys at the door did a nervous little shuffle. “Oh come on, that’s not fair! There’s only like a dozen of them!”

Rex snorted and crossed his arms. “Fourteen, but we had time and a few of the men can be creative when they’re bored.”

He grinned. “Got two or three times more if you just had some duct tape and pencils?”

“Close enough.”

They shared a wry smirk, then Jack crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. He sighed, not quite able to keep it down. “It shouldn’t feel this weird,” he grumbled, trying to keep from whining.

Rex let out a small huff, leaning back to slump against the wall. “No kidding.” He kept looking at the ceiling for a while, then shook his head. “I didn’t expect it, either. It’s...different, when he’s just taking a break. This...” He sighed. “It was lonely.” Rex glanced over at the door, and his eyes narrowed. =Yes, it’s good to get some time when I know my thoughts are just mine, but… = His hands curled up into fists. =That’s not what I signed up for.= Rex’s eyes closed, and a few beats later his hands loosened. He inhaled slowly, posture relaxing as he sat up.

Jack wasn’t surprised that when the clone opened his eyes, they were blue. “I’m sorry,” Kenobi said quietly. “There’s usually some mind healers available when a transition occurs.”

“You and your people are unreal.” Jack shook his head. “You really have this down to a science, don’t you.”

Kenobi chuckled, expression between rueful and sad. “We’re not perfect, but we try very hard to make sure our people are taken care of.”

Jack rubbed the back of his neck. “For a change I actually believe that.” He ambled over to make sure the guys at the door could see him, then he slid down the wall. It was pathetic, how much easier it was to relax with people around – sitting on the floor against the wall instead of sprawled out on his bunk.

Despite the guards, despite all the weirdness, the quiet settled back comfortably. Kenobi went back to his meditation, and Jack squirmed until he felt almost comfortable against the wall.

Footsteps he didn’t quite recognize pulled Jack awake before a cautious hand landed on his shoulder. “Colonel? There’s about twenty until the meeting starts.”

Sam hoped that a few hours of rest would be enough to keep everyone coherent and working towards peace negotiations. Or whatever it was that they were doing. She was possibly the best rested person in the whole base, having insisted on getting minimum requisite hours of sleep while trying to wring information out of the Tok’ra. Besides which, the opportunity to poke new tech always energized her. She had put her rested state to good use by pawing over the confiscated weapons and gear while everyone else was catching some sleep.

She and half the techs were itching to tackle the basic operation of installing the ammo in the guns and seeing how they performed. Not to mention taking it all apart and figuring out how it worked. They looked like actual laser rifles and handguns, with a completely different energy storage and dispersal system than the zats or staff weapons the Jaffa favored.

Friendlies, she reminded herself. She wouldn’t appreciate someone field stripping her gear and then offering to make nice. Still. The basic design was solid, and interesting, and the materials were some kind of non-metallic polymer that she couldn’t identify without samples to test.

Teal’c was the first to arrive in the meeting room, looking a lot more rested than when he’s arrived back on planet. They shared a nod, and he came to a polite halt next to her at the conference table, both of them too wound up to sit just yet. “The others are still preparing?”

“Probably chugging as much coffee as possible.”

He did the single brow raise and head tilt to dryly acknowledge a point. “I was briefed at length about our new alliance.”

“Jack’s persuasive, and persistent. Selmak and Dad are sold, and if Janet agrees with them?” She shrugged. “You said you believe the Jaffa, too.”

“They seem to believe the goa’uld is trustworthy, and an honorable leader.”

The tone was too neutral, a touch too bland to be taken at face value. “Wait, you don’t?” Teal’c usually made good calls regarding new allies, and if he was on the fence or against, then she had to wonder which way the wind was blowing, and why.

“I do,” Teal’c allowed, “yet that does not change the nature of this General Kenobi. He is still a goa’uld, and I do not think I will ever be truly comfortable in an alliance with them.”

Sam crossed her arms, biting down her kneejerk reactions. The first was to agree, the second to defend her father and Selmak. “You don’t mind the Tok’ra,” she said, neutral as possible.

“The Tok’ra have a long history of rebelling against the System Lords. I knew of them, enough to grasp what they might do. These Jedi are unknown to me.”

“It’s more than that, though.”

Teal’c tilted his head into the tiniest of nods. “There is a difference between being willing to accept the help of an ally, and being happy with the situation. If you can accept your father’s position as a host with grace and even appreciation, then my discomfort with a new, similar ally is but a small thing.” He leaned back, face rearranging into a more stoic look. “These clones seem to be both loyal, and of sound mind. It is difficult to masquerade such devotion as they show, and the System Lords do not bother to earn such.”

Sam nodded slowly, chewing over the angles. She could see that. “Jack also seems to be himself, and he’s still saying the same things now that he’s free. So that’s another good sign. He’s not talking like he’s brainwashed.”

“The goa’uld did indeed leave by its own choice?” At her nod, he let out a soft hum of consideration. “Colonel O’Neill is a much more valuable hostage than one of the clones. The goa’uld’s actions are consistent with its claims, which bodes well.”

“That’s enough to get you to believe?”

“I think it is possible we have found a new ally. What secrets they might hold is another matter.”

Sam had to duck her head, biting back a wry grin as her dad entered, looking more than a little awkward at his poor timing, or possibly a little sheepish about the Tok’ra’s tendency to play all their cards close to the vest. She couldn’t quite tell if he’d actually overheard the conversation or not. The moment she had her expression under control, she looked up. “A few hours’ sleep seems to have done you some good.”

It was Selmak who made a face. “Less than you’d think. We’re faking it right now. The Tok’ra council is in a bit of an uproar over this newest variable, and the fact that he doesn’t need a ribbon device –” Selmak shook his head. “They want answers to everything, now, rest and civilities be damned.”

“Tell me about it,” a voice groused from the doorway. Sam stood a little more at attention as Colonel Ferretti strolled in, clutching a steaming, oversized mug of coffee. He nodded at her, and she went more at ease, trying to check SGC’s third in command over discreetly as possible. Louis Ferretti had been on the very first mission through the stargate, and one of the few survivors still around. He headed SG2, and his nominal role as third in the overall chain of command didn’t come up often. She was pretty sure he was happy with that. He’d been sitting in with General Hammond during Jack’s absence, and it looked like the general was trying to get enough sleep to face the big wigs without being propped up by a gallon of coffee and Janet’s impending wrath. “So Jack’s getting prepped, anyone know what the newest snake in the neighborhood is up to?”

Selmak had a bit of a look for him, which Ferretti ignored. “I stopped by his cell on the way here, and they appeared to be meditating.”

Daniel wandered in, looking a tiny bit more rested, and a few minutes later Jack got escorted to the door. He made an immediate beeline to where SG1 had inadvertently gathered. “Hey kids. Ready to believe I’m me again?”

“I sure hope you are,” Sam grumbled, earning the disgruntled look she’d hoped for. She hid her grin again, only to be diverted from further chatter by the arrival of the Jedi. Kenobi’s guards remained at the door, and he stopped short after a quick scan of the room. He was a strange sight. Blue-eyed for the moment, military short blond hair. Everything from the scars to the way he held himself screamed “military” to her, though the black jumpsuit with a gray gear design on front still struck her as odd.

Also, the way he was looking at SG1 was not reassuring in the least.

“Ah...” His eyes flicked from Jack to Teal’c, then back. “Before I commit a huge social blunder: Jack, you are aware that Teal’c has a goa’uld within him, correct?”


Sam took a step to the side – not away from Teal’c, but to give her a clearer field of view of both Teal’c, on the very slim odds that this was a legitimate concern, and Kenobi, because that could have been a fantastic new version of ‘look! A distraction!’

Kenobi tensed, his brows going up in astonishment.

Teal’c, of course, hadn’t moved a muscle. “You sense the prim’ta I carry within me.” He tilted his head. “How is this possible? I was under the impression that your kind could not sense naquadah.”

Jack had already relaxed with a small ‘oooh.’ He flapped a hand vaguely at Kenobi. “It’s not the naquadah he’s picking up on. It’s the weird new-age-y thing with the mental vibes.”

“The Force, yes,” Kenobi said, still tense and wary, making no moves towards the meeting table and chairs. “None of you are concerned that your friend has a goa’uld?”

Teal’c raised his chin a fraction in defiance, his expression cool. “It is immature, and poses no danger.”

“It can’t be that immature if it has taken a host.”

“I am not its host. It is my prim’ta.”

Sam wondered how Kenobi was going to take the revelation of how the system lords kept their fighting forces enslaved. Sure, a Jaffa getting a larval goa’uld shoved into an abdominal pouch made them super strong and let them heal really quickly. It also meant that if said snake got removed, the Jaffa’s entire autonomic nervous system crashed and burned, too compromised by years of goa’uld fine control, and utterly dependent on it.

Kenobi gave Teal’c a cautious, questioning look. “I’m not familiar with that term?”

Daniel finally spoke up from the other side of Teal’c. “Ah, it means a larval goa’uld. One that isn’t able to take a host yet.”

Oh. Right. Basic language difficulties. This was why she was more on the tech side than the language side of the team.

“A larval...” Kenobi frowned. “An immature stage, not yet having reached its final form?”


“I’m...sorry, I’m confused. How can you have a symbiote if it isn’t old enough to take a host?”

Sam braced herself as Jack jumped in again. “Guess that never came up. Teal’c, buddy, you want to handle this?”

Teal’c inclined his head, expression still cool and never breaking eye contact with the Jedi. “As a Jaffa, I require a prim’ta to survive. At a young age, a Jaffa’s immune system fails, and a prim’ta is placed within an abdominal cavity to sustain us.”

Kenobi stared, blank confusion sapping the wariness from his posture. “...I’m sorry. What?

Jack made a grossed out, sympathetic face. “Yeah, it’s...pretty gross.”

“I was under the impression that there were many more Jaffa than goa’uld?”

Sam was a little surprised. She didn’t often feel sympathy for goa’uld, but the poor guy looked honestly dumbstruck. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Oodles more,” Jack chirped.

“But...” Kenobi ran a hand over his hair, looking more and more confused, distressed. “That is an impossible growth rate. You would be overrun by goa’uld in short order, as the younglings mature.”

Sam blinked. She and Jack shared a look, the colonel looking as baffled as she was. “Y’know,” Jack drawled, “that’s a really good point.”

"Have you – do you honestly mean to tell me that none of you have ever given a single thought as to what is happening to all these younglings?"

“Prim’ta, not children,” Teal’c corrected frostily.

Daniel scowled. “And we’re not the ones sticking them into Jaffa. The System Lords don’t care what happens to the larvae, why should we?”

Sam hadn’t thought that Kenobi could deliver such an icy look. It was completely at odds with the cooperative being hosted in Jack earlier. “Oh, so if one person mistreats a youngling, it’s all right to go on doing it, is that it?”

“They are not children.” Teal’c was sharper as he repeated it. “They are little more than animals.”

Sam blinked and pulled back a little. That was harsh, even for Teal’c.

Excuse me?” Kenobi snarled, even as Jack was stepping between the two.

“Whoa, hold it! Okay, before anyone says anything else that they might eventually regret, hold up. Kenobi, we’re not used to thinking of prim’ta as people, never mind kids. We’re gonna have to...uh...adjust some lines of thought.” The colonel looked stressed, which Sam could only guess was the whole thing about kids. Jack...never did well around kids at risk. Even though thinking of goa’uld larvae in that light was just ridiculous.

“They’re goa’uld!” Daniel snapped, voicing her thought for her, but with enough venom that, once again, she had to wonder about his rationality regarding the System Lords.

Jack turned his ‘nooo, really?’ look on Daniel. “Uh, yeah. And who are we trying to do the diplomatic dance with again?” The two had an ugly glaring contest for a moment, then Kenobi took a single, deliberate step forward.

“What does happen once these prim’ta become old enough to take a host?” he asked.

“They are collected by the priests,” Teal’c declared, voice steady, “who bring new prim’ta to replace those grown too old. There is no further mention of the old prim’ta – no ceremonies or rites. I assume they are killed.”

Sam blanched, not quite able to believe even goa’uld– Goddamn, every single time they found out some new horror, there was that same, delayed reaction. No, they couldn’t! Yes, of course they do.

“They are.” Selmak’s voice cut through the thickening silence. “It is a swift, efficient process.”

Kenobi’s face went blank as he looked over at Jack. “How many Jaffa are there?” His voice was harsh, sharp.

“Lots,” Jack said grimly.

Sam decided to add in her two cents, because freeing the Jaffa was important and they kept getting off track. “We’ve never had a firm count on their numbers, but our best estimates are several hundreds of thousands, if not more.”

For a moment, that cold blue gaze locked on her, muscles twitching around his eyes. Then Kenobi swapped the glacial look to Selmak. “You can’t possibly mean to tell me that– I mean, I know these are Sith – goa’uld, whatever you call them – but you cannot–! Even Sith would not– Not their own younglings!

Selmak didn’t flinch from the glare. “The System Lords care for nothing and no one. The prim’ta are not considered offspring, they are a commodity to be bartered and sold. The best of the best are given in care to the holy caste. The rest...” Selmak made a face. “After they have served their purpose as prim’ta, they are of no further consequence to the System Lords. At that stage, they are waste to be disposed of.”

Kenobi stared blankly at the Tok’ra. “Hundreds of thousands.” Everyone was watching him closely, because anyone sounding that steady, that calm, was either discussing bookkeeping or having a near psychotic break.


“Hundreds. Of thousands. Of younglings. Are WASTE?” Kenobi’s roar was echoed by the sharp snap as the bullet-proofed, reinforced window overlooking the stargate cracked, a flaw-line blossoming down the center.

Everyone in the room jumped, and it took Sam a second to tear her eyes away from the sign of their supposed ally’s anger. If Jack hadn’t been vouching for Kenobi so loudly, Sam wondered if Hammond would have been quite so willing to go along with this – given his abilities, Kenobi was inherently more dangerous than any individual System Lord.

Kenobi’s face had a pinched look. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, they were brown. The host drew himself up, posture military straight, shoulders back and professional blankness on his face. Fury battened down to a grim determination, the clone took a steadying breath. “I’m aware of the time constraints, and how much work there is to do before the official delegations arrive, but I think these preliminary talks would benefit from a quick break to compose ourselves.”

“Agreed.” Ferretti said. He had one eye on the new seam in the window, the other on their volatile guest. “There’s another small meeting room down the hall, three doors that way.”

Kenobi – Commander Rex – gave them a brusque nod and swung around, stalking out the door, followed by his wary guards

After a long moment, Colonel Ferretti slumped, running a hand through his hair. “Jesus, that is not a conversation I ever thought I’d see.”

Sam expected some wry comment from Jack. When there was only silence she looked over to find him holding onto the back of a chair with a white-knuckled grip, looking like he’d been punched in the gut. He met her eyes after a long moment, and shook his head. “They’” he said, sounding bewildered, like he didn’t believe it but he could and– well. Jack had one hell of a soft spot for kids.

She just...couldn’t make that last leap. The prim’ta weren’t– not like that. Juvenile versions of the goa’uld, sure, but children?

She’d had Jolinar in her head, and the Tok’ra had been anything but human. Yes, she’d had thoughts and emotions that Sam could understand, but there’d been nothing understandable of childhood, or any relatable situations outside various hosts.

There was nonetheless the unsettling sensation of doubt, the memory of the horrible mission to fetch Junior – the prim’ta Teal’c currently had, a replacement for the one he’d given to his son when the boy’s system had started to fail. She and Daniel had been the ones to sneak Junior out of a holding tank of countless thrashing, screeching snakes. Dear God, that had been no child she’d pulled out, but a screaming monster!

Sam had succeeded in grabbing the squirming little horror. They’d been walking away, almost clear, when Daniel had turned, and destroyed the tank. He’d shot it, shattering the glass and leaving who knew how many terrifying, horrible forms writhing on the ground, to asphyxiate and die.

Children. She couldn’t– they weren’t–

“You buy into all this?” Ferretti asked, voice neutral.

Jack looked up. It took two attempts for him to actually get words out. “Yeah.” He glanced over at the cracked window. “Kinda wish I could have that kind of temper tantrum right now.”

Teal’c studied the break in the glass, blank-faced. “It seems to speak well of Kenobi that his distress and outrage can produce such a result, yet numerous threats against his own safety did not induce similar responses.”

Five minutes later, Kenobi returned, still pale, but composed. He looked at the window and pulled a face before deliberately ignoring it, going over to the table and standing behind a chair. Everyone seated themselves, watching the Jedi who still looked grim but not about to bring the mountain down around their ears.

“All right,” Ferretti declared. “We’ve had some speedbumps, but hopefully we can get this show on the road. We all want to take down the goa’uld – the System Lords – for a lot of atrocities. They’ve been doing that shit for millennia. We need to concentrate on the now, and how in the next nineteen odd hours we can convince some brass that working together is a good idea. We need to keep this clean, direct, and rude – what we all can do for each other, without the fancy dancing around to sound nice. General Kenobi, in the meantime if there’s anything else we can tell you about the System Lords, feel free to ask and we’ll see what we can dig up. SG-1 is the top team we’ve got, and between myself and Selmak, we can probably cover major bullet points.”

Kenobi nodded gracefully, then immediately took the informal meeting right off into the weeds. “I know only a tiny bit of your culture, and I do realize that you have suffered at the hands of these Sith, but I find it extremely distressing that the mass murder of younglings has been so grievously overlooked.”

Of all people, Daniel was the one who broke the silence, crossing his arms and glaring back at Kenobi. “I think it’s just one more tragedy.” His tone was a cold, as biting as the Jedi’s. “Just one more travesty that’s really just another Thursday for the goa’uld. I think that the universe would be a better place with a lot less of them in it. I think they inherit a racial memory of cruelty, abuse, torture, domination, and rape. I think they’ve been enslaving my people every chance they get, and they have to be stopped!”

Kenobi held Daniel’s challenging look. “They enslave your people and treat them as cattle, yes. They take their own younglings, and place them within their slaves, where they steep in fear and pain until the only thing they know is Darkness. It’s a system engineered by Sith. Of course it’s made of horror down to its smallest component parts.” He took a long, shaking breath. “I agree, that system needs to be burned down to the core. I do not place blame on you or the Jaffa for surviving, not at all. But from my point of view, even if the younglings are evil, they are still younglings, and they are being horribly abused. You do not blame the Jaffa for the evils they commit to survive. Why do you blame these younglings?”

Daniel stabbed a finger down onto the table. “Because they grow up to be monsters. The only good I’ve seen any but the Tok’ra do is only in self-interest.”

Sam glanced around, but no one was willing to get between those two. Sam desperately wanted their usual group dynamic back. Jack was usually the up-front-and-center source of skepticism and anger, with Daniel trying to get him to not blow up the planet. Somehow the roles had gone topsy-turvey, and seeing Daniel’s anger out in the open like this was unusual, even disturbing.

“An adult has committed an abominable act upon your wife, Dr. Jackson.” Everyone, especially a chalk-pale Daniel, went still. “By the laws of my Order and our government, that is a death sentence, to be executed without hesitation or mercy. You? You have killed children. Mad, abused, twisted children, and it was perhaps better to grant them that mercy.” Sam wanted to protest, because how the hell did he know about Daniel shooting the tank? Then again, did he need to? Every Jaffa they killed had a prim’ta die with them, after all.

“Yet we cannot know that, for they are still dead.” Kenobi maintained the level glare at Daniel. “How do you judge yourself, Dr. Jackson?”

“This is not a trial!” Colonel Ferretti snapped, finally daring to cut in.

“Not of any of you, no.” Kenobi sounded weary, grieving. Accepting. He shook his head. “I apologize, but you would not jump immediately into talks of alliance with someone you suspected of arbitrarily slaughtering prisoners of war, for instance.” Turning to Selmak, Kenobi frowned. “And what about you, Selmak of the Tok’ra? You’ve been very quiet during this discussion. Where do the Tok’ra stand on the torture of younglings?”

Selmak hesitated, a little too obvious in organizing his thoughts. It was intriguing to see Selmak settle himself for verbal combat, shoulders squared and chin lifted high.

“You have not fought in this war. You do not know our situation or our constraints. If we stopped for every doomed prim’ta, we would have been defeated before we even started. We are few in number as it is.”

“Few in– ! There are thousands of easily kidnap-able beings, who in a more positive environment– ”

“Which we could never provide,” Selmak continued doggedly. “We have few solid holdings, little maintainable ground. We are guerrilla fighters– ”

“Who could add to your ranks with each set of lives you save!”

“We have tried and failed!” Selmak said, voice raised. They glared at each other for a moment, until Selmak spoke again. “All the Jaffa’s prim’ta are feral. They’re almost incapable of reason, and higher understanding is virtually –”

Are you mad or willfully blind? Of course they’re feral! They are younglings, they have gods know what memories they can’t sort through, an environment where they must work constantly in fear and pain and repeated battle surrounded by even more fear and hate, and you think anyone would come out of that sane?!”

Selmak straightened into a precise posture, meeting anger with calm aloofness. “They at least have that kindness. They are taught nothing.”

Kenobi looked as if he’d been gut punched. Muscles flexed in his jaw, then his eyes shot virtual daggers at Selmak. “Being an ignorant prisoner, unable to figure out what is happening, why, or why your very existence is loathed but retained – how the hell is that a kindness?” he hissed. “Ignorance is only another way to keep everyone enslaved. They don’t even know they’re slaves. They can’t do anything to stop or improve their conditions. And that doesn’t even touch what’s going on with the Jaffa themselves!”

Silence claimed the room.

Teal’c broke it. “And why is this a personal matter for you?”

“Because there are younglings being condemned into slavery, tortured, and killed on a daily basis and nobody seems to find this objectionable!” Kenobi said, fury lighting his eyes.

Teal’c bowed his head a little, acknowledgement without submission.

Kenobi turned his ire upon Selmak, fury subsiding but not gone. “And how do you treat your own children?”

It took more effort to bite back her anger than Selmak quite expected. How dare this outsider come in and tell the Tok’ra how to do their job? The Tok’ra had been fighting this horrific war for hundreds of years – where had this Jedi’s precious Republic been then?

Then to imply that the Tok’ra would be like the goa’uld in throwing away the most precious resource they had – fellow Tok’ra– It was both insulting and degrading. The Tok’ra did what needed to be done. They couldn’t stop for every prim’ta, and it wouldn’t have helped if they did.

#Making friends,# Jacob reminded her softly.

She lifted her head and met Kenobi’s eyes levelly. “With joy, appreciation, and relief.”

Kenobi’s look soured even more. He shook his head. “Do not lie to me. It does not improve your position.”

She returned glare for glare, professionally shoving squirming concern down underneath righteous anger. “You seem to forget where you are.”

“Stranded on a potentially hostile planet, in no position to make demands, yes, I realize that. But I will not ally with those who torture and abuse younglings for selfish gain.”

Selmak continued to glare, and everyone else held their peace. Oh, there was squirming, but not one of them spoke up. We are in so much trouble, she thought, hopefully hiding it away from Jacob. She – all the Tok’ra – were in trouble. The tau’ri weren’t coming to the Tok’ra’s defense, not even Sam. She would not have expected them to jump to her aid, but to be left to fend for herself like this? She wasn’t called one of the oldest and the wisest of the Tok’ra for no reason.

This was bad.

If Kenobi could indeed back up his claims, the tau’ri would have less than no need for the Tok’ra’s help. Worse, by Jedi standards, Tok’ra were almost as bad as goa’uld – it took no genius to see that.

She pushed her speculation as fast as she could, stalling for precious seconds with a disdainful look and crossed arms.

Would it be better to stand firm, hide behind Tok’ra party lines and speeches? Or should she bend, and even if the bending shamed, would that maybe lead to a stronger position down the road? Better reluctant allies than standing proud only to have these Jedi turn their gaze to the Tok’ra after the goa’uld have been dealt with. She knew the precariousness of the Tok’ra position, how it had been supported on a thinner and thinner thread as the years passed. Yes, the Tok’ra were allies of the tau’ri, but if that lapsed, there was no telling how long the memory of alliance would buy them goodwill with the tau’ri. Better by far to keep the tau’ri as active allies, which to some extent would force the Jedi to tolerate the Tok’ra in turn.

She could feel the power shifting as the silence grew. No, now was not the time to cling to pride. Now was the time to read the currents of how this was going and be very, very careful in navigating them.

#They’re soldiers, good soldiers. If he can admit to mistakes, then they can understand extenuating circumstances. Go for it, Creakiest and Sneakiest.#

It was a wise gamble. Given Kenobi’s reaction, it was likely he’d come down on her side. Moreover, the Tok’ra delegation would be there by the next opportunity to speak with them, and even if she could somehow squirm out of answering right now, the lie would be worse.

Once the other Tok’ra did arrive, it would never come out. People would be tackling others across the room, using zats to keep the silence, if necessary, and Kenobi showed no patience for anything less than the truth

Not to mention the political clout it could give her among the Tok’ra, if she could take credit for neutralizing this mad new faction with their insane, strident philosophies. If she managed to turn them into actual allies, they could provide so much for the beleaguered Tok’ra guerrillas. #“They’d provide us with new technology. Hosts. Who knows, maybe even a queen, so long as we agree to mass social reforms. Don’t like it? Guess where your oldest and wisest is going to be defecting to.” What do you think, will the Council buy it?#

#Hell of a stick,# Jacob sent with pride and affection, politely leaving out the ‘if they would be willing to let a queen defect.’

It was a slightly longer pause than she liked, but not enough for Kenobi to press yet again.

“We have none.”

Oh, the stares hurt. The tau’ri went from tense and waiting to see how she would react to shock, disbelief, and on Sam’s part, astonished injury. She seemed to think that Jolinar’s passing had granted her so much insight to the Tok’ra, but the memories from a passing symbiote were scattered, incomplete things that were more emotionally charged recollections than any logical collection of remembered events.

Also, Jolinar had not known either. The Tok’ra did not air their woes easily.

“We no longer have a queen. Our ranks now expand only with defectors, which, as you may guess, happens all the time.” The sarcasm bit through the room. “We fight a guerrilla war. We have few safe bolt holes, no reliable supply of hosts, and no future other than what we can carve out on our own. Prim’ta are mad. Upon reaching maturity, even with time and effort and care, every last one was still feral.”

Kenobi gave her a narrow-eyed look, but more intense than accusing. “Do you think there could be success in better circumstances?”

Selmak kept her expression professionally blank. “I’ve no idea. Perhaps with a billion well-trained fish my host could walk across the sea. In the meantime, I have already gone far beyond any reasonable limits on what information I should be sharing. We are not a group that can afford to show any weakness.” She dared a quick glance over at Sam, struggling to convey the apology to Jacob’s daughter. “Not even to our allies.”

“And you never even thought of asking us for help?” Sam demanded. “Why?”

At times like this, she just felt old. “We can’t afford to show any weakness,” Selmak repeated. “We have lost allies to the System Lords before. Any information we share could end up in the hands of our enemies. Also, the tau’ri have plenty of problems. Strong allies, you can accept. More victims of the system lords who need help? You really think the States, let alone any other country that stumbles over the Stargate program, would be willing to provide a refuge and medical center for young, feral goa’uld? I don’t know about you, but I think a clean death would be preferable to handing a prim’ta over to the NID.”

Ferretti was the one to break the silence. “That sounds like a good discussion to have, but not today’s agenda.”

Kenobi sighed and ran his hands over his face. “Agreed,” he said, reluctant and quiet, but Sam was relieved to see he was willing to move off the prim’ta problem. Admittedly, she wasn’t sure what she thought of it, but that was true of a lot of things at the moment. Like the secrets her father had been keeping from her. Sam understood Selmak’s reasoning, but it stung, to be left at the diplomatic equivalent of the kid’s table.

“So Jack informed me about the terms you Jedi are interested in, training and cooperative support, a staging area – but to be blunt? What have you guys got that the big wigs might want?”

Sam cleared her throat. “Janet made it clear to me we should be interested in bacta.” ‘Interested.’ Sam had overheard her friend quizzing Kenobi about the stuff with a zeal not often seen outside of religious circles, and if Janet were an iota less professional, she’d probably have tried to strike up a trade deal already.

Jack drew himself up, struggling to shake off the unpleasant revelations and only managing an approximation of normal. “Undersuits,” he declared firmly. “The footie PJs are best thing I’ve run into since duct tape.” He gave Sam such a look. “I know it’s gotta be in your lab right now and I want it back in at least mostly one piece.”

There were times when the man just baffled her. “The undersuit, but not the armor?”

The mild amusement on Kenobi’s face couldn’t overcome the distress still in his eyes, but at least it existed. “The polymers involved are very effective against the blaster bolts our own weapons use, but I think it would be of only middling efficiency against your guns.”

“What kind of performance do they have?”

Jack leaned back in his chair at Ferretti’s question, then nodded. “Energy guns, produce something similar to staff blasts but Sam’s gonna need to assess that. Small caliber pistols have a nice rate of fire, maybe half the burn and a lot less of the surface area. Rifles are still a bit underpowered compared to a staff, but everything has a much nicer rate of fire. I heard some guys talking about higher-powered rifles, but I’m guessing they’re slower to fire too.” Then he grinned, and it was almost at his normal wicked expression. “And then there’s the sword.”

She blinked. Sam knew better than to think that the Colonel would be pulling her leg, but – “I was looking over the weaponry, and there wasn’t anything like a sword in there.”

“There’s only the one,” Kenobi admitted. “It’s a weapon best left to Force users, though that’s not required.”

“Tube,” Jack filled in, holding up his hands. “This long, buttons on it. A laser sword.”

“How does that even work?” If he was putting her on, she was going to find something very unkind to do to him.

Kenobi bobbled a hand back and forth. “Less laser, more...plasma, I think?”

Her jaw dropped. “Pla–! That’s not possible!”

He raised a brow and gave her a dry look. “A month ago, I would have said the same about a stable wormhole that can be safely traversed.”

Daniel stepped in before she could get diverted onto that topic. “And this is a practical weapon? I assumed from the name it was more for ceremonial purposes.”

Jack’s face verged on someone having some kind of religious experience – or memory. “Didn’t see something it couldn’t cut through”

Kenobi ignored him, which meant he’d possibly had exposure to Jack getting fascinated by something shiny. “It has some ceremonial purposes, but for Jedi at least, yes, it is very practical weapon.” He paused, then gave Sam a slightly apologetic look. “There are certain materials that are resistant to it, or short out the blade. Without proper preparation, most don’t work under water.”

Colonel O’Neill tilted his chair as far as it would go, grinning like an idiot. “Reflects staff and zat blasts, too.”

If that was true, she could see why he would want one. Hell, she wanted one. She couldn’t decide if going to go over the table and throttle Jack for messing with her was a good idea, or grabbing Kenobi and demanding schematics would be smarter. “It reflects energy blasts.”

The Jedi must’ve seen her expression, from the tiny not-quite-a-smirk that still didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s a skill that takes practice to learn, as well as a high Force-sensitivity.”

Ferretti scrubbed a hand over his face. “Please tell me there’s a safety on that thing, because I don’t want anyone in this mountain waving around plasma swords without certification.”

Kenobi’s eyes went brown, and his host sat a little straighter, a tiny, wry smirk crossing his face. “All weapons were safed, power sources removed where feasible. When we’ve got an agreement on working together hammered out, and translators, my men will be eager to share toys.”

“If they get to play with the local firearms in return, right?” Jack grinned.

Daniel had that jut to his jaw as he stared down into his coffee mug, swirling it moodily. “Local-local, or do other countries get a chance to play, too?” he asked sharply.

It took a lot of work for Sam to not facepalm. Ferretti just sighed and gave him a stern glare. “Doctor Jackson, much as I’d love to give everyone an equal opportunity to militia up against the goa’uld, I think right now the Stargate program –”

“The United States,” Daniel corrected him.

Ferretti rolled his eyes. “As located in the–”

“Excuse me?” Everyone swiveled to look at Kenobi, who looked like he’d just bitten into a lemon. “I didn’t think to ask, though I suppose that was my error. Am I understanding correctly that there’s not worldwide co-operation on your planet?”

Ferretti facepalmed, Jacob maybe a beat behind him. Daniel ignored them, shrugging a little. “Well, there’s the United Nations, but they’re not all that effective, and the States have started at least one war in defiance of the UN.”

Jack glared at Daniel, only cutting it out when Kenobi gave him a pointed look. “What?” Jack demanded. “If we go down this rat hole, we’re dragging global politics into this. If there’s a faster way to shut down any progress at all, I don’t know about it. Letting the whole world stick their fingers into this situation just means things will be in committee until the damn goa’uld are landing on the White House lawn.”

“Oh, Force.” Kenobi ran a hand over his hair. “It’s been centuries since – How many governmental bodies are there?”

“Dozens,” Jack groused, crossing his arms and looking away, missing one hell of a gape.

“Around two hundred,” Daniel added more helpfully.

“...kriffing hells,” Kenobi said faintly. He looked at Daniel. “Gods, it must be like getting the Senate to agree what they’re having for lunch.”

To his credit, Daniel nodded. “Unfortunately. But that doesn’t mean the US should have the exclusive rights to the greatest advance in weaponry that Earth has seen since the atomic bomb.”

Jack rolled his eyes. “Hey, we were the ones who were attacked, in World War II.”

“Yeah, and we ended it by dropping two atomic bombs on civilian targets.”

Sam leaned back, not sure if this was one of the times this argument was going to end before it began or if the current tensions would drag it out – especially in front of their guest. Since Kenobi had his head in his hands, and was tracking the back and forth with an expression of mild mortification, she supposed it was probably moot.

“To end the war!” Jack half-yelled, leaning forward to glare at Daniel – who glared right back.

“It was a terror tactic!”

“You weren’t complaining when we blew Ra out of orbit.”

Daniel went a little white – it was a pretty low blow. “There were innocent people on that–”

Enough!” Colonel Ferretti snapped. The silence was brittle, with Jacob sitting silent, arms crossed as he studied the wood grain of the table too closely. Sam and Teal’c tried to be invisible while Jack and Daniel glared away at hapless office furniture. “You two wanna duke out ethics some other time and place, go for it, but not here and not now! If it’s not negotiating how to get our collective asses out of the fire, save it!” He took a deep breath, then looked back at Kenobi. “So. We’re obviously not getting our hands on any battle cruisers, but what’s spaceflight look like on a smaller scale?”

Sam had to admit that when Jack was right, he knocked it out of the park. It was pretty clear that Kenobi wasn’t giving away the store, but he was more open than most of their allies – the Tok’ra and Asgardians solidly included. He seemed a lot less interested in potential technology exchange, concentrating mostly on raw materials and basic supplies like food and water. It seemed that the maxim about an army marching on its stomach held true, even for Kenobi’s people, and local supplies would mean one less thing to transport.

Then she realized that Kenobi wasn’t bothering with Earth technology because he didn’t think there’d be any useful tech, and he was looking at Earth the way SGC looked at the less technologically advanced cultures they encountered through the stargate – good people and good allies, but not places that would produce useful weapons. It did far more to discomfort her than the Asgardian disdain or the Tok’ra hauteur had ever done.

Everyone wound down after a few hours, past the point of punch drunk and in desperate need of more rest. Sam honestly thought they were done, but Kenobi turned to Ferretti. “For the official discussions I would like my armor returned to me.”

Sam winced, even as Colonel Ferretti shook his head. “We can’t do that, sorry. We still don’t know the capabilities–”

She cleared her throat. “Unless there’s some kind of force-field generator, it’s looking to be only a bit above par with kevlar.”

That earned her a look. “-and it contains a communications device,” Ferretti finished.

Kenobi didn’t look as stubborn as he had while discussing the prim’ta, but neither was he willing to drop the issue just yet. “My com unit only extends to my men, at the moment. Were any Republic forces in range, it would be moot.”

Ferretti had the look of a man who knew he had to ask, and he knew that the answer was going to bite him. “Moot?”

The Jedi’s look was thoughtful. “If you don’t mind, Colonel, I would like to do something rather rude.”

Ferretti seemed curious in spite of himself. “Oh, please do.”

#Not having a com would not limit me.# Sam jumped as Kenobi’s voice echoed in her head, right between the ears. It made the hairs on her neck stand up, since it was both like, and totally unlike Jolinar speaking to her. Jack hunched a little, while Daniel leapt out of his seat, wide-eyed. Teal’c and Selmak had matching confused looks – subdued, all things considered – while Ferretti cursed, soft and vehement.

Ferretti unclenched white-knuckled hands from the table’s edge. “Well,” he said, voice higher than usual. “Looks like you get the armor back.”

In the confusion of several airmen escorting Kenobi’s armor to him, Colonel O’Neill and Major Carter accosting Tok’ra Selmak, and Colonel Ferretti confronting Daniel Jackson, it was easy for Teal’c to slip away. He hurried into central security’s watch room, nodding politely to the various people on guard. He had taken great care to cultivate the friendship of the tau’ri within this room, for they were the watchmen who were liable to first detect invasion by the false gods.

He had long ago learned how vital that was. They did not question as he took one of the few spare seats, though he could feel their gazes resting upon his shoulders; for even here, even for one as proven true as he was, they would not let down their guard entirely.

Teal’c, former First Prime of Aphophis, approved of such vigilance.

He queued up a series of cameras, plotting the route that the security guards were liable to take from the conference room to the containment cell. By the time Kenobi was escorted out, Teal’c could sit back and switch between cameras.

The Jedi was well behaved, though by the sag of their shoulders, they were as exhausted as any of the tau’ri. Were they not goa’uld, they would most likely have been stumbling with it. Teal’c spared a moment for grief at how Colonel O’Neill had taken what was obvious intelligence to any Jaffa. The man was his brother by combat, kin without blood, and Teal’c did not like that he had brought that man any pain. He was a father himself, and he well understood the grief that Jack felt about children of all stripes.

Jack did not, thank all true gods and demons, know the endless pain of regularly ordering the death of children, just like his own save for a different brand upon their forehead.

The First Prime of Apophis served his god, and those that served other gods were never innocent, never to be spared. Taken, perhaps. Converted, sometimes –

Yet Apophis had always been shortsighted and thought that children were a nuisance of hungry mouths without the muscle to fight, or the intelligence to serve. Worse, they required prim’ta, and why share those with any who had served the enemy?

Teal’c understood Kenobi’s rage, at children pointlessly abused, then slaughtered.

That did not mean he would take the prim’ta’s side against the Jaffa’s.

Jack...was unlikely to see that. The very fact that the tau’ri had not seen or understood, that the only ones in the room that known the full horror of the situation were himself and Selmak boded ill for the Jaffa, should these Jedi favor the mad, feral children that their foes spawned over the slaves that the false gods kept.

Much of the time, Teal’c appreciated the boundless optimism the tau’ri had.

At times like this, he despaired of how blind it kept them.

Teal’c resettled his shoulders, a small movement covered by lifting his head to study the Jedi entering his cell. He had to remain calm. He had made his choice, abandoned his allegiance to Apophis to fight for his people instead. The tau’ri were friends as well as allies, and Colonel O’Neill was one of the canniest, boldest tau’ri that Teal’c had met. If he trusted this Jedi, then Teal’c would follow his lead.

Not blindly, as a tau’ri would, but cautiously, as a freed slave did.

Kenobi nodded and exchanged polite words with his guards, who left him to sit down upon the bunk. Teal’c wore the attached headphones to listen in by the time the doors closed, though Kenobi remained silent as he slumped down, somewhat-straight posture collapsing into a huddle. Captain Rex – the man sat back and Teal’c could see brown eyes – stared off in the distance, pale and shaking his head faintly. It was a look of pain, but there was no way to determine the root cause at the moment.

The man grunted a little, sound of faint acknowledgement. He murmured something, almost too faint for the microphones to pick up, and in Ancient, which rendered it useless to Teal’c. Rex’s arms wrapped around his stomach, his eyes haunted. Teal’c moved closer, watching the man’s eyes flicker about a little, as one listening to a conversation. More Ancient, but neither argumentative nor pleading.

Captain Rex’s eyes closed for a moment, and Teal’c could see the man whisper, likely some kind of plea too soft to be heard. His face was not fraught with emotion, as if from one who was begging for something. Nothing so far was conclusive as to the relationship between Kenobi and Rex – whether Kenobi had spoken truly, or whether the talk of cooperation was merely another goa’uld ploy.

The host’s free hand came up, and Teal’c was shocked into stillness to see the goa’uld come forth. He braced himself, waiting to see what evil it would craft, but when Captain Rex lowered his hand, the goa’uld remained wrapped around his forearm. He cradled it next to his other arm.

Protective. Sheltering. Teal’c could recall times when his Ry’ac was young, very young, and he had been fortunate enough to hold his son thus.

He has no idea what to think of a host showing such concern for a false god, so he remained still, quietly watching.

After a while, Captain Rex’s free hand lifted up, and he began stroking light fingers along the top of the goa’uld’s spine. It leaned into the touch, head tilting a little, and Teal’c could see its eyes dim a bit. They remained there, the man petting the – the Jedi, until Teal’c finally turned away. His certainty on how the universe worked was shaken, as it has not been since he realized that the madmen he was fighting alongside were the fabled tau’ri. He walked with steady strides to his rooms, needing kel’no’reem. God-slayers almost paled in comparison, in light of these impossible partners.

Chapter Text

Rex settled the last of his armor back into place, studying his reflection. The small ’fresher had some decent amenities, though the lack of sonics was an interesting signal about the local tech.

He was somewhat rested, he’d gotten a quick shower, and the Negotiator was prepared for battle. Kenobi seemed unfortunately certain that it would be a battle. Not that Rex disagreed, given how General Hammond and Selmak had taken the time for a last round of questioning before allowing him to resume hosting Kenobi. Those two had been looking for support against their own people.

Rex and his General were walking into enemy territory.

#Not quite that bad. More like contested ground.# Kenobi sounded distracted, but not tense. Well, at least one of them was relaxed. More or less.

Rex rolled his shoulders, double-checking his pauldrons. He was grateful for the armor; he’d never developed any kind of fondness for civilian clothing, and undersuits, while versatile, left something to be desired when going into formal negotiations. #Ready when you are, General.#

Kenobi sent quiet assent, reaching out with the Force as Rex picked up their escort. It was weird, not having brothers at his back, but it was hardly the strangest thing he’d run into in the last few months. Rex tried to keep the confident, bordering on arrogant walk that Jedi managed, though he was getting increasingly worried.

Kenobi couldn’t find anyone in the Force, beyond that hint of Skywalker being alive, and those two had managed conversations before from a significant distance. Since his return to Rex, Kenobi had been more open, the strict partitioning of thoughts and emotions now more lax. It made the working partnership easier and more fluid, which Rex appreciated. It also meant that if Kenobi really were worried, Rex would know it. What Rex was picking up on from Kenobi was more disquiet than anything else.

Not a surprise, considering that the Tau’ri’s troubleshooting for weird situations included ‘is this an alternate reality?’ Finding out that Kenobi had run across memories from Jack of alternate dimensions was not the sort of thing Rex had ever expected. Oh sure, the Force was weird in its own way, and as the war had dragged on, Rex had run across more cheap holonovels about alternate realities than he could shake a blaster at. He hadn’t gone looking for them, but quality entertainment had been in short supply, and he’d learned to take what downloads and datachips he could get. Alternate realities weren’t really possible. Or so he’d thought.

Neither of them liked the idea that they were not just far from Coruscant, but possibly outside of their reality altogether. Nor the fact that it seemed more and more likely.

One of the guards at the door nodded to him, holding it open. Rex walked into yet another meeting room – windowless, this time. The long table held General Hammond, what Jack and Kenobi called SG-1, Colonel Ferretti, Bald and Bitter, and about a dozen other personages. All human, though apparently that was all they had on planet.

Rex stepped over to the single empty chair, glancing around and meeting eyes. Three radiated outright hostility. All were suspicious of Rex and Kenobi. He inclined his head just a bit.

Hammond nodded. “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present General Kenobi and Commander Rex.”

Rex inclined his head. “Commander Rex, second in command of the 212th Attack Battalion in the Grand Army of the Galactic Republic.” He ceded control, feeling astonishment from the new arrivals – and amused surprise from Jack.

The General had the same nod of greeting, though Rex suspected that the Jedi pulled it off better. “General Obi-Wan Kenobi, of the Grand Army of the Galactic Republic.”

The change of eye-colour was startling. McGregor drew himself up a little bit more. “Admiral Clarence McGregor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the President.” It was interesting to watch the alien track across the collected brass as they went down the line doing introductions, from the National Security Advisor to the several aides and NID advisors. McGregor had to wonder what the alien saw. After all, once you got past the ridiculous-looking tac gear, the man didn’t look any different from some random soldier off the street.

He smothered a grin as Tara Hayes dove into negotiations, starting in with a mix of demands and interrogations. She was very, very good at her job, but to be the National Security Advisor as a woman – let alone a black woman – well, that wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. McGregor had never regretted his career path, but being a black man in the navy hadn’t been a cakewalk either.

He was trying to ignore the whole snake-wrapped-around-the-man’s-brainstem thing. There was diversity, and then there was something that made him want to take up serious drinking.

The first time a report on the Stargate program crossed his desk, he’d chuckled and tossed it aside, wondering for a moment if his aide was trying to be entertaining, or if he’d just accidentally left a gag folder in with the real work. He promptly forgot about it until the next day, when it came in again, this time stamped “urgent.” Sense of humor or no, that wasn’t something any serviceman would do this high up in the ranks.

Since then, he’d looked forward to the pulpy misadventures that he was obligated to read and believe, but honestly, it sometimes seemed like a miracle or three that the planet was still standing. He didn’t know Hammond, but the man seemed like a steady, capable and canny leader. On top of which SG-1 had the devil’s own luck, good and bad.

McGregor didn't always agree with the President but he did respect the man. A glowing recommendation of Hammond, delivered via the White House Chief of Staff, wasn't something to be dismissed out of hand. While Hammond’s good ol’ Texas boy front seemed like it would clash with the President’s personality, apparently they were old friends. McGregor was sure there were some very interesting stories behind that, but between some of the more colorful SGC reports and the reputation the NID was developing, he was inclined not to add too much salt to things.

Tara was going to be harder to convince of this Republic’s intent and relevance, but that was also her job. Playing nice might or might not be his purview, but the National Security Advisor needed to be a hard-nosed cynic with more than a touch of paranoia.

Kenobi was handling her well – he was polite, determined, and more experienced than at least half of McGregor’s fellow brass. McGregor was impressed with the man – alien – snake – whatever.

Shit, this was only going to get weirder.

He was impressed that Kenobi had a decent handle on things, but the further they got into the diplomatic dance, the more he had to wonder. Never mind the NID’s continued attempts to get in the way of anything and everything useful. Never mind the weird not-quite-an-alliance thing that the alien-possessed former General Carter had going with Kenobi. No, the thing that made McGregor clam up and Hayes poke harder – because she had to have picked up on it, too – was Kenobi’s breadth of influence. There weren’t nearly enough evasions via authority. Not nearly enough ‘I can only tentatively discuss, will need to talk to my superiors’ going on, though there were repeated, frustrated references to the need for a full Jedi High Council, to settle some of the demands being made of him.

They didn’t have “just” a General here, any more than McGregor was “just” your ordinary grunt.

He didn’t find that odd, though. You never showed your full hand the first few rounds – another reason he was fine letting Hayes take the lead, and with letting the NID strut around shooting various feet, though he did hope they ended up mainly targeting their own.

The problem with ‘wait and see’ was, of course, the waiting bit. An hour later, and everyone was still dancing around in circles.

Well. The NID folks were hobbling, but he had to admire their determination. Couldn’t quite figure out what lit the fire under their asses, though.

A klaxon sounding jerked everyone in the room upright. “Unscheduled activation,” a man declared over the in-house speakers, strained but unhurried. Rhythmic chunking was starting somewhere, so given they were all tucked under a friggin’ mountain, that would have to be the Stargate itself.

The local SGC folks were tense in the way of people gearing up for a fight. They only relaxed when the announcement of “Friendly GDO signal identified,” came over the speakers.

Kenobi gave Hammond a wry grin, something small and humorless. “Perhaps a break is in order?”

“Not a bad idea. If anyone wants to see our Stargate in action?”

McGregor tried not to twitch. Hell yes, he wanted to see this. He also didn’t want to look like some tourist asking for a picture with Mickey Mouse. He took the time to nod to Hammond before pushing himself upright and moving with a purpose towards the door. He was pretty sure though that none of the grainy video he’d seen could be accurate for this gate opening, and they really could use a break from the diplomatic shuffle.

Most of the politicians didn’t even wait for the question to finish before they were leaping up to get out of the room and find an observation point. Obi-Wan, in the meantime, ceded control, and Rex sat back in his chair. He’d seen the damn thing up close, and given how it affected his General – well. Hells with that. He and Jack exchanged sardonic looks; both straightened as a soldier came in to whisper something to General Hammond. The General’s expression went too blank, just before he shot a faintly accusatory look at Selmak.

The Tok'ra’s eyes blazed gold, and Hammond nodded. Selmak stood, stalking out with more military to their gait than they’d ever had unless the host was in control.

#Looks like someone’s early.#

#Oh, wonderful,# Kenobi muttered. #More unhelpful brick walls.#

Rex sent a wave of not-quite-amusement right back. He was the one making the call to stand and leave the room, joining the Tau’ri at an observation window. He didn’t like the gate on general principle, but taking in potential enemies, potential allies – potential Sith – that was important, too. He kept his snarl internal as the energy flared outwards, settling back into the circle until it rippled thrice. Humans, again. One woman, two men, all of them with a haughty disdain that Selmak, in retrospect, had kept toned down.

#They have their noses any higher in the air and they’re going to bump them against the top of the gate.#

Kenobi snickered a little, sending a light sensation of admonishment that had no real substance to it. In the gateroom, an imperious Selmak marched up to the new arrivals, practically radiating their disapproval of the situation. All three of the Tok'ra ignored that, their own tightly wound desires seething under pleasant masks.

The slimy, grasping feel from each of the Tok'ra made Rex and Kenobi’s skin crawl from meters away. Selmak was positively pleasant in comparison, even if not Light, per se.

#How come the more allies we get, the Darker they are?# Rex asked, watching the way the three moved. Warriors all, though they hid it well. The woman’s dress in particular was impractical, but the ribbon device she had on her hand had the look of something well-used and often worn.

#I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad our first contact was Selmak.# Kenobi’s admission was grudging, and he kept a tight lid on his growing concern. If the apparent Lightest Tok'ra ally they had met felt like a Sith from the first, what the hells were they getting into, and what were the actual Sith like?

Obi-Wan shook off the memories of Sidious, and that horrible, devouring Darkness that he had believed to be the product of centuries of planning and manipulation. #Please, Force, let them not be comparable to Sidious,# Obi-Wan muttered, probably not meaning to broadcast it to Rex. When Ventress had been an acknowledged Apprentice and consistently Dark, she’d felt worse to Obi-Wan’s senses than Selmak. The three new arrivals were also less Dark than Ventress, but by a much slimmer margin than Selmak. The possibility that true Sith were all like Sidious was almost as bad as the possibility that it would be Obi-Wan and a squad of less than two dozen troopers facing down an empire of System Lords, trapped alone in some mirror universe of their home.

Rex kept his hands at rest, despite the urge to cross his arms or rest hands on blasters he didn’t have. The new Tok’ra did not seem to be any of the kind of ally they might want. Yet between the honesty about the Tok’ra situation, and the awkward yet earnest attempt to make sure General Carter had been visibly included in the talks, Selmak seemed to be at least halfway decent.

#We’ll see,# Kenobi grumbled quietly. In mental privacy, Rex grinned. He didn’t know if his general was playing it cautious, or if the understandable disgust for some of the Tok’ra lifestyle choices was overpowering common sense, but he was confident Kenobi would find a neutral path eventually.

He went back into the meeting room and stood near his chair, not quite ready to settle at the table yet. It was interesting to watch the political maneuvering with a front row seat. Rex had heard Kenobi scornfully laugh off the title of “Negotiator” plenty of times, emphasizing that he specialized in aggressive negotiations. While Rex was willing to allow that that might be true, since he’d seen enough of it first-hand, the blithe dismissal ignored that Kenobi was damned skilled in actual diplomacy as well.

Skywalker, however, did specialize in ‘aggressive negotiations.’ Rex suspected that the man could be diplomatic when needed, but it wasn’t Skywalker’s preference, and Rex had never personally witnessed an example of it.

Sitting in on the talks with Kenobi, now, was...different. Rex couldn’t tell who was ahead in this strange contest of word-twisting that Kenobi and the Tau’ri politicians tried to weave around each other. Even more frustrating was that the locals seemed to still be looking for the maniacal laughter, or whatever their notions of ‘signs of evil’ were.

#We need to get the hell out of these negotiations and figure out what the actual situation is,# Rex growled, not bothering to hide the protective concern for his Jedi, who was still twisting himself into emotional knots over the Darkness starting to pervade the entire mountain.


Selmak ostensibly led the Tok’ra into the room, but anyone could read the shifting balance of power – Selmak was not the leader so much as the poor sap opening and holding the door for the rest.

#Not a power play I like,# Kenobi grumbled, settling into his chair.

Rex sent agreement while there was a hasty shuffle to get the newcomers placed at the table. Once seated, the woman in the center inclined her head in a regal little nod. “I am Garshaw of Belote, member of the Tok’ra High Council. With me are Lantash– ” she motioned to an intense young man to her left. Lantash was clean-shaven and short-haired, with an empty smile and the feel of downright obsession directed towards Major Carter. “–and Thoran.” The man on her right was dark-skinned and dour looking, radiating distrust and extreme caution that verged on paranoia, all hidden under a polite nod.

Compared to Selmak, there was a great deal less flex to these Tok’ra. They felt seriously unhinged, and it was playing havoc with General Kenobi’s Force senses.

Before Kenobi could speak, Selmak jumped in. “Since it might not come up, their hosts are Yosuf, Martouf, and Dorik.” The new Tok’ra gave Selmak a universal look of confusion, and Rex could feel Kenobi’s guilty little snicker, combined with a tinge of ruefulness.

“General Kenobi, and Host Rex. I was under the impression you weren’t due for a few hours yet.”

Garshaw gave him a pleasant little smile that felt anything but. “Since we were due to take part in discussions, the Council decided it was best if we try to participate from the beginning.”

“And what exactly is it that you want?” grumped one of the older men, who had been one of the ones most interested in larger land craft. The notion of someone so viciously eager for the destructive might of a fleet of AT-TEs did not sit well with Kenobi or Rex.

Garshaw’s smile was a few iotas less charming for the man. “I’m rather certain our interests will not overlap. We are interested in hosts, since our numbers are limited and we do not take unwi–”

“That will not be a part of these negotiations,” Kenobi snapped. The ploy for sympathy was perhaps secondary, yet still disgusting. Rex could feel their genuine greed, and damned if the General would allow any Republic citizen – clone or otherwise – go to host that sort of Darkness.

Thoran leaned forward. “I was given to understand that there were a number of your soldiers present that were willing to be hosts.”

A burst of frustrated shame rose from Selmak, but Kenobi did not break eye contact with Thoran. “To Jedi. There has not been any discussion about the Tok’ra.”

“Then surely we will be able to have that discussion with them,” Lantash said, sounding oh-so reasonable that it made Rex’s skin crawl.

“You will not.” Rex was a little surprised to find he’d taken control, but the notion of these three sniffing around his troops was unacceptable. He winced inwardly as the three stared for a moment, and he realized that the change in eyes and voice had caught their attention in a way that even Kenobi had not. #Shit. Sorry, sir.#

#No need. One of us would be yelling it at them, and the opportunity to calm down– #

#Doesn’t change the fact that I just made them more interested.#

The feel of reassurance, protectiveness with a touch of fury curled around him as Rex relinquished control. “As my host said. You will stay away from my men. At the very minimum, they are working for the Jedi Order with legal contracts concerning their safety and mental health, and I will not surrender them to you.

Garshaw hesitated for a moment, before recovering her aplomb – along with that spine crawling sensation of mad covetousness. “We will of course respect your wishes regarding your soldiers, but we will at some point make contact with your superiors. I’m given to understand you also have a ruling Council? You must understand our position – ”

He could feel the General’s temper break again, but it was cold and aimed this time. Kenobi always did do better with a direct target. “You must understand,” he snapped, leaning back and crossing his arms with a hauteur that Rex had been aware of, but never witnessed. “You already are speaking to a Jedi Councilor. My position is that you. Will. Not. Approach. My. Troops.”

The Tok’ra looked a little appalled. The politicians looked suspicious.

Jack, of course, was the one to break the silence. “Eeeeexcuse me, but I just wanna make sure I’m connecting the dots right. You’re one of the head honchos?”

“Yes,” Kenobi bit out.

“Uh. Huh.” Jack nodded slowly, and only his squadmates seemed to be taking that blithely. “And they let you run around playing soldier?”

Kenobi flicked a cool glance over at him. “The war lasted eight years. All the Councilors have, at one time or another, taken to the field. Even Master Yoda, although admittedly that was not supposed to be a mission with active combat.”

“Really,” drawled one of Maybourne’s allies. “We’re just supposed to buy this sudden promotion of yours?”

Rex couldn’t stop a snort of disdain, and didn’t try. As an added bonus, the sudden change in eye-color unsettled several of the Tau’ri politicians, including the one who’d spoken. “SOP. If the Seps didn’t know who they were fighting, then letting them know they had not a general, but a Councilor in their grasp, would be incredibly stupid. The last time that happened, we almost lost the Councilor, and his host did lose an eye. It’s a miracle nothing worse happened.”

Kenobi sent a cold look towards the Tok’ra contingent. “My position as Councilor wasn’t relevant. As a single member of the Council, I do not have the authority to make binding legal or military agreements regarding access to Republic military resources by non-Republic worlds. That requires the full Council, and quite possibly a decision by the Senate. However, as a Jedi Councilor and a General of the Grand Army, I am the highest authority around when it comes to my troops.” Kenobi held Garshaw’s gaze. After a long moment, she twitched her head in reluctant acknowledgement. “So. Shall we continue the discussion we were having before we were interrupted?”

Jack knew that in this particular horse trade, he’d become the equivalent of window dressing, but he kept loose tabs on the power jockeying. He was paradoxically both relieved and frustrated. He’d done his part in the beginning, vouching for Kenobi and giving his estimates on weapon specs, and then all the bigwigs had lost interest in him. It was kinda nice not being responsible for the fate of Earth’s involvement with other worlds, for once, but it made him itch a little that the bigwigs were so very bad at it. Matter of professional pride, and all that. The NID were dragging their feet and flailing about, to Jack’s complete non-surprise. The military contingent had similar enough goals that they were stepping on each other’s toes, not to mention that nobody from Earth really liked having to deal with a snake.

The bulk of Jack’s attention was on the Tok'ra. Normally, he kept an eye on them anyway, because reformed or not, goa’uld.

He never would’ve thought he’d be looking at them through the eyes of personal experience. It was weird, how he could track the difference, when before, it would’ve just been a background creep-out. Selmak made the sharp divide of host and Tok'ra work – though that might be a Jacob thing. The other Tok'ra didn’t, really. Even Lantash, who’d allowed free rein for Martouf to make puppy-eyes at Sam before, was front and center now. It was all Tok'ra, almost all the time, and they gave no indication that their hosts had anything to do with their decisions. That bugged Jack on a level he didn’t really get. Also a matter of professional pride? He hoped not. He didn’t think he really wanted to sign up for the brain snake brigade.

Kenobi was making a good show of it, but it was kinda hard to make progress when everyone basically wanted all the toys and then to go home. Even the little bombshell about who Kenobi was hadn’t phased too many of the bigwigs, though Jack was incredibly grateful that it made the Tok'ra shut up and sit down for a bit. Selmak looked too innocent not to be holding back amusement, and the other three were blank-faced with embarrassment.

Jack just couldn’t quite get his head around it. One of the twelve head honchos? Sure, fine, the Jedi worked for the Republic and there was that big ass alien Senate in charge, but –

How the hell had Jack had one of the top twelve bigwigs in his head and never known it?

...and how the fuck was this his life, that he could even think sentences like that and it made sense?

They were still getting absolutely nowhere when Kenobi jerked upright, eyes going wide, before he winced. He had one hell of an expression, right between relieved beyond words, amused, and frustrated. Some of the bigwigs were sharing looks as Kenobi’s left armguard chirped, and a round bit began flashing blue.

“Excuse me,” Kenobi said tersely, shoving his chair back. He’d made it to his feet when the communicator made a different chirp, then began projecting a small, flickering...hologram?

They had holograms? Why had they not used holograms on the ha’tak? It was all in shades of blue, and kind of grainy, but the image of a clone in armor was glaring right at Kenobi. This guy’s dark hair was a little shaggy, to match a goatee, and he had some kind of tattoo or birthmark or something on his temple.

=Obi-Wan Kenobi, so help me if you’re playing dead again by the Force I am going to haul you right out of 17 and shove you in a jar until you swear to me no more life-risking shit for a least a damn week!= the man roared, almost at full volume in a voice completely different from Kenobi or any of the clones.

Jack and everyone else in the room boggled at Kenobi, who stepped away from the table with remarkable aplomb, turning his back on the bigwigs. Not that it mattered much, given the language barrier. =Anakin. This really isn’t the best time– =

=Oh I’m sorry, should I wait and com back later, or just when you’ve felt dead in the Force again?=

Com. The com that only worked over ‘short’ distances. Jack went still for a beat as cold realization washed over him.

=Excuse me?= Jack said, standing up. The hologram and Kenobi ignored him, though everyone else was looking his way. Jack circled the table, scampering over to Kenobi and peering over his shoulder. Aw, cheese, he could see the hologram tracking his arrival, the eyes moving to focus on him. Having his TV look back at him was not fun. =Is this a private chewing out, or can anyone join in?=

New Guy raked him over with a look, then looked back at Kenobi. =Who the hell is this, and why do you look like Rex instead of 17?=

Kenobi’s shoulders slumped, grief flickering across his face. New Guy winced. =Aw, hell, Obi-Wan.= His voice finally softened, going to a more reasonable level. =I’m sorry.=

Jack wasn’t sure if he really could feel Kenobi’s grief and do-not-want-to-talk-about-this, if he was imagining it, or if he was reading it from body language. Either way, he put a hand on the Jedi’s shoulder. =I got this.= He gave New Guy a very plastic smile. =Hi! You’ve managed to call in the middle of thankfully not too tense negations, but it’s good you didn’t ring earlier. 17 had an unfortunate accident with some Sith, but your bud here is ok. Both of ’em, really, and a bunch of troopers.=

New Guy jerked at “Sith,” glancing over at Kenobi with a really concerned expression. =In the meantime,= Jack said, =if you’re actually, ya know, in the solar system? We’d really appreciate it if you keep back from the third planet out. That’d keep a lot of very cranky people from getting really nervous, since we don’t get visitors from outer space.=

=What, never?= New Guy was still concerned about Kenobi, but there was more than a touch of dry amusement as he looked at Jack.

=Not publicly, and most of the folks who might come calling aren’t exactly friendly.=

New Guy squinted at him for a moment, then his eyes changed color – at least, Jack thought they did. The all blue thing made it hard to tell. “Haat?” the host asked, skeptical and definitely sounding like a clone.

Kenobi snorted a bit of a laugh. “Elek.”

The eyes probably switched back, and New Guy shook his head. =One of these days, I want to know how you find these situations.= He crossed his arms and eyed Jack. =You do realize I’m not just going to sit here and leave Obi-Wan with you.=

=No, that’s fine, but really, we got a bunch of governments – yes, all on the one planet, we already got the looks so save it – that will get twitchy if you fly anything larger than a few meters across into orbit.=

Kenobi sighed. =You’re on the Resolute, aren’t you.=

=You think I’d come after you in just the Twilight?= New Guy’s expression hardened and he gave Jack a challenging stare. =It’s me, the Resolute, and three other starcruisers.=

From Kenobi’s exasperated eye-roll, that was just as much overkill as it sounded like. Great. Just great. Just the fantastic way Jack wanted the meeting to go.

=I take it those are the really big ships.=

=Yes,= Kenobi huffed. =Anakin, things are...a little difficult right now. The Twilight might actually be a good idea – you could make a discreet entrance and bring some surplus goods and weapons for trade and as good-will gifts. And perhaps a map.=

=Unknown Regions. It’s still a hell of a hike to Bakura, though.=

That apparently meant something to Kenobi, who nodded and finally seemed to relax a little. =You have no idea how relieved I am to hear that.=

=Uh, yeah, this Twilight thing?=

Kenobi grinned. =Spice freighter. No larger than one of your smaller commercial planes.=

Jack blinked. Space flight. On an actual plane. A plane sized plane. =Did you just say your ship was used to cart around drugs?=

New Guy grinned. =Not while we’ve had it.=

Some days, even Jack had to admit his life was weird. =O-kaaay. How soon should we expect you folks to come knocking?=

=A few hours.= New Guy went from amused to all business. =We need to sort out who’s coming and weed out the volunteers. Am I going to need a translator droid?=

=You brought Threepio?= Kenobi asked, sounding pretty surprised.

=No, and Artoo’s still sulking about that.=

Kenobi snorted. =Indeed. Bring what crew you need. We’ve allies here, though things are still...rather unsettled.=

New Guy nodded. =We’ll see you in a few hours, then.= He took the time to nod to Jack, then the hologram flickered out.

Jack could feel the weight of a lot of eyes on him. He turned around, not sure how he felt about that. The government flunkies were pale-faced and a bit bug-eyed. They were staring at Kenobi with a bit of open respect, finally – it was always amazing to Jack the difference a flashy lightshow could make with the natives. The Tok'ra, minus Selmak, were steely-eyed and on edge. Selmak was watching with a combination of fascination and poorly covered amusement, though his interest in the revealed tech was also apparent. Not a surprise, since the Republic’s tech seemed to be at least on par with the System Lords’, and carried out with a lot less pomp and circumstance and posturing.

Sam, for that matter, looked like she was maybe an inch away from grabbing Kenobi’s arm to try to figure out how the communicator worked. Danny, Teal’c, and Hammond were varying levels of unreadable and generally pissed.

Shit. Jack had also just labeled a bunch of American political bigwigs “the natives” in his head.

Not bad work for a short chat, at least. “Well.” Jack dusted off his hands. “Looks like company’s arrived. Anybody put out the welcome mat?”

Chapter Text

“Easy, easy,” Anakin called to the troopers maneuvering the antigrav platform. "Okay, that’s good, we’ve got it from here.”

“We do?” Ahsoka muttered skeptically to him.

“Sure. We're not even falling down a mountain. Piece of cake.”

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, but she was grinning as she walked over to the other side of the Twilight’s open cargo-bay door.

They reached out with the Force, tugging gently and lifting the starfighter off its pallet. Getting the wings into the Twilight’s cargo-hold was the main challenge – there were only centimeters to spare either side, and that wasn’t contending with the crates of first-contact trade-goods that had been quickly tossed together.

It would be worth it, though. They’d already lost 17; Anakin wasn’t about to lose anyone else, not when they’d already karking won.

The clone pilot in the starfighter's cockpit sat still as the Jedi floated him and his fighter into the cramped hold, trusting them not to ding his ride.

“Okay, I think that does it,” Ahsoka said, her infectious grin spreading easily to Anakin.

“Yep. That's all of it. C'mon, let's go save Obi-Wan. Again.”

“I'm going to tell him you said that,” Ahsoka laughed.

“Why do you think I told you?”

The hyper-jump from one location in the star-system, past the star and over to the other side, barely even qualified as a hyper-jump. #More like a micro-jump,# Anakin said to Fives, who agreed with him. The stars didn’t even streak, just brightened a bit for a second, and then they were there.

“Open the cargo hold,” Anakin instructed.

“Yes, sir,” Echo said, fingers nimble on the control panel. “Red Two deployed,” he confirmed after a moment.

Odd Ball nudged his starfighter abreast of the Twilight, tossing off a salute to Anakin before falling back to cover their six.

“Cargo-bay door closed,” Echo reported.

“Right. Let’s go meet the locals,” Anakin said, and nudged the Twilight’s engine’s to greater speed.

It was weird, standing out in a small landing field, here on Earth, waiting for aliens. It made Jack twitchy, and the fact that they were allowed small firearms wasn’t helping, counterintuitive as that sounded. Given the fuss Cronus, Yu, and Nirrti had kicked up about everything from weapons to surveillance during the Protected Planet Treaty negotiations, Obi-Wan’s calm acceptance of firearms meant that either Obi-Wan thought that the incoming Jedi were just that good, or that the incoming Jedi actually were just that good.

It really didn’t help that a good portion of the brass was present, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The only reason the entire ridiculous collection of hardware wasn’t in on the meeting was because National Security Advisor Hayes was paranoid and had insisted that the majority stay in the mountain, watching via video feed.

It still took Admiral McGregor pulling rank to keep the crowd to a small mob. Jack couldn’t tell if he really, really liked the guy or wanted him and his understated power-plays very, very far away from SG-1 and SGC.

So it was SG-1 minus Teal’c, Hammond, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, several other bureaucrats and brass, Kenobi and Rex, and a handful of Stargate field personnel as sentries in case of wandering tourists. It was just past ten in the morning, so they had decent light for whatever happened. Jack trusted Obi-Wan, but this was still Jack’s home town, and trouble had come knocking too often for Jack to be all fine and dandy with visitors packing unknown tech in unknown ships.

The communications officer perked up first, then did the little doubletake to the side which had to mean he was getting some weird intel. Then his head snapped up. “Sir, two bogeys coming in from the south-east, too large to be missiles but too fast to be anything terrestrial.”

Hammond shot Kenobi a look, arch and kinda serious. “Two?”

Kenobi took it in stride. “A protective escort. Can you determine if they’re both roughly the same size?”

Jack was pretty sure Kenobi was guessing, which was weird since he couldn’t peg any particular behavior as suspicious. This had to be what came from sharing a body with the guy, and there was the weird again. Oh, he was not getting over this any time soon.

Jack dragged his brain back to the present. Sam leaned over and commented to Daniel, “Anything terrestrial would be coming in from the west.”

Jack stifled a grin. Sam geeking out over tech was always fun. Jack had some idea of what the Republic folks could put out for armor and guns. He might not know what kind of ships they had, but he did know Sam would be having a field day.

Kenobi was smooth. By the time Jack looked back at him, he had the hologram walkie talkie up. =Anakin, the locals want to know why there are two ships inbound, and I must admit I’m rather curious myself.=

No hologram this time, but it was the same deep voice that had been yelling at Kenobi before. =What? It's a good precaution.= There was a hint of laughter hiding underneath the objection. =Be happy – you finally beat security measures through my thick skull.=

Kenobi did a really good job conveying an eye-roll without breaking diplomatically polite. Jack was impressed. =This is a peaceful meeting.=

Between the gentle sarcasm and the dubious snort across the radio, the locals were relaxing a little. =Yeah. Because those never go horribly wrong.=

Jack had to nod at that. He was way too familiar with that little problem.

Kenobi’s sigh was long-suffering, but there was a hint of a smile. =I’d rather be optimistic for once. Please tell me it’s just a starfighter.=

Skywalker’s tone went pure teasing. =Red Two, anything you’d like to add?=

A clone’s voice came from the walkie talkie, with slightly scratchier acoustics. =Got your six, General. Good to hear your voice again.=

Kenobi’s face softened into a smile. =You too, Odd Ball.= He swapped back to professional fast enough. =See you lot soon, don’t blow anything up. Kenobi out.= He turned to an increasingly impatient Hammond. “A security measure, General Hammond. It’s a single fighter as escort; apparently Anakin is feeling cautious.”

Jack tuned out the rest of the diplomatic smoothing-over, more interested in the blot of darkness that was moving really damn fast, and according to the communications grunt, that was their bogeys. It swept in, resolving into two shapes as they approached. Both were going way faster than any plane Jack would want to be near when it was coming in for a landing.

The larger one bled off speed at an insane rate as it approached. They had to have the same or similar gravity fiddling technology as the System Lords did, or the G’s produced by a stop like that would splat anyone inside against the windshield like bugs. The smaller, more plane-shaped vessel slipped ahead of the larger one. Its flight curved around the field at a large enough radius that the Welcome Wagon group didn’t do more than shuffle nervously. Security escort, yup, and looking for any nasty surprises so that they happened to it before anyone else. The larger vessel wasn’t an especially sleek-looking ship, giving the vague impression of a box with two wings – one to the side, one on the bottom, unless it was flying upside down. Jack got to watch Carter do the little confused head-tilt-and-squint thing.

He had no idea how the thing landed either, but it was always fun to watch and heckle other confused people. Or just watch. He’d get the answers one way or another.

Daniel was a little too quiet off to the other side of Sam, withdrawn and uneasy and still giving Jack the cold shoulder. Jack didn’t like it, really hated the whole...distance and confusion thing, but they’d all needed the catnap during the wait more than ironing out issues.


The ships angled in toward the center of the airfield and a reasonable distance from the welcome party. There was an absolutely uncanny lack of backwash, a rich hum of engines doing some work without the blast of air that a landing vehicle should have.

The lower wing of the boxy ship silently swung up, so that it was parallel to the long one on the side. That left the four feet which may or may not have been retracted earlier clear for a landing, and the whole shebang settled down with a tiny whumph.

It was even turned so the three suspiciously gun-like things – one topside, the other two at the ends of the wings – weren’t facing the meet-and-greet. As one of those Walmart greeters, Jack appreciated that, but he sent Kenobi a look anyways. He hadn’t said the thing was armed!

The security escort landed lightly next to the first ship – also with weapons facing away.

The two arrivals might not be a pyramid ship, but it was at least a little impressive.

“How does that hinge withstand the stresses of leaving atmosphere?” Sam hissed in that antsy little whisper that meant she wanted to get her hands all over the tech, now. Jack had to hide a grin, because he was willing to bet that was just the start.

The front bit of the large ship, which at least had a bit of a familiar plane-shaped-nose, yawed open with a pneumatic hiss. It lowered into a ramp, and a man stepped down it.

It was the clone from earlier, in a weird getup that definitely wasn’t armor. It was all dark, black and maroon in weird love child of Ren Faire tunics and the top of a Japanese kimono. The knee-high boots were all Ren Faire, and the utility belt and long gloves were wildcards tossed in to make things confusing. The gloves didn’t match, either, what with the right one having three metal wrap-around snaps to keep it closed, and the left one plainer except for a communicator near the wrist. The belt had several nifty pouches, a lightsaber, and a blaster with the top of the holster snapped closed.

The tattoo on the guy’s forehead and the goatee were the only way Jack recognized the guy as the clone from the hologram, if he was being honest.

The hatch on the fighter plane popped open – thank goodness, that seemed to work like normal – and a clone in full armour clambered down from the cockpit and hopped down off a wing. He strolled over to stand by the lowered ramp, removing his helmet in that same smooth motion that had freaked Jack out so much at 17’s burial. The two clones exchanged a nod, and the one in armour went to parade rest, waiting at the bottom of the ramp.

The rest of the Walmart greeters were having an even harder time of things, if Jack was hearing the mutters right. They might have been stuck on how much the new guys looked like Rex – the only clone they’d seen – or it might have been Fives’ getup. Hard to tell.

Kenobi and Rex stepped forward, meeting Fives and Skywalker halfway, and an evaluating look passed between them. Then Skywalker – blue eyes, Jack noted – grinned, a lopsided quirk of an expression, just a bit sad.

=That’s a different look. Glad you two are all right.=

Kenobi didn’t say anything; instead he stepped forward and pulled Skywalker into a hug. It went on a little weirdly long, but given the kind of day Kenobi seemed to have been having – hell, the kind of month, really, and Jack had had a front row seat for way too much of it – it made sense. Jack took the opportunity to scope out everyone else. Sam had half an eye on Kenobi and his friend, but most of her attention was on the ship and how she must’ve thought it went together. Daniel was watching the reunion and quiet muttering that no one could overhear with that not-quite-sullen, suspicious expression that meant he didn’t like things, but he’d be polite and keep his mouth shut.

This was gonna be such a great get together. Like a family reunion, but only attended by the not-fun obscure aunts and uncles.

Yup, he and Daniel had to have another talk soon.

When the two Jedi – or was it four? He’d have to ask sometime – pulled apart, they moved with a military step over to George, who was standing at the polite parade rest of a General waiting – only a little impatient – to review the troops. Kenobi nodded to him. “General Hammond, my fellow Jedi and former student, Anakin Aianste, hosted in Commander Rayshe'ase.” He turned to said former student. =The local leader who could do with our support, General George Hammond.=

Skywalker bowed, and Jack had to bite back a snicker when a bunch of the locals twitched at the non-standard greeting. When Skywalker stood, his eyes swapped from dark blue to brown, and Commander Fives gave a brusque but polite nod. “Visk,” he declared, and Jack had to wonder what the brass thought of a simple “sir” for a greeting.

Kenobi nodded over to the clone still standing by the ship, getting a polite, curt nod back. “And that is Davijaan.”

Jack did not for a moment trust the sly look that Skywalker – Aianste – got as Davijaan gave everyone a shallower, polite nod. It was funny; it was impossible to tell if Rex or this Fives was younger, but the way the two Jedi were standing and interacting with each other, their body language showed a real clear difference.

“Now,” Kenobi said, but Skywalker interrupted him.

=Aren’t you going to introduce the others?=

Oh boy. Jack eyed the ship. You could get a decent amount of ‘others’ on there, but he didn’t think they’d invite down a whole strike team.

From the stinkeye Kenobi was giving his student, he didn’t like the smell of things either. Not like it was going to explode, but more like there was going to be a surprise party after weeks of people pretending they had never even heard of birthdays. =Don't tell me Yularen came down.=

Skywalker gave him a look right back. =Nope. He’s safely on the Resolute’s bridge.=

=….Anakin, what did you do?=

Damn, Skywalker had a better innocent look than Jack did, and he’d practiced. =Translate for me?=

Jack really had to wonder how Kenobi kept from facepalming, or even eye-rolling a bit. Jedi had a hell of a sabbac face as he politely turned back to a patiently waiting Hammond and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, it seems there are a few more introductions to make, and Anakin would like to say something.”

Skywalker dipped down into another bow when Kenobi paused to give him a look. =It’s an honor to meet you, General Hammond. I understand you gave my teacher aid and refuge, as well as our soldiers. On behalf of the Republic, and the Jedi Order, you have our thanks.=

Daniel snorted, very faintly. “Last time I saw you struggling that hard not to make faces, you sprained something.”

“Did not. That was all from the punch and it is not my fault the chieftain didn’t like me.”

“I told you not to annoy her,” Sam muttered. “Now how about letting those of us who can’t understand Ancient hear the translation?”

George nodded back, managing polite and gracious. “We’re happy to assist.”

Fuck. No way Skywalker missed the faint stirring among the ranks at that. Still. Weirdly good sabacc face on him, too.

=I was not, however, able to locate my Master alone.= Nice, Kenobi was smart enough to swap “master” for “mentor,” though Daniel gave Jack just as much an evil eye as Kenobi was starting to give Skywalker. =So I would like to present my fellow Jedi.=

Oh. Shit. Jedi Jedi, or normal Jedi? Could he even say human Jedi, or was ‘not-brain-snaked Jedi’ the phrase?

George was all smiles and polite diplomatting. “Of course! We have a few extra faces here, so our introductions can wait till later?”

=Of course.= Skywalker did another polite nod-that-wasn’t-quite-a-bow, then turned. Two figures were already coming down the ramp, and it was hard not to notice how Davijaan had gone on high alert.

Guy on the left didn’t surprise Jack at all. Standard clone, bright Jedi green eyes, bounce in his step. His hair was neater but a bit longer than Fives’, and he had similar tunic-y things on except in dark red, and a fancy sash to go along with the utility belt.

The fella on the right Jack couldn’t quite get his head around. He was pretty sure the guy was a clone – old, though, and looked like he’d been working a few decades to be poster boy for the dictionary definition of ‘wizened.’ There was more going on than just wrinkles though; half of the face looked almost melted, sagging and drooping more than the other side. Had it been some kind of injury? Or was this what happened when cloning didn’t go quite right? The guy had a bit of a hunchback, which, again, could have been age or some kind of injury or defect, but he had a cane and moved with the smooth grace Kenobi had. The wrinkled face was serene, almost cheerful, and Jack got the feeling those bright green eyes saw a hell of a lot as they scanned the crowd.

Jack looked over at Daniel and Sam, who were already looking at him. They might as well have had ‘wait, is this a host?’ scrawled above their heads.

Hosts...weren’t like this. The goa’uld went for the shiniest, prettiest choices they could find. They got the hosts that might as well be pretty little sports cars that were rolling ads for how rich and supposedly awesome the driver was. Sports cars, race cars, the speediest and shiniest options with the pimped out chrome rims and that was real disturbing when the metaphor came in for a landing and it was about people again.

Now that Jack was thinking about it, it was obvious that the Jedi didn’t prioritize their hosts that way. Rex had some nasty scarring, though not much where it showed. The fella with the sash had hints of old burn marks along the neck. So if the goa’uld went for the high market, high status cars, then the Jedi went for the sturdy jeeps – almost all standardized jeeps, what with the clones – that you could go cross country with. Hell, Kenobi had even offered a basic tune up for Jack when he’d hosted.

The notion of that friendly neighborhood brain-snake as some kind of greasemonkey mechanic that spent time tinkering around under Jack’s hood broke his brain a little.

Ok, more than a little.

Either way. That would make the old guy toddling down the ramp the junkyard clunker someone had spent months and years on, souping things up. While the result might not be the prettiest, for an old wizened dude he moved with reasonable speed, and like it wasn’t the slightest bit of strain on him.

Kenobi lost his diplomatic cool enough that Jack could see he looked smack dab between wanting to spit nails and just giving both the newcomers huge hugs. By the time the two came to a halt beside him, Kenobi had his composure back.

Everyone tried to be polite and ignore Davijaan playing rearguard, as Skywalker gestured to the younger new clone. =My student, Ahsoka Tano, hosted in Echo.=

“Reproduce?” Daniel muttered. “He’s called Reproduce?

“Echo,” Jack hissed back, hoping that Daniel caught up with the Basic-Ancient shit soon because being better at language – any language – than Daniel was even more wrong than friendly neighborhood goa’uld.

Kenobi’s face had a strange expression as Skywalker turned to the old clone. The live translation was smooth, but Jack could hear something a bit strained in Kenobi’s words. “And this is Master Yoda, a fellow Council member, hosted in Shek’eta-She’cu.”

Sam saw the way Jack was trying to hide a look, and gave him a small ‘tell me!’ glare along with a nudge. Jack leaned in a little. “Today’s lesson in Ancient and I don’t know what has been brought to you by the words Echo, Sabacc, and the number 99.”


“Space poker.” Jack didn’t quite know what to think of the fact that Daniel just nodded and went back to paying attention.

Yoda also didn’t have any problem giving Hammond a bow, which George returned without looking too awkward. =Grateful we are, for the assistance you have provided.=

Daniel blinked. A lot. Jack wiggled a finger in his ear. “Did that sound wrong to you?” Daniel’s nod was reassuring, especially since Kenobi translated it in normal English.

“We’re pleased to offer aid to those who mean us no harm, and it’s an honor to meet allies in our fight.” George didn’t show a hint of uncertainty in that little declaration, and the Jedi gave him their little nod-bows. “Perhaps we should head inside where it’s a little more comfortable.”

Obi-Wan looked less than pleased through the more formal introductions, and when he ‘let slip’ that these were dignitaries for just the one part of one planet, Anakin’s bad feeling only grew. There seemed to be at least one group of hostile individuals, though they felt pretty cowed and they kept quiet for the most part.

He could only guess what the unknown group of dignitaries that Obi-Wan did not want them talking to were like. ‘Tok’ra.’ Funny name. He had to wonder if there was some kind of meaning behind it.

Anakin and Fives breathed a sigh of relief when Obi-Wan shut down the ‘formal introductions trying to turn into negotiations’ with a firm but polite request for some privacy to brief the Jedi contingent about what was going on. At least, Anakin had to take Obi-Wan’s word for it, but his Master didn’t tend to play too fast and loose with translations.

Speaking of translations, the protocol droid they’d unloaded from the Twilight had been standing quietly in the corner, absorbing language and mutters and Obi-Wan’s translations the entire time – B-2PO had to have a good start on understanding at least common words.

#Maybe now we'll finally get some real answers about this situation,# Fives grumbled.

#You sense it too, huh?# Anakin asked. There was an undercurrent here that prickled against their skin like static – not Dark, but agitated, and Anakin could read Obi-Wan well enough to see his Master was just as impatient to get away from the political niceties as Anakin. He just hid it better.

#Yes. Karking political fluff and nonsense.#

#Now, now. Placating the natives and saying please and thank you are very important diplomatic aspects of first contact situations.#

#Pick that up from Obi-Wan, did you?#


#Fine,# Fives said with long-suffering humour. #It’d be nice if we could get a move-on though. By now we ALL know how to introduce ourselves, how to address people by common titles, and that they have no idea what to do with droids.#

Anakin bit back a snicker at Fives’ mock complaints. As if his host wasn’t genuinely better at picking up languages than Anakin was. Frustrating, given that Ani liked learning languages more.

There was a bit of social fuss over the locals wanting some representatives in on the Jedi debrief, which was rude but typical. The interesting part was that Obi-Wan didn’t object to getting a minder – he in fact insisted on a second. The man he’d insisted on looked baffled, but Colonel O’Neill – their minder – approved.

Anakin homed in on O’Neill the moment the group was out the door, while the others kept following Daniel Jackson and the guards to a private meeting room. “Colonel O’Neill,” he called, and the man stopped, gave him a polite look.

“Jack, please.”

Far be it for Ani to complain if the man wanted to be informal. “I was wondering if there was someplace for B-2PO to wait for us – someplace they’d be out of the way, but able to absorb more of your language.”

The look Jack sent B-2PO was odd – not quite suspicious, but wary. “Spoken or written?” he finally asked.

Anakin blinked. #Oh I like him,# Fives snickered. #Smart question!#

“Spoken. I don’t think there’s enough context for B-2PO to be grasping your writing system yet.”

“Uh huh.” Jack turned, searching the mix of uniforms leaving the dignitaries alone in the meeting room. =Sam!= A blonde woman with a fierce expression turned and raised a brow at them. Jack drawled a few wry sentences, and the woman’s eyes lit up. The two exchanged more words, then the woman motioned to B-2PO. “Hi ho Silver, away,” Jack commanded with a wry grin. “Sam here will take care of you.”

“Thank you, Colonel O’Neill,” B-2PO said, walking over to Jack’s second-in-command, if Anakin had the local terms translated right. =A pleasure, Major Carter.=

Jack blinked. “That’s freakin’ uncanny.”

Since apparently the locals thought that Jack was escort enough for Anakin, the rest of the group had gone ahead. Anakin took advantage of the opportunity to ask a question that had really begun to nag at him. “You sound like you’re unfamiliar with droids.”

In Ani’s defense, he wasn’t trying to be subtle. From the sideways look he got, that was good, because he wasn’t even in the right system for it. “Yeah, I think your buddy there is the first in the neighborhood that’s not – you know what, never mind. Yeah, your buddy there is the first.” He hesitated, then squinted at Anakin. “Is it – he? – really, y’know, an artificial intelligence?”

They are, yes.”

“’They?’ You’re hiding another one of those somewhere?”

“Uh, no?” Anakin frowned. “We just brought– oh! Singular ‘they.’”

“Singular what now?” O’Neill asked with a frown.

“‘They,’ singular and used when gender is either unknown, not applicable, or of no consequence,” Fives repeated. “Why did that throw you?”

“Weeelll.” Jack shrugged, and held up two hands. “He,” he declared, hefting one hand, then raising the other. “She. There’s not...” He dropped his hand before waving the first in the general vicinity between where he’d hefted the words. “There’s not in-between stuff. Or words.”

While Anakin and Fives were trying to grasp that, Jack was looking back and forth between his hands. Then he made a face. “Shit. That’s gonna bite us on the ass, isn’t it? Alien races and– aw, hell, I don’t even wanna know. Them. Got it.”

Anakin was relieved they’d reached their destination, because the notion of just two genders was...odd.

Anakin, Fives, and Jack settled themselves at a long table with the others. Obi-Wan had that look, the ‘whatever took you so long, I hope it was worth it’ expression. As soon as it was clear they had the room, Obi-Wan turned to 99, who was looking around with polite fascination. “Master Yoda, I am delighted to see you, but what the hells are you doing here?”

99’s eyes went green as Yoda gave Obi-Wan that droll look which meant he was in a mood, Force help them all. It at least wasn’t cranky, but Yoda in the mood to poke beings wasn’t the most comfortable Jedi to be around. “Looking for you, we were.”

Obi-Wan spared a moment for a ‘Force help me please’ look, which was...odd, with Rex’s face. “I appreciate that, but – ”

“I needed help,” Anakin said, butting in because he knew damn well how useful it was to just be open with his master. “I could feel you, somewhere, but very distant, and after the first...thing that– ” He had to stop to compose himself. “It felt like you died.” Obi-Wan winced at the blunt declaration, but gods. It’d been that damn bad for Anakin, too. “I didn’t know what had happened, Ahsoka and I weren’t enough to track you down, and all I could tell was that you weren’t dead for long, or something, and I wasn’t about to wait around until you sauntered back.”

Obi-Wan’s expression softened. “I don’t think ‘saunter’ is quite the word I’d use.”

99 shook his head. “Regardless, I think we’d all like to know what happened to you, Master Kenobi.”

If Anakin hadn’t been able to feel Obi-Wan’s sincerity – and exhaustion – he wouldn’t have believed the explanation. Stable wormholes. A whole network of stable wormholes, watched over by an entire collective of Sith, that no-one in the Republic had had a single clue about.

It made Fives’ fingers twitch for their lightsaber, just for the feel of it in their hand. They’d thought – hoped – Sidious would be the last. After everything that monster had done, now they had a whole new problem.

The bright sides seemed to be allies (kind of), new Jedi (only...not, and Obi-Wan’s avoidance of that topic was not reassuring), and the Sith’s apparent complete and utter lack of knowledge about the Republic. From the sound of it, it was also possible that the Republic had the most reliable method of transport, but Anakin couldn’t swear he was accurately reading between the lines there.

Yoda was the one to break the silence they’d needed just to digest Obi-Wan’s news. “Happy with us, the Senate shall not be.”

99 rolled his eyes. “Happy with us, the Senate rarely is,” he huffed back, crossing his arms and giving the table a bit of a look. “This is part of our job, not just safeguarding them from active threats.”

“Pardon?” Daniel Jackson asked, leaning forward. The man had been quiet for the most part, squinting occasionally as if he wasn’t following the conversation cleanly. Ani knew that look pretty well. “Your speaking order is strange. Is that because I only understand some?”

99 laughed, in that way he had, which somehow invited one in on the joke rather than ever making it seem like he was laughing at someone. When he’d been younger, Anakin had thought it was use of the Force, but he’d come to agree with Fives: it was all 99. “No, you seem to have a good grasp of things. Yoda’s first host had an unusual grasp of Basic, and he’s been using that as an excuse ever since.”

“Excuse I never need,” Yoda corrected primly. “But entertain myself somehow I must.”

Ahsoka broke in once the snickers died down. “Not to disparage our new allies, but someone has to ask. Are we certain that we’re dealing with Sith? Slavery is horrible, but every species in recorded history has gone through a period of attempted conquest.”

Obi-Wan sobered way too quickly. Anakin braced himself. #Here it is. Now we find out how this is worse than we thought.# Fives sent agreement back, then they both went still at Obi-Wan’s mental touch.

#Anakin, this will be difficult. Please trust me, and react as little as possible.#

Anakin nodded faintly, as Fives went on alert. #Such a bad feeling about this,# Fives muttered.

Yoda folded his hands together on top of his cane as Obi-Wan turned to face Ahsoka. “First and most easily proven: they take and keep unwilling hosts.” Echo pulled back in astonishment, while Yoda closed his eyes, head bowing in grief.

#Damn, if he’s opening with that– # Fives sent a mental hug to Anakin, who stayed blank-faced.

Daniel Jackson cleared his throat. “My wife is unwilling.”

Fives turned sharply to stare. “Is?” he asked, and Anakin wasn’t sure what to make of how Jack put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Jack said. He looked astoundingly uncomfortable. “We killed Ra, Apophis decided he was in charge, and his queen, Amaunet, took over Sha’re.” Discomfort turned to grief. “Freeing Sha’re has been a goal from early in the program.”

Anakin could feel helpless, long-standing rage burning through Jackson, and while he couldn’t fault the man... #That’s going to be trouble,# Fives growled. At least the anger was a clean burn, especially in light of that kind of despair.

“Secondly,” Obi-Wan said, “is how they enforce their slavery.” He had the kind of calm he presented as General Kenobi, icy and precise and ready to make the hard decisions that needed to be made to win a fucking awful war. “They alter the humans they control, so they can easily insert and remove an alternative to the natural immune system. Each- each iteration if this method lasts maybe eight years before it needs to be replaced.” Neither Anakin nor Fives liked how Obi-Wan’s voice was a hair strained, and from the way Yoda was sitting, neither did he. “So even should a slave escape, they will not live more than eight years.”

Ahsoka and Echo looked disturbed, but Yoda leaned back in his chair. “This method. What is it, Obi-Wan?”

There was something horrible in Obi-Wan’s expression as he looked at the old Jedi. “Younglings. Countless Sith younglings, given no memories or care. They know nothing, and are destroyed when they have outlived their usefulness as a leash upon other sentients.”

Ahsoka was blank for a moment, and from the way Echo sat at attention he must have done the math. Anakin could feel the blood drain from his face, and he couldn’t tell if it was him or Fives who had their hands on their weapons.

Yoda’s cane hit the floor with a clatter, and 99 stared at Obi-Wan. The old clone was shaking his head, radiating equal parts disbelief and horror. “You believe this,” 99 murmured, “you are certain.”


“How many are here?” Fives demanded, voice harsh even as his mind was clamoring about the twins. “You wouldn’t buy that if you hadn’t actually– how many?”

“Fives– ”

“NO!” Fives was on his feet, slamming his hands on the table. “Obi-Wan, you know as well as I do– what sort of things would happen if– ”

“Yes I damn well do!” Obi-Wan snapped back, remaining seated but glaring back. “I wouldn’t condemn any being to that kind of– ”

Slaves! Love of the Force they’ve got to be surrounded by Darkness– ”

“And throwing a fit isn’t going to help– ”

“I need to see this with my own two fucking eyes– ”

Obi-Wan’s posture swapped to something more rigid as Rex stood. “ENOUGH. Stand the fuck down, Fives!”

#Please,# Anakin whispered, endlessly grateful he couldn’t vomit except through his host.

#Ani!# Fives’ mind was a roil of images and emotions, featuring Luke and Leia in all sorts of horrible circumstances against a backdrop of Fives’ furious concern.

#I KNOW.# Gods, it was hard, trying to release his emotions into the Force. #Obi-Wan has to have a plan, if he warned us in advance!#

“Fives.” Obi-Wan’s voice was gentler, cutting through the increasing fog of worry Fives had. He looked up, and Obi-Wan’s expression was sympathetic. “I know. Believe me, I know. The best thing we can do is destroy this down at the corrupt root.”

The stare-off between them was broken by Jackson. “Why so shock?”

Fives and Obi-Wan glanced over at him. The local was sitting with just a bit of hunch to his shoulders, and his expression was...judgmental. Jack cleared his throat. “Shocked?” he muttered, sounding as if he wasn’t sure that’s what his friend was going for. That earned him a muted glare from said friend.

Fives looked at the local, half-suspicious and half-angry. He couldn’t have understood the man’s intent correctly, surely. “What?”

Sullen resentment flared to life inside Daniel. He’d been trying to go along with the idea of ‘good-guy goa’uld,’ as Jack would put it. He wanted to believe, he did, but the overwhelming evidence suggested that this was just another lie. The outpouring of grief and anger from these brain-snakes had hit him exactly the wrong way. It had to be faked, it had to be a trap. If something was too good to be true that usually meant it was too good to be true and waiting to bite them in the ass somehow.

=You act so shock. Shocked,= he corrected himself, =but we never see that from goa’uld. Any goa’uld. You ask us to think you are so different?=

If Daniel’d been hoping for a clear indication that he was right, he didn’t get it. Kenobi didn’t react except to sigh. Aianste had gone thin-lipped and rigid, but didn’t attack or shout.

Daniel couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on with the oldest host. Then the elder goa’uld leaned forward with a soft hum. =Hurt you are. Easy to see, that is. Yet care about others, you still do.= Dear gods, the syntax was all over the place, and from the way Jack was slightly crosseyed it wasn’t just Daniel.

=Is there supposed to be some kind of a point there?=

It was hard, looking at the old, green-eyed man, and to remember that it was a snake attached to his brain that was addressing Daniel, not some tribal elder. =Children? Have them, do you?=

He could see Jack’s expression close up the way it always did. =That’s not the problem here. We know goa’uld queens make many children, fast. By your own words, you and goa’uld are the same species. But you ask us to think you are different. Why?=

The goa’uld kept looking at him, then his eyes went brown. =Doesn’t matter if they’re your kids, or your partner’s, or your friend’s. They’re still kids.=

All Daniel could really see was that memory of aquariums, of writhing goa’uld larva, and the way an adult snake had looked burrowing into his wife. The way she’d looked at him with glowing golden eyes, and there had been no recognition. No humanity.

Of course he’d fucking destroyed that tank. Those weren’t...they weren’t kids.

The old host’s eyes went from brown back to sorrowful, ancient green. =Hmm. Share with you, something I might?= He said something more, but Daniel wasn’t sure what the last bit was. He looked at Jack, who shrugged.

“Something about a vision?” Jack whispered to him. “I mean, photos and Republic’s Funniest Home Videos were never really a topic that came up. Not sure what he means.”

Daniel clenched his jaw. “He wants to give me a ‘vision.’” He said flatly.

“I’ll let him know it’s a no-go,” Jack said.

“Ask them how invasive it is.” That got Daniel a raised eyebrow from Jack.

“Danny– ”

“Just ask.”

Jack rattled off something vaguely sarcastic – kind of a given, with Jack – and the old goa’uld looked back at Daniel with a headshake. =Harm you, it will not. A sharing, only.=

Jack asked something else of Kenobi, rapid-fire and sounding concerned. Something about Daniel’s mind. Kenobi looked offended, and informed Jack that Yoda knew what he was doing.

Great. Daniel weighed telling them all to go to hell against potential benefits; getting it done and over with versus them lurking in wait to spring alien wallet photos at him.

There were times Daniel knew he’d spent a bit too much time around Jack. =Fine. Let’s just do this.=

Jack was looking at him funny as the old man held his hand out parallel to the floor. Daniel had to bite back a squawk as the cane rose up like a very good special effect, settling into Yoda’s hand so the man could push himself to his feet.

Really playing up the innocent old geezer thing way too hard, Daniel thought, trying not to wrinkle his nose at the cheap ploy. Even as he was giving the man a skeptical look, Yoda grinned up at him with a twinkle in eyes that went brown. =When you’re approaching five hundred years old, then I dare you to be even this agile.= Shek’eta-She’cu smiled at him, then his eyes went back to green as the goa’uld came to a halt in front of him. A wrinkled, scarred old hand rose up into the universal request for a polite touch.

Daniel fought back revulsion and reached out and place his hand atop the host’s palm. In the end, some of the incentive was just spite. Give these new goa’uld just enough rope to hang themselves.

Not like it was the first time he’d thrown himself on his sword for the team.

=Worry not. Harm you we will not.=

Daniel kept his face blank.

There was a tingle at Daniel’s palm, not quite static electricity but nothing like holding on to a wandering insect. It made his shoulders warm, relaxing the muscles there as he could catch the scent of something almost like bay leaves and a hint of citrus.

That smell...reminded him. It reminded Daniel of sitting down next to a large ornamental, indoor pool. He’d been assisted by a large burly man, only the man had had lavender hair, blue skin and vibrant gold eyes, tattoos of stripes in bright colors. As the man had left, Daniel had turned and looked down into the water.

The memory deepened into something more like a vivid dream. Daniel already had his pant legs rolled up to his knees, so he rotated on his cushion to dip his legs into the warm water. It was reasonably clear, with the little bubble-blower things aerating the whole pond along the edges and in a few other places. There were lots of plants, and someone’s idea of a fish landscape that included the weirdest looking attempt at a playground in miniature and a really silly looking set of spaceship toys.

There were no fish, though.

Just goa’uld. Dozens of them, white with beady eyes and short fangs, so many of them swimming through the water right to his legs. Since it was a dream (gods, a vision, the old goa’uld was giving him a vision, going by the way his hands and legs looked so old and wrinkled, and the way Daniel sat with a natural hunch this had to be straight from the goa’uld’s own experiences), he didn’t pull away. Instead he dipped his hand into the water too.

He had countless pale brain-snakes twining around his legs and fingers as he grinned, and he could feel an impossible sensation of welcome, affection and love and respect. Somehow both giving and receiving, which didn’t even make sense.

Daniel looked up, across a wide room with other little pools, and little canals connecting them. All sorts of– of people, men and women and other things with fur and tentacles and who knew what – they were moving around. Talking to the demonspawn. Playing with them. Fetch and flying UFOs underwater, tickle games and tug of war–

Weirdest part, though, was the emotions.

It felt like family.

He knew that out of the dream/vision/memory, he was crying, but it had been a long time since he’d felt that content. It was like being with Sha’re, it was like hanging out with the team at Jack’s place, having another marathon of some random T.V. show and claiming it was about expanding Teal’c’s understanding of Earth.

Only this was more. More minds, more contentment, all these children of his.

When he came back to himself, it was like shaking away an old memory, not resurfacing from a harsh experience. Jack was next to him, arm around his shoulders, and it sounded like he’d just started to demand if Daniel was ok.

Daniel slumped back into his chair, still crying and not able to stop. Not really caring, which was even weirder. Yoda was staring at him, looking concerned and a touch cautious.

Daniel tried to speak, making a few attempts until he could croak out, “Someone lock up the Tok’ra. Don’t let them know he’s a queen.”

“Does that thing give you the creeps or is it just me?”

Sam tried not to roll her eyes at her father, because if nothing else Selmak was being incredibly helpful in translating the schematics for the newcomers’ ship. Even if he was going to be rude about the nice robot, she wasn’t about to insult it to its face, regardless of whether or not it understood her. “Dad, be nice.” She pointed to the hologram, biting back something that was absolutely not a squeal of glee as the transparent model zoomed in on that part. “This bit here – is that some kind of power converter, or capacitor, or what?”

Selmak had a grin that was a bit more wry than Jacob. Sam liked that she was starting to really pick up on those nuances, even without a distorted voice or glowing eyes to clue her in. She liked being able to see the difference between her Dad and Selmak. She still was’t sure about these new goa’uld, but if exposure to them was making it easier to differentiate host from symbiote, she’d take it.

They also had fascinating machines.

Exhibit A was talking back to Selmak, voice level but remarkably human. It only had a faint hum of synthesizer to it, just enough so that Sam could tell immediately that it wasn’t organic.

Whoever had designed it had incredible taste, precision, and skills. She didn’t know if she wanted to meet them, or abduct them.

Turned out the part she was studying wasn’t either of her initial guesses, and the droid was speaking somewhat broken English as it asked a polite question about the microwave.

It wanted to know about the damnedest things, but Sam had to admit, a lab was a place to find the obscure and the basic necessities. You’d want the latter when poking the former.

Selmak finally wandered off with the robot to consult with Teal’c about languages, and probably also to let the robot record details about the treatment of Kenobi’s men. Sam was busy trying to make head or tails of the thing Selmak had called a ‘repulsor’ which was doing ridiculous things to the laws of gravity.

She stared, nonplussed, as Jack half staggered into her lab. He leaned up against the wall, crossing his arms and looking at her. “So, how’s it going?” she finally asked, when Jack just did the owlish blinking at her that meant he’d gotten one too many surprises lately to even joke about things.

“Oh, you know.” His shrug meant something had gone pear shaped. “Goes. Hey, you know where the Tok’ra are?”

Oh that boded well. She was stretching out that...sensation, the weird almost-a-stretch-that-wasn’t which would ping in her mind with copper sharpness that meant ‘goa’uld.’ It was an extremely short-range sense, but nobody was listening on the other side of any of the walls. “Why?”

Shit. He was giving her the look, rolling his hand for her to report on the Tok’ra first.

“Selmak’s down in the gym area, I think the rest are still consulting in their meeting room, and I still can’t find any of your new friends. Colonel, what’s going on?”

He stepped into her lab, shutting the door behind him before scrubbing his face. “So, funny thing about these new guys. They don’t...gender like we do.”

Sam blinked. “‘Gend–’ What happened?” She couldn’t imagine what that meant, but it wasn’t a very Jack-like question or topic.

“Well, I need some advice.” So help her if it was a question about how women anything she was going to remind him about stereotypes and generalizations, the hard way. “The Tok’ra. What would they do to get their grubby mitts a queen? I mean, they’d avoid diplomatic incidents, right?”

Sam didn’t answer right away, because they both knew the Tok’ra probably wouldn’t care. The implications of Jack’s statement, though–

Oh. Oh, God. “The one who didn’t talk, that Kenobi kept shushing– Tano? That’s– she’s a queen?”

It made her skin crawl, somehow, the notion of goa’uld spawning little brain snakes. The pleasant looking man – clone – who’d watched everything attentively, might have a mother of snakes in his head.

Jack huffed something not quite a laugh. “Funny thing. Tano’s a her all right, but no. Yoda’s the queen. And boy that sounds just as weird out loud as it does in my head.”

Sam’s brain stalled. She knew, on several levels, that the age and appearance of the host had little to do with the identity of the goa’uld. Somehow, though, the notion of that nice old man spawning bitty little goa’uld–

“Carter, don’t blue screen on me, it’s possibly worse.”

“If they’re all queens, I’m retiring to Florida.”

Jack’s grin was the one that didn’t have too much humor in it. “No, I think just Aianste. Nothing to prove it, though. Just a gut feeling, and him and his host flipping their lids over the prim’ta even more than Kenobi did.”

Sam scrubbed her face. That...would explain Jack’s expression. “And you know that Yoda is?”

She did not like the look Jack got, the shifty ‘yeaaah, about that’ expression. “He and Daniel did a Vulcan mind-meld thing, and Daniel’s certain of it.” Jack’s expression sobered. “Danny’s probably okay, but it hit him pretty hard, I think.”

That also did not bode well. All right. Sam leaned back against the table, crossing her arms. “There’s no way to tell a queen from an ordinary goa’uld unless they’re visibly pregnant, and I don’t think anyone’s going to be unhosted around here. So, the Tok’ra are going to insist on meeting them, and there’s no avoiding that barring a planetary invasion from Apophis or friends. Kenobi already knows the score on the Tok’ra front. Maybourne’s been suspiciously quiet, but General Hammond seems to think things are stable. The high-ups are looking for angles, but the Jedi are going to play nice so long as we do.”

Jack nodded. “And we’re left juggling way more political balls than normal, and this time, if the political shit hits the fan we can’t really gate out away from it.”

They looked at each other for a long moment. Sam couldn’t tell if she wanted to sigh, or give him a weak grin. “Sir, is it too late to request a do-over on my week?”

Chapter Text

“I know what they’ve said, but what proof do we have?”

“Just more guards on the doors and still the Tau’ri insist that we cannot meet with these ‘Jedi.’”

Selmak kept her sigh internal, and Jacob echoed her exasperation with what was now a count of four repetitions. Even so, she was... uneasy, because her compatriots were not entirely wrong. Garshaw, Lantash, and Thoran had worked all the angles, and they couldn’t help but come to an incorrect conclusion that still sounded far too likely: the Tau’ri were conspiring with the new ‘system lords.’

She knew that was wrong, she believed Kenobi’s declarations, but one didn’t survive long against the System Lords without both a healthy ability to assess situations, and a good dose of reasonable paranoia.

Selmak was neither innocent, gullible, nor overly trusting, and to Jacob’s best knowledge only Daniel Jackson could make that work in the long run, anyway. She understood her compatriots’ concern, even though she knew it to be unfounded.


After another two rounds of talking themselves in circles, with no clear sign of stopping in spite of her attempts to bring logic into matters, Selmak decided this called for desperate measures. She didn’t like leveraging Jacob’s past, nor her own alliances, but if she didn’t do something to stop this, then it was possible that her fellow Tok’ra would worry themselves right out of the first solid hope of allies in centuries.

George Hammond had run across a lot of interesting problems in his time in command of SGC. Many of them came from Jack. O’Neill’s ability to continually raise the bar always managed to impress, but this one was a doozy to surpass at least half of the past contenders combined.

Hammond sank deeper into his chair and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Jack, don’t do this to me.”

O’Neill did the little head bob that was part faux-apology, part resigned amusement. “I wouldn’t inflict it on you if it wasn’t important, sir.”

He did his best to push any and all mental images and wild speculation to the side. “You’re telling me we have two – one confirmed, and another suspected – Jedi Queens in the mountain right now.”


“Of course we do.” Because a new potential crisis was exactly what they needed, now that things had settled down a little; the brass was rightly impressed with their new visitors’ casual display of power and technology, the Tok’ra had been taken down a peg or three, and the NID had sulked off to lick its wounds. Looking at it that way, Hammond was surprised that he hadn’t expected something new to crop up, because at SCG, it always did.

A knock on the closed door interrupted Hammond’s train of thought. Jacob Carter poked his head in and asked with deceptive casualness, “George? Do you have a moment?”

Speaking of new crises...

“C’mon in.” Better to nip this in the bud before whatever it was exploded in their faces.

Jacob ducked in with a casualness that would’ve fooled most people, but Hammond recognized the frazzled edge around his friend. As soon as the door shut again, Jacob’s head dipped down, and Selmak looked between Hammond and Jack.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, but we would greatly benefit from a bit of assistance from you and yours.”

Well that sounded...bad. George gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk, and settled in for trouble.

He got it. Selmak danced around things a bit, but the basic problem was simple enough. The Tok’ra had turned paranoia into an art form, and looked at in the worst possible light, SGC was about to spring some kind of trap on the high-ranking Tok’ra currently cooling their heels in a small windowless room. Given such a show of – not bad faith, more like dubious evidence, which long-standing caution and paranoia was turning into trouble waiting to happen - they wanted a some reassurances, and a show of explicit good faith.

George could see Jack fighting to restrain comments about how the Tok’ra had done as bad and worse, but through some small miracle, the Colonel kept his mouth shut.

The difficulty, of course, was that while the problem was simple, what to do about this was a far stickier issue.

He lucked out, since it seemed that Selmak came prepared with requests.

Whether or not the Jedi would go for it – that was the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

George couldn’t quite decide if it was a minor miracle that the Jedi were amiable, or if it was further proof that they were, in fact, reasonable people that were actually willing to be allies. Given how the negotiation tables had turned, Kenobi would have been well within his rights to tell SGC to fuck off, or whatever colorful equivalent they had. Or that Kenobi had pulled from Jack’s head, which was disturbing in any number of ways.

Maybe it was no more complicated than Kenobi being friends with Jack, and willing to help out because of that. True, ‘friends’ and ‘goa’uld’ didn’t typically go together in the same sentence, but the Jedi continued to surprise.

Miracle or no, it was downright odd to be the only non-snaked human in the small conference room. When everyone was settled, Garshaw gave a little bow of a nod towards the Jedi, then George himself. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, General Kenobi, and for taking the time to arbitrate, General Hammond.”

Kenobi nodded back, stiffer than George quite liked to see but still more polite than he’d expect. “It is always unfortunate when matters start on the wrong foot. I am however afraid I still don’t have a solid notion just what we’re meeting about.”

That earned Selmak a suspicious look from Lantash, which he ignored. George didn’t know what that was about, but if Selmak wasn’t bothered by it, George would trust his judgement.

Garshaw’s smile was strained. “We...understand your position about potential hosts, but you must consider our perspective. We have spent centuries locked in a guerrilla war against the goa’uld. We interact with a number of societies where hostage exchanges and alliances via marriage are common, and to find someone so unwilling to even consider such traditional gestures towards trust.... Well. It does make us uneasy.”

George had to work hard to keep his mouth shut. Uneasy, right. That’s exactly what he’d call their attitude when SG-1 had first encountered the Tok’ra, and the terms had been a new host for Selmak – which would net SGC the potential for allies in as vague terms as possible – or nothing.

Ok, so the Tok’ra had said they’d let SG-1 go without killing them, which was better than some of the alliances SGC had made, but still. Made a man wonder how far he could trust this whole ‘willing host’ nonsense.

Kenobi did this feline little blink, his head tilting in a curious manner. “Do you normally sell your members to other factions for favors, or does the nature of a guerrilla war mean you enjoy the opportunity to plant operatives with permission?”

Garshaw bristled. “We do not and would not do such a thing! General, let us be blunt. The Tau’ri have notoriously close ranks.”

The hell they did. Thank God Jacob – Selmak – possibly Jacob looked miffed too. Nice to know he was still on their side.

Garshaw either missed or ignored the reactions. “Yet not only have they embraced you and yours, when we had no idea you even existed before this week, but Jack O’Neill was willing to host you for a time.” Garshaw narrowed her eyes. “We know nothing about you aside from your lectures about absolutes. For all we know you’re looking to recruit or fool the Tau’ri into helping you become the new system lords!” That would have been funny, except George has wondered the same thing from time to time.

Mention of Jack hadn’t elicited a reaction, but the last accusation earned an amused snort. “Madam, after eight years of war I can assure you that damn few of us have the slightest interest in further conflict, and even less in galactic domination. That’s a problem for politicians, and they’re still in a tizzy over said war.” He leaned back in the chair, and age crept over his face. It was in the blue eyes, the tired lines around the mouth – this was a man who’d pushed, and been pushed, long and hard. Quite possibly past the limits of his endurance, but he’d managed to put himself back together again afterwards.

George had seen faces like that, back in the day. The Stargate program was too new for it to be prevalent, with sufficient downtime and contact with home helping to stave it off.

Never made seeing it hurt any less.

“Regarding our soldiers, they are contracted with the army, and the Jedi Order is responsible for their welfare. That includes not sending them off on missions to unknown regions of space for an unknown amount of time, working – or potentially hosting – with beings we have never met. Our caution is not a slight against you, but a keen awareness of the responsibility we hold. In all my 300 years–”

“You use sarcophagi, then?” Garshaw asked with bitter distaste.

That stumped the Jedi for a moment. “I beg your pardon?” George was wondering the same thing - 300 years was a perfectly reasonable age for a goa’uld or even for a tok’ra. It might even be considered a young age.

“The sarcophagus technology, for healing and rejuvenation. You said you only had the one host, and three hundred is a bit of a reach for humans.”

Kenobi blinked, then he looked over at George, who was racking his brain to remember when Kenobi had said that. It sounded familiar, but George couldn’t have sworn when he’d heard it. “I’m terribly sorry, but this is the problem with accessing language the way we did. All I’m understanding is burial caskets and, ah, ‘bad juju’?”

Of course that was what he picked up from Jack. George brought himself back on track. “It’s technology we don’t understand the workings of yet, but it’s a coffin-shaped device that heals people within. We have evidence that it can even revive the dead.”

Some expression flashed across Kenobi’s face. “Is this a common device?”

Oh hell. The man’s host had died on the ha’tak, a fact the Tok’ra didn’t know. He sent up a fervent prayer that the Tok’ra didn’t inadvertently put their foot in their mouth.

Lantesh nodded. “It is available to most system lords, but there are serious side effects. Use of the sarcophagus is addictive, and destabilizes the mind. That is why we have sworn off use of them, but it means neither we nor our hosts have the kind of longevity that the goa’uld do.”

Kenobi bowed his head, holding up a hand in a ‘wait’ gesture before shakily scrubbing his face. “Gods,” he whispered at last, an odd little oath. “We lost soldiers – the engagement Jack rescued us from – are you telling me we left behind captives to be tortured?”

The Tok’ra shared a look George couldn’t quite interpret. He hoped it was a positive sign, surprise that Kenobi would care about his foot-soldiers, but he just didn’t know them well enough to say. Garshaw was the one to clear her throat and speak up. “It is...possible that some of your people might have been questioned, but unless they were clearly of a higher rank I doubt the jaffa would have thought to move the bodies swiftly enough for revival.”

Kenobi nodded, swallowing audibly. “Small blessings, I suppose,” he murmured before mustering up an empty little smile. “My apologies. My host was one of the fallen. It seems we were lucky that – that one of his friends refused to leave his body behind.”

“Another host?” Thoran asked, tone cautious.

Kenobi raised a brow. “No. Is it so uncommon for a host to have a non-host friend working with them?”

Lantesh made an expansive gesture. “Centuries of guerrilla war. Friendships of any sort have been difficult. Even more so when one party is shorter lived and considerably more fragile than the other.”

Kenobi nodded, but George could see a turn to his expression. According to Jack, Kenobi had just led his people to the end of an eight year war, ‘fragile’ or not. The urge to make snide comments must have been incredible.

“I am glad your host did not suffer the horrors of interrogation,” Garshaw murmured. “The lengths the goa’uld will go to for information are extensive.”

Kenobi dipped his head in something not quite a bow, not quite a nod. “Aurek Ta’raysh E’tad would cheerfully goad someone into killing him before giving information.” There was a flicker of a smile. “This is a proven fact. glad he never had to do that repeatedly.” Another deep breath, and Kenobi seemed to pull himself together. “Meanwhile, unless any of you wish to engage lawyers specializing in Republic law, I suggest we set aside the debate over contracts about hosting?”

Lawyers were universal. Of course they were. It took a lot not to facepalm at that good news.

Sarcasm aside, it was nice to see that the Tok’ra took the comment seriously. They exchanged a look, then Garshaw nodded. “Then, as to the second matter. We wish to send a representative of the Tok’ra with you when you return to your home planet.”

George could see Lantesh puffing up to volunteer. He couldn’t tell if that was a bad thing, given some of the creepier ways the young man tended to act around Carter – he certainly wouldn’t have been happy to see a young man acting like that around his granddaughters, after all – or a good thing, because that exact same attitude could work in their favor.

It was a bit of a relief that Kenobi was visibly looking to nix that potential bundle of crazy pretty fast, if the way he looked over at Lantash and set his shoulders was any indication, but Selmak beat him to the punch. “General Kenobi and I have come to reasonable terms, and I find myself most curious about this new culture. I will go.”

Garshaw’s jaw dropped, and she wasn’t the only Tok’ra caught flat-footed. “Absolutely not! Let our oldest and wisest be dragged off to we literally don’t know where in the universe? This is madness!”

The Tok’ra shared a few sharp words with each other that Kenobi didn’t seem to understand. After some rapid-fire sniping, Thoran cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Perhaps a compromise. A reciprocal arrangement, if you will. We send Selmak with you, and you let one of your people come with us.”

“No. Absolutely not,” Kenobi said, back ramrod straight.

Garshaw pursed her lips. “General Kenobi, I can’t see how- “

“Forgive me,” Kenobi interrupted, “but I’m afraid that’s impossible. First of all, you have yourselves admitted that none of your bases are secure. Second of all, and most importantly, no Jedi will be going through any Stargate until we can determine why doing so almost kills us.” He shot a glance at Selmak. “I’m sure you’ve heard that my journey through the Stargate was...eventful.”

It looked like Garshaw and the rest wanted to argue that, if their constipated frowns were anything to go by, but having your mode of transportation be near-fatal to a guest was a pretty good counter-argument.

“Perhaps some other arrangement,” Hammond offered. He hated to encourage the Tok’ra, but he was supposed to be arbitrating, and the less frustrated the Tok’ra were, the less likely they were to go off and do something stupid.

Thoran made a considering noise. “What if you left one of your team here, in the care of the Tau’ri? If General Hammond would allow a Tok’ra representative to remain at SGC, that lets us have access to learning about each other.”

Not the worst idea in the world, though it looked like the notion left Kenobi a little sour. “I will have to speak with my compatriots. In the meantime, I...must admit there is something we wish to ask of the Tok’ra.” He looked very uncomfortable, while the Tok’ra perked right up at the notion of the Jedi being in their debt. “We need information. The names of these so-called system lords, probable locations of strongholds. What kind of enemies we might be meeting. We also would appreciate information about the metal you call naquadah. We’ve not run across this before, and we’re most curious about it.”

Garshaw let that sit for a moment, then raised a brow. “And that is all?”

Kenobi returned the look. “I have less than no interest in subterfuge and hidden agendas. We appreciate knowledge, and we seek the end to these system lords. Isn’t that quite enough?”

Pleasantries and closing statements took longer than Rex liked, but they could finally slump back in their chair after General Hammond had taken his leave. There were still guards about, but they were on the outside of the doorway, and could be politely ignored.

#That was fun,# General Kenobi finally muttered in a snide tone. Rex couldn’t quite find it in him to snicker.

#That was a bit of a clusterfuck,# he corrected.

#Mm.# Kenobi scrubbed a hand over their face, feeling exhausted in a way that Rex associated with a week-long forced march, not sitting around a table talking. Diplomacy took more out of one than expected, it seemed. #We’ll have to discuss this with the others. Not a conversation I look forward to.#

That finally coaxed a wry grin out of him. #Well, there goes the five minutes we have before the next meeting.#

Kenobi stood with a soft huff of mental laughter. #You know, I used to miss this kind of dance, in the early days of the war. I might need to relearn some patience.# He sighed. #No, I think this might need the ten minutes between the meeting and dinner. We need to leave enough time for everyone to express what a horrible idea this is.#

Rex nodded to the guards that fell into position around him as they reached the door. #Almost a pity Echo’s hosting. He could run rings around the questions they might ask, and he’s got the rank to hold his own.#

#I can’t imagine either him or Ahsoka wanting to separate for that kind of mission, though. Who IS next in line for hosting, Jesse?#

#Technically, but I don’t want the chain of command broken any more than it already has been.# Now it was Rex’s turn to sigh. #We’re going to need some serious restructuring before either the 501st or the 212th goes back out into the field.#

#And thus the war marches on.#

Danny had come to terms with waking up alone. He’d mastered the art of snuggling deeper into the blankets and pretending. He usually allowed himself a few moments to remember before it got too painful, and he’d force himself up to face the day.

They were nice moments, where he could pretend he was still Dan’yel, back on Abydos, and Sha’re had snuck out of bed before him because she was one of those bizarre morning people, though thankfully she wasn’t obnoxious about it. On the contrary, she thought his morning shamble was adorable, she refused to believe him about the wonders of coffee, and the way she would tease him about his atrocious accent before he woke up always had that undertone of love and affection he could hear.

Gods, he missed her. It was almost unbearable some days. He’d spent his early life hopping between foster homes, connecting with things long past because things that had endured for centuries or millennia were less likely to vanish tomorrow, the way a new home or family might. Thus had started his fascination with archeology, which was as much about the people as the things they left behind. That let him start to see the patterns in how and why people acted as they did. Find the roots, find the causes, and you could predict or extrapolate so much.

For a year, he’d had...everything. He’d been proven right, even if only he, the US military, and the inhabitants of Abydos knew it. He had a home, family. The selfish part of him had wished, very quietly, that he could have had some of those connections back to Earth, but nothing was ever 100%, so it kept everything grounded, real instead of an impossible dream.

It was...strange. He hadn’t felt that sensation of home in so long, and he’d encountered it in a goa’uld’s memories.

That burned a little. Daniel Jackson had never liked admitting he had followed fundamentally wrong theories. He even, gods forfend, liked to call some things facts. The Tok’ra had been difficult enough to adjust to, but given Teal’c’s vote of confidence, he’d bought it.

But good goa’uld? Ones that made friends, kept loyalties, cared about family? A whole society of them?

He wanted to believe Kenobi’s outrage over the prim’ta, for all that it made his stomach churn with the horrible implications. Most disturbing, honestly, were the implications about him and all of SGC.

There were too many jaffa to count, that they’d killed in self-defense. There had been a tank of prim’ta that he himself had destroyed. The notion of them being something other – more – than feral murdering parasites....

He didn’t feel like the kind of person capable of war crimes.

Did anyone ever? Or was it always a matter of believing in a righteous cause and acceptable sacrifices?

Danny forced his eyes open, unsurprised to see the infirmary’s ceiling. Janet was probably going to have kittens over this latest escapade. A mindmeld with a goa’uld queen, of all things, and the notion of it still broke his brain more than the mindmeld itself.

There was someone sitting at his bedside, too distant and too quiet for it to be anyone from his team. Danny rolled his head to the side to see who, only to freeze. The Jaffa medic was there, scanning the medical equipment around Danny.

=Welcome back,= Medic Kix declared softly. =You were out for a few hours.=

=Does Janet know you took over her room?= he asked, not quite sure if this was real. It earned him a bit of a smile, so he’d take it.

=She and several guards are keeping a close watch, but we have come to friendly terms. Somewhat.=

‘Somewhat.’ Oh that boded well. Danny pushed himself upright, glancing around. Janet was talking to–

He blinked and scrubbed his eyes before pulling his glasses from their usual location on the bedside table. Dr. Fraiser was busy talking to the robot that had arrived earlier. He both was, and wasn’t surprised that the thing was managing stilted but decent English.

=Do I want to know?= he asked, trying to keep up the sense of normal banter because he wasn’t sure how well he was going to keep it together otherwise.

=Teaching Besh-Two-Peth-Osk medical terms. She wants the best possible translations as soon as she can. She’s a little terrifying.=

=Says the man with ‘A good...something is dead’ written on his head,= Danny muttered, getting a snicker from Medic Kix.

=That,= he said, pointing to the robot. =A good majen. Besh-Two isn’t dead, but we’ve been fighting an army of the bastards.=

Ah. Robot. Ok. =Why did I travel unconscious?=

Yikes. Ok, Janet wasn’t the only scary medical type in the room. He was being glared at like a naughty patient who was being stupid, but he hadn’t done anything to deserve it for once. =Yoda’s little memory trick should not have done that. You have to have been thorough exhausted to need sleep like that.=

...ah. Danny coughed and studied some fascinating medical equipment for a moment, wishing desperately for a cup of coffee to play with.

Also, coffee.

He made himself look up at the medic. =I have been worried.=

Kix gave a sympathetic nod, but there was no softening to his resolute expression. =I understand – I am a Medic, this is what we do – but you cannot help your brothers if you do not remain well-functioning yourself. If it helps, consider your sleep an investment in their health.=

He hated that lecture, it made sense but other things always seemed more important in the moment. Danny nodded, because agreeing was usually the best way out of those issues.

=Also, General Yoda wished for me to pass on his apologies.=

Danny blinked and stared. “Excuse me?” He shook his head. =I mean, sorry?=

Kix sighed and shook his head. =Jedi sometimes do not think through potential problems, even Jedi as old as Yoda. Asking for permission can be thought of as asking about physical limits as well. He was wrong.=

It was a good thing he was as rested as he now was, because his shoulders wanted to crumple under the weight of that. He wanted to like these people. He hadn’t exactly managed to do anything but piss them off so far, and trying to reverse that tide felt overwhelming.

The silence was kept from being too much by Kix letting out a deep sigh. The man nodded over to where Janet was gesturing extensively with her favorite tool. =I do not understand you people’s worship of the penlight,= Kix muttered.

He hoped that wasn’t the right translation. =It’s not – look. Janet likes using it for basic checks, and Jack really hates it, so it’s...just spread?=

Kix gave him the hairy eye, then snorted. =He is impossible to keep in medicinal, isn’t he.=

=Only a lot. Speaking of escape: you and the rest have been let out of holding?=

=Yes. After your collapse, it was thought best that we be reunited with our Jedi.=

He nodded as if that wasn’t of any consequence, but inside he relaxed a little. Jack had gotten the point and made sure they had better protection.

=If you don’t mind me asking?= Kix asked, cautious for the first time. Danny blinked at him, then motioned for him to proceed. =What was so important that General Yoda would share memory with you?=

Trust a doctor to ask an easy question. Danny considered the ceiling tiles for a moment. =It is...very very difficult for me to trust a goa’uld. My wife was taken against her will to host.=

The medic’s eyes closed for a moment, then he nodded. =No Jedi in their right mind would.=

He was starting to believe that. =He showed me a memory of a– a room? Pools, and people watching over– over young.=

Recognition lit Kix’s eyes, and he said a word Danny could only presume was ‘nursery.’ It only took a few repetitions to get the pronunciation down, and he could see the clone’s approval for his speed. Nice to know he wasn’t lingering too badly in Jack’s shadow. Meanwhile, he had to tug the tiger’s tail. =If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of families do your people have? You, ah, soldiers.=

That got him a casual grin. =A wide variety. Once we are out of the army, we are just people like any other. In the army, it tends to be within or from other attachment.= He hated not having vital vocabulary. Something must’ve shown on his face, because Kix continued. =Some marry. Some have informal arrangements. Some are like Wax and Boil, who have a found sister.= Found sister. Adoption? Had to be. Kix studied him for a moment, then reached down and did something to the wristguard he wore. A moment later, one of the blue hologram things popped up. It was of Kix and another clone, this one bald with a large round tattoo set off-center of his head and face. It looked like the same gear symbol they wore on the long-johns Jack was so obsessed with.

Kix pointed to the bald man, getting a goofy, enamored smile. =Jesse. My husband. He’s on the Resolute One – I’ll admit I’m looking forward to getting back.=

Oh dear. Danny adjusted his glasses, breathing deep and tilting his worldview again. That was possibly important intel he should get to Jack, making sure no one asked something they shouldn’t be told. Stupid military and its stupid heteronormative worldview.

Time to get back to work. It was amazing how that felt good.

Clarence McGregor was genuinely having a great day. He’d seen the Stargate in action, met several aliens, seen an honest to God UFO, and then he’d gotten to watch the National Security Advisor match wits against said aliens. Best of all, during that process, the somewhat unflappable Tara Hayes had been just wide eyed enough for McGregor to notice. He was going to cherish that slip from her normal hard-edged blasé attitude for YEARS.

She hadn’t let it shake her from her usual poking and prodding at weak spots, but that wasn’t the point.

The second meeting between McGregor and his fellow brass with the Republic folks had a far different atmosphere. Everyone had gotten a catnap or the chance to settle from meeting actual aliens, and meanwhile the Republic side now had several spokespersons. It all got translated through Kenobi, with Colonel O’Neill corroborating, but there was now a very different balance of power.

This ‘Yoda’ – he’d been quick to wave off the title of ‘master,’ which everyone had worked hard to reassure everyone else was about skill and not something...unpleasant – had the air of a somewhat addled grandfather, but the sharp insight and occasional cutting comment that meant it was all just an act. It was like negotiating with Mr. Miyagi in a good mood.

Honestly, McGregor was beyond grateful he had Hayes there, both because she was good at foiling that, and because it meant he got to sit back and just enjoy the show.

It was an interesting horsetrade, all told. The Republic folks were now openly angling for solid support against the goa’uld – that was an intriguing move, since that was Hammond’s purview, and likely to happen anyways. Either they really wanted their help to be in writing, or they didn’t want anything else.

That was a bit of a problem. Earth had to have something these people would want. Technology might not be comparable, but that also meant there had to be interesting applications the Republic didn’t.

The alternative was a bit too ugly to consider. He wasn’t used to being in the position of having no bargaining power. On the upside, it meant that nobody was doing the equivalent of demanding nukes or blood sacrifices, so that was good.

By the time evening rolled around, everyone was equally disgruntled about not getting all that they wanted. It was amicable enough that a nice casual diplomatic dinner was arranged, in the hopes of getting everyone to mingle and make nice.

On the one hand, he hoped everyone kept playing nice. On the other, it would’ve been interesting to see how various parties cut loose.

On the other other hand, he quietly wished the Jedi might deal with the increasing pest known as the NID.

Chapter Text

It was standing room only at the SG teams’ meeting. Daniel closed the door behind him and nudged his way past Sands, homing in on Jack’s voice. It wasn’t often that General Hammond held a mass-meeting like this, but Daniel could understand why Hammond would want to bring all of his Stargate teams up to speed as quickly as possible. It would have been much more convenient in a lecture hall, but space was at a premium under the mountain, and so all eighty-plus people had to pack into one of the larger meeting rooms. Well, whatever got the job done.

Daniel edged past Spencer, nodding to him as he bumped elbows with Altman. He had one ear tuned to what Jack was talking about, which turned out to be the tail end of a very interesting bit of culture regarding the clones and the importance of individual customization of their armour in general, and the helmets in particular.

Teal’c angled his body to open up a space for Daniel to slip through to an empty seat at the table. Exasperated - he wasn’t made of spun glass! - but grateful, Daniel plopped down into the chair. He would, if forced, admit that he was still a bit wobbly from two weeks of little to no sleep, followed by the stress of having Jack host a goa’uld, and then a mindmeld with a goa’uld Queen. He glanced around the table, seeing the leaders of the teams, and Janet, occupying the other chairs, with General Hammond of course sitting at the head.

SG-1 was usually neck deep in whatever was exploding on any given day, so it was strange to get an update on momentous diplomatic talks after the fact. Then again, things didn’t seem to be exploding, either. Daniel wryly wished he could consider it a nice change instead of the calm before the storm. He was less on edge about the Jedi now, but trauma-induced habits died hard.

Jack wrapped up his presentation and sat down, giving Daniel a Look for being up and about already, which Daniel returned with as innocent an expression as possible, as if he didn’t have any clue what Jack was trying to communicate. It was a normal exchange, as if this were just a normal mission, and who knew, if he acted normal long enough, maybe things would go back to it.

“Thank you Colonel O’Neill, that was very informative, and welcome back, Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said as he stood up, quieting the low murmur of discussion that had sprung up around the room. Daniel ducked his head and waved awkwardly back. “Now, I thought you’d all like to know how things are shaping up. Our new allies have finished talks with the brass, and are scheduled to head home in a day or two. We officially have their support against the Goa’uld System Lords.” A smattering of applause sprang up, and a couple of enthusiastic whoops rang out. Hammond grinned, then gestured for quiet. “Now, seeing as they don’t have gates, like we do, that’s going to be a bit of a slog for them. They also still need to report to their Council and their Republic’s Senate, so it’ll be a while before we find out how much support we’ll be getting. To that end, Kenobi has approached me about sending one of our SG teams along with them, to help plead our case.”

Daniel’s mind stuttered. It really shouldn’t have come as a shock, it was perfectly logical that the Jedi would request people from Earth to come with them to speak to their authorities. Part of it was that nobody had ever...done that, before – not the Asgard, who tended to treat humans like dogs with slightly higher intelligence than usual, and certainly not the Tok’ra, who tended to come to them, not the other way around. The other part of it was that SG-1 tended to be the ones who inserted themselves into situations without being asked, via the gate.

Speaking of stargates, they’d be very, very far from the nearest one, if they went with the Jedi. They’d also be leaving SGC without its flagship team. The particular team hadn’t been specified, so it was theoretically possible that it wouldn’t be SG-1. Daniel shifted in his chair. Nah, who was he kidding? Of course it would be SG-1. That made his suspicions stir a bit, again – getting SG-1 away from backup and completely into their own power was something a goa’uld would expend a lot of Jaffa to do.

“So when you say, ‘an SG team,’ you mean mean SG-1, right?” Jack asked laconically, but Daniel could hear the enthusiasm lurking in his voice. Jack trusted them, Daniel reminded himself. And if the trust turned out to be unfounded, they’d gotten out of worse spots. Probably.

“I’ll need to get some people to sign off on that – this is a lot longer range than we usually send people,” Hammond said, but everyone knew it would be SG-1 anyway. “I think that about wraps it up. Unless anyone else has something to add...”

“Actually,” Daniel said, raising his hand a bit, by habit. “I do, ah, have one thing.” And given that this was shaping up to be a longer term alliance, his information was all the more relevant.

“Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said, nodding as he sat down, ceding the floor.

Daniel stood up, and the eyes of all the SG teams swung to him. His hands twitched, instinctively wanting papers or a mug or something to fiddle with. “Thank you, General Hammond. It’s about the Jedi, or Galactic Republic culture in general. I suppose it could be particular to their armed forces but,” Daniel took a breath and brought himself back on track, “I was speaking to one of the clones, and it came up that the Republic doesn’t consider same-sex relationships to be taboo.”

He could see the little ‘oh’ moment of realization in face after face, and Daniel wondered if he was needlessly expecting the worst. They were all professionals here; they stepped out onto new planets and into new cultures on a weekly basis. They’d all passed the army’s psych profiles to be here, and working in SGC inculcated a certain flexibility.

Which was all fine and good, but it was still illegal to be gay or lesbian in the US military, and even though Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell afforded gay and lesbian servicemembers a smidge more protection than before, straight soldiers (and officers) could take very, very badly to openly queer people. The clones might consider it a non-issue, but Daniel really didn’t want anyone ending up dead due to homophobia and narrow-mindedness. It might not be the clone that ended up dead, but it’d probably be an intergalactic incident, either way.

“Thank you for informing us, Dr. Jackson,” Hammond said, and Daniel sat back down, relieved. “I’ll be sure to include that in my report, so that we can avoid any unnecessary conflict. Now–”

“You’re joking, right?” Lt. Castleman blurted out, scowling angrily and shoulders tight. He was one of SG-3’s people, so Daniel would have recognized his unit even if he hadn’t been standing behind Maybourne’s seat. “That’s its? We gotta work with some fagg-”

“Lieutenant Castleman!” Hammond rapped out sharly, overriding the angry slur. “If you have a problem with our new allies, you can address the issue with your superior officer and myself in private.”


“I know our command structure here at SGC is a little more lax than some other postings, but now would be a good time to stop digging your own hole.” Hammond glared at the man, who settled into sullen submission.

“Uh,” someone from SG-4 ventured. “Sir, I agree that what they...get up to in private is none of our business, but what if it doesn’t stay private? I mean, what if – what if one of them makes an advance on us?”

There was a bark of laughter from SG-9’s area. The woman tried to morph it into a cough, but with little success. Hammond raised an eyebrow at her. “Captain Buckley, do you have something to add to the discussion?”

“Ah, not really, just...I don’t think Captain Marvin has anything to worry about,” she said, looking entirely too innocent and conspicuously not looking at the man in question. “And in the...unlikely event that he does get hit on, he can always employ the age-old strategy – Just Say No.”

“Yeah? And what if they don’t take no for an answer?” Castleman butted in, earning him a quelling look from General Hammond.

“That’s actually–” Daniel interjected, collecting his thoughts, “I mean, given what I’ve seen from their culture when it comes to respecting consent and bodily autonomy,” he rattled off, flashing back to a clone telling him that they signed up for ten year hosting terms, “that’s not likely, and if it does happen, telling their commanding officer or your commanding officer should get them in pretty deep trouble.”

“Yeah,” Jack said laconically, waggling a pen distractedly, “just remember,” he grinned at Castleman, showing a few too many teeth to be friendly, “the Jedi can tell when someone is lying.”

Ahsoka hadn’t done a language exchange before. Sure, she ‘remembered’ how it would go, but there’d been many times in her life so far when inherited memories were very different from actual experience.

For one thing, she didn’t ‘remember’ it leaving a feeling like five wookies in a two-person starfighter, where the starfighter was her poor abused head.

“That...feels like it should be a headache,” Echo said faintly, pinching the bridge of his nose and struggling to not blink repeatedly.

Anakin was massaging his temples. “Give it a few hours, and then you get the headache. It’ll be a slow build, but meditation helps.”

“It’s a little difficult to meditate if we have to go to a dinner function. Why do we have to do that, anyway? And couldn’t this have waited until after?” Ahsoka asked, trying for serenity instead of whining. She wasn’t sure how successful she was.

Master Kenobi frowned apologetically as he stood up from the lotus he’d been in. “We need to be diplomatic tonight, which means a shared language is a bit useful.”

Anakin grunted, dropping his face more fully into his hands. “Yeah, that was not fun the last time we tried having only the one interpreter. We still have another hour or so before dinner, Snips, if you want to meditate until then. It does help.”

Right, Anakin had probably done this before. It was weird to be reminded that her master probably didn’t know as many languages as she did, because he wasn’t creche-born. Ahsoka nodded, and Fives lifted his head to give her a wry smile. “There’s a reason we do it the old-fashioned way most of the time.”

Echo gave a snort of amusement. “I seem to recall you saying differently last time you mentioned this.”

“The only time I mentioned this!” Fives shot back, going back to trying to massage pressure points. “And that was before actually having Shyriiwook inserted into my brain. I can and do learn from experience, thank you very much.”

Master Yoda and 99 were still sitting in full lotus, eyes closed and only a pinched expression around their mouth indicating this was more than normal meditation. The whole thing had been a little unusual, sitting down in a circle and meditating in a way that made them receptive to Master Obi-Wan’s broadcast of the native language he’d learned from Colonel O’Neill. She felt like she’d jogged several hard rounds of an obstacle course, complete with a few blows to the head, rather than a long, intense meditation session.

Hopefully, they could refine their English and learn other languages from these folks the normal way.

#General Kenobi still looks worried,# Echo quietly pointed out.

#Yeah,# Ahsoka agreed. #He’s been tense since before today’s negotiations.#

“Master Kenobi, have something to say, do you?” Master Yoda asked, opening his eyes a bit.

Master Obi-Wan took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “Be on guard tonight. The Tok’ra struck me, but determined. They may well try to approach us each individually tonight, either about our troops and hosting, or about doing a, ah, cultural exchange.”

Hostage exchange, he meant. #Told you that’d be trouble,# Ahsoka sighed, getting a mental nod of acknowledgment from Echo.

It agitated Fives a lot, and it was Echo’s turn to sigh as his brother hauled himself to his feet and started pacing from one end of the room to the other. #Kark it. Why’d it have to be the Sith?#

#These ones aren’t technically Sith,# Ahsoka said, but it was a weak protest at best, and Echo’s snort of mental derision told her what he thought of that.

#Close enough for government work,# he said. #And after what Palp- Sidious tried to pull....#

Ahsoka made a noise of acknowledgement, feeling a prickle of revulsion and dismay, even now. She didn’t like to think about the Sith Master trying to subvert or control her Master. She wasn’t sure how Sidious intended to get Fives to go along with any of it, or if Fives would have survived it at all, and she didn’t like to think about that, either.

Echo kept the frown inside, giving his brother and Anakin their space. He also kept one ear on the discussion between Masters Obi-Wan and Yoda about the pros and cons of the matter.

#Well. They’ve started to argue in circles, think we should give them another round or say our piece?#

“So Echo and I would be best choice to remain for cultural exchange with the Tok’ra and the Stargate command.”

Anakin whipped around to stare at his padawan, who was sitting serene as could be – minus the language headache – and watching them as if she hadn’t just proposed putting herself into horrible danger. Fives was cursing in several languages inside, while Obi-Wan just did the brow thing. That usually meant he didn’t agree but was keeping it quiet, but sometimes it meant he was neutral and waiting to see more evidence.

Ahsoka. At the mercy of these insane Sith who thought–

“Mm, and your logic would be?” Yoda asked, calm as if they were discussing meditation techniques.

She pointed at Yoda. “Well, it’s not safe to leave a queen here, not if Dr. Jackson’s warning is accurate.” She pointed at Obi-Wan. “Master Kenobi is going to be the best liaison with whoever comes back with us, now that we know the language. None of the clones have appropriate clout, except for Cody or Rex – and given that Rex is hosting now, that means Cody is going to have his hands full making sure everything’s organized properly between the two legions.”

Ahsoka pointed at Anakin. “That leaves Master Skywalker and me. He has the clout, but he has too much clout – anything he says or does reflects on the Order as a whole. I’m just a padawan, so I can’t be maneuvered into negotiational corners because I can’t bind us on anything, but as the 501st’s commander, I’ve got the prestige and...well, enough experience that I can impress people if need be.”

Okay, he could grudgingly admit that Ahsoka’s logic was sound, but he was still caught between two very conflicting instincts. He settled on the positive one that wasn’t yelling at his padawan about putting herself in this kind of danger.

“Technically, your training’s been intense enough you could probably be knighted before too long.” Okay, fine, the words sounded rather strangled, and he didn’t like admitting that, but still. “I mean, you need to be cleared on a lot of the annoying generalist stuff, but a combat field Jedi? Less than two years, maybe. Which is not a vote for this, by the way.”

Frustratingly, Ahsoka swapped off with Echo, who shrugged. “Meanwhile, I know more than enough trivia and protocol that I’ve got weight to bring to the table. Give us a squad or two, and worst case scenario we can probably go to ground without too much difficulty.”

#I hate it when they conspire,# Fives grumbled, but Anakin wasn’t listening. He wanted to protest, but he’d seen how Obi-Wan’s expression had gone from ‘I’m listening but don’t hold your breath’ to ‘I don’t like it but it’s a solid plan.’


There was only so much hobnobbing with the brass that Louis Ferretti could stand before he had to step away instead of causing an incident. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle it, it was just that he really, really preferred not to.

It was easy enough to amble over to the buffet table, then take his plate of finger food off to the far side of the room. The other three members of SG-2 were clustered by a plant, and Ferretti was greeted by a glare from his team’s current second-in-command. “You’re eating the food,” Spencer accused, and Ferretti took a slightly ostentatious bite out of a fish-pastry thing.

“Yup. We’ve got at least another hour and a half to go, and I don’t want to stumble out of here starving.”

Spencer rolled his eyes, and Bell passed Sands some money. “Have you never heard of snacks? You have pockets, do you not know how to use them?”

He ate the rest of the pastry thing – not bad, for once – then shrugged. “Unlike some people, I had meetings all afternoon.” Also, it was always fun winding up his teammate.

“Shoulda told me,” Spencer grumbled, subjecting the room to one of his squinty glares before brushing hair out of his face. It went down past his shoulders, totally not regulation, but that was apparently one of the benefits of being a contractor. “I’m serious, the hacks they get in here–”

Bell rolled her eyes. “Are enlisted service members too, Eliot. Cut ‘em some slack, not everyone can work culinary magic like you.”

“There’s magic, and then there’s basic competence. This? Is neither of those.”

Sands never had much patience with yanking Spencer’s chain – there were reasons her specialities were engineering and languages instead of people. Her sigh was more melodramatic. “God, Spencer, will you not be a foodie just once?”

Spencer gave her a look. “Well, I can stick to my other job and just start punching things.”

Time to be the adult in the room again. “With the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Advisor, and several aliens in the room, could you maybe not?”

Spencer gave Sands a look. “Then I guess it’s back to the food, right?”

Bell diverted, the way she usually did – she’d been Coast Guard once upon a time, quit to be an air stewardess, and then left handling angry people in an enclosed tin can for applying Anthropology to alien cultures. Woman knew how to defuse a situation. “What I want to know is how did all the aliens pick up English?”

Yeah, that had bugged him too. “I caught something about a Vulcan mind meld, but all I know is Kenobi picked it up from O’Neill, so who knows what that actually means?”

“He might,” Sands murmured, her eyes darting over towards the recently arrived clone in dark red. The man had given the buffet a polite look, but was now drifting along answering quick questions from the little clusters of dignitaries that weren’t quite comfortable talking to the higher-ups at all, or this guy for long.

Ferretti also noticed the meandering path was leading towards them.

“Excuse me,” Bell called out, catching the clone’s eye. “But I was wondering...ah.... What exactly is your title again? It slipped past those of us without the best ears for your accent.”

The man gave up on the pretext that he was just pacing aimlessly, a few strides of the military ‘looks unhurried but will move right along’ style walk getting him into their little cluster. “Me, or my Jedi?” he asked, looking just a hair amused. Not the best cover in the world for not knowing the man’s name, but he was willing to play along. It’d do.

“Both, of course,” Bell said, with the charming smile that she must’ve picked up working for airlines. Little too happy for the Coast Guard, little too empty to be real.

The clone gave the formal little bow that was starting to get familiar. “Host Zehrzahk.” His eyes went green, and he repeated the bow.

“Padawan – Learner – Ahsoka Tano, at your service,” a completely different voice said, and Ferretti could feel a whole body twitch trying to escape him. He hadn’t heard this guy talk at all, and the voice – this voice – was a woman’s. Hell, if he’d overheard it around a corner, he’d peg it as a young woman’s, and this guy was...very not.

Spencer’s brows flicked up just a little, while Bell gaped. Sands – second generation Air Force engineer that she was – recoiled a little, a shocked expression crossing her face.

Tano didn’t help the situation, because – she? He? – scanned the four of them as – as he stood, body language uncertain. “I’m sorry, is something wrong?”

Spencer jumped on the metaphorical grenade, flashing Tano a quick smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “’Course not,” he reassured the alien. “We just weren’t expecting you to sound like that, is all.”

Tano’s brow arched, and it was damn strange to see the polite guy that had walked over looking all precise instead take a hip-shot stance, arms crossing over the tunic-y thing. “What’s wrong with the way I talk?”

Bell’s smile warmed as she turned on the charm. “Nothing’s wrong, it’s just we are very not used to Jedi, sorry.”

Tano’s unimpressed, curious look dialed up to eleven, and Sands jumped in feet first. “You’re a man and you’re talking like a girl,” she declared, blunt and diplomatic as a brick to the face.

The Jedi’s posture straightened as the eyes went brown, expression going differently skeptical. “I’m a male human, and Ahsoka is a female Jedi. I’m not sure I see the problem here.”

There were times when he wondered how SG-1 got anything done, and then there were times he was reminded not only why SG-2 was not the first line of defense and Earthly interaction with the universe, but also why his unit had a rotating roster.

Spencer casually stepped on Sands’ foot, keeping her quiet while he did the disarming ‘I’m just a simple country boy’ smile that worked more often than it had any right to. Bell meanwhile kept at the conversational fall out. “We’ve only got the one species here, and we humans are used to a more...precise division of gender.”

Host Zehrzahk blinked a few times, then his shoulders slumped and he face-palmed. “You have a binary system. Oh gods, this is going to take some getting used to.”

“What else is there?” Sands scoffed, ignoring another attempt from Spencer to distract her.

Definitely time to be the adult in the room. “Ok, people, let’s not have an interstellar incident on our own home turf, all right? We can swap cultural oddities some other time.”

Tano – and he was pretty sure it was Tano, not the host – hesitated, chewing on her lip. Then she seemed to come to some sort of decision. “I’d like that. You’re SG-2, correct?”

She instantly had their attention. “Yeah?” Ferretti drawled, wondering what angle she had.

“So if SG-1 is busy – away on a mission – then you would be the next point of contact, correct?”

It was predictable – frustrating, but predictable – that Spencer tensed a little, sliding just a little into a stance better suited to tackle the Jedi. Man was paranoid like that. Ferretti nodded. It wasn’t like it was a secret or anything, and how people reacted to things was often damned useful. “That’s us.”

Tano looked a little relieved, and surprisingly pleased. “Then I hope we do have time to swap cultural details. I’ll be spending some time here to liaison with the Tok’ra, but we’d both like to learn more about your planet and people as well.”

It was both hilarious and sad how the team exchanged a startled look. Now, it wasn’t that SG-2 was a bad posting, and Louis Ferretti was damn proud of his people. They just looked even less intimidating than SG-1, which was sometimes saying a lot.

Ferretti and Sands were the only career military of the group. He didn’t even make six feet, though Karen Sands was at least an inch over. Both of them could blend into a crowd – to be honest, height aside, Sands could do a better job being nondescript than he could. Bell was almost a foot shorter than her, a drop-dead gorgeous African-American woman who might have had a reputation for beating off unwanted advances with a stick – literally, if need be.

That might’ve been helped by Spencer – they went way back, and Spencer was one of the deadliest people Ferretti knew. Sure, the guy looked like he belonged in the academics’ wing of SGC, with long brown hair and a pretty face, not to mention the ability to turn on terrifying doses of charm at the drop of a hat, but his hand-to-hand skills were unparalleled on base.

When he was on base: Spencer was a contractor, which meant they only got him a few months a year, when he wasn’t off doing whatever the fuck he did for an actual living.

So not the most intimidating appearing people around. Ferretti wasn’t sure if he should be insulted that Tano wanted to spy on a perceived weak link, or pleased that she gave them unquestioning credit.

SG-1 was fashionably late to the ‘dinner function.’ Jack still wanted to go out for a good slab of steak, but after weeks of sock-nuts and fish (and a few days of jello and cafeteria cuisine) the half-decent buffet they’d had catered smelled heavenly. It was a tossup as to who SGC was trying to impress – the brass or the aliens, but either way, Jack intended to take full advantage of it.

“Okay, kids-” It was something in his hindbrain that made his attention catch on a movement in the crowd, and he turned to see one of the clones, Rayshe'ase, start making a beeline towards SG-1. Rex – or maybe Kenobi – caught the other Jedi by the arm - where had they even come from? - and stopped him, glancing over to SG-1- Jack turned to his right, knowing who was there. Teal’c. Aianste and Rayshe’ase had been heading for Teal’c. Fuuuuuuuuuck, he knew he’d forgotten something.

“Uh, Jack?” Daniel asked into the long pause.

“Yeah, so, it looks like Kenobi and I both forgot to give the new arrivals a tiny,” he held up one hand, holding thumb and forefinger barely apart, “tiiiny bit of information.”

“They are aware of Jaffa and prim’ta,” Teal’c pointed out.

“Yeah, but not that you’re, y’know, on the team. I mean, they know now.” He looked back at the Jedi, where Yoda and Shek’eta-She’cu were joining them, and Obi-Wan was giving a quick, hushed conversation. Ahsoka and her host were both off to one side, involved in a conversation, and it looked like she was taking the lack of whooshy lightsabers to mean that everything was under control. Smart kid.

The other Jedi had finished their discussion, and were now all three headed SG-1’s way, with Obi-Wan heading the pack. Jack spared a mournful thought for the food he wouldn’t be eating for a while yet.

“Should we be worried?” Sam asked, only mostly joking.

“Nah, it’s just gonna be a kind of sucky conversation,” Jack said.

“I think this conversation was always going to happen,” Daniel opined, then looked at Teal’c and shrugged. “They seem kind of invested.”

Teal’c raised an eyebrow at Daniel. “Indeed.”

The three Jedi reached SG-1 and halted. Kenobi inclined his head respectfully.

“It seems I have been remiss in some of my introductions. Anakin,” he said, turning to look at Aianste while gesturing towards Teal’c, “This is Teal’c. He is a steadfast warrior, who fights alongside the Earth humans for the freedom of his people.”

Kenobi turned to Teal’c, and gestured towards Aianste. “Teal’c, this is Anakin Aianste, my former student. He is a cunning warrior, and one of the best pilots in the Jedi Order.”

“It is an honor to meet you,” Teal’c said, observing social rules and assuming a polite position that would allow him to defend should the Jedi decide to express offense. It was not quite a declaration of strength, but he was not in the mood to spar with words.

Jedi Aianste shifted his weight the way a man does when uncertain if he will need to attack or defend. He took a step closer instead, though that was of little reassurance. Between one blink and the next, Aianste’s eyes went from vibrant blue to regular brown. “Is it true?” the Jedi’s host asked, voice low and intense. “You carry a larval goa’uld? Not as a host does, but–”

“Yes,” Teal’c declared, not wanting to wait through a list of grievances that he was neither responsible for nor guilty of.

Host Reyshe’ase had to pause a moment for self-control, eyes closing and hands clenching tight. When he opened his eyes and spoke, it was with the halting voice of a person who was not sure of their own self-control. “Is there – are you able to communicate with them in any way?”

Teal’c raised a brow. He had not expected that question. He weighed his options, then settled upon truth. How the Jedi might react had caught his curiosity. “In theory it is possible, but in practice it is forbidden.”

Host Reyshe’ase blanched. “Gods. They know – that’s – fucking Sith.” A few deep breaths calmed the host, then he turned a determined look upon Teal’c. It reminded him far too much of the kind of expression Daniel Jackson would wear. “I don’t suppose you’ve broken that rule, have you?”

This time, his inquisitive expression was paired with cold hauteur. “I was First Prime to Apophis. I was the first weapon to his hand, the fist he employed against his enemies. He was not a false god who prized shows of creative thought or individuality.”

He was studied for that, a long searching look though he did not know for what. Then Host Reyshe’ase’s eyes turned blue, and Jedi Aianste’s face went closed and hard. “I see.”

“A private conversation, is this?” an older man’s voice asked, and Teal’c turned to see the Jedi elder studying him. This one set his hackles up, because he reminded Teal’c far too much of his teacher Bra’tac. That would mean he was old, vicious in battle, and expected others to underestimate him.

Given the respect that Jedi Aianste gave him, and the cane of sturdy wood he carried, Teal’c suspected that the one called Yoda could be formidable indeed.

He let himself wonder for a moment if this one would be a worthy opponent for Bra’tac or not.

“Uh oh,” Sands murmured. “Aianste found Teal’c. Are we going to need to duck and cover?”

Spencer glanced over at the budding confrontation, then at Tano. “Or does someone need to babysit him?”

Tano was alert and tracking the confrontation, but not overtly. Ferretti had to give her credit, the Jedi could honestly do subtle. “No. Reyshe’ase and Anakin won’t start a fight unless your guy does. And it looks like Master Yoda’s joining the conversation. He always knows what to say. Master Yoda. Sensei Yoda? Are there...cultural connotations I’m not getting about those titles?”

Ferretti wasn’t sure if he wanted to facepalm or snicker at that, but thankfully Spencer did the facepalming for him while Bell jumped into the explanations with a cheery grin and that look of someone who loves her job.

Gave him a nice opportunity to watch the situation with Teal’c. Yoda had stepped in, and was doing the doting old grandad thing that Ferretti didn’t trust for a single minute. You don’t send doddering infirm grandad types out to diplomat, and the way the Republic folks acted around him, it wasn’t the kind of respect you got for having used to be good at shit. That was someone who was still getting things done.

“Wonder what they’re discussing,” Spencer speculated as Yoda – Tano seemed to have settled on no title being less confusing than picking a title – joined in conversation with Aianste and Teal’c, while Yoda’s bodyguard hovered a polite distance away.

Tano hesitated, then folded his – her, right – arms in a way that looked almost formal. “Probably his prim’ta. Yoda was hoping he could talk to them.”

He gaped a little. “Talk to it.”

Tano’s eyebrow communication was almost in Teal’c’s league. “You have a better idea on how to deal with them?”

Thank God, no one was tactless enough to say anything, though his whole team was a little too blank-faced to be believed. A sharp gesture from Aianste, and him taking a wider stance, brought everyone’s attention back to the discussion. Teal’c drew himself up, face closed, eyes half-lidded. Kenobi put a hand on Aianste’s arm, only to have it shrugged off. With only a short phrase in Ancient, and not a happy one, Aianste stalked out of the room, trailing his poor guard, a young airman who looked like he’d honestly like to be anywhere else, including the middle of active combat.

Conversations around them lulled, then picked back up when it became clear the situation was settled, for now. Zehrzahk broke the uncomfortable silence around SG-2, clearing his throat and politely asking basic questions about SGC and the team’s role in things.

Ferretti had to give it to him; he was good. It didn’t take long before they were trading No Shit stories, and Zehrzahk segued that neatly into getting the team to talk about themselves.

“Yeah, well, our team’s a little bit cursed. Guy who had my job first, he died on one of the early missions in the program – we found out if prim’ta are old enough, they can possess a person. Poor Kowalsky got ganked. We can’t keep Sands’ position filled, and both Spencer and Bell are contractors – they’re only here part time.”

A horrible expression crossed Tano’s face. “I’m so sorry about your friend.”

Spencer gave her a wary look. “Given what I heard about Kenobi flipping tables over the prim’ta, I’m a little surprised.”

“I know...what it’s like to be alone and surrounded by death. But you have to understand, taking an unwilling host like that? It’s a death sentence, and we are born knowing it. More importantly, we know why it’s a death sentence. I would never, and to imagine lashing out like that...” Tano shuddered, looking physically ill. “It’s fundamentally wrong.”

Bell looked like she lost the personal debate whether to ask or not. “So what happened, in your case? If you don’t mind.”

Tano’s eyes went back to brown, and Zehrzahk shrugged. “I offered to host her. We both expected it to be temporary, but we work well together, so it’s become long term.” He hesitated, then raised a brow at their expressions. “What?”

“Just like that,” Spencer said. “You just – offered to let someone else share your brain and body.”

Tano rolled her eyes. “You make it sound like I’d go snooping or something. I know not to be a nosy parker!” She blinked. “That is a very odd saying.”

Ferretti jumped in before there was a linguistic safari from members of his team. “Nosy isn’t the problem, so much as tyrant. We tend to run into a particular type of goa’uld.”

Zehrzahk looked him in the eyes, then swapped over to Tano. “Is that going to be a problem, if we’re working together?”

“Hope not,” he answered, trying for laconic and casual. For all that, he had surprisingly high hopes for their new allies. SGC didn’t advertise or aim for it, but gut instinct took you pretty damn far in the program – and he had a good gut feeling about this.

Most of the time the Earth guard assigned to every member of the Republic team (including Oddball, who found the fact that he had a guard hilarious) was unobtrusive and faded easily into the background.

“Wait – wait up!” the young man called.

Throttling back his impatience, Obi-Wan held the elevator for his guard. “I won’t be gone long, you can wait here,” he tried, but without much hope.

“Sorry, regulations,” the guard huffed as he caught up, leaning against one wall and heaving for breath. “Damn, you’re fast.”

Obi-Wan hit the button to close the doors, and then what he hoped was the button for the ground-level floor. “Yes, well, Jedi,” Obi-Wan said.

#You weren’t augmenting my speed that much,# Rex pointed out, trying to distract Obi-Wan from his worry.

#Needlessly antagonizing the natives is never a good policy. Besides, it’s always good to have an ace in the hole.# Obi-Wan bantered back, but it was tense and distracted. Anakin’s roiling emotions had settled into a slightly askew calm, like a note just out of tune.

“Look, I’m not sure you’re allowed aboveground,” the guard said, eyeing the bank of buttons.

“Anakin’s already outside,” Obi-Wan pointed out, “and we are guests, not prisoners. You’re welcome to keep guard over us, but I am going to...’check up on’ Anakin.” Couldn’t this elevator go any faster?

The guard looked conflicted. “I’m going to have to double-check this with my C.O. – my superior officer.”

“That’s fine,” Obi-Wan said, keeping his voice calm.

#Is Anakin okay?# Rex asked. #I don’t have a lot of experience with empathic bonds.#

#Yes,# Obi-Wan reassured Rex as much as himself, #Anakin feels his emotions keenly, but that’s just...Anakin. He knows himself and his limits.# Obi-Wan was mostly confident of that.

Finally, finally the doors opened, and Obi-Wan jogged out past dimmed lights and checkpoints with confused looking guards. He found Anakin and Fives’ guard a short distance away from where the Twilight stood, talking into his short-range com. “Yes, sir, he’s not – No–”

“Anakin is fine. If you two would wait here, please, we’ll be back shortly,” Obi-Wan said, implicitly stationing his guard with Anakin’s. Neither looked happy, but they were at least willing to stay where they were put, as Obi-Wan headed through the scrubby growth and rocks for the dark bulk of Anakin’s ship.

The ramp was shut, and when Obi-Wan laid a hand on it, he knew Anakin wasn’t inside. He looked up and took a step back, then, with a bit of Force assistance, made the jump to the Twilight’s roof. He landed on one knee, softening the impact and the sound.

There they were. Obi-Wan sighed softly, and made his way towards the front of the ship, where Anakin sat, knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them and hiding the bottom of his face against his sleeves. It was a defensive huddle Obi-Wan had seen before, from time to time, mostly when Anakin was younger.

Obi-Wan sat down beside Anakin in silence, a comforting presence if Anakin needed it.

“The stars look all wrong,” Anakin muttered, glancing up at the glittering specks of light, then back down again.

“We are rather far from home,” Obi-Wan said with the kind of wry resignation that had become so commonplace during the war.

Silence fell again for a while, until Anakin’s shoulders drew in even tighter. “Obi-Wan–” he choked out.

Obi-Wan leaned in, putting one arm around Anakin’s shoulders. “Fives, Rex, could you give us some privacy, please?” he asked softly. There was a sense of acknowledgement, and he felt Rex’s attention close off. “Anakin–”

“What if that had been me?” Anakin asked, turning anguished eyes full of unshed tears to Obi-Wan. “What if this is where I’m from? I didn’t have any memories; they don’t have any memories. What if- what if I was born a Sith?”

“You’re not a Sith.”

“I’ve always been too emotional, what – what if that’s part of it? Is that why Sidious was targeting me? Am I meant to be a Sith–”

“No!” Obi-Wan barked, making him break off his litany. “Anakin, listen to me, you are not a Sith,” Obi-Wan said, meeting Anakin’s wide-eyed look steadily and with conviction. “It does not matter where you’re from. What matters are the choices you make. If you were ‘born’ to be a Sith, Sidious wouldn’t have needed to spend time trying to corrupt you. He targeted you because you’re an incredibly strong Force-user, and because he could. And he failed.

Anakin ducked his head, pressing it into Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “...He almost didn’t,” he admitted, shoulders tense under Obi-Wan’s arm.

There wasn’t anything Obi-Wan could say to that point, much as he hated to admit it. “The Tok’ra aren’t Sith,” he said, trying for another tack. “They may not know the way, but they are trying to turn away from their heritage. If even they can seek to change, then how can anyone be ‘born’ a Sith?” Silence. “Anakin. Whatever happens. Know that you will always be my brother, and that I will always love you.”

“No matter what?” Anakin asked wetly into Obi-Wan’s tunic.

“No matter what.”

“Promise me something?” Anakin asked without looking up.

“All right.”

“Promise me that, that if I need to be stopped…that you’ll stop me.”

Gods. It tore at Obi-Wan’s heart to hear Anakin like this. He wanted to shake the boy, to tell him again that he wasn’t ‘born’ anything, that he wasn’t a Sith, that he never would be...but that wasn’t what Anakin needed to hear right now.

“I promise,” Obi-Wan said, voice breaking a little, “if anything happens, I won’t let you hurt anyone.”

Some of the tension bled from Anakin’s shoulders, and Obi-Wan gently combed his fingers through Fives’ short hair as they sat in silence, taking in each other’s presence.

Chapter Text

A low hubbub filled the room as all the ‘gate teams chatted quietly. There was an air of anticipation in the room, making people a bit more restless than at yesterday’s gathering. Daniel wanted to know everything Jack could tell him about their new visitors, and Sam broke in every now and again to speculate about the technology. Teal’c loomed behind them, quiet and stoic.

Hammond bustled in, only a little late, setting down his mug with an exhausted sigh. “Good news, everyone. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Security Advisor are pleased with us, and we have their official blessing to go forward with contacting the Galactic Republic. The word is that either the President or the Vice President will be calling later to go through some polite formalities with the Republic contingent.”

That got a nice round of applause, with only a bit of token sulking from the usual suspects. Made sense; approval from upstairs meant that the NID was back in the doghouse and out of the driver’s seat.

“So that means we need to look at the next phase of this little shindig. SG-1 will be traveling with Kenobi and his soldiers to the Republic to make an official statement about our situation with the System Lords. Kenobi and Yoda have promised us assistance, and to bring formal word to their local senate. Meanwhile, Padawan Tano will be staying here as part of a cultural exchange with the Tok’ra, and to learn about SGC.”

Ferretti nodded. “Me and my team already made friends last night. We’re willing to take her under our wing, if that helps.”

Jack wasn’t the only one twitching at ‘her,’ but Louis was looking around the room with an expression that was half bland, half ‘I fucking dare you.’ Ok. ‘Her’ it was. Still not as brain-breaking as the situation with Yoda, which Jack was Not Thinking About, thankyouverymuch.

Hammond nodded at Feretti. “Which leaves the very important question: do we send anyone else with SG-1, and if so, who?”

“I’m going.” Everyone swiveled to look at Doc Fraiser, who leaned back in her chair like a queen. “If anything happens to them while they’re that far away, an Earth expert will be invaluable – particularly given Dr. Jackson’s history of allergies. I want to get cultural exchange with their medical staff going as soon as possible, and traveling with them is the best way to do that.”

Maybourne scoffed from where he was wedged in between SG-17 and SG-18 at the back of the room. “They arrived with a couple of corpses. If they can’t keep their own people alive, is it really that important to try to expedite it?”

Fraiser got that steely look that should’ve made him bleed. “Their ‘bacta’ promotes incredibly rapid cell regeneration – not just general body tissue, but skin, muscles, nerves. We are decades away from anything like that, if not centuries, and this is stuff your average ground pounder carries around in his basic kit. Now imagine, if you can, what larger facilities would have that isn’t portable. Yes, we need to expedite it. I’m the most experienced with alien tech when it comes to keeping everyone alive and not reacting poorly to whatever you’ve decided to poke in the field today.”

About half of the away team members flinched, the other half tried real hard to look innocent. Janet ignored it all. “Dr. Brightman is more than capable of running things while I’m not here.” The women exchanged a look and a nod that did not bode well for anyone else stupid enough to get injured in that time.

George glanced over at Jack. “Colonel, given your team’s ability to find trouble even when you’re not looking, what odds do you put that this will be a peaceful trip?”

“Aw come on, we’re not that bad.” Man, everyone who wasn’t giving him the stink eye was avoiding all eye contact. Fine. Jack shifted and tried to look miffed. “Pretty good. We’re going to their home turf, which they’ve held during an eight year war and apparently thousands of years before that. Even if trouble finds us, we have allies on our side, and they seem to know one end of a gun from the other.”

Hammond just looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Approved, Doctor.”

Janet nodded at him. Makepeace, seated just past Daniel and Feretti, sat up, chair squeaking as he did so. “SG-1 should take some backup.”

“This is a diplomatic mission, not a military mission, as I understand it.” Kovaceck, the current head of SG-9, gave Jack a nonchalant look, blatantly ignoring Makepeace. “My team talked it over and we’re good to go.”

Jack bit back a groan as Makepeace bristled at having his thunder stolen. Internal politics, yaaay. Not.

“SG-3 might be more useful, actually,” Makepeace sniped.

Kovaceck got a look in his eyes and then started throwing down with Makepeace. The heads of SG-3 and SG-9 went to town, doing some posturing that was just barely polite, while Hammond tried to reign in the dick waving. Jack bowed his head forward, resting it against his mug. He snuck an exasperated look to his left, only to meet Daniel’s gaze as he did the same. They had a moment, sharing the wish for either an emergency to get them the hell out of this or the sweet release of death.

Well. Metaphorical, at least. Jack tried not to cough too loudly as he sat back up. Morbid thoughts aside, it was nice to be back to something like normal with his team.

Jack sat on the instinct to kvetch. SG-9 had an actual point: they were the team designated for diplomatic malarky. Except for that one time most of them had gotten killed, they’d done pretty good when they’d been called to the plate to make nice with belligerent idiots. Even if Kovaceck was an actual lawyer, like the saying went: at least he was their bottom-feeding shark.

SG-3 had a point too: they were Marines, and the usual backup for SG-1. If things went pear-shaped then you couldn’t get more reliable firepower than them. Hell, their sub-speciality was search and rescue, and that was useful. In theory. If things went badly, which they shouldn’t.

Jack hated internal politics, especially when everyone had a legitimate point.

“Okay, kids?” Jack held up his hands, glad that it actually worked to silence everyone. “We need to get clearance from the Jedi as to how big a group is too big, but everybody here has a good point. This is a slightly extended mission, while I hate pulling our only diplomatic team from the field they’re the likely ones to go make nice with the Republic once we get back, and getting started sooner is better. And I like having firepower to back us up, so I’m thinking SG-1, SG-3, and SG-9 should all head out to the party. General?”

Hammond chewed on it for a tense moment, then glanced over at Kovaceck. “Is there anything on your plate that can’t be handled by SG-18 and 20?”

To his credit, Kovaceck took the time to think it over. “No sir. We can get them up to speed pretty quick, I think.”

Hammond nodded. “Kim and Rodriguez, are your teams up to switching full time to a diplomatic speciality?”

Kim had a shit-eating ‘finally!’ grin along with a nod, while Rodriguez had a slightly squeaky “Yes, sir!”

“All right. O’Neill, check with the Jedi and make sure we’ve got clearance. SG-9, clear out your dockets, SG-3, don’t pack too much hardware: these are allies we’re working with. In fact, this is a reminder for all three teams – pack only what you need, but pack everything you need; you’ll be gone for weeks, possibly months, and you’ll be very far from the nearest stargate.” He looked around, then gave a nod. “Let’s get everything ready to leave this afternoon, people.”

Jack tried not to bounce to his feet, nudging Daniel as he passed him and SG-1 fell into a neat little cluster. “Wow. A real honest to goodness diplomatic mission. Hey, does this mean I get to park my spaceship wherever I want without getting ticketed?”

Carter did that thing were she was totally not smiling except she was. “Sir, I don’t think diplomatic immunity is universal.”

“And even if it is,” Daniel joined in the gentle ribbing, “you’re still running the risk of getting shot by Danny Glover.”

“It is indeed the kind of declaration that must be tested,” Teal’c declared, and Jack let himself grin. Things were finally starting to feel like normal again.

Nervous excitement warred with grief, and Ahsoka schooled her face into neutral lines, letting the emotions wash through her, then flow into the Force. Her assignment here might well count as one of her Trials, which was exciting, but also daunting. The cost of the events leading up to it, though….

Ahsoka watched Kix and Waxer escort two long, black bags of local plas across the open field onto the Twilight. They were careful and respectful as they guided Brakes’ and Longshot’s bodies, which she appreciated. She wouldn’t expect anything else, but Brakes had been a friend. During her first weeks with the 501st, he’d taken the time to get to know her, and introduce her to firsthand experiences she only had memories of. When she’d asked him about it, he’d gotten a sheepish look. Padawans are fun, he’d said. Their faces, the first time they eat or drink something you know they remember having before, but it’s their actual first time? It’s great. The differences between the memory’s host and theirs, their own preferences – you would not believe some of the expressions. I did my acclimation stint pre-freeze at a training facility. Signed up to work there post-freeze, too, but– He’d shrugged. War should be won first.

Nope, no good. She had to sneakily wipe away some tears that she hoped the locals didn’t see. Echo sent a hug sensation to her, though she could feel his own grief. Longshot had been with the 212th. They hadn’t known him well, but he’d been one of the unofficial bookies for the wagers and betting pools that inevitably happened around the army. Echo had enjoyed bantering with him on several occasions, trying to wheedle their way into bets on their own behavior.

She was composed by the time Skyguy stepped up to her. It was disconcerting to not have Rex at his shoulder, but instead lingering back with Master Yoda, hands clasped behind his back as Master Kenobi was wont to do. That was going to take some getting used to.

Anakin smiled at her, and it only looked a tiny bit strained. “All set, Snips?” he asked, and she could feel the tension underneath the casual words. Outwardly, it was a simple enough question: had she unloaded and stowed her gear? Had she settled the two patchwork squads remaining with her in her head? Did she have plans made to bolt if things went very badly?

Underneath that were more difficult questions. Was she ready to be the only Jedi on an entire planet of potential hostiles, was she ready to have only eight men at her back if the Tok’ra turned out to be more Sith than they thought, was she ready to be the major representative for the entire Jedi Order and the Republic to people who hadn’t even known those existed last week?

She nodded firmly in the way Echo was so very good at. “Absolutely, Master.” Echo shared a wave of approval with her.

She got such a proud expression from her teacher for it, too. He looked up and over her shoulder at where the eight volunteers to remain were standing in neat ranks. “How about you, Sergeant-Major?”

Barrel saluted, his typical good-humor invisible underneath a gravitas and fierceness that explained why he’d once considered going ARC. “Yes, sir. We’ve got the Commander’s back.”

Anakin’s smile was fierce and approving, then he swapped attention back to her. “The Keelkana will be remaining in system, so if you need anything, they’re in range.”

She rolled her eyes a little. “We’ll be fine. You’re the one charging into politics: you be careful!”

That surprised a laugh out of him, and it sounded real. Some – not much, but some – of the tension bled out from his shoulders. His body language changed a little to Fives’ and he gave her a wink. “Will do, Commander. Luck to you all.”

Ahsoka bowed to them, and when she straightened Anakin hugged her. “May the Force be with you, Padawan.”

There was no doubt whatsoever in his voice or Force signature, and that left her genuinely beaming.

Echo nudged forward to take control, while Anakin’s eyes went brown.

“You lot gonna be all right?” Fives asked, tilting his head towards the two squads standing at ease among the Earthers.

“We survived Seps and Sith,” Echo grinned. “I think we can handle one planet.”

“Don’t blow up too many things.”

“Do I look like Turmond?” Echo asked, putting one hand to his chest in mock affront.

“I’m serious – I want this mountain still standing when we get back,” Fives said with a stern look.

Echo gave his best deadpan and salute. "Sir, yes sir." Fives rolled his eyes, then stepped forward to give him a hug. Echo waited until his brother was pulling away before adding, “Besides, I don’t get caught.”

He got a mock glare for it, but given the actual, real laugh it came with? Ahsoka agreed it was more than worth it.

Selmak watched the Jedi take their leave of each other as she and Lantash took care of their own last minute details.

“Are you quite certain this is what you wish to do?” Lantash said quietly, smiling as if he’d made some joke. His eyes never stopped checking the area, taking in details of everyone and everything at the landing zone.

Selmak considered the caution Lantash was displaying, and felt a pang of remorse for how centuries of this guerrilla war had molded her people. Always watchful, always ready for betrayal, always ready to run.

With that staring her in the face, how could she be anything but certain?

“I am. Don’t worry about me, just work on making allies with Tano.”

Lantash had a particular cocky little grin when he was certain of himself. “Of course. And you’re sure we shouldn’t send backup with you?”

It wasn’t a serious question, but she could sense that it make Jacob want to smack the man upside the head, nonetheless. Garshaw had raised the idea of backup earlier, but Selmak and Jacob had pointed out the multitude of flaws in it; having one of them take a clone or an SG-team member as a host – without permission! – so that she could have backup if she needed it, was a horrible idea from all angles. Sam and Teal’c would be able to sense the stowaway, first and foremost. Also, given the Jedi’s reaction to her and the others, she suspected every last one of them would be ready to start a fight with the entire Tok’ra Resistance if that came to light. “Yes,” she said with finality.

He gave her a respectful little nod, then turned to oh-so-casually stroll over to where several Stargate soldiers were converging on Tano.

#Think they’ll actually make friends?#

#With Tano, that team that looks prepared to claim her already, or random others?#

Jacob snorted. #Any of the above.#

Selmak fought down a smile. #We can only hope. It would be good for him.# She walked over to where O’Neill and the Stargate teams that were traveling to the Republic had gathered.

The ship reminded her of a Goa’uld tel’tak, in function if not in form – a small transport, meant for carrying goods and soldiers, but lacking the offensive capabilities of a death glider or al’kesh. More technologically advanced than anything the Tau’ri could put into play, though, and only the tip of the iceberg of what the Republic could offer SGC. “Ready to step into an even bigger universe?”

Jack squinted at Selmak then shoved his sunglasses on. It felt weird doing this in a brightly lit field instead of the artificial glow of the open Stargate. “I’m always ready for a field trip.”

Kenobi’s timing was either scary on point, or he was listening in. He strolled over, that casual little grin on his face. “If you’re ready to board?”

Jack tried to be casual as he grinned back, hoisting his pack a little higher onto his shoulders. “Let’s get this party started.”

He had butterflies in his stomach as he boarded the unfamiliar ramp onto an actual allied spaceship. Those hadn’t happened since SG-1 started doing missions. He’d’ve thought diving through an event horizon and flinging himself across the vastness of space would lead to butterfly immunity – the ‘gates had certainly impressed Kenobi, even if they half-killed him every time he used one. But nope. Butterflies. Maybe because this was a longer-term mission than he usually did, these days. Weeks to months, Hammond had said, and he’d been right. They’d be going a lot further from home than they’d ever been, even with stargates. And this time? Holy hell, they might actually get some help against the System Lords. Halle-fuckin’-luja. It was about time things broke their way.

Yoda and the clones escorted SG-3 and SG-9 to the cargo hold, because first class was limited, by which he meant ‘had seats for Kenobi and Aianste but there was room for SG-1 and Selmak to crowd in behind.’

Prep for takeoff was fascinating, because it looked like some approaches were fairly universal – their checklists were a lot shorter, though. Carter was craning around like she was planning on memorizing every last switch thrown and button pushed, while Daniel was taking in every last label and tag that none of them could read.

Davijaan took off in his little fighter plane, which was still stupidly impressive, then the quiet thrum that had kicked up like an AC unit or something revved a little. There was no reassuring sensation of movement as the view out the window started to change, SGC personnel and Tano’s crew watching. Some waved, a bunch saluted, then the view curved skywards and they smoothly hurtled up.

Sam was muttering under her breath as they broke through the clouds, going at speeds that should have had them pressed against the back wall and blacking out in a few painful heartbeats. Jack couldn’t stop himself from taking a small step forward as he could make out the curve of atmosphere. He was watching what looked like a stupidly designed fighter jet hurtle away from the planet at an impossible pace, leading the way on their eleven o’clock towards space.

Sure, Jack and SG-1 had been on a few ha’taks, but without the threat of capture or extremely painful torture and death hanging over him, he was able to really appreciate the sheer speed and smooth motion of it – y’know, the little things. Part of him felt that this should be old hat – they’d been in space, fought in space, almost died in space, for crying out loud.

The fucking moon arced into their viewport, and they looked like they were going to blow past it like a cheap tourist trap. Carter let out a sound that wasn’t quite a giggle, and he dared to look away from the view to check on her. She was grinning at Selmak, something bright and righteous in her eyes. “And you wondered why I turned down NASA, Dad.”

Selmak’s head dipped down, then Jacob put a hand on Carter’s shoulder, smiling at her in a way that meant Jack had to turn away to give them some privacy.

Aianste started doing some things, toggling more switches and punching things into what looked like a computer. “We could take the scenic route, but we’ve got people who are understandably concerned, so we’re going to take a quick jump into hyper.”

“Hyper...what?” Daniel asked.

“Hyperspace,” Kenobi answered after a quick pause. “A way to travel faster than light.” He must’ve seen Carter revving up for questions because he held up a hand. “I’ll be happy to sit you down with several of our navigational technicians, who are far better versed in the details than I am.”

Aianste slowly moved some large switches down, immediately popping them back up. Jack wasn’t watching that too closely, because out the viewport things blurred, some stars stretching into white beams, a bit like going through the stargate, then the view resolved into a planet, huge and with a bunch of in the distance –

“Saturn?” Daniel whispered. “That’s Saturn?”

“Sixth large planet out from the sun?” Aianste asked.

“Saturn,” Carter somehow managed to confirm.

The ship curved further around the planet, and something in Jack’s stomach went thunk.

It was impossible to judge size (against fuckin’ Saturn!), but there were four large ships floating casually near each other. They were vaguely dagger shaped, blunt tipped white with a red stripe down the middle towards a raised tower structure, kinda like someone had squished a sub into harder lines. The outstretched wings each had an eyespot, a yellow circle surrounded by red lines that didn’t quite make up a complete circle.

It wasn’t until they got closer that Jack could make out flickers of movement that resolved into V formations of more fighter planes, and suddenly his brain could compare those to Davijaan’s, and to the actual ships.

His eyes went huge. “Jesus,” he whispered, because those big fuckers had to be several aircraft carriers long. Any one of them probably topped a ha’tak, no problem.

“Those things aren’t – they’re not rated for atmosphere, are they?” Carter asked, her voice sounding a little strained.

“Of course they are.” Kenobi, bless the bastard, didn’t sound mocking, just matter of fact. “They might take awhile to load, but if we had to wait for smaller craft to ferry everything in, we’d never get anything done, and Traffic Control would never speak to us again.”

Aianste was ignoring them all, tapping something that set up a little blue hologram of a clone in a snazzy uniform complete with stupid little hat. =Skywalker to the Resolute. We’re coming in, and we have company.=

=Roger that, General,= the now familiar voice of a clone responded. =Commander Cody has the welcome party set up already.=

=This is a friendly set of guests,= Kenobi added, voice droll and expression wry.

The clone on the other end of the horn laughed, looking surprised. =Of course sir! Pick any flight path you’d like, the Twilight and Red 2 have priority.=

Ahead of them, Davijaan’s fighter waggled its wings, then zoomed in towards the second ship to the right.

Jack cleared his throat. “Well kids, looks like it’s time to kiss Kansas goodbye.”