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Jack O’Neill looked out the window of Thor’s ship and sighed at the alien stars. They’d long since left behind the starfield he was familiar with, and even the much wider-traveled Asgaard was running on instruments and instinct instead of maps. They’d gotten a little bit of help from their passengers with regard to navigating the Pegasus galaxy, but not much. The Atlantis mission had been completely dependent on the orbiting Stargates to get from planet to planet, so astronavigation just hadn’t been necessary for them. Thor had analyzed one of the oddly-named Atlantean ‘puddle jumpers’ and had duplicated its Gate-dialing program for his own ship, but there were some Gates they couldn’t use, and some they didn’t dare try to.

The one in orbit nearest Atlantis was one of the latter.

The Atlantis mission’s first tight-beam contact with Earth had gone off like dynamite when it hit Stargate Command. Jack had seen to sending out the personal messages, the official condolences, and the somewhere-in-between lies that went both ways regarding wheres and whys and hows. And then the second, much briefer communication had come through nearly a year later, letting them know where the survivors had ended up, and he’d contacted Thor and called in all his favors at once – Jack figured the cloning incident alone had entitled him to the ride out. Sweetening the pot for the Asgaard with the promise of all that lost knowledge of the Ancients had most likely earned him the ride back, with the rescue thrown in as a freebie because Thor liked him. It had taken a month and a half to get to Pegasus and scoop up what was left of the mission personnel on the pine-tree infested backwater planet they’d escaped to. And then they’d set out for Atlantis.

Jack had realized one thing right away when he’d first read the mission logs back on Earth: They’d made a huge mistake putting Elizabeth Weir in charge of the mission. He hadn’t liked her very much before she’d left for Atlantis, and he liked her even less now. The picture the logs had painted hadn’t made him happy, his first meeting with her after the rescue had rendered him even less so…but then several of the mission’s surviving scientists had come around to talk to him on the Q.T. on Thor’s ship and after that Jack had just been pissed, plain and simple. He’d been avoiding her ever since – made easy by the fact that he’d had Thor confine all of the rescued personnel to the relatively small area that had been designated for them to occupy.

Today, though, he had no choice but to interact with the woman, because today was the day they’d finally reached Atlantis. And since Weir was still de-facto head of the Atlantis mission, Jack knew he couldn’t legitimately exclude her from what he was doing. So she was there, standing right behind him, when they reached the fabled home of the Ancients.

The planet was a lot water and not too much anything else. Thor’s sensors easily picked up the sunken city that had been the home of the Ancients, but although Jack had been curious about it that wasn’t really what he was looking for. He wasn’t particularly interested in the Atlantean ‘mainland’ either, knowing that if he were to go there he’d just be looking at more pine trees – which still creeped him out even after all these years of exploring. No, what Jack wanted to see was…an anomaly, one he knew was supposed to be there because someone he trusted implicitly had told him it would be. And so he’d asked Thor to find it for him.

Thor did. “O’Neill, my sensors do detect a shielded area,” the slender gray alien finally told him. “It appears to be covering a small land mass, most likely an island.”

Jack couldn’t help but grin – only partly from the shocked look on Weir’s face. She had sworn that there was no one else alive on the planet, and nothing else left to find except the now sunken city of the Ancients. “Can you get us down there?”

“I believe that would be possible.” Thor got out of his chair and walked over to one of the control consoles. “I must warn you, however, that I cannot at this time pick up specific life-sign data from the area beneath the shield. You do have the device I gave you, correct?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it.” Jack had the little homing device/communicator attached to his dog tags, as a matter of fact. “I’ll let you know when we want to come back. Can we go now?”

“Certainly.”

 

They appeared near the little island’s center with the usual flash of light, and found themselves standing in front of a small compound of plain but distinctly Atlantean buildings. Buildings time had evidently taken its toll on – lots and lots of time, probably around ten thousand years’ worth. Jack’s trained eye, however, immediately picked out the signs that the path they were standing beside had been recently used, recently as in within the last few months. He let Weir lead the way into the nearest building, not much caring to take point for her even though she’d obviously expected him to, and wasn’t surprised to see more faint signs of life inside. These were even less recent, maybe even a year old, and Jack frowned knowingly at the path when they went back outside. A man comes up this path seeking shelter, takes the first open door he comes to and stays there while he gets his bearings. And then he moves on…to where?

Jack wanted to find out where the guy had come from first. He forced Weir to come with him – no way he was letting her poke around the buildings without him – and followed the path down away from the compound until it reached the beach, where a sort of dock had been built. A round, podlike craft was secured there, and Weir gasped. “What…”

“Looks like some sort of escape pod to me.” Jack smirked, looking down on her in more ways than one. “It only makes sense that people who hide their city underwater would have to have a way to get out of the water, don’t ya think?”

He wanted to investigate the pod – or as Daniel would say, he wanted to play with it – but more than that Jack wanted to find out where whoever had been in the pod had gone. He didn’t think they were in the abandoned compound, but he had a feeling they weren’t too far away from it either. He looked around as they walked back up the path, taking in the warm sea breeze and mild blue sky. In weather this nice, he himself would be down on the beach, probably fishing. But in spite of being sure no one was there he still went back into the compound for another look, and after going in and out of a few small buildings – all with power, he noted – they found one that had been very recently occupied…by someone who obviously intended to come back. The furnishings here had been repaired, and although the single bed was bare there were folded blankets and clothes stacked on shelves nearby. “I think this is his winter home,” Jack told the flabbergasted Weir, stopping her from messing with any of the things arranged so neatly in the small space; she’d almost leapt for the two laptops sitting on a shelf in one corner. “What say we go see the summer house, huh?”

The woman was speechless, and he decided he liked her that way – it made her easier to handle and not nearly so annoying. She followed him out, not without one last backward look at the laptops, and Jack quickly found the second and much better worn path that he assumed would lead down to the beach…and the island’s inhabitant.

There was a hut with a thatched roof on a little rise just above the narrow beach, and as they walked along the sand toward it a short, stocky man in cutoffs and an unbuttoned shirt appeared in front of it with what looked to Jack like one of the Wraith stun guns he’d been shown. “I’d advise you to get back wherever you bloody well came from, Dr. Weir,” the man said in a firm voice, his Highland accent thick with anger. “Your tryin’ to shanghai me away from Rodney isn’t goin’ to work this time either, so why don’t you just be on about your business – elsewhere.”

Weir looked a little taken aback, but she still pulled out a painfully fake, patronizing smile and took a step forward. “Carson…”

The gun twitched. “Didn’t we have that discussion about names already once before?”

Her smile lost some of its wattage. “All right, Dr. Beckett,” she amended. “Don’t you remember General O’Neill, from the SGC? They came for us, we’re here to rescue you.”

She was using the tone one uses to speak to crazy people and small children, and Beckett and Jack rolled their eyes at the same time. “I’m glad to see you made it out of the city alive, Dr. Beckett,” Jack said by way of acknowledging the introduction. “Looks kind of like you’ve got the perfect little retirement set up here. Sort of lonely, though.”

Blue eyes hardened. “So she’d like you to think, I’m certain. You might want to be findin’ out, General, why exactly it is that this woman’s so determined to separate me from Rodney – Dr. McKay, that is,” he amended for Jack’s benefit. The gun twitched again. “This is the second time she’s tried it, you know.”

Weir was giving Jack a look he was ignoring, and when she tried to lean close to whisper something to him he stepped away from her. “So I heard,” he told the wary man. “I have to say, Dr. Beckett, that I’ve heard quite a bit I didn’t think much of since the Asgaard and I picked up what’s left of your mission.”

“I can just imagine.”

There was enough venom in the rich brogue to raise Jack’s eyebrows behind his sunglasses. O-kay, there was obviously a story here much bigger than the one the other mission personnel had been able to tell him. He’d hear it later – even if he had to sit on this beach to do it. Jack adjusted his cap. “Coming here was my idea, not Dr. Weir’s. She insisted that you couldn’t have survived. This was supposed to be a rescue mission…if you’re interested?”

Beckett gave him a long look. “How much time do we have to think about it?” One dark eyebrow went up in Weir’s direction. “Or was givin’ us time to think about it ever part of the plan at all?”

O’Neill suddenly understood what Daniel had been trying to tell him with his parting shot about not doing anything to help without asking first – and he cursed his friend once again for giving him riddles instead of just telling him something outright. “No one’s getting shanghaied here, Dr. Beckett,” he assured the other man, with a smile for Ascended archaeologists who kept life interesting for him and didn’t mind getting yelled at for it later. “If you want to come home, we’re offering a lift. If not, we’ll give you any help you need before we go. And we can’t hang around forever, but you’ve got time to think it over if you need to.”

Beckett smiled back. “I appreciate the courtesy, General. We’ll probably want to be askin’ you a few questions, but it shouldn’t take us too awfully long to get to an answer for you, in that case.” He saw the look on Weir’s face and rolled his eyes. “Oh bloody hell, woman, what’s your problem now?”

O’Neill did his best not to laugh, glad that by this point in his life his best was pretty damn good. He wanted to keep this little Scottish guy, nuts or not. But to his surprise instead of answering with some annoyingly patronizing speech Weir was just standing there with her mouth open. O’Neill looked where she was looking…and grinned. Score another one for Daniel, who had said that the supposedly lone survivor wasn’t alone at all.

A thin, tanned man had come to the door of the little hut, barefoot and bare-chested, wearing only a pair of ragged cutoffs. He was yawning, his longish brown hair tousled from sleep and a five-o’clock shadow roughening his jawline. He blinked at the people standing on his beach in confusion, running a hand through his hair. “Carson?” he queried uncertainly.

Jack’s grin widened even further. The man was just barely recognizable to him, but only because he already knew who he was. “Dr. McKay,” he addressed the supposedly dead astrophysicist. “We just dropped by to see if you two wanted a lift.”

The man’s blue eyes widened, and O’Neill wasn’t too surprised when Beckett abruptly abandoned them to hurry over to him. “Rodney, it’s just like those mist aliens made it up for all of you,” he explained. “The Asgaard provided transport for the general here to come fetch us back.” He cocked his head, a worried look on his face, and put a hand on the other man’s arm. “If you’re wantin’ to go, that is.”

McKay blinked at him. “We can go home, to Earth?”

Beckett nodded. “We can go home.”

A very thoughtful look appeared on McKay’s face, and he raised one hand to tentatively touch Beckett’s cheek. “What about…”

“Won’t change a bloody thing.” Beckett put his hand over McKay’s, holding it tightly. “You know it won’t – and we’re both civilians, the bloody military has nothin’ to say about it. But I hope you can stomach haggis, if you’ll pardon the pun, because my mother makes it every third Sunday and I can only get you out of eatin’ it every so often.”

Worry dissolved into a smile that crinkled the corners of blue eyes. “You’re forgetting who you’re talking to. I like haggis, Carson, it’s even better than airline food. But what’s your mother going to say…”

“If you eat her haggis and ask for seconds, she’s goin’ to say ‘welcome to the family, son’.” They were still holding hands, and oblivious to their audience. Carson’s own blue eyes were warm and earnest. “She’ll love you, Rodney, gender notwithstandin’ – trust me on that.”

McKay’s smile softened with affection. “I trust you with my life, you know that.” He finally flicked a glance at the two other people on the beach, and a little bit of worry crept back in. “It’s just been a long time since it wasn’t…just us.”

“Aye, I know.” Carson squeezed his hand. “But I’m pretty sure the general will keep everyone off of us for a bit if we ask him to. It’s just goin’ to take a while to get used to not bein’ the only two people in the world.”

“Tell me about it.” McKay squeezed back, then looked at O’Neill. “How much of our stuff can we take with us, General?”

“All of it.” O’Neill was still grinning; he hadn’t been so generous with the rest of the remaining Atlantis team, but then the rest of the remaining Atlantis team hadn’t been left behind in a dying underwater city, either. “Need some help packing up?”

“We might, just in the interest of expediency,” McKay told him seriously. “The Wraith are still hanging around this system somewhere, and even though they can’t see our island you don’t want your ship in orbit here for very long if you can help it.”

“That’s unfortunately very true,” Beckett agreed. “They still do flyovers every few weeks, like they think they’re goin’ to find somethin’ popped up out of the water. We’ve probably got enough time to show you a bit of the place before we go, though, if you’d like to see it.”

“We can even show you the city, if you want.” McKay’s blue eyes were twinkling, and he smiled again and shook his head when the doctor gave him a questioning look. “I can manage a little sightseeing trip – and I’d like to see it one last time myself, wouldn’t you?”

“Aye – but only a little trip, I’ll not have you wearin’ yourself out,” the doctor cautioned. He shrugged in response to Jack’s questioning look. “It’s the carrier wave the Ancient technology emits,” he said. “It…hurts him, after what happened.”

“I’ll be all right for a quick trip in the pod,” McKay reassured again.

Weir was frowning, and not just because the two men were blatantly ignoring her. “What exactly did happen to R…to Dr. McKay?” she didn’t quite demand. “The way I understood it, that control chair wasn’t programmed to release its occupant unless they were dying and couldn’t be used to keep the shield up any more.”

“It wasn’t.” Beckett scowled at her. “But if you’d read the report Rodney gave you on the bloody thing instead of just skimmin’ it and listenin’ to Major Sheppard’s nonsense, you’d have known that it was possible to save the occupant after their release.”

“Which he did, obviously.” Rodney just barely held back a shudder; the whole incident was still a difficult memory for him, kept fresh instead of fading by the constant, painful hum of the power that flowed over the island. Not that he was willing to do away with the security of their shield to get rid of it, though, not by a long shot. Pain was better than Wraith any day. He raised an eyebrow at Weir. “You have a problem with that, Dr. Weir? Or just with the fact that you tried to take Carson away by force and leave me there alone to die?”

Weir opened and closed her mouth a few times before anything came out. “I didn’t…I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t want to know. But I’m relatively certain you did.” McKay snorted and turned his attention back to Jack as though the speechless woman was no longer worth his time – which, Jack supposed, might very well be the way the man felt, considering. “General, if you want to see the city…”

“That I do,” Jack answered quickly. “Are we going to use your little escape pod or do you have something else?”

“We only have the pod,” Beckett told him. “You have to have the ATA gene to run it and it’s a wee bit small for three, but we’ll make due.” He cast an unfriendly look at Weir. “You can stay on the beach here and wait for us – and don’t go makin’ yourself at home in our house, either of them, do you understand? If you set off one of the booby traps, we’ll be takin’ you back home in a sack.”

She actually folded her arms across her chest and gave him another condescending look. “We’ve already been in the compound, nothing happened.”

“The ones up there weren’t activated then,” McKay informed her, mimicking her stance. “But we’ll take care of that before we go down to the dock, don’t you worry.”

“I’d do as they say, Doctor,” Jack warned her. “We’re guests here, remember? And I’m not sure what it would do to morale if you had to spend our month-long trip home locked up if you just happened to survive whatever it is they’ve got set up for hostile intruders, kapish?”

He waited for her grudging nod before strolling up to the two waiting men and then following them back up the path to the compound. Once they were well out of earshot he asked, “Did I just lie like a rug or what?”

“Or what,” Beckett told him. “There’s nothin’ and no one on the island but us, so we’ve never needed security measures…but the buildin’s have force-field doors and we’ll just activate ours before we go. Dr. Weir’s not got the ATA gene, she won’t be able to get it to open up for her.”

 

Even sunk fathoms deep under Atlantis’ crushing blue ocean, the city was still beautiful, still awe-inspiring – and Jack O’Neill wasn’t a man who was easily awed, not anymore. After one swing around the drowned city of the Ancients, though, Beckett steered the pod back toward their island sanctuary, and no one spoke until it docked and the airlock released. “Thanks for letting me see that,” Jack told the two men, watching with some concern as Beckett lent support to a staggering McKay. “Dr. McKay?”

“I’ll be all right.” He wasn’t quite gasping, but he sounded slightly breathless and his eyes were narrowed with pain. “It’s just…being in the pod, the power is really…concentrated, you know? I’ll be okay…after a bit.”

“He will,” Beckett confirmed. “He just needs a bit of a lie-down and then he’ll be fine.”

“Well, then I’ll help you pack up while he does that,” Jack said. “And we’ll need to keep an eye on Dr. Weir, she seemed pretty desperate to get her hands on those laptops you’ve got in your winter quarters.”

Beckett’s jaw set, and McKay managed a snort. “I just bet she is,” he confirmed. “They’re the only ones she wouldn’t have been able to erase all the evidence from.”

“The evidence that shows she knew what was wrong with Major Sheppard from the get-go,” Beckett elaborated. “All of Rodney’s data, all my medical and personal logs…between the two of us, we’ve got enough to put the stupid woman in some very hot water back home. And what they’ll make of it in the major’s case I don’t know.”

“Oh, she’s already in hot water,” Jack confirmed. “And Major Sheppard isn’t our problem anymore.”

To his surprise, the other two men immediately stopped walking, and Beckett quickly helped McKay sit down beside the path although he didn’t break contact with him – if anything, he increased their contact. “Rodney…Rodney, luv, you tried. We did everythin’ we could to save the man.”

McKay swiped at his eyes and sniffed, burying his face in his lover’s shoulder. Jack could just barely make out the muffled words. “That bitch. She killed him, Carson.”

“He killed himself, she just helped him decide to do it,” the doctor corrected gently. He turned hard blue eyes up to the frowning older man. “The major…died, then? And…”

“Ascended, yeah. Apparently.” Jack correctly interpreted the look he was getting as a demand for more information. “Not even a month after they’d settled in at the beta site. He just took off one day and didn’t come back, and when they went to the planet…well, I guess they didn’t exactly get a warm and welcoming reception, they weren’t even allowed to land.” He awkwardly sat down himself, wanting to be at eye level. “You tried to save him?”

“We both did.” Beckett’s voice was still soft, even if the look on his face wasn’t. “I don’t know what you might have been told, General, but when the major’s team first went to the planet called Proculus they met a woman there who turned out to be one of the original inhabitants of Atlantis, one of the Ancients who’d Ascended. She took a likin’ to Major Sheppard and did somethin’ to him to make it mutual.” He didn’t quite snort. “I cured him of it once I figured out what was goin’ on…but he went back to her anyway and she did it again. Things pretty much went downhill from there.”

“I can imagine.” And he was pretty much having to, since that wasn’t enough to paint a full picture for him, but Jack wasn’t going to press for the dirty details right now. “So when the major put himself into the control chair…”

“It wasn’t his decision – not really.” This came from McKay, who had recovered himself enough to lift his head off his lover’s shoulder, his pain-narrowed eyes red-rimmed. “General, I don’t know what they told you either…but please, if there’s anything you can do with his record…it really wasn’t his fault. She brainwashed him, and I think that when she had sex with him…”

“Whoa, wait a minute!” Jack held up one hand. “She did what?”

Two sets of eyebrows went up. “It wasn’t physical intercourse, by his account she sort of merged with him.” Beckett’s eyes narrowed. “You know somethin’ about this.”

It wasn’t a question, but Jack still nodded. “Yeah, yeah I do.” He made a face. “You can consider the major’s record cleared, Dr. McKay. I know…well, more than I can tell you about, but I know that once your Ancient woman ‘merged’ with Major Sheppard she pretty much owned him from that point forward.” He cocked an eyebrow of his own at Beckett. “You came up with a cure?”

“For the pheromone shift she’d initiated, aye,” the doctor told him. “She’d done that much to me as well, and to Rodney although with different results.”

“He didn’t cure me,” McKay added. “We decided that it could be useful to have an…early warning system in place if another Ancient showed up pretending to be something else.” The scientist didn’t quite shudder. “They aren’t very nice people.”

“No, most of them aren’t.” Jack decided he’d explain to them about Daniel later, before they got back to Earth; he didn’t need McKay reacting to the presence of one of the Ascended right in the middle of the SGC in front of God and everybody. He also didn’t need Weir overhearing him, and he had a feeling she might be skulking around nearby somewhere. Jack stood up, brushing off sand. “Tell you what, we can have a talk about that later, on Thor’s ship. Right now I think we need to get you two packed up and get out of here – I’m pretty sure the Asgaard would be a match for the Wraith, but I don’t really want to put that to the test today. Especially if I’m wrong and all four of us end up being the only people in the world.”

Beckett made a face and helped McKay stand up. “I don’t think this island’s big enough for the four of us, General.” A wicked gleam came into his blue eyes. “Three would do just fine, though, if it came down to that. Assumin’ you like to fish and hang about on the beach, that is.”

Jack grinned at him. “Let’s discuss that again the next time I want to retire,” was his answer. “And I do happen to know of a few comparable places Earthside that don’t have as many problems with hungry neighbors as your island does…”

 

Weir wasn’t around the compound when they got back to it, although Jack knew she probably had been earlier, but instead of going off looking for her he helped Beckett gather up everything in the little Atlantean building, taking special care to secure the two laptops. Beckett insisted on showing him some of their contents, too, just in case; Jack suspected that was as much about giving McKay more time to rest as it was about worrying that something might happen to the data the laptops were carrying. Once Jack had seen some of what Beckett had to show him, though, he knew why the man was worried – and why Weir had reacted the way she did when she’d seen the laptops sitting on a shelf in the empty building. CYOA was a pretty universal concept, and Jack understood how powerful the drive could be to save your own ass professionally – hell, he’d even done it before himself.

Not like this, though. Never like this.

Jack scanned as much as he had time to while Beckett packed, then handed over the laptop and went to find Dr. Weir. She was down at the dock, looking over the pod with a frown on her face. “Dr. Beckett is going to have some hard questions to answer once we get home,” she said when she saw him. “When I think about how many of our people might still be alive if he’d just told someone about this…”

“He didn’t know,” Jack cut her off. “He thought it would take them to the mainland.” He raised an eyebrow. “You thought I wouldn’t ask?”

“You don’t know that he’s telling the truth.”

Jack shrugged. “We’ll sort it all out. I came to find you because it’s time to go – no way do I want to be here if the Wraith show back up.” He started walking back up the path, not waiting for her to join him; she finally did, half-running to catch up. “So, what did you find in their little house on the beach?”

“Nothing, really. A bed, a table, some fruit and smoked fish.”

“Yeah, he’s packing up the rest of the fish and things now.” Jack quirked a grin. “He said he remembers just how bad MREs can be, he wants to have something better to fall back on for the trip home.”

“Carson does tend to plan ahead – for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely.”

Jack ignored that too. Beckett was just coming out of the building he and McKay had made their home in, a knapsack over his shoulder, another makeshift bag in his hand. He had McKay’s arm over his other shoulder, the other man very obviously having trouble with his balance, but as they watched McKay half-turned, stretching out his free hand to touch the wall. The force-shield door shimmered blue, then shimmered again red, and he turned back around and dropped his head onto Beckett’s shoulder. “It’s ours forever now.”

“Yes, it is.” The smaller man hugged him, dropped a kiss on his forehead. “Ready to go home?” McKay nodded, sucking in a breath and straightening up as much as he could. “It’ll be okay, Rodney, I promise.”

“I’ll…take your word for it.”

Beckett hugged him again, and Jack walked up to them, making sure he stayed in front of Weir. “Got everything?”

“Everythin’ worth takin’,” Beckett told him. “I wish we could have pried out one of the wee stasis boxes they used for storin’ food, but they’re built into the walls.”

Jack’s eyebrows went up. “Stasis…you know, I’ll ask Thor before we take off, one of his people might be able to pop down and snag one of them. Assuming we don’t have to take off immediately to keep from being eaten, that is. So, if you’re ready?” Beckett nodded, tightening his hold on the bags and McKay, and Jack reached into his shirt and touched the little device attached to his dog tags. “Okay Thor, we’re ready,” he said, and then he smirked. “Four to beam up.”

The look on Beckett’s face before the flash took them was just priceless, and then they were standing on the bridge of Thor’s ship and the slender gray alien greeted them with a bow. “I am Thor, welcome aboard my ship,” he said in his soft voice. “I am pleased that you survived to be rescued.”

“We’re pleased to be rescued, thank you,” Beckett answered politely. “But if you’ve got someplace for us to be, I think Dr. McKay needs to lie down for a bit.”

Thor bowed again. “Certainly. There is already a space set apart for you, O’Neill can take you there. Later, once you are rested, perhaps we can discuss what happened to Dr. McKay on the planet. I may be able to help.”

“If anyone can, it’s him,” Jack agreed. “Thanks, Thor. Oh, and could you beam Dr. Weir into a holding cell for me? She’s officially under arrest for the attempted murder of Dr. McKay.”

“What?!”

There was a flash, and Weir was gone before she could say anything else. Jack took the two bags, letting Beckett concentrate on keeping McKay on his feet. “Come on, guys, I’ll show you to your quarters. Are we taking off right away, Thor? Because there’s some tech down on that island Dr. Beckett thought we might want, a ‘stasis box’ setup, but they weren’t able to pry one out.”

“I’m not sure you can – pry them out, that is,” McKay put in. “I think each of the buildings may have been…constructed as a single unit, instead of being modular assemblies.”

Thor blinked. “That sounds interesting. We have detected a large vessel heading this way, but it will not reach us for some time. I will see if we can retrieve one of these constructs intact for study.”

“Just don’t try to take the one with the red force-shield on the door,” Beckett warned. “Any of the others should be safe to mess about with, though. And they’re gettin’ their power from the planet herself, if that helps any.”

“Geothermal energy,” McKay clarified, a fond little smile quirking up one corner of his mouth. “And yes, the Wraith ships are pretty slow…compared to what’s available in our galaxy, anyway. They make up for it in firepower, though, and they’re natively using Ancient technology.”

That made Thor blink faster, and Jack’s eyebrows went all the way up. “Wait, natively? As in…”

“As in we’re fairly certain they were created by the Ancients through genetic experimentation,” Beckett confirmed. “I can go over my findin’s with you later, I’ve got it all nicely organized – two winters stuck indoors with nothin’ much else to do, you know.”

McKay chuckled. “I wasn’t very good company. I’m afraid…the only thing I accomplished while we were there was not being dead.”

“I like that accomplishment,” Jack told him, meaning it. “We never were able to teach Daniel that one, so you’re one up on him.” He shifted the bag that had the laptops in it. “Enough chit-chat, this is getting heavy. Let’s go get you two settled in.”

He led them off the bridge and down into the part of Thor’s ship where everyone who wasn’t a little gray alien was currently staying. The room Thor’s people had set up for Beckett was near Jack’s quarters, and separate from the converted cargo bay the rest of the Atlantis mission’s personnel were quartered in. Jack had requested that on the assumption that, after a year alone – sort of – on an island, the doctor wasn’t going to be up to handling being around too many people all at once.

And he knew he’d assumed right when they rounded a corner and almost ran into two of the mission’s other scientists going in the opposite direction; Beckett probably would have jumped backwards – or possibly pulled out the Wraith weapon Jack had taken away from him – if he hadn’t been supporting McKay. As it was they both stopped dead in their tracks, and Jack frowned at the equally-shocked scientists. “Nice day for a walk, so keep doing it.”

Zelenka didn’t even look at him, he was too busy staring in disbelief and so was Kavenagh. “R…Rodney?” the Czech scientist stammered, his eyes wide behind his glasses. “But ve vere told…”

“You were told wrong,” Carson ground out. “But there will be plenty of time for catchin’ up on what lies were told to who later, right now Rodney and I both need to settle in and rest a bit.” He did almost manage a smile, though. “I’m glad to see you both made it.”

“We weren’t sure anyone would,” Rodney added.

Zelenka didn’t quite make a face at the almost-question. “Many…did not. But ve can speak of that another time. It is a long ride back to Earth.”

Kavenagh agreed with that, nodding. “General O’Neill says it will take us about six weeks to get back.” He shuffled his feet uncomfortably. “McKay, are you…okay?”

Rodney nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.” The fact that he weighed a good fifty pounds less than he had the last time they’d seen him – and that Carson was half holding him up – did not seem to occur to him as he said it. “That bitch is under arrest for trying to kill me, though, so I hope you didn’t need her for anything.”

Jack almost dropped the bag he was holding. Before he could say anything, though, Zelenka broke into the kind of shit-eating grin Jack would never have expected to see on the usually dour man’s face, darted forward and threw his arms around McKay…who very tentatively hugged him back. Carson got the next hug, which made the almost-smile soften into a real one. The Czech scientist finally let them both go, pulling back to look from one man to the other searchingly, and then he grinned again. “So you finally figured it out, Carson? McKay vas so obvious, I thought you vere just, as the younger people vould say it, clueless.”

“I will find a needle to poke you with,” Carson threatened, but he was still smiling. “I was oblivious, yes. And I felt like the biggest idiot when I realized he’d all but spelled it out for me in block letters.”

“You’ve never been an idiot,” Rodney corrected softly. “Don’t insult my knight in shining armor that way, Zelenka.”

Jack could tell Zelenka was about to make some kind of sarcastic response to that…but then the man stopped, cocking his head, and the grin softened into an understanding smile. “Of course not, I am sorry. Ve vill have a chance to talk later?” Rodney and Carson both nodded, so he did too. “Then Dr. Kavenagh and I vill be on about our business so you can rest. General, Dr. Weir is…not coming back?”

“Nope, she’s not,” Jack confirmed. “Did you want her back?”

Kavenagh snorted. “Can we jettison her into space?”

“If I could have, I already would have,” Jack told him. “So no, she’s staying in whatever nice little cell Thor put her in until we get back to Earth. I’ll give you guys a formal statement about what’s going on later, just do me a favor and try to keep things cool until then, all right?” He had a thought. “Oh, and before you start spreading all the sweet new gossip…tell Dr. Heightmeyer to go wait for me in the briefing room, I want to talk to her about something. Do not tell her what’s going on, understand?”

“Of course, General,” Zelenka agreed. “Ve vill go right now.”

The two scientists hurried back up the corridor, and Jack herded his two down a different branch to their room, showing them how everything worked – the toilet setup with its three little shell-like controls especially – and then leaving them to settle in. He dropped off the laptops with one of Thor’s people to have their contents copied and analyzed for discrepancies, and then he went to the little room they’d been using as a briefing/meeting room to talk to Heightmeyer. Because Beckett’s notes combined with what Jack had already heard painted a pretty clear picture – for Jack, anyway – of Weir gradually cracking under the pressure and Sheppard undergoing an abrupt personality shift, and he wanted to know why the mission’s psychologist had apparently missed those things. And if he didn’t like her answer…well, Jack was sure Thor had another free cell around somewhere.

Chapter Text

 

Jack showed up in the survivors’ common area right before dinner time and was immediately the focus of everyone’s attention; what little conversation there had been stuttered to a halt. “I take it you’ve all heard that we picked up Dr. Beckett and Dr. McKay from Atlantis earlier?” A lot of nods. “And that Dr. Weir is under arrest for attempted murder?”

“You don’t have any proof of that,” someone said, standing up in a huff. “It’s just hearsay…”

“It was, it isn’t now.” Jack glared at that person until they sat back down. “Turns out Beckett and McKay are both pack rats, never delete any of their emails. And the Asgaard have verified that those files haven’t been tampered with. So I now have proof of some things I’d only had hearsay about before...and believe me, it was damning.” He looked around the room. “Did any of you just happen to notice that both the civilian and military heads of your mission had started to slip off the track? Anyone?”

One of the scientists raised his hand. “That’s Dr. Heightmeyer’s job. And we all knew that Dr. McKay was forced to go in for counseling because of the situation between he and Major Sheppard.”

“Which is just one more reason your mission’s psychologist is also sitting in a cell right now and deserves to have her license pulled,” was Jack’s reply. “HIPPA regulations aside, though, Dr. Heightmeyer was made aware of a personality shift in Major Sheppard directly resulting from contact with an alien being. She not only ignored Dr. Beckett’s medical report on the situation, she went along with Dr. Weir’s recommendation that Dr. McKay should be forced to attend counselling sessions because of the problems he was having with Sheppard as a result of the alien interference – and that was medical in nature, boys and girls, not psychological.” He scowled. “I also found out that before your mission even left Earth, Dr. Beckett had put in a recommendation for a combat-experienced psychiatrist and it was overridden by Dr. Weir – meaning I never saw it and neither did anyone else. I am, to put it mildly, pissed – at Dr. Weir, at Dr. Heightmeyer, and at the rest of you for burying your heads in the god-damned sand while your mission went to hell all around you. And before you military people start feeling cocky…Weir will also be standing trial for her part in Sheppard’s death, because she was informed of the problem and given a workable solution and her response…was to use the situation to score points against Dr. Beckett and attempt to humiliate Dr. McKay. Who was almost as much of a victim in that situation as Sheppard was.” He took a deep breath. “Oh, and that’s another thing: McKay never had it bad for his team leader in the way I’ve been told Dr. Weir and Lt. Ford took great pleasure telling everyone he did. Sheppard was his team leader, and his friend. And I am ashamed of each and every one of you,” this was directed at the soldiers, “for going along with that bullshit for laughs instead of explaining to the civilian contingent why soldiers form close bonds with their teammates.”

“They…wouldn’t have understood, Colonel,” one of the Marines ventured. “Civilians don’t get it, you know that.”

“These civilians were living in the same war zone you were,” O’Neill countered. “And if you’re so insecure you can’t explain to someone what a battle buddy is because you’re afraid they’ll call your manhood into question…then soldier, you didn’t belong on a mission like this one, and you probably don’t belong at the SGC. Do you have any idea how many times someone’s flat-out accused me of being Dr. Jackson’s boyfriend?”

“You aren’t?”

That had been blurted out by one of the scientists, who immediately turned bright red and cringed. Jack rolled his eyes. “No, Dr. Whittaker, I’m not. Although I’m flattered you think I could land a straight guy with multiple PhDs who’s almost half my age. Do you have a poster of me in your locker with kiss marks on it too?”

He actually waited for a response before continuing. “Soldiers and others who go into combat situations together form very tight bonds, people. It’s beyond friendship, sometimes it’s even beyond family. And no, we really can’t explain it to you if you haven’t been there. Dr. McKay had been there. Dr. McKay was one of Major Sheppard’s battle buddies. You can’t even imagine what it must have been like for him when the major turned on him – the way I understand it pretty viciously and practically overnight – because of alien mind control. I can, because I’ve been there myself, more than once.” His jaw set. “None of you are being officially blamed for the situation that developed on your mission, and there won’t be any repercussions on your careers. I am, however, going to mandate that each and every one of you has to go back through SGC orientation and training before you’re allowed to go back to work – or allowed to leave the program, which I know some of you will probably want to do after this.”

“Are Dr. McKay and Dr. Beckett leaving the program, General?”

“No.” Jack did not quite smile. He’d gone by to talk to Beckett and McKay before he’d come down here to talk to everyone else. “They’ve both indicated that they’re more than willing to stay with the program as long as they’re never asked to go off-world again, and I agreed to that. McKay can’t be inside the Ancient’s buildings or vehicles anymore anyway because of what the tech on Atlantis did to him; going through a Stargate would probably kill him.”

“Can we talk to them?”

“Do they want to talk to you, Dr. Barquilla?” Jack snorted when that scientist cringed. “Beckett would probably say yes, because he’s that kind of guy, but I’m saying not unless they approach you – and that’s an order. Dr. Beckett and Dr. McKay have been living alone on an island all this time, they’re going to be twitchy around other people for a while.”

“Is true, they almost jumped back from myself and Kavenaugh in the hall earlier,” Zelenka chimed in. “So if you encounter them, approach slowly and make sure zey know you are there.” He cast a sidelong look at Jack. “Did they think some of us might be…less than glad to see them?”

“No, you just startled them.” Jack shook his head. “Of course, when Dr. Weir and I showed up on their island, Dr. Beckett greeted us – well, her, really – with a Wraith stunner and a demand that she get out and not come back. He seemed perfectly okay with me being there, he and McKay even took me down to see the city before we left.”

The young physicist who had been Weir’s second, Dr. Grodin, cleared his throat. “If I might ask, how did they do that, General?”

“Beckett found the city’s underwater escape pods,” Jack told him. “He thought the pod would just take them to Atlantis’s mainland, but instead it took them to a shielded island, where they’ve been living ever since. And before any of you get any ideas about that,” he warned, “he didn’t find the pods until the evacuation was already underway, and by that point he was out of communication with everyone and didn’t feel like he could re-establish it without endangering himself and McKay both. Not to mention, he expected to be hiding from Wraith on the mainland, he didn’t know about the island until he got there – and he didn’t know it was shielded until he noticed that the Wraith darts kept flying over it without stopping.” Several mouths dropped open in horror. “Yes, the Wraith were there, looking for survivors. They’ve apparently been coming back pretty regularly just to check, and Thor detected one of their ships heading that way right about the same time we showed up there. We started hauling ass back to Earth before they got close, don’t worry.”

“Do you think they’ll try to follow us, General?” another one of the Marines wanted to know. “Can the Asgaard…”

“I don’t want to find out and neither does Thor,” Jack told him. “But no, I don’t think they can follow us and neither does he. Their ships appear to be reliant on the Gate system to get around, and they don’t have hyperdrive like this ship does so going the long route won’t be an option for them. As soon as Thor has dropped us off, though, he’s going to go on a search-and-destroy mission for any orbiting Gates near Earth or the other populated planets. And we’re locking all of Pegasus out of Earth’s Gate dialers, just in case.”

 

Jack went back to his office after that, leaving them all to discuss amongst themselves – while he watched and listened from the recording setup Thor had arranged for him before they’d picked up the remaining members of the mission. He figured the smarter ones knew they were being monitored, but those were also the ones he wasn’t really worried about. Zelenka was keeping his cool for the moment, Kavenaugh wasn’t, and Grodin had pretty much withdrawn into himself. Jack got that. The guy had been Weir’s second…and he hadn’t seen it. Grodin was probably one of the ones the program was going to lose over this, honestly.

Zelenka finally got enough and figuratively threw some of his cool out the nonexistent window to start shouting in someone’s face – in Czech and English and holy shit apparently the guy also spoke some pretty foul German too – and Jack focused all of his attention on the monitor. Most of the other scientists were keeping their distance, so were the military personnel…no wait, one of the Marines was making a move. He planted himself right next to the furious physicist, folding his arms across his chest…and Jack smiled. The guy’s stance was very clearly saying ‘touch him, deal with me’. And once the much smaller man wound down, a large hand landed on his shoulder. “I didn’t understand any part of that except the curse words,” the Marine told the red-faced airman who’d been the target of the Czech scientist’s multi-lingual tirade. “But I still agree with him. You fucked up. We all fucked up. And people died because of that – people who didn’t have to. People whose families are gonna get some bullshit excuse about an accident and won’t even have a body to bury. People like the major’s family who’ll probably get told he killed himself, but nobody will be able to tell them it wasn’t his fault.” He swiped at his eyes with the back of his free hand. “You know, I don’t want to talk to you, you’re a waste of air and space and everybody’s time. Come on Zelenka, you too Kavenaugh, let’s scoop up a few more people and throw the major good old-fashioned Irish wake. We weren’t able to do it before.”

Kavenaugh hesitated. “What will the general think about that?”

The Marine snorted and kept herding them toward the door. “He’ll think he can join us if he wants to.”

Jack smiled at the screen. He wasn’t going to go back down for that, of course, but he did appreciate the invitation. And he thought that particular Marine, Corporal Johnson, might just make a pretty good member of a ‘Gate team once they got home, too. Maybe he'd give the guy's rank a conditional boost while they were still on the ship, see how well he handled having more authority...after everyone was done suffering through tomorrow's homebrew-induced hangover, of course.