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Meet on the Ledge

by cofax

[Story Headers]

The second level of the al-kesh was empty, just like the first. Sam hesitated a moment, then waved Marie off to check the cargo holds and headed for the engine room by herself. The colonel wouldn't want them splitting up, but they didn't have time to waste.

Trotting along the brass-colored corridors of a Goa'uld ship, weapon slick in her hands and her nerves twitching--it felt like old times. If it weren't for the stained sneakers and sleeveless t-shirt she was wearing, she could almost fool herself into believing she would see Teal'c around the corner, or share a disbelieving grin with Daniel.

Sam paused at the corner and peered down the hallway. Still nothing; she frowned. Not that she was hoping to run into Jaffa, but al-kesh weren't so common that even a Goa'uld as arrogant as Kiralla would leave one unguarded. Something was wrong.

There was nothing to be done about it, though; Sam shrugged and moved on, thankful for the soft soles on her sneakers. They didn't last as long, but they were a lot better for covert work than combat boots. There was the doorway to the engine room. Still no guards.

At least, no guards outside. From where she stood, Sam could see only a third of the room, and in that third she could see the toes of a Jaffa, pointing straight upwards. His staff lay crossways on his shins.

Okay, that was weird.

Sam checked the corridor behind her once more, then slipped into the room, setting her back against the wall next to the door.

Someone was standing at the workstation in front of the master crystal panel, tapping controls, his back to the door. Whoever he was, he wasn't Jaffa: he was wearing a green jumpsuit in an unpleasantly shiny material. A zat lay on the top of the workstation.

Sam brought her weapon to hip height and tiptoed forward. She really didn't want to start a firefight here: she couldn't risk the noise. But she needed to know--ah. There it was, that vaguely-nauseated sensation that Janet had always sworn was entirely in her head. Not a Jaffa, then, and not a human with unfortunate taste in clothes. One of the Goa'uld was making a move on Kiralla. Too bad about his timing. Too bad for him, anyway.

"Raise your hands and step away from the panel."

His hands stilled and his back stiffened, but he didn't move.

"I won't repeat myself." Sam clicked off the safety on her precious P90.

This time he listened to her. He stepped backwards one pace, lifting his hands to shoulder height. "Quite a surprise to meet you here, Major Carter." Not a voice she recognized, but he clearly knew hers. Which wasn't good. If one of the Goa'uld expected to meet her here, they had a leak. The Colonel was not going to be pleased.

"Turn around."

He turned around, slowly, and her heart stopped. Short brown hair, regular features, blue eyes.

Daniel.

"What is this, a joke?" Her voice cracked; the weapon shook in her hands.

This Goa'uld couldn't be Daniel, because Daniel was dead, damnit, he died when the mountain came down. Daniel was safe and free from all of the death and the hunger and the grief that had come since. Daniel was gone.

"No joke, Sam," and now the snake was using Daniel's voice. Her mind spun. She thought of Asgard clones and Nirrti's genetic experiments and the androids in Harlan's database. "It's really me. I'm a Tok'ra--"

"Shut up." Sam backed up a step, pulling herself together. "Daniel's dead. And if he isn't, he wishes he were." She waved the gun to the left, where the guard was still on the floor. Dead, probably. "Go over there and sit down."

He nodded, and walked across the room, but kept his eyes on her face. "It's really me, Sam. I'm a Tok'ra--"

This time she snarled. "Did you hear me say shut up?"

He shut up.

Keeping her weapon on him one-handed, Sam picked up the zat from the console and checked its charge. Still good, so she kept him covered with the zat while she toggled her radio.

"Jack, this is Queen."

Her prisoner's head jerked once as she spoke, and then he subsided again, looking down at his hands. There was no way he was a Tok'ra: he was on Earth when the Goa'uld hit, and they had destroyed the gate. There was no way the Tok'ra came all the way to Earth, and found Daniel of all people to implant. If he had a symbiote, he was a Goa'uld.

"This is Jack," replied Marie.

"I'm at target, but there's a joker in the deck," said Sam. "If you're clear, I could use some backup."

"Roger that, Queen. I was done here anyway." The radio went silent. Sam stared at the prisoner without speaking for the three and a half minutes it took Marie to sneak through the nearly-empty al-kesh and join them. She opened her mouth once or twice to speak, and then thought better of it.

She really ought to kill him now; but he might have some intel they could use. And the Colonel--well, the Colonel would want to know. Sam fingered the end of her braid and thought about how Kal had died.

Daniel deserved better.


// herpetology 1 //

"Oh, god. Ow. Ow, ow, ow."

Ah, so you're awake finally?

"Who are--oh."

Senneth, yes. I know you were expecting me.

"Right. I just--didn't expect it to hurt so much."

Don't blame me for that, young one. You're the one who fought the blending so hard.

"Young one? They told me you were one of the youngest--"

*Born of Egeria's last hatching before she was lost to us. Which still makes me far far older than any Tau'ri. Back to my point: you agreed to this blending. Why fight it so hard?*

". . . I have bad associations with symbiotes. No offense intended."

*None taken. And such associations would be--? Oh, I see. Yes, that was a difficult business: we were all very saddened by Kanan's loss--*

"Stop it! You're--you can't just rummage through my brain!"

*Just what did you expect blending to be, Jackson? Our neural fibers are entwined with each other, and with every hour that passes they grow more interconnected. Before long you won't be able to tell which thoughts are yours, and which are mine.*

"Oh, god."

*I can see this is going to be a lengthy transition. Let's start slowly: I've been waiting quite a long time for you to wake up so we could go urinate.*

"Oh, god."


Marie held the zat on the snake while Sam pried open the drawers on the control panel. She counted carefully under her breath, then plucked out one of the tall green crystals in the lower drawer and swapped it for a clear crystal in the upper drawer.

"That won't do what you want it to," commented the symbiote. The voice was weirdly resonant: it really didn't sound anything like Daniel. When Sam cocked her head in inquiry, he continued, "I already programmed those crystals. Your commands won't take."

Marie raised the zat, but Sam shook her head at her, and instead stood up to check the panel. The snake was right: it had all been reprogrammed. Sam frowned, tapped a few controls, and checked again. Shit, the al-kesh was programmed to self-destruct in less than two hours!

"What the hell did you do?" Sam snatched up the P90 and dropped its muzzle level with the Goa'uld's head.

And who was he? The Goa'uld were constantly scheming amongst themselves, and the resistance had made use of that in the past, but now would be a very bad time for them all to fall out. Just a few more weeks . . . .

He shrugged elaborately, an unfamiliar calculating look on his face. "If I tell you, will you let me live?"

"If you don't, I definitely won't." Sam clicked off the safety again. It was a clichd threat, but a more menacing one than the zat.

"Oh, fine." Okay, that sounded like Daniel. He waved a hand generally toward the panel. "I hooked the secondary registry into the master power coupling, then severed the connection with the pressure controls. You should be able to fix it by reinstalling those crystals, re-establishing the pressure control connection, and re-initializing the master matrix."

Marie was unconvinced. "Don't listen to him, Major, he's a Goa'uld!" She was a little wide-eyed for Sam's comfort. Few of the resistance members had ever been this close to an actual snake in control of a host, although most had by now encountered a few Jaffa.

"I know, Marie. Just give me a minute here." Sam pried up another panel and began digging around in the guts of the system. After several long minutes, during which she became increasingly aware of how terrifically off schedule they were, she shrugged in bafflement. Whoever he was, he hadn't lied.

It took only a few moments to reset the system; then she began programming the commands she needed to enter, which were the only reason she was here in the first place.

"What are you doing?" The Goa'uld asked as she closed the last drawer.

Sam just shook her head. "C'mon," she said to Marie. "Go check the corridor, and let's get out of here. The--we're late enough as it is." Then Sam turned to the Goa'uld. "Get up."

"Major Carter, it's foolish to ignore the possibility that I'm an ally--"

"You know, I don't have to kill you. You could walk for a long way with a bullet in you." He shut up after that.

They made their exit with limited difficulty, other than running afoul of some human slaves near the ring room. Marie dropped them with the zat, but Sam left them there: this mission was too important to risk detection by stealing some of Kiralla's slaves.

The truck was still where they'd left it, hidden in a barn several miles away. Josh met them there, and relieved Marie of guard duty, his eyes narrowing when Sam explained the identity of their prisoner. Marie curled up in the passenger seat while Josh held a gun on the Goa'uld in the back of the truck, rattling about as Sam sped down narrow farm lanes in the dark. They had a long way to go before daylight, and every moment with the Goa'uld made her more nervous. Who knew what he was telling Josh?

Maybe she should just kill him, and drop him in a ditch. But then she looked in the mirror, and--oh, god, it looked like Daniel, except for the stupid clothes. But even if it were Daniel, what hope was there? The Tollan were dead, the Tok'ra lost beyond the gate, and no Goa'uld would ever leave a host willingly.

Sam chewed her lip and drove faster, eager to hand off responsibility for this decision.


They'd left Boston during the winter, when things got too hot and Kiralla finally seemed to see what was going on under her nose. The Adirondacks were a logical next move: hard to scan, dark, wooded, and rough country. The new base felt like the camp they'd had in the Appalachians, but with more people, more equipment, more hope.

Once they crossed the river Sam had Josh blindfold the Goa'uld. Unless he was remarkable, he wouldn't even know what state they were in, much less be able to pinpoint their location for anyone else.

They dropped the truck at a trailhead just as dawn was breaking. The sentry thirty yards in blinked at Sam's prisoner, but waved them through anyway. The slog up to the lodge wasn't long, but it was steep, and even the Goa'uld was gasping for breath as they came up over the rise and into the small clearing where the Colonel kept his base of operations. There was, in fact, a driveway to the lodge, but they couldn't risk anyone seeing vehicles going that way, so usually everyone approached by foot.

O'Neill was on the back porch of the lodge, assembling C4 packets liberated from Fort Drum the previous spring. A plate with a few crumbs on it sat on the picnic table, and Sam was glad to see he'd had some breakfast. He'd been skipping meals lately as rations got tight, and low blood sugar did unpleasant things to his temper. This debriefing was going to be hard enough as it was.

The picnic table was in the sun, but the clearing around the lodge was still mostly in the shade of the tall pines. Green-black shadows bent across the driveway to the tool shed, the sign for the natural history trail, and the badminton net that Casey had dug out of the basement a few weeks ago. Last week the military members of the team had taken on the civilians, and would have beaten them, too, if it hadn't been for David Nguyen, who had played Olympic badminton for the Vietnamese national team. Sam had had no idea a birdie could go that fast.

"Carter." O'Neill gave her a quick glance before returning his attention to the wires in his hands.

"Sir." She stopped about ten feet from the table. "I know we're late, sir. The al-kesh is set for the operation, but--well, we ran into a snag. While we were there we found someone else sabotaging it."

The Colonel's head jerked up to stare at her, and then past her into the doorway where Marie and the prisoner waited. "Who?"

"A Goa'uld."

"And you brought it here? Carter--"

Sam spoke fast, raising her voice. "Sir, it's Daniel."

O'Neill cut off in mid-rant and went very still. He put the C4 down on the table top and wiped his hands on his jeans. "You're sure," he said after a moment.

"He claims he's a Tok'ra, but I don't see how it's possible." Sam waved Marie forward. The prisoner was still blindfolded, but at a nod from the Colonel, Marie pulled off the rag around his head. O'Neill stood up and leaned forward, eyes sharp on the prisoner's face.

The Goa'uld stood in the bright sunlight, blinking against the glare. He wore no glasses, and his hair was shorter than Daniel had ever worn it. But the broad shoulders and hands, the absurd eyebrows, the lines of his face--there was no doubt.

The expression on his face, however, was odd. He looked startled, then constipated, and then shifted to angry, his entire body stiff with strain. And then suddenly he staggered, shaking his head violently. When he raised his eyes to meet the Colonel's, they were wet with emotion.

"Oh, god, you're alive! Jack, Sam, it's me, it really is. It's--I know you can't trust me yet but it really is. I'm sorry about last night, Sam, but Senneth is a control freak and panicked when you interrupted us. We've been arguing all night, but you know what the Tok'ra are like, they don't trust anyone's judgment but--"

"Tok'ra," O'Neill drawled, his skepticism clear, and the flow of words stopped.

"Yes, Jack, Tok'ra. I mean, really. Do I look like a Goa'uld? Or act like one?" He looked offended. "If I were, I would never have let Sam capture me. No offense, Sam, but you know it's true. If I wanted to, I could have killed you long before your backup arrived."

Sam blinked; the argument wasn't entirely implausible.

The Colonel wasn't charmed. But then he'd been in camp when Benson came back with a snake in her head and a transmitter in her pocket. "So where'd you come from, then?"

"I came in a ship, with Jacob."

O'Neill blinked, flicked his eyes to Sam's face, and then back to--well, Sam decided she had to call him Daniel. He was Daniel, it was clear now, even if he was also someone else.

"So where's Jacob? Convenient that he's not here to vouch for you." The Colonel's voice was dry as bone.

Daniel shook his head. "I don't know. After we landed we split up, and he was going to head for the west coast. But I lost my transmitter. He could be anywhere by now, it's been months."

"How many months? Where were you before that?" asked Sam. She wasn't going to ask about her father. If Daniel were lying there was no point, and if he were telling the truth he didn't know where Jacob was anyway.

Daniel sighed. "Guys, I'm happy to be debriefed, but can I at least sit down? Maybe get some water? Take off the cuffs?" He raised his bound hands in appeal.

"Don't kid yourself," said O'Neill. "Debriefing is for my people." His face was as unrelenting as the granite of the foundation under their feet.

"Fine, then interrogate me, Jack. But I haven't had anything to eat or drink since yesterday morning. And I don't recall that the SGC abuses its prisoners." And that, if nothing else had, would have convinced Sam that this was, indeed, Daniel Jackson. Because no alien entity could manufacture that tone of self-righteous snark.

O'Neill gave him a long unreadable look, then nodded once. "Marie, you and Casey put our guest in the wood room. Give him water and a sandwich."

"Jack--" protested Daniel, but O'Neill cut him off with a wave.

When Daniel had disappeared into the house, flanked by tiny Marie and looming Casey, the Colonel turned to Sam. He looked more uncertain than he had when facing Daniel, but Sam wasn't sure if that was a good thing.

"Sit down, Carter, you look exhausted." He dropped onto the picnic bench and scrubbed his hands over his face. "What do you think?"

Sam skipped the bench, and instead leaned against the porch railing: she was afraid if she sat down it would be too hard to get up again. "I don't know, sir. If it's true--" she trailed off. If it were true, could they rely on the Tok'ra for aid? Or were Daniel and Jacob all they had? If it were true, where was her father? And what was Daniel-Senneth doing in Kiralla's al-kesh, anyway?

"Yeah," agreed O'Neill. "If." He leaned back and looked at the cloudless sky above them, rolling his head on his shoulders. After a moment, he laughed, a short bark. "Here we've been thinking Daniel was dead all this time, and instead he pops up, cheery as you please. 'Hi guys, I'm back!' Makes me want to smack him, just like old times."

"So you think it's him, then."

The brief flash of humor left O'Neill's face. "Oh, it's him, all right. The question is, who else is he? Now, get some sleep, Carter. That's an order." He pushed himself to his feet, wearily, and put a weathered hand on her shoulder. She resisted the urge to drop her cheek against it--not here, not now, maybe not ever--and watched him stalk off into the lodge.


// herpetology 2 //

"Does Selmak piss Jacob off as much as you do me?"

Hush, Jackson. This is a complicated sequence and I must concentrate. If we do not enter orbit at precisely the right angle the cloak will fail.

"What, the vaunted Tok'ra brain can't multi-task?"

I have no idea about Jacob, but Selmak is both wise and sensible. I'm sure they have come to an accommodation over the years.

"You're not answering my question. You Tok'ra always present a unified face, but nobody can tell from the outside whether you actually agree. Selmak could be lying about what Jacob thinks, and I'd never know."

Do you believe this to be the case?

"Ah, no, actually. I was just using it as an example. Selmak's always been trustworthy."

Whereas you do not think the same of all Tok'ra.

"You know what happened to Sam and Jack. You people play fast and loose with the truth when it suits you."

I have not done so, Jackson. I am as you experience me; I cannot lie to you.

"Well, that's the question, isn't it? I wouldn't know if you did."


It was close to sunset when Sam woke up; the light filtering through the dusty windows in her tiny room was red-gold against the yellow walls. She changed into a clean shirt, splashed some water on her face, and wandered downstairs in search of dinner and the Colonel, in that order.

Dinner was cold noodles with fresh tomato sauce, and she wolfed it down at the table in the kitchen, watching Casey and Ellie navigate around each other as they put away the pots and pans, laughing and flirting and doing all those things that friends do. It was hard to believe that Casey had only been with them for a few months, and Ellie barely longer. They were invaluable, and not only for their good natures.

Sam smiled at Ellie, dodged a slap with a wet dish-towel from Casey, and headed down the stairs toward the wood room. As she approached that end of the building, she saw Josh outside the door, arms folded, face unhappy. "The Colonel's with him, Major," he said when she reached for the doorknob. No, the team wouldn't be happy to see the Colonel alone in a room with a Goa'uld.

Sam nodded and opened the door.

"--no other options." O'Neill was leaning against the near wall, facing Daniel, whose legs were tied to a chair in the middle of the room: middle being rather an optimistic word, as the bulk of the small room was full of split wood for the fireplaces and woodstoves that heated the lodge. Cords of wood were stacked to the ceiling on every side, and a length of knotted pine protruded perilously close to Daniel's face.

"You've got an hour," finished O'Neill, and turned to go out. "Carter, see if you can convince him."

"Yes, sir," she said, but he was already down the hall and gone. "Convince you of what?" she asked, turning back to Daniel. She left the door open so Josh could step in if necessary.

"He wants proof of my good intentions," said the alien, using the Tok'ra voice. Senneth was his name, Sam reminded herself. There was no question of it being Daniel: the stance, the inflections, the very sound of his voice was different. Daniel was arrogant about some things, but he would never sound so affronted in front of strangers: it wasn't his way. Not for something like this.

"But you can't prove good intent--" and then Sam stopped. "Oh."

"An adequate summary of the situation, Major," replied the symbiote wearily. He closed his eyes.

"Well, why can't you?" asked Sam. "We--he--will never trust you otherwise. We need to talk to Daniel without your interference."

Senneth shook his head. "It requires that I trust you. And I find myself reluctant to do so."

"So you'd rather die for sure, than run the risk of death? I thought the Tok'ra were logical people."

This time Senneth didn't answer, and instead looked away, at the wood piled along the walls, the dust and woodchips on the floor, the cobwebs in the corners.

"What does Daniel say? He knows us, knows we're trustworthy."

Senneth rolled his eyes, and then, just like that, it was Daniel looking at her. He looked unhappy and pulled at his bound wrists before dropping his hands into his lap. "It's my fault, Sam. I know it's been a couple of years, but it's hard to believe Jack would kill me, and if I can't believe it, neither can Senneth. Jack's my friend, and Senneth knows it."

Sam swallowed. "We're not in the mountain anymore, Daniel."

He flashed annoyance at her. "I know that, Sam. You're not the only one who--" he stopped. "Never mind."

There was a round of oak at her knee; Sam sat down on it, leaning back against the prickly, uneven surface of the wood stack behind her.

"About a year ago," she began, "we were in the mountains in West Virginia. I'd gone out for some long-distance recon. When I came back, I'd lost my backup. Teal'c was gone by then, I was by myself. There was no way for the Colonel to know I hadn't been taken as a host.

"He took me back anyway.

"About a month later Benson and two others went out on a job. Benson made it back alone, dripping blood most of the way. She was tough, Daniel. Ex-cop, strong, funny. She'd have made a good SG team member. She got back to camp, brought the weapons she went out for, and the intel. We didn't know--"

Sam hadn't been there, and she kicked herself now for it, for that ill-timed patrol that had her out of camp when Benson returned.

"She killed three men before the Colonel stopped her. He shot her six times, and she kept getting up, and it wasn't until he managed to sever her spinal cord that she finally went down for good. She died that way, begging his forgiveness for being taken as a host. He sat there with her while she died, and then--" Sam choked.

"Sam?"

She closed her eyes, breathed out, continued. "And then he cut off her head, to be sure the symbiote was dead. He sawed it off with a knife, Daniel. When I got back to camp he was trying to bury her by himself. We found a transmitter in her pocket."

The camp had looked like what it was--the site of a massacre. When Sam realized the beacon on the transmitter had been broadcasting for hours, they broke camp and ran, with the few men and weapons they had left. For all she knew, the bodies of Benson, French, Tabai, and Clark were all still there, rotting in the shade of the pines in the Dolly Wilderness.

"So don't kid yourself the Colonel wouldn't kill you, Daniel, Senneth, whoever you are. He'll do anything to protect his people."

Daniel's face was pale, when she left the room, and she couldn't tell from the expression on it whether it was host or symbiote looking back at her.


// herpetology 3 //

"What's the first thing you remember?"

I can't tell you.

"What, it's a secret?"

No, Jackson, I cannot tell you because there is no "first thing". The memories go back, go deeper, layer after layer, into shadow. At the very bottom--

"Go on. What's at the very bottom?"

Ever the scientist. At the very bottom is the mud. There is nothing before that.

"The first thing I remember is riding a camel. It stank."

*That is most enlightening. Thank you for sharing it with me. I feel as if I understand so much more about you and the Tau'ri way of life.*

"Oh, shut up."

Shall we continue now? I believe the Jaffa have left.


At O'Neill's command, Sam had assembled all the crew who were at the lodge, leaving only the pickets on duty. The three dozen or so motley members of this resistance unit gathered in the yard in a rough half-circle around the bonfire, where the Colonel squatted on a log. About three feet away from him were a lawn chair, its green and yellow plastic seat shredded with age, and a ten-gallon bucket from the shed.

Josh escorted Daniel-Senneth to the center of the circle, and waited until he sat down before binding his legs again. Josh then took up a position to the Colonel's left, gun in hand, with a clear shot at Daniel-Senneth's head. Sam stood to the Colonel's right, and a little behind him, so she couldn't see his face.

"We'll do this in public," began O'Neill, without preliminaries, "so there won't be any questions later about what happened. Everyone's gonna see it. Got that?"

Daniel looked at all the people around them: young, middle-aged, old; dressed almost uniformly in jeans and t-shirts; half of them carrying weapons of some sort. To Sam, these were faces as familiar as the Gateroom staff at the SGC, but for Daniel, she realized, they were all alien except for herself and Jack. Either he would be completely exposed before strangers, or he would die before them.

"I understand," said Daniel. His voice was soft enough that Sam couldn't tell who was speaking, whether it was Daniel or Senneth. "You really would kill me, wouldn't you?" Sam couldn't identify the expression on his face: it wasn't fear or uncertainty, though.

"Yup." O'Neill didn't move, except Sam saw his right hand close into a fist where it lay on his thigh. "Carter?"

"Senneth leaves the host voluntarily, causing as little damage as possible. It commits not to attempt to take another host during Daniel's debriefing, or to try to escape. If Daniel's story supports Senneth's, we will allow Senneth to--to re-implant Daniel. If Daniel agrees to it. We will not injure Senneth while it is outside the host." Put like that, it was asking a lot. Sam wondered if even Selmak would have agreed to those conditions.

Daniel dropped his eyes to the ground in front of the lawn chair. "For how long?"

"How long what?" asked Sam.

"How long will we be separated?" He was shaking, Sam realized, the reflective material of his jumpsuit throwing sparkles on the faces closest to the fire.

O'Neill shook his head. "Long enough to find out the truth." When Daniel shook his head, O'Neill amended, "No more than a day. Can you survive that?"

Daniel nodded.

"Okay, then." The Colonel folded his arms across his chest. "Better get started."

"What, like this?" Daniel raised his bound hands. When O'Neill shook his head, Daniel frowned and said, "It will be--less painful if I am on my back."

At O'Neill's nod, Josh unbound Daniel's legs and removed the chair. Daniel lay down, his feet towards their audience. Sam pulled on a pair of heavy gardening gloves and went around to his side, bringing the bucket.

There was a rustle as the crowd pressed a little closer. Sam looked down at Daniel's face: he was sweating, his body stiff, heels digging into the ground. Nothing happened. A few minutes went by. Nobody moved, except for a few people in the crowd, who sat down as they realized this could take a while.

A soft whistling note came to Sam's ears: she looked down and realized it was Daniel, his face contorted, his arms twisting against the restraints. He moaned aloud, and then again, and his eyes flashed open. He looked straight at Sam, and she thought he was about to speak, but there was something in his throat, a growth bulging up the line of his neck. Moving like a body underneath the blanket on a bed.

Sam had thought she was prepared for this: she had seen Tok'ra and Goa'uld take hosts in the past. But she'd never before seen one leave a living body. Senneth was fat: he forced Daniel's mouth open into a soundless scream as he writhed out between Daniel's teeth, streaming blood and other fluids from his skin. Tendrils spread from his head, thin strands waving, shriveling as they emerged into the air. Daniel's body torqued, his head slamming back against the ground, his hands fumbling helplessly against his thighs.

Senneth kept coming: his head reached the ground, gravel sticking to his barbs and body glossy in the firelight, and he was still coming, thick and green and slimy. He rolled, picking up more dirt on his skin, twisting in Daniel's mouth, cutting Daniel's lips with the razor edges of his fins. It was obscene.

"Carter!" O'Neill's voice broke Sam out of her horrified fascination, and she made herself remember everything Mark had ever told her about picking up snakes. Senneth tried to evade her hands, but he was still partly trapped in Daniel, and that gave Sam the opportunity to grab him behind the head with one hand, wrapping her other around the widest part of his body. He was slick; Sam grimaced and hung onto him, despite the way he arched away from her, muscles bunching and flexing under her hands. God, he was strong.

She was so intent on holding Senneth without pulling him away from Daniel that she didn't realize O'Neill had moved until Daniel was rolled over onto his side. With that, Senneth came free, his tail whipping angrily through the air. Daniel choked and coughed, spitting blood and vomit onto Sam's jeans, O'Neill supporting him from behind.

Sam edged backwards on her knees and found the bucket. "Josh, the lid!" She dropped Senneth into the bucket and Josh slammed the lid down on top, sealing it all the way around. Senneth thrashed, thumping the sturdy plastic walls. She ought to feel guilty about treating a possible Tok'ra that way, but if she'd had to hold Senneth another second she would have vomited all over him.

Apparently she was not alone: Sam heard choking in the audience. "Kill it!" someone hissed. Sam ignored them and turned back to Daniel.

O'Neill had cut the cord around Daniel's wrists and heaved him into a sitting position, still supported in O'Neill's arms. There was blood on Daniel's face and his eyes were wild. He spat, again, and fumbled at his face with an unsteady hand. "God!" His voice was cracked, nearly soundless, and he winced as he spoke.

"Daniel? You okay?" The Colonel leaned close, ignoring the crowd around them, his eyes fixed on Daniel's face. His hands flexed on Daniel's shoulders.

There was a long pause, as Daniel's eyes went from Sam, to the audience clustered around them, to O'Neill. Daniel tried to struggle upright, and then paled, swayed, and sank back against the Colonel. He frowned, bunching his eyebrows down over his nose the way he always did. "Jack?"

"Yeah, Daniel?"

"Fuck. You. Jack." And then he passed out cold.


// herpetology 4 //

I liked your friend Janet.

"Really."

Yes, she's most sensible. And strong-willed, despite her size.

"You have no idea."

Well, no, I didn't. Until just now. Ah, I see, then. Most complicated, your relationships.

"I really wish you wouldn't do that."

How can I not? Your neurons are now my neurons. I can no more ignore the things you are thinking about than I can ignore the fact that it's been six hours since we ate and I prefer the lemon flavored bars to the ones with the chocolate.

"It's still disturbing. I don't go poking around in your memories."

You are welcome to, if you wish.

"Ah. Thanks. I think I'll pass on that, if it's all the--"

For instance, my last lover was--

"Oh, god, please don't say Selmak--"

Pendee. Her host at the time was Kundiran, quite a lovely young man. They were assigned to infiltrate Anubis' ranks, and have not been heard from in some time. I fear they may be lost.

"Oh. I'm sorry, then--man?"

*Yes, man. You Tau'ri really do have simple concepts of gender, don't you? Unless--can I assume you're not representative?*

"Actually, yes, but I'm not representative in, ah, the other direction."

*Oh, that is too bad.*

". . . so, about that. What's it like?"

*Not nearly as complicated as you think it is. We love who we love. Love has no boundaries: what does shape matter?*

"Okay, yeah, I can see how that works for the symbiote, but doesn't the host have an opinion?"

*I don't--oh, I see. No, the hosts are part of it too. Physically and emotionally. You have known of my people for some time now: we're not particularly spiritual, Jackson.*

"No, I guess not--right. No, don't--please, I don't need to see it--"

". . . I think I hate you. I really didn't need to get all that."

There's a clean cloth in the corner.

"You know, if Jacob had come in just now, you would have learned whether it's possible for a Tok'ra to die from embarrassment."


Ever since graduate school and a few too many all-nighters, Sam's biorhythms had periodically gone wacky, and she would find herself making brownies at 4 am, or wandering Level 19 at midnight, jittery with energy. She didn't mind, most of the time: she liked getting things done without the distraction of other people badgering her with questions, sending her email, offering her coffee.

Tonight she sat at a small antique desk in one of the first-floor bedrooms and tried for the third time to disassemble the power pack in a staff weapon. The light from the small oil lamp was soft enough not to disturb Daniel, still comatose under the blankets on the bed. They'd left Senneth in the bucket, locked in the wood room with a guard on the door.

Eight years of handling Goa'uld technology, and she still had trouble prying these things open. Sam scowled and put more pressure on the screwdriver she had wedged into the power casing. Too much pressure: it slipped, gashing a bloody gouge across the back of her left thumb. "Shit!" she muttered, and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

There was a rustle from the other side of the room. "Sam?" Daniel said her name in little more than a whisper.

Her tools were abandoned on the table as Sam came over to the bed, carrying the lamp. She put it on the nightstand and hitched herself onto the mattress. "How you feeling, Daniel?"

He squinted at her. "Um. Okay? Water would be good." The cuts on his lips looked painful.

"Oh, sure." There was a cup on the stand, and she helped him sit up so he could drink. He was thinner than he used to be, the bulk in his upper body turned to leaner mass. As he held out the empty cup, she saw the faint white marks of scars on his hands and wrists.

She caught his hand in hers and turned it over in the lamplight. She could touch him, now he was just himself again. "What happened to you? What are these from?" Most of the scars were old, she could tell as she ran her fingers over them. The skin of Daniel's hands was rough with heavy work, although mostly clean: Casey had bathed him before putting him into bed.

He wrapped his hand around hers, stopping the examination. "I thought you were dead, Sam. I was sure of it." He put her hand down and looked away. "I figured there was no way you guys would--" He shook his head. "Never mind."

"Would what?" O'Neill loomed over Sam's shoulder and asked the question for her. "What wouldn't we do, Daniel?" It could have been a challenging question, but his voice was soft, and he rested his hip against the mattress at Daniel's shoulder. Four hours of sleep hadn't dented the exhaustion on his face. It rarely went away now.

Daniel's hands lay open on the blanket, pressing downwards, the scars crossing his skin like maps of an unknown country. He wet his lips, and looked up at them. "You wouldn't have left me behind."

"Oh, god." Sam put one hand over her mouth to stop the sob that threatened, and grabbed Daniel's hand with the other. "Daniel, no. It wasn't like that." She couldn't imagine what the last eighteen months would have been like, if she'd been by herself. If the rest of her team had been dead. She tightened her hand on his, anchoring him to her, to them.

He didn't look up for a long moment, and when he did, he squeezed her hand with a false smile that brought tears to her eyes. "No, I know."

"No, you don't." The Colonel hadn't moved, but he was coiled as tightly as he had been earlier, out in the yard. His jaw worked for a moment as he stared blankly at the outside wall. Then he looked back at Daniel, laying against the pillow. "We searched for two days, dodging Jaffa everywhere and tripping over bodies. They brought in Gliders after the first day, started strafing the city. Teal'c got shot at a couple of times. The mountain was rubble, nobody had seen you since Friday, and there was that damned box you thought was so interesting.

"We had seven lucky years, but our luck ran out. Seemed likely that it all ran out at once."

O'Neill locked his hand around Daniel's wrist, so hard Sam winced, and stared down at Daniel. She looked at O'Neill, and then away again; it hurt too much to see him raw and bleeding like that. "We never left you, Daniel. You were dead; but we never left you."

After a few uncomfortable breaths, Daniel moved his arm, and O'Neill let go. "If you say so, Jack. So," he went on, "you wanted to hear about Senneth."

O'Neill put up a warning hand. "Hold that thought. I'll be right back." And he disappeared through the door, his footsteps padding quietly down the dark hall.

He came back in about two minutes, a sly expression on his face and a dark brown bottle tucked under his arm. "Where'd you get that?" Sam asked in astonishment as she scrambled over Daniel to sit cross-legged on the bed.

O'Neill shrugged. "Gotta have some secrets around here," he said, unscrewing the top of the bottle. "To the unkillable Daniel Jackson," he announced, and took a swig before handing the bottle to Sam. She took two drinks--"cheater!" muttered Daniel--and passed it on.

Daniel swallowed a large mouthful, and then choked, coughing raggedly as O'Neill slapped him on the back. "Good god, that's terrible!" He winced as he swiped the back of one hand across his mouth.

"C'mon, Daniel." Sam hooked her pinkie through his and jiggled his hand. "You gotta tell us how you ended up in that fabulous new outfit..." She snickered, echoed by O'Neill's muffled snort. Tok'ra couture had been the subject of many late-night emails over the years, often illustrated with shots from Daniel's digital camera.

O'Neill nodded. "He could be still Goa'uld: they've got bad taste in clothes too. Humor me, Daniel: tell me about Senneth."

"All right, all right! Stop nagging at me!" Daniel enunciated very clearly, as if speaking for the hard of hearing. "Jack, Sam, Senneth is a Tok'ra. Okay?"

Sam hadn't doubted it: she was pretty sure a Goa'uld would have refused to leave Daniel, but it was reassuring to hear him state it, anyway. "What's he like?"

"Let me guess," said O'Neill. "He's arrogant, intolerant, imperious, and--did I say arrogant?"

"She is not that bad," protested Daniel, although his rough voice was mild. "I mean, well, she's not as smart as Selmak or as likeable as Lantash, but..."

"Oh, it's a girl? Weird," said O'Neill. "Tell us how you ended up with her, then."

Daniel nodded and drank carefully from the bottle before answering. "I saw you, you know," he said finally, looking at O'Neill. "Last year." He passed the bottle to Sam, who took it gratefully. There was something strange going on here, and at least the alcohol would smooth the edges a bit.

It was lousy tequila. She licked the harshness off her lips and rolled onto her side, propping her head up on one hand so she could see across Daniel's legs. O'Neill reached across Daniel and snagged the bottle.

Peering down at her, Daniel waggled the fingers of his left hand. "No, seriously."

Sam grabbed his hand and held it, running her thumb over the scars on his palm. "What do you mean?"

"I saw Jack," he said. "When I was on the mountain. You were a pain in the ass," he added, looking at O'Neill and pursing his lips.

O'Neill grunted and took a big slug of the tequila. Sam watched wistfully as the level in the bottle went down. "But funny, right?" He balanced the chair on two legs, leaning back against the wall next to the bed.

Daniel smirked and reached out a demanding hand for the bottle. "Not really, no. Mostly just annoying. Although," he added thoughtfully, "you did save my life once."

"You're serious," said Sam. God, two big swallows of tequila, and the room was swaying. She kept hold of Daniel's hand, and that stopped the room from moving around so much. She rolled over so her shoulder pressed against his thigh, and that seemed to help, too.

"Yup," he answered. "I've been invisible, ascended, and dead. Why can't Jack be metaphysical?"

"I can have layers," claimed O'Neill, with something approaching a smile in his voice. Sam blinked.

"Hey, gimme." Daniel grabbed for the bottle.

"Nope." O'Neill held the bottle out of Daniel's reach, on the other side of his body. "Time to debrief, Daniel." Sam levered herself up and peered across Daniel's legs: the Colonel was entirely serious. Huh.

"Jaaaack."

O'Neill held the bottle over his head and batted away Daniel's groping arm with his other hand. "No. No more booze until you talk. Besides, aren't you supposed to be recovering?"

Daniel rolled his eyes; Sam didn't even need to look at him to know that. "Fine."

There was a silence, filled only by a soft metallic hiss Sam realized was the bottle cap, as the Colonel screwed it on and unscrewed it. She rolled over awkwardly, ending up sprawled across Daniel's lower legs, her chin propped on his knee. Her tongue felt thick: she was such a lightweight now.

O'Neill shrugged, and took a swig of the tequila. "C'mon," he waved at the bed, "start from the beginning. Tell us how you got here."

Daniel sighed and squeezed Sam's hand, lacing his fingers with hers. "The, uh, the day of the attack, I'd gone to Denver to do some research. The Jaffa grabbed me on the way back; I never even made it home. They, um, there was a bunch of us they took up to the mountain a couple of days later. You know the gate's back up and running again, right?"

There was a thunk as O'Neill dropped the front legs of his chair to the floor. "No shit! How'd they do--oh."

Sam rolled her head sideways to get a better look at Daniel's face. It was gold in the lamplight, still and expressionless like an antique mask or gilded statue. "Yeah, that's what all of us prisoners were for. When they were done, I knew they were going to kill us, so just after we got the gate out of the ground, we managed to jump some of the Jaffa and dial out." His voice sounded too careful.

We managed to jump some of the Jaffa and dial out? That couldn't have been easy, but Sam thought it would be wiser not to press Daniel on the details. Not right now. "You went to the Alpha Site?"

"Uh-huh. Janet's still there, running the refugee program Redfield set up."

"Janet?" Sam tried to sit up, realized this would be a bad idea, and grabbing Daniel's knee, shook it so that his entire leg wiggled. "Janet's alive? What about Cassie?"

He shook his head. "She disappeared the day of the attack. After they hit the mountain, they drove everyone they could out of town. If she survived, I don't know where she could be."

Sam sighed. It was a glorious surprise to know that Janet had survived; she couldn't count on Cassie too. But she hoped, oh she hoped.

"So you got them out. How'd you end up with a snake in your head?" O'Neill kept his chair on the floor, but he handed Daniel the bottle in payment for what he'd told them so far.

Daniel took it and propped it in his lap, fingering the cap without opening it. "Right. Well, we got everyone to the Alpha Site, and boy was that fun, because they're really not set up for refugees. Redfield was--he means well, but he's not that adaptable, and he had a hard time with all these civilians I dumped on him. They don't have that much room there. Luckily it was springtime, so we had time to build some cabins. Food was harder, but SG-4 was offworld when the attack hit, and they had already set up a deal with Gairwyn. Janet spent a lot of time on Cimmeria providing medical services in exchange for food and farming supplies."

Sam blinked. "Farming supplies?"

"What else were we supposed to do? We had--have--no idea how long we'd be cut off from Earth. Seemed sensible. So, yeah. We were busy, but I was getting frustrated. Redfield didn't want to take any risks, and to be frank he didn't trust my or Janet's assessment of the military situation on Earth. Not that there was much he could do, other than open the gate periodically and transmit a radio signal, which you guys apparently never got.

"So I, ah. I went looking for allies."

"Not by yourself," growled O'Neill.

"No, Jack, not by myself. Jesus." Daniel rolled his eyes. "Redfield bitched, but he let me take SG-4. We made some contacts that might pay off later, but pretty much everyone out there knows the Tau'ri are toast and don't want to risk the System Lords' wrath by helping us."

Sam frowned. "You do know it's not the System Lords, right?"

Warm fingers tangled in her hair and tugged. "Yes, Sam, I figured that out. None of these guys had any kind of reputation, and all their ha'taks were borrowed."

"Really." O'Neill cocked his head. "You know how many al-kesh they have now?"

"Yeah, but... let me tell this in order, okay? Anyway, we went out looking, and after a couple of months we got lucky and met someone who knew someone, who knew a Tok'ra. It still took a while after that to get in to see the Council. They've moved four or five times in the last two years, and they're lost a lot of people."

Sam rolled over onto her back. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had this much to drink. "And that's where you got Senneth," she said to the ceiling. Daniel's fingers played in her hair, pulling strands out of the elastic a few at a time. She couldn't remember the last time anyone had played with her hair, either.

"Yeah," he finally responded, after Sam had almost forgotten the question. "They really didn't want to help; they figured there was no point. But Jacob was there, and Senneth volunteered. And that was the only way they'd help, was if I took Senneth with me. I got Jacob, and we got a ship, and the Council didn't absolutely rule out sending more help once we'd gathered some information. It seemed... fair." His voice was utterly bland, as if he were translating a recipe.

O'Neill snorted in disgust. "Oh, for! Daniel, they made you put a snake in your head! How is that fair?"

Daniel shrugged. "It was that or stay out there, never knowing what was happening here, unable to help. I knew what I was doing."

But he didn't meet anyone's eyes.


// herpetology 5 //

"Do you think they saw us?"

No.

"Can't you do that any faster?"

I am 1,900 years old and I have had over thirty hosts. You are the only one of them I have ever wished to gag.

"That's a 'no', then. Right."

". . . um, Senneth? They saw us."

Almost--

"We really have to run away. Now."

Peace, child, it's done.

"Fence--"

Farther!

"Right, right. Warehouse, there!"

*What have you been eating, Jackson? My last host could have--*

"Down down down! Holy shit!"

*. . . there is very little more satisfying than a well-planned explosion. Don't you agree?*

"You know, I was wrong: I think you'd probably have gotten along with Jack just fine."


Someone was shaking her gently; there was a voice whispering in her ear, puffing breath hot against her cheek. "Carter. C'mon, Carter, wakey wakey."

"Ungh." Sam fished out a hand that barely seemed a part of her body and took a weak swipe at whoever was talking to her. She missed, and they caught her hand and pulled at her, rolling her over.

"Carter, open your eyes. That's an order."

She sighed, and levered her lids up to see O'Neill's face just inches from hers, a frown denting the space between his eyebrows. She blinked; he went in and out of focus rapidly. Sam moaned, closed her eyes, and reluctantly heaved herself into a sitting position. The floor looked a long way away.

"Time is it?" she mumbled. Daylight streamed through the window onto the old oak floors. She noted without surprise that her sneakers lay in the middle of the room.

O'Neill straightened, but the frown didn't go away. "I don't know, but you're late for breakfast." He kept his voice to a whisper.

"Oh." She looked down and realized that someone had covered her with a blanket. The dull green wool was scratchy on her hands. Something was ... she looked up at the Colonel again. "Did you sleep at all, sir?"

His lips tightened, but his voice was still low. "Get up, Carter. I don't want to wake up Daniel."

Daniel? Carter looked around and realized that the warmth against her back was Daniel, curled away from her, his head securely in possession of the single pillow. The hair on the back of his head stood straight up. "Right. Um, why not?" she asked as she made it to her feet. She could do this; she took a step, and then another, and only needed to put her hand on the wall once.

"Tell you outside. Carter, you okay?" O'Neill peered at her. "You look like shit."

"Thank you, sir." Her sneakers were a long way away, and her toothbrush was at the other end of the lodge. She picked up her sneakers with difficulty, and decided it was safer not to sit down to put them on. Instead she carried them as she followed O'Neill to the door.

There was a chair in the hallway, at a good height to tie her shoes. O'Neill swung the bedroom door mostly shut and came around to lean against the wall next to her while she struggled with her sneakers. Tying her laces felt like wormhole physics. "What's going on?"

There was no coffee at the lodge, but occasionally they got meat; Sam could smell the lingering remnants of bacon from the kitchen at the other end of the building. Ordinarily she'd be down there already, arm-wrestling Josh for the last few scraps. This morning she wasn't sure she wouldn't lose last night's dinner just thinking about food.

"We have a situation." O'Neill's voice was flat. "Happened last night, late, but I figured it could keep."

One shoe done. She cocked her head in inquiry. He looked concerned but not worried, which was reassuring. It wasn't an emergency, whatever it was.

"Senneth's dead."

Sam dropped her sneaker. "Dead! What happened?" They'd left Senneth in the bucket, with a guard on the door. She had promised she wouldn't try to escape, and from what little Daniel had said about her, she was likely to keep her promises.

O'Neill shook his head. "Don't really know yet. Marie was pretty upset, so I gave her the last of the tequila and Joanne sat with her until she fell asleep."

So that's where the bottle had gone. Sam had a dim recollection of a knock on the door and the Colonel leaving, and then nothing but the warm smell of Daniel and his hands in her hair. She flushed a little as she bent down to pick up her sneaker, then met the Colonel's eyes as she straightened. There was nothing to be embarrassed about.

She forced her mind back to the matter at hand. "She's really dead, not just missing?"

"Oh, she's really dead. There's pieces of snake all over the wood room." He scratched his scalp, as if he could rub weary brain cells back to life. "I can't say I'm really unhappy about it, but Daniel's gonna be pissed as hell."

"About what?"

Daniel stood in the open bedroom doorway, face sagging with sleep and alcohol, his eyes dim. Unlike Sam, he had managed to remove most of his clothes before falling asleep, and he stood with the blanket wrapped around him, flashing a glimpse of Tok'ra-issue dark green shorts. "What's going on?"

Oh, this was going to be bad. Sam sat down in the chair, sneaker forgotten in her lap.

"Ah, well. I was gonna tell you about that." O'Neill grimaced. "Shit. Daniel, I'm sorry, but Senneth's dead. Somebody killed her last night."

Daniel swayed. O'Neill took a fast step closer, but Daniel put up a warning hand, the other keeping the blanket clutched in front of him like an emperor's robe. "Dead?" He blinked and looked around the hallway, as if he expected to see Senneth on the floor.

"Really, dead. I'm sorry, Daniel."

"I don't understand. She was safe, that was what you said." Daniel's face flattened. "That was why she agreed to this."

O'Neill shifted uncomfortably. "I know. I don't know how it happened, we're trying to find out--"

"You don't know what happened? How convenient." Daniel's eyes had gone cold and angry. "You never did like the Tok'ra very much, Jack." He should have looked absurd, hung over and disheveled. Instead he looked a little scary. Sam kept her mouth shut. This was a Daniel she had managed to forget about.

The Colonel shook his head. "Daniel, you know I--"

"We promised her safety, Jack. I swore to her that we knew the difference between the Tok'ra and the Goa'uld. I promised the Council no harm would come to her." Daniel's face hardened. "Instead we stuck her in a bucket and someone came along and killed her."

Daniel stepped back into the bedroom and closed the door. The click of the latch sounded down the empty hallway like a zat opening.

Sam looked up at O'Neill, still frowning at the bedroom door. "Guess you were right, sir. He's a little pissed off."


Sam felt a little more alive after washing her face and brushing her teeth, but she was desperate to get clean. The Colonel had said Marie was waiting in the dining room to talk to them; Sam paused on her way to sign up for a shower on the pad by the rear door.

The Colonel was sitting at the end of the big table, Marie seated across from him, looking defiant. Sam heard a step behind her; she turned to see Daniel following her.

"I assume I get to hear this, too, right? I'm probably the closest thing Senneth had to a next-of-kin..." Daniel gave that pained grimace, as if he were worrying at a bit of food stuck in his teeth.

O'Neill grunted, and waved at the benches. Daniel stayed upright, leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Sam sat backwards on a chair and wished for ibuprofen.

"All right, Marie, the gang's all here. Tell us exactly what happened last night," said O'Neill, his face unreadable.

Marie nodded a few times, rapidly, and leaned forward across the table. "I was on guard like you said, Colonel. And, um, around two or three o'clock, Josh came down."

"Josh!" said Sam. How was he involved in this?

"Carter," said the Colonel, and Sam went to the door kitchen door. Casey was banging pots around in the sink, and she asked him to bring Josh to the dining room.

Marie waited until Sam sat back down before continuing. "Josh said, um, he said you'd sent him down with water for the snake--um, for the symbiote. So I let him in."

O'Neill leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Marie, exactly what part of 'Don't let anyone in,' did you not hear?"

She flushed and looked down. "I didn't--Josh said you told him to, sir. It made sense to me."

He sighed. "Okay, go on. You let him in, and then what?"

"I looked away; I didn't want to see that thing anymore. It was gross enough when it came out--" she glanced at Daniel and cut herself off. "Anyway. And then Josh yelled, and I ran in. It was on him, sir. And he was yelling so loud, like it hurt him. So I grabbed it," here she rubbed her hands on her pants, as if trying to remove the slick feel from her palms, "and threw it on the floor. And it was still moving, it was coming back, and--and I grabbed the hatchet and chopped it up," she finished in a rush, all in one breath.

"You chopped it up," repeated Daniel, staring at Marie as if she'd announced that she had the Eiffel Tower in her back pocket. Sam had to admit it sounded a little unlikely: If Marie weighed one hundred pounds soaking wet, it was only if you counted her boots and weapon. But she'd been with them for nearly a year now, and she'd proven herself under fire more than once. If she said she'd killed Senneth, Sam was inclined to believe her.

Now Marie looked scared. "Uh-huh," she affirmed, staring at Daniel.

Before Daniel said anything more, the door opened and Josh came in. Josh was a big guy, broader than Daniel and taller than the Colonel, but with a soft Irish face that reminded Sam of some of the boys she'd known in the Academy--the ones who hadn't made it. He did what he was told, but he wasn't known for his initiative, or his sharp mind. He was, in sum, a good kid.

Right now, he looked like a high school senior called to the principal's office, his shoulders hunched up around his large ears. Under some prodding, he told the same story Marie had, throwing uncertain glances at O'Neill and Daniel as the tangled sentences fell from his mouth. He even pulled down the sweat-stained neck of his Boston University sweatshirt, to show the red raw mark that could be proof of an interrupted implantation. If that's what Senneth was trying; there was no way they'd ever find out now.

"But why?" Sam asked when Josh let the material go back. "Why did you go down there to begin with? Why lie about it?"

Josh's face twisted, but it was O'Neill who answered. "It's his brother," he said, fixing Josh with sharp and knowing eyes. "Right? Your brother was taken as a host, that's why you joined up in Boston."

Greasy blond hair flopped as Josh nodded, his eyes now locked on the table where his hands picked at old scratches in the soft wood. "I wondered--I wanted to see it. To see how it could do that. How--"

Sam nearly jumped when Daniel spoke, for the first time since Josh had entered the room. "But you don't know any more now, do you?" The words were challenging, but his voice was soft. And Sam remembered that Daniel, more than any of them, had seen the worst of the Goa'uld occupation. He held memories that he would likely never share with anyone. She shivered.

"No," Josh mumbled, and didn't say anything more.

"Well," said the Colonel, after a few breaths, "I guess that's it." He straightened his shoulders and ran a hand through his hair. "The both of you can consider yourselves confined to the grounds. Josh, you get to rest your brain, since it's not doing you much good anyway. Go split three cords of firewood. Marie--no, no more edged weapons for you. Talk to Paula about helping her on that latrine project."

"Septic tank, sir," murmured Sam, but he ignored her and watched Josh and Marie leave, Josh looking chastened and Marie disgruntled.

"That's it?" asked Daniel when the door had closed. "They killed a Tok'ra and you give them latrine duty?"

"What do you want from me, Daniel?" And it could have been just another argument in the lab, across a conference table, outside an alien village half a galaxy away, except for the lines on the Colonel's face and the new edge in Daniel's voice. "They're ignorant, and scared, and they're not SGC. And I can't get rid of them; I need every warm body I have."

Daniel just shook his head, staring at the scuffed toes of his boots. Sam rolled her shoulders and thought wistfully about coffee.

O'Neill scratched his head again. His hair had gone almost completely white, Sam realized, since the attack. He didn't look bad, but he did look... older.

"Civilians," he said finally, and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said to Daniel, meeting his eyes levelly. "This clusterfuck shouldn't have happened. It was my fault."

Daniel pursed his lips, arms still folded across his chest, and then nodded. But the expression on his face didn't soften.

O'Neill stood up, the chair squeaking on the wood floor. "Okay." He smiled, but it was one of the forced ones, and it disappeared fast. He paused, as if to say something else, and then walked out of the room.

Sam's stomach churned. "Daniel--"

The morning sunlight streaming through the windows flickered across Daniel's face as he shook his head. "Jack's right, Sam. It shouldn't have happened. I should never have trusted him." And he left the room from the other door.


// herpetology 6 //

He does not believe you.

"He's got his reasons, Senneth. You saw--"

I know. I have read the reports. And others. He is not entirely unjustified in his suspicions.

"Let me talk to him some more, maybe I can convince him."

*It will not help. He will do as he finds necessary: that much I have gathered from your years of companionship. The question is what we will do.*

"Shit."

Indeed.

"Okay, now I know you've been hanging out with me too long."

For both our sakes, I hope this is not true. I should like to see us accomplish our mission.

"Yeah, me too. ... Damn. There really isn't another way, is there?"

Jackson.

"Yes?"

I...

"It's okay. I'll take care of you. It'll be okay."

Thank you. I hope that you can.


"Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen--"

Sam grimaced as she held her head to her knee, fighting both morning stiffness and, she suspected, her own age: she just wasn't as flexible as she used to be. The sun was just visible through the trees on the east side of the compound, long stripes of light laid across the gravel yard.

Sam kept the pose for another thirty seconds, and then switched legs, bringing her left foot up onto the porch railing.

"You're up early," said a voice behind her. Sam twisted her neck to see Daniel standing in the doorway, a chipped coffee mug in his hand.

In the past four days, Sam had seen Daniel for a total of about forty minutes, mostly crossing paths in the kitchen. She suspected that was planned, but there hadn't been much she could do about it. She was up to her ears in preparations and in fact had spent most of the past two days driving with Frank to Boston and back, carrying supplies and messages for the Colonel. Her butt was still sore from the blown shocks on the truck, but she was desperate for a run; she needed to clear the tangle of plans and logistics from her brain.

"If I go now I earn my breakfast," she said, squinting into the sunlight.

"Um, mind if I join you?" Daniel's voice sounded a little hesitant, but he'd moved around to her side and Sam couldn't see his face.

She shrugged. "Not at all, but I'm probably doing about five miles. You up for that?"

"Sure." He squatted, legs pale in his shorts, and began stretching.

"Carter! You ready?" The Colonel was at the door, wearing a disgustingly tattered pair of shorts and the same t-shirt he'd been in for days.

"Daniel's coming too," Sam said, and straightened. She hadn't seen the both of them at the same time since the catastrophic debrief with Josh and Marie a week ago: she wasn't sure they'd even seen each other. She wasn't sure this wasn't intentional.

"Cool," said O'Neill, and led the way down the stairs at a fast lope.

The Colonel took them out onto the Windsor trail, which meant it wouldn't be a five-mile run, but a seven-mile loop, with a steep climb at the five-mile mark. Sam raised an eyebrow: she knew she could handle it, but she hadn't seen the Colonel out running for over a month.

Late spring in the Adirondacks meant mud on the trails, greening birches and pollen in the air. It was, at least, still too early for the mosquitoes. Jeff was on duty on the perimeter, and he waved them past, his face unreadable in the morning light.

After the pain of the first half mile, they settled down into a fairly even pace; faster than Sam was used to but not intolerable. The trail was too narrow for three abreast, and she allowed herself to drop a little behind, so Daniel and O'Neill were side-by-side in front of her. She wasn't above manipulating them if there was a chance they'd work things out. They'd had their problems before, but nothing quite like this.

For a long time nobody said anything. Finally, breathing hard but evenly on the slow climb to the junction with Redbird Trail, O'Neill said, "Get that business with Jeff sorted out?"

Sam looked up. Jeff? From behind, she couldn't see Daniel's face, but his shoulders stiffened. "Well enough. Thanks for uh, not stepping in."

The Colonel grunted. "Seemed to be what you wanted." Six steps later, he added, "But I don't want to see that happen again."

Whatever it was, that set Daniel off. "Oh, come on, Jack! That was your man. You can't blame me for their bigotry--"

"He is my man. They all are. So don't push--"

"Wait," broke in Sam, speeding up so she could hear a little better. "What happened?"

"Oh, Daniel here got into it with Jeff Kendry. Decked him."

Daniel protested. "He took a swing at me!"

"And nobody's ever done that before?"

"Jeff?" asked Sam. "What for?"

"He's an asshole," said Daniel, at the same moment O'Neill said, "He made a stupid crack about the Tok'ra--"

Daniel tripped over an exposed root, recovered, and kept going. Sam went around the root. "Let me guess," she gasped, even her wind beginning to give out. "Daniel had an answer for him?"

"Got it in one, Carter." O'Neill's voice was light, but Daniel's face had closed again. Sam sighed.

It was a long, silent run.


// herpetology 7 //

So you were wrong.

"What about?"

They're not dead.

"Oh, that. No, I guess not."

And yet you aren't happy. Why is that, Jackson?

"Being locked up under guard might have something to do with that."

*You can't be surprised by that: it's what you would do, in the same circumstances.*

"I suppose."

*These are your closest friends, people you mourned, people you were convinced were dead. And yet you're . . . angry.*

"Isn't there somewhere else you're supposed to be?"

Have they changed so much?

"Yes! No. No, I don't know. It's all wrong. They don't know, what it was like. They had each other."

And you didn't.

"No."

*You are a stupid man, Jackson.*


"What do you mean, you had one of them in you?" Casey's face was a study in disgust.

Sam nodded blandly, as if it had been no big deal. "I was taken as a host by a Tok'ra who was being pursued by an assassin. She was killed a few days later, but managed to save my life before she died."

"Oh, my god," shuddered Ellie. "That's so gross. It was in your head--"

Casey cut her off. "And they kept you in the Army, even after that?"

Ellie elbowed him. "Air Force, you doofus."

Sam shrugged, with a nod at Ellie. "Why wouldn't they? The symbiote was dead." She didn't mention the legacy Jolinar had left. Now was not the time to talk about the dreams, the shadowy melancholy that hadn't faded with the years, or the occasional painful memory of Martouf dying in her arms.

The dishwater in the sink was slick and greasy; Sam added a little more of their precious soap, and slid the frying pan into the cooling water. Casey piled four more coffee mugs and some plates on the counter next to her, and went back to the table for more, while Ellie tried to dry fast enough to keep up with Sam's speedy scrubbing.

"Well," said Ellie, grimacing in distaste, "because you had a Goa'uld. It was in your brain!"

Sam's hands didn't pause as she pried at a crusted bit of egg in the frying pan. "What, you think I was brainwashed?"

Casey shook his head and took two cups out of the drainer. "I don't know what they do. I never saw an actual snake before the other day; hell, I thought it was a metaphor!" He blinked at Sam's astonished face, and said sheepishly, "Okay, so I didn't watch enough of The X-Files. But c'mon, who would believe an actual snake?"

Ellie shuddered again, making a face, just as Daniel picked up the kettle from the table.

"Brainwashing, really? Jesus, Sam, what have you been telling these people?" Ellie turned away as Daniel reached over Sam's shoulder and filled the kettle from the tap. As he stepped around Sam to get to the stove, he rested a hand on her shoulder briefly, one finger touching the bare skin of her neck. "Don't they know anything?"

Sam felt a flush begin, and bent over the sink to hide it. "How to build bombs, and shoot, and find their way around a Goa'uld installation. There hasn't been a lot of time for anything else..."

"Yeah, but this is basic intel. What is Jack thinking?" Daniel put the kettle on the stove and leaned back against the table. He'd finally traded the appalling jumpsuit for an oversized pair of jeans and a shabby flannel shirt. Sam turned back to her dirty pans.

"So," said Ellie, facing Daniel nervously, a wet bowl in her hands, "what do we need to know?"

Sam rolled her eyes, and she knew without looking around that Daniel was glaring at her.

"The full story about the Goa'uld is probably more than you need. Only a few of these guys are doing the full 'I am your god' System Lord strut. Although if more did, they might piss off a few more people, given how religious Americans are these days." Daniel stopped suddenly.

Sam put the frying pan in the drainer and looked around. "Daniel?"

He blinked owlishly, as if he still were half-blind without his glasses. "Oh, right. Anyway, Goa'uld are technically just the symbiotes. They're naturally amphibian, water-breeding sentients that evolved on a planet we called P3F-888. At some point they developed the ability to take hosts, particularly a local species called Unas, and from there they figured out how to use the local stargate--" He sighed, looking at Casey and Ellie's blank and distrustful faces. "Okay, fine. Goa'uld are the bad guys. They take hosts against their will. Jaffa work for them, except when they don't. Tok'ra are like Goa'uld, except they don't--usually--" he glanced at Sam, "take hosts against their will.

Ellie nodded, frowning. "And you are a Tok'ra...?"

"Well, I was. So was Sam. So was Jack, for that matter."

"The Colonel? No way!" Casey's voice drowned out Sam's.

Sam snapped, "Daniel!" but it was too late. "He doesn't like to talk about that," she said, glaring at Daniel.

"Nice for him," muttered Daniel. "Some of us don't get that kind of privacy, do we?"


// herpetology 8 //

"They promised they'd keep you safe."

They did. But circumstances may change.

"It'll be okay, really--"

Hush, Jackson. Listen to me. We only have a moment here.

"Okay . . ."

*I am impressed: you are finally learning to listen.*

"Senneth!"

It's not a joke. I merely want to say something while I know I'll have the opportunity.

"Okay. Okay, I'm listening."

Keep listening. You may learn things that way. Oh, and Jackson--one last thing.

"Yes?"

*Love has no boundaries. Remember that. I have loved you, you know. *

"Jesus, Senneth, no--"

I must leave.

"Senneth--"


Sam found Daniel slumped in front of the dying fire in the oxen-sized fireplace that presided over the main room. Once, Sam imagined, this room had held wealthy hunters and fishermen sporting the most expensive outdoorwear. Now the room housed one grumpy archaeologist and four precious crates of ammunition stacked on the table in the corner.

Everyone on the day shift had gone to bed, although Sam had passed Marie on her way out to perimeter duty. Sam hitched one hip onto the back of the couch, just behind Daniel. He didn't look around. "You and the Colonel speaking yet?"

Daniel shook his head irritably.

"You're going to have to, you know, for this plan to work. We need you." He needs you, Sam thought. Even if neither one would admit it.

Daniel didn't respond, just heaved himself off the couch and headed for the kitchen. Sam followed.

The kitchen was lit by a single small candle on the huge butcher-block island in the middle of the room. His voice tight, Daniel said, "I don't want to talk about it, Sam. Can you please just drop it?" He filled a cup of water from the tap and drank it all in a few gulps.

"No." She put a hip against the butcher block, determined not to leave until they'd thrashed this out.

Daniel put the mug down in the sink for washing in the morning, when they heated water for breakfast. "Why not? It's not your business."

"Oh, don't give me that, Daniel. We're all each others' business, and if you seriously think the Colonel had anything to do with that--" She flung up her hand, as if there was nothing more to be said. Damn Daniel and his pigheadedness. He knew better, or he should.

Daniel didn't turn around, though. He leaned against the sink and looked out through the smudged glass into the darkness. It was late, and they were both tired, but damnit, this had to stop. Teal'c wasn't here, but they were SG-1, and she was not going to let Daniel's bloodyminded resentment screw with the team, even if the Colonel was willing to let it go. They'd found him once; she didn't think they'd be so lucky again.

"Daniel," she said more softly, and came up behind him to lay a hand on his shoulder. The muscles bunched under her fingers, and he shrugged, but not hard enough to shake her off. "Talk to me?"

The candle on the table flickered; Daniel's eyes reflected faintly back at her from the surface of the window. She still hadn't adjusted to seeing him without his glasses.

He sighed. "I promised her, Sam. Senneth wasn't just a snake, she was a person, she'd had a long life, and she'd been in love, and she was funny. We promised her she'd be okay. And she trusted us." He shook his head. He opened his mouth again, as if to add something, and then shut it.

"Oh." Sam had been a host, if only for a while, and not willingly. It wasn't the same, but she was the closest thing to a sympathetic ear Daniel was likely to find. Certainly the Colonel wasn't willing to talk about host-symbiote relations.

He licked his lips, met her eyes in the window. "I didn't want to take her, and she knew it."

"That doesn't make it--" Sam started to reassure him, but he cut her off.

"I know it's not my fault. But maybe--maybe she got scared, maybe she thought we'd double-crossed her." His voice dropped even lower. "Maybe I thought that Jack would take care of it for me, now that I was back on Earth."

O'Neill had known about Josh's brother. O'Neill had lied to them in the past, when he needed to. And O'Neill had no great love for the Tok'ra.

Sam didn't say anything for a moment. Daniel stared at the window, and Sam looked at the frayed collar of his shirt. She could feel him sliding away, receding all the while he was there with them. She couldn't fix this, couldn't fit all the pieces together the way they'd used to be. But she needed to fix it: it was what she did.

Sam swallowed, and kept her voice steady. "We missed you." The worn cotton of his shirt was soft under her fingers as she ran her hand down his arm. She lifted his hand and interlaced their fingers, pulling him around to face her as she did so. "We missed you a lot."

"Sam, you don't--" he stopped when she put her free hand on his mouth, but he kept frowning.

She ran her finger up the line of his nose to smooth his eyebrows, first one, then the other. As she did so, she stepped closer and brought their joined hands down to waist-height, where she freed herself to leave his hand resting on the curve of her hip. Daniel's frown had receded; now he looked puzzled, as if someone had asked him how many languages he spoke, and he had to count them up. Sam hooked her hand behind his head, pulled him down, pulled herself up, and kissed him firmly.

She wasn't sure when she did it quite what she intended; except that this was Daniel, her teammate and her friend, and he needed to know he was loved. Later, she decided this was what she'd wanted all along.

As it was, "firmly" progressed surprisingly fast to "thoroughly". Daniel's hand hesitated, then slid from her hip to the small of her back. He pulled her closer, while his other hand swept up to caress her neck, making her nerves dance. Sam played with the short hairs at the back of Daniel's head, her other arm curling around his waist.

Oh, it felt good. To be held, to hold, not out of fear or exhaustion, but out of love. Daniel wasn't the only one who needed this. How long had it been, she wondered, and then stopped wondering. Daniel tasted like the bean soup they'd had for dinner, smelled of dust and sweat, and he needed a shave. He was so real, so much better than her own fingers and the occasional fantasy she allowed herself. He took up space that had been empty. Sam nibbled his lower lip and squeezed harder, pulling tighter against him; Daniel grunted and swung her around to press her up against the pantry door.

Oh. Oh, this was even better. She tugged at Daniel's shirt as he kissed along her jaw, his fingers moving faster, his mouth becoming hungrier. He yanked at the tie of her braid to let her hair fall around her shoulders, then slid his hands inside her t-shirt, palms rough against her waist. Sam hissed and ran her hands up Daniel's back, fumbling for an anchor. She shifted her feet apart to stay upright and he moved even closer, pressing hard against her. Oh, god. All she could feel was Daniel, the heat and weight of him, the sound of her own pulse drowning out every thought in her head except yes, this.

The thought bobbed to the top of her mind that they were very close to having sex on the kitchen table. She ignored it in favor of discovering what Daniel's collarbone tasted like.

And then he pulled away. He straightened and stepped back, just out of reach. The air rushed between them, cooling Sam's flushed skin, bringing Daniel back into focus. He was frowning again, that ridge forming between his brows, the one that meant he was thinking too much. No, no, thinking was bad, don't think.

"Uh, Sam? I think we have a problem."

"Daniel--"

"The problem is," he said, grabbing her hand and tugging her against him again, "that your bed is all the way at the other end of the building."

Sam sucked on his lower lip, then let it go. One of his hands found its way down the back of her jeans.

"Oh, c'mon," she said, and gasped as his fingers moved. "Seven years on SG-1 and you don't think we can there without being spotted?"


// herpetology 9 //

Well, that's a little more promising. I was worried you'd still be moping about, full of bitterness and resentment. Well, actually, you are, but at least you're not foolish enough to turn down sex.

"What are you--you're dead! Why are you still here?"

There are many kinds of death, Jackson. I would have expected you to understand that.

"Yeah, but--you're not in my head anymore. You're out! You're out of my head and you're dead!"

True, this is your brain. Perhaps I'm not really here.

"So I'm hallucinating you?"

And you've never done that before?

"Uh. Well--never mind. So, what were you saying?"

Ah, your friend is still awake. I can wait.


Somewhere beyond the blanket and the pillow and the warmth against her back, someone was yelling her name.

There was a bang, as if a door had slammed open and knocked another little chip out of the bedroom wall, where it was already battered. "Carter!" This time the Colonel's voice came from just a few feet away.

The mattress rocked as Daniel rolled over, and the blankets pulled against Sam, air sliding in between her back and Daniel's chest, chilling her. She thought about grumbling but instead kept her head buried deep in the warmth.

"Carter, we got supplies coming in. Get your ass out--" O'Neill's voice cut off sharply.

"Morning, Jack."

There was an uncomfortably long pause. Sam grinned, and bit the pillow to keep from giggling. She so wished she could see the look on his face.

When O'Neill spoke, his voice sounded only a little strangled. "Daniel."

The bed moved some more as Daniel sat up. Sam let her hand drift backwards under the covers, and come to rest on Daniel's bare hip. But she kept hidden under the blankets as Daniel said, "Do you wake Sam up that way every day? I'm surprised she hasn't shot you yet." He slipped his hand into hers and tickled her palm with his fingers.

Happy thoughts went scampering up her nerve endings, like squirrels racing along tree branches. Sam resisted, and with a sigh she pulled the blanket down and rolled over to look at the Colonel. She was an adult, after all.

O'Neill stood with one hand on the doorframe, hair even more absurd than usual, a look of blank incomprehension on his face.

"Sir," she said cautiously. She didn't think she'd ever seen him so confused. "What is it?"

"What?" he replied, blinking at her, Daniel, the clothes on the floor. "Oh, ah--I'll ah--I'll just see you downstairs--" And then he was outside, the door closing very firmly behind him.

Daniel choked. Sam's giggles erupted at the same moment; she struggled upright and sat next to him on the edge of the bed, keeping the blankets wrapped around her shoulders. There was a scar on his shoulder she didn't recognize, but instead of touching it, she just leaned against him as they laughed.

"Well, that was fun," he finally said. "Poor Jack." He sounded thoughtful, which Sam thought was an improvement.

"Whatever it is, I better get down there," Sam said. But she didn't get up, and just kept leaning against Daniel.

"Sam," he said after a moment. She tilted her head to look at him. He was looking down at the floor, or at his hands, clasped on top of the blanket. "This, um," he lifted one hand and gestured at the room, cool in the early morning. "Are we good?"

Her socks were across the room and the floor was cold. Sam jumped out of bed, squeaked a little as she bounced over to her socks, and then flung herself back on the bed. She didn't answer Daniel until she'd put her socks on. Then she stood up, bare-assed in the cold, and handed him his jeans.

He looked so funny, and a little lost, sitting there with his pants in one hand and that confused look on his face, so she had to kiss him. And then he kissed her back, warm and hungry and morning-breath and all, and oh, did she want to go back to bed, but there was a bellow from downstairs. The Colonel was taking his confusion out on Casey, no doubt.

Off to reorganize the storage shed and make room for more equipment. Sam scrambled into her clothes and left Daniel looking for his underwear. She had to stop twice in the hallway to hop on one foot while she tied her sneakers.


Three messy hours later, Sam got a cup of something from the kitchen, whatever Casey considered an adequate substitute for coffee this week. She took a tentative sip, shrugged, and went to stand in the doorway of the lodge, looking out at the morning.

It was a close bet whether the Adirondacks were prettier than the Rockies this time of year. They were, at the least, warmer. And buggier. Sam swatted at an early mosquito and wondered how many KP sessions she would have to trade Casey for his last bottle of OFF. At the edge of the small clearing were blueberry bushes, the treasured berries still tiny and green. Sam swung her eyes across that boundary, looking for more fruit, and spotted two people in the shadows of the pines.

The Colonel sat on a log leaning against a tree, his body in shadow, but his feet in the sun. In front of him stood Daniel. Sam raised an eyebrow; despite Daniel's amusement earlier, she wasn't expecting to see them even in the same place right now, much less actually talking.

But Daniel wasn't just talking, he was in full-on download mode, waving his arms, pacing back and forth. If she were closer, Sam was sure she'd see the eyebrows bouncing up and down like kids on a backyard trampoline. If she were closer, she might hear them as well; but they would probably stop talking.

So instead she took another sip of her not-coffee and watched.

The cup was half-empty when O'Neill's head jerked and he pointed a finger at Daniel. "Ah-ah-ah!" muttered Sam to herself, and grinned into the tepid liquid. Daniel snapped something back, his back rigid. They went back and forth like that a few times, but the vehemence decreased with each exchange.

Finally Daniel said something, his face turned away from O'Neill, his shoulders hunched. One hand lifted into the air, as if reaching for something, scrabbling for a handhold on a slick surface. There was no way for Sam to hear what it was Daniel said, but she saw the smile spread across O'Neill's face, and the way his eyes narrowed in the sunshine as he leaned forward to grasp Daniel's hand. Daniel's head turned; he looked at O'Neill for a long moment before closing his hand around O'Neill's and pulling him up.

Sam faded back into the kitchen at that point, biting her lip and too hopeful to drink cold and bitter tea.


// herpetology 10 //

Good man, Jackson.

"Is that really you?"

Who can know? But I suspect I shall not be here long. The last of my neurons are beginning to degrade now, and you will soon be left with nothing more than wisps of memory.

"Oh."

And you thought you wouldn't ever like me. I'm touched, Jackson.

"Yes, well. You tend to grow on a person."

Like a fungus?

"Hah, hah. I'm--I'm sorry. For everything."

I would have liked to see how it all ended. I require of you that it end well. My last command for my host, if you will. Although we Tok'ra don't do that sort of thing. Except, of course, when we do.

"I'll do everything that I can. And--thank you."

". . . Senneth?"


There was a shout from the yard when another load of supplies arrived in late afternoon, so Sam grabbed her jacket and headed out onto the deck. In the yard were a battered pickup truck and a singed-looking green panel van. Next to the van a handful of strangers stood about, looking uncertain.

Off to the side, where the bonfire had been the night Senneth left Daniel, were the Colonel and a tall figure in a denim vest and military surplus pants.

Sam made a sound she couldn't swear wasn't a squeal, and ran for the stairs, abandoning her jacket on the railing. By the time she reached them, Teal'c was braced for impact, and didn't even stagger when she hit him. His arms closed around her, and his broad face creased in a smile so wide it looked like it might hurt.

"It is very good to see you well, Major Carter."

"Oh, god, Teal'c, I can't believe it, how are you?" Sam pulled away to look at him. Unlike the rest of them, he had managed not to lose any weight that she could tell, and was as solid and intimidating as ever--perhaps even more so now, in his jacket with the sleeves torn off and size fourteen work boots. He was here. And the Colonel and Daniel were here, they were all together again, after so long. Teal'c's face blurred for a moment.

"Carter, you okay?" O'Neill came around to her side, neatly blocking the view of the strangers gathered by the van. Teal'c's people, Sam realized. Rebel Jaffa and desperate humans scrounged from a dozen grimy camps up and down the eastern seaboard.

Sam wiped her eyes with the heel of her hand. "No, I'm fine. Really. I just--" She looked up in time to see Teal'c raise his gaze to the deck over her shoulder, and his eyes widen. His smile, which had started to fade, grew larger.

"Teal'c!" shouted Daniel from the deck, and within seconds he was there with them, pounding Teal'c on the back, jostling Sam in his enthusiasm. Sam staggered and leaned against the colonel, struggling to keep her feet.

It was too much. The sun was too bright, the air too clear. Sam kept her eyes open and just breathed, O'Neill's shoulder against hers keeping her steady.

They stood there, the four of them, in the same place for the first time in nearly two years. There was an awkward pause, but it barely had time to form before Daniel slung an arm across Teal'c's shoulders, and hooked the other through Sam's, pulling them together around the Colonel. Sam wrapped her other arm around the Colonel's waist, her fingers barely touching Teal'c on the far side. They were bundled together like a football team in a huddle.

The tears prickled her eyes again but this time she didn't wipe them: to do that she would have to let go, and she wasn't willing to do that, ever again.

"Well?" said Daniel, with an eyebrow for the Colonel. His eyes looked suspiciously damp as well.

The smile on the Colonel's face was one she hadn't seen since before the mountain blew up. It spread from his lips to his cheeks and finally, finally, reached his eyes. It made him look younger, reminded her of past triumphs. Sam tightened her arm around him and tried not to sniffle.

"Yeah," said O'Neill, nodding his head, looking at each of them in turn. "Snakes won't know what hit 'em."

END


Meet on the ledge
We're gonna meet on the ledge
When my time is up I'm gonna see all my friends Meet on the ledge
We're gonna meet on the ledge
If you really mean it, it all comes round again

--"Meet on the Ledge", Fairport Convention

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Fandom:  Stargate SG-1
Title:  Meet on the Ledge
Series Name:  This is Not Wartime
Author:  cofax   [email]   [website]
Details:  Series  |  PG-13  |  het  |  88k  |  04/06/05
Characters:  Daniel, Sam, Jack, Teal'c
Summary:  "We never left you. You were dead; but we never left you."
Notes:  Part of the apocalyptic series This Is Not Wartime. The Goa'uld have conquered Earth; Jack, Sam and Teal'c are fighting back as best they can. Daniel went missing the day of the attack and hasn't been seen since.

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