Loyalties

Episode 5

Written by Hoodat Whatzit and SGC Gategirl

Authors: Hoodat Whatzit and SGC Gategirl
Status: Complete
Rating: 15+
Category: Angst, drama, action/adventure
Summary: Teal’c has made many sacrifices to win the freedom of the Jaffa. Now must he sacrifice his friendship with O’Neill and his loyalty to the Tau’ri as well? What price will the creation of a free Jaffa nation demand… and is it a price Teal’c will be willing to pay?
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:

Hoo: Big huge thanks to the entire VS9 team for the support and encouragement. A special thank you goes to Elizabeth for your thoughts and suggestions. Dee… what can I say? You were foolish enough to agree to collaborating with a self-avowed procrastinator who had real-life take the proverbial dump on her this summer. But look! It’s done! Woohoo indeed!

SGC Gategirl: Well, this one was finished a little bit too close to the wire for my liking, but it got done and that's the important part, right? Right? All teasing aside, this was a challenging episode to complete with all of the RL issues on both of our parts, but I'm very happy with the results.

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.
 

Loyalties

Episode 4

~*~*~*~*~*~

"In thy face I see
The map of honor, truth, and loyalty."
—William Shakespeare

"To place absolute trust on another human being is in itself a disaster, both ways, since each human being is a ship that must sail its own course, even if it go in company with another ship."
—D.H. Lawrence

~*~*~*~*~*~

Although he left his eyes closed, Teal’c allowed awareness to begin its slow return. Physical sensations were first—the feel of the carpet underneath him, the dull ache in his left shoulder from the prior day’s practice bout with Da’ar. As the sweet smell of burning candle wax and the lingering scent of Ishta’s scented oil intermingled, it created a smell that was becoming familiar. And, he had to admit that it was a far more pleasing way to greet the new day than the recycled air at the SGC. He regretted the necessity of her return to New Hak’tyl. A feeling she shared if her final whispered words in private were to be believed.

A woman laughed and he heard a warrior’s voice rise in response but he was unable to make out the words. Someone passed by in the corridor outside—the footfalls light and quick with purpose. Perhaps a young one eager to take the morning meal?

Teal’c opened his eyes and focused on a single candle, one of many arranged around him. There was much to be done yet he was reluctant to give up the sense of peace his meditation had brought him. Although kel-no-reem was no longer necessary for survival, he’d found the ritual continued to help him bring his mind and body into balance—at least during these precious and increasingly rare moments of quiet solitude.

Again he heard footsteps outside the door, heavier this time. They stopped and Teal’c drew in a long breath.

“Enter,” he called out. The door opened and Teal’c rose and turned in one smooth motion.

“Tal ma’te, Master Teal’c.”

“Greetings, Kra’tec.” The young man flushed visibly.

“You know my name?” he asked, eyes widening.

“Indeed,” Teal’c responded, “I observed you on the practice field. Bra’tac was most pleased with your form. As was I.” Teal’c inclined his head.

“Really, Master?” Kra’tec shook his head. “Master Bra’tac tells me I am fit only to hang onto my mother’s skirts and despairs that I will not survive my first battle the duration of three breaths.”

Teal’c smiled. “It was much the same when first I was his student,” he admitted.

“That I can not believe. You jest, Master. You are Teal’c of Chulak!”

“I am as Master Bra’tac made me,” Teal’c said. “Listen well. Bra’tac is most unforgiving for those he deems to have the greatest ability. You will be a great warrior and bring honor to the Jaffa.”

“I fear I will never earn my place. How is a warrior to achieve honor when our enemies are nearly all defeated?”

“There are many paths to honor. Should you not rejoice that our people have earned freedom? Your time will come, Kra’tec. Do not forget that many of our brothers yet remain enslaved by the false gods.”

“My apologies, Master. I do not forget. I wish to fight for their freedom, as you have done. It is difficult to be told always, ‘Wait! It is not your time.’ We have taken sacred Dakara—the very place where our enslavement began! Should we not continue our fight against the remaining Goa’uld? Instead, we sit and argue amongst ourselves.”

“There is much to be done,” Teal’c cautioned. “It is true we have accomplished much but now is the time for the Jaffa to build our strength as a nation. This is our true fight.”

“As you say, Master Teal’c,” Kra’tec responded, bowing slightly. “Still, to me it is a fight that seems best suited to the elders and not warriors such as ourselves.”

Teal’c checked the smile that the boy’s words threatened to bring to his face. He was young and had much yet to learn. All too well he remembered the pride of youth.

“You were sent to bring me word from members of the council?” Teal’c guessed, changing the subject.

Kra’tec straightened, blushing once again. “Yes, Master. There is to be a meeting after the morning meal.”

“I will attend,” Teal’c said. He turned and began snuffing the candles. “Have you eaten?”

“Master?”

“If you are free to do so, perhaps you will join me? We could discuss your technique with the bashaak. You are very skilled yet your grip is weak when performing certain movements.”

“So Master Bra’tac reminds me often,” Kra’tec agreed somewhat ruefully as Teal’c extinguished the last candle and turned to face him again.

“Indeed, the bruises on your knuckles are testament to his reminders.”

Kra’tec nodded and flexed his fingers. “It is true; Master Bra’tac’s reminders are not soon forgotten. I would be honored to take the meal with you, Master Teal’c.”

“Very well. Let us hope we do not arrive too late for a portion of apshaak,” Teal’c said, his mouth watering at the thought of the sweet fruit—something that he’d missed greatly during his years at the SGC.

~*~*~

Lately, Jack O'Neill hated coming to work,

It wasn't that he hated work per se; he simply disliked the situations in which he so often found himself.

The elevator doors sighed open and he strode on to level 28. He could still feel the glances aimed at his back, see the sympathetic expressions as he passed SGC personnel. Daniel, Carter and Walter had all tiptoed around him for days after the whole incident on Dakara and not to mention that whole Mayan alien influence thing.

It was getting to the point that he couldn't go anywhere these days without a babysitter. He climbed the stairs into the control room. And speaking of babysitters, he thought, spotting Colonel Reynolds standing behind Sergeant Alberts. The colonel had a cross expression on his face. "So, Gary, there a problem?"

Reynolds glanced over this shoulder, the corners of his mouth creeping up in a half-smile. "Morning, General. And, there's no problem. SG-15 was insisting on another aerial MALP survey. It seems their archeologist wants to check if there's any more ruins in the area. Apparently, the ones they found weren't enough."

"And?" O'Neill asked, stopping next to the colonel, his eyes glancing into the gateroom.

"And I told them no. Until they can give me a better reason than 'because we want to know', there are no additional aerial surveys."

"Good," O'Neill replied, patting Reynolds on the shoulder as he turned to head up the metal stairs to the briefing room above. "Remind them next time about the price tag attached to every one of those things they lose. And, they always manage to crash the new ones. I ask you, why can't they ever crash the old ones?"

Reynold's chuckle followed him up the stairs. "I'll remember to tell them that the next time, sir."

Cresting the top of the stairs, O'Neill headed for the briefing room coffee pot, a smile on his face. At least Reynolds treated him like a human.

"Sir?"

He turned finding Sergeant Walter Harriman close on his heels. Where did he come from? Sometimes he wondered if the Sergeant had special ops training that wasn't listed in his file—he'd looked for it more than once.

"Yes, Walter?" he asked suspiciously, grabbing a mug and pouring himself a cup of coffee. He sniffed at it before taking a small sip. It wasn't bad, but if he wanted the real stuff he'd have to go down and find Daniel's stash. Either that or he was going to have to stop at the neighborhood Starbucks. Although, all of that new-fangled ordering was a little much when all he wanted was mug of black coffee. Coffee shouldn't have a string of words in front of it.

The other man wrinkled his nose, looking a little constipated. "Your schedule of meetings doesn't begin for another three hours, sir."

"You're complaining that I'm early?"

"It's just…well, after everything that went on…shouldn't you be resting more? You ended up leaving very late last night."

O'Neill narrowed his eyes, lowering his mug. "The last time I checked I was fine. Did something happen to me overnight that I don't know about?"

"No, sir," he hurriedly replied. "It's just—"

"I know you're all worried and Daniel's mother hen routine is rubbing off on the lot of you, but I'm fine. Trust me. Now," O'Neill said, walking into his office, "is there anything I should know about for my first meeting?" The chair squawked under his weight and he frowned. He had to remember to find Siler and talk to him about it. This was getting ridiculous.

Walter flipped though the papers in his hands, his finger tracking down the page. "The conference call with General Hammond—"

"That's today?"

"Yes, sir," Walter nodded.

"Get Teal'c on the horn,” he ordered. “I need an update pronto." He reached across his desk for the file containing his notes for Hammond and one elbow overturned his mug of coffee, sending the hot liquid spilling across the blotter. "Damn," he said, rising to his feet before gravity could carry it into his lap.

"Now, sir?"

"Does it look like I want to talk to him tomorrow?” O’Neill snatched up the file just before the quickly expanding pool of coffee reached it. “Yes, Walter. Now.”

“Yes, sir. More coffee?”

“I’ll take care of the coffee myself,” O’Neill snapped. “Just get Teal’c for me! I'm glad I got here early. Lots of people to talk to and I have two hours to do it. Let's get started."

~*~*~

He could hear the sounds of raised voices as he neared the council chambers. Teal'c frowned. Kra’tec had been specific about the time; the session should not have begun.

Rounding the final corner, Teal'c strode into the room, spotting Bra'tac immediately on the far side, his arms crossed over his chest. He was watching Da'ar, one of the more outspoken Jaffa leaders as he strode though the council chambers, waving his hands and carrying on at great length about something or other.

Gar'toc was already seated at the table, a mug of liquid in front of him. From here Teal'c couldn't tell what it was, but there was a hint of coffee on the air. Had the SGC sent coffee in the last shipment of food and supplies? Teal'c shook off the thought, his eyes sliding around the room, trying to discover the target of Da'ar's rants.

Since Tolok had yet to arrive, that left only one other: Rak'nor.

Sure enough, the young warrior was scowling. Da'ar and Rak'nor had only just returned from a circuit of nearby worlds, looking for more appropriate locations to establish Jaffa communities. While many did not wish to leave Dakara now that they had secured it, some were starting to realize the toll living in a tent community was taking on their families and on the Jaffa nation itself.

A strong nation was only as strong as its weakest families.

Teal'c turned his attention to the tall Jaffa in the center of the room, trying to understand the basis of the "discussion".

"…were unsuitable for even the lowliest of the Jaffa! How do you expect some of the most respected of our peoples to move to these backwater planets?"

"Tel ma'te," Teal'c said as Da'ar's last word hovered over the chamber, his greeting immediately drawing everyone's attention. "I believed the Council session was to begin in ten minutes. Was my information inaccurate?"

"Tel ma'te, Teal'c," Bra'tac replied, stepping forward with a welcoming smile. "Kra’tec relayed the correct time. Da'ar and Rak'nor were simply relaying some of the details of the planets they visited."

"They were very good prospects," Teal'c said defensively. Colonel Carter had provided them with the initial intelligence for these locations as possible colonies.

"I agree," Rak'nor said, his voice rising a little as he gestured to the other man. "Da'ar, as you have no doubt observed, believes otherwise."

"I am not the only warrior to question the necessity of this move. The Jaffa belong here on Dakara, not in small groups spread around the system. We are stronger united, as we are here," Da'ar said, his fists clenching together in the air as they punctuated the end of his statement.

"We are not united here."

Teal'c glanced over his shoulder, holding back a smile as Tolok walked into the council chamber, closing the doors behind him. He paused, obviously considering the mood of the room before making his way to his seat. "I apologize for my tardiness. Shall we begin?"

Bra'tac made the first move toward the table, breaking the uncomfortable silence in the room. Teal'c and Rak'nor quickly followed suit, followed reluctantly by Da'ar.

Tolok glanced questioning back and forth, taking in the three empty seats. "Are the rest attending?"

Bra'tac shook his head. "They are scouting several worlds. They are not scheduled to return for another three days."

"Then why have this meeting without them?"

"I have called it," Da'ar answered, glaring across the table at Teal'c and Bra'tac. "I have just returned from a similar mission only to discover Tok'ra infesting our holy city. Who made that decision? Was it approved by the Council for I do not remember voting on such a motion?"

"It was considered in the best interests—" Teal'c began, only to be cut off.

"Of who?" Gar'toc asked, his voice deep. "Before I could arrive on the scene, things were resolved. Yet, I saw only you and Master Bra'tac there. Where were the other Council members?"

"I was off-world,” Da’ar said, “as was Rak'nor and the rest of the council—as you well knew." He spit the words out, glaring at Teal'c and Bra'tac. "Did you wait until we left to arrange for this convenient assembly of Tok'ra, Tau'ri, and Jaffa or were our absences the result of careful planning?"

"They arrived without our knowledge," Teal'c said.

"As you say," Gar'toc said, glancing up from his mug. "And yet, we find ourselves hosting members of the Tok'ra, something the Council had decided was not to occur. You were in attendance when it was decided that the continued presence of the Tok’ra contingent on Dakara was not in the best interest of the Jaffa nation. Given our limited resources, we can hardly be expected to cater to the demand of unwanted—and unneeded—guests."

"A single Tok'ra is hardly a contingent,” Teal’c corrected. We did not feel one would be an intrusion and it shows our good intentions for future relations," Teal'c said, feeling that the meeting was out of control and only just begun. Could it get any worse?

"Who decided, Teal'c?" Da'ar asked. "Was it the Council? No. It was your decision, Teal'c, a decision that you made on the advice of the Tau'ri…as are so many of your decisions.”

“You would prefer severing all ties with the Tok’ra?” Teal’c asked. “It is unwise to bar the way to any possibility of improving relations with the Tok’ra. The alliance—”

“What part does the Jaffa nation have in this so-called alliance? The Tok’ra treat us with undisguised contempt and to the Tau’ri we are as beasts they have tamed to their bidding.”

Teal’c’s fist clenched and Bra’tac squeezed his arm briefly in warning before slowly standing. “Do not judge the many by the few,” Bra’tac began. “Or rather,” he continued, turning his head to meet the gazes of the men seated around the table as he spoke, “choose wisely the few you would hold up as representatives of their people. It is true that many of the Tok’ra do not see us as equals,” Bra’tac conceded. “Remember, however, that such beliefs are not held by all. Did not this council agree to honor the passing of Jacob Carter and his symbiote Selmak?”

“We did,” Gar’tok agreed. “He will be greatly missed.”

“Indeed,” Da’ar added. “It seems his influence was the only thing keeping the Tok’ra arrogance restrained. Unfettered and unburdened by the conscience of an old man, they reveal their true nature.”

“The Tok’ra are hardly the only ones possessed of excessive arrogance!” Teal’c countered.

Da’ar turned to face him and smiled. “I agree, brother,” he said. “In truth, their arrogance is matched only by the Tau’ri—saviors of the universe and heirs to the legacy of the Ancients.”

“Do not presume to name me brother!” Teal’c warned. “It is a right that must be earned.”

“As a member of this council have I not earned such a right?” Da’ar asked. “Are we not all of us brothers here?”

“Come now,” Bra’tac interrupted before Teal’c could respond. “Of course we are brothers in purpose here. We are giving breath to the Jaffa nation. Such a monumental task can not be achieved through discord and animosity.”

“Is that so, Teal’c? Will you name me brother?” Da’ar asked.

Bra’tac sat down slowly as Da’ar and Teal’c stared at each other across the table.

“I honor all of those seated here,” Teal’c said, “and accord each member of the council the respect you deserve for your actions in the fight against the Goa’uld and the wisdom you have shown as leaders of our people. And yet, there are few of you whom I have stood beside in battle.” Teal’c inclined his head, first towards Rak’nor and then Bra’tac. “To call a man brother is not a thing of empty words and gestures,” Teal’c said, ignoring Bra’tac’s look of warning. “It is a thing of deeds and actions.”

“Do you not name O’Neill as your brother?” Da’ar demanded.

“I do.”

“And you believe he returns the honor?”

“I do.”

“I am not as certain as you, Teal’c. You are blinded by your loyalty to the Tau’ri—to O’Neill. You forget where your true loyalties should be placed.”

“I forget nothing!” Teal'c rose to his feet, his muscles tensed in anger. “I have vowed my loyalty to the Jaffa and I have proven my honor in battle, as have the Tau’ri. In O’Neill I saw the strength and willingness to fight the power of the false gods. The Tau’ri are strong when others are weak. How long would we have continued to live in servitude to the Goa’uld without the efforts of the Tau’ri?”

“Rebellion was inevitable,” Da’ar replied. “Or do you think yourself the only Jaffa to have ever questioned the authority of his Goa’uld master?”

“What is questioning when weighed against action?” Rak’nor said. “Who among us dared to turn against our Goa’uld masters and be named Shol’va?” He paused and there was a restless stirring as heads turned toward Teal’c and then quickly away again. “Only one,” Rak’nor continued. “Teal’c of Chulak.”

“I stand corrected,” Da’ar said. Teal’c sat down as Da’ar continued, “It is true; tales of the Shol’va were as the spark to the kindling that ignited the flame of rebellion. I, too, heard his name whispered in secret and dreamed that I might join him…as a brother-in-arms. Imagine my disappointment in discovering the mighty Teal’c of Chulak—the Sholva—had traded one master for another.”

“You dare too much!” Teal’c shouted.

“The Tau’ri use you,” Da’ar continued. “You are the tame Jaffa that O’Neill has brought to heel and the means by which they hope to control all Jaffa.”

“I name no man master,” Teal’c replied. “The Tau’ri have no desire to control the Jaffa nation.”

“Do they not? Things progress according to their desires. The weapon is inactive—by O’Neill’s hand; the Tok’ra have sent a representative and you have approved his presence, as advised by the Tau’ri. We scout worlds they identify as possible colonies when we already hold Dakara which is ours by right. Even the food we eat is a gift from our benefactors, the Tau’ri.”

“Perhaps you would rather starve?” Teal’c demanded.

“I would rather starve than see the Jaffa become nothing more than tools for the Tau’ri rise to power. And how was it that they knew we required food and supplies? Was it another message to O'Neill that triggered their arrival? You deceive yourself, Teal’c; if you believe the Tau’ri consider us to be their equals.”

“It is you who are blinded, Da’ar. The defeat of the Goa’uld is made possible because we—the Jaffa, the Tok’ra, and the Tau’ri—have worked together. You speak as if the final battle has been fought. It has not. The Goa’uld are weakened yet they may still rise again. We are stronger if we stand together. The Tau’ri, at least, have not forgotten this which is why they seek to ensure the continuation of the alliance. It is you who forget too quickly how our victories were truly achieved. I have lost much to attain these victories. I do not wish for those losses to have been for nothing."

"We have all lost much, Teal'c," Gar’tok said, rising to his feet, cradling his mug in his hands as he began walking back and forth along the length of the room. "We are not dismissing your willingness to further the cause of the Jaffa. We find that your divided loyalties—especially your loyalty toward the human O'Neill—to be troubling. How can we be sure you have the Jaffa's interests at heart when it seems as if you heed the beck and call of a weak human?" Gar’tok shook his head, his expression grim. "If it were not for the Tau'ri's interference, we would have a very powerful weapon at our disposal, but instead all we have is a piece of ancient history. Will that become a testament to the failure of the Jaffa instead of our greatest victory?"

Bra'tac stood slowly, shifting his cape as he took to his feet. "I can understand your reservations, Gar’tok," he said, gesturing to the other man. "And if I were in your place I might feel the same way, but I do not. Everything Teal'c has done has been for the benefit of our people. We studied the Ancient weapon for some time, but did we learn anything?"

"We had only touched the surface," Da'ar began only to be cut off by Bra'tac.

"More time would not have enabled you to obtain any additional information. How many were injured during its study in just a short time?"

"That is immaterial. Information and a weapon such as the one that was within our grasp are worth many lives," Da'ar said, his eyes widening, his hands gesturing in the air before him. "Victory is not won by being cautious."

"And yet if many were to die in pursuit of knowledge, who could partake of its benefits?" Bra'tac paused, his words low. "No, Da'ar, there is more to a victory than the tangible gains of which you seek."

"Have you become blinded to the Tau'ri as well, Bra'tac?" Gar'toc asked, his expression thoughtful. "I know you have had many interactions with them over the years, but I did not believe that would be able to blind you to their real aims. You, most of all, should know the dangers of believing all that you hear."

"Must I teach you again from the beginning?" Bra'tac asked, his eyes flashing. "But look at yourself, Gar'toc, before you accuse others of becoming too close to the Tau'ri. Have you not enjoyed the benefits of our relationship with the Tau'ri? Have you not enjoyed coffee from them every morning since the supplies arrived?"

"I can easily live without it."

"That may be so, but if that small Tau'ri custom has affected you, should we worry that other Jaffa warriors might be turned to them as well? Maybe we should pack up our cities and ask to live on Earth among the Tau'ri."

"Of course not!"

"Our association with them does not mean that we become less of ourselves—that we are a lesser Jaffa somehow. We learn from each other, grow stronger in friendship and brotherhood."

"I do not doubt your loyalty, Bra'tac—"

"Your comments, indeed your accusations, say otherwise, Gar'toc. Must we prove our loyalty daily just to appease the likes of you? How many Goa'uld must we kill? How many battles must we win before we fulfill your description of a loyal Jaffa?"

"Brothers," Tolok said, his hands gesturing for them to calm down, to be seated, "is it not too late to argue about things that have already been decided? Should we not be speaking of the things we can control, of the decisions we still must make? What of this Tok'ra Malek? What shall be done about him?"

But even before anyone could answer, a knock sounded at the door and a second later it edged open to reveal Kra'tec. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Masters, but the Tau'ri O'Neill requires a meeting with Teal'c."

Teal'c rose to his feet instantly. "I shall attend to it now. I shall return as soon as I am able." Bowing, he walked out the door following the young man.

But as he left, he could feel the eyes of his fellow Council members on his back and knew that this conversation was far from over.

~*~*~

Kra’tec glanced over his shoulder, expecting someone to dismiss him at any moment as Teal’c sat before the strange Tau’ri device.

“I am here, O’Neill,” Teal’c said, pressing some sort of control at the base of the small box in front of him. The box glowed and the image of a grey-haired human appeared on its face. He looked different than Jackson and Carter…older…worn… and he was scowling in a fashion that reminded him of Bra’tac just before he delivered the blow that inevitably knocked his practice weapon from his grip.

“Jiggle it a bit, Alberts,” he said, looking to his right, the voice emitting from a larger device in the corner of the tent. There was a soft grinding noise and a smaller box on the large device moved slightly. “No, the other way.” The man looked forward again and nodded. “That’s got it.” He lifted a hand and waved. “T, you look tense. What’s up?”

“The situation has not improved, O’Neill.” Kra’tec straightened, surprised. This was the O’Neill? He studied the face, attempting to reconcile the image of the man before him with the tales he’d heard as Teal’c continued. “Certain members of the council continue to oppose our efforts. I fear the possibility of opposition in deed as well as words if I am unable to convince them to see reason.”

“Ah, well… Teal’c, don’t try to sugarcoat it or anything, ya’ know. Just give it to me straight.”

“Da’ar questions your motives and mine.”

“That’s pretty straight.”

“Every action is now questioned.”

“Come on, T. They have to know we want to help.”

“They are reluctant to admit it is necessary. Many on the Council are headstrong.”

“No! Really? I never would’ve guessed Jaffa could be stubborn.” A smile flashed briefly across O’Neill’s face. “Must make those Council meetings fun?”

“It is most difficult,” Teal’c replied. “There is time for little else.”

“Were the supplies we sent okay? Just say the word if you need more.”

“There are many on Dakara already and more continue to arrive as word spreads. None have gone hungry as of yet but I fear it is only a matter of time before our hunting parties will be unable to meet the demands. Still, additional supplies from the Tau’ri may do more harm that good.”

“It’s that bad?”

Teal’c nodded and O’Neill rubbed one hand through his hair, grimacing.

“We are sending hunting parties through the stargate almost daily. With the supplies you sent it is enough for now but it will take time to cultivate food crops and warriors are unused to such labors. Some wish to continue the fight against the remaining Goa’uld yet all efforts at this point must be directed to the continuing survival of those who are already free.”

“All the more reason they should be hoping the Alliance holds,” O’Neill said. “How’d they take the news about Malek?”

“Not well,” Teal’c admitted. “The Council was discussing his arrival when you sent word.”

“You left the meeting? You could have told me to call back!”

“The meeting was unscheduled and General Hammond must have current word of the situation. Malek is already on Dakara and there was no need to discuss it further.”

“Somehow I doubt the rest of the Council sees it your way.”

“You are correct. They do not.”

“I tried to talk them into sending a delegation here instead. Thoran wasn’t going for it. Tell the Council they’re lucky they only got one Tok’ra on their hands. They wanted to send a lot more to you.”

“Had they done so, I fear blood would have been spilled.”

“I figured as much. You know, Malek is still a Tok’ra but at least he makes an attempt to listen to reason now and then. That business with the Ashrak on the old Alpha site showed him that it’s at least possible for us to work together and ya’ gotta give the guy credit for being willing to go it alone.”

“It is not I that must be convinced, O’Neill.”

“Keep an eye on Malek. The last thing you need is for anything to happen to him. And don’t let him do anything stupid. It would be just like one of the Tok’ra to try throwing his weight around while forgetting he’s put himself in the middle of a few thousand Jaffa who aren’t real happy with his kind right now.”

“I will endeavor to help him understand the situation.”

“Carter’s going to want to know how the planet search is shaping up. Find anything interesting?”

“There are several possibilities,” Teal’c answered.

“But?”

“The planets were identified by the Tau’ri and Da’ar feels they are, therefore, unsuitable.”

“They’re that unwilling to accept help?” O’Neill asked.

“So it would seem. They are eager to assert their independence.”

“Nobody is saying they shouldn’t! Who could blame them for wanting to kick up their heels a bit? We’re not trying to take anything away from them. I want to see them succeed just as much as you do.”

“All efforts to convince them of such have been unsuccessful. They do not know you as I do, O’Neill.”

The two men were silent and Kra’tec’s thoughts churned. Among the tents of the younger Jaffa, disagreements such as Teal’c described were not unheard of yet Kra’tec was uneasy at the thought of dissension among the members of the Council.

O’Neill cleared his throat. “Teal’c, I don’t know what to tell you except to hang in there. Politics is never fun and it was too much to expect that things would be easy on Dakara. If there is anything you need—anything—just ask. I’ll get it done.”

“You have my thanks,” Teal’c said. “Please relay my greetings to General Hammond and to Colonel Carter and Daniel Jackson as well.”

“I will. Take care of yourself. O’Neill out.” Teal’c bowed his head and O’Neill turned away and spoke to someone unseen. “Shut it down, Alberts.”

Kra’tec heard the sound of the chappa’ai deactivating outside the tent and the image on the box vanished. Teal’c rose and turned to face Kra’tec.

“My apologies, Master Teal’c. Your discussion should have been a private matter.”

“There is no need for an apology. Had I wished to speak to O’Neill in private I would have requested your departure.”

“As I will do now.”

Kra’tec turned toward the voice and saw Master Bra’tac in the doorway of the tent.

“Teal’c, we must talk,” Bra’tac said, his expression serious.

Kra’tec bowed his head. “I will leave you to your discussion, Masters.” As he exited the tent, he reflected that Teal’c’s earlier statement had not been an exaggeration. Once a warrior became a student of Master Bra’tac, he remained such for life.

~*~*~

O’Neill sipped the hot coffee cautiously, grateful that the kitchen staff always made sure to keep it freshly made. It wasn’t gourmet but it would do in a pinch. The heat lamps had been less kind to his chicken sandwich but he wasn’t going to complain. It was the first thing he’d eaten all day long.

“Sir?”

He looked up, unsurprised to see Carter standing in front of him tray in hand. He glanced toward the serving line and confirmed his suspicion—Daniel was heading their way as well.

“Well, this is unexpected,” he said.

Carter smirked at him. “You don’t really mind it. Do you?” she asked, her brow creasing slightly as if it had suddenly occurred to her that he just might.

“Hey, Jack,” Daniel said. “How’s Teal’c doing?” Daniel placed his tray on the table and slid into a seat.

“Daniel, maybe we—”

“It’s fine, Carter.” Jack waved a hand at her, indicating she should sit down as well. After all, it wasn’t exactly a coincidence that he always managed to grab lunch here after his weekly conference with Teal’c. “Teal’c is fine,” he said, answering Daniel as Carter took a seat. “More than slightly stressed out, but fine.”

“Teal’c stressed?” Carter asked. “I’m not sure I want to know what could cause that,” she joked.

“How can you tell anyway?” Daniel added, grinning. “Oh wait, he did that eyebrow thing didn’t he?” He waggled an index finger up and down in front of his forehead.

“Weren’t you the one who argued that Teal’c is sooo deep?” O’Neill reminded.

“Oh, he is,” Daniel agreed. “On the inside. On the outside…” Daniel shrugged. “He’s good at that whole stoic Jaffa warrior thing.”

“Well, apparently we finally know what it takes to get under his skin,” O’Neill explained.

“What’s that, sir?” Carter asked.

“Make him a politician.”

“I take it things are not going well on Dakara?”

“Understatement,” O’Neill confirmed. “Apparently, some of the Jaffa seem to think we are only slightly less evil than the Goa’uld.”

“Oh come on!” Daniel exclaimed. “That’s ridiculous. I mean, I didn’t expect them all to suddenly embrace the idea of working with us but to compare us to the Goa’uld?”

“Well, there’s bound to be extremists in any group,” Carter reasoned. “I’m sure if we give them enough time then things will work out. Teal’c can be pretty convincing when he needs to be.”

“Yeah, he can,” O’Neill agreed. “But it’s tough to be convincing when you’re seen as nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Tau’ri.”

“They can’t possibly think that!” Daniel said. “This is Teal’c we’re talking about. Everything he’s done has been leading up to Dakara.”

“All the more reason they distrust his motives for continuing on with SG1,” O’Neill said.

“Jack, what are you saying?” Daniel asked. “I mean, I know Teal’c is going to have to devote a lot more of his time to Dakara but he’d never just completely leave us… not after everything we’ve all been through.”

“He may not have a choice,” O’Neill said, sipping at his coffee as he met the worried gazes of what would soon most likely be the only two members of SG1.

~*~*~

Teal’c followed Bra’tac through the corridors in silence, the discussion to take place requiring the privacy provided by stone rather than cloth walls. He supposed he should be grateful that Bra’tac was unwilling to risk someone overhearing the conversation.

A public lecture would have done little to improve his reputation as a warrior and leader of his people.

Bra’tac’s stride slowed only when he reached his quarters. He pushed open the door, paused only long enough to allow Teal’c to step past him, and pulled the door closed tightly. He turned on his heel, tugged his cloak off and tossed it aside.

“Do you wish to destroy everything for which you have worked?” Bra’tac demanded.

Teal’c remained silent, curbing the flash of anger sparked by the words and tone. He respected Bra’tac and words uttered in haste and without thought could not be retrieved.

Bra’tac advanced on him, his expression furious. “Do you have nothing to say?” he asked.

“I have nothing to say to one who is not ready to listen,” Teal’c answered, keeping his voice low.

“Hashak! It is you that must listen, Teal’c. To have left the Council meeting as you did…” Bra’tac threw up his hands. “Did you wish to prove Da’ar’s suspicions?”

“The meeting was not scheduled. O’Neill wishes to keep General Hammond—”

“O’Neill could have waited! Do not try to tell me otherwise.”

“The meeting served no purpose. Da’ar only wished to hear himself speak.”

Bra’tac shook his head. “You are mistaken. Da’ar’s purpose went beyond mere ego and you have played directly into his hands.”

“I will not allow Da’ar nor the other members of the Council to dictate my actions,” Teal’c said, meeting Bra’tac’s gaze.

“I am gratified to see you still respect my council,” Bra’tac returned.

“Old friend, I will always respect your wisdom,” Teal’c assured him. “But I can not abandon those who have helped make our dream of a Free Jaffa nation possible. Do not ask it of me.”

“In your heart you knew this day would arrive. You have a duty to your people.”

“I know my duty,” Teal’c said. “It does not include the petty jealousies and intrigues which have consumed many of the Council.”

“Does it not?”

“Our concern should be the survival of our people,” Teal’c replied. “Not the personal agendas of the Council members.”

“And what of your own desires, Teal’c? Do you not have an agenda as well?”

“I do not.”

“No?”

“I want only what I have desired from the start—the freedom of all Jaffa and the ability to live as we please.”

“Nothing more?”

“No,” Teal’c replied, confused by Bra’tac’s question.

“This, then, is the source of your problem,” Bra’tac announced. “Once you have discovered your own agenda, perhaps you will be in a better position to lead instead of follow.”

~*~*~

Malek drew in a long breath and entered the large hall the Jaffa had chosen to use as the common eating area.

The noise assaulted him first. Voices rising and falling—a cacophony of sound as the warriors talked amongst each other. Most Jaffa, he’d come to realize, rarely did anything quietly and a meal it seemed was no exception.

His eyes scanned the room, searching for Teal’c and Bra’tac. The tables were crowded. Men—a few women in places—sitting elbow to elbow and in some areas even standing around already full tables.

A knot of people ahead of him moved toward a table laden with roasted meats and other edibles and Malek spotted Teal’c. Brushing aside the sudden unease of his host, Malek moved forward, edging around a Jaffa in his path. As he did so, he heard someone utter a single word.

“Tok’ra!”

He ignored it and walked on but any hope of reaching his destination unheeded was lost. The word flew through the hall—far more quickly than his legs carried him. As awareness of his presence spread the room grew quieter and Jaffa turned to watch him as he made his slow way across the hall.

A foot snaked out and Malek stumbled but recovered quickly. He turned his head but all of the nearby Jaffa were conspicuously looking elsewhere. Deciding to let it pass, Malek continued forward. He’d taken barely three steps when an elbow from behind caught him hard in his back. Malek spun around and found himself eye-to-eye—or at least eye-to-chin with a smiling Jaffa who, judging from the tattoo on his forehead, had once served Cronos. In his hand he held a long-bladed knife.

“You should be careful where you step, Tok’ra!”

So this is how it was to be, Malek thought. Possibilities presented themselves—most of which ended badly for either one or the other of them. Although he was unarmed, Malek was confident of the outcome if it was limited to the two of them but there were other concerns—primarily the half dozen or more Jaffa watching the proceedings with feigned disinterest.

For many reasons, this was neither the correct time nor place for such things.

Malek bowed his head and let his host speak. “You have my apologies. I did not expect so many warriors to be in attendance. Perhaps you could direct me to the members of the Council?”

The Jaffa regarded him carefully for a long moment—perhaps assessing the situation as well.

Malek waited, content to leave the next move in the game to his opponent.

“They are seated there,” the Jaffa said finally. He jerked his head in the direction of Teal’c’s table.

“My thanks,” Malek replied. He turned and continued his walk to Teal’c’s table. Although many eyes watched his progress and muttered comments followed in his wake there were no further physical interruptions.

As Malek approached the table at last, Teal’c rose to his feet. He did not look pleased. Bra’tac, sitting at Teal’c’s side, looked concerned and annoyed in the same instant. The remaining council members looked on with interest; their faces reflecting everything from amusement to disgust.

Bra’tac glanced up at Teal’c and then toward Malek. He stood and spread his arms in a gesture of greeting.

“Welcome, Malek. Please,” Bra’tac said, gesturing toward a seat, “join us.”

Teal’c sat down again and frowned at Bra’tac.

“Your presence is unexpected,” Teal’c said, quietly. He reached for a goblet sitting near his plate and took a long sip of the cup’s contents. “The meal sent to your quarters was unsatisfactory?”

“No, no… the meal was satisfactory. Entirely so,” Malek acknowledged. “As all have been in the days since I arrived. I simply wished to express my gratitude for the Council’s… hospitality.”

“How refreshing,” Da’ar called out from the end of the table where he was sitting. “A Tok’ra with manners.”

Malek smiled and bowed slightly. “It would be rude to not offer my gratitude. My rooms are well-appointed and comfortable. Teal’c and Bra’tac have seen to it that I have food and drink aplenty—the quality and quantity of which I am most grateful for considering the shortages in supplies of which I am aware.”

Gar’tok, seated next to Malek, slammed his cup on the table. “You are mistaken. Look around you, Tok’ra. I see no shortage of food here.”

“Of course,” Malek said. “It is good that your hunts have been successful. To feed so many is a daunting task. The Tok’ra know well the difficulties you face.”

“Is there anything the Tok’ra do not feel they know well?” Da’ar demanded.

“Who among us would be so foolish to believe he knew all?” Bra’tac asked, cutting off any reply Malek might have made. “Or indeed,” he continued, “would even wish to have such knowledge? Such a life would be unendingly dull.”

“As you say, Master Bra’tac,” Malek replied.

“Come. You must sit,” Bra’tac said, gesturing once again to the empty seat.

“If it is not an imposition,” Malek agreed as he sat down.

“Your presence on Dakara is imposition enough,” Da’ar complained.

“Bah!” Tolok exclaimed. “Have we not had enough Council business for one day?” He grabbed a bottle. “You should drink more, Da’ar. It will improve your mood.” Tolok upended the bottle and filled Da’ar’s cup. “You worry too much over one Tok’ra,” Tolok continued as he put the bottle down. “Look around yourself, Da’ar. One among so many? He is no cause for concern I tell you.”

Drumbeats drowned out any further discussion and a small cheer went up as doors on either side of the room opened up and a group of young Jaffa entered. Malek watched as they made their way to a large sand-covered square beyond the tables. Many of the Jaffa began to make their way to stand along the sides of the open space and Malek realized the night’s entertainment was about to begin.

Glancing at Bra’tac, he wondered what signal the old man had given to initiate the very timely interruption.

The drumming changed tempo and two of the warriors approached each other, armed with wooden practice weapons that resembled staffs. Without further warning, they began a complicated series of battle moves—whirling and dodging, feinting, thrusting, blocking blows from staffs and feet. The spectators cheered loudly yet the noise of the colliding weapons and grunts of the warriors as they battled could still be heard from time to time.

Of course the Jaffa would see such physical contests as entertainment.

Such was their nature.

Brute strength was always the solution. It had been bred into them over centuries by their Goa’uld masters.

Malek realized Teal’c was watching him and had not yet spoken. “They fight well,” he offered, giving the Jaffa an opening.

Teal’c’s gaze flicked briefly toward the two combatants and returned to Malek.

“Indeed.”

“I am pleased to witness such skill,” Malek added, reaching for a cup. Bra’tac passed him a bottle of wine without comment.

“I could have arranged a more suitable time,” Teal’c said. “A private demonstration… had you but asked.”

“Teal’c, it is done,” Bra’tac said quickly. “Be glad it went as well as it did and do not make matters worse now.”

“If you consider that to have gone well, old friend, then perhaps your wits have been addled by your advanced age.”

Bra’tac laughed and slapped Teal’c on the arm. “Patience, youngling. Men who will not be led must be coaxed. Even the wildest beast may be tamed by a gentle hand.”

“You seem to be in a jovial mood, Master Bra’tac,” Malek said.

“Yes, yes… of course,” Bra’tac replied. “Why should I not be?” He paused and looked Malek directly in the eyes as he continued, “After all, when you entered we feared you would be dead before you reached this table.”

The crowd around them erupted in applause as the two warriors ended their display. They bowed low and stepped aside only to be replaced by two more men.

“Look, Teal’c. Kra’tec is to fight,” Bra’tac said, nodding toward the newcomers. “Let us see if he has improved his grip.”

Malek watched in silence—dividing his attention between the fighting warriors and the whispered comments regarding form and strategy that flew between Teal’c and Bra’tac.

The Tok’ra were not unskilled in combat techniques but such ostentatious styles of battle served little purpose for his people. Tok’ra operatives relied more on covert infiltration—far better to outwit and outmaneuver your enemies than to waste resources and lives in direct confrontations.

Lacking that understanding was something the Jaffa and the Tau’ri had in common.

Malek’s attention was pulled back by the sound of shouting and he looked up, expecting to find the bout had ended yet the two Jaffa were still engaged in battle. Confused, he looked around for the source of the noise—it sounded different from the cheers and calls the crowd had been making with the previous fight.

Bra’tac and Teal’c were also scanning the room.

There… on the left—movement. Jaffa springing to their feet and crowding around an unseen disturbance.

Bra’tac and Teal’c were on their feet and moving already.

Malek heard the unmistakable sound of a zat’nik’a’tel being activated and fired.

“Hold!” Teal’c shouted, his voice ringing loudly.

The weapon fired a second time.

Teal’c plowed into the crowd of onlookers, shoving men aside.

“Let us pass!” Bra’tac ordered.

The crowd parted revealing a Jaffa warrior, zat’nik’a’tel still in hand, standing over the body of another Jaffa.

“What is the meaning of this?” Bra’tac demanded.

“I have taken revenge for the death of my son!”

“Ha’shak! Your son’s passing was avenged by the death of the false god whom this one once served,” Bra’tac said. “Should we hold all of our brothers accountable for their past actions from whence they were once our enemies not a man among us would be left standing!”

“You should have brought your grievance before the Council,” Teal’c said.

“It was not a matter for the Council,” the Jaffa replied.

“In that you are mistaken, brother,” Bra’tac said. “You will face Council justice for your actions.”

Teal’c stepped forward and took the zat’nik’a’tel from the Jaffa’s grasp.

Bra’tac gestured for two warriors to escort the attacker from the room. “I wish to speak with him in private,” he explained, taking the weapon from Teal’c. “Did anyone here know this man?” Bra’tac asked, gesturing toward dead warrior.

An onlooker stepped forward.

“I knew him, Master. His wife and child are in the camps.”

“At least his child still lives!” another warrior shouted. “Nir’at was not so fortunate. His son’s death was slow and painful.”

“Enough!” Bra’tac shouted. “Take his body and go,” he ordered. “This ends here. There will be no further deaths over this matter. Any further grievances—and any further actions—will be addressed by the Council.”

Malek watched as the dead man’s companions carried their burden away. Bra’tac whispered something to Teal’c and followed them out of the hall.

Conversations resumed slowly as Teal’c made his way back to the table.

“An unfortunate incident,” Gar’tok remarked as everyone returned to their seats.

“Perhaps if the Council had agreed to my proposal it would have been avoided,” Rak’nor said.

“That again?” Gar’tok shot back.

“Yes, again and as many times as it will take for you to listen! There are too many disputes. They can not be settled effectively in our Council meetings. If we were to establish a tribunal—”

“And who would you place on this tribunal?” Gar’tok asked. “It is too soon. Old wounds have not healed. What warrior will accept judgment and penalty from a former enemy? It is better handled by the Council until things are more settled.”

Malek laughed.

The effect was nearly instantaneous. All eyes at the table turned toward him.

“What say you, Tok’ra?” Da’ar asked. “Please, enlighten us with your view on the matter.”

Malek saw Teal’c give an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

“Come now,” Da’ar prodded. “How do the Tok’ra deal with such things?”

“The Tok’ra are not in the habit of murdering each other during meals,” Malek replied, knowing it was unwise to speak but unable to tolerate Da’ar’s mocking tone. “Nor do our leaders take such delight in bickering with each other.”

“You imply that we are incapable of governing ourselves?”

“I imply nothing,” Malek said. “The evidence was before our eyes not moments ago. The Jaffa are violent by their very nature. You can not expect to undo centuries of history in so short a time.”

Da’ar rose and walked around the table to stand in front of Malek.

“If all Tok’ra believe as you do—that we are so incapable of restraint and rational thought—then perhaps I should kill you where you sit. How could they blame a Jaffa who was simply acting according to his nature?”

Malek stood up. “You may try,” he said, quietly. “Perhaps, if you succeed, you will discover the answer.”

Teal’c stepped between the two men.

“Enough blood has been shed this night,” Teal’c said.

“His words dishonor us all,” Da’ar argued.

“And killing him would restore our honor how? It would only serve to justify the Tok’ra belief that we are unworthy of our freedom.”

“Let the Tok’ra think what they will,” Da’ar insisted. “If they seek to oppose us they will discover the true worth of a Jaffa warrior!”

“You expect us to sit by and allow—”

“You have said enough!” Teal’c interrupted, glaring at Malek. “You would be wise to return to your quarters now.”

Malek stared at Teal’c for a long moment before replying, “Perhaps you are right. There has been enough…diplomacy for one evening.”

“I will accompany you,” Teal’c said. He turned toward Da’ar. “It would be unfortunate if any accident were to befall our guest.”

Da’ar smiled. “Most unfortunate,” he agreed, “for our guest.” He stepped aside and gestured for Teal’c and Malek to pass. “Please, do enjoy the remainder of your evening in the safety of your quarters.”

Teal’c turned and walked away without glancing back to see if Malek followed. Malek remained momentarily meeting Da’ar’s gaze before he followed Teal’c’s path. It was a much quicker trip to exit the room than it had been to enter. Not a single warrior attempted to impede their progress. Perhaps it was fear that Teal’c would cut them down if they so dared.

~*~*~

Da’ar remained standing as he watched Teal’c thread his way through the crowded tables—the Tok’ra close on his heels.

As Teal’c swept through the far doors, Da’ar turned back to the table and smiled.

“Brothers,” he said, raising his voice so his words would be heard at nearby tables. “Perhaps we can now enjoy our evening without enduring further insults.”

“The Tok’ra still breathes!” shouted a nearby warrior. “That in itself is insult enough.”

There was a chorus of raucous agreement from his table companions.

“A problem easily solved!” yelled another as he drove the point of his knife into the wooden table. It stuck upright and the group laughed.

“Peace, my friends,” Da’ar cautioned. “As pleasing as his death might be, the Tok’ra is the concern of the Council—all members of the Council—although it seem otherwise. We have already witnessed the death of one warrior at the hand of a brother tonight. I would dislike seeing that number increase.”

“Your meaning?” Rak’nor demanded.

Da’ar spread his arms outward. “Only that Teal’c’s mood seemed… volatile. In his concern for the Tok’ra and the reaction of the Tau’ri should any harm come to him, I fear that Teal’c may strike without thought.”

“Teal’c seemed more likely to dispatch our guest himself,” Gar’tok said.

“Then why does he feel the need to protect Malek from fellow Jaffa? It is as if he shares the Tok’ra’s belief that we are incapable of restraint! Is it not enough that we must tolerate such accusations from one who claims the title of diplomat? Must we also expect them from one who would be a leader among us?”

“Master Teal’c does not side with the Tok’ra!”

Da’ar turned toward the speaker—one of the young warriors who had been part of the practice bouts.

“What are you called?”

“I am Kra’tec.”

Da’ar took note of the absence of an honorific but let it pass.

“So, young Kra’tec,” he said. “You are certain of Teal’c’s loyalties?”

“Teal’c wishes the Jaffa Nation to be strong—to take its rightful place in the Alliance.”

“Under the heel of the Tau’ri and the Tok’ra?”

“O’Neill does not wish to control the Jaffa,” Kra’tec said. “He desires only that we succeed. He has pledged his support and aide to that end. I have heard him say this myself this very day!”

“This very day?” Da’ar repeated. “How so?” he asked, knowing the answer already and glad the young fool was so eager to defend Teal’c.

“The Tau’ri communication device,” Kra’tec explained. “You must know—the Council was in session when I was sent for Teal’c.”

“Of course,” Da’ar agreed. “How convenient that you should be present to hear his words.”

“It was not like that!” Kra’tec protested.

“Was it not?” Da’ar asked. “How better to combat the growing unease so many of us feel regarding the Tau’ri interest in the fate of Dakara? Have you not spread word of O’Neill’s benevolence and good will to many other young warriors already?”

Kra’tec’s face flushed and Da’ar smiled.

“It must be a great honor to have the ear of Teal’c of Chulak,” he said. “Your brother warriors are eager to hear you speak of your time together. Are they not?”

Kra’tec shook his head. “No! It is not as you—”

“It is difficult I know,” Da’ar interrupted. “You admire him—trust him—as have we all. Yet the time has come that you should think long and well on his actions. Consider but for a moment what blind loyalty has done for the Jaffa in the past.”

~*~*~

Teal'c moved away from the main meal hall, not looking back to see if the Tok'ra was following. There were some times in his life that he wished things were simple. Tok'ra, Tau'ri, and Jaffa relations were anything but.

"I thought you were 'escorting' me back to my tent?" Malek said, his tone full of sarcasm, his footfalls rough against the dirt. He was still several feet behind the Jaffa and with each passing second—and Teal'c's purposely lengthened strides—was getting further behind.

Without a backward glance, Teal'c replied, his own tone heavy with a cross of boredom and weariness. "I am. If you wish to remain under my protection I suggest you exercise wisdom and quicken your pace."

It took several seconds before Malek's footfalls accelerated, the Tok'ra finally matching Teal'c's stride. A sideward glance at the other man only confirmed Teal'c's initial thought—while the Tok'ra was annoyed he was also not willing to put his life on the line to be obstinate. O'Neill was correct about this one—he did not take unnecessary risks. Perhaps he would also be willing to listen to reason.

Perhaps not. He was Tok'ra after all.

"Why do you bother?"

The nearly whispered question pulled Teal'c from his thoughts. Turning to the other man, he raised an eyebrow allowing his puzzlement to show on his face. Malek did not turn away from his gaze, but merely repeated the question louder.

"Why do you bother?"

"Bother? To what do you refer? That question is neither specific nor explicit. If you intend upon holding a conversation I would recommend that you begin to make some sense."

Looking once again at the dimly lit path toward Malek's tent, Teal'c promptly dismissed the Tok'ra only to be reminded once again of his presence a few seconds later.

"There are many questions to which I refer. Why do you bother with these bickering men? Why do you bother with the Tau'ri? Why do you bother with me? You could have let them have their way and one of your 'problems' would be solved. I ask again, why do you bother?"

A sidelong glance at the other man only emphasized the determination he had—a lone Tok'ra amidst a vengeful and angry people. "There are no easy answers Malek, of this you are well aware."

The Tok'ra nodded, but did not comment further, waiting for Teal'c's answer.

Why did he bother? He'd asked of himself that same question several times. The answer, however, had yet to be enlightening.

"These 'bickering men" as you so eloquently said," Teal'c began, his words slow in coming as he tried to order this thoughts, trying to put some of his feelings into coherent sentences, "are the future of the Jaffa race. If it were not for their bravery and their determination we would not have succeeded in our greatest battles."

"So you owe them something, a debt of gratitude?"

"No." Teal'c slowed his stride, allowing the Tok'ra to walk more easily at his side.

"But that's what it sounds like. Did you not also perform mighty acts? Did you not risk life and limb in the same battles? Was it not you who first publicly turned his back on his god and asked all those willing to join your cause?"

"I was one of many—"

"But you were the one they respected and would again if you truly desired it. No one before you—especially a First Prime—did these things. By your actions you fulfilled the dreams of many Jaffa. Should not they be indebted to you and what you have been forced to endure, to sacrifice?"

"What is done is done. The past shall remain the past. We must look to the future of our people if we are to become the Nation of which we dream."

"If you are so devoted to the Jaffa Nation, why do you bother with the Tau'ri and the Tok'ra? Do they not dilute your true purpose, your true mission? They say that you are weakening the whole by your associations. Some doubt your loyalties. I hear it every day as I walk through the village—in between their curses of my own people but I have grown to ignore it."

"I do not have to explain myself to you," Teal'c said, feeling the need to defend himself and his actions even though he knew what he did was for the benefit of his people and for Earth. "Need I remind you that I was the one who prevented you from being thrown off Dakara? I still have the opportunity to change my mind on that matter."

"Of that I am well aware," Malek said with a slight smile as they walked the remaining yards to the front of the Tok'ra's residence on Dakara. "And may I thank you for your protection this night. Who knows what may have occurred had I not been in your presence."

Teal'c glowered at the man, the teasing plainly evident. "I would recommend remaining here this night. Tomorrow it may be wise for you to contact the Tok'ra Council to determine their wishes."

"We both know what they will say, Teal'c," Malek replied, pausing just outside of his tent, his hand pushing the opening back partway. "I believe you are, as the Tau'ri say, 'stuck with me'."

Teal'c sighed, knowing the truth of the other man's words. The Tok'ra were not ones to back down—especially when it came to the Jaffa.

"Then I believe it would be prudent to take the advice of O'Neill, words he often shared with SG-1."

"And what might that be?"

"Keep your head down so it does not get shot off. You may require it tomorrow."

~*~*~

"Sir?"

Jack O'Neill raised his head, glancing across his desk and toward the door where his aide held it open. The flashing of the alert light in the briefing room reminded him that he'd heard the wail of the incoming wormhole announcement a few minutes ago. Reynolds was doing the 'meet-and-greets' today as the teams returned so O'Neill had decided to ignore all the alarms, choosing to finish the reports he had to get through before his meeting with General Hammond tomorrow. "Walter? There a problem?"

"No, sir. It seems as if the Tok'ra want to speak with you."

"Now?" he asked, gesturing with his hand at the pile of paper in his inbox. Why was it always now?

Harriman nodded, a frown on his face. "They are rather insistent."

"Of course, they are," he muttered, running a hand across his face in an attempt to wipe some of the weariness away. What he needed was a good workout, but ever since Teal'c had gone to Dakara he hadn't found the energy to continue his early morning training sessions by himself.

His chair squeaked as he leaned forward, shifting his weight to push the chair back. Once on his feet he closed the folders lining his desk, dropping his pen to lie on top. "Did they happen to say what they wanted?"

"No, sir," Harriman replied, opening the door wider as O'Neill moved around his desk.

"Did they say anything of consequence?"

"Apart from 'we must speak to O'Neill now', I'd say no, sir."

O'Neill shot him a quick glance, but the Sergeant's expression was serious. "Why is it that they don't understand the simplest things about social manners?" He bee-lined for the stairs heading down into the control room and the connection for the open wormhole, Harriman at his heels.

"I think they may know about them but choose to ignore them," Harriman replied after a moment, causing O'Neill to glance at the other man again. "At least, that's just my opinion, sir."

O'Neill smiled. Harriman had hit the nail on the head. The Tok'ra just chose to be annoying. With his boots thumping down the metal staircase, he made it down the final flight of stairs and met Colonel Reynolds's gaze across the room.

"Colonel," O'Neill began, walking toward the other man as Harriman slid past him, seating himself at the control room console, "who do we have holding?"

"Thoran, sir. We tried to explain that you were in meetings and very busy, but he was very persistent," Reynolds said, his mouth turning down in a frown.

"Annoying little bastard, isn't he?" O'Neill replied as he leaned down toward the microphone. Clicking the transmit button he spoke into the device, his words streaming across the galaxy. "So, Thoran, I see you're racking up the long distance charges. What can the Tau'ri do for you today?"

"We need to talk, O'Neill," Thoran replied, his voice full of tension and anger.

"We're talking. What seems to be the problem?"

"The Tok'ra are not pleased about the situation on Dakara."

O'Neill waited, wondering if that single statement was the entirely of Thoran's message. After several beats of silence, he spoke. "And? Dakara is part of the Jaffa Nation. It's not like we have anything to do with how they run their planet. I suggest you take this up with them."

"That is unacceptable."

"Why?"

"It was you who convinced us and the Jaffa that this arrangement was necessary. We agreed to it, rather reluctantly, and have yet to see any results."

O'Neill rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, trying not to sigh into the microphone. "Malek's been there all of a week. What do you expect? A warm welcome? A ticker-tape parade? All the research and intelligence delivered on a silver platter so he could turn around and head right back through the gate? You've got to give them a chance."

"We have and the results have been anything but promising. The Jaffa are continuing to avoid our representative and refuse to allow him to participate in any excavations. I do not foresee this improving."

"Well, if he's acting like a normal Tok'ra then I can see where he might be running into some roadblocks. You've got to give a little to get a little, Thoran. You should try to learn that someday."

"If this does improve within the next few days the Tok'ra will have no option but to act on our own."

"And do what?" O'Neill took a breath, trying not to lose his temper. General Hammond had asked him to work on patience when it came to the Tok'ra and other alien races. Some days, however, it seemed as if it would be so much easier if he could just knock their heads together. Instead, he had to try and be diplomatic. "We saw what happened the last time you went to Dakara and I don't think anyone wants to go through that again."

"Mark my words, O'Neill," Thoran said, his voice deepening. "We shall act if matters are not resolved to our satisfaction within the next few days."

The snap hiss of the wormhole signaled the end to their conversation and O'Neill straightened up, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "Walter, can you try and get Teal'c? I need to find out what's going on over there."

Reynolds stepped closer, leaning against the console. "We have a team coming home in about ten minutes. Can we wait until after they've gated home?"

O'Neill nodded. "Sure. The geological mission headed in?"

"Yeah. They should be ready for a briefing in about two hours once Doctor Brightman gives them the once-over. You should have plenty of time to reach Teal'c in-between."

"Sounds good. Let me know when you get Teal'c on the line," O'Neill said, already heading back up the stairs and to his office. "And I don't even want to know what kind of long distance bill I've been racking up these past few months. I'm glad I don't get charged by the minute. I think Dakara might be out of my calling plan."

~*~*~

Teal'c walked through the camp, the air carrying only a hint of the heat he knew would come by mid-day. It was quiet this early in the morning most everyone still fast asleep, but it was also the best time of day for Teal'c to get some exercise.

When O'Neill didn’t have time to spar, Teal'c had started running—a pastime he had gotten from the other man. He hadn't understood the reasoning behind running if there was no one in pursuit, but O'Neill had explained the physical benefits. And while it still seemed odd, had joined the other man in several early morning runs.

Now, it seemed as if the running were the only exercise he managed to squeeze into his busy days. Between administrative and logistical nightmares coupled with endless Council meetings, there was always something to do, someone always wanting his time and attention.

Reaching the edge of the camp, he took several moments to stretch, warming up his muscles before he took to the footpath behind the great weapon that led through the ruins of the ancient city. Leaving his towel in a little nook he'd discovered early on, he took off, never looking behind.

The rhythm of his steps was calming, providing the beat for his meandering thoughts. With every stride the worries and aggravations melted away, leaving only the physical—his deep breaths, the sweat glazing his body and running down his face, the crunch of gravel and rocks beneath his feet, the whisper of dry flora rubbing against stone, the buzz of insects engaged in their own daily routines.

And at the furthest point in his run, he came upon the small pool of shimmering blue water, a haven amid a dry and parched land, an eternal spring hidden deep within the ruins, a spring he'd discovered several days after they'd arrived. It was no match to the large underground springs in the village, but it was perfect for him. Secluded and quiet, this small water source was the final piece he needed.

Stopping beside the pool, he knelt against the rock wall, dipping his hand into the basin, letting the coolness spread up his arm.

Closing his eyes he listened to the world surrounding him, the sounds now complete with the trickling of water.

Here, even if only for a moment, he could find peace.


~*~*~

"So we believe that P3X-251 is a prime location for an additional base if it becomes necessary. The terrain surrounding the gate is well fortified and the gate is defendable," said Doctor R. Chris Heining, SG-10's resident geologist. The team had returned from their planetary survey several hours ago and the longer-than-usual briefing—now clocking close to an hour and a half long—was finally wrapping up.

"Any mineral deposits? Mines? Other signs of inhabitants?"

"Nothing, sir," replied Captain John Moore, glancing across the table to his second, Lieutenant Paulette Colville. "No sign of ruins or any recent gate activity. The UAV didn't pick up any signs of life either. I'd recommend a more thorough investigation of the planet if we wanted to move ahead and do the preliminary ground-work for an additional off-world location."

O'Neill nodded, his eyes scanning the report before him. There was something else odd about the planet, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. "I thought Colonel Carter had mentioned something—"

"It's location?" Lieutenant George Seyler asked, jumping in. Apparently all scientists were the same.

"What about it?" O'Neill asked, raising his head to meet the other man's eye.

"From the best estimates we can make, we think this planet is in the middle of the gate network. And while we can't get an exact reading on the age of the gate on P3X-251, we can tell that it is one of the oldest gates that we have encountered."

O'Neill nodded, flipping the report closed and drumming his fingers on top. "Thank you for your thorough report. You're dismissed and on stand down until your next mission in three days."

Standing, O'Neill headed for his office. He heard SG-10 shuffling the pages of their reports together, talking and joking as they left the room and he pushed the door, not closing it entirely. Dropping the file on his desk he hit the speakerphone button on his phone connecting him directly with the control room where he knew his aide was.

"Control room."

"Walter?"

"Sir," he replied instantly. "We haven't been able to get hold of Teal'c yet."

"What do you mean?" he asked, sliding into his chair as it creaked under his weight.

"He's apparently not in his quarters and could be just about anywhere. The Jaffa I spoke with promised to leave a message in Teal'c's quarters. That's the best I could do."

"That's great, Walter. Thanks. Keep trying, will you?"

"Will do, sir," he replied, hanging up. O'Neill punched the button again, terminating the call on his end.

Shaking his head, he reached for another folder. There were two more team briefings today before he could even think about lunch. Sighing, he leaned back and tried to concentrate on yet another thrilling scientific report.

~*~*~

Slowing down as he reached the edge of the camp, Teal'c took several deep breaths, letting the oxygen fill his lungs. Releasing it gradually, he savored the last few seconds of tranquility, hoping that the feeling would last until the council meeting later in the day. He knew that he was going to need whatever strength and fortitude to get through today's meetings—especially after the incident last night the evening meal.

Sighing, Teal'c paused at the edge of the ruins, using the solid structure to lean against, stretching his muscles one last time. Picking up his small towel where he'd left it in a small outcropping high on the wall, he vigorously rubbed his face, wiping the moisture away.

Walking slowly thorough the now awakening camp, the towel draped around his neck, his eyes slid over the people scattered throughout. Kids raced through the open paths causing some adults to stop short when one passed too close. Cook fires set smoke high into the sky, the smell of cooking meats and baking breads drifting on the air, making his stomach growl. He needed to get something to eat before heading to the room that had become his office.

Raised voices, however, drew his attention. They were loud and angry and at this time of the morning never bode well.

Picking up the pace, he ducked down one of the "streets" heading to the source of the disturbance as more voices added to the din.

Turning several corners, Teal'c finally spotted the parties in question. Their faces red in anger, their gestures sharp and pointed, they were hard to miss. Several Jaffa stood behind each of the men, their body language indicating that a single wrong word or misinterpreted gesture would begin an all-out brawl.

"What is going on here?" he asked, drawing their gaze. Annoyance flashed across their faces.

"It is none of your concern, Tau'ri-lover," snarled the older Jaffa, a symbol of Cronus on his forehead.

Teal'c stepped closer, letting the insult slide. In other circumstances he may have killed this Jaffa where he stood, but as a member of the Council he was supposed to show more understanding and tolerance. "Anything that happens on Dakara is my concern. Be quick and tell me what has occurred before I loose my temper."

"He has disrespected my family," replied the younger Jaffa, a dark tattoo matching Teal'c's own on his forehead.

"What is your name?"

"Ciqala"

Teal'c inclined his head toward the younger man before turning to the other Jaffa. "And yours?"

"Nairi," he replied reluctantly, scowling. With the growing crowd, apparently Nairi had decided it might be best to cooperate.

"How then has Nairi disrespected your family?" Teal'c asked, his attention once again on the younger Jaffa.

Glancing over his shoulder toward the warriors behind him, Ciqala straightened his shoulders and turned around, obviously gaining confidence from the support of his fellow Jaffa. "He has violated my sister."

"It was a personal matter between us, Ciqala. There was no need for you to be involved," Nairi argued, his eyes flashing.

"A personal matter? She is under the protection of my family and yet you—"

"Kree!" Teal'c yelled, his patience at an end. He paused for a few seconds, waiting until they'd settled down and stepped back a few paces.

"Am I to understand that your sister has been involved with Nairi? Is it not her decision?"

"Jab'ri is young," Ciqala said.

"She is old enough to know what she wants and I am not the first. Is it to be her fault that you cannot provide enough for her?" Nairi taunted.

"We have enough but yet you whisper in her ear, trying to convince her that your family is better, that you can do more for her. You tell her that we are weak. I will not stand for that kind of slander!"

"Shel kree! Is Jab'ri of age?"

"She turns 32 cycles in a few passings of the moon," Ciqala replied.

"Then it is her choice in this matter. While you disapprove, she does have the right to make her own decisions. And Nairi, it does not befit the stature of a Jaffa to speak against your Jaffa brother. I suggest you desist in this activity. For the next time I hear of this matter I shall let Ciqala take his family's honor from you. Am I understood?"

Pinning each man with his gaze, he waited until he received nods of acknowledgement before he continued. "Good. Now, be on your way and let this never occur again."

He waited as the crowds dispersed, watching to see if they were indeed going to let the matter drop. It hadn't been the first incident of this nature and Teal'c knew it wouldn't be the last. It seemed as if the remaining System Lords did not decide to attack the Jaffa Nation than it might merely implode by itself.

Shaking his head, he continued on to his quarters, the tranquility from his early morning run already gone.

~*~*~

"And you should have seen Sam's face when she picked herself up out of that mud puddle," Daniel said, smiling broadly as he waved his fork in the air, salad greens speared on the end. "She had this thick glop of it hanging from the end of her nose." Daniel laughed, his eyes twinkling as he glanced at Sam Carter sitting beside him. She, however, did not look as amused as her teammate.

"Well, if you'd said something earlier—" she began, only to be cut off by the other man.

"What? I tried to warn you but you insisted on stomping around the ruins. Besides, you know what happens on dirt planets after a storm, or at least I thought you did."

"So," O'Neill said, eyeing the two scientists across from him at mess hall table, "how are the two replacements working out so far? Things seem to be going well."

Carter shrugged non-commitally, while Daniel turned back to his salad. "Okay, campers. What's the problem?"

"I don't think they're going to work out, Jack," Daniel finally answered, pushing a grape tomato around on his plate. "Do you know when Teal'c's coming back to the SGC?"

He sighed, dropping his tuna sandwich back on his plate and wiping his fingers on his napkin. "I thought we'd been through this already."

"We know you said that it was Teal'c's decision and that Dakara needed his leadership, but we thought you might know something else," Carter said. "Have you had the chance to talk to him about it again?"

"As a matter of fact, I haven't talked to him in a few days. Walter's been trying to get hold of him for me."

"Oh, for what?" Daniel asked before chewing on a mouthful of salad. How any grown man could only eat a salad for lunch was beyond him, but apparently Daniel had recently become attached to the leafy, green objects.

"The Tok'ra are breathing down our necks again about 'getting results'," O'Neill replied, his fingers making quotation marks in the air. "Apparently, whatever reports Malek is giving to the Tok'ra Council aren't making them happy. I'm trying to get the lowdown from Teal'c, but he's unavailable. Which reminds me," he said, glancing at his watch and pushing back his chair, his half-eaten sandwich still on his plate. "I have to get back up there. Walter was going to give Dakara another call."

"Tell Teal'c hello from us," Daniel said, smiling.

"Will do and enjoy the rest of your lunch," O'Neill said, already moving to the door.

"But, sir," Carter called, "you didn't finish your lunch."

"Don't worry, Carter. Water's wife sent cake."

~*~*~

Teal'c glanced up from the pile of pages in front of him at the sound of a brisk knock. He smiled when he caught sight of the young warrior, but his pleasure quickly turned to concern at the other man's dower expression.

"Kra'tec, come in. Is there a problem?"

"Master Teal'c, I felt I must speak with you," Kra'tec said, taking the chair Teal'c indicated with his hand. "It was about your conversation with O'Neill the other day."

"Yes? There is no need for you to feel uncomfortable because you overheard what I said to O'Neill. If I did not desire you to be there you would have been asked to leave."

"No, Master Teal'c, that is not the problem," he began, pausing for a moment. Teal'c let him have the time, giving him a moment to order his thoughts. "Other Jaffa have begun questioning your motives in allowing me to overhear that conversation, saying that I am merely your pawn spreading misinformation and false stories about the Tau'ri. They say that your loyalties are not with the Jaffa Nation, but you are one of the great Jaffa heroes, how can they both be true?"

Kra'tec looked away, as if ashamed. "I should not have approached you with this. I am sorry," he said, already rising to his feet, his gaze unable to meet Teal'c's.

"Kra'tec, please be seated." Waiting as the young warrior took his seat, Teal'c took a deep breath. He had hoped this would not happen, but it seemed as if his enemies had taken their grievances against him to another level. No longer were they only within the council chambers. "It took great courage for you to come here and I applaud that. You are wiser than many other Jaffa that I know and yet you have this wisdom at such a young age. I cannot guide you on this matter. I can only say this: listen to what is said and watch the actions of others. Only when the words and deeds are united does truth emerge. I know you will come to the correct conclusion in these matters."

Kra'tec didn't say a word, simply nodding his head solemnly. "Was there anything else, Kra'tec?"

"Only a reminder of the Council session this afternoon. Several other council members have returned from their travels abroad."

"I remember. Thank you for the reminder."

Kra'tec rose, bowing slightly to Teal'c. "I shall take my leave of you, Master."

"You may." Teal'c offered a small smile to the young man as he departed before turning back to his paperwork. Several minutes later, a light knock broke his concentration. Expecting to see the young Jaffa warrior again, he was surprised to find a small figure hiding just outside of his office.

"Yes? May I help you?"

The young girl stepped forward, her steps hesitant. "Master Teal'c?"

"Yes, little one?"

She rushed forward, her nervousness palatable. "I wanted to give you these," she said thrusting her hand forward, her fingers clutching a bouquet of wilted yellow wild flowers.

"Thank you, but why?"

"Because you are Master Teal'c," she replied as if the very question was silly.

"Thank you," he replied as she placed the weeds on his desk and ran for the door. Before he could stop her, ask her name, she was gone, the small yellow blossoms the only evidence of her presence.

After fingering the small bouquet, he turned back to his paperwork, a small smile on his face.

~*~*~

"Walter," O'Neill called as he caught sight of his aide walking past his door. A few seconds later the sergeant poked his head in the office, a questioning expression on his face.

"Yes, sir? Did you enjoy the cake?"

"Very much so. Tell your wife she can bake me a cake anytime she wants."

"I will, sir. Was there something else?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. Have we been able—"

"No, sir, Not yet."

"How many times have you tried?"

"Before or after lunch?"

"After."

"Six."

"Six?"

"Yes, sir. Twice an hour."

"Oh."

"Would you like us to try again now? It's about time anyway."

"No, Walter. I think it's my turn," O'Neill replied, rising to his feet, the joints in his back screaming in protest. He needs to move around more. He was starting to stiffen up from sitting at his desk so much.

"You don't have to, sir," Walter protested, following Jack to the control room.

"I know I don't, but can’t I give it a shot?" O'Neill walked up behind the gate technician. "Sergeant Alberts, dial up Dakara for me."

"Yes, sir. Dialing Dakara. It'll be a few moments, sir."

O'Neill nodded. "Of course." He turned back to Water who was still hovering nearby. "So what excuses do they give as to why we can't talk to him?"

"They're different every time, sir. He's unavailable. He's in a meeting. He's eating lunch. He asked not to be disturbed. He can't be found. I'm surprised they haven't given us the 'sorry, he's left the planet for the day' excuse, but I'm sure it's coming."

"The runaround, Walter?"

"Seems that way," he replied as the Stargate burst to life.

"Connected to Dakara, Sir," Alberts said as O'Neill turned to the relay microphone.

"O'Neill to Teal'c, you there buddy?"

The video conferencing was working, but it didn't look like there was anyone in the room with the MALP. Waiting a few seconds he tried again. "SGC to Teal'c, over."

A moment or two passed before he heard something in the background and a young Jaffa ran into view. "This is Kra'tec, how may I be of service?"

"Kra'tec, this is O'Neill from the SGC. I'm looking for Teal'c. He around?"

"I’m sorry, but he is currently in a Council session and cannot be disturbed," he replied helpfully. "Can I relay a message to him once the meeting has concluded?"

"Yes, please. Let him know that O'Neill of the Tau'ri wishes to speak with him."

"I shall relate that message. It is my honor to serve you in this matter." Kra'tec inclined his head toward the camera as O'Neill gestured for the connection to be cut.

"Shut it down. O'Neill out."

Glancing back and forth between Harriman and Alberts, O'Neill sighed. "Well, that got us nowhere."

~*~*~

"These planets are unacceptable," Da'ar said, pacing along the center of the Council chamber, his hands gesturing widely. "These new reports only clarify matters. The Jaffa are destined to rule and live here on Dakara."

"And what happens when the food runs out?" Rak'nor asked. "Or when plague sweeps through the villages? Would you have our entire race wiped out in one fell swoop because you do not desire to live somewhere other than Dakara?"

"We will survive, the Jaffa always survive," Da'ar said, waving off the criticisms as if they were a minor annoyance.

"Yes, but if the Jaffa leaders have no one to govern where is the glory in that?" Bra'tac asked, rising to his feet. "We have been arguing about this for several hours and the dinner hour has come and gone. Would it not be wise for us to adjourn until we morning when we can reconvene refreshed?"

"Your words are wise," Gar'toc said, similarly rising. "Tomorrow will come quickly enough."

As the council members meandered out of the room, Teal'c remained behind waiting in silence beside Bra'tac.

"You are troubled, Teal'c," the older warrior said once they were alone, his face showing his concern.

"This is not the Nation that we intended on founding, is it?"

Bra'tac sighed and began walking toward the meal tent, Teal'c matching his stride and pace. "No, it is not, but that does mean that we should give up on it."

"It is merely…difficult at times. We move forward on one point but slide backwards on several others. I feel as if I am constantly juggling several delicate objects. I am concerned as to what may happen if we drop one of them."

"I likewise, an concerned, but I also believe that things will attend to themselves. If this Nation is to be successful, there is nothing we can do to help it or stop it. We must simply do what we believe is best for our people."

Teal'c sighed. That was not the answer he was looking for, but Bra'tac was not in the mood to be forthcoming this day. "Shall we see about dinner before there is nothing remaining?"

"Yes. I believe a shipment of apshaak arrived before the council session began. Come, let us make sure we obtain one for ourselves."

~*~*~

"I'm sorry, sir," Walter said, swiveling his chair to face O'Neill, "But he's still available."

"Still?" he asked, rubbing a hand across his face. It was nearly eight at night and there had been no sign of Teal'c all day, just a slew of well-meaning Jaffa who promised to relay messages.

"And the excuse this time?"

"I believe he said that he was in a dinner meeting and currently unavailable."

" A dinner meeting?" O'Neill's eyebrow rose, his tone sarcastic.

"Would you like me to dial—"

"No, Walter, I believe you. I'm just frustrated."

"Understandable, sir."

"Call it a night, Walter. Go home to your wife. I have one last call to make and this one is to an old friend of ours in Washington."

~*~*~

Teal'c smiled warmly at Bra'tac as he paused at the door to his quarters. "It has been a most enjoyable evening," he said, truly feeling at home for the first time since he'd arrived on Dakara.

"It is good to see a smile on your face, Teal'c. You have been solemn too long. Not every day must be addressed with a frown."

"I know, Master. Good night to you."

Bra'tac nodded and melted into the darkness. Turning into his quarters, Teal'c stepped just inside the door, letting him eyes scan across the room and his belongings. There was more here than he thought—both his and Ishta's. How easily could he just remain here in her company and in the company of the other Jaffa warriors.

But yet, his heart also yearned for the hallways of the SGC and the streets of Colorado Springs. For a man who'd been labeled a traitor, a man with no true home, he was now blessed to find two.

Blessed and cursed for they were tearing him apart.

Sighing, he moved toward the bed, the day's worries and problems crashing down upon him. Tomorrow was another day. If he could just get through it in one piece…

~*~*~

"Jack, what's going on?" Daniel said, entering the locker room and eyeing O'Neill strangely as he put the finishing touches on his BDUs, fastening down his holster to his thigh and sliding the nine mil in place.

"What do you mean?" he asked, glancing at the archeologist. Behind him, O'Neill could see Carter hovering at the door. "Come in, Carter, I'm dressed."

"Sir?" she asked, moving into the locker room. "Reynolds told us to report to the locker room and get geared up but he didn't tell us anything else. What's going on, sir?"

"Taking a little trip and General Hammond insisted that I take back-up. I thought you might want to go on a little field trip."

"Field trip?" Daniel asked, moving to his locker, already starting to get himself together.

"Since we can't get the man to the mountain, the mountain is going to the man."

"Sir?" Carter asked, a smile on her face as she moved to her own area. "The Jaffa frustrating you, sir?"

"Hell, yeah. And since the Tok'ra aren't about ready to take 'we don't know anything' as an answer, Hammond agreed that it might be time to go and wave the flag."

"Full kit, sir?" Carter asked, her movements efficient as she quickly pulled herself together.

"Light armament. We are supposedly going somewhere friendly. How long?"

"We just need a few minutes, sir," she replied.

"Good. I'll meet you in the gateroom."

~*~*~

The sun shining through the opening in the side of his quarters woke him and he realized that he'd slept far longer than he wanted.

Sitting up, he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He had been tired, but not more than usual. He moved slowly, rising from his bed to stumble around his room, his limbs apparently still slumbering.

A brief glance outside only reinforced his initial thought. If he did not hurry he would end up missing the morning meal.

And where was Kra'tec? The young warrior was never tardy. This did not bode well.

Teal'c rushed through his morning routine, only half straightening the room as he threw on a new ensemble of clothing. It was nearly time to have everything washed, but there was never time.

Did the Council set a time for the meeting today? He did not remember, but something told him that it would not behoove his already tenuous position if he were late. Not knowing the time would not be a sufficient excuse either.

A brisk knock at the door turned him around quickly. "It is about time—" he began only to stop speaking as he caught sight of the person standing at his door.

"You know," O'Neill said, his arms crossed over his chest, "you're a hard man to get hold of."

~*~*~

O’Neill couldn’t help the grin that appeared on his face. Teal’c actually looked speechless—well, more so than usual anyway.

“What? No ‘Hello, how are ya? Glad to see you!’” Jack asked.

“I am pleased to see you, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied. “Your presence is simply unexpected.”

“Unexpected? I tried to reach you all day yesterday and kept getting the run around. To be honest, I was starting to worry.”

Teal’c stepped back and gestured for him to enter the room.

“You didn’t get my message, did you?” Jack asked as he stepped inside.

Teal’c frowned. “Indeed not,” he confirmed, closing the door.

“I’m sure it just got lost in the shuffle,” Jack said, trying to sound convincing and failing miserably.

“I will speak with the Jaffa who were posted to relay such messages,” Teal’c said, “but I doubt it will serve any purpose.”

Jack didn’t like what he heard in Teal’c’s voice—resignation, bitterness.

“Well, you know me,” he said, “anything to get out of the office. After trying to track you down yesterday and realizing that you seem to be even busier than me…I figured it was time to try for a face-to-face.”

“I appreciate your concern, O’Neill. It is good to see you.”

Okay, Jack thought. Something is definitely wrong if the big guy was getting all emotional on him.

“Where’s Ishta?” Jack asked in an attempt to lighten Teal’c’s unusually—even for him—somber mood.

“She was required on New Hak’tyl,” Teal’c explained. “She will return when she is able.”

“I kinda thought she’d stick around here full-time,” Jack said.

“Ishta and the other women have grown accustomed to their lives as warriors. Such a role for women is not widely accepted by most Jaffa. With so many in the camps, Ishta felt there would be less trouble if they remained on New Hak’tyl. Some of the male warriors who are willing have settled there as well.”

“Hey, what red-blooded guy wouldn’t be willing?”

“There were many disagreements between the men and those Hak’tyl who accompanied Ishta to Dakara. Some of them were settled in combat,” Teal’c explained.

“So much for burning bras,” Jack commented. “Look, do me a favor and don’t get Carter started on this. Okay?” The Jaffa had their hands full enough with trying to form a viable government without a militant—in every sense of the word—women’s movement on top of everything. Carter had already made noises about the entirely male Council. He didn’t disagree but you had to take things one step at a time—particularly when dealing with a race such as the Jaffa.

He paused, trying to think of a better way to ask, but came up with nothing. Guess direct was better than nothing at all. "So, T, what's up with Malek?"

"He is fortunate to still draw breath," replied Teal'c. "He tries my patience."

"Don't they all?" Jack asked. "Look, Thoran contacted me-"

"If the Tok'ra High Council wishes to discuss the affairs of the Jaffa, they should contact us directly."

"That's what I told them," Jack said quickly. "I thought you should know they're getting pretty antsy. Thoran made some noises about the Tok'ra coming to Dakara to deal with the situation."

"Ha'taaka! The situation is of their own making. I can not believe even the Tok'ra to be so foolish as to attempt to oppose us by force."

“You know how they are,” Jack interjected. “All sound and fury. I tried to tell them they needed to give Malek more time—let him take things slowly. If he makes waves, it’s only going to get worse.”

“I have attempted to convince Malek of the same,” Teal’c said. “His very presence incites dissent among many of the Jaffa.”

“I’d hoped he’d be willing to take things easy.”

“He has been very patient—for a Tok’ra,” Teal’c conceded. “Bra’tac and I believe it is best to limit his involvement with other Jaffa to those individuals we feel best able to look beyond his race. Such things take time but it is not our intention to keep Malek in isolation indefinitely.”

Jack nodded. Their plan made perfect sense—unless you had trigger-happy Tok’ra waiting in the wings. The Tok’ra had to have their egos stroked regularly. All they needed was to buy Teal’c and Bra’tac time to let the rest of the Jaffa get used to the idea of a Tok’ra in their midst.

“I think Thoran will back off if you could throw Malek a bone or two,” Jack said.

“I will consider it,” Teal’c said. “Malek has not made matters easy by insulting Da’ar and other members of the Council within full view of a great many of our warriors.”

Jack sighed. Teal’c would do the best that he could. It was all they could hope for at this point.

“I certainly don’t envy you, Teal’c. I know things have been rough lately.” Jack’s hand strayed to the nearby table, his fingers picking at the wax from a candle.

“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed. “To have defeated the Goa’uld only to find my brother Jaffa are now my enemies is most difficult. I have not regretted my time among the Tau’ri nor our friendship, O’Neill.”

“I know that,” Jack said, rolling a small ball of wax in his fingers. “You know, Teal’c, I realize that you are in a pretty tough spot—having to constantly explain the SGC’s involvement with Jaffa business. I appreciate you sticking up for us—hey, we need the Jaffa as much as you need us.”

“It is not a thing the majority of the Council easily believes.”

“No, I suppose not,” Jack said. “I think they just need time, you know? If you could concentrate on getting things running here on Dakara then maybe the rest of it will fall into place?”

Jack raised his head and looked Teal’c in the eye.

“There is much to be done,” Teal’c said.

“Yeah, I know. Maybe you should think about staying on Dakara full time?”

“Am I not already doing so?” Teal’c asked.

“Yes, but you haven’t actually said whether or not you’ll make it permanent. Have you?”

Teal’c remained silent and Jack had his answer.

“It seems to me that you’ve reached a stalemate. Your ties to Earth aren’t helping—they’ve become Da’ar’s way of discrediting you. I don’t want to be the reason you are unable to help your people. You’ve worked for this for too long. Don’t throw it all away because you feel you owe us something. Any debts between us were repaid long ago.”

~*~*~

The Council meeting was already in session when he walked in, moving past the warriors guarding the doors. Da'ar had the floor once again, his hands gesturing as he paced the length of the room. Standing to the side, letting the sounds crash over him, Teal'c realized just how charismatic the Jaffa warrior could be.

He said all the things people wanted to hear.

He spoke of the glory of the Jaffa Nation. Their honor. Their pride. Their future.

Who could argue with him about any of those things? And, whoever did argue seemed as if they were working against the Jaffa people themselves.

Da'ar was more devious and smarter than Teal'c first realized.

"Teal'c." The word dripped with distain. He turned to face Da'ar, keeping his face neutral. "We did not think you were going to join us this morning. Once we heard that the Tau'ri had journeyed to Dakara we knew you would be far too occupied with their demands and orders to grace us with your presence in the council chamber."

"They have since departed," he replied, holding onto his temper. "Was there a reason I was not informed of the time of this meeting? Were you intending upon excluding me even before the Tau'ri arrived? Or by not allowing messages from the Tau'ri to reach me yesterday did you assume they would send a representative to speak with me thereby ensuring I would be occupied while this session occurred?"

Teal'c met Da'ar's gaze solidly, daring him to look away.

Tolok stepped forward, drawing Teal'c's attention. "If what you say is true why has this deception occurred? Of what benefit would it be to the Council of all if its members do not have a voice?"

"That point is immaterial now," Teal'c said, moving to the center of the floor, his flowing robes gliding behind him. "It is your attention I wish to have and I thank Da'ar for opening the floor to me." Teal'c bowed toward the other warrior, waiting until Da'ar stepped back to take his seat.

"We are a proud people. An honorable race. A nation of the verge of true independence and freedom. However, we are also at a turning point. What we do during these very difficult times will chart the course of our Nation's future.

"We must not fail our people."

Teal'c paced the floor, the council members silent. "It has taken us centuries to reach this point and I certainly wish to make sure that the Jaffa Nation has centuries more of honor and glory and prosperity before it. But if we continue on the path we're on, if we continue bickering and arguing, and deceiving each other, we shall go down in history as the greatest failure to our people. As the ones who caused the downfall of the great and powerful Jaffa.

"And the Tok'ra and the Goa'uld would have been correct in their assessment.

"I, for one, do not wish for this to occur."

Teal'c turned to eye each member of the Council. "Do you?"

"It is time that we put our past grievances behind us and look ahead to a future full of cooperation and work toward it. But before we can reach out our hand in friendship to others, we must extend that same hand to each other.

"Petty arguments and disagreements do not become us. They only tear us down, little by little, until there is nothing left to build upon. Do not tear down your brothers and sisters. Instead, help to build them up. Strong families make strong villages. Strong villages make strong communities. And strong communities make a strong nation. Let us be that strong Nation."

Teal'c gazed around the room, meeting Bra'tac's eyes, seeing the pride in his teacher's face.

"The choice is yours to make. There are two paths remaining before you: life and death. Choose wisely, for this decision will affect not only your life, but the lives of generations of Jaffa to come."

Bowing to the assembled Council, Teal'c walked slowly toward the door, letting the silence of the room fall over him. Opening the door, he stepped outside and let the door close quietly behind him.

One decision had been made. There was only one left.

~*~*~

“Off-world activation, sir,” Alberts said. “It’s Teal’c’s IDC.”

O’Neill nodded. “Open the iris,” he ordered.

“Yes, sir,” Alberts acknowledged.

Already headed for the stairs, Jack barely heard him. His thoughts raced as he realized the moment had finally arrived.

Teal’c had made a decision.

Jack tried to push aside the apprehension he felt as he made his way down the stairs. His conversation with Teal’c kept replaying itself in his head. He believed what he’d said. Straddling two worlds was pulling Teal’c apart. He couldn’t continue it indefinitely.

They’d always known this day would have to come—that this decision would need to be made.

The iris was already open by the time Jack entered the gateroom. Jack faced the pulsating event horizon and waited—the moment seeming to stretch itself out—and then suddenly there was the unmistakable sound of someone stepping through.

Teal’c stood on the ramp, staff weapon in hand, a leather bag hanging by a strap on one shoulder—dressed in standard issue green BDUs.

Jack nearly smiled but stopped himself.

Teal’c walked slowly down the ramp until they were face-to-face.

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.

“Very,” Teal’c replied.

“Well then,” Jack said, finally letting loose the smile he’d been holding back since he’d first seen Teal’c step through the gate. “Welcome home.”


~*~*~

The End

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