Chapter 02


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Big thanks for the beta, Rainy!! 

Chapter II

Milky Way Galaxy – Earth
Washington D.C., USA
0230 hrs. ET

          Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, NCIS, stepped carefully down the steps to his basement sanctuary with the heavy footfalls of a weary man aching in both mind and body – but most of all in heart.  Losing Jenny Sheppard had been a lot harder on him than he’d expected – perhaps because it came so unexpectedly sudden and violent.  Whatever the reason, he would grieve for her as deeply as he had for the other losses in his life, albeit not so far as to teeter on the brink of insanity as he had with Shannon and Kelly.  No…not this time.  Jenny would surely bitch at him from beyond the grave if he did that.  The thought actually made him smile a little as he walked over to his tool benches and reached up to the cupboard that held his whiskey stash – for just such an occasion.  He poured a liberal helping into an empty, clean coffee mug, sighed, and proceeded to toss it back after a silent toast to Jenny’s memory.

          It had been a very long couple of days.  He’d only just gotten home after seeing his old mentor, Mike Franks, off at the airport back to Mexico.  He felt somewhat bad for burning down Jenny’s home, with all her memories and possessions, but it was necessary.  Staring at the wall and absently refilling his mug, he knew he could at least go to the funeral tomorrow knowing they’d finished what Jenny started – or rather, more correctly, what she’d left unfinished nine years ago.

          At the small scuffling sound of a running shoe on his cement floor from over in the darkened corner by the stairs, Gibbs sighed to himself again – this time resolutely – and emptied a container full of nails to pour another drink for his visitor.

          “I’m thinking you could use a few shots of this more than I could, DiNozzo.”  He stated quietly, turning and holding out the make-shift glass.  “So here.”

          “You do know how freaky it is when you do that, don’t you boss?”  Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, Gibbs’ second-in-command, said in pained amazement as he stepped close and accepted the whiskey.  He didn’t even hesitate to toss it back with expert ease, despite not normally being a drinker of hard liquor (though he did gasp a bit as it burned a path down to his stomach).  He held out the ‘glass’ silently asking for a refill, which Gibbs obliged in a rare moment of generosity.  Well, he was feeling sorry for the guy, so that probably was what prompted it, where he normally had a BYOL policy – Bring Your Own Liquor.  And after the week the man had, he was entitled to get a good drunk on.

          Gibbs had gotten drunk for far less of an excuse.

          Tony didn’t drink all the whiskey this time, but he did take a big gulp of it.  After shuddering at the burn going down, he sighed.  “Thanks, boss.”

          Gibbs nodded and carefully sipped at his own.  Nursing it became his new plan – he’d need all his faculties to deal with an emotional wreck named Anthony DiNozzo.  “So you going to tell me why you’re here and not at home getting some sleep, Tony?” he asked, watching the younger man unsteadily perch himself on a workhorse rather than stand up and sway as he kind of was before.

          “Are you gonna tell me why you were at Jen–the Director’s home and why Vance went hightailing it after you the minute he knew?”  Tony was just tired, angry, and not sober enough to fire right back at Gibbs, for once.  Under other circumstances, Gibbs might have been very proud of that.  Right now?  Not so much.  And he’d noticed the quick catch of switching Jenny’s name to her title.

          “Nope.  It has nothing to do with you or NCIS, DiNozzo.  It was an old op from years and years ago that came back to bite her on the ass.  That’s all.”  Gibbs meant that as an ‘I’m not telling you more,’ and as a ‘drop it, DiNozzo, and move on.’  He could see a flurry of emotions pass over Tony’s face – frustration, guilt, curiosity and intrigue at the hint of some top-secret mission.  But Tony didn’t ask, despite clearly dying to know.  “You are allowed to use her name, Tony.  It doesn’t bother me.  I know you got close to her during my…absence,” he glossed over his short-term retirement, “and because you worked so closely with her on that undercover assignment.”  A touchy subject no one – even Gibbs – ever mentioned unless it was necessary, and even then only in the most oblique way possible.

          “Maybe.  But…I’m not you, boss.”  DiNozzo took another drink after holding Gibbs’ eyes for a long moment.  The older man acknowledged the knowing stare and all Tony didn’t say with a sharp nod before taking a drink of his own.  Gazing down into his makeshift glass like it held the answers to life, he continued, “Besides, I think if we’d ever met under other circumstances, and didn’t actually work together, we might have been friends.  Good friends.”

          Gibbs nodded again.  “I know, Tony.  I also know she liked you as much as she respected you.  She wouldn’t have trusted you with everything she did, otherwise.”

          Tony smiled a little wryly.  “Boss, she trusted me because she trusted you, and if you gave me your stamp of approval then that was enough for her.”

          Gibbs frowned a bit at that, but didn’t deny it.  This was something he’d noticed about a lot of the people in his life – they relied heavily on his ability to judge a person’s character.  A whole lot too much, in his opinion.  He wasn’t infallible, after all.  “She did respect you and your ability as an agent, DiNozzo.”

          “Maybe.”  Tony shrugged it off.  It didn’t matter any longer, anyway.

          “You haven’t answered me.”  Gibbs reminded him, giving him the expectant stare that tended to make interviewees spill their guts immediately.  Of course, Tony was a little too used to it and could hold out against it without much effort.

          “What did you ask?” he wanted to know, looking adorably puzzled, as if he really didn’t remember.  Gibbs’ stare hardened because he didn’t really believe it – Tony wasn’t that drunk.  Tony visibly crumbled under the hint of disapproval in that stare and mumbled, “I came to tell you how sorry I am that I fucked up so spectacularly and failed as both an NCIS agent and your second.  You trusted me with her safety and health, and I ignored Ziva’s instincts and my own gut and now the Director’s dead.”  He stared down at the floor, unable to look his superior in the eye.

          Gibbs considered carefully, then slowly put his mug down on the work table.  He walked over to Tony and placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, giving it a hard squeeze and small shake.  “Hey.  Look at me, Tony.”

          Tony raised his head, warily, expecting what he was sure would be a thorough strip taken off his hide.

          Instead, he got a mild Gibbs’ smack (upside the head), and one of the kindest smiles he’d ever seen on Gibbs’ face.  The senior agent’s voice was gentle, but firm when he spoke.

          “I’m only going to say this once, DiNozzo, and you’d better listen to me even if you won’t listen to what everyone else has been trying to say.  Are you listening?”

          Tony nodded, eyes a little wide and glassy, but alert.

          “You are not at fault.  You are not responsible for the decisions someone else makes – particularly when that person is your superior and you’ve been given direct orders to take a hike.”  Gibbs gave him a minute to absorb that, then continued, “Even if you’d gone after her when you got suspicious that something was wrong, there’s no guarantee you’d have gotten there in time, or that your presence would have been a good thing.  You may have made things worse.  Ah!  I’m not done.” He held up a finger when Tony opened his mouth, probably to protest.

          “I’m going to explain at least this much to you, even if I can’t give you all the details: Jenny knew what she was doing when she went to that diner.  She absolutely knew the score, understood that the likelihood of coming out alive was slim to none.  She wasn’t alone – Mike was there to back her up – but even with him it was risky.”  Gibbs held Tony’s eyes unflinchingly.  “She chose to stay and fight it out.  She chose to keep you and Ziva as far from it as she could because it had nothing to do with you, and no doubt she didn’t want to drag you, Tony, into another of her personal battles.  If there was anyone she should have called, it was me, but that’s something for me to be pissed off and guilty about, not you.”  He pulled back and returned to where he’d stood earlier, picking up his mug again.  “So stop beating yourself up for something you had no control over or even were a part of.”

          “I don’t think Vance sees it that way.”  Tony muttered unhappily.  “I expect to be asking Fornell if the FBI will consider employing an NCIS reject sometime in the near future.”

          “The hell you will.”  Gibbs growled, snorting in amusement.  Tony shared in the typical inter-agency loathing and feuding that most every NCIS (and FBI) agent tended to exhibit whenever the two butted heads on cases.  That he would go work for the FBI if NCIS ever kicked him out was amusing because Tobias Fornell, Senior Special Agent of the FBI, would more than likely accept DiNozzo – gleefully – as a way of further sticking it to their sometimes-rival agency.  Truthfully, Gibbs would probably help if their new Director, Leon Vance, and SecNav ever did fire Tony.  “DiNozzo, if they’re going to give you the boot over this, then they’ll have to do so to me, as well.  I’ve done far worse that’s worthy of expulsion – and Vance knows all of it now.  So I think you’re safe.”

          Tony looked relieved at that, but gave Gibbs a questioning look. “Vance knows about this ultra-secret special op you and Jenny were involved in?”

          “Not all the exact details, no, but more than enough to let it all slide without losing any political or legal face with the brass.”  Gibbs assured.

          “Oh.  Okay.”  Tony finished off his drink and handed over the container.  “I think I should quit.  We’ve…there’s work in a few hours.”  He was trying not to think about the funeral.

          “Did you drive over?”  Gibbs put his mug down, too, intending to see his agent out.

          “Well, sort of.  I parked about a mile away and walked.”  Tony sighed, getting to his feet a little wobbly.  “Needed the air.”

          “Then you’re on my couch tonight, DiNozzo.”  Gibbs was prepared for that when he got home and realized someone was in the basement waiting for him.  He’d more or less known it was Tony, too, and had grabbed a blanket and pillow for him, leaving them on the couch.

          He followed Tony upstairs and through the house to the living room.  Tony dropped down on the sofa, kicked off his shoes, and lay down in pure exhaustion, not even bothering with the pillow or blanket.

          “Uh, hey, boss?”

          “Yeah?”  Gibbs unfolded the blanket and draped it over Tony’s form.  His eyes were already closed and he was about two seconds from passing out.

          “Ziva…she’s feeling guilty, too, even if she isn’t – you know – showing it.  I’d call her myself, but…”

          “Don’t worry about it, Tony.  I’ll talk to her soon, and she’ll be fine.”  Gibbs said quietly. Tony didn’t hear him.  He was already out.  Gibbs lifted his head carefully and stuffed the pillow under it, then smiled as Tony snuggled down into it like a child.  In some ways it was true.  All of his team were very much like his children – with Ducky as their quirky older uncle or something, Gibbs included.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Cheyenne Mt. Base, SGC
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Earlier that day…

          When Rodney woke up the following morning, he was alone.  He did, however, find a note on the table next to his laptop case from Sheppard, letting him know that the Colonel had “gone for his usual morning run with Ronon and would be back for breakfast – don’t wait for him.”  Rodney shrugged, figuring that it was all Ronon’s idea not to let Sheppard wiggle out of their routine even now, and gave it no more thought.  Well, except to wonder where, exactly, they’d gone to run, as they were inside a mountain with corridors that weren’t that large and many, many people going about their business.  It wasn’t like Atlantis, with room to spare.  Heading off to the shower, Rodney made a mental note to inquire at breakfast to satisfy his curiosity.

          He was sitting in the commissary with Daniel, Teyla, and one of Daniel’s linguists when Ronon and Sheppard arrived.  The linguist seemed both fascinated and intimidated by the large Satedan, and excused herself meekly in a hurry when she realized he was joining their table.  It amused Rodney because she kind of reminded him of Miko Kusanagi back on Atlantis.

          Rodney asked his question as Sheppard took the empty chair the linguist had vacated.  “So?  Good run?  And where did you go, anyway?”

          Ronon dug into his rather large stack of pancakes with the zeal of a hungry lion, but answered for Sheppard after swallowing.  “Pretty scenery, but not quite as challenging as our route in Atlantis.  There’s a trail around the mountain on the surface.”

          “There is?”  Daniel asked, surprised.  “I didn’t know that.”

          “Lorne mentioned it once in passing.”  Sheppard explained with a shrug.  He taken a modest breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast, all of which he was picking at unenthusiastically.  Rodney gave him a look, then smiled as John unconsciously ate a strip of bacon obediently.  “He said it used to be a patrol route for base security,  but now it’s used as a training path for the SGC field training whenever new recruits come in.”

          “Ah.  That would be why I’ve never heard of it.”  Daniel nodded, sipping thoughtfully on his third mug of coffee (in the commissary, anyway).  None of his team had ever felt the need to run more than they already did off-world (from enemy Jaffa, angry natives, Replicators, Ori soldiers…) preferring the gym to jogging for exercise.  And the occasional basketball game.

          “Ronon’s right, though, it is very nice scenery to look at.”  Sheppard said.  He continued slowly eating under Rodney’s eagle-eyed stare.  “I’d kind of forgotten what fall looks like.”

          “It is interesting that many of the planets we visit in Pegasus are more like jungles and warmer temperate climates than the Pacific northwest like we see here in our galaxy.”  Rodney added, musing aloud.  His pancakes were gone and he’d moved on to more coffee.

          Teyla, also done eating, sipped her orange juice before asking, “Fall?”

          “Autumn.”  Daniel answered promptly.  “Many parts of our planet experience any seasonal changes.  Here, in Colorado, we have the four main ones: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.  Fall refers to the way the leaves change colour and fall from certain species of trees.”

          “Oh, yes.  We have similar seasons on my home world.”  Teyla nodded in understanding.  “I am most curious to see this world.  Everything John and Rodney, and others from the expedition, have told me about your planet sound quite wondrous.”

          Daniel grinned.  “We like it.”  He sobered.  “We’ll try to make it as quick and painless as possible, Teyla.  The shopping, I mean.  It’s a common phenomenon for a person being introduced to a new culture to experience what we call ‘culture shock.’  So if it gets to be too much, don’t hesitate to tell us and we’ll leave.”  His eyes flicked to Ronon and back.  “Ronon, too.”

          The big guy just stared balefully at him for a moment, and Teyla’s eyes widened.

          “It is merely shopping.  Surely it is not a traumatic experience.”

          Rodney laughed.  “You’d think.  If we had more time and could split up some it, it would be easier on all of us.  I don’t think any one of us are…particularly fond of shopping, let alone subjecting ourselves to a mall full of teenagers, children, and adults with nothing better to do.”

          “Quit scaring her.”  Sheppard protested, kicking Rodney under the table.  “It’s a bit much for a lot of people here, Teyla, even though we’re used to it.  Still, it probably won’t be as bad as it sounds.”

          Teyla smiled back, faintly, looking as if she wasn’t so keen on experiencing their world, after all.

          “Speaking of, we should go.  Dr. Lam will be waiting for us.”  Daniel pushed away from the table.  “Shall we?”

~*~*~*~*~

          Carolyn Lam had checked out an SUV from the base fleet for all of them, instead of splitting into two groups (and thus two vehicles), and still have room for all the purchases.  Thankfully, being early in the day and business hours, the mall was not packed with people yet.  Teyla – and even Ronon – looked around in stunned awe at the wide array of items for sale, the bright lights and colourful displays all around them.  Though Teyla had some vague memory of experiencing this before, from the illusions created for them on that planet with the sentient mist, it was still amazing to her.

          “This is truly wonderful.  I have attended market days and festivals that were less extravagant, and I thought them to be amazing.”  Teyla said, sounding almost breathless.

          For the first time in a while, John looked relaxed and at ease.  Teyla’s wonder seemed to be infectious and soothing.  This in turn made Rodney relax.  He fully intended to stick close to Sheppard until it became unnecessary.

          “Okay.  Dr. Lam, you’re the expert for the day.  Where to first?”  John asked.

          “Hmm…” Carolyn looked around, trying to decide.  She spotted a kiosk with a map and directory of the mall, and led them over to it.  “Let’s plan this out, using one of these.  So…” she pulled out one of the little pamphlets with a mini-map and directory in it, and took Teyla aside to go over the clothing items she thought would be needed.  Daniel wandered over at one point and dropped his own suggestions – a corporate-look pants suit or two so she looked official and authoritative, something for the funeral, that sort of thing.

          Rodney listened to the list grow, feeling his credit card melt in his wallet almost in protest.  Then again, if he ended up buying jewellery and such for their female teammate, it wasn’t much of a price difference.  Probably more, really.  However, he was more comfortable with jewels and precious metals than fabrics.  Clearing his throat, he grabbed himself a map and nudged Sheppard.

          “Hey, remember what you said about splitting the bill?”

          “Yeah.  Don’t worry, Rodney.  I’m fairly sure the Air Force will be happy to reimburse us for it all, anyway.”  John flashed a small smile, thinking he knew Rodney’s concern.  “It’s part of the investigation.”

          “Well, whatever.”  Rodney waved that aside.  He really didn’t care as much as he might have a few years ago.  “You take clothes, I’ll take the other stuff.”

          John raised an eyebrow in surprise.  “Okay…” he agreed, “Why do you want the accessories?”

          Rodney had that determined gleam in his eyes that he usually go when he had a very clear idea of something he wanted to do – or, in this case, buy.  “I have some ideas that would suit Teyla, I think.  It’s best I go looking since I know exactly what I’m looking for.”  He reasoned, avoiding explaining his ideas completely.

          “Alright.”  John raised an eyebrow, but didn’t question it further.

          “Sheppard.  They’re leaving.”  Ronon’s voice boomed, interrupting.  He pointed in the direction of the ladies and Daniel had gone when John and Rodney looked at him.

          “Hey!  Wait for us!”  Rodney – for all the world like a kid – grabbed John’s arm and pulled him along to go after their group.  Ronon just shook his head and followed on their six.

          Three hours later, and the men of the group made a strategic retreat as Carolyn gleefully announced their next stop was Victoria Secret.  So they went to grab snacks and beverages while they waited outside the store.  John got called in when the women were done to pay for it all – all the while studiously not looking around at the truly sexy undergarments or Teyla, so as not to inflict his subconscious with material he really did not want to imagine.  He didn’t think of her in that way, though he would be the first to admit she was gorgeous, and he really, really didn’t want his ass kicked if she thought otherwise.  Teyla was, after all, just as lethal as Ronon.

          “Whew!  I haven’t power-shopped like that in ages!”  Carolyn dropped down into a chair at the little café-style shop the men had chosen to wait at.  Daniel handed her some fruity-slush drink he’d gotten for her and she beamed at him in thanks.  “Excellent!  So not good for me but hey!”

          “I cannot believe the choices of…everything.”  Teyla shook her head, obviously a little dazed but downright ecstatic.  If Rodney didn’t know better, he’d say she was glowing.

          It must be a girl thing.

          “What’s next?”  Sheppard asked, eyeing the mountain of shopping bags warily.  He hadn’t even blinked at the price tags, merely flashed his credit card at each sales associate without a qualm.

          “Well, we still need some appropriate shoes.”  Carolyn sighed, thinking.  “Oh!  And those accessories.  Not too many, though.  I don’t imagine you’ll want to be wearing diamonds while chasing down bad guys.”

          “No.  Sparkle would be not so stealthy.”

          Rodney nodded.  “We should hurry.  It’s already just after noon.”

          “Of course.  It shouldn’t take as long as the clothes bit.”  Carolyn assured.

          Daniel glanced at his watch.  “Um…how about Ronon and I take all this back to the car, and we’ll meet you somewhere around that map at the entrance in…an hour?”  He suggested, glancing at everyone for agreement.  Ronon looked relieved to be doing something, dressed casually in dark denim, a loose white shirt, and a leather jacket (he’d broken out his Earth wardrobe one more that morning).

          Plan made, the group split up.

          After they’d loaded all the shopping bags into the SUV, Daniel thought of one or two other items that would likely be handy – luggage to carry all her new clothes in.  So they went looking for appropriate suitcases and a suit bag.  Ronon, for some reason, found the array of luggage to be fascinating, as much to Daniel’s amusement.

          While John put in his two cents about shoe choices – and wasn’t that hilarious, a USAF Lieutenant Colonel moonlighting as a fashion consultant – Rodney left them to it, slipping out to run across the mall from the DSW to the jewellery store he’d spotted.  Carefully perusing the cases, a sales person took notice of him and became very eager to be of assistance when Rodney pulled a Sheppard and flashed his credit card as he began describing what he wanted.

          He was still selecting possibilities when John, Teyla, and Carolyn found him.

          “Rodney?  What are you…oh!”  Teyla exclaimed as she saw what he was looking at.  “These are quite beautiful, Rodney!”

          “Yes, they are.”  Rodney moved aside so she could look more closely at the earrings.  “Which do you like best?”

          “I…well, these ones that look like stars are rather pretty.”  Teyla pointed them out.

          Satisfied, Rodney nodded decisively.  “Add those to the rest, please.” He said to the sales person, who was already pulling out a box for them.  To Teyla he said, “I already picked out a few other things that you should look at, too, but those earrings are…special.”

          “Rodney?”  Teyla questioned at the way he flushed a little and shuffled his feet like a shy boy asking a girl out on a date.  John and Carolyn joined them just as the scientist explained himself.

          “They’re not dangly or anything, so you can wear them pretty much whenever you like and they won’t get in the way.  And the star-shape is…well, you know…appropriate.  But what makes them truly special is that…I wanted to give you something that’s a little piece of, uh,” his eyes flicked around, conscious of their public location, “…our home.  More specifically, my home.  Canada.”

          John spoke up – having seen the display signs as they walked into the store.  “Canadian diamonds. Very nice, McKay.”

          Rodney smiled, and it was the rare, truly happy and a little shy and self-conscious smile that few had ever seen.  “Yeah.  Best diamonds on the planet.”  He stated proudly, as if he’d had a hand in their creation by virtue of his heritage.  Then his expression turned to near horror and panic.  “Oh no…no, no, no, don’t do that!  Don’t get all emotional on me, Teyla!  Ack!”

          She hugged him hard, hiding her sniffles in his jacket collar.  After a moment she let him go enough to pull him into the Athosian-style of greeting and affection, touching her forehead to his.

          “Thank you, Rodney.  I shall treasure them and they shall be as precious to me as your friendship.”

          Rodney blushed furiously, stammering out a husky, “Y-you’re welcome, Teyla.”  Thankfully, Carolyn gently extracted Teyla to show her the watches in another display case, leaving Rodney with John to get his red face under control.

          John watched the women ogle the fancy time pieces, and clapped his friend on the shoulder approvingly.  “You’ve done good, Rodney.  That was a really nice gesture.”

          “Well, necklaces tend to get in the way, you know, in the field, and rings are…a little too blatant a display of riches for some of the places we end up.  So I thought…earrings.”  Rodney babbled, rationalizing the gift in practical terms.  He puffed a bit, though, proud of himself for the choice.  “If I’d had the time and materials, I’d have made her some myself out of naqahdah or something, but these are the next best thing.”

          John laughed softly.  He could see Rodney doing just that.  “Well, maybe another time.”

          “Yeah.”

          Shopping completed, they met up with Daniel and Ronon – new luggage in tow – and headed back to the Mountain.  Once there, the linguist went to see if Odyssey had come home yet, and to make a few phone calls.  Dr. Lam left them to go back on duty in the infirmary sporting a very pretty tennis bracelet (which John had purchased as a ‘thank you’ for helping them shop).  The Atlantis team got their belongings together, helped Teyla to repack her things and new clothes, and made their way to the briefing room to await their travel plans.

          Daniel came out of General Landry’s office carrying his own luggage and laptop case.  “Everyone ready to go?”

          “Yep.”  John nodded, coming to attention as he turned to Landry.  “Sir.”

          “Good luck with the investigation, Sheppard.  Anything you might need, just shout.  And my condolences on your loss, son.”  The General offered his hand sincerely, and John accepted.

          “Thank you, sir.”

          “Dr. Jackson.”
          “Yes, sir?”

          Landry gave him his own version of the military-dealing-with-civilian-scientists stare of warning.  “You be careful, you hear?  I know Jack’s alright with you jumping into this mess, but frankly, your luck sucks.  You tell him if I don’t get our finest mind back in one piece – healthy, sane, and whole – I will personally make his life hell.”

          Daniel laughed, eyes twinkling good-naturedly.  John nudged Rodney, who snapped his mouth shut to keep from protesting the ‘finest mind’ comment.  “Don’t worry, General.  If anything happens to me, I’m fairly sure I’ll be the one making his life hell.  But I promise to be careful.  Besides, I have all this great back-up in Col. Sheppard and his team.”  He winked at them.  “Almost as good as my own.”  That wasn’t a slight, and SGA-1 knew that from their own experience.  No one was the same as one’s own team.

          Landry sighed but smiled and waved them off.  “Alright, already.  Get going.  Odyssey’s waiting.”

          Turning to the others, Daniel picked up the radio on the table and clicked it on to the appropriate frequency.  “Odyssey, this is Dr. Jackson.  We’re ready for transport.”

          “Roger that.  Hey, Jackson.”  Was the response.  “All aboard!”  They were enveloped by the bright light of the Asgard beams and between one second and the next, found themselves standing in the Ring room aboard the ship.

          Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Mitchell, Daniel’s SG-1 teammate and the current commander of the ship, was standing at parade rest in the doorway to welcome them.

          “Hi, Cam!”  Daniel greeted, waving as best he could with full hands.  “How was the trip?”

          “Boring.  Just the way I like it when they make me sit in that damn chair.”  Mitchell reported with his slow, southern drawl.  He offered a hand to his fellow officer.  “Hey, there, Sheppard.  Good to see you again.  Wish it was under better circumstances.”

          “We’ve got to stop meeting like this, Mitchell.”  John agreed sombrely, shaking his hand.

          “I was sorry to hear about your cousin.  They didn’t tell me much else when they recalled Odyssey, but whatever we can do to help…”

          “Thanks.  I really appreciate it.”

          Mitchell grinned and waved at Teyla, Ronon, and McKay.  “Hey, ya’ll.  Welcome aboard!”

          “It is a pleasure to see you again, Col. Mitchell.”  Teyla returned with a smile.  McKay nodded and shook his hand, and Ronon just nodded once.

          “So!  Where to?” Mitchell asked, turning back to Daniel and John.  “And what do you need us to do?”

          “Well, we’re staying at Jack’s while we do this, at least for the time being.”  Daniel explained.  “He’s going to brief us all on the latest there, today.  And tomorrow is the funeral, so…” he looked to Sheppard to see if there was anything he wanted.  “Colonel?”

          “It’s John, Daniel.  You’re certainly not under my command.”  Sheppard insisted.  Daniel nodded with a small smile – not grinning outright at Mitchell’s eye-roll because, really, no one ever commanded Daniel Jackson.  “I…don’t really know how to start, since I’m sure General O’Neill will have more information for us to use to plan around.”

          “Right.  Well, we’ve got some restocking and supplying to do up here, and a change up of some of our personnel anyway, so as soon as you need us, give me a call.  You’re on the comms, right?”  Mitchell gestured to his ear, referring to the tiny radios that everyone on Atlantis typically used, as did the senior personnel on board Earth’s ships.  Sheppard nodded.

          “We are.  If you have a spare, you should fit Daniel with one.”  He suggested.

          “I sent an Airman to fetch it when you called to be beamed up.”  Mitchell frowned.  “Wonder what’s taking so long?”  He tapped his own radio.  “Airman Lyle!  Where are you and Dr. Jackson’s comm?”

          “Sir!  Here, sir!”  Lyle came around a corner out of breath.  “My…apologies…sir!  It was packed away…with Dr. Jackson’s other equipment.”

          “Ah.  Well, give it here.  Thank you, Airman.  Dismissed.”  Mitchell took the small case with Daniel’s name on it from the man and opened it.  After helping Daniel put it on, he raised a questioning eyebrow.  “Shall I call ahead to General O’Neill, or is he expecting you?”

          The grin Daniel flashed was a little evil.  “Oh, he knows we’re coming, so just put us down in…his study or something.”

          “Uh..are you sure…?”   Sheppard looked uneasy about that.  After all, he was a General.  Mitchell, on the other hand, looked about as mischievous as the linguist.

          “Sure thing!  It is, of course, all your doing.”

          “Of course.”

          Mitchell gave the Lieutenant standing unobtrusively (and silently) at the control panel a nod.  “You heard the man, Lieutenant.  Beam away.”

          “Yes, sir.  Give me a moment to calibrate.”

          “We’ll call you down for the briefing.”  Sheppard offered Mitchell.  “You may as well be as informed as the rest of us if you’re gonna help out.”

          “Okay.  I’ll be waiting.”

          “Calibration complete.  Ready?”  The Lieutenant glanced at the travellers.  At their signal, she pushed a button and once again they were transported, this time to General Jack O’Neill’s townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

~*~*~*~*~

          General O’Neill wasn’t in the room when they reappeared.  Daniel was the first to note the absence, and before any of them could do more than take a cursory glance around, the archaeologist was leading them out of the room (which Rodney guessed was an office or study).  Daniel paused in what was the foyer of the townhouse, seeming to listen intently for signs of Jack’s presence.  “That’s strange.  I thought he’d be here.  Let me just…” he muttered, pulling out his cell phone and whipping off a text message.  “So wherever he is, we should probably get you settled and maybe order some lunch delivered, right?”

          Ronon brightened visibly at the mention of food, and Rodney’s stomach growled, answering for him.  He blushed at Sheppard’s wry glance.  “What?!  I haven’t eaten a thing since breakfast.  Oh, and that snack at the mall.  But that was a long time ago!  It’s a wonder I haven’t suffered a severe hypoglycaemic reaction!”

          Teyla patted him soothingly on the arm.  “We will see to it you do not.”  She assured him, obviously humouring the man but still coming off as motherly concern.

          Daniel’s cell went off and he read the return text.  “Ah.  He’s on the phone upstairs in his room.  Says to put you in the guestrooms and…oh.  Well.  I’ll see what’s up and we’ll go from there.”  Daniel hastily tucked the cell phone away, into his pocket.  “Okay!  Upstairs!  Follow me.”

          “Are you sure it’s fine for us to be staying here?  I mean, a hotel suite would serve just as well, Daniel.”  Sheppard pointed out as they climbed the stairs to the second floor.

          “Well, Jack’s hospitable like that.  Besides which, this is a gated community with a high level of security.  There are a lot of military and civilian high-ranked personnel in this area, so it’s a bit more secure than any hotel would be.”  Daniel stopped at a door and opened it.  “Ah, I’m sorry to say you’ll be sharing quarters again, though.  Two of you can have this room – it’s got the bed and a futon that fold out into another bed – and the other two will have to share the other guest bed in this room.”  He walked partway down the hall and opened another door.

          “This one’s got a half-bath of its own – with a shower – and the main guest bathroom is here.”  Daniel showed them the bathroom.  “There should be clean towels and all in the cupboards so dig around until you find what you need.  Um…” he rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to remember if there was anything else, then shrugged.  “I think that’s it for now.  Oh!  Those doors,” he pointed at the double doors just behind his shoulder at the end of the hall, “are to Jack’s room, which is off-limits – except in an emergency, of course.  So…how about you all decide your sleeping arrangements and get settled, and I’ll talk to Jack and order lunch, and we’ll meet downstairs in the living room in…thirty minutes?”

          Sheppard nodded agreeably.  “Sounds good.”

          “Wait!  Where are you staying, Daniel?”  Teyla asked, frowning slightly.  “It is not fair to put you out just to accommodate us.”

          Daniel just smiled.  “Don’t worry, Teyla.  I’ll bunk with Jack.  I usually do when SG-1 is in the house. Besides, as John said yesterday, it’s not as if we aren’t used to sharing close quarters after all the missions and such.”

          She smiled back, giving a slight bow of her head in acknowledgement.  “Very well.  If you’re certain.”

          “Yep!  Go ahead, guys.  I’ll see you shortly.” With that, he disappeared into the General’s room, closing the door behind him.

          As per their usual arrangement, the team split into two: John and Rodney took the one-bed room, while Teyla and Ronon took the other.  While Rodney was conflicted as hell about it (half wanting eagerly to spend more time in bed with John but equally dreading the closeness for the havoc it played on his control), Sheppard was relieved and happily neutral about having to share not just a room but a bed with his friend.  Another man.  Rodney bitterly chalked it up to having spent a large part of his life in close proximity to other men, thanks to the military (things like barracks, and communal showers).  Besides being straight, he most likely would never think of the situation as in any way romantic – even if he is the Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy.

          “I’m going to shower and change really quickly, McKay.”  Sheppard said, digging out clean clothes for himself from his bag.  “Do you need the bathroom?”

          “No.  Go ahead.  I’m just going to check my email and return a few.  Maybe let Jeannie know I’m back and see how she’s doing.”  Rodney watched him stride toward the on-suite bathroom, wistfully admiring John’s ass in the civilian jeans he rarely had the opportunity to wear.  “John?  You okay?”

          “Huh?”  The officer poked his head out again.  “I’m fine, Rodney.  Why?”

          “Never mind.”  Rodney shook his head at himself and went about setting up his laptop.  “Enjoy your shower.”

          He didn’t see the odd look John gave him, but he did silently berate himself for being a worry-wart.  And what was wrong with him anyway?  Where was this mother-henning streak coming from?  Rodney grumbled under his breath to himself as he sat on the bed with his laptop and began the monumental task of sorting his email.

~*~*~*~*~

          Daniel turned away from the doors and dropped his bags right there, his eyes immediately acquiring his target and locking on.  General Jack O’Neill was looking decidedly decadent lounging about on his king-sized bed in just faded old sweatpants and on Air Force T-shirt.  He was grinning at Daniel, even with the handset phone held up to one ear as he listened to whoever it was on the other end of the line.  Daniel couldn’t help but grin back, and slowly moved toward the bed when Jack crooked a finger at him.

          “So basically you’re telling me that they’re not talking.”  Jack spoke to whoever it was, his brown eyes tracking Daniel’s movements as the linguist stopped at the foot of the bed and proceeded to take off his jacket and shoes.  “Uh huh, well keep trying.  If I have to ask the President to ask SecNav to order his people to talk, it’s gonna get messy.  Yeah, fine.  Gotta go!”  Jack abruptly hung up as Daniel stripped off the rest of his clothes and crawled up the bed with all the grace of a big cat.  “Well, hello, Dr. Jackson!  I was beginning to get lonely.”

          “Hi.”  Daniel crawled right up over the top Jack and smiled at the warmth, welcome, and love in the older man’s gaze.  “Sorry it took longer than expected.”  He dipped his head and pressed a soft kiss to Jack’s mouth.  “But we’re here now.”  Another soft kiss.  “Forgive me?”  And another, this time a little deeper and a little longer.

          “Oh, I think I can.  For a few more of those.”  Jack gently removed Daniel’s glasses and set them on the bedside table before pulling the linguist down and into a full-body hug.  “God, I missed you.”  Jack sighed lustily, letting his hands roam over his linguist’s bare skin greedily.

          “Me, too.  Even if I was only gone for a couple of days.”  Daniel admitted, gamely letting Jack roll them over so Daniel was the one on his back with Jack hovering above him.  “As much as I’d be ecstatic to lie around with you…”

          “Naked.”

          “…naked,” Daniel obliged with a quick grin, “thirty minutes isn’t nearly long enough for that.  And I kind of want to shower after spending all morning in the mall.”

          Jack quirked an eyebrow at that, but otherwise pouted.  “Thirty minutes?  You couldn’t have said an hour?”

          “I would have, Jack, but John’s been very patient, and that has to be running on empty – especially with no one telling him anything useful.”  Daniel was all sympathy – or was that empathy?  Either way, Jack couldn’t really argue with him.  He never could.

          “Yeah.”  Jack rolled off Daniel and sat up.  “That was Davis.  I have him poking around and pulling strings at the Pentagon trying to find out more, but the Naval department seems to have clammed up even tighter than our security.”  He made a frustrated sound as he scrubbed his face with both hands.

          “Or they just don’t know anything either and are trying to hide it from everyone else.”  Daniel hypothesized, always willing to give the benefit of the doubt, though in this case it seemed a little backhanded.

          “Or that.”  Jack nodded.  “Davis considered that, too.  He found out a few things, but nothing very concrete.  He’s sending me what he has.”

          “Good.  In the meantime…shower.”  Daniel slid off the bed and padded to the master bathroom.

          Jack thought about it for all of a second before following, clothes littering the floor in his wake.

~*~*~*~*~

Next Chapter: https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/stargate/veritas/chapter-03/

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