Jack had this twisty, uncomfortable feeling in his chest that he thought might be heartburn and gave himself a light thump on the sternum. Seriously, someone needed to talk to Thor about the yellow food cubes. They gave Jack indigestion every time.
The white flare of the Asgard beam faded out, leaving Atlantis' very own kamikaze standing in the middle of the conference room. Thor hadn't bothered to warn him apparently and he looked shaky with shock.
The relief that flared over McKay's face, then the Mal Doran woman's and half a dozen others, made Jack realize the funny feeling had been shame. The authority that went with the stars and the promotion to general was nice, but not if it meant Jack forgot how to be a decent human being. He'd needed to talk to Hammond about that someday; George had never lost the latter, no matter how long he'd held his high rank.
McKay grabbed their missing man, holding so tight you couldn't fit a piece of paper between them and bitching non-stop, beginning with, "Bastard, don't you ever do that again," segueing into, "Fuck the city, you suicidal idiot," and finishing with, "Do anything like this again and I'll kill you myself!"
He watched Jehan freeze up in shock then clutch McKay just as tight. They pulled apart enough to lean their foreheads together, but McKay clutched at the arms of Jehan's jacket while he did so, clearly unwilling to release him completely. No guessing what kind of relationship those two had. It made Jack squirm a little inside, but mostly it left him envious.
After a second, McKay broke and pulled Jehan tight again, hugging him until Jehan drawled breathlessly, "Mer... air." From the way he was hanging onto McKay, though, he didn't really mind.
Mal Doran swept him up in a kiss that definitely involved tongue and some groping on her part, then there was a flurry of greetings: the little Amazon did the forehead thing, the guy with the staff weapon thumped his back, and the one with dreadlocks picked him up and spun him around. Sam snuck in a hug and Daniel and he did the warrior's forearm clasp Teal'c had taught SG-1. A bunch of happy people Jack didn't know followed, all so touchy-feely with the pilot that he could see the object of their joy begin flinching away. The tips of the guy's ridiculously pointy ears were pink before everyone was done.
One thing he noticed: these folks weren't taking getting their man back from the dead for granted the way the SGC seemed to do anymore.
He rocked back on his heels and smiled a little, catching Carter's gaze.
"No need to thank me," he whispered.
She smiled back at him and replied, "I wasn't going to, but how does Thor feel about thank you cards?" as she picked up a tablet.
Jack sniffed but couldn't help being amused by prospect of Thor's bafflement.
Carter lifted her voice, calling everyone to some kind of order. "Okay, party later, let's figure out what we have to do next."
"I still have to fix that blown power conduit," McKay said. "Then we're taking off to check out those readings I got."
Mal Doran perched herself on the edge of the table and said, "It'll be a couple of days. None of us has seen a bed in too long." She lifted her hand and pointed at McKay and Jehan before either of them could speak. "No remarks about my bed."
Carter nodded and made a note on her tablet.
Jehan had migrated back to McKay's side, close enough their shoulders bumped. "I'll be with Mer," he said. He smirked at Mal Doran and added, "In our bed."
Mal Doran smiled widely. "So we'll leave in a week!" she declared cheekily.
McKay snorted and the guy with the dreadlocks chuckled while Jehan flipped her off.
"Promises, promises," Mal Doran responded to the gesture in a throaty voice.
Without any more formality, McKay and Jehan headed out of the conference room. McKay stopped as Jehan murmured something to him at the doors, snapped his fingers, and turned to level another glare at Jack. "I want that gun back. I spent days customizing it and it'll blow up if any of your SGC apes start pawing at it."
"We'll talk about it later," Jack promised.
"Don't blame me when someone loses a hand," McKay muttered, then Jehan grabbed his biceps and pulled him on out.
"Revenge still needs some repair work," Mal Doran said. "But Lindsay says we have shields and hyperdrives. We'll stick around long enough for Mer and Jehan to help out with your damage, though."
"About that...," Jack said, though he knew it was going to be a losing argument.
"You're okay? But what about radiation? You should be in the infirmary. Oh my God, what kind of rad count did you take — "
"You and Zee built the bomb," Jehan pointed out as Mer kept fretting. "I'm sure it was safer than any nuke... ever." He rubbed Mer's back and pushed down just enough to keep him from backing out of the access space again. The inability to focus on the job and worrying over Jehan's health were dead giveaways Mer had been operating on no sleep and stims for too long. "Just finish that, and we'll get something to eat."
Mer needed food even if even thinking of eating made Jehan's own stomach roll. He and Miko had given each other breaks to stop and eat and while he'd been in the control chair, operating it non-stop, Fraiser had stuck an IV in his arm, so he didn't really need anything. He hoped he could choke something down, though, without it coming back up. Mer wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than Jehan spending the night in the infirmary if it did.
"Real food?" Mer muttered. "Because I've been eating Power Bars and MREs so long I can't remember what anything else tastes like."
There had to be something in the city's makeshift mess hall. Sandwich stuff and drinks, probably some desserts. The cooks had been fixing stuff people could grab and take with them, eating on the way or while they were doing their jobs.
"Tava cakes and honey?" Mer murmured dreamily.
"Have to finish so we can find out, buddy," Jehan coaxed.
Mer wiggled back out. "Oh, I'm done. Lay on your hands."
It felt strange, even now, but Jehan set his palm against one of the initialization sensors. The blue gel lit from within, then bubbles began rising through the green-tinted fluid inside all the nearby columns and the city lights flickered brighter.
Mer dusted his hands together. "Power's back through the main conduit. What would they do without me?"
"Send in Carter?" Jehan teased.
A snort of derision resulted. "Possibly, but she doesn't have you to make everything work."
"You... have... me?"
Mer leered at him. "I'd like to, later." His stomach rumbled loudly. "Food first." He held out his hand imperiously. "Help me get up. My knees are killing me."
Jehan locked hands with him and pulled Mer to his feet.
The mess hall yielded breakfast food, including sticky buns and real scrambled eggs. Mer ate both and Jehan settled for Athosian stout tea, toast, and fruit. Mer eyed him worried between shoveling food in without any mind to manners, but said nothing. He was yawning open-mouthed before he finished the last bun and Jehan had to steer him clear of more than one wall on the way back to their quarters.
Mer fell face forward onto their bed as soon as they were in the quarters and moaned, "Sleeeeeeeep," before wriggling higher, letting out a snuffling snort and going limp. The toes of his boots hung off the end of the bed.
Jehan sighed and stripped off Mer's boots, then his clothes, and rolled him under the top sheet and blanket, before heading for the washroom himself.
Atlantis' washrooms were surreally like those in Earth's more luxurious establishments and included water baths and roomy shower rooms. They only reasserted their alienness on close examination of detail, design, and materials. In other places, the city could be so strange no one even guessed the equipment's purposes. No one had ever found any sign of where or how the Ancients ate or prepared their food, for example, not even storage — the mess hall and kitchen had been set up in what looked like a meeting room and empty laboratory, since it had water and disposal connections. Stoves and refrigeration units had been salvaged and brought from Sateda.
When he'd washed himself almost raw, Jehan sank down in the warm mist of one of Atlantis' showers, wedged into the corner of two blue-toned walls, wrapped his arms around his knees and hoped the shakes would wear off before the water ran out.
Maybe Mer was so exhausted he could sleep even knowing a Jaffa was in Atlantis, but Jehan's skin crawled thinking about it. It wasn't just any Jaffa either. It was him, the shol'va, Apophis' former First Prime. Teal'c. The one who chose John Sheppard to send to hell the first time. He wondered if he could ever sleep again, knowing Teal'c was in Atlantis, not to mention the prim'ta in his belly.
Thinking of the immature goa'uld inside the Jaffa made him gag and he couldn't feel the naquadah in it the way the former hosts could.
Vala had gone back to Revenge to sleep and Jehan wished he'd thought to persuade Mer to do the same. He had spent every minute since coming back to Atlantis pretending he wasn't still shaking inside, but if he'd said something to Mer, Mer would have dragged him to Fraiser. There wasn't anything Janet, for all her skill and compassion, could do for bad memories and guilt.
He'd had to ignore Mer screaming on the comm because someone had to take out the hive. He'd known Vala would try to beam him out and he'd known Revenge wouldn't make it in time and he'd been willing to leave Mer behind because he'd be alive. Mer and Vala and Teyla and Til and Zee, Lindsay and Ronon and Melena, even Carter — everyone he cared about — would stay alive. He'd had to do it. He'd been braced for it when he'd pushed the button to trip the nuke. Then he'd been somewhere else, facing that First Prime again, the one he still had nightmares about even now.
All he'd been able to see was the Jaffa.
If he hadn't been convinced he was already dead, Jehan would have put his blaster to his head and pulled the trigger, instead of taking the shaky shot at the Jaffa. He'd expected Ba'al to be standing right behind him.
Jehan ducked his head so the warm mist from the shower plastered his hair to his head and bit down on his lip. The trembling only grew worse and athe soft sound of his misery worked its way free. This wasn't helping. He didn't know what would since the fear and horror he was feeling belonged to what had happened in the past. He couldn't get away from his own memories or his reactions to that Jaffa. Thinking of the First Prime led always to Ba'al and that was only making him shake harder despite the heated water and knowing he was alive and safe after all.
The only thing worse than Ba'al would be losing Mer or Vala.
The need to reassure himself Mer was there and all right cut through the shock abruptly.
Jehan pulled himself up to his feet, swayed, braced one hand on the wall, then hurriedly stepped out of the shower enclosure. It shut off the instant he left it and the wall blowers kicked on. Despite the warmth of the air, he shivered for a breath as it hit his bare, wet skin. He found one of the towels Mer insisted on keeping around and used it to dry his hair, unwilling to wait for the blowers to finish the job.
He flipped the now damp towel around his waist and headed for the bed where Mer was sprawled. The bed was not the bed that this set of quarters had possessed when they chose them. Vala had taken one look at one of the Ancient beds and asked, "Were the Ancients midget monks?" Mer had not been impressed either. He'd consulted with Teyla and then Halling, then they'd traded for a custom-made mattress from Hoff, something wide and long enough for two normal human beings. It was far more comfortable than anything from Earth, too.
Vala had sprawled on it once the bed was delivered, moaned happily, and gone on to buy enough beds and bedding from the Hoffans to supply most of the people who moved into Atlantis along with herself and the quarters on Revenge. She'd only charged the Atlantis people a small 'facilitator's fee', claiming failing to make a profit make her ill.
Jehan almost smiled as he crawled between the sheets and wrapped himself around Mer's warm, slack body.
He pressed his nose into Mer's neck and breathed in his scent. Mer had been on the satellite defense platform for the last week and Jehan had missed sleeping with him desperately, enough he would have slept with Vala if she hadn't had Ares in her bed when she was in the city. Which hadn't been often. Revenge had been ferrying parts to the defense platform right up until the Wraith hives emerged from hyperspace.
Mer grunted, rolled toward Jehan, and pulled him closer. Jehan sighed and relaxed as much as he could. At least Atlantis was warmer than Revenge. He wanted his blaster back, though, wanted it where he could reach it. Without it, he couldn't relax enough to get comfortable despite the Hoffan bed and Mer's presence.
He lifted his head and searched the mostly dark room until he spotted Mer's blaster in its holster. A Beretta 9mm. sat next to it on the table. Mer had anticipated he'd need to be armed again.
He settled again and tried for sleep. There remained a lot of work to be done in the city and then Revenge would leave the system with both of them on board. While tuning the long range sensors to give them a better idea of when the Wraith would reach the system, Rodney had discovered a signature that might be an Ancient ship. Carter advised caution, but Vala wanted to check it out and salvage it if possible since they knew Jehan had the gene to operate anything Ancient.
Jehan imagined what piloting an Ancient spaceship would be like. Like the gate ships, but faster and more powerful, more responsive... With bigger guns. He smiled against Mer's neck because Mer would make them work for him.
Maybe with what they'd found in Atlantis and more ships, they could go back and take out Ba'al and any of the other System Lords. After they finished off the Wraith, he supposed, because they couldn't leave Atlantis undefended...
He fell asleep and dreamed of the stargate, but instead of the blue event horizon, he could see the world that lay on the other side, the Tau'ri, armed and grim, waiting for him under Cheyenne Mountain. He tried to back away, but manacles weighed him down, and then the Jaffa and O'Neill dragged him back to Earth.
Jehan woke in the morning determined to keep himself and his past as far from the Tau'ri as possible.
It took exactly one day for Jack to get the picture, and that still left him feeling a little slow. After more than a year on their own, the expedition survivors were as integrated into this galaxy as the natives. None of them had any fondness for the IOA and little enough for the SGC — they'd been the misfits, freaks, and troublemakers of the program, the ones everyone wanted to get rid of but couldn't any other way. The Atlantis Expedition had been meant to be a one way trip. The ones who hadn't realized it before had figured it out since. Earth, well, it was the old homestead, but they didn't live there anymore and if it got termites that was someone else's problem.
Everyone in Atlantis was committed to finding a way to win a war against the Wraith. The Ancients hadn't been able to do it, but they hadn't been willing to die trying either.
The second day, Carter gave him a casualty list and one that gave stellar coordinates and planetary ones for where the bodies had been buried — when there had been a body and time to observe Earth tradition. Most folks in Pegasus either burned their bodies or gave them to the gate backsplash.
On the third day, she offered him a much shorter list of people who wanted to go back to Earth on the Jacob Carter.
He wasn't surprised to see her name wasn't on it.
Neither were Fraiser or Daniel's. The latter made sense, since Daniel was in hog heaven translating and studying the Atlantis database. Fraiser came as a surprise, though, and Jack made a point of wandering through the city until he found the infirmary, where his favorite mini-Napoleon had established a totalitarian regime that would have made Stalin weep with envy.
She took him into the morgue and showed him one of the dead Wraith that had beamed into Atlantis during the siege.
Jack had to admit, they were ugly sonovabitches.
He tried asking her about the crew that hijacked the Prometheus and winced when she told him that it had only taken two of them: Mal Doran and Jehan. He winced again when Fraiser mentioned the pirates had done it to rescue McKay.
"You're staying?" he asked before he went.
"I've got the ATA gene," Janet answered. Her brown eyes had a glint that Jack associated with large needles. "Besides, I'd be bored on Earth."
Then she told him to hold still and the next thing he knew she'd inoculated him against something called Kirsan fever and ordered him to go bother someone else. Jack got out before she thought of anything else she needed to stick a needle in him to treat.
Jack went back over the short list of people wanting to go back, thinking about what Janet had said. None of the names on the list meant anything to him, but all the names that weren't there suddenly made sense.
No one with the ATA gene wanted to go back.
It was pretty obvious. While none of the people staying had the ATA in spades the way Revenge's — damn it, now he was calling the ship that! — pilot did, on some bone deep level, the city sang, even to them, and he figured the longer they were there, the deeper they'd become habituated to it.
He could feel Atlantis himself; he had the ATA too.
Addiction didn't attract Jack. He was looking forward to getting out of Atlantis and back home while he still thought of Earth that way, even if he wasn't looking forward to explaining to the IOA that they'd lost all these people and the city as far as Earth was concerned. The ATA contingent was just a small fraction of the people choosing to remain in Atlantis. He guessed the best way to tell would be to say they'd gone native. Stockholm syndrome, captivity adaptation, colonial dreamers, savior complexes... It wouldn't matter what went into the reports on Earth. These people belonged to Pegasus now; they had paid their dues in their dead. If they were willing to defend Atlantis against the Wraith, then they sure as hell weren't going to turn it over to bunch of pencil pushers from the Milky Way.
The funny thing was that Jehan, the guy with the strongest gene expression, who should have been connected to Atlantis closer than anyone else, clearly would have rather been upstairs piloting Revenge.
Of course, Jehan might have been hiding out on the ship because he wanted nothing to do with Jack, SG-1, or any of the other Tau'ri that came along in the Jacob Carter and had beamed down to give hand on the city repairs over the next four days.
Since he figured that, thanks to his own past with the SGC, McKay wouldn't have painted him in the best light, Jack had quietly told Mitchell to see if he could make friends, but it had been a bust.
Mitchell was just too damn chipper. He followed Jehan around like an over-enthusiastic puppy, all smiles and friendly chat, until McKay threatened to shoot him if he didn't shut up, quit smiling, and stop trying to poach his boyfriend. McKay wouldn't give Jack the time of day and avoided Teal'c either because of Junior or Jehan's distaste for him, so Jack couldn't get anything from him. Not that he blamed McKay; it wasn't like they'd been friends and that wasn't all McKay's fault. If McKay had been jerk back then, Jack had been the jackass McKay had not so secretly called him. Jack wished like hell he'd done better by McKay. Hell, he wished he'd done better by Carter, too. At least Carter still liked him, even if she seemed like a harder version of the woman he'd known back on Earth.
When he'd pressed her about helping the SGC try to take the Rev — Prometheus back, she shaken her head. "They're good allies," she said and left the rest hanging unsaid, unlike the SGC. He wondered if she realized what else her answer had told him, that she considered a good ally for Atlantis important because she was committed to the city and this screwy galaxy. Carter was a genius, so probably she did.
He tried asking her about the pirates because he was incurably nosy, but got nowhere with her or anyone else. "I'm too busy for gossip, General," she said. "Let's talk latter. I need to ask Janet about testing Beckett's proposed gene therapy." She gave him an apologetic smile. "Sorry. If it works, we'd have at least a third more people with ATA abilities. Jehan and the others are pretty sick of playing light switch for us."
"Sure, sure," he said while wondering who would give the go ahead on something like that. Of course, out here that person was Carter.
He headed for the mess hall for a donut — or those triangular pastries the cook from Revenge made, those were good — and got there in time to hear McKay complaining to Jehan about Mitchell again. "Is that guy an android or what? Maybe we could shoot him and see if Colonel Stepford is really human or a robot? Though, even the android in Alien wasn't disgustingly cheerful, so maybe we should have Janet do some blood tests. Wow, do you think he could be on something?" McKay paused. "No, whenever anyone gives me the good drugs, I just get dopey."
Jehan cracked a smile that disappeared as soon as he noticed Jack, but that nailed what was niggling Jack about him. The guy was from Earth, he had to be, no way anyone else would have laughed at McKay's complaint.
He made a note to tell Mitchell to tone it down.
At least Quinn and Hailey were getting in good with the scientists. Crap. Based on his track record with McKay and Carter, maybe he needed to start treating them better too. He got the feeling he might have a fight on his hands just keeping his current team when it was time to head back to Earth.
Resisting the urge to rub his ass because it still felt tender from the last inoculation, Jack made his way back to the infirmary and tried talking to Janet again. She was busy sewing up a gash on an eight year old's leg, so Jack made an ass of himself entertaining the kid's little brother. It let Mom hold the kid's hand while Janet worked. It didn't convince Janet to talk, not even after the kids were sent off with lollipops and instructions not to run down the stairs any more.
"I didn't get a lollipop," Jack pointed out.
"You can get one back on Earth."
"You're no fun."
"I've been meaning to do some comparisons between your blood and Jehan's," Janet mused. She opened a draw that held vials and other medical equipment Jack didn't want to acquainted with any better.
"Aht!" Jack made a warding gesture at her.
Janet raised an eyebrow at him and smiled sweetly.
"Ah, actually, I was hoping you'd tell me a little more about Jehan."
"Nice try, General," Janet said. "No lollipop. Now get out of here."
Since Fraiser hadn't told him anything about Jehan, he decided to try Daniel. Daniel just gave him a sad look and shook his head.
"But what if he tries to kill Teal'c again?" Jack knew he was whining, but whining sometimes worked.
Not this time.
"Ask him yourself," Daniel told him.
He didn't even bother trying to get McKay to talk, having a sneaking suspicion the astrophysicist turned pirate might sock him again. He had really underestimated McKay, it turned out. That last punch had loosened a couple of Jack's teeth and almost broke his jaw.
He decided, finally, after another conference room meeting, that he had to man up before Revenge went hunting phantom sensor readings and he lost any chance. (The day Jack found out even pirates had meetings was a sad, sad day in his life.) Jehan didn't talk much, just sat and watched everyone, which seemed to be his way. He sat next to McKay while McKay ran his mouth, leaning one shoulder against him, until McKay got wild enough with his always moving hands that he shook Jehan off without even noticing.
McKay seemed to think there was an Ancient ship out there. Jack was tempted to ask Thor to follow Revenge and see if he was right, because an Ancient ship sounded pretty cool, but it might look like they were trying to grab it first.
Jehan ducked out onto one of the city's many balconies as soon as the meeting broke up. Jack understood why the guy would want some fresh air since next day he'd be back in a ship breathing the canned stuff.
"So," Jack said as he stepped out onto the balcony. He didn't even rate a glance, apparently, which would hurt his feelings if he was still twelve. Good thing he wasn't. He fished around inside his jacket and pulled out the blaster Mitchell had confiscated from Jehan on the Jacob Carter. Thor had beamed it down when he asked earlier. "Thought you might like this back."
The blaster wouldn't do anything for anyone else anyway, much to the disappointment of Jack and Mitchell. Thor had advised them that it had been tamper-proofed and trying to reverse engineer it would result in an explosion. Jack hoped giving it back would serve as a decent ice-breaker.
Jehan had been staring at the waves, while the sea breeze whipped dark hair into his eyes. He turned far enough to take the blaster and shove its muzzle down inside his belt. There were some giant fish out there that liked to frolic where the volume displacement from Atlantis' under the waterline mass did weird things to ocean current. Seemed like it made for a real amusement park ride of the aquatic variety. Maybe he was just really into watching them and not making a point of ignoring Jack.
"Not exactly chatty, are you?"
Jehan gave him a sideways glance and lifted eyebrows.
Jack shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, I know. Lame." He paused, then said, "Here's the thing. I'm ninety-nine point nine nine, uh, nine percent certain you're from Earth."
Jehan stiffened before turning to face Jack warily. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned hip shot against the balcony railing, still not saying anything in response.
"No one will tell me a damn thing about you and Teal'c doesn't know you, so — "
Jehan's expression went from wary to outright hostile and Jack began hurrying his words out.
"I mean, you've got a beef with the Jaffa, and I can understand that. But Teal'c's different."
"Now," Jehan said.
"Yeah, now. Aren't you different, now?"
That got him narrowed eyes, but Jehan was still there and still listening, so Jack decided to call it a win.
"What's driving me crazy is how the hell did you end up out here? I can't figure it. You've never been a part of an SG team, I picked most of them, and met the rest, military or civilian, even McKay."
Jehan just stared at him.
"We've never met, right?"
Jack scowled at him. He felt like he should recognize Jehan, but he didn't and it was making him feel stupid. Playing stupid was one thing, being stupid would get him killed sooner or later.
"You weren't on a gate team."
Jack shook his head. "But you are from Earth. You were at the SGC... "
His mouth was suddenly dry. There were a few people who had been at the Mountain when he hadn't; after Abydos, after he retired, before Hammond had him brought back in during the aftermath of Apophis' incursion.
Apophis' Jaffa, led by his First Prime, by Teal'c, had taken two people out of the gate room.
Sgt. Carol Kettering and Major John Sheppard.
Teal'c had said they were both dead when they debriefed him. No doubt Teal'c believed it too and they'd had no reason to think he was wrong. Aw, god damn it. No one had had any energy or time to double check what happened to Sheppard and Kettering. Jack had been so torn up over losing Skaara, and Daniel had been lobbying to find a way to get Sha're back: the victims they'd known. Kettering and Sheppard had just been names. Jack had read Major Sheppard's file and Kettering's as well, but he'd filed them away in that mental box where all the innocent casualties stayed, because he'd been busy working with Hammond to build the SGC. He hadn't thought of either of them for almost a decade.
"Guess I know what you've got against Teal'c," he said eventually. "It's Sheppard, right? John?"
Jehan didn't answer, but he didn't deny it.
Jack walked over to the railing, propped his arms on it, and glared at the horizon like it was responsible for the fuck up. They hadn't even looked for Sheppard or Kettering. Any more than they'd looked for McKay and, hell, no wonder neither of them thought too much of the Tau'ri.
"How'd you — " Jack stopped and just shook his head.
"Apophis gave me to Ba'al."
"You got away. Why not come back to Earth?" Jack asked without thinking it out. Sheppard wouldn't have known the gate symbols. There had been no Alpha site then. Hell, there had been no Stargate Command, just the program, on the edge of finally being shut down and reburied. Neither Kettering or Sheppard had had a chance. "Why not let someone know you were alive?"
"How?" Jehan asked. "I didn't know Earth's address. I assumed Apophis had destroyed or subjugated it after that first attack." His expression was blank, hiding what it must have been like to live with that belief.
"McKay could have got you back, once you hooked up with him."
Jehan glanced at the doors and they slid open in response to what must have been a mental command. Atlantis really did love him best. He gave a sort of half shrug. "From what Mer told me, if I had tried to get back, your gate iris would have killed me anyway."
"Ah, crap on me," Jack muttered.
"Sheppard — "
"Sheppard's dead," Jehan snapped. "Leave it that way."
"You look pretty good for the undead," Jack responded.
He winced, remembering all the times he woke in one, the light still fading behind his eyes, after Ba'al had tortured him to death, only to revive him and start again the next day. "Ouch." It sounded like Sheppard had died. More than once. Going through a sarcophagus over and over would have screwed with his head too.
Jack couldn't think of much else to say. Any apology he offered would be pathetic, a justification for the unbearable meant to ease the guilt he felt, not do anything for Jehan.
He couldn't read anything from Jehan's face, couldn't even guess if he was still angry or just bitter.
"We didn't know," Jack offered finally, knowing it sounded hollow. He was a master of excuses, along with rationalizations. He'd never meant Charlie to get hold of his gun. He'd never... For all the good it did.
Jehan shied past him, giving him no response, and went inside, leaving Jack with a stomach full of acid and sick with guilt.
"That wasn't what I was expecting," Jack muttered to himself and headed for the guest quarters where SG-1 were staying. Teal'c had been making himself scarce to keep from setting off Jehan or Mal Doran. He'd probably be in his room. Jack figured someone needed to tell him what he'd just found out.
Maybe Teal'c would have an idea of how to tell Hammond when they got back. Jack scrubbed at his face, feeling old. He'd been looking forward to that, to stopping by and letting George know their three lost lambs were alive after all, that despite losing the Prometheus, they'd managed to make it to Pegasus and find the Atlantis Expedition. He'd even been looking forward to telling him about McKay being alive, just as arrogant and awkward as ever.
He wasn't looking forward to telling him about John Sheppard and what happened to him on the SGC's watch.
Jehan went back to their quarters and began packing anything that he'd need back on Revenge. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had so many belongings, not even on the Tanafriti before he and Vala lost it. Everyone on Atlantis was always giving him things and with quarters in the city, unlike on the ship, he had room to keep it. Mer was even worse.
He kept packing compulsively and realized he was doing it like they weren't coming back to Atlantis when he started sorting by what he couldn't give up. The conversation with O'Neill had left him so twitchy he couldn't bear to be around anyone who might ask what was wrong. Mer would definitely ask, so that left out finding him and hanging out or Jehan would have. Besides, Mer was busy.
When he finished with his stuff, Jehan started in on Mer's because he was still too restless and freaked out to settle. After finishing that, he broke down his blaster and checked it for tampering.
Paranoia, as Mer liked to say, was a way of life. It kept you alive.
The blaster was fine. Jehan wasn't so sure about himself.
Teal'c took the news about Jehan — Sheppard — quietly, the way he did most things. Jack couldn't read his gaze at all.
Jack poked around Teal'c's temporary quarters, picking up and putting odds and ends down. There were candles. Jack picked up a heavy white one and sniffed it. Atlantis had lots of candles, which seemed strange, but apparently they were popular with Athosian contingent. He couldn't decide what they smelled like, it was something natural, soothing and fresh at the same time, but nothing like any scent from Earth. Jack put it down again and resisted the urge to stick his hands in his pockets.
He checked Teal'c again. When had Teal'c stopped wearing the Egyptian-type eye make-up, anyway? Jack remembered the heavy lines of kohl around his eyes the first time they met. Teal'c must have given that up after repudiating Apophis and coming to the SGC. He wondered if it had been a rejection of the Goa'uld or just an attempt to fit in with the Tau'ri. Teal'c didn't need it to look impressive anyway. He had the solemn, broad visage of a god carved in stone.
What would have happened if Teal'c had had his epiphany a few days before the dungeon?
Jack shook his head. If that had happened, likely Teal'c would have died before Jack ever met the big guy. Without himTeal'c and his warnings and intelligence, some Goa'uld, if not Apophis, would probably be lording it over Earth right now. Skaara and Sha're would likely still have become hosts, but Daniel would be dead. No, what happened, to Sheppard, to Kettering, to all of them, had been bad, but without Teal'c it would have been worse.
Beating yourself up over 'what if' was a losing proposition. There only was what was.
He walked back to where Teal'c was standing and clapped him on the shoulder. "No use playing the blame game, T," Jack declared. "Going back, doing it again, it would probably end up worse."
"This I know, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
"Well. Good. We just have to keep on... keeping on."
That didn't sound as comforting as Jack had hoped it would. He really sucked at the whole comforting thing, as Daniel had said more than once, and figuring out how to give Teal'c a boost was more awkward than giving a pep talk to a bunch of enlisted. He couldn't tell if it had done any good.
Teal'c nodded once in his dignified way.
"Indeed. We must always persevere."
"Yeah. That," Jack agreed. He dusted his hands together. "So. We get this, ah, personality conflict straightened out and I'll bet you and this guy'll even end up liking each other. You're both likable guys... "
"I must offer Jehan abd-Ba'al reparation," Teal declared.
"Ah. Reparation? Like what? You going to pay him damages, maybe offer him a settlement for all his lost wages and mental suffering?"
Teal'c headed for the door and out into the corridor. Jack hurried after him. He didn't think this was a good idea.
"You want to tell me what you've got in mind?" he persisted. "Because I'm not thinking you've thought this out. Maybe we should talk to Daniel first. He knows Jehan better."
He did not like where his own thoughts were taking him. Teal'c had offered Daniel his life after killing Sha're to stop Amaunet-in-her from murdering Daniel. Who knew what Teal'c would consider fitting as repayment for kidnapping Sheppard into Goa'uld slavery?
Also, when had Teal'c figured out how to navigate in Atlantis when Jack was still getting lost in the identical corridors half the time? And when had he found out where Jehan and McKay had their quarters? Jack hadn't known that.
He braced himself as Teal'c rang the chime.
The door opened and Jehan jerked back a half step on seeing Teal'c. His hand went to the butt of that blaster, but he didn't draw it. Jack flinched himself and hoped there wouldn't be any more shooting or bloodshed. He'd have to do something and then both Teal'c and Jehan would be annoyed with him.
"Hi!" he said brightly.
Jehan's expression communicated his opinion that Jack was a brain-damaged jackass. McKay used to give him the same look. It almost made him miss the good old Goa'uld-taunting days.
Teal'c sank down to one knee, his back and neck bowed to Sheppard. Jehan, Jack corrected himself. Calling him Sheppard when he wanted to forget wouldn't exactly be endearing. He was being nice and hadn't even drawn the blaster Jack had given back to him earlier.
"Jehan abd-Ba'al who was Major John Sheppard of the Tau'ri," Teal'c said, "I offer you my service and my life to balance the wrong that I committed against you as First Prime of the false god Apophis."
Jehan gave Jack a wild look over Teal'c's head, like Jack had had any influence over Teal'c's decision. He'd been totally in the dark. It wasn't like anyone ever told him anything.
"You went and told him?" Jehan demanded.
"What!?" Jack snapped. "I didn't know he was going to do this!"
Jehan jittered back another step and muttered, "You don't — don't do that. Get up."
Teal'c rose back to his feet.
Jehan scrunched his face into a perplexed frown and asked, "What does that mean? What kind of service?"
"I would guard your life and fight the Wraith beside you until they are defeated in order to make my amends for what I cannot undo."
"Hey, wait a minute — " Jack blurted. Hell, he thought, he wasn't going to have a team left before this was over. At this rate, he needed to start worrying about Thor defecting.
Teal'c turned back to him. "O'Neill. I regret that I must resign from SG-1 and stay in the Pegasus Galaxy."
He could shoot the Jaffa. Jehan twitched and really wanted to do it. The Jaffa — Teal'c — wouldn't stop him. He'd offered Jehan his life after all. He glanced at Teal'c. Teal'c said nothing.
At least he was quiet.
Jehan scowled and headed for the control room. Maybe Carter could do something about Teal'c. Teal'c followed.
"Do you have to do that?" Jehan demanded.
Jehan called him a bag of maggots and offal in Goa'uld.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. He'd probably been called worse. A Jaffa didn't become a First Prime without doing a lot of the Goa'uld's dirty work. So what if he'd changed sides? He was still guilty. He was still incubating the festering evil of an immature Goa'uld in his pouch. It made Jehan long to drag it out and kill it, to crush it screeching and helpless on the deck under his boots and then shoot it.
Killing the symbiote would kill Teal'c too.
Jehan clenched his fists.
He used the stairs because he couldn't stand the idea of being in the small confines of one of Atlantis transporters with Teal'c and the prim'ta. Teal'c followed without complaint.
He wasn't going to shoot Teal'c. It wouldn't even be satisfying, not now that he was thinking of Teal'c and not the Jaffa. Before, they had never exchanged a word.
Teal'c trailed behind him like a extra-large Rottweiler.
"Don't expect me to thank you," Jehan snapped.
Maybe Jehan could strangle O'Neill for opening his yap and telling Teal'c about Jehan's past. The bastard had engineered the very situation Jehan had wanted least and stuck him with the Jaffa's presense.
There had to be a way to get rid of Teal'c. If Carter didn't know, he'd try Daniel. He couldn't take having a Jaffa, even one now sworn to him, this near him for long.
"Don't ever touch me," he ordered Teal'c.
"As Apophis' First Prime — " Teal'c said.
Jehan lengthened his stride.
" — I chose those who were bravest to serve the gods because they were the ones who would defy the Goa'uld. I was not wrong."
Was that supposed to make Jehan feel better? So Teal'c had a reason. So what? They would never be even for what Teal'c had done to his life.
"I don't forgive you."
"Seriously?" Mer demanded. He slanted a look at the Jaffa standing at the other end of Revenge's bridge then looked back to Jehan. His voice rose until it squeaked at the end. "Seriously? Teal'c swore himself to your service?"
Jehan looked uncomfortable and furious, but he nodded, then rubbed at the back of his neck.
"And you said yes?"
Color rose onto Jehan's cheeks. "I tried to say no!" He glared at Teal'c.
Mer could just imagine. What he imagined was that somehow, Jack O'Neill had a hand in this farce. He probably wanted a spy on Revenge.
Vala leaned back against the navigation console, hands braced on the edge next to her hips, and cocked her head. She gave Teal'c a long, slow look over, so frank that it made him shift, then smiled. "Oh, I don't know," she murmured in her huskiest, most seductive voice, "I think Muscles could be an excellent addition to our crew. Especially if we go back to the Milky Way."
"You aren't serious?" Mer blurted. He had a lot of problems with the SGC and the way SG-1 had been run, but Teal'c had never been part of them. He'd known the Jaffa didn't like him, but Teal'c had still treated him with courtesy. Even when O'Neill was at his most sarcastic, Teal'c had been silent. "He's shol'va, he's got Apophis' mark on his forehead, he's known all over the galaxy. We don't have enough enemies, you want to add his to the list!?"
It sounded like a great way to get Teal'c killed.
Teal'c had been a team mate. Sam would be upset. Daniel too. Also, Fraiser. Mer really didn't want her mad at him, even if she wasn't running Revenge's infirmary any longer. He just knew Melena was in league with her.
"You're not planning to sell him to anyone for a bounty, are you?" he asked.
Even Jehan looked taken aback.
Vala scowled theatrically. "I'm not a slaver!" The scowl melted into a mischievous smirk. "I was thinking we could sting a few Goa'uld sympathizers though, then break him out."
Great, next Vala would want to work the Goa'uld version of the Badger Game again. Again. Like the mess on Aliuituik hadn't been all her fault. If she hadn't been so greedy that the locals couldn't hide it if they paid the blackmail, the con would have worked. Now she wanted to sting the Lucian Alliance or a System Lord with a pig in the poke?
No, no, no. He was putting his foot down. Right now. Someone had to.
"Yeah, that'd work, you know, if we weren't wanted too," Mer pointed out. Someone had to be the voice of sense and survival instinct. Jehan had proved all too recently his had been irreparably damaged at some point — suicide mission came to mind and he hadn't forgiven Sam for letting Jehan go yet either — and Vala got crazy when large amounts of naquadah or bright shiny objects were involved.
"We'll work something out," Vala declared brightly. "Maybe O'Neill would pay to have him back?"
"I told you it was a ship," Mer taunted. "It's the Aurora."
Teyla thought he looked insufferably pleased with this discovery, as if he had created the ship all by himself.
"You didn't tell me it would be full of really, really old Ancients in freaky coffins," Jehan replied.
Teyla rolled her eyes at Ronon and caught the Jaffa, who had taken to following Jehan everywhere like a bodyguard, hiding a smile. It was just a lift of his lips, but Teyla was making a study of him, unlike Ronon, who still bristled around Teal'c and therefore missed his tells, because they were so tiny only someone paying close attention would see them. She thought Ronon was very like the Tau'ri and not as attuned to tiny nuances as she was.
Of course, he hadn't been a Runner.
"Virtual environment pods!" Mer insisted.
"Creepy, sealed up coffins."
Teyla admitted to herself that the Ancestors' ship was not welcoming. Though Mer had succeeded in restarting the environmental system and they no longer had to wear the EVA suits they had ringed over in, the air was still thin and cold radiated from the decks and bulkheads. It would have been very like Atlantis except for the lack of natural light, if the ship had been well-lit, but the reserves were low and the lights only came on in response to Jehan's passing, quickly going off behind them. It kept them moving in a blue-tinted bubble, with darkness behind and before them.
"But they remain alive in these pods?" she asked before Mer could continue arguing with Jehan. She knew he did it to distract himself when he was uneasy, but it had begun to give her a headache. Prompting him to lecture on something would serve the same purpose.
"Well, technically they're in a state of stasis that has slowed their biological clocks while their consciousnesses are experiencing life in an interactive virtual environment that mimics the Aurora... Yes, they're alive," Mer answered, "but they're so old that if we wake them up, they'll die."
Ronon grunted and said, "So they're dead, but they don't know it yet. Neistee ya." The gate translator whispered dream ghosts at the back of Teyla's head. He made a noise of disapproval and added, "Should just finish them."
Athosians believed if they lived a balanced life to its natural end, then they joined the Ancestors, but these were Ancestors and nothing Teyla had learned in Atlantis led her to believe they were any more enlightened than her own people. She found herself adopting the Tau'ri's word for them, Ancients, instead of calling them Ancestors any longer.
Even Halling, the most devout of Athosians, found it ironic that some of the Tau'ri and Jehan could claim the Ancestors as ancestors, but the Athosians and most of the people who venerated them couldn't. The things they'd discovered since coming to Atlantis bothered him much more than they did Teyla. Her year as a Runner had burned away everything that didn't contribute to her survival and that included worshiping a people who had abandoned hers to the Wraith ten thousand years before. They'd certainly never answered any prayer of hers.
Halling said she was hard now and it was true, but Teyla had decided she was hard the way her bantos sticks were. Heated until she was stronger, lighter, and true. Crewing Revenge, finding a place beside Jehan and Mer, learning to read the steel and scars behind Vala's laughter and smiles, the nights spent with Haemi while Lantea's moons shone through the open balcony doors, those were gifts she treasured enough to fight to the death defending. The Ancestors hadn't given her those gifts and wouldn't help her keep them.
She wondered what Teal'c believed was worth fighting or dying for. Honor, vengeance, freedom? Colonel Mitchell had tried to explain the Jaffa and their enslavement to the Goa'uld, but Teyla suspected he had as much wrong as he had right.
Let Ronon worry about the dream ghost Ancestors. She would keep her eyes on Teal'c.
"No, no, no," Mer ranted at Ronon. "That's what's amazing here. The ship is virtually dead in space, the hyperspace drives are shredded, and the crew couldn't have survived the trip to the nearest planet with a stargate at sub light speeds." He gulped in a breath while gesturing at the ship around them. "It just takes too long. It's been over ten thousand years and they're still not anywhere close to a solar system, but thanks to the stasis aspect of the pods, even though their bodies have aged, their minds are the same as when they entered the virtual environment."
"So?" Jehan prodded him.
"So, think of the amazing things they've probably discovered and invented in that much time!"
"Sounds like a good way to go crazy, knowing you were trapped in a fake version of your ship, while your body got older and older and you went nowhere."
Mer stopped and stared at Jehan.
"Oh. Oh. Yes. Maybe. Unless — " He began snapping his fingers, then fumbled a tablet out of his pack. "Okay, okay, let's keep going, this schematic says there are some empty pods made for short term insertions in the medical bay, it should be right around this corner.
"Insertions, Dr. McKay?" Teal'c questioned.
"Yes, they had to have set it up so someone could go in and wake them if they didn't do it themselves," Mer replied while walking and looking down at the tablet at the same time. "Jehan's right. The environment's rigged so they don't know it isn't real. When it hits the end of a cycle, it resets and starts over."
Teyla revised her opinion. Ronon was right. They needed to free these people.
"Mer, why — " Jehan stopped as they turned into the door that opened exactly where Mer had predicted it would. "You're not getting in that thing."
Mer glanced up, his face dyed with the colors displayed on the screen of his tablet. "Of course not. I don't have the gene. It'll have to be you."
Jehan glared at Mer and the open stasis pod sitting in the center of the med bay, its glass lid tipped open. "I'm not getting in Sleeping Beauty's casket."
"Yes, you are. You can get the command codes from the captain that way and save me days trying to hack them. Now that we've powered the ship up, it's a big, bright target for the Wraith. Frankly, I'm surprised they never found it anyway. The longer we take, the better the chances they'll show up, and I, for one, do not want to blow this ship up to keep them from getting it."
Jehan gave Mer a sulky look, but Teyla could see he would give in. He usually did, if Mer really wanted something.
Mer pointed his blaster over the top of the stasis pod holding Jehan and fired blindly at the Wraith in the doorway and screamed into his radio, "Ronon! Teyla! It's a Wraith! There's a Wraith on board!" Why hadn't he paid attention to that anomalous reading? Oh, yes, because it hadn't been there to begin with, because the Wraith had been sealed in one of the pods, playing with its food.
Still firing with one hand, he tried to reprogram the tablet he'd synced with the pod's controls. He had to get Jehan out of the virtual environment before the Wraith drained him and then opened the lid to make Jehan dessert.
Teyla's voice sounded in his ear. "We are on our way from the bridge, Meredith."
He heard a shot hit the Wraith and it roared in fury. Mer popped his head up and pulled the trigger again, reminding himself to squeeze, not jerk, and keep his eyes open. The green energy from his blaster hit the Wraith's chest and crawled all over it before dissipating. It drove the Wraith back, almost into the corridor, and Mer scrambled for the quarantine control that would slam the med bay's doors shut, but the Wraith shook off the hit and rushed inside again.
How strong was the damned thing? Mer wondered hysterically. Even the cannibal Wraith from Planet Vampire had succumbed eventually. How many sleeping members of the crew had this one consumed to reach this strength? He could see the slit in its feeding hand gaping open as it charged for him, wet and red and lined with remora-teeth.
Mer threw the tablet aside and used both hands to bring the blaster up between himself and the Wraith, firing over and over, not caring if he overloaded the charging mechanism and it blew up in his hands. Maybe it would blow the Wraith's head off too and then Jehan, at least, would be safe.
Green fire pulsed over the Wraith as it leaped. Mer cringed, screamed, and threw his blaster at its face when the trigger clicked and it fizzled on no charge left.
A smoking hole burned through the Wraith's chest from the back, followed by another that took off most of its skull. The body fell onto Mer, slamming him down to the deck, but he glimpsed Teal'c in the med bay doorway, staff weapon leveled, a sheen of sweat on his skull giving away the effort it took to run back from the captain's quarters.
The back of his head impacted the deck and the sudden pain blanked almost everything else out. He couldn't breathe under the weight of the Wraith pinning him down.
Above him, he heard the faint hiss as the pod unsealed and its lid opened. He tried to squirm back out from under the stinking, bleeding corpse on top of him.
"Meredith!" Teyla called and then someone was rolling the body off him, and Mer could scramble on hands and heels and his ass until his back hit the side of the stasis pod. He stared in disbelief at the dead Wraith, then at Teyla, Ronon and finally Teal'c, who was prodding the Wraith with the end of his staff weapon.
Teyla crouched before him, concerned and comforting, one hand coming to rest on his knee.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Good job," Ronon told Teal'c.
"Mer?" Jehan croaked from above him. "Mer?"
"Apparently the Wraith already found the ship," Mer blurted. The Wraith twitched and he jumped, even though they studied enough of their bodies to know that as far as being a threat it meant nothing. Wraith cells took a long time to die, even after the nervous system failed. "Or, at least one did and just kept hanging around, screwing with their virtual environment and snacking on them like an all-you-can-eat buffet."
He panted and listened to his heartbeat echo in his ears, still shocked enough by the last violent moments to wonder distantly if it wouldn't be just like his life if he succumbed to an adrenalin overdose heart attack after being saved from a Wraith attack. Teyla and Ronon were still talking, but it was all just white noise that didn't make any sense until Jehan dropped down next to him and wrapped one arm around his shoulders to pull him close. His free hand mapped Mer's chest then up to his face, searching for any damage, the rasp of his callused fingertips leaving a warm trail that grounded Mer.
"Jesus, Mer," Jehan breathed and pulled him even closer. "You're okay? You're okay. You're okay." He kept repeating it, the question becoming a mantra that comforted them both. "You're okay."
"I believe Dr. McKay was able to hold off the Wraith successfully until I arrived," Teal'c stated.
"Well done," Teyla murmured and Mer realized she was still squeezing his knee and the look on her face was deep relief.
"Thanks," he squeaked, because Jehan was still clutching him. He clumsily patted at Jehan's back and stroked down the tense line of his spine. He looked up. "Thanks, Teal'c."
Funny, it didn't burn as much as Mer had thought it might, being grateful to his old team mate. He didn't feel like Teal'c had betrayed him when Jolinar took him as a host. Teal'c hadn't known.
Neither had O'Neill.
Mer wasn't ready to let Jack 'Ass' O'Neill off the hook yet, though. Scientists had long memories and O'Neill had made his time at the SGC miserable more often than not.
Teal'c, though, Teal'c was okay and if he wanted to follow Jehan around and save him and Mer sometimes, Mer was not about to object.
Jehan let go of him enough to address Teal'c.
Mer thought that might be the first time Jehan had ever said Teal'c's name. Always before, it had been, that Jaffa, the First Prime.
Jehan ran his hand over Mer's shoulder, then down to rest over his heart where the Wraith would have fed.
"We're even. You — " He clutched at the fabric of Mer's t-shirt convulsively, even while he kept his voice mostly even. "You've done enough. Go back to Earth. This — thank you. Okay?"
"If that is as you wish," Teal'c said.
Jehan met Mer's gaze. Mer nodded his agreement.
"Yeah. Yeah, that's what I want. Go home."
Mer patted Jehan's cheek. "Okay, did you get the codes from the captain? Because I think I can do a couple of quick and dirty repairs and get this ship moving through a hyperspace window if Revenge opens it." He sat up a little, enthusiasm starting to bubble up again. "I'm sure once we get Aurora back to Atlantis, we — meaning me — will be able to fix it. Really this is a perfect opportunity because, while I am brilliant, with the Jacob Carter in orbit, we'll be able to consult the Asgard. I'm sure Thor would be willing to use the technology he has on board to create any special parts we'll need."
He smiled at Jehan.
"You're the only one who'll be able to fly Aurora, but we'll have an Ancient battleship!"
Ronon pulled a book out of his coat and held it up.
"Teyla and I found that journal in the captain's quarters you wanted us to look for," he said.
"Huh?" Mer said.
A shy, brilliant smile from Jehan answered him. "Mer, the captain told me that they'd found the key to stopping the Wraith and it was recorded in his log book. That's why I woke the first time and sent Teyla and Ronon after it."
Mer made grabby hands in Ronon's direction. "Give me that!"
Jehan slumped back against the pod and laughed softly.
"Let's get back home to Atlantis before you start figuring it out, Mer."
Mer looked over to that well-loved profile. He meant to protest, but the smile on Jehan's mouth derailed him. That and what Jehan had said.
They hadn't had any home except each other and Vala for so long, he'd thought whatever ship they lived on would be it forever. If Jehan wanted to call Atlantis home, though, then it was.
It just made getting rid of the Wraith a little more urgent.
He nudged his shoulder into Jehan's, then said, "Fine. Someone help me up. I need to get down to the engine rooms. Jehan, you need to use the command codes and unlock everything from the bridge."
He glanced around at the other three, who were all staring at the two of them.
"Well? Chop chop," Mer snapped.
Teyla patted his knee and rose gracefully before giving him a hand up.
Jehan followed him up.
"I will stay with Dr. McKay," Teal'c offered.
Jehan smiled at him.
"As will I," Teyla added.
"Ronon, I guess you're with me."
They left the dead wraith on the deck. Around them, everywhere on the Aurora, the status lights on the stasis pods were going dark one by one as the crew, awake after thousands of years of only dreaming they were, passed into the last darkness by their own choice.
The group saying good-bye stopped at the top landing of the steps leading from the gate room floor up to the control room. Atlantis was busy and the space in front of the gate was filled with a team readying to go through to someplace called Taranis.
Jack smiled in satisfaction. Teal'c stood at his shoulder and would be coming home with him. Daniel was coming too, which had come as a surprise. The muttered comment about keeping Jack from getting too full of himself Jack had ignored.
Daniel did keep saying, "We'll come back, right?"
Jack figured that was a given. The IOA would flip its shit when they found out about the Wraith, the US government would want to get their ship back, and everyone would want a piece of Atlantis. He just hoped no one had the dumb idea of trying to take it away from the people here. It wouldn't work, plus he'd had a short conversation with Vala he'd decided he'd keep to himself.
She'd dropped the seductive act and meeting her gaze, Jack had no trouble believing she'd fooled more than one planetary population into thinking she was still the Goa'uld queen Qetesh. Those gray eyes didn't need to flare with naquadah. She didn't even need the voice.
"Tell your masters I wouldn't bow to the Goa'uld and I won't answer to them. The Tau'ri here and the people of this galaxy wouldn't do it, but I would have no problem giving the Wraith your planet's location."
"You'd do that?" Jack asked.
Vala shrugged but didn't look away. "Tell me your superiors wouldn't make the same decision to save themselves."
Thinking of Kinsey and the Trust, Jack had been forced to admit, at least to himself, that Vala wasn't wrong.
"I'll keep it in mind," he'd said.
Vala had patted his cheek and smiled brightly. "I'm so glad you aren't stupid," she'd declared.
He glanced at her where she was arguing with Jehan and McKay a couple steps down from where stood.
"I've got more than enough work to do on the Aurora!" McKay protested. "Send Radek to fix these peoples' stupid shield. He's the one who salvaged the one off Keres' planet."
"This one shields an entire planet," Vala said. "Don't you want to find out how it's powered?" She leaned close and purred. "What if they have ZPMs?"
Jack smothered a grin at the way McKay's face lit up.
"Do you think so?"
Jehan had his hand on McKay's shoulder, urging him down the rest of the stairs. Vala whistled and above them the gate tech started Atlantis' gate dialing.
Jack pouted to himself a little. Pegasus gates were fancier-looking than the ones in the Milky Way, but Carter had told him they couldn't be manually dialed by moving the ring. The Ancients hadn't been immune from improving something into not working as well as it had originally.
"Let's go, Mer," Jehan said. He glanced back at Jack and Teal'c, expression a little lighter than before Teal'c had saved McKay's ass from a Wraith, and gave them a quick nod.
"Don't be strangers," Jack called. "You've got a ship. Come visit. We'll barbecue."
Jehan lifted his hand in a vague wave and then he and McKay were gone through the event horizon.
Jack switched his attention back to Sam and Janet. They were hugging Daniel. "I'll come back," Daniel promised.
"You'd better," Janet threatened. She looked a little watery around the eyes.
"I've got your list. And the letters you wrote."
Janet hugged Daniel again, then leveled a look at Jack that said he'd better take care of him, or she'd come back and turn the Milky Way upside down making him pay.
"Take care of Sam," Jack told her softly. She'd never been his Sam, and the attraction he'd felt toward her before she fell for McKay had mellowed into friendship instead, but she'd always be part of Jack's team and that made her his. Daniel, Teal'c, Mitchell, Hailey, Quinn, Janet and even McKay were Jack's in the same way. He'd have to add Jehan abd-Ba'al to that list to now, even if the pilot would object on principle. They would always be Jack's people and becoming a general hadn't and couldn't change that honor. He'd worry about the ones that he didn't have his eye on until he saw them again, even if they were all smart, tough professionals better able to look out for themselves than he was.
"I can take care of myself," Sam said. He'd known she was going to say that.
"Never hurts to have someone watching your back," Jack said.
"O'Neill speaks wisely in this instance," Teal'c added.
Teal'c gave him the lifted eyebrow of Jaffa skepticism, the one that said, You're full of shit most of the time and I am not fooled, but I put up with you anyway. Jack grinned. It was good to know Teal'c was coming back with him to the SGC.
Sam held out her hand. "You'll let my brother know I'm okay?"
Jack let her shake his hand, then grabbed her into a hug. "I will." Even if he had to tap dance all over his own nondisclosure agreement to convince Mark Carter his sister was alive and well. It was going to be a fight to persuade the SGC to let him do that, never mind informing McKay's sister and Jehan's family. Jack thought he might not be able to swing that unless both of them came back to visit.
Carter's hair smelled of some native soap where it tickled his nose. Even her clothes smelled different from anything used for laundry on Earth. It was an odd thing to notice, but it came as a final proof somehow, that she belonged here and not with SG-1 any longer. Jack squeezed her once more, then let go.
He activated the communication stone in his pocket.
"Thor, buddy, we're ready to go."
Sam's smile and the brilliant light and colors of Atlantis stayed with him as the white light of the Asgard beam engulfed him.