Teal'c was first. "I bring pizza," he announced.
Good man, Teal'c, you could always rely on him in a crisis.
"Is Dr Fraiser getting coffee?"
The SGC coffee made good paint-stripper, but it was hot and wet with plenty of caffeine and a couple of mugs would go down really well right now.
"I believe that was her intention. She has also contacted General Hammond and he will be along shortly."
A familiar head poked through the door. "I brought tuna subs and a supply of coke. That okay?"
"Oh," Daniel dipped his hand into a carrier bag and brought out a package, "I, er, brought along something for Sunlight. I figure they don't have Barbie dolls on Argos."
"Thanks." It was awkward to find suitable words when people did exactly the right thing. "She'll really enjoy that. Dump your food on the table."
Next item on the agenda: seating. He reached out for one end of the mattress on the top bunk. "Teal'c, can you help me shift this."
"For what purpose, O'Neill?"
"Because," he gestured at the solid concrete floor, "some of us are going to freeze our butts off otherwise."
Teal'c stood solid. "It would be more effective to fetch additional chairs."
"Yes, it would," O'Neill agreed patiently, "it would also be more visible on the security cameras."
"I see," Teal'c said, in the tone he used when he didn't see at all, but he moved obediently to take his end. O'Neill gripped the first end and, on his nod, they lifted simultaneously and landed it on the floor next to the wall. It wasn't heavy, just bulky and smelt vaguely of dust and disenfectant.
Daniel parked himself cross-legged on the mattress and leaned back against the wall. "Who gets the chairs?"
"Janet because she's a lady, and Hammond because he's going to be extremely pissed-off at me and every little helps."
"You mean more pissed-off than he already is?"
O'Neill passed down the ever-more crumpled letter. "Share that with Teal'c, but do me a favour and don't repeat anything in it to anyone else at all. If you do, I might have to haunt you."
Daniel glanced up sharply at him, but said nothing. After smoothing out the paper on the floor, he held it up for himself and Teal'c to read. Back straight as a staff-weapon, Teal'c knelt beside him. It had taken a while for Teal'c to master written English, but it was amazing what the necessity of having to write reports could achieve, apart from terminal boredom of course.
When he reached the end, Daniel breathed in deeply and let it out in a long blow.
"Did you say 'pissed-off'?"
"I believe General Hammond will be exceedingly annoyed," Teal'c added.
"Annoyed at what?" asked a voice from the doorway.
"Ah, General," O'Neill summoned up all the charm he could muster, "you have a perfect sense of timing. Come on in, pull up a pew, have a slice of pizza." He grabbed one himself by way of demonstration, bit off a mouthful of pepperoni and proffered the box in Hammond's direction. He might as well have been offering cold turkey three days after Thanksgiving.
"I'll stand, thank you. What is this? A party? Dr Fraiser gave me to understand that this was important."
O'Neill stood straight from force of habit, narrowly avoiding getting mozzarella on his utility trousers. "It is, Sir."
"Then I demand an explanation."
"As soon as General Carter and Dr Fraiser get back. I don't want to keep going over the same ground. The Doc's just going over some medical records and downloading them onto a laptop."
"Sunlight's CDs?" asked Daniel.
"Yes. Janet wanted to have both sets of data for comparison before she decides what to recommend."
Hammond appeared to gain three inches in height. His eyes bored straight into O'Neill's. "I was under the impression that I ran this command."
O'Neill winced. "Sir, keep your voice down. You can hang me tomorrow. Just don't wake Sunlight up - she's been through enough already."
He was granted an all-too-brief respite by the return of Janet and Jacob bearing the laptop and a jug of coffee plus a supply of plastic cups.
"Dr Fraiser," Hammond said, slightly more quietly, "would you mind telling me what the hell is going on here?"
"Best let Colonel O'Neill explain." She calmly poured out coffee and passed cups around.
The plastic was thin. Out of the corner of his eye, O'Neill could see Daniel place his cup hurriedly on the floor and wave his fingers in the air to cool them down. Teal'c appeared not to notice, either he had thicker skin, or it was one of those Jaffa things about not showing pain. Janet had the knack of it - she was holding the cups by the rim. She didn't offer O'Neill one, simply placed a cup on the table where he could reach it.
He could sense Hammond waiting. The coffee was a distraction, but it wasn't distracting the general. Hammond had the patience born of impatience, the kind that said 'I'm not moving from here until I get an answer'.
There was a cold hard knot in his guts, twisting tighter and tighter as Hammond's eyes flicked over the disabled security camera and came back to rest on his face. There was no mercy in Hammond's voice, just the cold, hard necessities of command.
"Colonel O'Neill, you've committed two breaches of security regulations in one day. You leave me with no option other than a court martial."
He'd always known deep down inside that it would come to this one day. He'd got away with it for years, insubordination here, disobeying an order there. He was good at his job, and Hammond had allowed him a certain degree of latitude as a result, but he wasn't indispensable.
Well, he couldn't dig himself in any deeper. O'Neill shrugged mentally. On a need to know basis, there were some things Hammond needed to know.
"If I'm dead already, there's a couple of other things you might as well add to the charge sheet. I lied at the debriefing session." He ticked points off on his fingers as he went. "One, Sunlight isn't Kynthia's daughter. Two, she isn't my daughter either, not strictly speaking. She's my daughter in an alternate reality. Three, Carter's her mother. Fourth, she's Tok'ra. Fifth, I'll deny any and all of the above if they are ever mentioned outside of this room."
"I see." Hammond's eyes were narrow and dangerous. "Colonel, you may just end up spending the rest of your life in jail."
"Yes, Sir." If it happened, it happened. As long as... "Jacob?" He knew he didn't need to specify the question.
"Sam and I'll work it out between us."
"And the rest of this conspiracy?" Hammond's hand flicked minimally to indicate the rest of the occupants of the room. "Are they going to deny all knowledge too?"
O'Neill swallowed. Conspiracy was an ugly word and sounded far too close to mutiny. "I didn't tell anyone anything until after the debriefing. Video-recording is a pain in the butt."
"And do they know anything now?"
Teal'c spoke first. "O'Neill risked his life to save my son Rya'c."
Fasier looked worried. "She's four years old, General. You don't know what she's been through. I keep thinking of Cassie."
Damn it, he shouldn't have drawn Fraiser into this. He hadn't the right to dump things on her, maybe risk her career.
"I'm sorry, Doc. If it hadn't been for the MRI scan..." The compulsory scan would have revealed the symbiote and then the fat would truely have been in the fire.
She reached out and touched him lightly on the hand. "It's all right."
"Jacob." Hammond's voice was harsh. "Are you by any chance going to tell me that you have diplomatic immunity?"
Jacob's head dipped.
"He is," said Selmak, "and I am in agreement. Kantele is one of the last of my people."
"Dr Jackson?" Nothing at all revealed in the voice now, just a cold careful neutrality.
Daniel scrambled to his feet with that slight awkwardness that characterised him. Somehow, you always expected him to trip over his own feet, while simultaneously apologising for getting in your way. "General Hammond, do you know why Jack was sent on the first mission to Abydos?"
Ah, this was going to be Daniel in passionate mode. He had a nasty feeling as to what was coming next.
"He was the best man for the job," Hammond said.
"No, why was he the best man for the job?"
Yep, Daniel was getting into gear now, hands gesticulating vividly. Maybe that was part of what made him such a good translator, he used his whole body to express what he was feeling. It wasn't just the hands, it was the way he stood, the way he tilted his head, everything.
"I have a feeling that you're going to tell me anyway."
"Because it was a suicide mission. They wanted someone who would blow the gate, even if he had to go with it."
"Colonel O'Neill has a strong sense of responsibility. Or at least, so I'd have said until today."
"No, you don't get it. Jack was suicidal. He didn't care whether he came back or not."
Oh God, here it came. All he could do was hide behind a blank expression and hope the pain didn't show through. You could tell who knew by their faces. Janet merely gave the slightest nod of confirmation, but then she'd seen his medical records. Hammond knew about Charlie, but had obviously never associated that with Abydos.
Daniel continued relentlessly, animated with a determined energy. "His son, Charlie, died just before Abydos. Jack was in no fit state to go on that mission, but the military didn't give a damn. He was the tool they needed for the job, and they used him. Now he's got another chance at a family, and I think the military owe him one." He stopped abruptly, stabbed a finger at Hammond.
"What's the most important thing in your life? What would it hurt you most to lose?"
"Right. What would you do if you thought they were in danger?"
"Anything, up to and including resigning this command."
Daniel stopped abruptly. "Is that why..."
"Why I resigned last year? Yes. I owe Jack a debt for that one." Hammond sat down heavily on a plastic chair. "I'm starting to get the picture, but I don't see why the girl is in any danger."
Teal'c spoke up from the floor. "She is Tok'ra. A mature goa'uld larva fetched a price of ten million dollars. A Tok'ra symbiote would have a higher value. Sunlight on Water is like myself: she has no legal existence in this world. If it became known that she carried a symbiote, then her life would be in danger."
There were times when you wanted to hug that guy.
Hammond wiped a hand across his forehead. "My apologies, Jack. I'm surprised you told me at all."
O'Neill glanced over at Janet. "Doc?"
"He had no choice, General. You have to authorise a mission to Sunlight's reality. There's a new strain of flu there that's killing around ninety percent of those infected. We need live virus samples to manufacture a vaccine in case the same disease occurs here. We know events in one reality often repeat in other realities. We can't take the gamble of being unprepared."
The table was littered with crumbs and empty coffee cups, the iso-bay was warm with the heat of six and a half bodies and someone had managed to sneak in a few cans of beer.
Selmak was holding forth and O'Neill was listening with more interest than normal.
"Kantele wasn't called Kantele to start with. I cannot recall his original name now."
"I thought you goa'uld, sorry Tok'ra, had perfect genetic memory?" Janet asked.
"We do, but that doesn't mean we recall all the trivia. Imagine having perfect recall of every book you ever read or every computer screen you ever looked at. You'd spend so much time wading though garbage in your memory that you'd never find what you were after. The trick isn't so much remembering the stuff you want, as getting rid of all the stuff that you don't. We genetically encode anything really important, the rest takes its chances in the same way that human memory does. It doesn't matter in any case, as Kantele was the name he chose for himself. His first host was from an Asgard-protected world-"
"I told you the name was Finnish!" Daniel exclaimed. "But I thought most of the protected worlds had traps on the gates to catch anyone with a symbiote?"
"I don't know the full story," Selmak said. "I believe Tuevo had left his homeworld before he met Kantele. The tale Kantele told is that his host was an entertainer, a singer and a musician. When they were joined, they worked as a team: Tuevo sang, Kantele played harmony. Kantele took his name from their favourite instrument. That's how he learnt that trick of being able to do one thing with the hands while the host is using the rest of the body. Very few Tok'ra can do that. I can't.
"I suppose you'd call him a bit of a hobo really. They bummed their way from planet to planet, earning their living as entertainers, hopping between gates and generally ignoring the galaxy at large. Most Tok'ra disapproved; Kantele did nothing to forward the fight against the goa'uld. It was only later that we realised what he was doing. In his own way, he was sowing the seeds of rebellion.
"They wrote songs: ballads, love songs, anti-war songs, comic songs, protest songs. They composed songs in a dozen languages, sang them on a hundred worlds. They wrote ditties about the System Lords that made people laugh. They wrote ballads that could make listeners weep, of heroes who fought the goa'uld."
"The ballad of Sel'ac?" asked Teal'c.
"Possibly. I do not-"
"Daddy!" The cry was high-pitched and terrified.
O'Neill was beside the bunk in a flash, kneeling down and reaching inside the tent.
"It's all right, Sunlight. What is it, a bad dream?"
She wrapped her arms round his neck, so tight she almost choked him. As he lifted her up to sit on his lap, he could feel her trembling.
"Grandpa," she whispered, "I killed Grandpa."
"Grandpa's fine. Look, he's here now."
O'Neill crooked a finger. "Jacob, she needs you."
Jacob came and sat on the bunk beside him, dipping the mattress unevenly. He stroked a finger down a side of the face that was buried resolutely in O'Neill's shoulder.
"What's the matter, Sunlight?"
"I dreamed you were dead. I killed you."
O'Neill caught Jacob's eye. If this was what he thought it might be, then it was going to be rough.
"Sunlight," Jacob began, "I dialed the Stargate for you. What did I do after that?"
"You gave me Kantele to look after, and then you kissed me goodbye and I felt all funny and then you told me to run very fast to the gate and not to look back."
"And you did just what I told you?"
"And now you're here and I'm here and I'm definitely not dead."
"But why is Kantele crying?"
O'Neill fished around under her pillow until he found the wooden angel. "Look, he's not crying now."
She studied the angel carefully. "But he's still unhappy."
O'Neill spread his hands in resignation. "The ball's in your court, Jacob. You're our resident expert on 'angels'."
"Thanks a bunch." Jacob held out his arms. "Come and sit on my knee for a minute, and I'll try and explain."
Sunlight thought about that for a while, then swopped laps, letting Jacob cuddle her while she clung onto O'Neill's hand for good measure.
"It's like this. Being a guardian angel means you're very close to someone. You love them and they love you."
"Like Mommy and Daddy?"
"Yes." He cocked a sardonic look at O'Neill. "Like Mommy and Daddy."
He was going to have to do something about that one soon, and he hadn't the faintest idea what. In many ways, it might be simpler to stick with the Kynthia story where Carter was concerned, because anything else opened up a whole nest of worms. But if he did that, he'd have to prevent the two of them from ever meeting. Hell and damnation.
"Kantele's been guardian angel to several people including Tuevo and me, and now you. When he has to leave someone to look after another person, that makes him very unhappy because he loves them. But sometimes, he has to do it to help someone else. Do you remember being sick?"
"I was all hot and cold and I hurted."
"And were you all right after I kissed it better?"
"I felt funny, and then I felt a bit better and then Kantele said we had to run for the Stargate."
Jacob hugged Sunlight a little closer, before carrying on:
"Now, I was scared and Kantele was scared, because, sometimes, when you lose your guardian angel, you die. Kantele didn't want me to die, but we talked it over and we agreed that we both loved you. Having Kantele would stop you being sick and we both wanted that, even if I died instead of you.
"Sunlight, I'd do the same again. Make sure Kantele knows that." Jacob drew a deep breath. "But it all worked out in the end. I didn't die. I found a new angel. She's called Selmak and you'll like her very much when you get to know her."
So the snake had feelings? Darn it, he was never going to get used to that, though after Lantash... Okay, so they had feelings. What's it like when you have to kill someone you love? What's it like to see somebody you love with someone else? What's it like when you know you really ought to be happy for them?
What's it like when you feel you're the only person who knows first-hand exactly what a damn goa'uld is going through?