Points of Departure

Episode 1

Written by SGC Gategirl and Dinky

Authors: SGC Gategirl and Dinky
Status: Complete
Rating: Ages 15+
Category: Angst, drama, action/adventure
Summary: They were the best of times. They were the worst of times. Jacob Carter's death marks the end of an era and the start of something altogether different. How will General Jack O'Neill and the rest of the SGC adjust?
Spoilers: Everything up to the end of S8 is fair game.
Warnings: Jack's mouth. You know how he gets when there's Tok'ra and Jaffa around.
Authors' Notes: SGC Gategirl—Well, this was the birth of a whole new season and experience for me, full of exquisite pain and pleasure. My thanks must go to the entire VS9 group for their encouragement and their commitment to help see this project through. Without you, we'd have no "virtual season" and Jack would have headed to Washington. Hopefully, if I've done my job correctly, this episode will truly be the foundation upon which the rest of the season can build and grow.
Dinky—As for me, ain't paranoia and panic fun? I would like to thank all the folks at VS9 group for asking me to help out in this venture and encouraging me to keep at it even when my muse went missing. It's been a real learning experience for me as I've never co-authored anything before. It is my sincere hope that the readers will see this as a viable alternative to a "Jack-less" Season 9 and have as much fun reading it as I did in writing it.
Archive: Jackfic. Otherwise, do not archive without the authors' express permission.
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Sci Fi and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles, and back story are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions, and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself are the sole property of the authors.
 

Points of Departure

Episode 1

~*~*~*~*~*~

"Compromise. Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due."
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

~*~*~*~*~*~

General Jack O'Neill shifted slightly on his feet, trying to ease some of the tension from his lower back. The collar tugged a little too tightly and the shoes constricted more than he remembered. Unfortunately, there was nothing that he could do to remedy the situation until the ceremony concluded.

Through his sunglasses he surveyed the crowd from where he stood—near the back but not in the last row where he really wanted to be. Flanked on either side by Teal'c and Dr. Daniel Jackson, he felt a little hemmed in, but shouldered the feeling aside, trying to concentrate on the crowd and the priest at the grave.

He hated funerals.

Thankfully, the San Diego weather had cooperated. Raining would have merely added insult to injury. It had been an ordeal just to get everything set up and to arrange for the honors from the nearby March Air Force Base. At least the Carter family already had a plot at the Fort Rosecrans national Cemetery in San Diego so that hadn't been an issue. Arranging for everything else, however, had been. At least it was nearly over.

O'Neill's gaze rested on Colonel Sam Carter, his former second when he was the leader of SG-1. She'd changed over the years, finally growing into the role she now had within the SGC, leading the flagship team into charted and uncharted territory. But now, watching her in the front row along with her brother, Mark, and his family, he saw something else—a life that she might have had if she'd never joined the program. They'd all given up so much to be where they were, to see the things they'd seen. There were pros and cons to every decision and sometimes he still wondered how he managed to get on the good side of the universe, how he managed to do things he hadn't even dared to dream about as a kid.

His eyes slid sideways to the smaller figures in the front row, their heads bent, their shoulders rounded. Mark Carter's kids were still so young to go through this kind of thing, but they were more grown than he remembered. Although, it had been ages since Carter had brought in a picture of her niece and nephew. She hadn't been visiting as much as she used to, when her father had first tried to fix that whole father/son relationship. And from the looks of things now, and in the few heated conversations he'd overheard since their arrival in San Diego, the situation hadn't improved. Mark was still angry; angry at Jacob, at Carter, and the military. The stiff back and the aura of hostility emanating from Mark Carter's body spoke volumes.

Over the years, the ability to read people's body language had given O'Neill the edge he needed to survive, to make sure he brought his team home in one piece. This wasn't a battlefield, however, and yet he was still getting the same feelings as he did on an alien planet when things were just about ready to go south.

He sighed, wishing he were anywhere but here. The soft exhale of air drew Daniel's attention. O'Neill could see the questions in his eyes but shook his head slightly and ignored the tightening of his friend's brow trying instead to concentrate on the oration happening several rows ahead of him. It was a little ironic that they were all standing there, honoring a man whose body was still wrapped in a plastic body bag deep within Cheyenne Mountain; a body huddled in a small morgue freezer until the appropriate time.

This whole ceremony, this entire production—from the ordering of the casket and the headstone to the priest who stood before them—was a fabrication, an exterior veneer of normality placed on an otherwise abnormal existence.

Damn the Tok'ra. Couldn't they leave well enough alone? One funeral was enough for a family, for anyone for that matter, but according to Thoran the wishes of the symbiote had to be honored.

Wishes be damned. A good man was dead.

Of course, General Hammond had talked O'Neill down, refusing to allow him to keep the Tok'ra out. 'It will help relations, Jack,' Hammond had said, his tone more patient than O'Neill remembered. Apparently the General's jaunt in the Prometheus had done a great deal of good for the old soldier. Unfortunately, it only reminded O'Neill of the off-world experiences he was missing.

And then Hammond popped the big question. About Washington. About another promotion, better pay, and a whole hell of a lot more responsibility. He'd be the one calling all the shots, deciding who went where, what monies were allocated to what projects. He'd be the "Big Man". Instead of dealing with the annoying alien allies who nearly always ended up poking holes in him and other members of the SGC, he'd have the chance to sit back and watch while someone else made those day-to-day decisions, ordering the men and women of his base into uncharted territory.

But he couldn't let that happen. They were his kids, his responsibility.

The crowd of people before him suddenly began to move, startling O'Neill out of his thoughts. He'd missed the prayer and the honor guard firing their rounds overhead. Whoever thought that he'd get so used to the sound that he could block it out so effectively? At least it meant that today's torture was nearly over.

Carter had turned away from her brother, speaking to several women clustered around her, offering words of comfort and condolence.

Daniel moved forward a few steps, pausing only long enough to catch O'Neill's eye. With the tilt of his head he gestured to Carter. "I'm gonna—"

O'Neill nodded, knowing exactly what the other man was doing. He'd figured that Daniel would be the one to join Carter during the final moments at the gravesite. Teal'c was still a little conspicuous and things would only get ugly if a General showed up next to the already obvious military presence in the front row.

Besides, O'Neill was content where he was. It was bad enough that they'd have to do this all over again in two days. This time, though, it would be on a different planet and with a very different clique.

It took a while, but the crowd slowly thinned out, eventually leaving only the Carter family and the military delegation from the SGC.

O'Neill approached the grave slowly, ever aware of the grief and the anger mingling together in the body of Mark Carter. As he got closer, he caught his second-in-command's words as they floated on the warm San Diego breeze.

"Thanks for coming today," she was saying, her tone appreciative, her eyes trying to meet her brother's. "It would have meant a lot to Dad."

"You would know the best, wouldn't you? Well, I'll tell you this right now; this is the last time I'm stepping foot in here." Mark Carter's words were harsh, his movements sharp, his whole bearing reflecting the grief he refused to acknowledge. O'Neill knew the feeling well, knew that the other man would regret the words he'd said in anger and in pain; that he would look back on this time, on this moment, and realize the anguish he had brought to others. But right now, Mark Carter didn't care who his anger touched as long as he could strike out.

Carter's voice trembled slightly, but she held her emotions in check, her own anger and grief giving her strength. "Mark, I don't understand you. You were the one who wouldn't live anywhere else because you had to be close to Mom. Why do you always insist on making this my fault? This is what they wanted. This was their choice, their decision. I had nothing to do with it."

"Who are you kidding, Sam? You and Dad were the same. He always rushed to your side and you worshipped the ground he walked on, trying to be just like him. Don't think I didn't see it. Mom knew. I hate to tell you, Sam, but there's more to life than the Air Force." Mark Carter turned, his anger-pinched face looking for another target. Standing a row back from the family argument, O'Neill thought he was safe. He should have known better. When rage ruled the emotions, no one was safe.

"Mark, don't."

Mark's eyes hardened and he stepped toward O'Neill, his anger fueling his movements. Carter's warning to her brother fell on deaf ears.

"It's your fault that he's dead, isn't it?"

"Excuse me?" O'Neill responded, trying to keep his tone as level as possible. He needed to diffuse this situation quickly before it got out of hand.

Mark's arm rose, his finger pointing savagely toward O'Neill as he moved again, his steps taking him closer. "You're just here to assuage your conscience, aren't you? Well, you can take your—"

"I believe," Teal'c said, stepping smoothly into Mark's path, effectively stopping the man in his tracks, "that you are mistaken. General O'Neill was a friend to your father and he holds him in the highest regard. Your current actions, however, do not reflect the same respect."

For a moment, O'Neill thought that Mark was going to push past Teal'c, but something from the Jaffa's tone and his bearing must have gotten through to the grieving man. Either that or the sheer bulk of the warrior changed his mind. Mark Carter stepped back, his shoulders slumping as he stared at Teal'c's impassive features. Without another word he turned, moving to his wife. After gathering his family together they walked to the awaiting cars, leaving O'Neill standing alone with SG-1.

After several beats of silence, O'Neill finally turned to Carter, taking in her pale features and the tight muscles in her jaw in a single glance. "You okay?"

She nodded sharply, drawing a deep breath. "I'm sorry, sir," she said, glancing at O'Neill. "He's just upset and too pig-headed to know when he oversteps the bounds of propriety. He's normally a little more…conservative."

O'Neill shrugged, trying not to wince as the collar rubbed annoyingly against his neck. "It's okay, Carter. I'm just glad it didn't get out of hand. How are you holding up? Are you about ready?"

"I'm fine, sir. And you're right; we should be heading back to the SGC. We have a plane to catch."

O'Neill nodded, deciding not to push the Colonel. It was obvious she wasn't okay with everything going on, but now wasn't the time or place to address it. He turned to the other two men standing silently to the side. "Daniel? Teal'c? You set?"

They nodded, already moving to walk next to Carter, offering their support. O'Neill sighed and fell in behind them, automatically watching their six. His thoughts, however, were already on the ceremony that had yet to take place. Nothing was ever simple when it came to the Tok'ra and this whole situation was anything but.

There was one consolation in this whole mess, however. It was nearly over. One down, one more to go.

~*~*~

Doctor Daniel Jackson watched as the familiar scenery slid by, the interior of the car quieter than normal. Turning his attention to his friends, he could see them all seemingly lost in their own thoughts as they had been on the plane ride from California. Honestly, though, there wasn't much more that could have been said. How many times can you say 'I'm sorry for your loss,' and 'I understand what you're going through'? At a certain point it starts sounding insincere even though that may be farthest from your mind. But in those moments, at those times, all you can really do is be there, offering silent support.

Sam, sitting next to him in the limo, had her eyes fixed firmly on the road outside, but Daniel doubted if she was actually seeing anything at all. These past few days had been tough for her and the Tok'ra's insistence on performing their death ritual only served to irritate all parties involved. For some reason, however, Sam had been pretty accepting of everything—apart from the initial shock of the Tok'ra demanding to take her father's body away as soon as they'd heard about his passing. But then as soon as Jack had mentioned the Trust and the old NID members that were still hanging around in the shadows, Daniel knew that Jack was right. If they did actually bury Jacob's body on earth, it wouldn't be safe. They'd dig it up just to do all kinds of tests on it. Unfortunately, the Tok'ra way was the best way—as annoying as that could be.

Across from Sam, Teal'c sat with his eyes closed, seemingly asleep. But from the way his muscles tensed at every bump and movement of the car, Daniel knew he was awake and aware.

Jack, on the other hand, was sitting across from Daniel in the limo, his cell phone pressed to his ear, his eyes focused on something on the car window—a fleck of dirt or a smudge, Daniel couldn't be sure. Jack's phone had vibrated several times at the beginning of the funeral in San Diego until he'd finally turned it off, waiting until they landed in Colorado to turn it back on again. Daniel swore he could hear Walter's panicked voice.

"That's fine," Jack's voice was quiet, his words barely reaching Daniel across the back of the vehicle. Even though Jack was trying to be calm, the distinct sound of annoyance and exasperation was leaking into his voice.

Jack nodded again as he continued. "We'll be there in about ten minutes. If he's waited this long, ten more minutes isn't going to kill him."

Daniel tilted his head, the movement catching Jack's eye. The other man glanced up, meeting his gaze. Rolling his eyes, Jack spoke again. "Walter, if it's really a problem, sic Reynolds on him. Or better yet, have Brightman take a blood sample. That'll shut him up. I'll be there in ten. O'Neill out."

Clicking the cell phone closed over Walter's protested words, Jack shook his head, rubbing a hand across his face before it snaked around to the back of his neck to rub the tense muscles there.

"Everything okay?"

"Peachy," Jack said, his mouth turning into a grimace as his hands dropped into his lap, his fingers turning the cell phone over and over again. "Company's come early."

Jack's words caught Sam's attention as she turned, her eyes fixed intently on the General. "Sir?"

His hands paused in their motion as Jack shifted in his seat under the weight of her stare, the sound of the car's tires on the pavement loud in the silence. He grimaced, his mouth quirking at the corner as if the words he spoke were sour. "The Tok'ra are demanding we release your father's body immediately. Thoran is at the SGC making a fuss."

"Did he not understand the timetable you set forth during your previous meeting?" Teal'c asked, his head tilted to the side, his eyebrow heading up toward his hairline.

"Apparently he has decided to conveniently forget that part of the conversation. He's been terrorizing Walter for a few hours already." Jack sighed, shaking his head as a light smile touched his lips. "I'm going to have to give him hazardous duty pay for this, I know it."

Daniel chuckled, picturing the man in his mind's eye as he tried to calm the Tok'ra down. "By the time he's done, Jack, you might not be able to afford him."

"I know. And come to think of it, I think he's up for a review soon. Damn." Jack's light laugh, accompanied by Sam's and Daniel's, filled the car, but he quickly sobered, his eyes turning dark. "But all kidding aside, it looks like the Tok'ra are going to push the issue regarding Jacob's body. I'm going to try and hold them off for as long as I can. I think I can delay them for a little while, at least until we can complete the security check on the old Alpha site. There's no way I'm going to agree to this unless I know the planet's secure."

"Didn't the Tok'ra suggest several worlds?" Daniel asked, leaning forward in his seat, trying to shift some of his weight. He'd been sitting too long today.

"Yeah," Jack said, nodding. "Most of them we'd never been to so we had no advance knowledge about the planets in question. General Hammond was the one who suggested the first Alpha site. We're not going to be there for long and it should be easy to secure. We know the area and the Tok'ra have been there before."

The driver of the car barely touched his brakes as they slid though the security gates at the Mountain. Someone must have called ahead—most likely Walter. The man was probably desperate.

"I guess I'm just trying to warn you. It's not going to be pretty down there, and I don't think it's about to get better for a while."

Daniel nodded, echoing Sam's gesture. "We'll watch your six, Jack. Just like old times."

Jack smiled, his lips a thin line, as the car drew to a stop, two SFs rushed to open the doors. "If only they'd let me use my P90, then we'd be in business."

~*~*~

The silence in the hallway outside the Level 27 briefing room was ominous. General O’Neill had waved off SG-1 as soon as he’d stepped into the mountain, telling them to get comfortable and then report to the briefing room—the bloodshed should be over by then.

They’d all laughed, humoring their commander and his off-kilter sense of humor, but it was only when Sam Carter walked closer to her final destination that a shred of doubt entered her mind.

What if he wasn’t kidding?

She’d taken less than fifteen minutes to change, eager to get out of her dress blues and into her BDUs, her combat gear. And where the Tok’ra were concerned it was definitely required—especially now. The Tok'ra/Tau'ri alliance had been on shaky ground before her father died, but without him the alliance was truly in word only. The deeds of trust and friendship had ended years ago—as few and far between as they were. And without her father's presence in the Tok'ra ranks, hope for a resolution between their groups was highly unlikely.

Carefully peering around the edge of the briefing room door, Sam took in the empty room and the distinct lack of blood and gore. So far, so good.

She moved quietly across the room, pausing at the General’s office, the door half closed, a dim light shining from within. Tapping gently, she waited a beat before she heard the muffled reply to enter.

Pushing the door open, Sam stepped into the room her eyes adjusting to the low light level within. There were two figures seated on either side of the desk—the General and the Tok’ra representative, Thoran—and it was a surprisingly calm atmosphere.

"I’m glad you’re here, Colonel," O’Neill said, gesturing with his hand to the only other empty chair beside the Tok’ra. As Sam moved to take the offered seat, he continued. "Thoran and I were speaking about the various aspects and customs associated with our respective death rituals. Did you happen to see Daniel on your way here?"

"No, sir," Sam replied, a knowing smile on her lips. She stopped before finally settling into her seat, turning slightly to the door through which she’d just entered. "Did you want me to go and find—"

"No, Carter, that won’t be necessary. I’m sure the good doctor will be along shortly. It’s just a shame that he’s missing this fascinating conversation."

Sam dropped into the chair as O’Neill turned his attention to the Tok'ra beside her. From close up she could see the tension and the anger radiating off the alien that the darkness had disguised. The General's words as he continued were smooth even though they were said through clenched teeth. "As I was saying, there are certain customs and rituals that need to be observed before we can allow you to remove the body. But then, you knew that already because we had this conversation three days ago."

"The timing is unacceptable."

"Whether the timing is acceptable or not is immaterial," O'Neill said, leaning forward on his elbows, the lighting in the room catching the silver in his hair. "We will not bend to your threats or demands. The security team is securing the location and until I get their report, we're not moving. Am I clear?"

The Tok'ra was silent for a moment, the whooshing of the overhead air conditioning units the only sound.

"Very well, O'Neill, we will abide by your decision," Thoran said, rising slowly to his feet, his eyes locked on the General's. "But we will not forget this insult to our beliefs."

"I didn't think you would," O'Neill replied and without breaking eye contact with the Tok'ra he continued, "Colonel, please show our guest to the gateroom. I think he has a wormhole to catch. We'll be in touch when we're ready."

"We will await your summons," Thoran said, finally moving to the door, Sam not far behind as she scrambled to her feet. He paused for a moment, glancing back into the darkened room. "But remember, General, the Tok'ra have long memories and we are not as forgiving as you may believe."

Striding out of the door, Sam struggled to keep up, shooting a quick glance over her shoulder, the stony gaze of the General her final image before she followed Thoran down the stairs and into the control room.

Why was it that nothing ever came easily?

~*~*~

Trying to ignore the rumbling of his stomach, Jack O'Neill leaned back, his hands tucked behind his head. Springs creaked under him. The new chair was still adjusting to his movements. Of course, Hammond had come back and taken his old chair. It was typical of how the universe worked—at least in O'Neill's Universe.

Thankfully, the conversation with Thoran had been quick and relatively painless. They'd argued, accused each other of being less than truthful, and made a general fuss about the whole situation. About what he'd expected. Although he probably should have anticipated the whole "deer-in-the-headlights" look from Carter when he'd ordered her to walk Thoran out. At that moment in time, all he could think of was getting that snaky bastard out of his office and off of the planet.

Since then, things had been hectic. Reports had been piling up on his desk all day—probably starting last night when he'd left the Mountain to go home to catch a few hours of sleep before the plane ride to California. Phone calls and meetings and questions had rolled in, one after another, as if they had been waiting for a break in his normal routine so they could all collect at once.

Typical.

So he'd spent the past several hours trying to straighten everything out and from the looks of things, he still had a lot more to go if his overflowing inbox was any indication.

Teal'c had stopped in sometime during the ensuing chaos, his calm demeanor a stark contrast to the environment swirling around O'Neill. The conversation had been short. While they were in San Diego, Bra'tac had dialed in from Dakara requesting Teal'c's presence. The Jaffa Council was being called together and he had to go.

It wasn't as if O'Neill could forbid the Jaffa from leaving. He was a free man, staying at the SGC because of loyalty, because of friendship, because it had become his home.

But Teal'c's dreams had become reality and a new life was awaiting him. It was only a matter of time before Teal'c realized it too.

A knock at the door drew O'Neill's attention back to the present, away from the thoughts that swirled within his head, the image of Teal'c's departure through the open wormhole burned into his mind. This time when O'Neill had turned to walk back into his office, there was a heaviness in his heart, a familiar pang, a warning of what was to come. One of these times would be the last time Teal'c stepped through the Earth stargate on his way to visit someplace else. One of the next times Teal'c stepped through that gate, he would be going to stay.

"Yes, Walter?"

His aide's voice was quiet, the softly spoken words barely breaking the calm that had settled over O'Neill's office. "The security teams should be dialing in any minute now, sir. You wanted to be reminded."

O'Neill nodded slowly as he leaned forward in his seat, the springs creaking again under his weight. The flash of red and the shrill call of the alarm only emphasized Walter's words.

Water glanced over his shoulder toward the window overlooking the gateroom, a finger resting on the earpiece connecting him with the control room below. "We have an incoming wormhole, General. That should be them now."

"Timing is everything, isn't it?" O'Neill said, rising to his feet. He was still in his dress blues, but the jacket had long since been abandoned, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, the shirt open at the neck. The tie was lost under a pile of paper somewhere on his desk—he vaguely remembered wrenching it off early in the evening, the constant pulling and rubbing against his neck finally driving him mad.

He followed the Airman down the stairs, their shoes clanking on the metal staircase and they made their way to the control room, the gate technician already speaking with SG-2's leader. Sergeant Alberts turned as they stopped behind him. "I have Major Griff on the line for you, General."

O'Neill nodded his thanks as he moved to the microphone. "Griff, what do you have for me?"

"We're still securing the area, General," Griff replied, his voice booming out from the overhead speakers. "It'll be a few more hours before we can give you a full report and an all clear."

O'Neill screwed up his face, trying not to sigh into the open line. "What seems to be the delay? I didn't think this was going to take this long."

"You know how it is, sir, when you're preparing for an official ceremony where high ranking officers, like yourself, are going to be present. We'd rather be thorough up front than have problems later on."

"High-ranking officers?" O'Neill repeated, his mind taking a minute to wrap around the phrase. "Griff, there will only be two high-ranking officers present and one of them is already dead. How dangerous can the planet be? I've been there dozens of times. I ask you again: what's the hold up?"

"You told us to be thorough—"

"Yes, thorough, but not search every inch of the whole honking planet." O'Neill took a deep breath, trying to steady his rising temper. "I want you to finish up your survey within the hour and report back to the SGC. We still have a lot of work to do before this ceremony can start."

There was a hiss of open air before Griff finally responded. "Adams and Collins are still out on a long-range recon. I don't expect them back for another two hours at the very least."

"Long-range recon? How far did you send them?"

"You wanted the survey to be thorough, General."

"How far?"

"We wanted to make sure we were covering all bases."

"How far?"

"We decided on a two-and-a-half mile perimeter check."

"Two-and-a-half…that's nearly four hours at a good clip."

"Yes, sir. We were figuring it would take closer to six or seven once they checked out the caves in the area and made sure nothing was out of place. We did take the old survey maps with us."

O'Neill sighed. Why were they so goddamn eager? "Fine. As soon as they get back to base, you had better high tail it back to the SGC. No more side-trips. No more spelunking. Am I clear?"

"Crystal, sir. See you in a few hours. SG-2 niner out."

O'Neill whirled around, pinning Walter with a glare. "As soon as SG-2 and the rest of the security detail get back, we need to get the set-up team to the Alpha Site. Were you able to pull together the list of supplies we needed?"

"Everything's set, sir. And as soon as Major Griff returns, we'll start sending the supplies through the gate with Colonel Reynolds."

"Good. I'm glad someone listens to my orders," O'Neill said, storming away from the control room, his footfalls loud on the metal staircase. He knew Griff meant well. It was still hard for him to think of himself as "The Man". He wasn't worth all of this trouble.

He stopped at the door of his office, his gaze falling on the small tray that was now occupying the center of his desk. Striding forward, he yanked the cover off the plate revealing a sandwich and pickle. A mug of steaming black coffee sat innocently to the side of the plate adjacent from the napkin and utensils.

Grinding his teeth in exasperation, O'Neill sighed and slid into his creaking desk chair, pulling the cloth napkin onto his lap. He was starving, his stomach growling as soon as he'd caught a whiff of the turkey sandwich staring up at him. Throwing a last annoyed glance at the empty briefing room, he dug into his dinner, making a mental note to thank Walter—again.

~*~*~

As Teal'c stepped onto the new Jaffa home world of Dakara, he took in a deep breath, the smell of dirt and dust and the ancient civilization becoming more familiar each time he visited. His brown robes flowing around him provided a sense of coolness from the heat of the day that still lingered into the evening dusk.

Several Jaffa straightened suddenly as they finally caught sight of who had walked through the wormhole, their eyes shining with respect toward him.

But it was the eyes of O'Neill he would remember this day. There had been a sadness deep within those dark eyes. It was different from anything else he'd observed during his residence on the Tau'ri home world. Something more than loss, and less than death; more than respect, but less than veneration.

He could still feel those eyes on him, watching him as he walked through the gate.

What did O'Neill know?

An approaching figure drew his thoughts to the present, to the reason he'd been called. "Tal ma'te, Bra'tac," Teal'c said, inclining his head in a gesture of respect to his mentor, his teacher, and his friend.

"Tal ma'te, Teal'c. It is good to see you once again, my friend," Bra'tac replied, responding to the gesture in kind before drawing Teal'c into a brief hug. Pulling away, Teal'c noticed that the warm smile he had been greeted with had turned into a frown, the lines on Bra'tac's face deeper than they'd been only days before.

"I received the message when I returned from Jacob Carter's Tau'ri funeral. I came as quickly as I was able," Teal'c said, trying to ascertain the worry he saw etched onto his friend's face.

Bra'tac turned, walking beside Teal'c as they made their way to the temple complex the Jaffa had settled into. "Much has occurred since you departed. More arrive with every passing day and with them come their problems and their arguments. Many Jaffa had been fighting against the other only a few weeks ago, but now they stand side-by-side. Food and water, along with lodging for the pilgrims is becoming a more difficult arrangement with each passing day. We will soon have to turn some away lest we all starve to death."

"The Tau'ri would be willing to provide us aid. We have but to ask," Teal'c said, the solution quite clear in his mind.

"I know that, and so do you, but others on the Council are not convinced of the Tau'ri's philanthropy or their motives."

Teal'c shook his head, not sure how to respond. He understood their reluctance to trust others, but thought his example of living among the Tau'ri would have made some impression on the other council members. There was still time, however, to change their mind on that matter. "What of the weapon? Has it been deactivated as we'd decided?"

"That is the other issue," Bra'tac said, his mouth forming a thin line. "The Council is insisting on a vote and I fear that we are in the minority."

"Do they not understand the great risk we take by having the weapon active? Have they forgotten the battle we fought, the brothers we lost?"

"They have forgotten many things, my friend," Bra'tac said, his voice tinted with sadness. "Slavery was all they knew and they have no desire to become slaves once again. The taste of freedom is intoxicating, but I fear it has only made them forgetful. The weapon to them is power and power they will not give up without a fight."

"Ry'ac had more sense when he was but a babe," Teal'c replied, shaking his head. He paused at the entrance to the temple, turning to face the other warrior. "It appears as if this entire Jaffa nation may yet come crashing down around us."

Bra'tac nodded. "The battle for this place was difficult, but I fear the fight to stay alive now may be the greatest battle we have ever faced."

Holding his gaze for several beats, Teal'c nodded once. Ducking his head, he turned and entered the temple, his step purposeful. With Bra'tac at his side, they strode to the Council chamber, their robes flowing out behind them, the dust and dirt swirling at their feet.

The battle for survival had begun.

~*~*~

Staring at the ceiling of her on-site quarters, Sam Carter sighed, wishing she would fall asleep. She was exhausted, more mentally and emotionally than physically. Only an hour ago she was struggling to hold her eyelids open as she read over some reports about the Ancient weapon on Dakara, but now, lying in the still, dark room, she was wide awake.

Rolling onto her side, she eyed the clock beside her, the red numbers silently mocking her.

00:47

The number clicked over silently.

00:48

If she stayed here a minute longer she would go insane.

Pulling back the blanket, the decision impulsively made, Sam dug in the dark, her hand finally finding her BDU pants. Thrusting her legs into the holes, she quickly dressed, tugging on her boots, and pulling on her long-sleeved shirt as she walked to the door. Squinting as the dim light from the hallway hit her eyes, she moved instinctively, heading for the nearby elevator, her hand patting her hip pocket, making sure her key card was still secure.

The hallways were quiet; the lights dim as the SGC tried its best to mimic the world above. That was one of the problems with running a facility like this. They were really on-call twenty-four hours a day. The Goa'uld were not the type to check and see what time of day or night it was before they came a-calling.

Moving into the elevator as soon as the doors parted before her, she slid her card key into the appropriate slot and hit the button for Level 27. A stroll around the briefing room and the control room would give her something else to think about.

She enjoyed this time of the night when the SGC was silent all around her, the whooshing of the ventilation systems overhead the only background noise to accompany her movements. It was always nights like this when the biggest ideas would come, as if drawn to the calm of the environment.

How many nights had she worked, a cold cup of coffee and a computer her only company?

As the elevator slowed, she stepped forward, pausing in front of the doors as they parted before her. She moved quietly down the hallway, heading for the briefing room window and its vantage point over the gateroom below. On many nights, the strength of that ancient ring of naquadah had given her a comfort she could find nowhere else.

She hoped tonight would not be an exception to the rule.

But stepping into the briefing room, she spotted a light on in the General's office, a light that at this time of night was normally extinguished.

Padding over to the door, she peered in, watching as O'Neill scribbled on the page in front of him, the ridge between his eyes deep.

"Sir?"

"I thought that was you, Carter," he replied without looking up, his normally animated voice monotone. Even as silent as she'd been, he'd heard her coming. He placed his pen on the pad in front of him and glanced up, the single lamp on his desk reflecting in his eyes. "Everything okay?"

"I couldn't sleep," she replied with a non-committal shrug as she leaned against the doorframe, not wanting to step into his office. There was something about him tonight that sent off signals to stay away.

"I'm not surprised, given what we had to do today," he said, picking up the pages on his desk and stacking them carefully in a pile on the corner, laying a few folders on top. "I'm waiting for SG-2 to report in and then I'm calling it a night."

"They're at the Alpha site?"

O'Neill nodded and checked his watch. "Griff was finishing up the pre-security check and he should be dialing in any minute now." He stood, moving around his desk. His hand gestured to her to move into the briefing room. "He decided to check a little more thoroughly than I wanted and I don't want to move any more personnel until I get the all clear from him and his team."

"Well," she said, following O'Neill toward the staircase to the control room, "with all of the Tok'ra and SGC personnel that are going to attend, it's probably wise to check out all the possibilities now before everyone shows up."

O'Neill shot her an annoyed glance, but didn't comment.

She followed him down the stairs where a skeleton crew was working, keeping tabs on the gate and the SGC systems. "You remember how it was on the few occasions we had high-ranking officials either at the SGC or at an off-world facility. Security was of utmost importance."

He turned to her as he reached the bottom of the stairs, throwing her a humorless smile. "Thank you, Colonel. I believe you and Major Griff have been reading the same textbooks as of late."

"Sir?"

He shook his head. "Never mind, Carter. I've just found myself on the receiving end of some annoying reminders. Things were different before."

"Of course they were, sir," Carter said, leaning against the main console, the gate technician glancing up at her, but quickly going back to his job when he saw who was standing behind him. She crossed her arms over her chest as she met the General's perturbed glance. "General Hammond and the President are just trying to make sure that all of the work they've put into you doesn't get thrown away in a single routine mission."

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "I'm well aware of that, Carter. It doesn't mean that I'm any happier about it than I was before."

Her reply, however, was cut off as the alarms signaling an incoming wormhole echoed throughout the gateroom. Stepping away from the console, she turned watching as the gate came to life, the blue of the wormhole shining against the rear wall of the gateroom, the only evidence that it was active with the iris closed.

"We're receiving SG-2's code, sir," the gate technician said, turning slightly to glance up at the General standing behind him.

"Any in-bound travelers?"

"None, sir, but I do have audio from Major Griff."

"Put him on the overhead," O'Neill ordered as he moved to stand beside the console. Pushing the talk button, he leaned into the microphone. "Griff, what's your status?"

"We're just finishing up, but everything looks clear here, sir. We can start with the set-up as soon as you're ready."

A slight smile came to O'Neill's face as he addressed the off-site Major. "Sounds good. Pack up and come on home. Colonel Reynolds will be heading there at first light."

"Will do, sir. It'll be another half-hour or so before Adams and Collins get here, but as soon as they arrive, we'll head back to the SGC."

"Don't take too long. Night's wasting away. We'll debrief first thing tomorrow."

"Understood, sir. SG-2 niner out."

The wormhole snapped off, dropping the gateroom back into the dim overnight lighting. O'Neill turned to Carter, his face clearly showing the lateness of the hour. "I think, Colonel, it's time for us to catch some shut-eye?"

"I agree, sir, but I'm going to stick around here for a little bit before heading back to my quarters."

"Your choice, Carter. Have a good night."

"You too, sir," she replied as she watched the General climb the stairs back to his office. She knew he'd stay there for a little while before going to his on-base quarters. He'd probably wait until Griff and the rest of SG-2 wandered home before turning in.

At least she knew from where she got her mother hen routine. She'd learned from the best.

~*~*~

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Daniel Jackson rushed down the hallway, jumping in the elevator as the doors began to close. With the thud of solid steel sealing behind him, Daniel sighed in relief, enjoying the small amount of peace and quiet. The strange echo of the sirens in the concrete hallway always gave him a headache.

"Problem, Daniel?"

Snapping his head toward the voice, he scowled and crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against the rear wall. "Jack ordered me to 'get my ass up here fast'. Sounded like something was up."

"I was there last night when the advance security team reported in from the old Alpha site," Sam replied, a slight smile on her face. "We finally got the all clear the General was waiting for."

"But they reported in last night. So why is Jack in such a rush now? I thought we had plenty of time, whatever time we needed." Daniel asked, trying to stretch some of the kinks out of his neck and back. He really shouldn't have spent the last few hours hunched over those tablets. He was getting too old for this sometimes.

"He told Thoran things would be ready in two days, but the security team was a little more thorough since the General is going to be attending the off-world ceremony. It took longer than he anticipated to get the area scouted and secured. So now we have less time than we thought to set up everything for the Tok'ra. That's where you come in, I think."

"Me?"

"Well, you are the resident expert on Tok'ra customs, aren't you?"

Daniel straightened up, his eyebrows furrowing. "What about Teal'c? I have to get those translations completed for SG-5. I don't think Colonel Harper can wait any longer."

Sam shook her head. "Teal'c left for Dakara last night after Thoran headed home. There was a message waiting for him from Bra'tac. Seems like something had come up and they needed his vote."

"So that leaves me, eh?"

She nodded as the elevator came to a stop. "That leaves you as the only person the General trusts to make sure everything is perfect. The last thing we need is an entire testy Tok'ra delegation."

Daniel chuckled humorlessly as the doors parted before them. "Sam, I hate to tell you this, but I don't think I've seen them any other way."

~*~*~

Less than an hour later, Daniel found himself stepping onto familiar ground—the original Alpha site. It looked completely different, the clean-up crews having done a good job of removing every trace of the Tau'ri from the planet. Some of the trees and foliage had already begun growing back, covering the compacted ground where buildings and laboratories used to stand.

Sighing, he shook off the strange feeling and moved forward, his mind already a whirlwind of activity. There was a lot to be done before the ceremony began tomorrow.

"Doctor Jackson," a fresh-faced airman said as he jogged up to the archeologist. "Good to see you, sir. General O'Neill said to expect you within the hour and he didn't disappoint."

Daniel smiled at the other man, hearing the wormhole slurp behind him as several figures stepped though the gate carrying the various tools and equipment they needed. He continued moving forward, knowing that there were two FRED units poised just behind these men and they were going to need room to maneuver. "The General never does. So are we all set? And you are…?"

"Oh, sorry, sir. Senior Master Sergeant David Adams. I used to work up on Level 16 in the monitoring room."

"And you're here, how exactly?"

"When they needed some volunteers for off-world missions, I couldn't pass up the opportunity."

Daniel's eyes widened a little as he nodded. Apparently, this kid didn't comprehend that the whole "red shirt" curse was alive and well in the SGC's security department. "So where are we building this platform?"

Adams turned and pointed to a spot just to the left of the stargate, a clear area with plenty of shade and covering. As they moved closer, he continued to talk. "Colonel Reynolds thought this would be good. Kind of out of the way, but close to the gate. They're already cutting some small trees down just as the General instructed."

"Ja— as the General instructed?"

Adams turned to Daniel, a puzzled expression on his face. "General O'Neill gave us some preliminary specs on what you were building at the same time he told us that you were coming. Didn't you provide the information?"

"Actually, not this time. He must have kept them on file from the last Tok'ra burial ritual, unless Thoran gave him the specs when he was at the SGC." Daniel shook his head, astonished that his friend could still surprise him as often as he did. "Well, let's get those trees in here. We have a burial platform to build."

~*~*~

Teal'c rose, moving around the long table, needing to be on his feet. The custom some of the Tau'ri had—walking and thinking—had long escaped Teal'c's comprehension until he became part of the Free Jaffa Council. Now, he understood exactly what it was that caused O'Neill to take to his feet at times.

Bra'tac was arguing with several of the more hardheaded Council members. Gar'toc, the Jaffa master from Apophis' training camp, he remembered from years ago. He'd lost touch with him once he'd joined the Jaffa rebellion. He had apparently fared well over the ensuing years, earning respect and position within their movement.

Tara'c and Da'ar he did not know well, but they had proved to be fierce warriors during their fight to take and hold Dakara. Many Jaffa had been saved by their bravery and their skills.

Unfortunately, these three had been more difficult to convince that the destruction of the Ancient weapon would be a benefit to the Jaffa nation. They could only see the weapon as a source of power, as a way for the Jaffa to become a force within the galaxy.

Sometimes, it seemed as if these three wanted the very thing the Jaffa had fought against all these years.

They were at a standstill in the Council—Rak'nor, Bra'tac, and Teal'c wishing for the weapon's destruction while Tara'c, Da'ar, and Gar'toc wished to learn its secrets, to use it to gain power and glory for the Jaffa nation—and themselves, or so Teal'c believed. However, they had done nothing outwardly to demonstrate that belief. It was, as O'Neill would say, a feeling.

Tolok had refused to choose sides.

In this place, their brothers had become their enemies. In this instance, Teal'c almost wished they were fighting the Goa'uld once again. At least there the enemy was clear. There was a common ground, something that was missing now.

An idea forming in his mind, Teal'c turned back to the Council table, his eyebrows drawn tight. "Must this be decided this instant?"

Bra'tac stopped speaking at the sound of Teal'c's voice and all heads turned to him, surprise upon all faces.

Da'ar shook his head slowly. "I do not know. Must it?"

"I do not believe it so. We are at a stalemate and arguing has not solved our dilemma. Might it be the wise course to learn more about the weapon before we make our final decision regarding its future?"

Tolok rose, the power of his presence gathering in the rest of the Council members. "I believe Teal'c's advice is wise in this instance. Without further information, an informed decision cannot be made. We require more information."

"But who among us can retrieve it?" Da'ar glanced at each of them. "How many Jaffa have tried to learn about the weapon, only to depart empty-handed? It seems as if the Tau'ri are the only ones who can truly discover its secret—and I do not trust the Tau'ri. How can we be certain they will not use the knowledge against us? This weapon is ours. We fought for it and died for it. We are the ones who should benefit from its use."

Teal'c turned, ire slowly rising in his chest. "The Tau'ri would not—"

"You are biased, Teal'c," Rak'nor said, stepping into the conversation. "You have lived among them for years. We must discover its secrets on our own."

"Then it is decided," Da'ar said, rising to his feet. "We shall study this weapon ourselves before we decide its fate."

Teal'c glanced at Bra'tac, meeting the warrior's eye. This Council meeting had not gone they way they had wanted, the way they had both decided it must go when they had met with the Tau'ri in the middle of the crisis involving the Replicators.

O'Neill would not be pleased, of this Teal'c was certain. However, there was no point in belaboring the decision. If the Council members received the opportunity to study the weapon and did not discern it to be of any value, disarming and dismantling it would not be a problem.

There was more than one way to proceed and misdirection often proved to be a valuable ally.

~*~*~

O'Neill glanced up from the annoying folder of paperwork squatting like a bloated turtle on his desk blotter and spotted Carter standing uncertainly at his half-open office door.

He cleared his throat noisily. "Come in, Carter."

Closing the manila folder, he effectively dismissed the contents from his mind. 'Later,' he told himself. 'I'll get to it later. It's not as if it's going any place.' He sighed and tossed the folder back into the inbox. 'Not that it ever does.' There were times he would swear that stuff was somehow breeding.

"Thank you, sir." Carter walked slowly into the room and sank wearily into the chair in front of his desk. She smoothed out the jacket of her dress blues as her gaze raked over the pile of reports on his desk. "Am I interrupting?"

O'Neill frowned, nodded as he spoke. "Yes, you are," he replied. "And I thank you for it." She smiled slightly, but it faded as quickly as it had come and her silence set off a low warning buzz in the back of his head.

He studied the woman sitting in front of him. Although she looked the complete professional—dress blues did lend itself to that Air Force recruitment poster persona—there was something missing. The barely subdued energy that was uniquely Carter had been replaced with an air of resignation.

Head bent, she watched her fingers as she fiddled with a button on her jacket. She was quiet—too quiet. She lifted her head and seemed to realize they were just sitting there.

"I think everyone's just about ready to go through the gate," she explained.

O'Neill nodded. "Almost time," he agreed. "I'll be glad when it's over and done."

"Over and done," Carter repeated, a hint of bitterness in her tone. O'Neill winced.

"I mean this business with Thoran and the others," O'Neill said quickly. "Not your—"

"I know, sir, and I agree. I'll be glad when it's finished." She looked up at him and shook her head. "It shouldn't have been like this," she added, anger now replacing the bitterness.

"No, it shouldn't have." He should have told the Tok'ra to take a leap through an incoming wormhole but politics had a way of making simple things complicated.

"Are you up for this?" he asked.

Her head rose slowly and her eyes met his. "You want the truth, sir?"

O'Neill couldn't help but lift an eyebrow as he nodded.

"No, I'm not," she said, "but does that really make any difference?"

It was O'Neill's turn to lower his eyes; they both knew what was at stake and why she had to get through this—one way or another.

"For what it's worth, I think you're holding up great, considering all the extra crap you've had to put up with." He jerked his head to the side and gave her a quirky smile. "As if all this wasn't enough to make you insane, you can't even say goodbye to your Dad without putting up with a dog and pony show chock full of the 'don’t call us, we'll call you' Tok'ra who couldn’t be bothered to save one of their own."

Carter winced, her taut shoulder muscles communicating her distress better than mere words could.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have said that," he whispered, grimacing slightly.

"Even if it's true?"

"Yeah, even then. You don't need my paranoia and suspicions on top of everything else." He shook his head. "Forget I even said it." He watched her expression carefully. "Okay?"

At the sound of a familiar cough, he jerked his head upward. Sergeant Walter Harriman stood at the door with a carefully blank expression on his face. "The funeral party has assembled in the gateroom, sir."

O'Neill turned to Walter. "Oh, already?"

Walter nodded. "Shall I tell them to dial up the site, sir?"

O'Neill looked down at Carter and queried her with his eyes. "You ready, Carter?"

"Let's get this over with, sir." Carter gave him a wan smile and stood, smoothing her jacket nervously with her hands.

She watched as he walked back to his chair and picked up his own jacket. He slipped it on, fastening the buttons and straightening his tie. He reached for his peaked cap but Carter, anticipating his move, had already picked it up. She handed it over and he tucked it under his arm, holding it to the side of his chest in familiar fashion.

"Let's get this show on the road, Carter."

Together they walked into the briefing room and stopped in front of the window overlooking the gateroom. He could make out the figures of Daniel and Colonel Reynolds. The seasoned Colonel would be heading the honor guard of jarheads that was also doubling as a security team while they were off-world.

Waiting in front of the ramp leading to the stargate sat the FRED bearing the coffin containing the remains of Jacob and Sel'mac with General Hammond standing a vigil near it. O'Neill had a tendency to forget the history that existed between the Carter family and Hammond.

He was aware that Hammond had tried and failed to be granted permission to accompany Jacob on his final journey. The President himself had nixed that idea, saying it was too risky to allow both O'Neill and Hammond off-world to the same destination. When he'd been told that, he'd been tempted to let the other man go in his place.

But it wasn't to be.

O'Neill shook his head, remembering the conversation. The President had been adamant. His words had been succinct and to the point. Should something happen to the two men who were the foremost experts in off-world relations, Earth's ability to defend herself would be severely compromised.

He ran his fingers through his hair, ending at the back of his neck where he nervously touched a jagged, long-healed reminder of the dangers threatening his home planet.

Try as he might, O'Neill still couldn't get used to the value that had been placed on the intel he'd acquired from various sources, whether he'd been a willing participant or more like a sacrificial lamb.

O'Neill's eyes met Hammond's and they exchanged a small, almost unnoticeable nod.

"Chevron one, encoded," blared the loudspeaker.

"Carter?"

She took a long deep breath. "Ready, sir."

They passed through the blast doors just as the gate kawooshed open. Their faces were bathed in the surreal blue light shimmering in the open wormhole.

O'Neill set his peaked cap securely onto his head acutely aware of the importance of protocol and formality. The Tok'ra clearly placed a great degree of important on such things. He'd gotten a half hour lecture about the need to placate their so-called allies already, courtesy of General Hammond.

Having to put up with the demands of the Tok'ra was bad enough; there was no need to give them an excuse to complain, not that whatever he or any of the Tau'ri did would make a bit of difference. Sometimes he thought that they liked being difficult. He grimaced. Sure, the Tok'ra were always so eager to please…NOT!

O'Neill and Carter made their way over to Hammond and the flag-draped, standard-issue military coffin strapped securely to the FRED. Daniel joined them and they stood there for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts and memories.

"We've established contact with the Tok'ra already waiting at the site, sir," called Walter from his seat in the control room. "They report the area is secure."

O'Neill nodded and then exchanged an uncharacteristically sharp, precise salute with Hammond. "I'll be leaving the SGC in your capable hands, sir."

"Only until you get back, Jack." Hammond smiled, and then turned to Carter. "Your father was a good friend, but then I think you already know that. I'll miss him."

"Thank you, sir. That means a lot coming from you." Carter managed a tight smile, and then ran her palm along the edge of the American flag that covered the box that concealed her father from her view. O'Neill watched as she bowed her head and bit her lip, the tightness in her facial muscles showing the effort it took for her to prevent the tears from spilling from her eyes.

After a moment, Carter kissed her fingertips and then brushed the flag with them. With that gesture, she turned away and tugged on the hem of her jacket. "I'm ready, sir," she smiled. "Thanks."

O'Neill nodded once, a small knowing smile on his face. "Daniel? You ready?"

The archeologist nodded and moved to the head of the transport vehicle, while O'Neill moved to the opposite side.

"Funeral detail, take your positions!" Hammond barked.

Four other soldiers from the SGC took up positions around the FRED.

Colonel Reynolds and his team moved in front of the FRED, no one else would step through the gate until he gave the go-ahead.

Hammond nodded to the waiting Colonel Reynolds and his team. "You have a go. Be careful, people."

O'Neill watched as the forward recon team stepped through the event horizon, the familiar slurping sound of their passage seeming unusually loud in the somber atmosphere. He stood at parade rest, his hands clasped loosely at the small of his back and his legs flexed slightly to take the pressure off his knees.

His eyes narrowed as he waited for the signal to proceed. The sound of fidgeting drew his eyes like a magnet. "Daniel?"

The other man looked up from the spot he was staring at on the gray floor. "What?"

"Nervous?"

"Oh, no, just thinking."

"Imagine that," O'Neill smirked.

Daniel rolled his eyes and opened his mouth, a forefinger raised in admonishment.

"People, the mission is a go. Colonel Reynolds reports the perimeter and immediate area is secure. Be careful out there."

O'Neill turned and gave his trademark salute and then walked up the ramp, followed by the laden FRED.

~*~*~

Bright sunlight and the smell of freshly cut wood assaulted O'Neill's senses the moment the stargate spit him out on the other side. He took his time adjusting the sunglasses on his nose. This maneuver giving him a chance to study his surroundings. From the looks of things, the advance party had done a good job. Everything looked clear and in place.

Only then did he take a look at Carter. She looked subdued. 'No surprise there, O'Neill.' After all, not only was she dealing with the loss of her Dad, but the last time she'd seen the Alpha Site was just prior to it being overrun by Anubis' soldiers of doom.'

When she stumbled, he grabbed her elbow in a show of support. Her gasp went largely unheard as she raised reddened eyes to his. "Thanks, sir."

"No problem."

She smiled and then straightened, demonstrating a strength that dared anyone to mess with her and her Dad's remains.

"I'm ready, sir."

O'Neill nodded. "Yes, I'd say you are, Carter. Never had a doubt in my mind."

They both stepped to one side to allow the laden FRED to lumber its way down the packed dirt ramp leading from the stargate. After the vehicle emerged, the shimmering illusion of water whooshed out of sight, leaving the metallic circle standing alone and empty in the middle of the barren and blasted landscape. O'Neill hoped it wasn't an omen of things to come.

O'Neill sighed, assessing the bridge they had lost with the deaths of Jacob and Sel'mac. His reverie was interrupted when Thoran stepped forward and began waving widely.

"What is the meaning of this outrage?"

"Outrage?" O'Neill's face remained impassive, his raised eyebrows the only sign of his inner feelings.

"I left specific instructions on the proper preparation ritual for the body, instructions that you insist on ignoring." The Tok'ra stepped to the side of the FRED and yanked the flag off of the coffin.

Then he held it by his thumb and forefinger as if avoiding contamination.

O'Neill's lips thinned in anger. "That is the symbol of our country. Whether you like it or not, Jacob was a citizen and honored officer who served our country well. He would not appreciate your mishandling of his flag." O'Neill paused, his voice low and deadly. "Nor do I."

He plucked the flag from Thoran's fingertips and motioned for Colonel Reynolds to take it. The Colonel reverently took it in his arms then signaled to several other SGC personnel, who began the task of folding it into the familiar navy blue triangle studded with white stars. Only then was it placed on the FRED to be presented to Carter later as a memento.

Thoran puffed out his chest. "Jacob gave up all previous ties when he blended with Sel'mac. He was Tok'ra."

O'Neill stalked to stand nose to nose with the incensed Thoran and spat out his words. "Jacob was a good friend of mine, and father to one of my best people. Whether he had a snake in his head or not doesn't change that. I will not tolerate any further disrespect to OUR rituals. "

As Thoran opened his mouth to protest, O'Neill held up an admonishing finger. "Ah! Don't say it. You don't listen to us and we will pack up our stuff and leave faster than you can say, 'Don't call us, we'll call you'."

Thoran looked dangerous and fumed, but O'Neill wasn't finished. "And we'll take Jacob's body back home with us. The ONLY reason we're here is because of the respect I had for Sel'mac."

O'Neill stepped back and crossed his arms. "So, what's it going to be? You play nice and we get on with the ceremony… or do we pack up and go home?"

Thoran's eyes shifted nervously. "You wouldn't dare!"

O'Neill's eyes bored into the dark face of his opponent. "Watch me."

Thoran's eyes dropped and he blustered to his fellow Tok'ra. "Don't just stand there, prepare the platform."

O'Neill grimaced at another face-off against their so-called allies. He already felt as if he'd just tramped on whatever was left of the truce between their peoples. They could probably kiss any kind of alliance with them good-bye now.

Hearing his name, he lifted his head looking for the source. The voice was feminine and brought back memories—bad ones.

"General O'Neill!" Anise stepped forward, draping herself onto his arm in a familiar manner.

"Anise, I'm surprised to see you here," he responded as he tried to extricate himself from her grasp.

"I came to express my condolences to you," she looked up into his face. "And to Jacob's Tau'ri family, too… of course."

"Yes, of course, you did," he mumbled, finally catching sight of another familiar form standing beside Colonel Reynolds. "Carter, Anise has come to pay her respects."

Anise turned to Sam, a sad smile on her face. "I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of Sel'mac and Jacob. Their wisdom will be missed."

Sam nodded. "Thank you."

Their conversation was interrupted by the unexpected thunk of one of the chevrons of the stargate engaging. All heads whipped to watch as another chevron on the circle lit up.

Thoran zeroed in on O'Neill. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I was about to ask you the same question. Anybody know who might be knocking at our door?"

O'Neill watched approvingly as Colonel Reynolds and Major Griff arrayed their troops around the gate. Carter gave him a questioning glance and O'Neill replied with a nod, withdrawing his 9-millimeter from the holster at the small of his back.

Carter withdrew her weapon and aimed it toward the gate just as it whooshed open. No one said a word as they awaited whoever or whatever would be crashing their private party.

For several uncomfortable seconds, nothing appeared. The event horizon shimmered with a deceptively calm surface, a contrast to the combat-ready stance of everyone present. O'Neill's eyebrows rose to disappear into the shadow cast by his cap as he caught a glimpse of Anise producing a zat from God only knows where. The only sounds were the whine of zats being activated and safeties being released on the Tau'ri weapons.

Then with a slurp, a tall figure clad in armor and wearing a silvery-gray cloak draped over one shoulder emerged. Following closely behind was a gray-bearded man dressed in much the same manner.

For a moment, no one moved or said a word until O'Neill shouldered his way through the crowd. "Teal'c! Didn't expect to see you here." Turning around, he held up both hands. "Stand down, men. These guys are friendly." Leaning his head to one side, he spoke in an undertone out of the corner of his mouth. "Right?"

"Indeed, O'Neill."

The sound of more people exiting the stargate caught O'Neill's attention and he turned just in time to see a contingent of Jaffa warriors, armed with staff weapons, emerge from the wormhole. They remained standing just behind their leaders, Bra'tac and Teal'c, at the bottom of the ramp.

"We have come to honor a great warrior, Jacob and Sel'mac, of the Tok'ra, who has fallen in battle," boomed the gravelly voice of Bra'tac. As one, the Jaffa crossed one arm and fist against their breasts, and then let them drop to their sides.

O'Neill plastered a benign smile on his face and waved his left hand.. "Sounds all right by me. Thoran?" He placed the safety back on his weapon with exaggerated care before sticking it into the holster at the small of his back. The rest of the SGC troops also lowered their weapons, the snap-hiss of the closing wormhole the only sound.

However, the Tok’ra had other ideas. With their zats still raised, they sent questionable looks toward their leader.

Keeping his zat aimed at Bra’tac, Thoran advanced arrogantly toward him. At his approach, the contingent standing behind the Jaffa leaders bristled, moving to block the Tok'ra leader. Bra'tac, however, raised a hand in admonishment. "Aray, kree!"

Looping the folds of his cloak around one arm, he stepped forward to meet the Tok'ra. "Kel shak, Thoran."

He stopped short of Bra'tac, curling his lip in disdain. "This is a most holy ceremony. You and your kind are not welcome here." Disarming his zat, he crossed his arms across his chest.

Bra'tac nodded. "I agree. It is a most holy rite. I counted Sel'mac as a dear friend and ally. We wish only to mark the passing of a great warrior."

They continued to glare at each other, neither man willing to concede the battle of wills. So intent were they on each other that they both jumped when they felt a hand on their shoulders. As one, they transferred their startled gaze to the owner of the hands: O'Neill.

Keeping his hands on their shoulders, he smiled. "Then it's settled. The Free Jaffa will also attend the funeral, as is only right. After all," O'Neill's smile turned cold, "they are members of the Alliance, an effort that both Jacob and Sel'mac put their hearts and souls into."

Thoran was not so easily mollified. "Their attendance was not requested nor is it acceptable."

"And? Therefore? Since when do things go the way you want all the time? I know if I were in your place, I would have wanted this whole rebellion against the Goa'uld to be finished years ago. But then, things don't always go the way you want, do they?" O'Neill turned a humorless smile on the Tok'ra, his eyes narrowing as his words slowly became as cold as steel. "Now, I believe the Free Jaffa nation is here to pay its respects to a great warrior, a peacemaker, and a friend. I believe it is in the best interests of all parties present that you let them do just that."

Holding Thoran's gaze, O'Neill waited patiently, the silence of the crowd around him stretching out until it felt as if he could hear every breath as well as the thump of everyone's heart.

A single, reluctant nod and the sounds of the Alpha site came crashing down on him once again.

O'Neill smiled, patting Thoran's shoulder. "Great. Now, I think it's about time to get everything started, as long as there are no more objections." Glancing between Bra'tac and Thoran, O'Neill waited for any further comments from the two stubborn leaders. When none were forthcoming, he stepped back, gesturing toward the burial platform sitting off to the side that was surrounded by several Tok'ra. "If you'd move the platform into position, I think we can get started."

O'Neill moved to stand next to SG-1 just as the Tok'ra sprang to do his bidding. He took a deep breath. That was close. He turned to his friend, giving him a small smile. "Diplomacy. Don't you love it?"

"Yeah, just didn't think you did, Jack," replied a smirking Daniel.

"Well, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

He moved closer to Carter as Jacob's body was lifted from the casket and placed on the now completed platform, standing alone within the blast zone of the stargate. When the gate was next activated, it would incinerate everything within its path, leaving nothing behind.

He held his breath, remembering the first time he'd witnessed this ceremony, and how cold and unfeeling it had seemed to him. Now, though, it seemed fitting, that nothing tangible would remain of the duo of Jacob and Sel'mac except, and only with the best possible luck, the still living Alliance that had gathered to pay their last respects.

When the body had been prepared, the Tok'ra nodded toward Thoran. Then, by prearrangement, the Tok'ra leader and Carter stepped forward to stand at the DHD. Together, they began punching in the seven symbols that would activate the gate.

She raised a hand. "Stop, I have a request."

Thoran sighed impatiently. "What?"

Carter turned to address the crowd, her gaze flowing over all present. "As daughter of Jacob, I ask that a member of the Free Jaffa also be allowed to activate the gate."

For a moment, Thoran looked stubborn, but then shrugged and nodded stiffly. "Very well."

"Master Bra'tac? My father thought highly of you. Would you?"

Bra'tac smiled and bowed. "It would be an honor, Colonel Carter."

With that, he solemnly approached the DHD, placing his hand beside the other two already resting on the weathered red crystal.

Carter glanced up, her eyes resting briefly on the burial platform. Her words, though, when she finally spoke were strong, her voice reaching to everyone present. "Arik tree-ac te kek."

With her single nod, one Tok'ra, one Jaffa, and one Tau'ri pressed as one entity and watched as the blue energy blossomed out from the gate and enveloped the funeral bier and its lone occupant. When it receded, all that was left was the charred wooden stumps of the platform.

O'Neill kept his face inscrutable and was thankful for the concealment of his sunglasses. His people had acquitted themselves well, Carter especially. Another distasteful duty had been accomplished with honor.

He couldn't help but ponder the immediate future. He had his doubts about the ability of the Alliance to weather this latest storm. Jacob and Sel'mac had worked well together, forging an Alliance that had the snakeheads on the run. He shook his head. The combo had made a great and honorable partnership, working together for a common good, but, Jacob and Sel'mac had passed from their midst. It would be up to those left behind to ensure that their efforts had not been in vain.

And at this point in time, it was anyone's guess.

~*~*~

Daniel smiled and ducked his head, moving through the ranks of Jaffa and Tok'ra, trying to reach Teal'c's side. He was pleased that members of the new Jaffa nation had attended Jacob's funeral—Daniel was sure Jacob would have been honored—but it had been highly unusual. With the birth of this new nation and Bra'tac's urgent request for Teal'c's presence on Dakara, the last thing Daniel expected was to see everyone on the Council plus some other warriors arrive.

Shouldering past several Jaffa deep in conversation, Daniel could almost feel the change in the air before the first cry rose from the crowd.

"You shall kill us all!"

Even though he knew these Tok'ra were on their side—at least on paper they were—the tremor of the symbiote speaking through the host still gave Daniel the willies. Either way, raised voices in this group were not a good thing.

Craning his neck, he tried to see around the now still figures, as everyone stopped what they were doing to look toward the source of the outcry. Skillfully, Daniel scooted past several people, finally spotting Teal'c only a few lengths away.

"We have the right to defend ourselves against the likes of you!"

Sliding in next to his friend, Daniel tried once again to see past the Jaffa in his immediate line of sight. Why did they all have to have linebacker physiques?

"What's going on?" he asked, turning briefly to catch Teal'c's eye.

"Unknown, Daniel Jackson. It does not, however, sound promising."

"I agree," he nodded, thankful that one of the figures standing in front of him had shifted, allowing Daniel to get a look at the two arguing parties.

He didn't know either by sight—one Jaffa, one Tok'ra—but a glance at Teal'c and Daniel surmised that his friend recognized them both.

"Teal'c?"

Teal'c indicated the Jaffa standing on the left, a tall dark-skinned Arabian-looking man who was gesturing widely with one hand while the other rested on the short blade strapped to his upper thigh. "That is Da'ar, a member of the Jaffa Council. He does not trust either the Tok'ra or the Tau'ri."

Teal'c's gaze slid to the other figure, his eyebrow climbing up his forehead as more people on both sides entered the argument, the words flowing into a vast symphony of noise. "The other is Telkara. From the reports we have received regarding the movements of the undercover Tok'ra over the past two years, Telkara and Ly'net have been on the outer rim worlds, keeping on eye on the activities of Ba'al. They have only recently returned." Teal'c paused before he continued. "It was said that Telkara had perished on a mission about two years ago, but he returned to an old Tok'ra base and was ushered back into the fold. From what we can piece together, his reported death occurred during the battle Lord Yu waged on one of Ba'al's outer fortress planets."

"Yu took on Ba'al directly? I don't remember that."

"It occurred during the time of your ascension."

"Oh," Daniel replied when it was obvious that Teal'c was not going to say anything else. Turning his attention to the ruckus going on in front of the gate, he saw Jack standing off to the side, his face a mask of stone. While some of the other arguments were quieting, all eyes were fixed on the two who began it. And, from the tone of things, this discussion wasn't about to calm down anytime soon.

"We demand access to the weapon on Dakara. It is our right to examine it," Telkara was saying, hostility and hatred etched into his face.

"You have no grounds to demand anything, Tok'ra," Da'ar replied, his arms crossed over his chest. "Dakara is the property and domain of the Free Jaffa nation, not just any planet. Our brothers and sisters died taking the planet and we are not about to give it up to anyone, especially the Tok'ra." A grumble of consent rose up from behind the Jaffa as Da'ar spit out the last word in utter disgust.

Thoran was wading in from the back of the ground, his face unreadable. Bra'tac was mirroring the Tok'ra leader's actions, moving to stand behind Da'ar.

"We do not recognize the sovereignty of this so-called Jaffa nation," Telkara said, haughtiness and contempt dripping from his lips. But even as Thoran tried to speak to him, tried to whisper something in his ear, Telkara shrugged him off. "I intend to speak my mind," he replied, his comment obviously directed at Thoran, "for I shall not be killed in my sleep by a weapon these Jaffa do not know how to use. Shall they be the death of us? I will not allow it."

Daniel heard the unmistakable sound of a single zat gun being activated. That one sound only spurring the movement of everyone present—Tok'ra, Jaffa, and Tau'ri alike. Because if they started shooting, no one would be immune.

"That's enough!"

A bellow from the far side of the crowd startled everyone, all heads turning to the single voice.

Jack moved up through the ranks of Jaffa, Tok'ra, and Tau'ri, the crowd parting before him. His hands were empty, his sidearm still tucked into his waist holster.

"Did any of you notice that we were here for a funeral, for crying out loud?" He glanced around, meeting the eyes of several people, most of whom held his gaze. "Why is it that we can't talk like adults? We're all working toward the same goal, aren't we? Why do you all have to be so pig-headed stubborn?"

"Did we ask to involve you, human?" Da'ar replied, stepping forward to stand toe-to-toe with Jack. "Shouldn't you be returning to your safe SGC, hiding away like the cowards you are?" Talkara nodded, agreeing with the Jaffa when only moments ago they were about ready to kill each other.

Daniel swore he could hear something snap in Jack's head. He didn't think it was possible, but Jack's face got colder, harder. "Da'ar, is it?" At the Jaffa's nod, Jack continued. "Da'ar, where were you all of these years when we were killing off System Lords? Home? Safe in your bed?"

Da'ar tried to answer, but Jack refused to let him, talking over him as he turned his attention to the Tok'ra. "And you Telkara. Where were you? Hiding on some planet where it was safe?"

Fury raced over Telkara's face, but Jack wasn't done. "So, who was it that brought all of this to a resolution? Was it the Jaffa? Was it the Tok'ra? I don't think so. The last time I checked it was the Tau'ri. We might be young and we might be inexperienced, but we do know how to get the job done." Jack pinned Telkara with a single glance. "Jacob understood that, but you ignored him, pushed him to the side because his ideas were too radical, too different. Did you really want to honor him with a Tok'ra burial ritual, or was it simply just another thing to do because you've always done it that way?"

Jack paused, his eyes narrowing as he watched Telkara before moving to Da'ar. "And you, all of you have proclaimed that you want independence and freedom from the Goa'uld, but do you truly? We've offered you an alternative to symbiotes, offered to help you create it, make your own Tretonin, but do you want it? No. Most of the Free Jaffa refuses to take the serum, instead choosing to live with a snake in their guts. What was all of this fighting about if you refuse to truly free yourselves from Goa'uld domination?"

Jack moved a few steps, his gaze taking in the crowd. "Why do you insist on fighting when you all have so much to gain from working together?"

"Why do the Tau'ri insist that their way is the correct way?" Telkara growled. "Might it be because they are simply trying to take the position the Goa'uld have lost? Your way is not the only way."

"I'm not saying it is," Jack replied. "But if we're going to live in this universe peacefully we have to start talking to each other and trusting each other. Maybe the Jaffa would allow one representative from Earth and the Tok'ra to go to Dakara to learn about the weapon, to watch it being destroyed—"

"You only wish to control it," Da'ar said, moving toward Jack. "You suggest this so that the Tau'ri can have access to it. They want to have it for themselves. They believe that they are destined to use it since it is their kind who are born with the gene from the Ancient Ones."

"That's not—" Jack began only to be cut off again.

"We do not recognize the superiority of the Tau'ri, nor do we ever intend to," Telkara said. "And we do not recognize the sovereignty of the Jaffa. If we have to, we shall secure the Ancient weapon to protect ourselves."

"Tarel, dial the chap'pai," Da'ar ordered before turning back to Telkara and Jack. "I have no desire of standing here any longer. But know this, Tok'ra. If you so much as step foot on Dakara we shall consider it an act of war. Do not cross us, for we know much about you and your ways. We know how to kill your kind and we would revel in the day when all symbiotes are dead."

The thunking of the locking chevrons finally coalesced into the ka-whoosh of the opening wormhole. "Come. Let us take our leave. I grow more disgusted with every passing moment."

The Jaffa contingent began to file up the stairs and into the wormhole, Bra'tac and Teal'c shifting on their feet. Daniel watched as a look was exchanged between the two men and they began to move off, heading to the stargate.

"Teal'c?" Jack said, making Teal'c pause as he moved to step past him.

"I must return. Staying with the Tau'ri at this time would not be wise. I shall return when I am able."

Jack nodded once, his expression grim. "I understand. Be well, my friend."

Teal'c made his way toward the open stargate where Sam stood beside the DHD, her eyes staring the burnt remains of the funeral bier. With a gentleness belying the grim set of his face, he placed his hand on her shoulder. Startled, she turned her head.

"I must take my leave now, Colonel Carter. Know that my heart grieves for your loss."

"Thanks, Teal'c. But why must you go now? We still need you with us."

Teal'c paused, obviously choosing his words carefully. "It would be wiser for me to go with the Free Jaffa. I am needed there, more than ever. We each have our own paths. For now, mine does not parallel yours."

Carter nodded. "I understand, but that doesn't mean I have to like it." She smiled gently and squeezed his arm.

Teal'c's mouth quirked in a half-smile. "Indeed."

He nodded at her and then turned to leave, his somber and penetrating gaze raking over the assembly, as if he could take their measure at one glance. Then he joined the other Jaffa at the gate.

As soon as Teal'c stepped through, the gate shut off leaving an unnatural silence in its wake. Telkara did not wait long before gesturing for a nearby Tok'ra to start dialing,

Jack took a step toward Telkara. "Look, I can talk to Teal'c in a day or so. I'm sure he can convince the Jaffa Council to allow a representative from the Tok'ra to oversee the dismantling of the Ancient weapon."

"We do not require your assistance, nor do we want it. We shall attend to this in our own time and in our own way without the assistance of the Tau'ri—as we should have done from the beginning."

As soon as the gate connected, Telkara gestured to the Tok'ra delegation and they began moving, stepping into the event horizon of the wormhole, obviously eager to remove themselves from the planet. Daniel walked several steps to Jack's side, watching as they all cleared out.

Moments later, only SGC personnel remained.

"Well, that went well," Jack said, his voice thick with sarcasm. Glancing around, he ordered his thoughts. "Let's get this site straightened up and head back to the barn. No reason for us to hang around here any longer than we have to." Jack stalked off ordering the teams to remove any trace of their presence.

Things had changed—and not for the better.


~~END~~

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