Author's Notes: This story has been lying around on my computer for a while. It was originally intended as the first installment of a much larger project(not published yet),then I saw Threads and decided to keep the project canon with season eight. However, by the time Threads aired, this story was complete and not reusable.I thought I'd clean it up and post it anyway. I'll be posting the chapters as they get edited.The server hates my word processor and keeps murdering the formatting, so it may take a day or two to finish uploading.
Her father looked old.
Even on Netu, weak as he had been, he had still seemed like the man she remembered. Sick, injured, and at the end of his strength, but holding a sense of...life. Nothing like this. His face was ashen, and she did not need the charts to know the truth. Her father was dying. Carefully slipping one hand under his, she tightened her fingers slightly. Shocked when his fingers squeezed back, she snapped her head up to see him staring back at her.
"Dad?" her voice contained equal parts hope and joy.
Regret flashed across her father's face. "Colonel...Carter," Selmak whispered haltingly.
Tears pooled in her eyes, regret and loss combined with the fact of hearing him speak at all. In any manner.
"Don't try to talk." She wrapped her other hand around their joined hands tightly. "Thoran explained everything and they think they may have a cure. We're arranging to get you to the Tok'ra as soon as possible."
Selmak arched as his head lashed back and forth. "No!"
She gasped as her fingers were crushed in an iron grip. Selmak shuddered, and a racking cough twisted his body. Helplessly she watched, tears burning her cheeks as she could do nothing. Before she could call for the nurses, his body collapsed. He lay there, still holding her hand, dragging in one labored breath after another. When his eyes finally opened, he tightened his already bruising grip.
"There is something you must know."
Carter was late.
"We'll will transport him as soon as the stasis tank is brought through the Stargate," Thoran informed them, clearly annoyed with the delay.
Jack opened his mouth to tell him that they could darn well wait until Carter got here to make any final arrangements when he saw her through the plate glass wall of his office. Considering the circumstances he expected the hard set to her features, but something about the way she was moving set his back teeth on edge. He was halfway to his feet when she knocked perfunctorily and entered. Daniel's eyebrows shot up as she ignored the two Tok'ra entirely.
"Sir. I apologize. My father regained consciousness briefly."
Thoran appeared shocked while Delek nodded. "That is good news, Colonel Carter."
She gave him a cold stare. "He's not leaving," she stated flatly.
Her tone brought Jack to his feet, combat instincts firing. Daniel and Teal'c shifted reflexively, field training frustrated by office furniture. Unable to take up flanking positions, they settled for looming. Well...Teal'c loomed. Daniel crossed his arms and looked watchful.
"Colonel..." Thoran began.
Carter cut him off. "My father came here to attend my wedding. It was important enough for him to delay his next mission and I'm not going to try and talk him out of it. He wants to stay and Selmak supports his decision."
Thoran's voice rose, symbiote tones astonished and outraged."You would doom your own father when it is possible we might save him? Might save Selmak?"
"Selmak is already dead. They know there's nothing to be done." Carter glanced once toward Jack, then continued evenly,"If my father choses to risk his own life in order to spend his last few weeks on Earth, then that is his decision."
"And if he dies, Colonel?" Delek asked bluntly.
"Hey!" Jack snapped.
Carter smiled grimly. "Then he'll die at home. You can have his body for study. After."
Not even Thoran had a comeback to that blunt insult. Both Tok'ra turned toward Jack, waiting for him to say something. Jack was too busy staring in appalled silence to say anything intelligent. She met his eyes without blinking. He hesitated, then waved a dismissive hand toward the Tok'ra. They were not happy about it, but they left. Even remembered to bow slightly in spite of their outrage. Through the glass, Jack saw two SFs detach themselves from the wall and discretely escort them in the direction of their guest quarters.
"Sam, what the hell..." Daniel's tongue finally hit second gear.
"They murdered him."
The words stopped them all cold.
Her shoulders were rigid beneath her BDUs and she jerked around to stare through the glass plate. The starmap drew strange reflections on her face, dark shadows running across her cheekbone and down the side of her exposed jawline. Jack edged sideways until he could see her profile better. Teal'c shifted uneasily and Jack got a strange feeling prickling across the back of his neck. Daniel looked at his immobile teammates, then back at his CO.
"Sam...it was an accident," he said carefully." Jacob said it himself. They were trying to take out a group of Ba'al's supersoldiers and Selmak was exposed to the symbiote poison."
Sam spun around, eyes bleak with a fury Jack recognized. Sorrow swept through him. Ah hell. Damn them to hell.
"Report Colonel," he kept his voice even, demanding enough to give her something to hang on to. She needed his control right now, not his anger. There would be other opportunities to express his rage with the Tok'ra. Later.
Carter's jaw tightened."Dad wanted to be here for the wedding."
Jacob had wanted to finally keep a promise to his daughter.
She did not say it, but Jack heard it anyway. At least she knew that he had tried. There was more than one reason Jacob had pushed the engines of an aging cargo ship past redline to save two pilots flying Dutchman. Why he had allowed himself to be talked into rescuing a captured Teal'c when he had already told Jack that the Jaffa was expendable. Jack suspected those were the only two times after her mother died that Carter had demanded anything from her father.
Jack groaned and rubbed his face tiredly."Carter?"
"Selmak thinks his willingness to postpone a mission to accommodate his host gave those working against him the ammunition they needed to move against him. Whatever compound he was exposed to is non-lethal to symbiotes. But the initial symptoms mimic symbiote poisoning. They masked a second poison." her voice broke off.
Jack did not need to guess which half the second poison killed. "Do the Tok'ra have a cure?" he asked quietly.
She shook her head.
Daniel cursed softly in Goa'uld.
"The Council has been discussing using the symbiote poison," Carter said finally, obviously expecting them to connect all the dots.
Daniel frowned when she did not continue."We knew that."
Teal'c was silent.
"Let me guess," Jack growled." Not against the supersoldiers?"
He was beyond wondering how Daniel could still look shocked.
Carter swallowed tightly. "Selmak has been the chief opposition to the plan. He has lost power with the Council due to what they see as undo influence from his host, but his support among the rest of the Tok'ra is growing. Unfortunately, it's badly fragmented."
Jack's eyes narrowed."Why?"
Daniel glanced at him. "Why what?"
"Why is his support growing? Why is it fragmented? Why shouldn't I turn them all over to Ba'al? Take your pick Daniel!" he snapped.
Daniel glared but did not respond.
Teal'c responded heavily. "They are two thousand years out of Egeria, Daniel Jackson. There has been time for much change to take place."
Carter turned away from the window,"Those who want to take the fight to the Goa'uld are undercover on the front lines. They compose the greatest portion of the Tok'ra but are the least powerful segment of the population, politically. They are out of contact for years - and what information they do get is subject to the bias of whoever is transmitting the information. Selmak says half the information they get about us comes from the Jaffa or the Goa'uld."
The military grapevine gone galactic.
Daniel sighed, "Whereas those who want power can sit back and consolidate their power base."
Teal'c tilted his head thoughtfully,"The attack on Revanna created a large void within the Council after Persus and Garshaw were killed. A strong leader would have been welcomed."
"Thoran?" Daniel asked shrewdly.
Teal'c bowed his head,"Perhaps."
"Selmak isn't sure why they bothered to use a host-only poison on him, but figures at least one of the conspirators protested killing both of them. Even if that is true, he assumes at least one of them will try to kill him after Dad...dies. A failed Blending or an accident on the way home would mask the murder. They'll make a martyr out of him and use his death to rally his supporters into an all out attack against the Goa'uld."
"Is Jacob conscious?" Jack asked.
She closed her eyes briefly and Jack recognized the flat, empty gaze that looked back at him when they reopened."It's taking all Selmak has just to keep Dad alive. He says he recognizes the symptoms." She said nothing further.
"God Sam. I'm so sorry," Daniel said quietly.
She nodded sharply. Jack met Teal'c's shuttered gaze with one of his own. Before he could do more than acknowledge the desire for vengeance he saw kindling there, Carter squared her shoulders and faced him fully.
"We need a host for Selmak, Sir."
Jack blinked. "Wha..huh? Run that by me again."
"We can't trust that there really will be a host waiting for him when he is returned to the Tok'ra, Sir. Or one who will be sympathetic to Earth. We need to find a host willing to help him fight the Council. Someone with military training if possible."
She had the gall to say that with a straight face, Jack thought dazedly. Sure...no problem Carter. Right after Jack finished explaining to General Vidrine how the Tok'ra had assassinated the last Earth/Tok'ra ambassador.
"This will be a long and bitter battle, Colonel Carter," Teal'c commented thoughtfully.
She stared through the glass wall, toward the Stargate. "I know."
Jack found himself wandering toward the infirmary and reluctantly admitted that he did not want to do this. Unfortunately, those damn stars on his uniform left him with the short straw. He had been in this position before, but normally he had someone up the line to whom he could complain.
Hard to make snarky, stress-relieving comments to the President.
The infirmary was silent. A single nurse looked up as he entered and he waved her away. What he had to say was better done without witnesses. He made his way toward the far bed, careful to make as little noise as possible. Even so, Jacob's eyes were open and turned toward him as he stepped up beside him. He jammed his hands in his pockets and stared at the man awkwardly.
A soft sigh reached his ears and Jacob's head shook slightly. "He will not regain consciousness before the end, General."
Jack stopped rocking on his feet as guilt and sorrow crashed through him. "I see."
Selmak watched him as he sank into the chair beside the bed. Given the distance from the rail, Jack figured Carter had been the last one to visit.
"This is hard on her," Selmak said finally.
Jack smiled tightly, "Yeah, well..." then stopped.
What was he supposed to say?
She had confronted her fears about losing people long enough to reach out to someone and now her father was dying. Jacob was supposed to live long enough to see his great great great GREAT grandkids, for a woman who was worried she was going to get killed offworld and leave her own kids the same way she had been left. Jack suspected Jacob's projected lifespan had been a comforting thought.
In his reports, McKenzie had emphasized her unspoken fear after the attack on the Alpha Site. Young teenage children whose same-sex parent died during those impressionable teen years, generally grew up with a subconscious conviction they would die by the same age. Jack had read that fact way back when he had first read her file, but it had never made the sort of sense it made now.
Carter's mother had been 38.
She got past it. She fought it and she beat it and she agreed to marry Pete Shanahan. Maybe she was only trying to grab some happiness while she could. So what? She was right. Every time they stepped through that Gate they risked it. He understood and he could honestly be happy for her, even if he did think she was making a mistake.
What did he know?
It was not like he was biased or anything, right?
Now her father was dying.
"If I could prevent it, O'Neill, I would."
Oddly enough, he had never questioned that fact.
"We have a host for you," Jack said finally.
There was a long moment of silence before Selmak nodded slightly. "We have met."
Jack waited. "And?" he asked impatiently.
"He seems to be a ...good man."
Jack frowned at the hint of disappointment lacing the Tok'ra's voice, slightly put out at the lack of enthusiasm. Ungrateful snake. Did Selmak have any idea the hoops Jack had had to bend, bypass, and just plain flatten with a truck?
"What?" he demanded, irritated.
Selmak gazed at him, face unreadable. "He is fine."
"Yeah. Right," Jack said. "What's wrong with him?"
Selmak shrugged lightly, as if the issue was of no real interest to him. "He will be a fine host, O'Neill."
Jack wanted to take the answer and run. Literally. But...
As much as it made his head explode, the snake was Carter's family too. Sorta.
"Are you going to be okay with this?" Jack asked bluntly. "With him?"
Selmak stared at him until Jack shifted uncomfortably, then appeared to take great interest in the ceiling tiles.
"I will miss Jacob,"Selmak said softly.
"Yeah." Jack stared at his hands for a long moment. "Me too."
"I just hope the memories will be enough."
Jack's head jerked up at the hesitant note in the Tok'ra's voice. He could have sworn he heard fear. Then Selmak started,and Jack realized he had not been meant to hear anything at all.
Selmak shook his head wearily.
Jack sighed,aggravated."Spit it out, Selmak."
Selmak's eyes sparked with angry frustration. "You have no idea what it means to be Blended O'Neill, and you have no desire to learn. Why do you even bother to ask a question you do not wish answered?"
Jack narrowed his eyes,"Selmak?" his tone warning. This time it was the soldier asking.
Selmak glared." We will live as one and fight as one. Do you not understand that yet? I am only as strong as the two of us together. If my host's conviction wavers, it will be my weakness. Jacob is formidable. A warrior and a true friend. I will grieve until I die at his loss." He paused, then added quietly,"I fear my own ability to win the coming battle if the host you provide is inadequate."
Jack reared back,"Hey! You said he was a nice guy."
Selmak rolled his eyes,"He is not a warrior O'Neill. It will make a difference. " Selmak paused, then added softly,"The fanatics are right to fear the Tau'ri."
Jack snorted."We're only human, Selmak." His tone was laced with an irony lost on the alien.
Selmak just looked at him. "You do not question your right to be equal in all things with us, even with all that you do not know. This is a necessary thing, but do you not understand that this is something we do not know how to handle? Egeria dreamed of creating a symbiotic race, but in her heart hoped only for the defeat of the Goa'uld. We have no memories for how to proceed when faced with hosts such as you. No culture. No guidelines or protocols. This, for a race where to smile at the wrong time can mean death or torture.What happens when we can no longer count on the Tok'ra being the Tok'ra? On the conviction of each to the same end? It is all we have. It is who we are. It is all we have ever had."
Selmak stopped for a breath, and watched as Jack picked at the bed linen.When he continued, his voice was pained. "The end of the Goa'uld was the reason I was created. Her children were Egeria's apology for the circumstances of our biology. But our hosts cannot escape the consequences of being born to slavery and violence anymore than we can. When I Blended with Jacob, an entire new universe of possibilities opened up. Something new and terrifying. " Selmak closed his eyes tightly. "You have no idea what I have lost," he said hollowly.
Jack twitched, flashing uncomfortably on the bleak sense of loss that had threatened him as he watched his team step through the gate for the first time without him. The aching blackness that had settled into his chest and simply hurt. "You might be surprised." he said quietly.
"Jacob believed in the Tok'ra. He looked at us with an outsider's eyes and saw something worth saving." Selmak's tone was bitter. "That alone was priceless."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Get real, Selmak. Since when do the Tok'ra care what we think?"
Selmak's eyes flashed angrily. "If you are worthy of our respect, then your judgment must matter, O'Neill. Why do you think Thoran is so angered by you?"
Jack blinked, then smirked. "My natural charm?"
Selmak studied him with a long searching look. Jack got the distinct impression the Tok'ra did not found what he was looking for. Defensive anger surged reflexively, but he held his tongue as Selmak looked at him sadly.
"You are young, O'Neill, and your choices often seem foolhardy to us. But you are not a fool. In your arrogance you force us to defend the actions we have taken for almost two thousand years, and none of it is enough for you."
Jack felt every muscle slowly lock in place as an odd sort of listening silence descended. As if his entire body was waiting for the answer.
Selmak made an odd gesture with one hand. "Is it too much to ask for the same respect we accord you?"
Jack held the other man's gaze. " Believe it or not, I respect the Tok'ra, Selmak. I just don't trust you."
Selmak gazed at him unblinking. When he finally spoke, his tone was defeated. "Then your respect is worthless, O'Neill. And you have learned nothing of us at all."
Jack felt his face fall into a familiar mask. Knew his eyes had gone flat and dark. "I know where you draw the line." he said softly.
Kanan had betrayed him. Lied to him. Walked off with his body and delivered everything Jack knew about Earth and the SGC right into the hands of the enemy.
Had left Jack in the hands of the enemy.
Selmak gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "Then you understand nothing."
Jack jerked to his feet and stuffed his hands into his pockets to keep from hitting something. He glared down at the body of the man he respected and the alien who kept pushing all the wrong buttons.
"He needed my skills and my body so he took them. Period. Don't tell me I can trust you because I know I can't. Next time it might be Carter or Daniel or any one of my people. No way, Selmak. No damn way."
Selmak's mouth tightened. "It should not have happened."
"It did." Jack snapped.
"You miss the point. " Selmak said carefully. "It should not have been possible for it to happen. Kanan either could not stop it or he let it happen. Either way..."
Before he could finish, his eyes widened in sudden shock and Selmak cried out as his body convulsed. Jack grabbed for him as he arched violently, head lashing, eyes flaring. The Tok'ra screamed, the high-pitched sound recalling memories better left unremembered. Selmak labored for breath even as he arched again.
Jack ducked one swinging arm and barely had time to grab the other before it could connect with the nurse who was suddenly just there. More nurses, a doctor, and several SFs also appeared, pinning Selmak until Carmichael could sedate him. Jack released his grip to a hard-eyed Sergeant and and was about to pull away when Selmak's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
Jack cursed and nearly went to his knees as the bones grated and his tendons burned. Pain shot up his arm and a startled SF nearly lost his hold on the patient as he tried to decide if he should rescue his CO.
"Hold him down." Jack ground out past clenched teeth.
Selmak was trying to speak. "O'Neill..." another convulsion and Jack was dragged forward until he was half lying over the body on the bed. Selmak cried out painfully. When the convulsion finished, Selmak lay on the bed panting, eyes anxiously searching the bodies ringing the bed.
"I'm not going anywhere, Selmak." Jack managed, dryly.
The Tok'ra fastened his gaze on Jack's face. "You must protect her. Promise me. You have to understand. It's why they killed Jacob. Kanan should not have happened. Do you understand?"
Carmichael darted a worried glance at the monitors and jammed a syringe into the IV port. Jack winced. Man was too damn fond of long needles. Memories of another doctor momentarily launched a sneak attack. He focused on the man staring at him, the desperation on the Tok'ra's face giving him a bad case of battlefield jitters.
"Selmak..." he started.
Selmak gasped and his body arched weakly. Jack felt the SF flinch as Selmak's eyes flared, then flared again. The grip on Jack's wrist tightened painfully.
"Not Kanan's fault. Yours. " Selmak gasped. " The Council knows. Your will. Protect her."
Then he passed out.
Jack stayed frozen as he tried to make sense of what had just happened. Protect her? The grip on his wrist relaxed as the sedative took over completely and Jack waited as the SF cautiously peeled Selmak's fingers back one by one. He rubbed his wrist and frowned down at the man in the bed. Protect her. Protect who?