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This was getting ridiculous. Pooch could deal with attempts on his life as well as any former special forces trained soldier, but having to thwart three in one week was tiring even for him. So when the Air Force brass asked to see him and said they could help, he reluctantly accepted, after of course having Jensen run deep background checks on them. He was tired, not stupid. It was also reassuring that the remaining members of the team all got the same summons. He always felt more secure with his teammates at his back, and while Jensen could be distracted by shiny tech things, Cougar was solid and menacing, two of Pooch’s favorite things.

Unfortunately Jensen didn’t find much on Major Paul Davis except a lot of holes. What a Pentagon pencil pusher was doing might be classified, but being classified to this extent was strange. After discussing it among the three of them, they decided to go to the meeting anyway. Jensen was curious, Cougar went where Jensen went, and Pooch was tired enough to explore unusual avenues.

As they waited in the Pentagon conference room that they had been led to, Jensen said, “Cell transmissions are being blocked. No bars.” It was of course mumbled through the donut he was eating, but it did make Cougar and Pooch both sit up.

Just then the door opened and a two star general walked in. Pooch could tell by Jensen’s startle and Cougar’s raised eyebrow that they were all equally surprised that a general was the one who had come to talk to them. Air Force was weird, but Air Force general? That had trouble written all over it.

The general’s aide closed the door and the general rocked on his heels with a pleased look on his face. “So I’m General Jack O’Neill, two Ls,” he said, while holding up three fingers. “It’s nice to put faces to the names of some gentlemen who helped us with our NID problem.”

Jensen, never caught flatfooted in a conversation for long, asked, “NID? The NID was behind Max?”

“Your Max was a longtime leader of rogue elements within the NID. We’ve never been able to catch him or even know who he was until your team blew him up, literally, of course.”

“So what is this? A belated thank you of stale donuts and Pentagon coffee?” Considering Jensen had eaten three of the donuts while they waited, Pooch didn’t think their freshness mattered to Jensen, but he was curious why they were being told all this too. It sounded need to know, and with Max out of the picture and them out of the service, they definitely didn’t need to know.

“Well, I’ve been kept apprised of your continuing Rogue NID problems. You’ve really kicked over that hornet’s nest and I might have a solution, if you’re agreeable.”

Jensen frowned. “And what do you get out of it?”

“I get experienced soldiers to keep their eyes out for similar problems in, let’s call it, a different arena.”

Cougar tucked his hat down further on his head and frowned. Before Jensen could gather steam and tell the general off, Pooch interjected, “We’re retired. Happily retired.”

“And you can remain that way. This… arena is a joint military and civilian operation. You all have skills and master’s degrees that can be useful as civilians on base. Your acceptance would in no way require you to re-up. It’s actually easier for us if you don’t. Less… military politics, shall we say.”

“The army doesn’t know about this operation?”

Smiling cheerfully, General O’Neill said, “Not in the slightest, and we aim to keep it that way.”

The three of them exchanged glances. Staying civilian was definitely a priority, but the way the general was careful to not mention any real details, Pooch was still worried. He said, “I’ve never heard of a joint Air Force and civilian operation. Where is this ‘arena’?” He did the air quotes, not quite able to stop himself.

“That’s classified. I can’t tell you more until you sign our non-disclosure agreements.”

Pooch again exchanged looks with Cougar and Jensen. Non-disclosure agreements sounded black ops, and he knew none of them wanted to get back into that, although if it was a joint civilian op that didn’t sound right, unless it was with Kryon or whatever security forces. Basically this whole thing was fishy to Pooch.

General O’Neill sighed, and said, “Look, I think sending you guys to our ‘arena’ will be beneficial to all of us, and from the looks on your faces you’re thinking bad things, and I swear this isn’t some CIA/NID death trap. You’ll understand once you sign, but you need to sign for us to tell you anything.”

Jensen said, “We’ll need to discuss it among ourselves.”

General O’Neill sighed again, but only said, “Dial 0402 when you’ve decided. Major Davis will handle the paperwork or escort you out of the Pentagon.”

He left and the second the door was closed, Jensen had his phone out and was typing furiously. Pooch knew to wait until he gave the all-clear that they weren’t being monitored. After a couple minutes, Jensen said, “Huh. No active listening devices that I can discover. I think it is as safe as we can get inside the Pentagon.”

Pooch asked, “How many attempts on your life did you guys get last week?”

Jensen held up three fingers, and Cougar said, “Four.” It figures Cougar had the most. He was the most dangerous, really.

“The Pooch also had three. If this General O’Neill is right and there’s a safe place to go, I’m kind of interested to be honest, but all the secrecy is concerning. Secrets have a way of going belly up.”

Cougar nodded, as Jensen began typing furiously again. He said, “Solved the reception issue. Well, General O’Neill is on the up-and-up. His current title is Director of Homeworld Security, which huh, almost sounds sci-fi. Most of his file is blacked out, but I recognize some of his team leaders from back in the 80s and 90s as CIA covers, so he’s definitely been into some shady stuff, but that’s all old. Since the mid-1990s he had been assigned to NORAD doing ‘Deep Space Radar Telemetry’ which if that isn’t a cover story is the most boring job ever.”

With an intense look on his face, Cougar said, “I want to hear what they say. I am tired.”

Jensen looked startled, so Pooch kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to get involved in a lover’s spat. No one could sulk like Jensen. Jensen and Cougar had one of their wordless conversations, and Jensen relaxed in his chair. He said, “I guess I’m in too. Pooch?”

They both focused on Pooch, and he sighed. “Yeah, I’m tired too and a bit curious. I’m in.”

Jensen dialed the phone, they signed the non-disclosure agreements, and then they had their minds blown.

Aliens! Other fucking Galaxies!

Pooch was cautiously excited, while Jensen left the meeting with the biggest grin and even Cougar looked pleased. They had all signed civilian contracts, and had two weeks to settle their affairs and get to Colorado. Since none of them had felt safe enough to settle in one place for long, this was more than enough time.

Pooch had signed on as a mechanical engineer and would be working on spaceships called jumpers, while Jensen was a computer specialist and Cougar was a weapons specialist. They were assured they would stay together as a team for missions, with the addition of one military team lead. It wasn’t often that teams had so many ‘civilians,’ but obviously they were brought on in special circumstances. Their team would specialize in tech-trading and search and rescue.

Pooch didn’t say anything to Jensen or Cougar, but beyond excited, he also felt a strange pull once he heard about the Pegasus Galaxy. It felt like destiny, which scared him, but was enticing all the same. It was like the click of driving a new machine and just getting it. It felt so right.

After arrival at Stargate Command (saying that would never get old), they found out that Pooch and Jensen had the Ancient gene, but Cougar didn’t. It didn’t seem to bother Cougar, even though Jensen hounded him about getting the gene therapy. Jensen couldn’t accept Cougar’s decision to go without until Pooch intervened when Cougar’s stare threatened dismemberment and told him, “Shut the hell up, Jensen, if it’s all right with Cougar to not have the gene, it’s his decision.”

Jensen said, “But--”

“No, enough. You whine like a six-year-old. Get over it or Cougar’s going to gut you and I’m going to hold you down for him.” Cougar glared and nodded.

Jensen pouted but finally gave it up, at least in public. Pooch didn’t know what happen privately in their relationship, and he adamantly didn’t want to know, thank you very much for your overshare about your kinks, Jensen.

After more medical tests than Pooch could count, endurance and other physical measurements, and a basic orientation about the Stargate program and Atlantis, they were finally going through the Stargate to Atlantis a month after they heard about it. Pooch tried to hold in his excitement, but Jensen was grinning like a loon and bouncing on his heels, and Pooch found himself doing the same.

The blue whoosh of the Stargate happened, and Walter made contact with Atlantis successfully. Jensen gave a little whoop as he went through, and Pooch barely reframed from doing the same.

Stepping onto Atlantis was a trip. It was so gorgeous that Pooch couldn’t help turning in a circle with his mouth hanging open as he moved out of the way of the incoming personnel. Jensen was doing the same, but Pooch noticed Cougar was still looking sharp, so he didn’t worry over much about his distraction. Besides the stained glass look of the arched room, he felt a hum of acceptance in the back of his brain and that “destiny” feeling intensified. It would’ve been frightening if it wasn’t so welcoming.

After the Stargate whooshed out, a voice rang out. “All new civilian personnel over there to the left with Dr. Zelenka. All military, you’re with me.” It was an Air Force major talking, and Pooch saw Jensen take a step towards him, before Cougar redirected him towards where the civilians were grouping. Pooch had almost forgotten their changed circumstances as well, so he was glad Cougar was still on the ball.

They grouped around a short man with crazy hair and glasses. It made Pooch stifle a smile at how classically “mad scientist” Zelenka looked. It was funny to think he was now a geek like Zelenka.

As Zelenka talked through the basics, another civilian handed out packets of information and room assignments. With their relationship, Cougar and Jensen were sharing, but Pooch had his own room, which was a nice surprise. He wasn’t aware there was enough space for that, but then he wasn’t really clear on how big Atlantis was yet.

Finally, some other scientists joined the group, and Zelenka started divvying people up for their work orientations. Their belongings would be taken to their rooms by other personnel and be waiting for them after their day was over.

Cougar was assigned to a big guy named Ronon along with the military personnel. They looked askance at Cougar, but Pooch knew they would be eating his dust before too long. Jensen was assigned to the Lead Science Officer who was a loud, hand-waving tour de force named McKay. Pooch almost laughed at that match-up. That was going to lead to verbal explosions. Finally it was just Pooch left, and Zelenka said, “Linwood Porteous, you’re with me.”

Pooch replied, “It’s just Pooch,” and followed Zelenka down a hallway.

Pooch noticed Zelenka just nodded his acceptance and adjusted his glasses. “I am the lead engineer for the jumpers besides my other duties. I have been requesting a dedicated assistant for the last two years. I am very happy you are here.”

Pooch grinned. It was nice to feel wanted. “I got to examine one over at Stargate Command. Wicked technology. Can’t wait to really dig my hands into it.”

They entered the jumper bay, and Pooch whistled as he looked around. It was like Star Wars or something. All gleaming ships stacked across a cavernous room.

Zelenka grinned widely at him, and Pooch shared his joy. This was going to be awesome. One jumper was obviously being worked on, and Zelenka led him there, explaining the problem and where he was in the repair. They started discussing it and digging into the mechanics and crystals and Zelenka was so excited to have him and his gene to help that he began muttering in an Eastern European language. The next thing Pooch knew, in English, Zelenka was saying, “Time for lunch. I’ll show you where the cafeteria is.”

They had arrived at seven in the morning, Atlantis time. Pooch said, “Holy shit, really?” and looked at the watch he had been assigned that was customized to Atlantis’ length of day and the time. He saw it was just after noon. The time had flown by.

Zelenka smiled warmly at him and clapped him on the shoulder. “I can already tell you will be a great help, but I am hungry and I imagine you are as well. We will resume in an hour or so, good?”

Pooch just nodded and finished the small repair he was doing so he was stopped at a good place, and Zelenka led him to the cafeteria. After getting their food, they split up, Zelenka joining McKay and some others, while Pooch said he would join Jensen and Cougar who were sitting off to the side, along with a gorgeous woman in military fatigues. She was smiling at Cougar, and Pooch snorted, unsurprised. Cougar always attracted attention from women. Too bad for them he was completely devoted to Jensen.

As he put his tray down, Pooch asked, “How’d everyone else’s work orientations go?”

Cougar just nodded, while Jensen beamed at him. Jensen said, “Awesome. I’ve found my soul twin in Dr. McKay!”

Slyly, Pooch asked, “Does he know that?”

Cougar stifled his laughter, as Jensen scowled at Pooch. “He will soon!”

Seeing that Jensen was gearing up for more blathering, before he could get started, Pooch introduced himself to the gorgeous woman. “Hi, I’m Pooch. I drive these two yahoos around.”

And then it was like a movie cliché, at least for Pooch. Their eyes met, she smiled wide and beautiful, Pooch’s hearts stuttered, and he thought, “I’m going to marry this woman.”

She was saying, “I’m Lt. Jolene Henderson. I’m you’re new SGA team lead.”

It took Pooch a couple seconds to actually respond to what she was saying, he was still so lost in his own heart-eyes. Finally, he blurted out, “Hi, hi, HI!”

Her smile dimmed, and she gave him a confused look, and Pooch’s brain was able to restart. Conversation resumed; mostly getting to know you stuff and bringing Jolene up to speed on new movie sequels and the newest season of The Walking Dead that she was interested in, but in the back of his mind Pooch continued to think, “I’m going to marry this woman.”

Their main duty as SGA-17 was to provide search and rescue, as planned. They were one of five rotating teams that were on call for this. Their secondary duty was trade, so they could get familiar with Atlantis’ various trading partners and worlds before specializing in tech-finding and offering mechanical engineering support to trading partners. This was mainly how Pooch would be earning his keep. Their first mission was with a well-known trading partner and went off without a hitch. Cougar, without saying more than four words, even negotiated a better deal for the weird Pegasus flour they were buying that day. The matriarch of the village was very taken with him.

Jolene mocked Cougar the whole way back to the Stargate, which made Pooch’s heart swell even more. Apparently she wasn’t overcome with Cougar’s charms as he had first thought, which, as far as Pooch was concerned, was a good thing. Of course, he still hadn’t managed to say more than four coherent words to Jolene himself yet, but he was working on it. Luckily for Pooch, Jensen hadn’t noticed yet because then the mocking would never stop. Cougar had noticed, and was smirking at Pooch, but that was acceptable.

Their second mission was a referral from the first world they visited. Their matriarch, because of how much she had loved Cougar, had offered up a new possibility for trade for a Pegasus fruit that was a delicacy. The first village had had a tough winter, and would not have enough trade goods to trade for the fruit themselves, but she would love to give the opportunity to her new friend Cougar.

When the Powers That Be back at Atlantis heard that they got a line on getting this fruit, Pooch barely had time to take off his tactical gear from the first mission before they were approved for the next. Pooch guessed it really was a delicacy.

As they left the Stargate behind on their second Pegasus mission, they fell naturally into position with Cougar taking point. Even Jolene slotted seamlessly into their team, which made Pooch’s heart melt. They were told that this village was about two clicks from the Stargate.

As Jensen nattered on about, well, something, Pooch wasn’t exactly paying attention to him, Jolene said, “You know, you guys don’t move like civilians.” She was watching Cougar as she commented.

Pooch said, “Well, we’ve only been civilians for about two years now. Special Forces before that. We were ghosted by the CIA, took down the guy, and now we’re here.”

Jolene hummed and said, “There’s obviously a story behind that.”

“And you provide us enough alcohol, we’ll tell it to you.”

Jolene laughed. It was like tinkling wind chimes and Pooch’s heart clenched again. He really needed to get over thinking these fanciful thoughts, and keep his mind in the game. She wasn’t going to marry him if he was always staring at her wordlessly like a chump.

Luckily Jolene didn’t notice his distraction, and asked, “How long had the three of you guys been on a team before that?”

Thinking about it, Pooch said, “Gotta be a good eight years. Huh, I can’t believe I’ve been putting up with Jensen for this long.”

Jensen interrupted his monologue to say, “You love me, Pooch,” and then just resumed where he had left off. What a nutter.

Not wanting to feel interrogated, and interested in everything about Jolene, Pooch asked her, “How long have you been a team lead?”

Rhetorically she asked, “How long since our last mission?” and winked at him. “I was second in command on my prior team for three years, and was first up for my own team when we got new personnel. I didn’t know what team I was getting until the last minute, though.”

Pooch puffed up dramatically. “And you got the best!” Jolene laughed again as Pooch had wanted, and she threw him a fond look. He continued, “Well, we were only contacted about joining the program about a month before we left for Atlantis. What a shocker that was.”

“That’s pretty unusual.”

“Uhuh, not enough alcohol still. You’re not getting it out of us that easy.”

Jolene mock pouted. “Worth a shot.”

Cougar’s line sharpened, and both Pooch and Jolene straightened up and let their conversation fall off. Jensen’s monologue had barely even a blip, though. Seriously, such a nutter. One would think Pooch would be used to it now, but he was always amazed at how Jensen just never shut up.

Out of the woods, four men materialized with wicked looking bows and arrows. As Jensen took a breath, Jolene put her hand on his arm, and said, “Hello. The Bunti’s matriarch said you might have some fruit for trade.”

“We do not trade with unpaired travelers.”

Jensen blurted out, “Unpaired? There’s four of us.”

“So you are all paired together?”

Pooch watched as Jolene again squeezed Jensen’s arm. She said, “Only unofficially,” which Pooch guessed was the diplomatic Pegasus way of saying if you would like to consider us such, we will totally be paired for your fruit.

The lead man frowned disapprovingly. “We only trade with ‘officially’ paired travelers.”

“We would be happy to be paired by your ceremonies.”

Jensen again couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and exclaimed, “We would?”

Now Cougar was frowning at Jensen. “You do not wish to be paired with me?” which made Jensen gape like a fish out of water. Pooch couldn’t help whistling. Jensen was in it now.

Cougar started frowning, making Jensen wave his arms and stutter out words too fast to be understood, obviously panicking and trying to retract his words.

Again taking control, this time with a roll of her eyes, Jolene kicked Jensen to quiet him down, and told the man, “Sorry for my companion. You took him by surprise. In our culture, asking someone to be officially paired with you usually involves its own ritual.”

The four men eyed Jolene with renewed respect, probably as the only sane one in the group, not that Pooch would disagree, and their leader said, “It would be acceptable for you to be paired by our ceremony.”

So that was the first time Pooch married Jolene.

The second, third, and fourth times followed in their fifth, seventh, and twelfth missions. Sometimes they only traded with married people in general, sometimes they didn’t trade with unmarried women or men individually, and sometimes it was marry each other or marry a villager. It was always something, and Pooch definitely felt mocked by the Pegasus Galaxy for his hubris.

He was making progress in getting to know Jolene though, which was the bonus. She was no nonsense with an upfront sense of humor and a kind heart. She knew her way around Atlantis, the Pegasus Galaxy, and a P-90. He would even feel a bit settled in the situation if Jensen hadn’t just offered to marry Jolene the next time, since she was the one who had to be married the most. Pooch shook his head violently and pointed a stern finger at Jensen. “Hell, no! No one’s marry Jolene except me!”

Jolene coughed, and he looked over to see an unamused look on her face. Shocked, he said, “Wait, you want to marry Jensen? Over the Pooch?”

“Maybe I want to marry Cougar.”

Pooch scoffed. “Everyone wants to marry Cougar, but he’s not the one trying to steal your affections.”

Grinning, Jolene asked, “You think you’re gaining my affections through our ritual ‘pairings?’”

Realizing how nonsensical that sounded, Pooch was stymied into silence. It had made sense in his head. Finally he said, “Well, no. I was hoping I was gaining your affections by being awesome. Getting to marry you was the bonus.” And then pointedly to Jensen he added, “And not one I’m willing to give up without a fight!”

Jensen threw up his hands in surrender, but was grinning now too, and Pooch didn’t know what to make of that.

Jolene laughed, and kissed him on the mouth. Pooch’s heart swelled with affection and wonder. She said, “You are gaining my affections by being awesome. No matter who I marry on other worlds.”

“But, it’s always going to be me, right?”

Laughing again, Jolene finally nodded. Jensen cheered as they kissed longer, and Pooch heard him tell Cougar, “See, I told you it would work!”

He didn’t care. All Jolene’s marriages were his, and he’d make sure at least one of them counted.