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Fanfiction: The Atlantis Trilogy - Part II

For disclaimer and author's note see Part I.

Part 2: Taking Flight

It wasn't as though Rodney didn't understand that he'd upset Sam at lunch a few days before. He did. He'd known as soon as the words came out of his mouth that it had been the wrong thing to say. The last time Sam had given him that particular look, he'd been telling her Teal'c was already dead.

He hadn't cared that time – well, hadn't cared but he had regretted that he'd probably scuppered any chance of having sex with Sam ever – and as much as he tried to tell himself he didn't care this time because he'd been right, theoretically speaking, he did care. And not because he wanted to have sex with Sam, although he did and possibly always would want to have sex with Sam, but because he'd thought they'd become friends of a kind, or at the very least, that Sam had come to recognise and appreciate his intellect and abilities. He should have remembered how crazy and unreasonable she got about her team.

He'd walked out of the mess carrying the blue jello she had left behind much to Carson's disapproval but he hadn't actually eaten himself. He'd left it next to Sam's workstation with a plastic fork; a silent olive branch that he had thought was accepted when she'd eaten the jello.

Only she hadn't had lunch with him since. She'd disappeared every day right around their usual lunch hour before he could ask her. Rodney glowered at Sam's empty workstation. OK, so he hadn't actually apologised (and he wouldn't because he was right, damn it), but hello! – jello!

'Doctor McKay,' the small Czech guy with the glasses and wild hair, whose name Rodney could never remember, called over to him, 'do you not have special meeting with Doctor Weir now?'

Special meeting? The memory surged back into his head; Elizabeth on the helicopter that morning reminding him about the meet and greet with the new military CO.

Fantastic.

Just what he didn't need; an hour or more wasted trying to get to know some military moron. He sighed heavily and tapped out the instructions to save his work. He left the laptop behind but kept his mug with him and headed out of the lab to the elevator.

'Ah, there you are, Rodney.' Carson smiled at him happily. 'Doctor Weir asked me to come and get you.'

'I remembered!' Rodney said defensively. And he had. Maybe the funny guy had prompted him but Rodney had actually remembered himself.

Carson hummed and said nothing. He fell into step beside Rodney and they entered the elevator.

'This is a complete waste of my time.' Rodney muttered.

'Colonel Sumner will be in charge of our military friends, Rodney. It's important we get to know each other.'

Rodney shot him a look and pointed a finger in his direction. 'You sound like Elizabeth.'

'Maybe I agree with her. If I decide to go with the expedition then I want to know the people I'm going to be with.'

'If you decide to go?' Rodney's head swivelled round to stare at Carson.

He liked Carson. Carson was remarkably unstupid even if his specialities were in medicine and biology which everybody knew was all voodoo. He also appreciated that while Carson was often exasperated by him – and Rodney wasn't entirely sure at times Carson liked him – it never seemed to stop Carson from being his friend. It was rare for Rodney to make a friend so easily but Carson had arrived in Antarctica with the view that everyone he met was a friend and Rodney couldn't find it in himself to disillusion him.

'Why wouldn't you come?'

'I've told you before Rodney, my Mam isn't well.' Carson replied.

Had Carson told him about his mother? Possibly. And possibly Rodney had ignored what was useless blathering about someone he had no interest in. He was a bad friend, Rodney considered with chagrin. But seriously? If friendship meant having to listen to someone go on about his mother's various ailments – oh, and some of the conversation had obviously entered his subconscious and stayed there because he remembered bunions of all things – then maybe friendship wasn't something for Rodney.

And he wasn't bothered if Carson didn't come along on the expedition, Rodney thought harshly. He didn't need to have a friend accompany him. 'I don't see why Dixon has to leave.'

'You don't even like Dixon.'

Rodney fidgeted. 'He's not a total idiot.'

'Ah, praise indeed then.' Carson said dryly.

The elevator lurched to a halt and Rodney made a mental reminder to look at the maintenance log.

'I'm sure Colonel Dixon will be pleased to get back to his bairns.' Carson continued. 'I understand all four of them are under the age of ten.'

Kids. Jeannie. Rodney scowled as the faint twinge of guilt assaulted him. He'd meant to call his sister before heading to Antarctica but he'd been too rushed travelling and it never seemed like the right time. When he got back to the States, Rodney decided; he'd call her then.

Elizabeth smiled as he and Carson entered the meeting room. 'Gentlemen.'

Rodney couldn't help noticing her smile was tense. 'Doctor Weir.'

'I'd like to introduce Colonel Sumner.'

The tall man at the table had risen at their entrance. He radiated soldier in every line of his being with his regulation buzz cut, square-cut jaw and piercing blue eyes. He shook Carson's offered hand and Rodney belatedly held his out to shake too.

'I'm looking forward to working with you.' Sumner said although his smile never made it to his blue eyes.

Carson slid into a chair beside a grinning Dixon. 'Is this us?'

'We're just waiting for Doctor Jackson to join us.' Elizabeth said resuming her seat.

Rodney grimaced. It wasn't the first project meeting she'd invited Jackson to attend. He knew Elizabeth was trying to establish what she believed would be her executive expedition committee; him as Chief Scientist, Carson for medical, Sumner for the military and Jackson for the soft sciences and humanities. Rodney maintained that she was delusional about Jackson.

The Air Force wouldn't let Jackson go easily…and if Jackson was assigned to the expedition then it was likely SG1 as a team would be assigned. While Sam had accepted Rodney's authority in Antarctica with a graciousness he knew he wouldn't have in her place, he couldn't see her staying out of other projects if they were on an actual expedition. Although maybe that could work out because Rodney could send her to the meetings and he could work rather than waste time with boring…

There was a knock on the door and a young Marine poked his head in. 'Permission to enter, ma'am, sirs? I have a message from Doctor Jackson.'

'Of course, Lieutenant.'

'Permission granted, Lieutenant.'

Rodney and Carson exchanged a concerned look at the way both Elizabeth and Sumner had responded at the same time. Dixon placed a hand over his mouth but not swiftly enough to hide his smirk.

'Uh, Doctor Jackson says that he regrets he can't make it but he and Colonel Carter have come up with a breakthrough on the database issue.'

Elizabeth's eyebrows rose and she glanced over at Rodney. 'I didn't realise that you were utilising Doctor Jackson on that.'

'I'm not.' Rodney said disgruntled. But of course, Sam was; Jackson was her team-mate. And, of course. That's where Sam was disappearing to every lunch time; to spend time with her team-mate, coming up with brilliant ideas and saving the day. Again. He should have known.

'It's not unusual for members of SG1 to consult with each other when solving a problem if they've hit a dead end.' Dixon inserted smoothly. 'Jackson once told my scientist guy that some of his best breakthroughs come from using Colonel Carter as a sounding board and vice versa.'

'I see.' Elizabeth said dryly, leaning back and looking at him steadily.

Rodney couldn't help feeling he was missing something in the exchange between the two. He cleared his throat and raised his hand tentatively as Sumner dismissed the Lieutenant and Elizabeth thanked him. 'If there is a breakthrough I should really be there…'

'I'm sure they have everything under control, Rodney.' Elizabeth said firmly. 'And I think it's important Colonel Sumner gets to know us as we'll be working together closely.'

Rodney wanted to protest again but he held his tongue at Elizabeth's sharp look.

'If Doctor McKay thinks it could be important, I have no issues with catching up with him later.' Sumner said with a casual smoothness that had Rodney shifting immediately into high alert.

Rodney knew he missed a lot of things in peoples' actions and motivations but he'd spent too many years in the back-stabbing culture of academia not to understand when someone was pulling a blatant power move. If Rodney took the out, it would be a point to Sumner; if he refused, point to Elizabeth. Rodney sighed. There was no way for Rodney to win but he knew whose side he was on.

'That's OK, Colonel. Doctor Weir is usually right in these matters.' Rodney said briskly.

Elizabeth positively beamed at him. Sumner's stern face took on a considering look and Rodney's heart sank.

Fabulous, he thought. Power struggles and they hadn't even found the address never mind travelled to Atlantis yet. He found his gaze tracking to Carson who looked back at him with shared sympathy; Carson was thinking the same, Rodney knew it. Somehow it made him feel better. Maybe, Rodney mused, maybe having a friend wasn't so bad.

o-O-o

Jack knew he'd blown it with Sheppard as the helicopter took flight and winged its way back towards McMurdo. Bad strategy, his inner voice said sagely. Wrong argument, said another voice which sounded all too like Daniel. Jack wanted to ignore it but he couldn't because the voice was right. Sheppard's record gave all indications that when presented with an ultimatum, the Major would flip up his middle finger and do the option that no-one wanted him to do – including Sheppard himself. Jack had been the same way once; arguably still was. No, giving Sheppard an ultimatum had been the wrong move.

He was off his game, Jack thought morosely. He had been off his game since the President had insisted SG1 needed to be in Antarctica and Jack had needed to stay at the SGC. Not that he had wanted to be in Antarctica but he hadn't wanted the distance between himself and his team as he adjusted to his new command. Jack had missed his team. He had missed seeing them every day; missed being with them. He had missed Carter's distracting stream of technobabble and Daniel's earnest excitement over a two-thousand year old piece of pottery. He'd even missed Teal'c who hadn't stayed in Antarctica because he hadn't seen a lot of him after the Jaffa had asked to go out with the other SG teams.

But he had to admit that the time SG1 had been gone had given Jack space to get used to the SGC command; to adjust to the tasks he hated and enjoy the tasks he didn't; to get to know all of his staff rather than relying on the three people that he was closest to in the whole galaxy. Maybe, Jack considered wryly, he might even pass the President's secret test of his command that Hammond had warned him about a few weeks before.

He had been dreading it and when the President had ordered SG1 to Antarctica, Jack had been certain he would fail it. Thankfully, a small economic crisis had delayed the President's anticipated visit to the SGC and the secret test that would determine whether it would happen at all. He still wasn't looking forward to it but at least he would have SG1 beside him when he faced it.

Sheppard eased the helicopter into a short climb and caught Jack's attention again. Jack couldn't exactly blame the guy for not jumping at Elizabeth's invitation to join her expedition and asking for some time to think about it. Sheppard had only known aliens existed for five small hours and in that time Sheppard had also out-flown an Ancient drone and learned he had a magic gene by virtue of sitting in a chair. It was a busy day by anyone's standard without being issued an invitation to go to another galaxy in search of the lost city of Atlantis.

Damn it. Jack was going to have to apologise and…

'You're asking me to give up the sky.'

Jack shifted to look at Sheppard. Flying had eased some of the tension out of the pilot's shoulders and face.

'I'm not sure I can do that, sir.' Sheppard said quietly.

Sincerely, Jack realised. He recalled Sheppard's record that Dixon forwarded to him with a plea to hire the guy. And he remembered that while Sheppard had spent time in Special Forces, he'd been foremost a pilot; sent in to insert or extract teams on the ground, not leading them in like Jack had done in his time. No wonder the kid hadn't hustled to join the expedition.

Jack considered his words carefully. 'If I said to you that you could save everyone on Earth, save them from becoming slaves to an alien race, but the singular price for that was your life, what would you do?'

Sheppard moved in his seat – not a squirm so much as a change of position. Jack was impressed that the helicopter remained steady.

'And you don't need to answer that,' Jack continued, 'because I've seen your record and I know the answer doesn't change just because the numbers do. If you're prepared to die to save one life, you're prepared to die to save an entire world, no particular thought involved.'

Sheppard shot him an inquiring look that Jack ignored because, maybe, those words had been a little too revealing about Jack's own past.

'But here's the same question again,' Jack said, 'safety of everyone on Earth, making sure they're not slaves,' he gestured an etcetera, 'but this time the price is that you never fly again, would never step foot in a single plane or helicopter for the rest of your life…what would you do now?'

He could hear Sheppard's sharp intake of breath through the headphones.

'When you put it like that, it doesn't seem like there's much of a choice.' Sheppard admitted unhappily.

'Well, lucky for you, that's not exactly what you're faced with here.' Jack replied honestly. He repositioned himself again, trying to get a better look at Sheppard's face. 'Doctor Weir wants you for the expedition…'

'Because I have this mutant gene.' Sheppard said dryly.

'Because you have a natural ability to use Ancient technology that we haven't seen in anyone else.' Jack corrected brusquely. Even he didn't have the same intuitive skill to use the technology Sheppard seemed to have. 'This expedition, if it goes ahead and if we find the city abandoned and not filled with Ancients, is likely to need that. You could be the difference between them surviving and not.'

'There's nobody else?' Sheppard asked with disbelief. 'What about the guy who shot the drone thing at us? Beckett?'

'He's a scientist.' Jack said in a tone he'd once used to describe Daniel; to explain why he hadn't wanted Carter assigned to the team going back to Abydos. 'Look, you and I both know you don't put a guy who's having lessons in learning how to fly a hobby plane in the cockpit of a F16 and expect him to fly it into battle.'

Sheppard glanced over at him but Jack couldn't see past the aviator sunglasses to the eyes behind. Sheppard turned back to the sky. 'I can't be the only one with a military skillset who has the gene.'

'You're the only one with a military skillset with the gene who can fly a F16.' Jack responded, wondering whether keeping the flight analogy going was worth it or not.

'Literally or metaphorically, sir?' Sheppard shot back.

Yep, definitely not worth keeping the flight analogy going.

'Metaphorically, although in terms of the expedition itself; both.' He fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket.

'What would I even do apart from, you know, switch stuff on?' Sheppard blurted out.

It was a good question. Probably not one that even Elizabeth had properly thought through. Certainly it wasn't something Jack had thought through because it wasn't enough, was it? Asking someone to step through the wormhole to another galaxy just to play a light switch? Jack grimaced. He knew he'd have issues with it if it were him.

'You'd have to discuss that with Weir.' Jack said diplomatically. 'But I can promise that if you found space capable craft, you'd be the one flying them; the rest of the military personnel are Marine.'

'Spaceships, huh?' Sheppard said.

'Maybe, we don't know.' Jack shrugged. 'There's always the city; apparently it flies.' See, he thought hard at Sheppard, we're not really asking you to give up the sky; not really.

Sheppard angled the helicopter over a ridge. 'I thought that McKay guy was having me on about that.'

Jack had thought the same when Daniel had said it.

'You said the rest of the expedition force is Marine?' Sheppard changed the subject again. 'How would I…fit in with the COC?'

'Badly.' Jack admitted. He had a feeling that Weir hadn't even discussed Sheppard with Sumner who was Stateside for a week making team selections for the possible expedition, and knowing Sumner, he was going to be less than impressed with Sheppard's record on obeying orders. 'And yes, your CO is a Marine and will probably hate you.'

'Well, I'm sold then.'

'Really?' Jack blurted.

'No.'

Sheppard sent him a look of complete disbelief that Jack hadn't recognised the dry sarcasm in his voice and Jack couldn't blame him.

'Sir.' Sheppard suddenly motioned with his head towards the left. 'If you want to take a look, you'll see the sunset over there.'

It was a beautiful sight, Jack allowed. The golden disc of the sun slipped down along a horizon of ice, colours bleeding all over the white surface turning it into an abstract painting. The silence was punctuated by the beat of the rotors and Jack could almost understand why Sheppard liked Antarctica; the stillness, the vast landscape that swallowed up dreams and nightmares both, and left behind a sense of peace.

He'd felt the same way standing on the sands of Abydos; gold dust as far as the eye could see, the sun hot through the t-shirt sticking to his back. He felt a pang of regret that Abydos was gone; existing only on another plane of existence because Anubis had destroyed it just because he could.

He thought again of Sheppard's record; the loss of his Special Forces team and the shrink's view that Sheppard's last show of disobedience in rescuing three servicemen was an attempt at redemption. He wondered if Antarctica had healed Sheppard the way Abydos had healed him; if Sheppard needed to find something he wanted to live for, the way Jack had done when he'd gone to Abydos; when he'd accepted the second chance Hammond had given him…

Sheppard's voice interrupted his train of thinking; he was contacting McMurdo confirming approach and ETA.

They were almost back, Jack realised, the concrete blocks of the settlement coming into view ahead of them. He recalled the ultimatum he'd given Sheppard and winced again.

He cleared his throat. 'Your transfer to my command is already in motion, Sheppard.' He felt Sheppard tense beside him. 'I might have lied before.' He said awkwardly. 'Dixon wanted you before Weir did because in his words 'you're the best damn pilot he's ever flown with;' why else do you think I was questioning you on our way out? And I might want you for the same reason.' He waited a beat. 'You did save my life back there.' He motioned behind him. 'With the drone.'

Sheppard glanced his way.

'And because I might, maybe, possibly owe you one for that; you can have the time you need to make a decision.' Jack conceded.

Sheppard nodded, but Jack could see the line of his jaw was tight. 'Thank you, sir.'

'Don't thank me yet.' Jack cautioned him. 'If you decide against the expedition, you'll be in our 302 programme but you'd probably still be expected to turn stuff on when needed.' Sheppard would definitely be expected to sit in the chair if there was an attack if he stayed; in fact that ability of his might actually block any assignment to the expedition if the Pentagon believed Sheppard was critical to Earth's defence.

Jack fell silent as Sheppard contacted McMurdo again for permission to land. He kept silent while Sheppard set the helicopter down on the helipad and turned the engines off; as they both removed their headgear. Neither he nor Jack made a move to get out though.

'This expedition…' Sheppard began tentatively, taking his glasses off. 'Doctor Weir said we were going for peaceful exploration and…'

'Let me guess; learning about life, humanity and the meaning of the universe?' Jack let his lips quirk briefly into a smirk. He removed his own glasses and for the first time since they had begun their discussion, he looked Sheppard in the eye.

The younger officer gazed back at him with a sobriety that surprised Jack given Sheppard's innate cockiness.

'Something like that.' Sheppard murmured. 'What's the real reason?'

Jack nodded slowly in approval. The file had indicated Sheppard had above average intelligence. 'Did someone explain about the Goa'uld? About Anubis?'

'He's the alien who attacked us.' Sheppard answered. 'The one you stopped by using the chair and the drones.'

'He's not like the rest of the Goa'uld. He's transformed into something else.' Jack grimaced as he said the words.

'OK,' Sheppard said slowly, 'so he's evolved or mutated or something?'

'Kind of.' Jack agreed. The light was almost gone; the cockpit was in shadow and Jack could see the hovering ground crew waiting a safe distance away. 'Anyway, long story short is that he's still around; Earth is still facing a significant threat and…'

'And this Ancient city might hold more weapons that we can use against him and the other Goa'uld.' Sheppard completed.

'Yes.' Jack said. 'That's the military objective to the mission.' And he should have known Elizabeth wouldn't have thought to have taken Sheppard through it.

It was the reason why despite Jack's misgivings he believed the Pentagon, the President and the IOC would overrule him on the usage of the ZPM especially as Carter had made a case for being able to power the chair with a souped-up naquadah generator she was busily creating. They had to find another way to fight Anubis and Atlantis was their best chance.

'So this isn't a one-way trip?' Sheppard asked bluntly. 'Because when Doctor Weir was talking to me, it sounded like a one-way trip.'

'It's not a suicide mission.' Jack confirmed, answering Sheppard's implicit question. 'If you guys get to Atlantis and can't get back, we'll be looking for another ZPM here; you'll be looking for one there. If that doesn't work out there's always hitching a lift with our alien friends or using our own spacecraft to reach the expedition.' He held Sheppard's gaze tightly. 'I'm not saying there isn't a risk that you'll be stranded for a while, maybe for more time than we'd like, but we're not in the business of leaving our people behind.'

Sheppard let out a small huff of breath; took another one. His eyes were steady on Jack's. 'I don't need the extra time, sir. I can give you my answer now.'

Jack smiled as he read it in Sheppard's face. Yeah, risk your own life to save one person or to save the whole damn world: the answer didn't change.

o-O-o

Teal'c navigated around a group of babbling scientists and picked up a tray. He wandered down the line choosing his food selection and frowning slightly when informed his favourite was no longer available. It was not the fault of the server, Teal'c reminded himself; the SGC was almost overrun with the Atlantis expedition. He chose something else. The fruit selection hadn't been restocked and only bananas remained. He picked up the bunch and placed it on his tray. A young woman wearing the Atlantis kit behind him glared but Teal'c ignored her. He let the clerk register his meal and walked into the crowded mess.

Teal'c glowered at the Marines sitting at SG1's usual table until he realised Nyan was waving from a table at the back. He walked swiftly over to join his Bedrosian friend; one of the first aliens they had met through the Stargate to settle on Earth beside himself and Cassandra Fraiser.

Nyan smiled a welcome at him. 'It's busy with the expedition here, isn't it?' He glanced around the room. 'When are they leaving?'

There was a note of desperation that crept through Nyan's voice despite the smile that remained on his face.

'The expedition is not due to leave until tomorrow.' Teal'c said, careful to keep his own dismay from colouring his voice.

Nyan carefully cut into his fish. 'They were out of the turkey.'

'Corporal Smithen informed me.' Teal'c had chosen the vegetarian option instead. He sometimes found fish too metallic for his taste. The vegetable chilli with tortilla chips was a sad substitute for roast turkey.

'There is a rumour that Daniel will be going with the expedition.' Nyan leaned across the table, his eyes wide with the glee of gossiping.

Teal'c's eyebrows rose although it was not the first time that he had heard that particular theory. 'He will not.'

'I guess the General will not allow it?' Nyan asked, nodding as though to answer his own question.

'Daniel Jackson appreciates that until a sustained method of transport is available between Earth and Atlantis, he is required here.' Teal'c said. However, he suspected as much as his team-mate appreciated the need for him to remain behind as the expert on the Ancients and Anubis, he also would have preferred to have gone to Atlantis. He also suspected their team leader, Samantha Carter, was aware of Daniel's preference and that it was something that she was trying to ignore.

'I might go myself if there was a way to return,' Nyan confessed with a wry smile, 'I don't believe I'm brave enough to go with no guarantee of return.'

'You are one of the bravest people I know.' Teal'c said with blunt honesty. His friend had stood beside him and helped him within a few hours of knowing him; had come with them back to Earth with no hope of returning to his homeworld. 'However, I am glad you are remaining on Earth.'

Nyan beamed at him. 'I am glad you are remaining here also, Teal'c.' He sighed suddenly. 'I very much miss Jonas.'

Teal'c missed Jonas Quinn too. Their Kelownan friend was no longer allowed to travel to Earth from Langara. They exchanged emails and messages during the brief moments a wormhole was open between the two worlds – Earth had resumed its discussions with Langara for naquadria supply – but it was not the same. 'I too miss our friend.'

'How are you enjoying living off base?' Nyan asked, changing the subject.

Teal'c inclined his head. 'Cassandra and her friends assisted me last weekend with painting my bedroom.' It had been a messy but enjoyable experience. 'I miss my room here but it is enlightening living among the Tau'ri.'

'Is it different to how you expected it to be?' Nyan asked, finishing his fish and pushing his empty plate away. He reached for a glass of orange juice.

'It is.' Teal'c said, almost surprised at his answer. He had experienced living off base as a visitor to his team-mates' homes. During the weeks after Janet Fraiser's unfortunate demise, he and the rest of SG1 had lived in her house with Cassandra for a time. But those experiences were not the same as having his own place on Earth; one that he could decorate as he chose, one that would be a sanctuary for him.

Moreover, it had not prepared him for casual encounters with humans as much as he had hoped. He still floundered a little without his team-mates around to smooth the way and translate the differences between their two worlds. Perhaps he would have done worse if he'd moved out of the SGC the first year of his stay on Earth; at least he had seven years of learning the culture that enabled him to avoid most errors.

They spent the remainder of their lunch discussing a new movie they both wished to see and Teal'c planned their trip to the movie theatre with great anticipation. He had been before but not just himself and Nyan; there had always been someone else along with them acting as a chaperone.

Teal'c excused himself and determined he should check in with his team-mates to ensure they had eaten. He made his way first to Daniel Jackson's office. The archaeologist was immersed at his whiteboard checking over a translation of Ancient that was beyond Teal'c's understanding.

'Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c called out to get his attention before moving to stand beside him. 'Have you eaten?'

'Hmmm?' Daniel turned and blinked at him heavily. 'Yes? There was a sandwich, I think.' He waved a hand absently behind him. There was a wrapper on the table, Teal'c noted. There was also an apple.

Teal'c handed it to him.

'Oh, great. Thanks.' Daniel bit in with a crisp snick. He motioned towards the whiteboard. 'This is fascinating. We recovered it from the part of the same part of the database Sam and I managed to get the location from. It's Aiyana's journal.'

She was the Ancient that had been recovered from the ice and who had healed SG1 when they had fallen sick, Teal'c recalled. Daniel Jackson had not been present; he had been Ascended at the time.

'I would like to read it when you have completed the translation.' Teal'c requested.

Daniel nodded and swallowed some apple. 'She talks about Atlantis and…'

'You wish to go there.' Teal'c stated baldly, placing his hands behind his back.

He watched as Daniel froze briefly before subsiding onto a nearby stool.

'Sometimes I think I do, and sometimes…' Daniel turned the apple in his hand. 'Sometimes I remember that the last time I thought I could do more being somewhere else, I got Abydos destroyed.'

'It was not your fault, Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c said softly.

'We don't know that for certain, Teal'c.' Daniel replied. 'All we know is that Ascended me told Jack to give him the Eye of Ra and then failed to protect Abydos.'

Teal'c placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. 'I believe that you did all you could.'

Daniel smiled sadly. 'I hope you're right, Teal'c.' He gestured with his apple back to the whiteboard. 'I'm going to continue with this. I want to get as much done as possible to see if there's anything there to help the expedition before they go.'

'I will check on Colonel Carter.' Teal'c said.

The walk to the lab was a familiar one. Teal'c paused in the doorway, surprised to find his team-mate on her computer with O'Neill sat at the end of her central bench doing paperwork. The remnants of a shared lunch could be seen in discarded trays on a side bench.

'O'Neill.' Teal'c said walking in.

'Teal'c.' Jack looked up from his folders. 'Where were you? You missed lunch.'

'Indeed I did not.' Teal'c said. 'I had lunch with Nyan.'

'Ah.' Jack said with understanding.

Teal'c sent a questioning look toward Colonel Carter, wondering why O'Neill was using her lab rather than his own office.

'He's hiding.' Sam explained, amusement lightening her expression and making her eyes twinkle as she grinned conspiratorially at Teal'c.

'I am not hiding.' Jack protested.

Teal'c raised an eyebrow at him.

Jack sighed heavily. 'OK, I'm hiding. Do you know how many meetings I've had to endure about the expedition since they arrived on base yesterday?'

'I assume one too many as you are now hiding.' Teal'c said dryly. It did not surprise him at all that it was the Colonel's lab O'Neill had chosen as sanctuary. O'Neill had missed their team-mates during their assignment in Antarctica.

'Exactly.' Jack replied. 'You know this expedition should have had more time to pull itself together.' He rubbed at his eyes. 'I don't know why I agreed to it.'

'You didn't, sir.' Sam corrected him. 'You were overruled by the IOC and the President.'

'That's right, I was.' Jack grimaced.

Before anyone could say anything else, Rodney McKay entered waving a handful of printed paper.

'I'm telling you these calculations for the power we need aren't right!' Rodney shouted, striding straight towards Sam. 'Kavanaugh can't add up to save his life and…'

Sam rolled her eyes already sliding off her stool. 'So why did you gave it to him in the first place. Why don't we take this somewhere where we won't disturb the General?'

Rodney blanched and clutched his papers tightly to him as he noticed Jack and Teal'c's presence for the first time since he'd stormed in. 'Ah, hello?'

'Don't mind us.' Jack said breezily.

Sam ushered Rodney out.

'I don't think that guy's slept for more than an hour for the last month trying to get everything done.' Jack mused. 'Somebody needs to lock him in a room to get some sleep. I'd feel sorry for him if he wasn't, you know…McKay.'

'Indeed.' Teal'c agreed.

'But you know what the worse thing is? He's totally going to blow my cover on where I am.' Jack sighed. He chucked his pen down. 'I should go hide out in Daniel's office before anyone finds me.'

The sudden approach of more rapid footsteps had Teal'c once again turning to the door in concern.

Marshall Sumner paused in the doorway and glared at Jack. 'Do you have a moment, General?'

Jack shot Teal'c a look which said 'see!' and waved the Colonel in. 'What's on your mind?'

Sumner slapped down a piece of paper on the desk. 'John Sheppard.'

Teal'c saw O'Neill's face close up. The General straightened on the stool automatically.

'And?' Jack made a get-on-with-it gesture.

'You can't be serious, Jack!'

'I think you mean 'you can't be serious, General!'' Jack replied mildly. Sumner snapped to a stiff pose quickly. 'And for the record: you knew the Major's assignment to the expedition was in the works.'

'General,' Sumner emphasised the rank a little, 'until today, when his assignment was apparently approved, I didn't have authority to access to his file.' He stabbed a finger at the paper on the desk. 'Now I do, I find he has a record of disobeying orders culminating in a court martial and…'

'And saving the lives of three servicemen.' Jack stated loudly.

Sumner glowered at Jack.

Jack stared back at him not intimidated at all. 'Sumner, right at this moment? John Sheppard is the single most valuable military asset in this galaxy.' He held up a hand when Sumner went to interrupt. 'You and I both know the reason why his orders weren't confirmed until today was because the Pentagon has spent the last month arguing over where to deploy him. You want to know what swung the vote to the expedition?' He leaned forward, clasping his hands on top of the table. 'The fact that yesterday the Asgard confirmed that they think I can use the chair here without it killing me.'

'With respect, General, I haven't even met him because the Air Force insisted on putting him on leave instead of allowing him to join the expedition's preparatory activities.' Sumner pointed out, shifting position to rest 'at ease.'

'I know,' Jack said wincing, 'and that's unfortunate. But until his orders were cut, the Pentagon didn't want to make an assumption over where he would end up, hence the mandatory leave so nobody could claim favouritism. Believe me, if I'd had a choice he would have been put through more of our usual training regime before going anywhere near the Stargate and the expedition.'

'He's going to screw up my chain of command.' Sumner stated brusquely.

Teal'c believed that Sumner hadn't even realised he was in the room.

Jack shook his head. 'His orders place him under Doctor Weir's jurisdiction and he'll assume piloting duties if you find flight capable craft out there.' He tapped the bench with a finger. 'The exceptions to that are situations where you have had to take command of the expedition for military reasons; battle with aliens, invasions, the usual. And in the hopefully unlikely event of you being MIA, KIA, whatever, Sheppard will assume command in your absence as the most senior officer of rank.' He paused. 'Mostly, you'll be the signature on his evals as the most senior military officer on the expedition.' He gestured briskly. 'I'm sure you, Sheppard and Elizabeth can work it out.'

'When's he due to report?' Sumner said with the tone of a man that said he knew he had no choice and didn't like it.

'Oh-seven-hundred tomorrow, which yes, I know is only a couple of hours before you guys are scheduled to bug out.' Jack said. 'Look, you did also notice that Sheppard's got medals for bravery and outstanding valour up the wazoo? That he's Special Forces trained and an outstanding pilot? He could be a huge asset to you out there and not just because he has a freaky ability with Ancient tech.'

Sumner sighed. 'You hate people not following orders in the field just as much as I do.'

'I do,' Jack allowed, 'and I'm going to bet right now that he's going to disobey orders at some point,' he held up his hand to stop Sumner from interrupting, 'and I'm also going to bet that he'll do something stupidly heroic that saves all of your asses.' He waited for that to sink in before he continued. 'Give the kid a break, Marshall. You might not have a choice about taking him but he didn't get much of a choice about having a magic gene.'

Sumner looked as though he wanted to sigh or punch something. 'With your permission.'

Jack nodded towards the door. 'Dismissed.'

Teal'c waited until Sumner had left and his footsteps had faded away. 'I believe I am looking forward to meeting Major Sheppard.'

He let a small smile touch his lips as Jack laughed.

'I think if one of them doesn't kill the other before the end of the first day it'll be a miracle.' Jack joked. He motioned at the paperwork in front of him. 'Help me with this, would you?'

'May I suggest my old room?' Teal'c said. 'I have noticed Doctor Weir often checks on Daniel Jackson's translation progress.'

Jack beamed at him. 'You have the best ideas, T.'

Teal'c stepped forward to help his friend. He believed he was not the only one who would be pleased when the expedition departed the SGC.

Continued in Part III.

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