Jonas is well enough now that he can get out of bed without assistance and without Dr. Lam’s exclamations of protest. (He knows Janet’s long dead, knows this because it was one of the last consistent communications he received from Earth, but it’s still jarring for him to wake up beside concrete walls and the steady beep-beep-beep of his heart and look into a stranger’s face.) He’s still sore, still limping a little when he pushes his leg too hard, but he’s finally strong enough to trade the gray ceiling and stale air conditioning for green grass and blue sky.
He doesn’t expect anyone to accompany him, but Vala bounds up to him on his way out the door with a grin on her face and a gleam in her eye.
“I’m always hearing about this Tau’ri ritual,” she says. “It’s called a ‘pik-nik’. Did you ever try it while you were here?”
She is an enigma, this Vala Mal Doran - someone he will never figure out by sitting back and reading old mission reports. Her hair was in pigtails the day he met her, pulled back in a ponytail the day after that. Today, as he follows her up a grassy knoll on the surface, she’s donned little hair clips that glitter in the sunlight.
Technically, Jonas has been on many picnics, as has Vala. A meal eaten outdoors, as on an excursion. He’s certainly had plenty of excursions with SG-1: plenty of venturing out into the stars, plenty of soaring to new worlds and eating by firelight, all the while drinking in the sheer cosmic wonder of the universe.
They feel distant now, those ghosts of memories floating just beyond his reach. He tries not to dwell on them. Sometimes, he even succeeds.
“Isn’t that from the commissary?” Jonas asks, because the big blue tablecloth folded and draped over Vala’s arm looks so familiar and only now has he managed to connect it to the place from which it’s come.
She just looks at him over her shoulder and shrugs.
“I told them I was borrowing it.” She keeps walking with no further explanation.
It’s not really much of a picnic when they get right down to it. Vala claims a flat, sunny spot looking out onto the horizon, and they spread out their “blanket” and their lunch. The food is far from Dr. Lam-approved – the margin of cake slices to sandwich halves seems rather unbalanced. At least there are a few bananas tucked into their armfuls of snacks.
Jonas is eager to ease himself down onto the ground; his leg’s killing him from the walk up, muscles burning under his skin, and he feels a little winded. Vala stands at the edge of the tablecloth, staring blankly.
“Now what?” she asks.
Jonas pauses to look at her. “‘Now what’ what?”
She blinks at him. “What do we do?”
He can never tell how much of this is just acting, how much of it is just playing around with him. “Eat, I’m pretty sure,” he tells her. “Unless you want the apples to get mushy.”
“It’s the grapes I’m worried about,” Vala says, snatching a bunch of them as she flops down onto the tablecloth.
It’s warm up here, but it’s not humid. It had been about the same on Langara before… well, before something. He remembers two things and two things only about his journey back to Earth: artificial gravity pulling at his body, and his head in Kianna’s lap, her fingers brushing against his cheek. Dr. Lam surmises he was just knocked out for most of it rather than it being some horrific, mind-numbing event from which his brain is trying to shield him. Jonas has to hope it’s the former; there is no more Kianna otherwise.
It should startle him that he can so effortlessly consider such a hideous scenario. It should, and yet. And yet he didn’t spend the past year desperately trying to put the crumbled pieces of a rebellion back together for nothing.
“I don’t know about that Weather Channel of yours,” Vala suddenly says, shoving him out of his head. “They seem to talk about everything but the weather. I’ve learned fifteen ways I can die in a natural disaster in the past three days alone.” She chews thoughtfully on an apple slice. “When you’re better, I’ll have to introduce you to SOAPnet.”
If there’s one thing he’s managed to learn about Vala, it’s that she’s able to initiate a staggering amount of meandering small talk (and he’s dealt with his fair share of politicians since he left Earth.) It’s not unpleasant, but he does find it bizarre. Most of the time he doesn’t even know what to say, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her. She’s always talking, regardless of how well he may or may not be listening.
It sparks an odd, aching nostalgia in him every once in a while.
“Are you finished with those grapes?” he asks her. Vala nods and moves to hand them over, but yanks them back at the last second.
“I could feed them to you, if you want.” She grins while her eyes twinkle suggestively. Subtlety does not seem to be her best skill.
“I think I can handle it,” Jonas replies, leaning over to pluck the bunch from her hands.
She frowns and leans on her elbow. “You and Daniel have an awful lot in common.”
“So I’ve been told.”
Vala sighs dramatically and helps herself to a forkful of cake.
After a while, Jonas has to lay back and just breathe. It’s not a lot of food that he’s eaten; he hasn’t managed to work himself back up to full meals in one sitting just yet. Being left to wither away on a dais with an entire city as witnesses does that to a person.
Vala continues to chatter away beside him. He has no idea what she’s talking about anymore – something about an Erica Kane, whom he has never met and doubts he ever will.
He almost doesn’t realize she’s addressing him again when he hears her ask, “What was it like?”
His brow furrows in confusion. “What?”
The look on her face her is unlike anything he’s seen from her thus far: it’s serious and it’s pensive, but there’s also a hint of openness and (maybe he’s seeing things) vulnerability.
Her voice is low when she speaks. “The Ori had you for quite a while.”
Jonas is so dumbstruck by this observation that he can only stare back at her. He feels his mouth start to open, but no words come out.
“I guess you like reading mission reports as much as I did,” he answers vacantly.
She rolls her eyes. “No, ugh, mission reports. Always so boring and sterile. No,” she repeats. “I was with the Ori for a while, too; a couple of times, actually, and they saw fit to impregnate me and burn me alive.”
Jonas knows his mouth is open now.
“Oh,” Vala adds upon seeing his slack-jawed expression. “Not in that order, obviously.”
He hasn’t struggled this hard for words since he came to Earth the first time. “And I thought my situation was bad,” he remarks, an attempt to keep his voice passive.
Something sparks alight in Vala’s eyes and she leans in closer. “What did they do to you?”
Jonas stalls completely, thrown off not only by Vala’s totally nonchalant description of her own ordeal, but by the intensity with which she holds his gaze.
He only met her three weeks ago. The wounds are still so fresh. But everything’s bubbling under the surface now and she’s still staring at him and he can only guess that she’s desperate for him to say something, to confirm that being aliens on this world is not the only connection they share.
“They, uh.” He swallows to keep himself from clearing his throat instead. He’s worked so hard to push this aside, to stop dreaming about it every single night, to be a soldier, and now- “They chained me to a bench in the middle of our most densely populated city and just… just left me there. For weeks.”
“Oh, they did that to me, too,” Vala says. She sits up and crosses her legs as she turns toward him. “Well, not for weeks, but the whole no food for three days thing was really uncomfortable.” She grimaces and scratches absently at her side.
Jonas lets the back of his head come to rest on the tablecloth and stares up at the sky. Watching the clouds is about all he can do at this point. Vala does the same, silently settling down beside him.
His mind races despite his best efforts, so many things he’d like to forget now shored up to burn at the forefront of his thoughts. He sees the Prior glaring at him with contempt as his staff pulses with blinding light, remembers hunger and thirst and unbelievable pain. The dread spikes in his stomach as he thinks of all the people milling about the city, trying to hold on to the fragile remnants of their daily lives and trying their hardest not to see his suffering. And he will never forget Dreylock’s quivering hands each morning as the Prior showed him what happens to those who take up arms against Origin.
“Sam thinks you don’t want to see her,” Vala says after a while.
Jonas shuts his eyes. Yes, that would be because he said horrible things to Sam, things like, “I don’t want your pity,” and, “We heard nothing from any of you,” and, the one he really regrets, the one that made Sam’s face turn the slightest shade of white, “I guess I’m no different to you than that Replicator we stranded in the time dilation field.”
He really doesn’t blame her for not coming back after that.
“Honestly, you’d have to be crazy to want to avoid seeing Samantha’s lovely face,” Vala continues. “And you, Mr. Quinn, do not strike me as crazy.”
She turns over onto her side, studying him again with that same intense gaze. He’s starting to feel a bit like a rodent caught in a feline’s sights, and whatever he's been struggling to hold on to falls out of place inside him.
“They left me,” he blurts out. His voice is hoarse and bitter and he feels incapable of stopping it. “They just let Langara fall.”
Concern flashes over Vala’s face while Jonas sits up. “We had nothing. We had nothing we could defend ourselves with. We were hanging on by our fingernails just trying to-” He has to take a breath; the sudden surge of energy into every limb makes him dizzy.
Vala sits up, too, and says, “They tried to contact you. They tried to contact you a lot, in fact, and I think they made some sort of high-up government official very angry with how much money and energy they put into it.” She then adds, rather defensively, “Not to mention your own government was far from forthcoming before they stopped responding completely.”
The Ori’s possession of the Stargate had been swift. There wouldn’t have been much of a window for the SGC to contact them, but still.
“They could have come back, somehow.” He levels an accusatory gaze at her, like she, the woman who hadn’t even touched the Earth until last year, could change what happened.
“They were very worried about you,” Vala answers, heat simmering around her words. “Still are! And you’d know that if you hadn’t driven them all away with your venom and self-pity!”
Jonas’s chest burns, and suddenly his crumbling restraint doesn’t seem so important to salvage. “I already lost my home once!”
His words catch up with him quickly. When he really hears what he’s just yelled, he feels an icy mix of horror and humiliation curl deep in his gut.
Even though he tries to look away, Vala doesn’t take her eyes off him. Her expression is not one of sadness or pity, but of real and harsh knowing, like she is painfully familiar with what he’s living.
He’s about to mutter an apology when Vala puts her hands on his shoulders, pulling him towards her so she can see his face.
“Do you honestly think you’re the only person in this place who’s lost their home?” she quietly asks. “You’re here now and you’re alive. And it’s thanks to your friends that you’re alive, because when you flopped out of that Stargate, you were half-dead and nobody knew whether you were going to make it or not.”
Jonas is struck by a fuzzy memory: his back cushioned by a soft mattress, wires and tubes all around him and in him, and someone by his side, squeezing his hand.
The chair by his bed had rarely been vacant.
“They can’t save everyone,” Vala continues. “Sam and Daniel and Teal’c, they can’t do it, because there are only so many miracles they can pull off in a day. And you know that.” She shakes him a little. “You know that because you’re one of them.”
He does know it. He does, because he’s lived through bloody battles and harbored guilt and second-guessed his actions, all under the bright blue Tau’ri sky. Because he still keeps his SG-1 patch in his jacket pocket to remind him, right above his heart.
“You’re here now,” Vala says again, “and they’ve given us a second chance to live.”
They’ve given us a second chance to live. The use of the word does not go unnoticed by either of them, and for a moment, Vala looks as if she’s going to edit it out of existence with a joke or a hasty subject change. But she doesn’t, and her hands eventually relax against his shoulders. She slips away to rest her back against the tablecloth again and Jonas quietly follows her lead.
Earth’s sky is as beautiful as he remembers it, Jonas realizes then. And he is the one who chose to leave it behind, not the other way around.
“How did I become this person?” he murmurs.
Without missing a beat, Vala answers, “You became that person to survive.” He can hear her smile when she adds, “And it worked.”
They watch a cluster of huge, puffy clouds amble by before they pack up their picnic and head back.
Jonas moves into guest quarters that night.
"Well, you came back from time with Vala in one piece," Dr. Lam tells him, smirking. "You're practically cleared for spaceflight at this point."
The room is almost identical to the one he’d inhabited four years ago. He inhales the clean, tidy smell, and his heartbeat is as steady as his mind is quiet.
Vala makes no reference to their time on the surface, having lapsed back into flirting and teasing and shamelessly stealing grapes from his lunch tray.
“You know,” she tells him one afternoon, eyeing him mischievously, “for a bookworm, you’re painfully attractive.”
He swats at her hand before she can steal any more of his food.
It takes him a few days to work up the guts to go to Sam’s lab. She’s in the middle of fiddling with some machine (just like always) when he gets there, and she stops what she’s doing and puts her tools aside as soon as she sees him.
He’s honestly not sure who goes to whom, but they end up somewhere between her desk and the doorway, arms locked around each other. He can feel her take in a breath against his chest and he whispers, “I’m sorry,” before she can.
Teal’c finally comes to see him again after that, and Daniel after him. They all tell him stories about Colonel O’Neill – General now, and that sounds surreal, and they all silently nod in agreement. He’s even getting to know Colonel Mitchell, and there are times he swears he sees himself in Cam’s bursts of energy.
Jonas has no idea when (or – he hates to say it – if) he may get the chance to go back home, but for now, he thinks it might just be all right to worry about that later. There’s a certain patch tucked firmly in his pocket, and both his worlds still turn.