XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack checked the readings and dropped the ship out of hyperspace, indulging himself in taking a moment to appreciate the majesty of Saturn's rings as they flew by.

He activated the cloak and checked the autopilot, insuring that they were on a course to Earth before he got up, going back to the cargo area.

Sam was asleep in one of the sleeping bags. His sleeping bag. Hers was in a pile in the corner, bits of down peeking out from the torn and ruined nylon.

Jack had given her first watch, sleeping for a little bit before relieving her about six hours ago. As near as Jack could tell, she'd been asleep ever since. She was curled up on her side, Gizmo nestled next to her belly. Jack reached out to shake Sam awake, quickly pulling his hand back when the kitten opened her eyes, hissing angrily.

"Scratch me and we'll find out if you really have nine lives," he threatened softly. "Carter," he said louder, keeping his hand clear.

Sam blinked, her eyes slowly opening. "Colonel?"

"We're just passing Saturn," he told her, getting to his feet.

She sat up and stretched before following him to the peltac. "We're cloaked?"

"Yep. As soon as we dropped out of hyperspace." She nodded and sat down, pressing some buttons to call up the sensors. "I never got around to asking, but you do have a plan?"

"Mmhm," she replied, not taking her eyes off the display. Through the view screen he watched as they flew past the giant crimson shape of Mars and  continued towards the tiny blue and green orb that was Earth.

"A plan," he said. "Hopefully something a bit more in depth than just dropping this baby at the SGC's front gate."

"Yes, I have a plan," she said, taking the yoke and turning off the autopilot.

"Care to share?"

"We still don't know how widespread the invasion is. It could be a few dozen or it could be a few hundred."

"I'm betting on the latter."

"And," she continued, ignoring his interruption. "If that team really was taking goa'uld back to Earth, then it's logical to assume that most – if not all – of the SGC has been compromised."

"Spock would be proud."

"So it's also logical to assume that at least some of the Joint Chiefs, the White House and Area 51 have also been possessed."

"Which happens to be the very same folks we'd be asking for help," he said, unable to resist poking a hole in her story.

"I don't think it's very likely that the general public has been exposed though," she continued, still not looking at him. "There's no way they'd be able to cover that up." She maneuvered the ship around the moon and Jack craned his neck, dismissing the thought of asking her to detour a little. It'd be kinda cool to see if Armstrong's footprints were still there.

"Your plan," he pressed, losing patience with the back-story.

"If we go after the general personnel, we'll be stopped and probably killed or implanted within a day." She turned to look at him. "So we start at the top. Presume that anyone of any rank has been compromised and free them first. We then use them – and their authority – to help us with the others."

He nodded. "And you realize that the people you're going after are probably the most guarded on the planet? Even more so if they're snakeheads."

"I know."

"So you're just going to ask them to lay down in the MRI so that we can confirm that they're hosting some illegal aliens."

She smiled. "No. We're going to stop by Area 51 and grab all of Machello's PTD's. Then we're going to go goa'uld hunting. I'm thinking to start with the Joint Chiefs first simply because they are the most likely to know how far the invasion goes."

Jack sighed, cringing inwardly at the mention of Machello's little goa'uld killers. Whatever they were, they were certainly effective. And he had the first hand knowledge to prove it. But they weren't perfect. "What if they're not blended?" he asked. "We can't have them going bug nuts like Daniel did."

"You and I both have the cure in our blood - Jolinar and Ba'al's protein markers.  If the psychosis proceeds at the same pace as Daniel's, we'll have a few days to treat any collateral damage," she said calmly.

Jack nodded, not quite sure how he felt about her calling people going insane 'collateral damage.' "I'm presuming that we're going to use the teltac to get from Nevada to DC?"

Sam nodded. "And the rings and the cloaks. We're going to fly to Nellis, ring down somewhere close by, or maybe land in the desert. We then use the cloaks to get into Area 51, grab all the PTD's they have and leave."

She turned her attention back to flying and Jack stared out the window, enjoying the novelty of entering the atmosphere. "I can't say that I really like your plan." He sensed her tensing, her fingers tightening on the yoke. "But it's better than the one I have," he said. "What time is it?"

She shook her head. "I'm not sure. Nighttime," she said as they got close enough to see lights.

Using the brilliant lights of the Strip to guide them, Sam steered the craft towards the north end of Vegas. "Watch out for aircraft," he warned.

"I'm using the sensors," she replied. "But there's not much around."

"Maybe it's later than we think it is."

"Could be," she agreed. She slowly flew around the bases, finally landing the ship inside the fence but as far from the buildings as possible. "The personal cloaks will work the same way as the ship's. They bend light around us and make us invisible to the naked eye. But we can still be seen by infrared. We still have mass and can cast a shadow if the light hits it right."

"Right," he said, getting to his feet. He remembered all too well the limitations of the cloak. He'd exploited them when Sam and Teal'c had invaded Ba'al's palace seeking to rescue him from the system lord. "You do know where they keep this stuff?" he asked as they collected their gear from the cargo area.

"I know where it was two years ago," she said, fastening her vest. "Remember, I spent a week escorting the stuff from the SGC and consulting on the lab here?"

"Right," he said, remembering what she was talking about.

"I doubt they've moved it. They're big on stability around here. And as long as something's behind closed doors, no one knows it's there."

Jack picked up two zats and handed her one. This was one aspect of the mission that they'd both agreed on, their reluctance to spill innocent blood. Sam took the zat and slid it into her holster before bending down to pick up Gizmo. As he watched, she placed the kitten in a large vest pocket. "You're bringing the cat?"

"She may not stop at the sleeping bag next time," Sam said. Much to Jack's surprise the kitten settled down and didn't try to escape. She merely peeked her head out of the pocket, her green eyes watching Jack intently.

"How many PTD's are there?" he asked.

"We brought back forty," she answered. "We used one to free you and another to figure out what was wrong with Daniel. Presuming that they haven't gone gaga experimenting on them, there should be over thirty-five. If we're really lucky, all thirty-eight will be untouched."

"So we can free up to three hundred and eighty."

"In a perfect world. Chances are we'll have to waste a few on our first targets." He nodded. "The most important thing is not to touch them. They can be activated in two ways, either by moving them over the data slate or by physical contact, which is how I activated the one on the ship. We don't want them going off too early."

"Premature activation is usually a bad thing," he said, hiding a grin when she rolled her eyes.

Their preparations complete, they moved towards the door. Jack stopped her just before the threshold. "If something happens, the mission comes first."

"Colonel?"

"Our objective is to free earth, and that objective is bigger than either one of us," he said seriously.

"Agreed."

"Ok. Let's go grab some FTD's." She glared at him. "It's better than STD's," he quipped, opening the door as he activated his cloak

"Yeah, but one sometimes leads right to the other," she said, following his disembodied voice as he sealed the door.

Jack, paused for a second, resisting the urge to bend down and actually touch the planet of his birth. Two years. It'd been two years since he'd last breathed this air and looked into this sky. "Sir?" he heard her ask, her voice seeming to come from nowhere.

"Where are we going?" he asked, dismissing his sentimentality.

"Building C," she instructed.

He reached out, fumbling to grab her hand. "Let's not get lost," he requested.

Hand in hand, they made their way towards building C, finally separating when they reached the exterior door. "How do we get in?" he asked, his voice barely above a

whisper.

"Even if we had keycards, I'm sure they've long since been deactivated."

"More than likely," he agreed.

"And you can't really pick an electronic lock."

"Carter…"

"But a base's security is only as good as its least diligent person." She grabbed his sleeve and dragged him around the corner. "There," she said. Jack looked down and saw a small open window. It was tiny, just a couple of feet wide and was just inches from the dirt.

"How the hell did you know this was here?"

"The last time we were here I heard a couple of the guards complaining about one of the scientists; really brilliant but also loud and arrogant. He'd insist on having his fresh air. The base commander tried to control him but finally had to admit that as long as the base was secure, the window was secure."

"Logical if stupid."

"Their stupidity will get us in the building," she said. "A hell of a lot faster than waiting for someone to open the door."

He heard a rustling sound and saw the sparse grass move slightly as he guessed that she laid down, positioning herself to shimmy in the window. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw the window open.

Although Groom Lake was in the middle of the desert, there were some attempts to grow grass in and around the buildings, not only for aesthetic purposes but practical as well. Grass wasn't dusty. And less dust meant less potential damage to any sensitive electronic equipment inside.

Hearing her drop down inside, Jack followed, grunting slightly as he slid through the narrow window. He landed on top of a desk, his feet slipping a bit on some papers that were lying there. More clumsily than he would have liked, he climbed off the desk, scanning the room for Sam. "Carter?"

"Here," he heard from just behind him. He watched the drawers of the desk open and close, things in it moving of their own accord.

"What are you looking for?"

"Something faster than picking the lock," she said. "Here we go." She held up a pass card. "Keycards for the crypt can never leave the base."

"The crypt?" he asked.

"Geek humor. Third door down on the right."

"Lead the way," he invited, stepping back to –hopefully – stay out of her way. That was another weakness of the cloaks. The same technology that kept them invisible from the rest of the world also kept them invisible from each other.

He heard her footsteps move towards the door and then it opened and Jack followed her out into the hall. They made their way towards the crypt and Jack was grateful for the late hour. As near as he could determine, the building was empty, a fact that made their mission a bit easier. Especially since the keycard wasn't affected by the cloak and seemed to float in mid air. He made a note to experiment with that. Maybe if she tucked it into her pocket it'd be invisible.

She stopped outside an armored door. "The crypt?" he asked needlessly.

"The crypt," she answered. The card floated up and swept through the reader. Jack held his breath until he heard the confirming beep and saw the LED light switch from red to green.

The door opened and he followed Sam inside. The crypt wasn't as large as he'd expected, perhaps twenty feet square and the walls were lined with shelves. He slowly walked around the room, actually recognizing some of it items as things he and his team had recovered. "We brought back a lot of crap, didn't we?" he asked.

"Yep, and it looks like they've been making up for lost time too. This is twice what I remember."

"Where are the PTD's?" he asked.

"Here." A drawer marked with a large biohazard warning sign slid open and Jack moved to her side. "This is going to be easier than I thought," she said, picking up a sealed plastic box. Jack could see a PTD suspended inside, little plastic pegs securing the item and keeping it from moving around. "We should be able to transport these safely."

Jack pulled his pack off his back and started taking the devices from her, cramming them into the bag. It took them only a few minutes to gather all of Machello's devices. "They haven't experimented," she said. "We have thirty-eight."

"Makes sense," he said. "If the people calling the shots are blended the last thing they want is us figuring out how to unblend them."

"Is there anything else in here that—" She broke off as a loud alarm began to blare.

"Crap."

"We gotta go, now," Jack said, snapping the pack shut. The two of them moved towards the door and hurried down the hall, not even trying to disguise their passage. They passed the office and Jack heard Sam stop. "To hell with the window," he said.

"Sir?"

"The door, now."

They hurried down the hall, making their way towards the main exit door. "It's probably locked."

"Even the military has to submit to fire regs," he said. He pushed the door open, wincing as another alarm added to the first one. If they didn't know where they were before, they knew now.

They dashed across the open space, Jack forgoing any attempt to stay together. They didn't have time for that. They needed to get to the ship and the relative safety it provided. Jack heard several loud cries and the sharp retort of gunfire.

Jack glanced over his shoulder, cursing loudly at the sight of a half dozen guards running towards them. "Damnit. Move it!" Jack yelled, trying to run faster. The heavy pack slowed him down and he longed to shed its weight, but didn't dare. They needed every one of the PTD's and he couldn't afford for any of their targets to get suspicious. He could see Carter running ahead of him, the only visible cue small tufts of dirt and grass stirred up by her boots. The teltac was less than a hundred yards away.

He heard more men join the first and more gunfire echoed over their heads. Some of it hit the ground at his feet and he zigged to the left. He heard bullets zing off the teltac's hull and he instinctively ducked, the heavy bag throwing him off balance. He fell to the ground, landing heavily and awkwardly. His knee twisted and he groaned, immediately trying to get back to his feet. He looked towards the ship and saw the door open, the interior of the teltac seeming to float above the ground. "Colonel!" he heard Sam yell.

Jack looked behind him, then back at the teltac. The guards could see the teltac, he watched them slow and take aim at it, and by extension, her.

"GO!" Jack yelled, not caring that he was giving away his position.

"COLONEL!"

"Damnit Carter, get the hell out of here. NOW!"

He saw some of the guards move towards him, clearly hearing his voice. Behind them another guard appeared, a missile launcher on his shoulder. Reacting in a fraction of a second, Jack ripped off his cloak, revealing himself to the guards. "Complete the mission, that's an order," he yelled, struggling to his feet, his hands in the air.

He held himself steady, really hoping that the men had a 'capture first, kill second' order. Jack glanced over his shoulder at the ship, sighing with relief when he saw the door shimmer into invisibility. In just seconds, the engines roared into life and Jack staggered against the air blast as the teltac lifted off, hopefully making a clean get away.

"FREEZE!" the guards yelled, aiming their rifles at him.

"I'm frozen," he said. "I'm frozen." Jack took a breath, struggling to calm his racing heart. "So, any of you guys know the name of a good pizza place?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Teal'c hesitated for one eternal second, even decades of battle experience failing him as he saw Daniel Jackson fall to the ground, his body sprawled atop Amaunet's.

He heard Sho'nac gasp and Bra'tac take a step forward as he saw the two Jaffa raise their weapons to defend – or avenge – their queen.

This was wrong. So very wrong. Daniel—

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Daniel blinked his eyes, seeking to clear his vision. Figures swam into focus and he stared, still struggling to comprehend. "What the hell…"

He slowly walked forward, staring at the tableau before him. He saw seven figures, seemingly frozen in time. Sho'nac stood behind Bra'tac, her eyes wide and her hand over her mouth. Bra'tac's left arm was raised, perhaps attempting to pull Sho'nac out of danger.

Teal'c stood before them, his staff weapon raised while his face was painted with a mixture of shock and horror.

It was an expression mirrored on the faces of Amaunet's Jaffa, both of whom stood beside the fallen body of their mistress, their weapons raised.

Daniel knelt beside Shau'ri, staring in befuddled amazement at her lying in the dust, and at himself, sprawled atop her.

"I seek an explanation."

Daniel shot to his feet, spinning to face the source of the voice. The monk stood before him, seeming to be the only other person not affected by whatever had frozen the others in time. "Did you do this?"

"You and she seek the same goal, yet you also sought to protect her," he said calmly, ignoring Daniel's question.

"Is she dead?" Daniel asked.

"Death has no meaning. Do you seek to protect her?"

"She was my wife," Daniel answered.

"She? I sense two beings," the monk said.

"The human part, Shau'ri, was my wife," Daniel explained. He knew that it was odd to feel compelled to be honest with this person, a stranger. But, somehow, he felt that he had to. The monk was peaceful and serene looking, but there was no doubting that under that façade he possessed a power likely beyond Daniel's own imagination. Even with that, Daniel didn't fear him. Somehow he couldn't be afraid.

"And that which possesses her?"

"Amaunet. She's a goa'uld."

"You hate this Amaunet."

"No…Yes," Daniel replied.

"This creature simply sought to survive. Without a human host, it is weak and vulnerable.

Without a host it has no voice."

"I know," Daniel said, looking down at Shau'ri. Her face was frozen, locked in an expression of fear and anger.

"Is the well-being of the goa'uld less important than that of she who is host?"

"To me it is," Daniel answered, looking up at the monk. "She took my wife from me. She took…that child could have been ours. It could have been my son," he said angrily, even as he voiced the words he acknowledged the truth of them. He was jealous.

"You mourn the life of a child you never had?"

"He raped her!" Daniel yelled, succumbing to his anger. "When we saw her on Abydos, Shau'ri said that the goa'uld had to withdraw or she'd miscarry. Which means that the goa'uld likely had to withdraw for her to even conceive."

"And this distresses you?"

"YES! Don't you understand?"

The monk stared at him. "You hate the goa'uld."

"Yes."

"You hate Amaunet?"

"Yes."

"You would kill her if it would free your wife?"

"Yes," Daniel confessed.

"Even if it would bring harm to your wife?"

"Yes," Daniel said softly, closing his eyes in a mixture of shame and anguish.

"Yet, you sacrificed yourself to save her."

Daniel looked up. "So, she's alive?"

"Your death will not free her," the monk said, ignoring Daniel's question yet again. "It will – most likely – precipitate a confrontation that will result in the deaths of others."

Daniel sighed heavily, turning back to look at his companions. "Can you save them?"

"Your friends?"

"They just came here to help me. It's not their fault."

"They too seek the child."

"Not for their own gain," Daniel insisted, glancing back to his companions. "They're only here because of me."

"That is not true," the monk corrected.

Daniel frowned. "You mean because they told me about the child?" The monk merely stared at him. "They didn't do that so that we could keep him…maybe they did, but we don't want to use him. We want to protect him."

"And how shall you do that?"

"We'll find him a home, someone that can take care of him," Daniel said.

"And if he is as legend says?" the monk asked pointedly. "If he possesses all the knowledge of those who came before him."

"Just because he has knowledge doesn't mean he'll use it," Daniel said. "We can teach him. Show him how to be good."

"And your people can do this?"

"Yes."

"The same people who keep the Stargate a secret and who would murder your own friends out of fear and intolerance?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam maneuvered the teltac into the sky, doing her best to ignore the shaking of her hands.

Damnit, Carter, get the hell out of here now!

She could still see him, half standing, half sprawled in the dirt, helpless as the guards ran towards him. Sacrificing himself to buy her the time to get away.

Taking the ship up to sixty thousand feet, she set the autopilot, confident that she was out of the way of commercial aircraft. She leaned back in the seat and took a shaky breath.

"Damnit," she muttered, covering her face with her hands. "Damnit, damnit, damnit, damnit, damnit." She pushed her fingers through her hair. "Who the hell gave you permission to be a hero?"

She got out of the pilot's seat and started to pace. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Neither of them were supposed to get caught. Hell, if things had worked out right, they would have freed the Joint Chiefs and been on their merry way and…hell, she didn't even know how it was really supposed to be. Her planning hadn't extended quite that far.

She'd been so distracted by the need to fix things that she hadn't thought it through.

She could go back. She paused in her pacing and looked out the window. She could go back, land the ship in the desert and sneak in. Hell, with her cloak she could probably just walk right through the front gates. She knew her way around Area 51. She could get into the brig, grab a key and…and get caught herself.

Gizmo meowed and she looked down, pulling the kitten from her pocket and setting her down on the floor. "I don't suppose you have any idea what to do?" she asked the kitten. Gizmo looked up at her and blinked, predictably staying silent. "Of course not."

Sam sighed as Gizmo moved over to the bag, walking around it slowly as she sniffed at the heavy canvas. "How many did we get?" She picked up the bag and set it on the seat, pulling it open. Gizmo meowed a protest then set herself to batting at a dangling strap.

"Eighteen," Sam counted. "Could have been worse. "Ok, Giz, where do we go next?" Sam set down the bag and started to pace again. "The SGC won't work. I mean, we do know that it's ground zero and the logical place to start but, even with the cloak we'd never make it all the way inside. And we'd be so outnumbered that I don't see any way to make it work. We might free a few of them but…." She sighed. "I don't see how we can round them up, ten at a time and expose them to Machello's killers."

The sun crested the horizon and spilled through the window, bathing the teltac in brilliant yellow light. "So, the SGC is out. And so is Area 51. The only other people that could possibly know what's going on is the Joint Chiefs and the White House." Gizmo jumped up onto the chair and stuck her nose into the bag. Sam picked up the bag and snapped it shut, safely locking the items away. "Curiosity and cats don't get along well, remember?"

She set the bag down in the corner and walked back to the chair, picking up Gizmo as she sat down. "I think the Joint Chiefs is a waste of time," she said. "I'm not even sure who they are anymore and…how many of them do you think we'd have to free to make the rest listen to us?" She picked the kitten up and held her so that she could look in her eyes. "And any of them that aren't goa'ulded will just go nuts.

Gizmo crinkled her nose and started to purr. "We only have one shot at this," she said. "So I think we need to aim big."

Her decision made, Sam set the kitten down and disengaged the autopilot. She steered the ship down through the atmosphere and set course, aiming towards the rising sun.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jack shifted in the uncomfortable chair, yawning slightly as he stretched. He cautiously flexed his knee, grateful that he'd only twisted it earlier. He glanced up at the camera in the corner before he leaned back, raising his legs to prop his feet up on the table.

He was in a detention room, very reminiscent of those in the SGC. The room itself was about ten by ten and was largely unfurnished save for a plain wooden table, two bare wooden chairs and a single light fixture hanging from the ceiling.

The table was painted a dark gray that matched the walls and the floor. The only exit from the room was the door that was made of heavy steel. The opaque Plexiglas window was covered with a thick metal screen, making the room escape proof.

Every few minutes Jack could see a shadow move in front of the door and figured that there was at least one guard outside, if not two.

He didn't have a watch anymore but guessed that he'd been in the room about an hour. Which was also why he figured that he wouldn't be alone for too much longer. Going by the glimpses of a sunrise he'd seen just after his capture, he knew that it was just after dawn. Much too early for the base commander to be on hand. And the average base commander lived an hour or less away from the base.

Almost on cue, Jack heard the murmur of voices from the hall. He glanced up to see a shadow in front of the door. "Showtime," he muttered as he heard the keys rattle in the lock.

He didn't stand, instead crossing his arms over his chest, assuming a casual pose as his visitor stepped into the room. Jack grinned slightly, catching sight of the man's damp hair and a fresh nick just below his ear. Yep, someone had been dragged out of bed.

"Jack O'Neill," the man said slowly, moving to stand behind the remaining chair, a folder clutched in his hands.

"Mayberry ain't it?" Jack asked, feigning ignorance. He knew exactly who the man was. Harry Maybourne, the commanding officer of the alien tech area of Area 51. The guy who'd tried to take Teal'c with him to let the bugs eat him alive and who'd lost a Stargate.

"Jack O'Neill, criminal, rogue and renegade," he said, sitting down. "What brings you back to the planet you abandoned?"

"I was just in the neighborhood," Jack said. "Thought I'd stop in, maybe do a little sight seeing." Jack snapped his fingers. "They still have that show on the Strip with all the cats?"

"In addition to being a traitor," Maybourne continued, ignoring Jack's interruption. "You have broken about six Federal laws by breaking into this base and stealing valuable alien technology. I could have you shot right now and I'd probably get a medal."

Jack snorted. "Color me scared." The man's posturing amused him even as he acknowledged the predictability of his words. Interrogation 101. Intimidate the subject.

Maybourne made a show of flipping open the folder. "I understand you had yourself a thriving little empire," he said.  "You and the rest of your team."

"Bragging is in such bad taste."

"Raiding goa'uld palaces, kidnapping SG team members—"

"We rescued their asses," Jack interrupted.

"That's not what it says here," Maybourne said, thumping the file. "In fact, if it wasn't for the skill of one Doctor Janet Frasier, there'd be a murder charge hanging over your head."

"That's bullshit Maybourne, and you know it." Jack lowered his feet and sat upright.

"What I know is that two ex-Air Force officers, both of whom have been compromised by aliens, kidnapped a civilian and, with the assistance of a traitorous Jaffa, betrayed Earth to the Goa'uld."

Jack shook his head. "Spin any harder and your head just might snap off."

"Why'd you come back, Jack," he asked, the smarmy grin falling from his face.

Jack stared at the man, trying to get a read on him. He could be compromised. True, there were no glowing eyes or funky voice, but hell if it hadn't have been for Cassie, they'd have never known that Sam had been taken. And, as the CO of alien tech, he was a logical target for the invasion. Control him and you controlled the whole area of the base.

Of course, there was also a good chance that he was just far enough out of the way that he'd been overlooked. Jack knew that, after the debacle of losing the Stargate,

Maybourne had fallen out of favor with those in charge. They also had no way of knowing if the invasion had made it out of the mountain. Carter's suspicion about the invasion being wide spread was just that, a suspicion. It could go no further than the SGC and Maybourne could be just the ally Jack needed to fix it.

If he wasn't a snake.

If he'd listen to Jack.

If he wasn't just playing Jack for a fool and hoping that he'd expose any other people on the planet. Like Carter. Who was, or damn well better be, working on fulfilling her mission.

Right now he had two options. Trust Maybourne and gain an ally or trust Maybourne and expose Carter, possibly dooming both her mission and the whole planet.

Or there was a third option. Screw Maybourne and keep his trust right where it belonged. And do everything he could to help Carter.

Jack smiled slowly. "Had a hankering for a pizza. Deep dish, bout yay thick, extra cheese." Maybourne's eyes narrowed and Jack leaned back, replacing his feet on the table. "Bonus points if you have some Guinness."

Jack stared him down, refusing to look away. Maybourne glared for a few seconds before closing the folder and getting to his feet. "Fine, we'll do it the hard way," he said, knocking on the door. The guard opened it and Maybourne stepped out, taking a second to glance back. "You're gonna wish you'd taken me up on that offer," he said as the door closed.

Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. "You have no idea what I wish for," he muttered. "No damn idea."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The monk's words hung in the air, awkward and sharp.

"The same people who keep the Stargate a secret and who would murder your own friends out of fear and intolerance?"

Daniel stared at him, completely at a loss for words. He was right. In an instant Daniel knew that the monk was right. The boy wouldn't be safe on Earth. They'd never be able to keep him a secret, if they could even get him back to Earth. And their own planet was too undefended to be a viable option. In fact, there probably wasn't a planet out there that was safe enough for him.

"You know," he said softly, moving towards his friends. "They tried to take Teal'c once, twice really." He looked at the monk. "The first time was right after he'd defected. Some guy, Kennedy I think, showed up and wanted to take Teal'c away to be questioned. Jack told me once that General Hammond had to call in a lot of favors to keep him at the SGC."

The monk didn't respond but instead looked at Daniel, a benign smile on his face. "The second time was after Teal'c got bit by that giant bug. They actually took him that time. If Teal'c hadn't have escaped on his own, they were going to let him turn into one of those bugs so that they could study him."

"And it's not just Teal'c," Daniel continued, not letting the monk's silence put him off. "Right after Sam got Jolinar, they tried to get her transferred too. And that's why Jack wanted to leave Earth last year. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder." He sighed. "And that's even presuming that we can get him home. If we don't, where can we go with him? Everyone will want him."

"That is a fate most would not enjoy," the monk said, finally breaking his silence.

"The child isn't normal, is he?" Daniel moved away from Teal'c and back towards the monk. "He is a harcesis."

"There is a reason that such children are forbidden," the monk said. The world flashed and Daniel blinked, realizing that they had moved and were now inside the temple.

Daniel glanced around, his eyes settling on a large, high cradle. He moved over towards it, an unconscious smile crossing his face as he saw the boy. The infant was swaddled in what looked like rich orange velvet, one pudgy fist waving in the air. Daniel picked him up, staring in amazement as his mind sought to see his wife's features in the boy. "He's beautiful," Daniel said, looking up at the monk.

"A pleasing visage can conceal an evil heart."

"Is that what he is?" Daniel asked.

"That is one of many possible futures."

"It's what will happen to him if we take him, isn't it?" Daniel asked, knowing the answer.

"We can't take him back to Earth, and even if we did, he wouldn't be safe. And once the other goa'uld realize that he exists, they'll all want him, they'll want to control what he can be."

"As will your people."

"But you can protect him?" Daniel asked.

"We do not covet his potential."

"You don't need his power, you have enough of your own," Daniel said. "You can take care of him, protect him." Daniel looked down at the infant. "He'll be safe with you."

He closed his eyes for a second and sighed before opening them and looking up at the monk. "He needs to stay with you."

In an instant, the world flashed white again and Daniel stumbled, his equilibrium thrown off by the assault on his vision he stumbled and fell, only belatedly realizing that, as he curled himself into a ball to protect the child, the child was gone.

"--Jackson!" Hands pulled at him, dragging him to his feet. He staggered, blinking to clear his vision even as he struggled, not quite sure who was touching him. "Daniel Jackson."

"Teal'c?" he gasped, recognizing the voice.

"It is I," he heard and he relaxed. Realizing that he was safe with his friends, he blinked, struggling to clear his vision.

"I do not understand," Sho'nac said. "Were we not just on Kheb?"

"We were," Bra'tac said. "Not even the goa'uld are capable of such magic."

Daniel squinted and opened his eyes, scanning their surroundings. "We're home?" he said, recognizing Springfield.

"Indeed we are," Teal'c confirmed, his hand steadying Daniel.

"And you are not dead."

Daniel gaped at Sho'nac. "Dead?"

"Your wound was most grievous," Bra'tac confirmed.

A vague memory tickling at the back of his brain, Daniel pulled off his jacket, staring in befuddlement at the large hole in the fabric. "That looks grievous," he muttered, his hand twisting around to feel his back. His fingers encountered only smooth, healthy skin.

"Where is the child?" Sho'nac asked. "We must go back."

Daniel slowly shook his head. "No. It won't do any good."

"But we must keep Amaunet from him," she protested.

"She is," Daniel said, smiling his thanks at Teal'c before he moved away, standing on his own. "She'll never get her hands on him."

"You do not know—"

"I know!" Daniel interrupted. "I know," he said softer. "I know." Abandoning his Jaffa companions, Daniel slowly walked toward their cabin, visible just a few hundred yards away, desperately hoping that he actually made it to his own bed before the desire to take a nap overwhelmed him.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"I do not understand," Sho'nac said, looking at Teal'c.

"Daniel Jackson is likely fatigued," Teal'c said, shooting a concerned glance after his friend.

Sho'nac shook her head. "We were just on Kheb. How did we get here?" She gestured at their surroundings.

"The magic of the gods," Bra'tac answered.

"The being we encountered was no god," Teal'c corrected.

"How do you explain this?" Bra'tac demanded.

"I do not deny that the aliens possess great power," Teal'c conceded. "Yet I do not believe that they are gods."

"If they are not, then how do you explain our transportation here?" Sho'nac asked.

"I have seen many wonders in my time amongst the Tau'ri, not all of them can be explained."

"Such as your friend rising from the dead without a sarcophagus?" Sho'nac asked.

"Such as that," Teal'c said.

"Believe what you wish, Teal'c," Bra'tac said. "Today I have seen the powers of a being that makes the goa'uld look like petulant children." He looked at Teal'c, belief and wonderment shining in his eyes. "I do not know what has transpired, but I do know that it comes from a power that is beyond our ken."

"I--" Sho'nac gasped, her face contorting in a mask of pain as her knees buckled.

Teal'c reached for her, wrapping his arms around her. "Her primta," Bra'tac said, moving to help Teal'c support Sho'nac.

"No," Teal'c said, voicing the denial even as he knew it was in vain.

"Yes," Sho'nac said, looking up at him. "Forgive me, my love." She clutched at her belly. "I should not have waited so long, for this symbiote will wait no longer."

Teal'c watched as her dress bulged horrifically as the symbiote burrowed out of her womb. It pushed through the fabric and emerged into the world. It flopped out onto the ground and Bra'tac snatched it up, struggling to hold onto the squirming creature.

"Kill it," Sho'nac said.

"No," Teal'c protested, horror at her words clutching at his gut. No, she couldn't kill it. Without she would—

"Do not permit it to take a host. Please, kill the evil I have nurtured," she begged.

Bra'tac looked at him, waiting until Teal'c nodded before he grasped the symbiote in both hands, breaking its spine. He dropped the creature onto the ground and crushed it under his boot. "It is done," he declared.

Sho'nac smiled, contentment erasing the pain. She rested her head against Teal'c's chest, twining her arm around his neck. "I shall die free," she said.

Teal'c tightened his arms around her, cursing his own weakness. He did not want to lose her. Not after just being granted the miracle of her in his life.

"Come my friend," Bra'tac said. "She shall be more comfortable out of the sun."

Teal'c nodded, sweeping Sho'nac up in his arms, savoring the last few hours that he would have with his love.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam stood on the small landing and chuckled softly, enjoying her bemusement at her situation. She looked off into the distance, watching as the guards at the front gate checked the ID of a driver. "They are pretty thorough, Giz," she said softly, absently petting the kitten nestled in the pocket of her vest.

The guards checked the ID of every person that entered the grounds of the White House, every person that they could see, that is. It had been very easy for her and Gizmo to simply walk past the guardhouse and up the sweeping drive. Just as it had been easy for them to navigate the dark streets of the city after parking the teltac in a remote park.

Her eyes drifted across the open lawn and twenty foot tall fence ringing the compound as she waited for the car to navigate the drive. "I don't have all night," she breathed, tapping her foot impatiently.

This was the one most noticeable weakness of the cloak. Unless she wanted to start drawing attention to herself with mysteriously opening doors, she was subject to the whims of those around her.

Finally the car parked under the portico and the main door opened as two Marines in Class A's stepped outside to man their posts. Sam moved quickly to take advantage of the situation. She hurriedly stepped through the open door, hoping that they'd just think that she was a draft.

Thankful for her soft-soled shoes, she crossed the marble floor and ducked under the velveteen rope that funneled all visitors through the metal detector.

She'd only been in this building once before – back in her Pentagon days – but she vaguely remembered the floor plan. Unfortunately, 'this is where the President sleeps' hadn't been included in her tour.

She did know that the residence was upstairs so she made her way to the nearest staircase and slowly climbed the carpet covered treads. Once she was on the second floor, she walked around, searching for some sign of which was the President's bedroom.

This was where her plan kinda hit a snag. Originally, she'd though about confronting him during the day, perhaps even in the Oval Office, but that had changed the instant the colonel had been captured. It wouldn't take his captors long to figure out that there were two of them and she suspected that it was just a matter of time before security was tightened.

She heard footsteps coming up the stairs and she moved to one side of the hall, trying to stay out of the way of the group.

Three men in Air Force uniforms walked down the hall. Sam figured that they were the ones driving the car. A man that could only be a Secret Service agent appeared, seeming to melt out of the woodwork.

"We're here to see the President," the lead visitor – a major – said.

"He's not to be disturbed," the Secret Service agent said, standing protectively in the middle of the hall.

"This is important," the major insisted.

"It's always important."

"There's been an unplanned visitor in Nevada," the major said. "I need to tell the President, I need to tell him now and I need to tell him in person."

The Secret Service agent glanced at them, seeming to judge whether or not the man's words were honest before relenting. "If you will go and wait in the Green room, I will inform the President."

The major nodded and the three men turned, walking down a side hall. Sam ignored them and turned her attention towards the Secret Service agent. She fell into step about ten feet behind him as he walked in the other direction, presumably going to tell the President that he had visitors.

He walked down the hall and stopped before a heavy oak door. He knocked perfunctorily and opened the door, fortunately leaving it open behind him. Sam slipped in and stopped just inside the door, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimness.

"Sir," the agent said. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir. But there are some gentlemen here to see you."

The lamp beside the bed snapped on and Sam watched as the President propped himself up. "What is it, Malcolm?" he asked, his voice gravely from sleep.

"Something's happened in Nevada," he said. "Major Davis is here to brief you."

President Hayes – presuming this was the same man Reynolds had told them about – groaned softly and pushed the covers back, swinging his feet over the side of the bed.

"Why the hell can't this stuff happen during the day," he said.

"I don't know, sir. What would you like me to tell him?"

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

"Yes, sir."

The agent left the room, closing the door behind him. Sam watched as Hayes stood up, idly scratching his belly as he reached for his robe. Knowing that this was likely the only time she'd have, Sam reached into her vest and pulled out a bulky plastic box containing a PTD.

She opened the case and moved closer to her target. She knew that the creatures wouldn't hurt her, not really. Thanks to Jolinar, she could tolerate the creatures entering her and suffer nothing more than a bout of nausea and maybe a headache. But, while they wouldn't necessarily harm her, her goal was to get at least one of them into the President. And in order to do that, she had to be close.

Unfortunately, Gizmo chose that moment to meow, expressing her desire to be put down. Hayes spun, his eyes darting around the room. "Who's there?" he asked. Getting no response, he edged towards the bedside table and opened a drawer. Sam's stomach dropped when he pulled out a ribbon device, sliding the alien weapon onto his hand.

Knowing that she had just seconds before he was armed, she darted forward, tackling the man. He cried out as he landed awkwardly on the rumpled bed. Gizmo howled as she was jostled and Sam ignored her, grabbing the PTD and desperately holding it over Hayes' chest. She saw two of the goa'uld killers drop onto his t-shirt clad chest before the door flew open.

A heavy force struck her side and Sam rolled off the bed and onto the floor, the cloak dislodging itself as she fell. The Secret Service agent, Malcolm, tried to hold her down even as he tried to call for help.

Sam knocked the radio from his hand and ducked a punch as she raised her leg, attempting to dislodge him. He rolled off her and she scrambled to her feet, her arms raised defensively.

Hayes cried out and fell to his knees, his hands clutching his head. Sam could only hope that it meant that Machello's killers were now inside him. Aware that she needed to buy some time, she turned her attention back to Malcolm. She had to keep him from calling for help. He lunged at her and she sidestepped it, reaching out to trip the man. He landed hard, crashing heavily into an antique chair. 

She tried to get some distance from him, fumbling blindly for her cloak. Being invisible did give her a huge advantage, one that she'd need soon. She heard voices out in the hall and knew that Malcolm's call for help had not gone unheeded.

She tried to activate the cloak one more time cursing as she heard voices in the hall. She dashed towards the window, hoping that maybe she could escape that way. Something clutched at her foot and she fell, barely rolling to keep from smashing her face into the carpet. She rolled to her back and froze, slowly raising her hands in response to the half dozen gun barrels aimed directly at her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Daniel stood in the doorway, the fingers of one hand drumming lightly against the jam. He hesitated before stepping in, not sure if he would be truly welcome or not.  Teal'c looked up and met his gaze, welcoming him in.

"How aah, how is she?" he asked, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb Sho'nac.

"She is suffering from the lack of her primta," Teal'c said. Sho'nac's head tossed fitfully on the pillow and Daniel could see the signs of fever marring her features. Her cheeks were flushed and her skin was damp with perspiration.

"I'm sorry, Teal'c," Daniel said sincerely. Teal'c nodded. "You know, I remember that temple Sam and I found on Chulak and—"

"No," Teal'c interrupted. He looked over at Daniel. "I know of what you speak and I cannot ask that."

"You're not asking. Bra'tac and I—"

"Would be killed," Bra'tac said. "Once you and Captain Carter defiled the temple, the

primtas were moved to a more secure location. Do you not think, Doctor Jackson, if I knew of a way to secure a primta for Sho'nac, I would not be doing so?"

"I'm sorry," Daniel apologized, cringing at his lack of ability to handle Jaffa machismo.

"Do not apologize," Bra'tac said. "It is a sign of weakness."

Teal'c looked at the two of them and Daniel winced. "Right. Ok. I'm gonna go now and …umm…do…something." He edged towards the door.

"And I require a person of strength to assist me," Bra'tac said, ignoring Daniel's waffling as he swept a zat out from behind his cape. He fired it in one smooth movement and Teal'c collapsed to the floor, crying out in pain.

"What the HELL are you doing?" Daniel demanded.

"Insuring a future," he said, disarming the zat and returning it to its holster. "One that I hope you will assist me with."

He knelt beside Sho'nac's bed and unfastened the breastplate of his armor. His hand burrowed inside his clothes and Daniel's heart lurched, realizing the man's intent.

"Bra'tac—"

"Do not attempt to stop me. This is my right," he said, withdrawing his own symbiote from its pouch. He pulled the blanket back and grabbed the torn edge of Sho'nac's dress, ripping the opening wider. He pushed the primta into her womb, slumping slightly as the goa'uld slithered in, vanishing into Sho'nac's body.

"Why?" Daniel asked, aware of the magnitude of the sacrifice he had just witnessed.

Bra'tac looked up at him. "I am one hundred and thirty-seven years old. I have lived and loved for…longer than you ever will." He looked back down at Sho'nac, reaching out to touch her face. "I have lived enough, and they have not loved enough."

"Teal'c--"

"Deserves happiness in his life." He got to his feet, struggling to keep his balance. Daniel reached out to help. "I ask your assistance."

"We can go into my room. You can lie down and—"

Bra'tac shook his head. "I will not die here. I wish you to assist me in getting to the chappai."

"Bra'tac—"

"I am returning to Kheb," he interrupted. "And I wish your assistance."

Daniel nodded, surrendering to the iron will of the Jaffa master. "It would be my honor," he said, following his instincts.

"Thank you," Bra'tac said, taking one last glance at the pair of unconscious lovers. He and Daniel left the room, slowly making their way out of the cabin and towards the Stargate.

It was a beautiful autumn day outside. The sun was warm and the air was crisp as it stirred the colorful leaves. Daniel walked beside Bra'tac and both of them of them disturbed piles of leaves as they walked.

Bra'tac remained silent and Daniel followed suit, unable to come up with any small talk that didn't seem trite and silly. Finally they arrived at the Stargate and Daniel paused, turning to look at the man. Bra'tac stepped forward and punched the glyphs, dialing up Kheb. "Do you want me to go with you?" Daniel offered.

During the short walk Daniel had noticed the man's strength begin to fade as his steps grew more and more slow and unsure. Daniel remembered seeing Teal'c in the same condition back on Chulak when he'd given his own symbiote to Ry'ac. He knew that the man's strength and vitality was fading, vanishing as his body suffered the loss of its immune system.

Bra'tac shook his head. "This is a journey I must make on my own," he said. He handed the zat to Daniel. "You may need this when Teal'c awakens."

Daniel took the zat and shoved it into his waist band. "Yeah, he's gonna be a little pissed."

"His anger will fade, once he looks into her eyes," Bra'tac said, smiling slightly.

"I hope so," Daniel said, not sharing the man's confidence in Sho'nac's powers.  He'd feel a hell of a lot better if Jack was here. Even if Teal'c wouldn't listen to Daniel, he would listen to Jack. Either that or would respect Jack's rank enough to pretend to listen.

"Teal'c chose well when he chose you for his companion," Bra'tac said, holding out his hand.

Daniel took it, clasping it tightly. He glanced over to the shimmering surface of the Stargate. "Are you sure about this?" Daniel asked, loathe to just let the dying man go off to an abandoned planet. Especially an abandoned planet they'd pretty much been evicted from just hours before.

"I have never been more sure of anything in all of my one hundred and thirty-seven years," Bra'tac said, smiling peacefully.

"Good luck," Daniel said.

Bra'tac nodded and slowly climbed the steps up to the Stargate. He walked through without looking back and the gate snapped shut, silence rushing in to fill the void. Daniel stood there for a few minutes, the sun on his face warding away the chill of the breeze.

Finally, he turned on his heel and slowly made the trek back to the cabin, his elation at Sho'nac's survival tempered by the sacrifice that brought it to be.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Special Agent Malcolm Barrett watched as Agent Kelso pulled the intruder to her feet. He pushed her down into a chair and seemed intimidated by her glare even though her bound hands rendered her relatively harmless.

"Go outside and secure the room," Malcolm ordered.

"Sir?" Kelso looked over at him, glancing at the chaos of the room. President Hayes lay unconscious on the floor as did four of the Secret Service agents who'd rushed to his aid. Only Malcolm, Kelso and the intruder were conscious even if they were all a bit roughed up and bruised.

"Go outside. We are not to be disturbed and no one is to know that anything is wrong."

"Sir, protocol demands—"

"Your protocol is outdated. Go outside and secure the door or I'm going to tie you up and lock you in the closet," Malcolm threatened, his fingers lingering over the butt of his gun.

Kelso gulped and nodded. He retreated, leaving Malcolm alone with the woman. "Care to tell me what the hell is going on?" he demanded, standing in front of the woman.

She merely glared at him, her lips stubbornly pressed together. Malcolm sighed as he studied her. She wore a US issued TAC vest and combat boots, although he knew those items could be obtained at a surplus store. The rest of her clothing gave him little clue to her origin.

Her pants were made of a coarse, hand-woven canvas type fabric and seemed to have no zipper or pockets, only ties and buttons. Her shirt looked hand woven and also had only ties.

It certainly wasn't unknown for an assassin to wear generic clothing to disguise his or her origin, but homespun and homemade was not generic. "What did you do to him?"

Malcolm asked, moving closer to President Hayes. "Hell, what did you do to all of them? You never even laid a hand on Griggs and Keller."

She settled back in the chair, her efforts to make herself comfortable thwarted by her bound hands. "Is this a biological attack?" He shook his head. "No, if it was, I'd be affected."

Something caught his eyes and he bent over, picking up a palm-sized stone from the rumpled bedding. He turned it over in his hand, frowning at its familiarity. In an instant, the puzzle pieces fell into place and he spun, looking at his captive with fresh eyes. Middle thirties, blonde, military background. "You're Carter, aren't you?" he asked.

Her eyes darted towards him, then away as she tried to cover up her mistake.  "You look pretty good for a corpse," he said, trying to provoke a response. "Is this what I think it is?" he asked, moving closer to her and holding the stone out in front of her. "You do realize that Kelso won't keep his mouth shut forever. I figure we have a half hour tops before word gets out. We might have had more time if it wasn't for some men from Area 51 that need to talk to Hayes. And I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that they're here to report your little acquisition of these things." He paused for a second. "I can protect you," he offered. She finally looked at him, her gaze skeptical and full of disbelief. "I'm not like them," Malcolm said. "Just the fact that I'm conscious should be proof enough of that."

"All it proves is that you don't have a goa'uld killer in you," she said, finally breaking her silence.

"And if I said I did, you wouldn't believe me." He dragged a wooden chair over and sat down, straddling it. He leaned forward, balancing his arm on the back of the chair. "The invasion started about six months ago," he said, knowing that he'd need to earn her trust if the two of them were going to survive the next few hours.

"The details are a bit sketchy. It seems that the first thing they did was to purge all the records of that mission. As near as we can figure, all four members of the team came back carrying a goa'uld."

"The medical exam—"

"Isn't fool proof," he interrupted, grateful that she'd given up the silent act. "We think that the symbiotes hid, probably in the chest cavity until the men cleared medical. Anyway, we think that over the next few months the team pretended to go on normal missions, but once they were through the gate, they detoured to P3X888 and harvested more symbiotes. They then used these to infect more and more teams."

"The MRI's—"

"Are only as accurate as the tech running them. It was a bloodless coup. It took them about two weeks to get to Landry. Another week after that to start on the Joint Chiefs."

"There's no way they compromised all of the SGC. That's over five hundred people."

"More like two-fifty now. And it's easier than you think when the whole of the command staff is in on it."

"If you know what's wrong, why aren't you doing anything about it?" she asked. "Who the hell are you anyway?"

"Special Agent Malcolm Barrett, NID," he introduced.

Anger flared in her eyes. "NID?"

"Don't tar us all with the same brush, Major," he warned. "Our paranoia is why you're still breathing. Do you have any idea how many people have 'disappeared' in the past couple of months?" he asked. "As to why we haven't done anything," he shrugged. "There's only so much you can do when your whole chain of command has been compromised. Not to mention the utter chaos that would ensue if the general public even suspected the invasion."

"So you just let the goa'uld run rampant?"

"You do your best to control the invasion, while also trying not to have them suspect you while you figure out how in the hell to get the aliens out of the heads of your leaders without killing them," he said.

She nodded toward the item in his hand. "You're holding the solution."

"A solution that, until fifteen minutes ago, we thought was destroyed." His smile faded. "Do you have some more of these things?" She studied him, seeming to measure him up. "Look, Carter, we're gonna have to have a little trust here. You – I'm guessing – have the means to stop this invasion. But unless you want to waste your little goa'uld killers guessing who's been compromised, you need me."

"I need the NID?"

Malcolm smiled. "You need what I know. We haven't just been sitting back and watching this invasion happen, we've been taking notes and keeping track. We figure that we know at least ninety percent of the victims. And those that we don't know, we can probably find out from those that we free." He leaned forward and again held the stone in front of her face. "Your tool, my list. Help me, let me help you, and this invasion is over in a matter of days."

He heard a moaning noise and looked over to see President Hayes stirring. Giving into his need to do his duty, he got up from the chair and moved over to the man, kneeling beside him. "What's happening?"

"What's supposed to," she said, struggling to push herself up from the upholstered chair.

"I don't understand."

"Wait for it," she said. Malcolm heard a sound and looked down, grimacing in horror as something slid out of the President's ear, landing on the thick carpet with a small plop followed swiftly by another.

"What the hell?"

"The goa'uld is dead," she said, getting to her feet and walking over towards him.

"How do you know?"

"That's what it does. It kills the goa'uld and then dies."  She glanced at the four agents who were also beginning to stir. "The same thing will happen to them.  Each PTD contains ten killers. It's possible that each person will get more than one, I didn't get any this time so if the President got two the other eight should be in them."

"Seven," he said, standing up and reaching into his pocket to pull out a pocketknife. He spun her around and cut the flex cuffs, freeing her arms.

"What?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder at him.

"Hayes has two, Griggs three, Keller two, Matthews and Nelson one each," he listed.

"That's only nine. You must have missed one, they move incredibly fast," she said, rubbing her wrists.

"Tell me about it," he said, grimacing slightly as he slid the knife back into his pocket.  She gaped at him. "Yeah, number ten. Right here." He tapped the side of his head. "Which is another reason we don't have a lot of time to dick around. I'd kinda like to stop this invasion before I start to drool and wet myself."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sho'nac opened her eyes, staring in puzzlement at the ceiling. She felt something stir within her and she moved her hand, laying it protectively over her belly. A primta. She again carried a primta.

Curiosity drove her to sit up and warred with her relief at still being alive. She heard footsteps and looked up to see Daniel Jackson slowly walk into the room. "Sho'nac, you're awake."

"Yes, I—" She broke off her words, catching sight of Teal'c sprawled on the floor. "NO!" she cried out, slipping off the bed to throw herself to her knees beside him.

"He's okay," Daniel Jackson reassured her, moving closer. "He's just been, aah…" He held up the zatnikatel. "He's gonna be fine."

"Then…" Sho'nac rolled Teal'c to his back and laid her hand on his belly, confirming that he too still possessed his primta. She looked up at Daniel Jackson, a feeling of horror washing over her. "Doctor Jackson—"

"It was his choice," he interrupted. "He zatted Teal'c then…" His voice trailed off. "It was his choice," he repeated, shrugging helplessly.

Sho'nac wrapped her arms around her middle, cradling Bra'tac's final gift as well as she could. "Where is he?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Sho'nac?" Teal'c's groggy voice preempted Daniel Jackson's reply. She turned towards her love as he reached out towards her. "What has transpired?" He looked towards Daniel Jackson.

"Kheb," Daniel Jackson answered, turning his gaze from Teal'c to her. "Bra'tac went to Kheb."

Sho'nac gasped. "NO!" Teal'c cried, struggling to his feet. He pushed his way out of the room and Daniel Jackson followed him.

Sho'nac hurried after them as both men left the cabin. "It's what he wanted!" Daniel Jackson yelled after Teal'c. Teal'c did not turn back but kept stalking towards the chappai. "Teal'c, he made his choice." Daniel Jackson broke into a run, catching up to Teal'c and grabbing his arm. "What are you going to do?" he demanded.

"RELEASE ME!"

"Not until you tell me where you're going." Sho'nac walked closer, joining the two arguing men.

"I shall return Bra'tac here."

"To watch him die?"

"He gave his primta to Sho'nac, I shall give him mine."

"And then what? Teal'c, don't you understand? Bra'tac did what he did because he wants you to be happy."

"How can I be happy when he is gone?"

Sho'nac gasped, Teal'c's words driving like a knife through her heart. She turned to leave, stopping when Daniel Jackson's hand caught her arm, pulling her back. "He did it for you, for both of you. He did it because you have a future, a whole lifetime together. He did it because there is more to life than prayers to a false god and because you're the best hope the Jaffa have to be free. He did it because winning the battle is meaningless if you celebrate it alone."

He paused, looking both of them in the eye. "He did it for love. Because he loved both of you and because you love each other. He gave you a priceless gift. Don't waste it." He released both of them and stepped back. "I'm gonna…go back to the cabin," he said. "See what I can scare up for dinner." He looked uncomfortable after his passionate words.

Sho'nac watched him walk towards the cabin then the turned her attention back to Teal'c. He stood in the clearing, his back ramrod straight and his hands clenched at his side.

"I did not ask him for this boon," she said, Teal'c's mood prompting her to defend herself. "I never even asked him to help me procure a primta once Amaunet said no," she continued.

"Of that I am aware," he finally said, his voice low and flat.

"Teal'c, I—"

"Allow me to mourn the passing of one who was as a father to me," he interrupted.

"To me as well," she said. "May I mourn him with you?" She reached out and pulled him close, relieved when he did not push her away.  She wrapped him in her arms and soon felt the warm splash of his tears on her shoulder. They soon matched her own and they clung to each other united in grief just as they were united in love.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The truck bounced harshly and Jack grimaced as he nearly fell off the bench, his movements hampered by the wrist and ankle shackles he was wearing.

"I don't suppose there's a chance of us hitting a drive thru?" he asked, not expecting a response from the two guards sitting across from him. Neither Heckle or Jeckle had spoken more than a handful of words since they'd rousted him out of the detention cell earlier in the day.

He really had no idea what time it was although the growling of his stomach suggested that it had to be early afternoon. Sometime after Maybourne left him earlier in the day the two goons had come in and chained him up, leading him out into a van for a short drive that led to an air strip and a plane ride.

They'd kept the blinds down during the flight and put a hood over his head before letting him step off the plane, so he really had no idea where he was. Guessing on the length of the flight, he didn't think that he was any further east than Texas and probably still in the US, but beyond that he couldn't even guess. Hell, for all he knew, they coulda flown in circles and landed back at Nellis.

Wherever he was, he was on his own. Until they'd gotten on the plane, he'd harbored the fantasy that Carter could still come after him. He was well and truthfully on his own.

In one way, it was depressing, but in another it was liberating. He only had to worry about himself now.

The truck jolted to a halt and Jack looked up, the expectant look on Heckle and Jeckle's blocky faces confirming that whatever their destination was, they were there. The engine turned off and Heckle leaned forward, grabbing the chain securing Jack's wrists. Jeckle opened the door and stood outside, his hand lingering pointedly on his sidearm.

Jack chose not to struggle and meekly let Heckle lead him out of the truck, jumping awkwardly off the high tail gate.

Jeckle came forward with the dreaded hood and Jack sighed, allowing the man to place it over his head. They led him forward and Jack tried to keep calm, doing his best to deny the natural anxiety of being in an unknown place and blind to boot. The shackles around his ankles forced him into a shuffling walk.

He struggled to hear and smell, seeking a clue to his location. The air felt cool on his hands, but it was a damp coolness. And it felt familiar to him in a way.

Although his hearing was muffled, he could hear the sound of the chain dragging across either concrete or asphalt. It was a smooth paved surface and wasn't gravel. They led Jack up a step and he thought through a large doorway, probably inside. The background noise of trucks and engines faded and the feel of the air changed. It was cooler but drier. That and the sound of the chains changing told Jack that he was now inside. The chain no longer dragged over rough concrete but smooth tile.

He was led down a hall that sounded to get narrower. Jack could hear other people in the hall, but all of their voices faded as soon as they seemed to see him, as normal conversations suddenly stopped or changed to harsh whispers.

Jack heard his keepers navigate a guard station, the rustle of presented papers audible even through the hood. He was bustled into an elevator and Jack listened, his confidence in his location growing by the second.

It was confirmed when he was led out of one elevator then seemingly right back in. There was only one place that he knew of that had two separate elevators that was a couple of hours flight from Nellis. He was at the SGC.

The elevator stopped and Jack was pulled forward. In one way, Jack was happy that they were at the SGC. He was, in effect, on home ground. Even though it had been almost two years, he doubted too much of the SGC had changed. So, if he could just get free, he could probably lead them on a merry chase even lacking current codes and passwords.

On the other hand, if Carter's fear was right, he was probably surrounded by snake heads. They weren't taking him to the detention level, they were too deep for that. And it didn't smell like the commissary, neither did it sound like Level Twenty-One and the infirmary.

His money was on it being the general's office. They led him through another doorway and Jack grinned as he heard the rattle of the chains change from the smooth scrape of tile to the muted drag of industrial carpet.

Heckle, or maybe it was Jeckle, jerked him to a stop. The hood was unceremoniously yanked off his head and Jack blinked, the normal room light uncomfortably bright after the total darkness of the hood. "There's no place like home," he muttered as the blurry confines of the briefing room swam into view. Heckle pulled on Jack's chain causing him to stumble forward and nearly lose his balance.

"Enough," Landry said, walking out of his office. "That's no way to treat our guest."

"Yes, sir," Heckle answered, snapping to attention.

"Hello, Jack," Landry said, smiling welcomingly. He motioned with his hand. "Take those shackles off."

Heckle hurried to follow Landry's orders. "Nice little armed camp you have here," Jack said, noting the two armed guards at each door.

"You can never be too careful," Landry said. "Leave the cuffs on," he said just as Heckle reached for Jack's wrists. The man stepped back, placing the small ring of keys back in his pocket.

"Who are you?" Jack asked, losing his patience with the banter. He knew Hank, or who Hank used to be. And he knew what the guy was going through. And the very thought made him sick.

"We don't really have names, at least not as far as your primitive language can understand," he answered.

"Squeaks and whistles?" Jack asked.

"Why did you come back?" Landry asked, ignoring Jack's barb.

"I tried to tell them, I was just looking for a good pizza place."

"At Area 51?"

"Is that where I was?"

"Do NOT waste my time with such trivialities!" Landry said angrily. He held out his hand and Jeckle handed him a familiar little box. "You came here to kill us," he said, his eyes glowing.

"You came here to enslave us," Jack shot back.

Landry's eyes narrowed. "Where is your partner?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"What partner?"

"That idiot Maybourne may have tried to cover it up, but I know that you have a compatriot. Who is it and where are they?"

"That snake in your head has addled your brain," Jack said. "I'm here alone and even if I was with someone I sure as hell wouldn't tell you."

Landry smiled. "How did I know that you were going to be difficult?" He stepped back and motioned at Heckle and Jeckle. "The colonel has accommodations waiting for him up on Level Sixteen." He looked at his watch. "The recovery team is due back from the homeland in approximately twelve hours. If either of you can get the information out of him before then, you will be rewarded. If not, we shall gift him with one of our brothers and take what we want."

The two men came forward and grabbed Jack's arms with bruising force. They dragged him from the room and bustled him down the hall. With his legs finally free, Jack contemplated giving the two men a run for their money, but a quick look around quashed that idea. He recognized a bare handful of the faces of the people they passed. And even in the ones he knew, he saw nothing resembling sympathy.

In fact, if he had to describe their expression, he'd call it cold-blooded anticipation. They were Goa'ulds, every damn one of them.

Even if he broke free from Heckle and Jeckle, he'd be lucky to make it ten yards down the hall. He had to wait, and that was the hardest damn part about being a prisoner, biding your time, waiting for a better opportunity, even while you acknowledge that 'better' may never come.

Right now all he wanted to do was to run. As hard and as fast as he could. And if they got pissed off and shot him in the back, even better. The dead get to keep their secrets. And they can't get snaked either.

Jack was no dummy. He knew exactly what was going to happen once he got down to the cell. And it certainly wasn't something he was looking forward to. But he knew that it'd be something he'd have to endure.

Carter was the primary and her mission was the most important. It was his job – his duty – to do everything he could to protect her.

And if he had to die to do it, so be it.

They got on the elevator and Jack forced himself to relax. He was no match for the two guys in the brawn department. He glanced at each of them. Hell, they'd even give Teal'c a run for his money.

If he couldn't out muscle them, he'd have to out think them. And they needed to see him as a nice little prisoner, not a very pissed off Air Force Colonel who was taking down bad guys before they'd been allowed to cross the street on their own.

They got out of the elevator and approached the holding cells and the hair on the back of Jack's neck stood on end. Nothing looked amiss but he knew that something was wrong.

With a swiftness that even Teal'c would appreciate, two figures popped around the corner, armed zats held at the ready. Unsure what to do, Jack dimply ducked, his sudden movement catching his captors off guard.

He heard near simultaneous firings of the zats and cringed, half expecting to feel the pain zing along his nerves. Instead, he heard the grunts of his guards as both of them crashed to the floor. Jack looked up, sure that he would be next. He stared as two familiar faces peered out. Siler and Reynolds hurried forward. Reynolds checked on Heckle and Jeckle while Siler helped Jack to his feet. "Welcome back, sir," Siler said, catching the small ring of keys that Reynolds removed from Heckle's pocket.

"Still going with the grey, I see," Jack said, holding his arms out to let Siler unlock the cuffs.

"The gold would have blown their cover," Reynolds said, divesting Jack's captors of their weapons. He handed Jack one of the sidearms. "We need to get you out of here."

"I'll take care of them," Siler said.

Reynolds nodded. "Watch your ass. And don't forget the tapes." Reynolds motioned towards Jack and he followed him down the hall, leaving the fallen men behind.

"The escape hatch?" Jack asked, remembering one of the ways of 'sneaking' out of the base.

Reynolds shook his head. "They locked it down last month." He led Jack out of the main corridor and down a narrow back hall. "We need a path less traveled," he said by way of explanation.

Jack grabbed the man's arm and stopped in the middle of the hall. "No offense, but why the hell should I trust you?" he asked. "If my guess is right, everyone in this mountain has a snake in their head."

"Most do," Reynolds answered. "But our little friends have a weakness. Only about half of the implantations work. Most of those that it doesn't work on, die."

"And you?"

"Some survive," he said coldly, the look in his eyes telling Jack that he was telling the truth. "And if the experience doesn't totally drive them nuts and they keep their wits about them, they can fake it. Siler, me and about three others survived, if you can call it that."

"That doesn't make any sense," Jack said, calling on Ba'al's knowledge. "Humans are the perfect host. And the blending has more like a ninety-nine percent success rate."

Reynolds shrugged. "All I know is that the snake they stuck in me died. And the one reason that they moved from the SGC to the Pentagon and the JCS wasn't to take over the world, it was to cover up the death toll." He glared at Jack. "Now if you want, I can take you back to your cell and you can see if your friends are awake and they can pick up where they left off or we can get the hell out of here," he challenged.

Jack sighed softly, acknowledging that he really had no other choice. He had no way to know for sure if Reynolds was compromised or not, so all he had to go on was his gut. And the fact that the man had just broken him out of jail. "Lead the way," Jack said.

Reynolds nodded and Jack fell into step behind him as the colonel led him down dark hallways that Jack barely recognized. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"Things were getting crowded before they expanded," Reynolds explained. "Anyone that had been implanted was discouraged from leaving. Every empty space was turned into living quarters. But then they started getting questions from NORAD and the guards at the entrance who were noticing too much traffic in and out of this place, so they built their own."

"They drilled through a mountain?"

Reynolds shook his head. "The miners that dug out this place put in ventilation shafts while they worked. Landry found one of those and they expanded it. They've got their own private entrance. It comes about half a mile from the parking lot, but when you have goa'uld enhanced strength, the walk's not much of an issue."

"Makes sense," Jack said.

"Do you have someone on the outside?" Reynolds asked.

"What?" Jack tensed, the man's question setting off alarm bells in his head. Why did he need to know? Why did he even care?

"Relax, Jack. I don't give a damn if you have someone. But I can't do more than to get you out of here. I'll get you to the escape, then you're on your own. If you really do have a friend on the outside, you might want to let them know you're still alive." He stopped and looked Jack in the eyes. "And if you're smart, you'll get the hell off this rock. Before you end up like our friends downstairs."

Jack grinned fatalistically. "If we're lucky, they're gonna be the ones getting their eviction notice. Getting out of here is fine. I can find my own way from the surface."

Reynolds nodded and led Jack to a non-decrepit metal door. "This is it."

Jack nodded. "Okay." He looked at Reynolds. "Goodbyes are so—"

He heard a sound and he broke off, staring at the door. Before he could react, the door flew open and armed men spilled out.

"Freeze, freeze, freeze, freeze, freeze!" the one in front said. Jack and Reynolds were both pushed against the wall as countless hands disarmed them and bound their hands behind their backs.

His face pressed into the concrete wall, all Jack could do was look over at Reynolds and wonder if the terror on the man's eyes was mirrored in his own.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Colonel Frank Reynolds paced, ignoring the glare from his cell mate. "You're making me tired," Jack complained, glancing up from the cell's sole bunk. He was lying on the short bunk, his feet propped on the foot rail and his hands crossed behind his head.

"This isn't right," Frank said.

"We're in a cell, that's rarely right."

Frank shook his head. "Not that. Those men. Those weren't our troops."

"The ones that tossed us in here?" He sat up, swinging his feet over the edge of the bunk.

"How do you know?"

"Jack, who do you think did the training after you left? Those were not our people," Reynolds insisted.

"I agree," Jack said. He looked up at Frank. "Weapons, clothes, they were all wrong."

"Who do you think they were?"

Jack shook his head. "Dunno. Think we're in the middle of a turf war?" Frank looked at him, not getting the reference. "Rival goa'ulds."

"Why would they be rivals?"

"It's hard wired in their DNA," Jack said. "They're born competitive."

"Yeah, but what the hell do we have here worth fighting for?" They looked at each other.

"The Stargate," they said in unison.

"Whoever controls the gate controls the whole ball game," Jack said.

"So you think that's what it is, who those soldiers were," Frank asked. "The army of some rival goa'uld?"

Jack shrugged. "As good an explanation as any."

"Okay. So what do you think they're gonna do with us?" Frank asked.

"I sincerely doubt it's gonna be a Swedish massage and a steak dinner," Jack said.

They heard noises outside the door and Jack got to his feet, his hands held ready at his side. "Showtime," Frank muttered, moving to Jack's side.

The door opened and the two men stared at the solitary figure standing at the threshold. "You know, sir, this is getting to be a habit," Sam Carter said.

"It was just the one time," Frank said, picking up on the woman's mood and relaxing.

"I was talking to him," she said, motioning towards Jack.

"I am guessing that you being here is a good thing," Jack said.

She smiled. "Yes, sir." She motioned for them to follow her. She led them out into the hall. Armed guards were stationed in regular intervals, their clothing identifying them to be the same people that had stormed the mountain.

"You gonna fill us in, or do we have to guess?" Jack asked.

"Those troops were NID—"

"NID!" The man closest to them looked over, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"They're the good guys this time," she said, nonplused by Jack's interruption. "They've actually known about the invasion for months."

"Why the hell didn't they do anything?" Frank demanded.

"The whole chain of command was compromised," she said, pausing to look at him. "They couldn't risk exposing themselves until they had a way to stop it. If they'd have acted before then, they'd have just been killed and there'd be no one to stop them," she said softly. "I'm sorry, colonel. They just couldn't move until they knew they were going to win."

The noise level in the hall abruptly increased and Carter pulled both of them to the side of the hall. "What's going on?" Jack asked.

"They're rounding up everyone. The mountain is locked down and everyone that's had contact with anyone from here is being rounded up. Including people at the Pentagon and Area 51."

"I thought the White House was in on it," Jack said.

"They were. But the President was the only one compromised there," Sam answered. "He and the JCS have been treated and should make a full recovery."

The NID troops marched down the hall, escorting a group of SGC personnel, all of which had their hands bound with zip cuffs. "What's going on with them?" Frank asked.

"They're all going to get treated," she answered, looking after the line of people.

"Treated?"

"That was one of the souvenirs we brought back," Jack said.

"Actually, they were on Earth all along," Sam corrected. Frank frowned at her. "One of Machello's toys that we recovered from his planet. Dozens of PTD's, page turning devices that are booby trapped with these little slug things that will kill a goa'uld. They were stored at Area 51. We stopped there and picked them up and that's what they're using to degoa'uld everyone."

"Lucky them," Jack said. He looked at Frank. "It's not fun."

Carter got a funny look on her face. "I'm afraid Colonel Reynolds is going to find out just how un-fun it is."

"Carter?"

"What do you mean?" Frank asked.

"I hate to tell both of you, but EVERYONE in the mountain has to pass Machello's test."

"Carter, I do NOT have a snake in my head," Jack said.

"What do you mean, pass the test?" Frank demanded.

"Colonel, I'm sorry, but you have to," she said to Jack. "And Colonel Reynolds, I'm sorry too but this is the only way to know for sure that we get all the goa'ulds."

"You are not going to stick those damn things in me again!" Jack said loudly.

"What kind of test is this?" Frank asked.

"Colonel, it's not as bad the second time, trust me, I know. Colonel Reynolds, you just get exposed to one of these PTD's and the slug will kill the goa'uld if you have one. It's relatively painless –"

"Painless?"

"Relatively painless," she continued, ignoring Jack's interruption. "And I'm afraid that everyone in the SGC has to be screened."

"Just do an MRI," Jack said.

"It's believed that the first goa'uld that came from P3X888 escaped detection by hiding in the chest cavity. The MRI isn't conclusive. I'm sorry, sirs, you either submit or you're going to go back into that cell." She put her hands on her hips and stood in front of both of them, the unspoken message clear.

"Fine, you want to stick one of those in me, go for it," Jack said after a few seconds. "Little problem with your plan though." He jerked his thumb at Frank. "He doesn't have a snake."

"And the side effects, I know," she said.

"Side effect?" Frank asked. "What side effect?"

She held out her arm and pulled up the sleeve, revealing a band aid. "I've already given my pint and Malcolm has his medics working on the antidote."

"Antidote?" Frank asked, swiftly losing patience with the verbal ping pong match.

"Someone want to tell me what the HELL is going on here?" The guard closest to them tensed, his fingers tightening on his weapon.

"Do you remember when Daniel went nuts?" Frank shook his head. "Right, that was before your time. Okay, we went on a mission and discovered a room full of dead goa'uld—"

"Nine of them," Jack interrupted.

"Right, nine. It was determined that the hosts died after their snakes. A few days after that mission, Daniel started to hallucinate. At first we just thought it was stress, but it was really the side effect of a creation of Machello's."

"These little slug things," Jack said, holding up his hand, his forefinger and thumb about an inch apart.

"If you are possessed by a goa'uld, the slugs will kill it. But if you don't have a goa'uld, the slugs create a chemical imbalance in the brain and the symptoms match that of schizophrenia. That's what they thought Daniel had but it wasn't. As soon as the slug left him, he got better."

"So you're gonna put something in my head that'll make me go nuts because you don't believe that I don't have a snake?" Frank demanded.

"You won't go nuts," she promised. "Every ex-host has a protein marker in their blood. All we have to do is take the protein out of my blood and give it to you. The slug will leave and you'll be fine."

"I will?" Frank asked, suddenly unsure about the whole scheme.

"Yeah, you will," Jack said, his voice changing from challenging to reassuring. He looked at Frank. "How do you think they got Ba'al out of me?"

Carter motioned towards one of the troops. "They're taking people in in groups of ten. I can get you two in the next group."

"Okay," Frank said as Jack nodded.

"Once you're done, sir, we need your help," she said, looking at Frank.

"What can I do?"

"We need names. We need to track down every single person that's been in this mountain. And every person that they've had contact with."

"That's thousands," Frank said.

"We don't have enough PTD's for that," Jack said.

"I know," she said. "We're hoping that they confined their invasion only to valuable people. Malcolm has scientists working on replicating the slugs if we need them."

"Malcolm?" Jack asked as the NID guard joined them, apparently ready to escort them to be desnaked.

She smiled. "I'll tell you all about it once you're done," she promised.

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Jack said, laying his hand on Frank's shoulder. "Let's get this over with."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Daniel rolled over in his bunk and punched the pillow, closing his eyes for a few seconds before he sighed and sat up. He wasn't going to get any sleep. He pushed back the blanket and got to his feet, his familiarity with the cabin allowing him to navigate the way to the kitchen without turning on any lights.

Using the moonlight as a guide, he scooped out some water and filled the kettle before setting it on the stove. He turned on the heat and reached for a candle, lighting it before taking his seat at the table.

He sighed again, listening to the silence around him. That was one of the many things they'd had to get used to on this planet, not only was the night really, really dark, but it was also quiet. So quiet, in fact, that they had few secrets from each other.

Which was precisely why he thought that Sho'nac and Teal'c were finally asleep, or meditating. Thinking about his two roommates brought up Daniel's newest issue, what was he going to do now?

He hadn't minded sharing the cabin when it was the four of them. Sure, things hadn't exactly been perfect. He knew that Sam sometimes chafed at the lack of privacy and that Jack too had his issues, although it seemed to mostly be dismay at the lack of cold beer and a TV.

But now that it looked like it might be just him and Teal'c and Sho'nac, Daniel found that their living arrangements weren't going to work out so well.

He didn't mind living with Teal'c when it was the four of them, but he and Sho'nac were obviously a couple and were probably going to do the things that couples do. And Daniel was definitely going to be the third wheel.

He heard a sound and looked up, sighing to himself as he caught sigh of Sho'nac walking down the hall. "May I join you?" she asked.

"Sure," he said, getting up and pasting a smile on his face. He did his best to hide his annoyance as he pulled two mugs out of the cupboard and scooped some tea leaves into them before pouring the water over it. He returned to the table and handed one to Sho'nac. "We found it on one of our trading trips. I can't remember the name for it, but it's kinda like chamomile tea."

"I am unfamiliar with that term," she said, accepting the mug from him.

"It's a herb tea on Earth. Helps you sleep."

"Ah. We have much the same on Chulak," she answered, taking a sip of the tea.

"Where's Teal'c?"

"He has finally attained kelnoreem."

"That's good."

"Indeed. His mind and body can benefit from the meditation." Daniel took a sip of the tea, enjoying its mellow taste even as he longed for the luxury of tea bags. "You have been very quiet since Bra'tac's departure."

"Just thinking," he said.

"Of many weighty thoughts."

"I'm worried about Jack and Sam," he said, choosing the least dangerous topic. He'd been thinking of other things too. Very unkind and uncharitable things, thoughts laced with a jealousy that he wished he didn't feel. He was glad that Sho'nac was still alive. Just as much as he resented the fact that he didn't have a 'happy ending' of his own.

"Their task seemed a most onerous and dangerous one," she said, oblivious to his dark thoughts.

"Sho'nac, what they're doing, what I hope they're doing, is tantamount to Teal'c trying to take down every single goa'uld all on his own. It's impossible."

"Little in this universe is truly impossible," she said. He glared at her. "I am sorry. I hope that your friends succeed. No planet deserves to fall to the goa'uld."

"Thank you," he said.

"Something else troubles you," she said.

Daniel shook his head, not wanting to broach the topic with her. His feelings were not her fault and they were something that he needed to deal with. "It doesn't matter," he said.

"I believe that it does."

Daniel shook his head, regretting that he ever got out of bed. "I think I'm going to—"

A mechanical beep interrupted him and Daniel's heart lurched. "What is that?" Sho'nac asked, getting to her feet.

"The proximity alert."

"The what?"

"Someone's coming through the gate," he said, hurrying back towards his room.

Teal'c's door flew open. "Daniel Jackson—"

"I know," he said. He dashed into his room and retrieved his weapons, taking a second to slip on a pair of boots. He hurried back out into the common room. "Anything?"

"There has been no signal," Teal'c said, referring to the code one of them would send if it was a friendly coming through the gate.

"We better go find out who it is then," Daniel said, checking the charge on his weapon.

"Perhaps it is O'Neill and Major Carter returning," Sho'nac said.

Daniel shook his head. "Why didn't they use the ship?"

"And why do they not send the code," Teal'c said. "Remain here. Douse the light," he told her. "And secure the door."

Daniel handed her his zat. "We'll be back as soon as we can."

The two of them slipped outside and made their way towards the gate. Daniel was grateful that he hadn't lit more candles so that his night vision was still good. They slipped through the dry grass and made their way towards the gate.

Daniel couldn't see any signs of any invasion or attack. The night was still quiet and the only sound other than their footsteps was the chirp of the crickets. That sound reassured Daniel a bit, although not a lot since the crickets were just bugs.

The pair of them crept towards the Stargate, waiting until they were about a hundred yards away before they separated, crouching low to hide amongst the tall grass.

Daniel struggled to see something, wondering vaguely if it had been some sort of false alarm. Theoretically, it shouldn't happen. Sam had set the detector to activate only when the gate opened. Of course, just because the gate opened didn't exactly mean that anyone had come through. Maybe it was a wrong number? A misdial.

"If either of you two shoot me, I'm gonna kick your ass!" he heard. Recognizing the voice, Daniel relaxed a bit, lowering his weapon but not stepping out of cover just yet.

"O'Neill?" he heard Teal'c call out.

"Beam me up Scotty!" he said, yelling their pass code.

Daniel stood up and walked forward, joining Teal'c as they approached the gate. O'Neill stood there, his hands held loosely at his side. He raised one and snapped on a flashlight, illuminating the area. "Jack?"

"Daniel, Teal'c, it's okay."

"Where's Sam?" Daniel asked, noticing that Jack was alone.

"She's back on Earth." He smiled. "Everything's fine." He held up his other hand, revealing a GDO. "Anyone in the mood to go home?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sam closed her eyes, taking a moment to enjoy the sun. She heard footsteps behind her and she sighed, resigning herself to her fate. She should have expected this, if she was honest with herself, she did. In fact, she was kinda surprised that it'd taken him this long.

She opened her eyes, refusing to look at him or to move from her seat on the bench. He sat down beside her, staying silent as he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "This is becoming a habit," he said.

She ignored him and turned her attention towards Gizmo. The kitten had handled the past several days well, quietly traveling with her on the teltac from the White House back to the SGC and had been her constant companion while they'd worked to contain the invasion.

Right now Gizmo was doing her best to kill a leftover leaf from last fall, batting it around between her paws and tackling it with a passionate intent. "It's kinda funky," Jack said, not put off by her silence. "It's fall back on Springfield and late spring here. You know, he was entitled to a full military funeral," Jack said, finally broaching the topic that was lurking between them.

Sam looked at the large pile of fresh dirt, anonymous except for the headstone beside it and the small metal marker at one end. "I know," she answered finally breaking her silence.

"It wouldn't have been that hard to arrange. A couple phone calls."

"I know."

"Course, we'd have had to even know that you'd brought him home." His tone changed from casual to pointed and she turned to look at him, recognizing that he'd finally gotten to the point of his conversation.

"Malcolm helped me arrange it," she answered.

"Malcolm?"

"It had to be a secret," she said. She looked back towards the grave. "I didn't want the NID getting their hands on him."

"So you got Mister NID to help you?" he asked sarcastically.

"His NID isn't the one we have to worry about," she said. "Besides, this is my mess, I need to clean it up."

He grabbed her arm. "This is not a mess, this is your father," he corrected. "This is, was, his funeral and we'd have liked to have been here for you."

She shook her head. "My father died the day I let them put Selmac in his head. He almost killed me and he was going to kill all of you if Daniel hadn't have stopped him. If anything good came from this it…" She stopped when her voice broke and looked away, getting to her feet and pulling away from him. She walked a few steps away and kept her back to him desperately wishing that she hadn't been so predictable. She heard him step up behind her and she tensed, resisting the urge to swing around and give her right hook a work out.

"Sam, he may have been your father, but he was our friend," he said softly.

She knew that he was mad at her, upset that she'd arranged to retrieve Jacob on her own and brought him down to Texas to be buried beside her mother, all without letting any of them know.

For a while, she'd contemplated asking them for help but everyone had been so busy. Things were relatively calm around the SGC. The base was technically shut down and the NID troops still had control. Malcolm, after receiving his anti-slug injection, was in temporary command, his mission to insure that every single goa'uld brought back by the retrieval team was accounted for. The colonel was helping him with that, commanding teams to track down those few stragglers. Daniel was working with the others in the base, trying to catalogue some of the items brought back by the goa'uld teams

General Landry was still in the base commander – on paper anyway – although time and a psychiatric evaluation would prove whether or not he'll keep the job.

And he wasn't the only one. Every single blended person was going to have to pass an evaluation. Sam knew that not all of them would pass. Before she'd left, she'd even heard a rumor or two of a suicide being blamed on the invasion. The six months of goa'uld occupation was going to have long standing and far reaching ramifications.

The scope of those ramifications made her issues seem all that much more trivial. Here they were, cleaning up an invasion and she was worried about bringing her father's body home. Their duties were far more important than hers.

"What are you going to do now?" he'd asked, seeming to drop the topic.

She shrugged. "It's about Gizzy's dinner time," she said, glancing over at the kitten. She had abandoned tackling the leaves and was now exploring, her short, bushy tail sticking straight up.

"After dinner," he pressed.

She shook her head slightly. "Hadn't got that far."

"You know—" His cell phone rang and he broke off, making a face as he reached for the device.

Sam stepped away, giving him some privacy as she collected Gizmo, ignoring the kitten's mews of protest as she picked her up. The animal was growing and Sam knew that her pocket riding days were coming to an end. Which was too bad. She'd enjoyed having the company the past few days.

"We need to go back to the SGC," he said, returning the phone to his pocket.

"You may."

"Sam—"

"I'm off duty," she said, not in the mood to return to the SGC. As far as the 'real world' was concerned, they were all still 'dead' and thus were pretty much confined to base. And she was sick and tired of grey painted concrete.

"Screw being off duty," he dismissed. "The Tok'ra just came through the gate. The service out here sucks so I didn't get all of it, but we need to get back."

"Daniel—"

"Can chat with them and keep them from getting bored until we get there," he interrupted.

"We need to go back now."

"Fine," she agreed. She walked with him back to their vehicles and followed him back to

the base, resisting the urge to simply take a 'wrong turn' and miss their hop. In less than half an hour they were on a plane and winging their way back to Colorado Springs.

Sam took advantage of the noise of the plane and pretended to doze off, hoping to forestall any attempts at conversation. She didn't feel like talking and she really couldn't understand why. Part of her expected to want to talk over the events of the past few days with him, find out how many rogue goa'uld he and his teams had found, how many more could be out there.

But another part of her really didn't care. They'd find them, eventually. She did know that they'd never succeeded in bringing a queen through, so the goa'uld that were here were all the goa'uld there'd be. And the very nature of the beast suggested that they wouldn't just go quietly into the night.

She must have actually fallen asleep because the next thing she was aware of was the thudding bounce of the plane landing. She straightened up in the seat, self-consciously looking over to the colonel. Much to her relief, he seemed to be waking as well. He stretched as best he could with his seatbelt fastened then turned his attention out the window as the plane slowed. It maneuvered off the runway and onto the taxiway and he unsnapped his seatbelt.

She did the same and remained in her seat until the plane stopped, then got to her feet and deplaned, taking a few minutes to acknowledge the flight crew and fill out the paperwork before making her way to the waiting staff car for the short trip across town to the SGC.

As they drove, she watched the scenery scroll by, her hand absently petting Gizmo. The normalcy of their surroundings only served to unsettle her more.

It just didn't seem right that things could be so normal. People still jogged on the sidewalk, a mother pushed a stroller and another woman was walking her dog. The sign on the pizza place advertised the daily special and the Krispy Kreme had fresh donuts.

They were going about their lives, even though the town had been the epicenter of an invasion.

There'd been hundreds of goa'uld here, hundreds of families who had one of their own possessed. And it seemed that not only had no one noticed, no one seemed to care. It served to put everything into perspective. How vital could their jobs really be if no one even noticed what they were doing?

They entered the highway and Sam sat back in the seat, watching as Gizmo climbed off her lap and explored the rest of the backseat. The colonel was up front with the driver and Sam was glad for the separation. If he was back here with her, he might try to continue their conversation and she wasn't in the mood for that.

He'd ask questions that she wasn't yet ready to answer. Chief among them, 'what next?' She didn't know what she was going to do next. She still half expected to be taken into custody. Which was why she was surprised when Malcolm had authorized her to bring Jacob back and bury him. Despite all of them resigning, she knew that they were all fugitives. Agent Barrett could have been well within his authority to have kept her confined to base. Instead he not only allowed her to go back to Springfield to bring her father back, he also gave her a team of four and a FRED to aid in the process. Not to mention arranging the burial.

The car exited the highway and drove up the narrow road, clearing the checkpoints with speedy efficiency. It stopped just inside the tunnel entrance and Sam got out, shivering in the chill air. She held Gizmo close and followed the colonel into the mountain.

"Whatever the hell the Tok'ra want, it better be important," he groused once they got into the elevator.

"It's important enough for them to wait," she said, even the contentious subject of the

Tok'ra preferable to her personal life.

"They just better not want us to go on a mission," he said.

She nodded, agreeing with his assessment. They were in no condition to go on any missions or to go help anyone out. They needed to finish taking care of Earth first.

The pair of them walked into the empty briefing room. "Are we in the wrong secret base?" he asked, spinning one of the chairs.

Sam shrugged. "Maybe they got tired of waiting," she suggested.

"Actually, I needed the room," General Landry said, stepping out of his office to join them. "They were escorted to one of the VIP rooms to rest. I'm having them escorted back down."

"Thank you, sir," Sam said.

"Did they say why they're here?" the colonel asked.

"Four hours ago, the gate opened. Given that we had no teams off world, we naturally assumed the worst," Landry said. "Then the IDC came up to be the Tok'ra, so we opened the iris. Two Tok'ra came through escorting a third person Doctor Jackson identified as his wife."

"Shau'ri?"

"She's host to Amaunet," Sam said, openly alarmed.

Landry shook his head. "Apparently not anymore. Although she is currently in the infirmary having that verified."

"How?" Sam asked.

"I'm guessing that's part of the details they wanted to tell you," he said. He looked up as two SF's escorted the two Tok'ra into the room. Sam recognized one of them although the other was a stranger. "Garshaw, Mathis, thank you for your patience," Landry said.

"Garshaw, I think you know Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter."

"We have indeed met, thank you," she said, inclining her dark head. "I do not believe that they have made Mathis' acquaintance."

"I am pleased to meet you," the young man said. He looked to be barely thirty and was tall and slight. His skin had a healthy tan that was not complimented by the light beige of his clothing and seemed at odds with his thick red hair.

"Mathis has recently joined the Tok'ra and it is upon his behalf that we are here today," Garshaw said

The colonel looked to Landry for permission then motioned for them all to sit at the table.

"I thought you were here to deliver Shau'ri," he said.

"Delivering the host of Amaunet to her husband's people was part of our reason for coming here," Garshaw said.

"How did you find her?" Sam asked. "Was it some mission or…"

"She simply appeared upon one of our planets," Garshaw said. "Our sentries reported that there was a flash of light, then her, standing upon the sand. They feared a trap, but brought her inside our tunnels and we verified that she no longer carried Amaunet. She expressed the desire to return to her husband and the planet of the Tau'ri was our only hope."

"Did she say where Amaunet went? How she got rid of it?" the colonel asked.

"She did not. She merely said that her demon was gone," Garshaw said.

"Thank you for bringing her home," Landry said.

Garshaw nodded.

"You said bringing Shau'ri here was part of your reason," Sam pressed, her hand stroking a purring Gizmo.

"We came on my behalf," Mathis said. He frowned and looked down at his hands for a second. "Please forgive me, this is more difficult than I expected."

"You are aware that the last mission Selmac and your father completed was in Sokar's court," Garshaw said, casting a sympathetic glance at her companion.

Sam gasped, the mention of her father's name catching her off guard. "Jacob didn't exactly keep us up to date," the colonel said, mercifully speaking up.

"Of course," Garshaw said. "When Jacob and Selmac returned, we believed that his mission had been successful. We have since learned that our belief was erroneous."

"How erroneous?" the colonel asked, leaning forward. Sam's hand stilled and the kitten protested, butting its head against her hand to make her keep petting it.

Mathis lowered his head and his eyes flashed, symbolizing that the symbiote was now in control. "Jacob did not escape Sokar's court unscathed. Unbeknownst to us, our assumed personality was discovered and we were taken prisoner."

Sam shook her head, sure that she'd misheard. "What?"

Mathis looked at her. "Jacob and I were separated and we have since learned that Sokar reblended him with one of his offspring."

Sam shook her head, still not ready to comprehend what she was hearing. "What the hell are you saying?" the colonel demanded.

Mathis looked at him. "I am Selmac."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Selmac watched as the woman paled and feared for a moment that his pronouncement would be too much for her to bear. She shook her head, one hand coming up as if to ward off his words.

"I was forcibly removed from Jacob," he said, pressing on with his story in the hope that it would allow her to accept his words. "I was placed in a stasis chamber."

"It is believed that Sokar wished to infiltrate the Tok'ra," Garshaw said. "And was going to use Jacob to breach our defenses."

"How do we even know that you're Selmac," Carter asked. "For all we know, you're nothing more than a goa'uld impersonating a Tok'ra."

"One of our operatives learned of an imprisoned Tok'ra and orchestrated a rescue," Garshaw said. "It was not until Selmac blended with Mathis that we were able to learn the identity of the Tok'ra, and the compromised host." She turned to look at Carter. "By then Jacob was already dead and the damage was contained."

Carter pushed her chair back from the table and surged to her feet, Gizmo falling unceremoniously to the floor. "Contained?" she asked, her voice rising. "That's what you call it? Contained? We call it dead."

"Major Carter, please—"

"Don't please me," she snarled. "You manipulated him, used him." She pointed a finger at the pair. "You didn't give a damn about him, all you cared about was finding a host for your precious Tok'ra. You think you're better than the goa'uld but you're no different," she yelled. "You're no different at all."

She spun on her heel and stormed from the room, leaving stunned silence in her wake. O'Neill cleared his throat and looked down at the table. "I'm afraid that I must apologize for the outburst," General Landry finally said. "Major Carter did bury her father just today. Her emotions are a bit raw."

"There is not need to apologize, General Landry," Garshaw said. "I would imagine that our news was quite upsetting to her. It is information that perhaps we should have kept to ourselves," she continued.

"It was information that we could not keep to ourselves," Selmac corrected. He turned to O'Neill. "Colonel O'Neill, I came here solely to speak to Major Carter. I did not mean to make her pain any worse."

"I don't think she wants to talk to you," O'Neill said.

"Regardless, it is something that she needs to hear," Selmac insisted.

General Landry looked to Colonel O'Neill and the man stared at Selmac for a few seconds before nodding. "She's probably down in her lab…or what used to be her lab."

"I think Garshaw and I can wait here," General Landry said.

O'Neill got to his feet and Selmac followed suit, settling into step beside the man as he led him from the room.  "Jacob Carter thought highly of you," Selmac said, feeling the need to say something.

"Jacob Carter's dead," O'Neill said flatly.

Selmac stopped, forcing O'Neill do to the same. "Yes, he is. And I truly regret and mourn his passing. But his memories live on in me. I am aware of his feelings for you and your team. He thought fondly of you and even felt a bit of kinship."

"Kinship?" O'Neill asked skeptically.

"Jacob Carter felt that there was a certain similarity between the two of you. I believe he saw something of himself in you."

"Poor guy."

Selmac smiled. "He respected you Colonel O'Neill. And I believe that he felt much more at ease as long as he knew that his daughter was in your presence. He trusted you to keep her safe and to protect her," he said sincerely. "Although I don't know if he ever quite agreed with you that gate travel was a piece of cake."

He saw belief flash across O'Neill's face and knew that the man finally accepted his story.

"What do you need to tell Carter?" he asked.

"Colonel O'Neill—"

"Jacob trusted me to protect her," he interrupted. "She was just FINALLY starting to deal with you…him dying. She just buried him for cryin out loud. And now here you show up and come along with this line of crap and rip open all those old wounds. Hope you understand that I'm this close to tossing your ass back through the gate." He held his hand up with his fingers nearly touching.

"I want to tell her that Jacob truly loved her. That he regretted many things in his life, amongst them the times that he hurt her. That he regretted missing the birthdays and holidays. That the proudest moment of his life was when he watched her graduate from the academy. That, he never wished that she was a boy and never in his wildest dreams, did he dare imagine that she would be doing the things that she is doing.

"That if he could ask one thing of her it would be for her to be happy. No matter where she is, no matter what she does, to be happy. That he never regretted becoming a host and that he was grateful to have the extra time and that even the most unpleasant memories, he cherished and he was grateful for. That he didn't and never did blame her for anything. And that his biggest regret is that he shall never see her again."

Selmac heard a sound and turned his head, catching sight of Carter standing just a few yards down the hall. He walked towards her, leaving O'Neill behind. "I apologize for upsetting you," he said. "That was not my intention. I am grateful to him for permitting me to continue with my life. I am grateful to you for allowing us our time together. I will cherish every one of his memories. I knew that it would be less painful for you to never know that I survived him, yet I could not allow you to continue to believe that your father hurt you. Jacob was as much a victim of the goa'uld as you were. And I believe that you need to know that. It was not him that harmed you." He reached out to touch her face, relieved when she did not pull away. "Through him I know the love and joy of having a child and the beauty of having a daughter. He could never blame you and would never hate you. You are the light and joy of his life and you always will be." A tear ran down her face and he gently wiped it away. "I again apologize and I thank you for my life."

With that, he walked past her and retraced his steps back to the briefing room. At a junction in the hall, he indulged himself in a glance back and smiled as he saw O'Neill open his arms and offer comfort to Carter. "You were right, my friend," he whispered. "You were right."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Janet Frasier looked up, not surprised to see Colonel O'Neill and Sam hurry into the room. "Isolation room three," she said, preempting their question.

"Isolation?"

"I thought they said Amaunet was gone?" O'Neill asked.

"It's more for Shau'ri's privacy," Janet answered.

"How is she?" Sam asked.

"As well as can be expected," Janet answered. "The MRI confirms that the goa'uld is gone. And, as much as I can tell, her body chemistry is returning to normal."

"Did she say what happened?" Sam asked. The kitten in her hand mewled and restlessly tried to get down causing the woman to struggle a bit to control the creature.

Janet ignored it and bit back her frustration at having an animal in her newly returned infirmary. In hindsight, Janet knew she had been one of the lucky ones, she'd been transferred across town to Peterson Air Force Base and had managed to avoid any contact with the goa'uld.

She knew that she'd been very, very lucky. If the records she'd seen were anything near accurate, approximately two hundred people had perished, most of them from failed blendings with the goa'uld.

Because of this, her infirmary was pretty much shut down and open more as a requirement than as a necessity. There were no current missions through the gate, nor were there planned to be any for the foreseeable future.

"Shau'ri didn't say much," she said. "Simply that her demon was gone."

"The Tok'ra took it out?" O'Neill asked.

Janet shook her head. "They said that they didn't."

"Then how did she get it out of her?"

"And where did Amaunet go?" Sam asked.

"That's what Daniel is finding out right now."

She led them back towards the isolation room. Shau'ri sat in the bed, clothed in a regulation infirmary gown. Daniel was at her side, right where he'd been for the past several hours. Teal'c and Sho'nac were also in the room and the Jaffa woman was talking to Shau'ri.

Janet remembered learning that the two of them had known each other while Shau'ri had been host to Amaunet and, somehow, Shau'ri seemed to find comfort in a familiar face.

Teal'c saw the three of them standing at the threshold and got to his feet. "O'Neill," he acknowledged.

"Sam, you're back," Daniel said, reluctantly releasing Shau'ri's hand and getting to his feet.

"Yeah, we're back. Shau'ri, I don't know if you remember me but--"

"You visited our home right before Apophis came," she interrupted.

"Yeah, I did. I'm glad to see you."

"As I am as well."

"Major Carter, Teal'c told me that you were visiting family," Sho'nac said. Unlike Daniel and Teal'c who were both wearing fatigues, Sho'nac still wore her own clothes which made her stand out amongst the people in the room.

"I was, but we came back. I'm glad to see that you're feeling better."

"I am well, thank you."

"And she'll be well for many years to come," Janet said. "I would estimate that her symbiote has years of life left to it." An awkward hush fell over the group and Janet cursed, belatedly realizing what she'd just said. The shock of learning of Bra'tac's death was second only to the news of Jacob's and they were two facts that Janet was still trying to wrap her mind around. So much had changed and so many had died. More than she was capable of comprehending at the moment. "I'm sorry, I..."

"There is no need for sorrow," Teal'c said. "We shall honor Tekmate Bra'tac's sacrifice by not forgetting his actions."

"He was a good man," Sam said.

"Yes, he was," Daniel said.

"He was a crotchety old coot," O'Neill said, earning him glares from Sam and Daniel.

"What? It's the truth and you know it."

"Takes one to know one," Daniel said.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.

"I think the colonel's just sore because Bra'tac never called him anything other than 'human,' Sam said.

"Which is an accurate statement," Teal'c agreed.

"It is," Janet said.

"It's not what he said, it's how he said it," O'Neill protested.

"That's ok," Sam said. "My dad used to call him a curmudgeon."

"Curmudgeon?"

"Really?" Daniel asked.

Sam nodded. "He alternated between that and an ornery son of a--"

"Aah!" O'Neill spoke up, holding up his hand to silence her. "Behave," he admonished.

"It's been a very long day for everyone, especially Shau'ri," Janet said, unwilling yet feeling the need to break up the gathering.

One by one, the visitors said their goodbyes and left until only Daniel remained. "She needs her rest," Janet said gently.

"I know, just..." He looked at her, his reluctance to leave painfully obvious.

"Until she falls asleep," she conceded. "I'm on duty all night, she won't be alone," she promised.

Daniel nodded and Janet stepped out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. She had no illusions that Daniel would be out anytime soon, in fact, she'd place her money on him doing his best to spend the night. And she couldn't blame him. If the love of her life had just been delivered to her doorstep, she wouldn't be leaving his side either.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Daniel felt Shau'ri move and opened his eyes, holding himself still in case she was just stirring in her sleep. Her breathing shifted and he knew that she was awake, so he gently extricated his arm, loosening his grip to allow her to sit up. "You're ok," he said, sensing her anxiety. "You're on Earth, remember?"

"Daniel?" She shifted and moved to look at him. Her hand slipped up to her neck. "It is gone?"

"Yes," he said, smiling at her. "It's gone." He reached out and held her face. "Amaunet is gone, I promise you, it's not a dream. It's real."

It was a declaration that he was just starting to believe himself. And one of many thoughts that had come to him as he dozed spooned behind her. It was real. She was real. She was here and she was free. And, all of a sudden, nothing else mattered.

"I hoped for this for so long," she said, smiling tremulously.

"As soon as Janet releases you, we'll get you out of here. I…there's so much I want to share with you. I can finally show you my world. Do you remember all the things I talked about in the cave? All the wonders? I can finally show them to you," he enthused.

She smiled for a bit, then her face fell and her eyes dropped to her hands. "What is it?" he asked. "Don't worry, we'll go slow. We have the rest of our lives to see the world. Heck, it could take us most of a year just to see Colorado."

"How can you want to do this?" she asked, her voice just above a whisper. "How can you wish to be with me?"

"Shau'ri, I've been searching for you ever since the day Apophis took you," Daniel said.

She looked up at him. "But I am not as I was when I was taken," she whispered, her dark eyes full of pain.

"No, you're not," he said, aware that nothing would be gained from ignoring what had happened. "None of us are. But you're alive and you're healthy and I have you back," he said.  "You did what you had to do to survive. I can't blame you for that. If I'm angry at anyone, I'm angry at Apophis for taking you from me. But I'm not angry at you for surviving. I love you, just as much as I loved you back on Abydos, and just as much as I'll love you until the end our days."

He watched the emotions chase across her face, fear and dismay slowly replaced by hope. "The child?" she asked.

Daniel shook his head. "He's gone," he said simply, thinking that she wasn't ready – and maybe never would be – to hear the truth.

She nodded slowly. "I feel that it is perhaps best," she said. "Amaunet wanted him so badly."

"The child is safe," Daniel said. "No one can get him now." He grasped her arm. "Just like you're safe with me. I love you," he said again, sensing that she needed to hear the reassurance. "I have always loved you and I always will love you." He leaned in and kissed her gently. "Forever," he promised.

"Forever," she replied, her eyes filling with tears. Daniel pulled her close and wrapped her in his arms.

"Forever," he repeated, his heart filling with a peace he hadn't felt in years.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"You can go in now," the secretary said.

"Thank you," Jack replied, instinctively straightening his tie as he got to his feet and walked towards the door. He opened it and stepped into the Oval Office, stopping in his tracks when he caught sight of four people in the room instead of the expected two.

"Jack, come in," President Hayes invited, getting to his feet. He held out his hand.

Jack reciprocated. "If I'd have known there was a party, I'd have brought a cake," he said.

"Relax, Jack. This isn't an ambush," Hayes said. He motioned for Jack to have a seat on the couch.  "Hank you know," he introduced. "This is Lieutenant General Vidrine and

Major General Kerrigan."

Jack shook the hands of the men than took his seat on the couch beside Hank while the President claimed an arm chair between the two couches. "In light of what happened, I thought we should all get together and make sure that we're on the same page," he said.

"That's always a good thing," Jack said, refusing to let himself feel intimidated surrounded by so much brass. This meeting wasn't his idea, he was simply responding to a summons.

"General Vidrine?" the President prompted, ignoring Jack's quip.

"In the past month, we have successfully tracked down every one of the goa'uld brought back," he reported. "The hosts have been freed and the goa'ulds eradicated. The largest concern we have is that we've used all but a very few of the goa'uld killing devices. I would suggest that we make recreating these devices a top priority."

Hayes nodded. "I agree. And that's something we're going to have to discuss with the new base commander."

Jack looked over at Landry. "Hank?"

"Two hundred people died on my watch, Jack," he said. His voice was even, but his eyes were shadowed and haunted.

"It wasn't your fault," Jack said. "I read the report."

"I was in command," he said, the guilt and pain plain in his eyes.

"Regardless of Hank's lack of guilt, the JCS needs a scapegoat," President Hayes said.

"I'm going to retire," Hank said.

"And I will make sure that his record is clean and that he retires with full honors," Hayes said.

"Which means that there's a base in Colorado that's in need of a new boss," Hayes said.

Jack glanced from Landry to Hayes. "I'm retired," he said.

Hayes laughed. "I think we got that the first ten times you said it," he said. "We have a proposal for you, Jack. The SGC needs a new commander, but recent events have shown us that we also need to revamp things a bit. We need more checks and balances, something to keep this from ever happening again."

"Our idea is this," Vidrine said. "We separate the command. The SGC will have an onsite duty commander. Someone to handle the day to day activities. This person will answer to the off-site base commander. Someone that we hope will be immune from any such incidents like we just had."

"It's going to take a couple of good people working together. Officers that are able to co-exist without getting into a pissing match. The base commander has to trust the operations commander to make decisions. The operations commander has to handle the base commander telling him what to do," Hayes said.

"Sounds like you're gonna have quite a balancing match going on," Jack said, refusing to take the bait.

"General Kerrigan has agreed to be the new base commander," Vidrine said.

"That's quite a change from wiping noses at the academy," Jack said.

"From the reports I read, there's not much difference," Kerrigan said.

"We want you to be the operations commander, Jack," Hayes said, finally dropping the bomb Jack knew was coming.

Jack shook his head. "Two years ago you guys were ready to lock me up and throw away the key because you didn't believe that Ba'al was gone. Now you're going to hand me command of a base?"

"Your experiences are precisely what makes you the best person for this job," Vidrine said.

"You're a suspicious, cynical and grumpy bastard," Landry said. He looked at Jack. "You keep your people on their toes, and that's exactly where they need to be."

Jack glanced at the group before looking back at Hayes. "What about my people?"

"Full amnesty," Hayes said. "You and Major Carter will be restored to rank. Doctor Jackson and Teal'c well return to their former status. Hell, if it'll help, I'll even look into back pay."

"And if I say no?" Jack asked. Hayes raised his eyebrows. "Don't knock retirement until you've tried it," Jack said. "We have this sweet little cabin, a stream chock full of fish. We go where we want, when we want. No orders, no paperwork." He looked straight at Hayes. "No politicians throwing their weight around."

"Amnesty stands regardless," Hayes said, nonplused by Jack's outburst.

"Sir," Vidrine protested.

"It stands," Hayes said, glaring at him. "We want your help, Jack. But if you don't want to do your duty and want to go back to your little cabin in the woods, you're free to do so. There's just no guarantee that the door will be open should you ever decide to return." He sat back in his chair. "I'm a supporter of the SGC and I'd like nothing more than to keep the Stargate open. But, given what's happened, what I want may not be what's best for this country."

"Sir," Jack said. "We can't guarantee that there'll never be another invasion. You build a better mouse trap and the mice just get smarter."

"So you keep building," Landry said. "Jack, think of it as the best of both worlds. Kerry handles all that stuff you hate. The paperwork, the requisitions. You handle the day to day duties. Assign the missions, take care of the personnel. All that stuff you're good at."

Jack stared at the four of them, both intrigued and terrified by their suggestion.

In one way, running the SGC was a dream come true. The answer to defeating the goa'uld WAS out there, they just had to find it. As was a lot of stuff that Earth could benefit from.

On the other hand, did he really want that responsibility? Did he want to spend his days sending people on missions that they just might not return from. Did he want to write the letters of condolence? Did he want their blood on his hands?

It'd been bad enough when it had only been the four of them. He'd lost count of the number of nights that he'd laid awake, worrying if they'd have enough food or what would happen if one of them got sick or was injured beyond their capability to fix.

Then the nightmare had come true and he'd spent three agonizing days watching Sam die. A fate, if it hadn't been for Thor, she'd succumbed to.

Did he want to – could he – do all that again?

"I can give you twenty-four hours," Hayes said, acknowledging Jack's obvious

reluctance. Beyond that, I'll need to start considering other candidates." He got to his feet, signaling the end of the meeting.  The three of them stood up and exchanged pleasantries before they left Hayes alone in his office.

"Think about it, Jack," Landry urged in the hall after Kerrigan and Vidrine excused themselves.

"Kerrigan runs the academy," Jack said. "You want me to answer to glorified school teacher?"

Landry chuckled. "Jack, you really think Kerry's going to tell you how to do your job? He doesn't want to. He's an excellent administrator and he knows it. You, on the other hand, kick ass at field work and can't administer your way out of a wet sack. It looks like a match made in heaven to me." He sighed and patted Jack on the shoulder. "Think about it," he repeated. "Think about what you can accomplish."

He turned on his heel and walked down the hall. Jack stood amongst the bustling staffers, his uncertain future spreading out in front of him.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Teal'c sat upon a rock and watched as his companions sat a short distance away. Major Carter sat beside Daniel Jackson and Shau'ri upon a blanket, the three of them enjoying the antics of the major's kitten.

"Do you remember Kar'teo?" Sho'nac asked, her hand taking his.

"I do," Teal'c replied. "Tekmate Bra'tac acquired the creature as a gift." He smiled, remembering the small feline Bra'tac had gifted him with so many years before.

"He was so proud of it," she said. "Do you know that he searched for days to find an appropriate feline?"

"I did not know."

She nodded. "It was a gift to you, it had to be perfect."

His hand grasped hers, clutching it with desperate strength. "Just like his last gift to me," he said.

She looked at him, a slight frown on her face. "Teal'c?"

"I wish you to be my wife," he said.

"Drey'auc?"

"She set our marriage aside. I have never contested this fact. She is the mother of my son," he said, honestly laying out his feelings. "But she is not my future." He shifted, moving to face her, his hand still grasping hers. "Will you consent to be my wife?" he asked.

She smiled and laid her other hand over the ruined skin of his face. "I have always wanted to be your wife and I would rather spend one day with you than a lifetime without."

Ecstatic at her words, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her soundly on her lips. She kissed him back and the world faded away, ceasing to exist as he immersed himself in his love for her.

The next thing he was aware of was O'Neill's voice as he joined them. Teal'c reluctantly pulled away, ignoring the amused glances of his companions. "Colonel," Major Carter called out. "You're back."

"Obviously," he said, smiling at them. "I see you started without me."

"That's what you get for running off," Daniel Jackson said, referring to O'Neill's last minute summons to report to his superiors. "Anyway, I know I remember you telling us to start without you."

O'Neill shrugged, seeming to concede the point as he sat down on another rock. The six of them were outside of the SGC and were scattered across a small clearing a short distance from the front gate. Teal'c knew that it was not an ideal location for Daniel Jackson's picnic, however it was the best they could arrange while still maintaining the quarantine sanctioned upon them by General Landry and Agent Barrett. Both Shau'ri and Sho'nac had yet to be given permission to leave the facility and Teal'c knew that there was also an issue with the status of his friends. In the eyes of many, they were fugitives or transgressors. Individuals that had committed a wrong upon society and had yet to be punished.

Teal'c did not agree with this opinion. He could see how their actions could be seen as wrong, yet he also knew that their motives were pure. He hoped that their leaders could see beyond any petty needs to assert authority and would not impose sanctions upon his friends.

"How'd it go?" Major Carter asked. The six of them were now gathered closely, Shau'ri and Daniel Jackson standing while Major Carter claimed a rock of her own to sit upon.

"It went," he said. "We've all got amnesty," he said. Teal'c felt the tension in the group drop dramatically. "There's a lot of details to work out, but we're off everyone's hit list."

"That's good," Daniel said.

"Amnesty for what?" Shau'ri asked.

"We didn't exactly get permission to leave Earth," Daniel Jackson told her. "I'll tell you all about it," he promised.

"I sense a but in there somewhere," Major Carter said, staring at O'Neill.

"Landry's gone," O'Neill said. "He's going to retire."

"They're making him the scapegoat," Major Carter said.

"Not for the invasion, and not on paper."

"Will Agent Barrett stay in command?" she asked.

O'Neill shook his head. "Not quite."

"Jack, for cryin out loud, just spit it out," Daniel Jackson requested.

"They want to make General Kerrigan the new administrative CO," he said.

"Doesn't he run the academy?" Major Carter asked.

"Yep."

"How does being a principal make him a good person to run a top secret base?" Daniel

Jackson asked.

"Administrative CO," O'Neill stressed. "He'll be the glorified paper pusher."

"You know, that could be a good thing," Major Carter said.

"How?" Daniel Jackson asked. "It just looks like more red tape to me."

"Remember Hathor?"

Daniel Jackson made a face. "I'd rather not."

"We almost lost the base because the chain of command was compromised. Having someone that can make decisions that's also free from anything that might be brought back, it could be a good thing," she said.

"O'Neill, if this General Kerrigan is to be in an administrative role, is there not to be someone in a more active command role?" Teal'c asked.

"Trust you to cut straight to the point," O'Neill said.

"It's you, isn't it?" Major Carter asked.

"Yeah," he confirmed.

"Is that where our amnesty came from?"

"Jack, I thought they didn't trust you because of…you know," Daniel Jackson said.

"No, the amnesty applies regardless. And I guess someone realized that it's kinda hypocritical to distrust me when they have a couple hundred people in the same boat," he answered their questions in turn.

"Are you going to do it?" Daniel Jackson asked.

O'Neill shrugged. "I have twenty-four…twenty-two hours to decide," he said, checking

his watch.

"That is not much time," Teal'c said.

"I'm guessing they want to get things settled as fast as they can."

"When do we have to decide?" Daniel Jackson asked.

"Daniel?"

"Does the deadline apply to us too?"

O'Neill shook his head. "They didn't say." He took a deep breath and clapped his hands, pasting a smile on his face. "Now that that's out of the way, I am starved, what did you guys scrounge up for food?"

Two hours later, the sun was beginning to set and the six of them started to gather up the remnants of their picnic. Catching sight of Major Carter chasing Gizmo, Teal'c bade Sho'nac to precede him, allowing him a moment of privacy with his friend.

"Teal'c?" Major Carter looked at the departing people. "Is something wrong?"

Teal'c shook his head. "I wished to speak with you."

She tensed, clutching the kitten close. "Okay," she said slowly.

"Sho'nac has agreed to become my wife," he said, feeling no need to delay broaching the topic.

"Really? That's great," she said. "But Drey'auc—"

"I believe the Earth term is divorce," Teal'c interrupted.

"That's good, I mean bad, I mean….I'm happy for you," she stammered.

Teal'c nodded, accepting her words. "Two years ago, I bore a great anger towards you. I…I wished you ill for not permitting me the blessing of death." She stilled, her eyes riveted upon him. "I was wrong. If you had done as I wished, I would not now have
Sho'nac as my own. For that, and for my future happiness, I will forever be grateful." He reached out and took her hand, clasping it in his own. "You are the sister of my blood and a member of my house. You are blood kin and I will forever be in your debt."

He watched the emotions play across her face and they mirrored his own. They stood there for a few seconds until the kitten mewed, demanding her fair share of attention. Major Carter laughed. "I guess we better go inside." She looked up at him. "I don't want your fiancée getting mad at me after all."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "Sho'nac's wrath is most…memorable."

"Then let's go in," Major Carter said, altering her grip to twist her arm in his. Arm and arm, the two of them made their way into the mountain and their waiting comrades.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 Sam sat in the grass, not caring if it stained her clothes. Gizmo played in the distance, doing her best to capture one of the many butterflies attracted to the nearby flowers.

The sun was warm on her face and she sighed, closing her eyes. The wind whispered through the pines and she could hear the distant murmur of the traffic on I-25. In the distance, she could hear the helicopters and jets of Peterson. The air smelled of pine and dirt and the harsh twang of car exhaust.

It wasn't idyllic, it wasn't perfect but it was home.

She heard footsteps and she sighed, resigning herself to the fact that her escape had not gone unnoticed. "You're missing a hell of a party," Jack said, grunting as he joined her on the grass.

"You're gonna stain your uniform…General." She glanced at him, still unaccustomed to the sight of him in full dress blues.

"They neglected to mention the rank that came with the job," he excused.

"It'll come in handy. I'm sure not everyone will be as understanding as Colonel Dixon and Colonel Reynolds. Besides, it looks good on you," she said sincerely.

"Thanks. You heard about Daniel and Shau'ri?"

"I'm not surprised," she said. "There's not much of a life here for Shau'ri." Right before the party celebrating Jack's promotion, Daniel had announced his and Shau'ri's decision to leave Earth. They were going to return to Springfield and try to rebuild their life. Along with doing that, they also needed to track down Kasuf and make sure that he was okay. Teal'c still had some friends amongst Apophis' Jaffa and had promised to help them as much as he could.

"At least Sho'nac can go on missions. It's kinda hard for the ex-Queen of Apophis to keep a low profile," Sam said. She laughed. "Although I don't see Teal'c letting Sho'nac get too far away from him."

Jack chuckled. "They are a bit smitten, aren't they?"

"Smitten? More like bugnuts, head over heels, crazy for each other," Sam said.

Jack sighed. "Young Jaffa in love." Sam looked askance at him. "Relatively speaking."

He pulled a long stem of grass and held it out, waving it in front of Gizmo until the kitten took the bait and began to play. "Daniel's going to Springfield, Teal'c's staying here. You still haven't said what you're gonna do," he finally said.

"Still haven't decided," she said.

"You know we can use you here," he said. "Siler's good but no one knows the gate like you do."

"They've managed just fine for the past two years," she dismissed.

"Part of which the gate was shut down and the other half the goa'uld were running the show," he said. "Doesn't count."

"You'll manage," she said.

"Sam, who's going to keep me from killing the scientists?" he asked. "Not to mention translating their gobbledygook into English."

"Col…General—"

"Sam, I understand if you don't want to stay or if you want to go back to Springfield or…hell if you want a transfer, just tell me where and I'll make it happen. But I really hope  you want to stay here. I aah…I'm wondering if I'm in over my head and was sort of counting on you to help me tread water."

"You're a better swimmer than I am," she said.

"Better is relative."

Sam looked away and closed her eyes, sighing softly. "I don't know if I can do it," she confessed quietly.

"It?"

She opened her eyes and looked at him. "Choosing," she said simply.

"Then don't," he said. "Stay Earthside and run the labs. We've got a whole bunch of eager little beavers that can bring toys back."

"What about Gizmo?"

Jack frowned. "I think she's a little young to go out on her own but--"

Sam laughed. "I mean having her at the base."

He shrugged. "I might be pushing it if I ordered someone to clean out her litter box but…what the hell? More the merrier."

"And this?" She reached into her jacket and pulled out the tiara he'd given her back on Praxis. She placed it on her head and looked over at him.

He smiled, reaching out to straighten it. "I think it should make an appearance, at least once a week." He got to his feet and held out his hand. "Care to rejoin the party, Major?" he asked.

Sam looked up at him, aware of exactly what his offer entailed. Of the choice she was about to make. She scooped up Gizmo and took his hand, letting him pull her to her feet before she fell into step at his side. "On one condition," she said as they got within sight of the gate.

"Oh?"

"Let's go get a pizza," she suggested.

"Fine, but you're buying," he agreed, without missing a beat.

"What about your party?" she asked, surprised that he agreed.

"They won't even know we're gone." He dug in his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys.

"Fringe benefit number three," he said, leading her towards one of the staff cars.

"Number three? What are the first two?"

Jack grinned at her, his eyes alight with mischief. "Who said there's only three? I made a list." She opened the car door and climbed in. "A long list." He turned on the ignition and put the car into gear. "Very long. Huge!"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Two figures stood high up on the hillside, watching in amusement as the car made its way down the narrow road and merged into the traffic on the highway.

"Have you witnessed enough?" one asked, unable to thoroughly disguise his impatience.

"Where's the fire?" the second one said, shooting a frown at his companion. "It's not like we're on a schedule."

"Jacob, my friend, I know that I informed you of the rules," Bra'tac reminded, smiling at his companion and his youthful impatience. "We cannot interfere in the affairs of mortals."

"Who's interfering?" Jacob shot back. "I'm not interfering, I'm observing." Bra'tac sighed, torn between amusement and frustration. "Let's go see where they go for dinner," Jacob suggested. "I want to watch Jack pull rank when the restaurant gets pissed about the cat."

Jacob enthusiastically floated down the mountain and followed the car as it made its way down the road, leaving Bra'tac no choice but to follow.

"This is my reward?" he asked the thin air. "One hundred and thirty-seven years of service and this is my reward?" He glanced ahead. "Or perhaps it is my penance," he complained good-naturedly.

Annoyance faded into intrigue and he followed Jacob, suddenly anticipating the future that laid before him. It would not always be pleasant and knew that both the good and bad awaited, both him and their charges, but he also knew that it would be anything but dull.

Fin