Notes: If you havenít seen the SG1 season 7 episode Fragile Balance, you just need to know that Jack was cloned, but the clone only aged to a teenager and then began aging normally. For our purposes, weíre assuming mini-Jack was 17 and that heís somewhere around his 22nd birthday now, plus or minus a few months. Weíre ignoring any episode descriptions that make him younger and squeezing in an extra year because Cadman gets cranky about Mrs. Robinson references.
2nd Lt. Jack OíNeill glanced down at the bronze bar on his shoulder with mixed emotions. He was proud of his new commission and of having earned it through nothing but his own hard workóthough he hadnít gone through the Academy again, he had finished college in two years and sat and passed all the testsóbut the reality was that he remembered being a full bird colonel less than four years earlier. "This is so whacked," he muttered, raising his eyes to study his reflection. Heíd changed a great deal from those first days as a teenager at Cheyenne Mountain, courtesy of the renegade Asgard scientist Loki, and now anyone looking at him who knew Gen. Jack OíNeill would recognize a younger version of him. Fortunately, it didnít happen often, although that was about to change.
Jack had been accepted into the Stargate program, to no oneís surprise, so he was going to run into people who knew the general, but at least most of them would know exactly who and what he was. He wasnít going to have to hide his knowledge and experience, and since he was going to Atlantis, he would be able to make his own mark. He realized that he was looking forward to it.
"Lt. Cadman, now that youíve decided to remain on Atlantis full time, Iím assigning you as a team leader," John Sheppard announced to the redhead standing at ease in front of his desk. "Youíve done a good job here, and youíve dealt with some of the odder recent events," he said, sharing a smile with her as they both remembered her time stuck inside Rodney McKayís head. "You keep your cool under pressure, and thatís what we need in charge of our off world teams.
"Have a seat," he said, waiting until she was settled before continuing. "You have final say in the composition of your team, of course, but Iíd like you to include one of our newcomers. Heíll be arriving on the Daedalus with the latest batch of recruits tomorrow." Unsure if Cadman knew the story, which John himself had only learned recently while reviewing the files of the new soldiers, Sheppard paused before finishing, "Lt. Jack OíNeill."
"Is this lieutenant any relation to Gen. Jack OíNeill?" she asked curiously, knowing Col. Sheppard wouldnít have brought him up if there wasnít something different about him.
"You could say that," John laughed. He hesitated before deciding that it would be in Cadmanís best interests to know the full abilities of the man who would be under her command. "He is Gen. OíNeill. Or Col. OíNeill at least. He started as a clone of OíNeill, so he has all his knowledge and experience up to three and a half years ago."
"Howís he taking his demotion?"
"According to his files, he chose it. He went back to high school, then college and was recommissioned as a second lieutenant. But having met the general, I canít say that it surprises me."
"What I meant was, is he going to be able to take orders from someone else, sir?"
"And what Iíd meant was that heís chosen to do exactly that from the moment he claimed a life of his own. Heís making his own way, and heíll take orders about as well as he ever did. Or I did." John grinned. "Which means not very, unless you gain his respect and prove you know what youíre doing."
Laura smiled at that. "Well, sir, I always did like a challenge; sure, Iíll take him."
"Good luck to you, Lieutenant. Though considering you survived Rodney, Iím sure you can survive anything."
Laura laughed aloud. "I think Rodney would say he survived me, but thank you. Whenís the Daedalus due in?"
"Tomorrow," John repeated, not surprised she hadnít caught that when heíd just informed her of her new status. "We expect them mid-morning," he added.
"Then I should do a little research while I have the time." She straightened and saluted. "Thank you for the opportunity, sir."
Returning the salute, John said, "I have every confidence that youíll excel. You can let me know tomorrow who else you want for your team."
"You ready for this, Cadman?" John asked, smiling faintly as he imagined trying to ride herd on Jack OíNeill at any age. He had a feeling it would be comparable to Rodney. There was a brief burst of light, and Caldwell stepped away, clearing the space for the first of the new Atlantean personnel to transport down from the ship.
Laura grinned slightly. "Iíve decided it could be worse, sir; he could be bringing a clone of Dr. Jackson as well."
John burst into laughter. "Can you imagine him and Rodney going at it? Iíd have to go into hiding. That or make popcorn and sell tickets."
"From what Iíve heard of Gen. OíNeill, Iíd be more worried about Lt. OíNeill and Rodney going at it," Laura murmured as the next group from the Daedalus transported in.
"Oh yeah, lifeís going to get a whole lot more interesting around here," John chuckled.
Joining them, Elizabeth sighed as she overhead the comment. "Please donít say that, John. Iím not sure I could survive it."
"Yes," Rodney agreed, coming up on Johnís other side, "we have more than enough interesting things happening now."
"Ainít that the truth!" John sighed. "But Iím sure weíll muddle through. And I bet OíNeill ends up with a cart, complaining all the while."
"Oh boo hoo, poor baby, and speaking of the devil..." Rodney paused and smirked. "I suppose singing ĎSend in the Clonesí would be inappropriate."
"It would make a bad impression for OíNeillís first act on Atlantis to be shooting our chief scientist," John snickered.
"And you really donít want to have to send a message to Gen. OíNeill explaining why his double is locked up," Laura chuckled.
"Thanks so much for the sympathy because of my death!"
"I wouldnít let him kill you," John soothed. "Now shh! Thatís the last of them. Time to officially welcome the recruits to Atlantis."
"Next time you make the speech," Elizabeth muttered to him as she stepped forward.
"I can imagine how that would go," Rodney murmured, snickering.
"Hey, I can be inspirational!"
"Yeah, but we donít need all the newbies jumping you!"
Laura choked back a laugh and tried to keep a straight face.
John rolled his eyes. "I have confidence in your ability to protect my honor."
"I know my jealous geek." John grinned before assuming a sober expression as he surveyed the new arrivals. Rodney sniffed and pretended to ignore John while Cadman continued to fight to keep from bursting into laughter.
As Elizabethís brief speech wound down, John stepped forward. "Iíd like to add my welcome to Dr. Weirís. Each one of you has chosen to come here, with full knowledge of what youíll be facing, and to my mind, that says a lot for you. Youíll find your assignments in your rooms, and the work will start tomorrow. For tonight, however, you get to experience a real Atlantis party to welcome you to our happy little family." He glanced back at Rodney and then grinned as he faced the new soldiers and scientists again. "I think youíll find that the Wraith arenít the scariest thing in the Pegasus Galaxy. A word to the wiseócoffee and chocolate."
"Oh, thatís amusing," Rodney grumbled before joining John and Elizabeth. "Welcome to Atlantis, yadda, yadda, on to the important things; soldiers, never touch anything that looks remotely scientific. Scientists, donít touch anything unless I give my okay. Weíre clear?" he looked around at the newcomers, who stared back in amazement. "Good."
"Heís serious," John said, regaining their attention. "And unfortunately, experience has proven him right. If you donít recognize it, donít touch it. Call your team leader, call me, call Dr. McKay, but do not blow up the city or yourself."
"And if itís a choice, blow up yourself, not the city."
"And donít take anything that Dr. McKay says personally," John sighed.
"Youíd rather they blew up the city?" Rodney asked.
"Despite appearances, he really does give a damn about your lives. Just donít expect him to ever admit it. Youíll have the rest of the day free to settle into your quarters and get used to the city. Dismissed!"
Laura watched the new personnel begin to mill around and, along with the rest of the team leaders, moved forward to introduce herself. "Lt. OíNeill, Lt. Cadman, welcome to Atlantis."
"Lieutenant." Jack noticed that she was very attractive even as he snapped a salute.
She returned the salute and smiled. "At ease and grab your gear; Iíll show you to your quarters."
"Thank you, maíam. Iíve been eager to get here." He looked at her curiously as he hefted his duffel over his shoulder and waited for her to start.
"I can imagine," she nodded as she started walking. "And I hope youíre eager to get into the field as well; we have a mission scheduled for day after tomorrow."
"We, unless youíd prefer to stay here than be on my team."
Jack eyed her. "Since I havenít seen my assignment yet, not having reached my quarters, I wasnít aware that I was on your team. Maíam."
"Well, now you know, or would you rather wait to read it officially?"
"Now I know. So whatís the mission?"
"Weíre supposed to check out a planet we havenít been to yet; it should be quiet, but..." She shrugged as they reached the transporter.
Jack barked a laugh. "Like so many of SGóof the SGCís missions were quiet. Iíll pack for bear." The door opened the moment he reached it, and he stepped through and stood beside Cadman.
She pressed the panel for the transporter nearest to his room, speaking when the doors on the other side opened again. "Thatís a very good idea, and, so weíre on the level here, Iíve read your file, so I know of your unique situation."
"Ah." Jack followed her in silence for a moment. "I suppose thatís fair. And for the record, I am perfectly aware that right now, Iím just a lieutenant."
"I never doubted that fact, and donít think I wonít use your expertise if itís needed." They stopped outside a door, and she paused. "And your gene." She winked at the last.
"Iíd expect nothing less." He grinned when the door opened the moment he glanced at it. "This could be fun."
"Iíll see what you say when Rodney gets his hands on you," Laura laughed.. "Go on and get settled; thereís a reception in the mess in two hours; radio me if you need a guide, oh, and try not to want anything too much." She grinned and left her new team member to his unpacking.
"What the hell was that supposed to mean?" Jack shrugged and turned to his unpacking, trying not to think about how much he wanted a bowl of Fruit Loops. He was distracted by the way shelves appeared from the walls when he neared them and didnít notice the banging on the door until it had been going on for a bit.
"What the..." When he finally noticed and turned to stare at the door, it immediately slid open, and a cart rolled in. While Jack was still staring in bemusement, it opened a compartment and withdrew a bowl of Fruit Loops and a small pitcher of milk.
"Oh crap. Thatís what she meant."
The cart rolled forward, offering the snack, its movements slowing when he didnít take it.
"Well, now youíve done it," an acerbic voice commented from the still open doorway.
"I didnít do anything!" Jack protested, accepting the cereal when the cart seemed to droop in disappointment. "Take it away, McKay!"
"How... oh yes, implanted memories, and sorry, itís imprinted on you, I canít." As he spoke, another cart rolled through the door and settled next to him.
"Well shit!" Jack stared down at the cart that crept a little closer to him but stopped just short of touching. "Why do I suddenly feel like I just kicked a puppy?"
"Well, Rover certainly thinks you did," Rodney smirked as he leaned against the doorway, watching as Rover zipped forward to comfort the forlorn cart.
"Damn it, Iím not a geek! I donít need a cart." Hearing that, the cart jittered against the floor, producing a sound that was remarkably like a whimper.
"Aw hell." Sighing, Jack crouched down next to it and patted it awkwardly.
"Iíd suggest you talk to Lt. Lindstrom before you say that." Rodney watched as Rover rubbed against the new cart before rolling back to his side. "Oh, and it seems the convention for names is that they begin with the same first letter as yours, so start thinking."
"Great, rules already. And here I was going to call him Bart." Jack eyed it, not even realizing that heíd already identified the cart as Ďheí. "Oh, hang on." He looked up with a wicked grin. "I absolutely have to have my own Jaffa."
Rodney snickered at that, and Rover spun in a circle only to be joined by the new cart. "Iíd love to see Tealícís expression when he hears that."
Jack smirked. "Me too. And do they do that often? Iím getting dizzy."
"Whenever theyíre happy or youíre happy with them. Rover, calm down; you donít want to make the man sick on his first day here."
Jaffa had already stopped the moment Jack mentioned getting dizzy, and the lieutenant reached over and patted him. "Looks like itís you and me, J."
Rodney nodded and glanced down at Rover. "Now can I go back to what I was doing?" Apparently ignoring him, the cart reached out a pincer and patted first Jaffa, then Lt. OíNeill before rolling out of the room and down the hall. "It seems I can. Good luck with your cart, and come up with a design for his side as well; itís the easiest way to tell them apart."
Jack stared at the door that closed behind McKay, more than a little taken aback by the rapid-fire events since heíd arrived in Atlantis. "Well, at least he seems to have mellowed since coming here," he muttered, absently patting the cart who nudged him before moving to a corner of the room and settling. "Thereíd better be beer at this party tonight!"
"I swear, John, if I had had a camera..." Rodney laughed. "The look on his face!"
"I can imagine. You didnít see his face the day I flew himóolder himófrom McMurdo to the installation. When that drone landed on the ice a foot in front of him..." John laughed. "Me, Iíd have shit my pants!"
"Thank you for that lovely image!"
"Any time." John grinned. "So he has a cart, huh? No surprise there, though I did think heíd manage more than half an hour."
"It was carrying cereal and milk so he must have made the mistake of thinking he was hungry." Rodney chuckled and stroked Roverís sensor array. "It really makes me wonder how Gen. OíNeill managed to leave here without one."
"My guess? Atlantis herself intervened and kept the carts deactivated. That and Daniel was with him, so he already had what he wanted most."
"Good point." Rodney looked around the mess hall, watching the newcomers straggle in and slowly mix with the veteran Atlanteans. "So, you made Cadman a lead?"
"Yeah, sheís more than proven that she can handle weirdness. Iím just not sure about Kavanagh." John frowned quickly. "It seems a rotten thing to do to her. Are you sure he can actually pull his weight?"
"He knows his stuff," Rodney admitted, "and she can keep him in line, if she can keep OíNeill from shooting him."
"Well, theyíll have Jaffa to help them hide the body if they give in to temptation."
"Hrmmm, and I thought if you couldnít shoot him that no one could."
"You mean youíre getting old?"
The hazel eyes narrowed. "Iíll prove how old Iím not after the party."
Rodney grinned. "If you manage to stay awake."
"Bastard. Expect to get no sleep tonight."
"Gentlemen, donít forget Col. Caldwellís here," Elizabeth murmured as she passed behind them.
Rodney grumbled but acquiesced. "Fine, fine, weíll find new personnel to harass."
"Pick on Lt. OíNeill. He can handle you." She smiled benignly as she continued toward Paul, a smile that transformed into a wicked grin as soon as they couldnít see her face.
"I got in the first salvo, your turn, Colonel."
John grinned wickedly and saluted Rodney with his beer before strolling over to the newly arrived lieutenant. "So, OíNeill, I hear you couldnít make it half an hour before you had a cart at your door."
Jack glared until he remembered this was his commanding officer. "Guess Iím just lucky, sir."
"At ease, Lieutenant. I know who and what you are, and I sort of know you. The sir stuffís just too weird unless the situation calls for it."
Jack nodded, relaxing as he scanned the room.
"Ah, Colonel, there ye are," Carson puffed as he was dragged over to them by his cart. "Oh, and ye must be Lt. OíNeill; Iím Dr. Beckett, welcome to Atlantis."
"Thank you, Doctor." Jack eyed the cart with its caduceus. "Yours, I take it?" He looked down when Jaffa inched forward, shimmying eagerly. "Um, they play?"
"Aye, Cioraís mine, and yes, they love to play." Carson watched, amused, as Ciora scooted forward, nudging the new cart, and darted back, enticing it to follow. "Iíd just keep an eye out for one with a flame on its side; heís a prankster."
"Flame?" Jack repeated almost faintly, nudging his cart forward until it went after the other, obviously playing tag.
"Yeah, thatís Loki, Lisa Lindstromís cart, and he lives up to his name," John explained.
"Though the others do seem to keep him in line as much as possible."
"Loki, huh?" Jackís eyes narrowed as he looked around, and Johnís widened.
"Oh hell, I never thought... No, heís like the myths, a practical joker, nothing like the Asgard you met."
"The carts would never do anything to hurt any of us," Carson said earnestly.
Jack sighed and forced himself to relax. "Yeah, itís just a coincidence, I know. Most of the grey guys are okay. A little weird, but okay."
"Theyíre freaky," John said emphatically. "And whatís up with the no clothes thing?"
"Should I ask why youíre discussing naked aliens, sir?" Laura asked as she joined the group.
"Ya kinda had to be there, Cadman." John shook his head, glancing over his shoulder to meet Rodneyís gaze.
"Just wait till they name a ship after you. Theyíll grow on you," Jack chuckled.
Laura shook her head. "Iíll have to take your word for that."
"Yeah, the aliens in this galaxy seem a lot less friendly. Make the Goaíuld look good from all Iíve read."
John nodded. "Yeah, life-sucking vampire catfish pretty much describes them."
"And they seem to like those of us with the gene, so Iíd keep yer distance," Carson warned.
"I wasnít really planning to offer myself up as the blue plate special."
"Thatís what weíll have Dr. Kavanagh for, and donít think Iím not going to discuss that with you, Colonel," Laura commented.
"Hey, Dr. McKay makes the recommendations from his department. Personally, I was leaning toward Dr. Manion. She has a good head on her shoulders." John lowered his voice. "I think Rodneyís hoping youíll shoot Kavanagh and save him the trouble."
Jack eyed them. "I take it thereís something wrong with this Kavanagh?"
"Ye should really find out about him for yerself," Carson began hesitantly.
"He makes Rodney look like Indira Gandhi, and Iím going to get him for this," Laura grumbled, shooting a glance a John. "With your permission, sir."
"Nothing lethal or requiring Carsonís services," John warned. "But, yeah. Sorry, Rodney," he said over his shoulder, "but Kavanaghís above and beyond." Even Rover rotated his sensor array to look at the scientist in question and bobbed up and down slightly in his version of a nod, though he did move protectively closer to Rodney, nudging between him and Cadman.
"Do you hear me arguing?" Rodney asked as he joined them. "You can handle him, Cadman; I wouldnít have recommended him otherwise, and besides, heíll only be with you on those missions involving technology."
"I hereby volunteer for any and all non-technology-related missions, sir!" Laura saluted John, who chuckled.
"Weíll try to accommodate you, Lieutenant. And who knows, you might get lucky. Heís about due to request being reassigned to Earth again, isnít he?" John looked questioningly at Rodney.
"I give it a few more weeks," Rodney mused, "if he lasts that long."
"We could ask Ronon to growl at him," John suggested, snickering.
"Heíd faint and hurt himself and end up in the infirmary."
"Oh no," Carson said quickly. "I dinna want ta deal with him either!"
"Obviously a real popular guy," Jack observed.
Rover clacked his pincers, expressing his opinion of the scientist as well, making everyone laugh.
"I think that says it all," John chuckled.
"All right, does everyone understand the mission?" Laura looked at her team, noting OíNeillís eager expression, Harrisonís quiet competence, and Dr. Kavanaghís sulky petulance.
"I still think," Kavanagh started, only to be cut off by Jack.
"Weíre good to go, Lieutenant."
She nodded sharply. "Then letís do it."
Jack was instantly on his feet, eager to step through the stargate on a mission again for the first time. He smiled wryly and reflected that he wished Daniel, Carter and Tealíc were here to share this with him, but of course, they had their own lives, which included a completely different Jack OíNeill.
He looked around at his new team, and he realized that he was getting a chance to do it all over again, knowing everything heíd learned the first time and starting younger. "Cool," he murmured.
"Weíre about to go to an alien planet to face God knows what, and you think itís cool?" Kavanagh sniffed, making Laura sigh.
"Dr. Kavanagh, do you know the phrase Ďif you canít say anything nice, keep your mouth shutí? If so, please live by it; if not, learn it."
Jack shook his head. "What the hell was I thinking when I signed you on? Never mind McKay, we should have sent you to Siberia."
"What the hell are you talking about?" the scientist sputtered. "Who do you think you are, Gen. OíN..."
Hoping to distract him, Laura nodded toward the door to the gateroom. "Time to go, gentlemen."
Sgt. Harrison nodded and stood, plainly waiting for Kavanagh to move as well before leaving.
Jack fell in beside Cadman as they followed the still grumbling scientist who was being herded along by the Marine. "Heís not quite bright, is he?"
She shook her head and glanced down at Jaffa, who was sticking close to Jackís other side. "Heís very smart, just not when it comes to people."
"If you say so." Jack seemed unconvinced. He looked up at the stargate, already activated and waiting for their team to step through, and a strange expression crossed his face, a mixture of sadness, anticipation, and rueful humor. Jaffa pressed close, trying to comfort him.
"Think of it this way, Lieutenant," Laura murmured with a smile, "itís a whole new galaxy for you to explore."
"I like your style. Maíam." Jackís smile widened before he resettled his P90 and stepped forward, not hesitating as he crossed the event horizon.
As the group walked through an open field toward their destination, Dr. Kavanagh fell in beside Jack. "You seem awfully young to be an officer, Lt. OíNeill."
Jack shrugged. "I knew what I wanted to do. I went to college, then straight into the Air Force." Since Kavanagh didnít seem to know about him, Jack had decided to leave it that way; the fewer people who knew about his origins the better as far as he was concerned. With a toothy grin, he added, "Iíve always been an overachiever."
"And you were commissioned? Your family must have quite the connections."
"Gen. Hammond recommended me," Jack said with a straight face.
"Gen. Hammond? Are you sure it wasnít Gen. OíNeill?"
"Nope. They donít look anything alike, so itís pretty hard to confuse them." Jack gave the scientist a smile that several Goaíuld would have recognized. "The last time I saw Gen. OíNeill, he was still a colonel. We donít have anything to do with each other."
"Siteís up ahead," Laura called from where she walked up ahead with Sgt. Harrison.
"And none too soon," Jack muttered, slowing down to let Dr. Kavanagh pull ahead. Jaffa darted after the scientist, extruding a pincer. Seeing him, Jack hesitated just long enough for the cart to get in one good nip before calling Jaffa back to him.
"Keep that thing under control!" Kavanagh snarled.
Laura turned and looked back at the other two. "Perhaps it would be better if you tried not to antagonize Lt. OíNeill, Doctor, and Lieutenant, try to keep Jaffaís pincers to himself."
"I always try, maíam," Jack replied virtuously. "And Iím sure Iíll be just as successful as McKayís been with Rover."
"Wonderful," Kavanagh muttered, "more loose cannons."
"Hrm, a cannon. Hey, J, you want me to get McKay to rig you up with a cannon attachment?"
The cart spun in a circle excitedly, clearly liking the idea.
"I knew this was going to be an interesting team," Harrison laughed.
"No shooting or threatening to shoot friendlies, you two," Laura said as sternly as possible.
Jack gave her an innocent look. "Define friendlies, maíam." He glanced at Kavanagh significantly.
"People on the expedition, Lt. OíNeill."
"Youíre never going to let me have any fun, are you?"
"My heart bleeds for your poor, boring life under my command."
"Iím sensing a total lack of sympathy for my position, maíam."
She chuckled. "Lifeís a bitch, isnít it?"
"Even the second time Ďround," he laughed, making sure to keep his voice too low for the other team members to hear.
"Someone spare me the mating dance of the grunts," Kavanagh muttered as they reached the dilapidated outpost.
Harrison eyed him with displeasure. "AóTheyíre officers, not grunts; Bóif there was anything between them, Lt. OíNeill wouldnít be under Lt. Cadmanís authority; and Cówhat the hell is your problem? Do you go out of your way to be obnoxious to everyone?"
Jaffa somehow made a noise that sounded remarkably like a cheer.
"To answer C, itís because of the sense of welcome I feel from this Ďteamí."
"Dr. Kavanagh, perhaps if you treated us like humans, weíd do the same to you," Laura commented as they caught up.
"Here, here!" Jack decided that if they were going to be a team, he wasnít going to guard his words around them all the time. "Iíve manage to work with absent-minded scientists, Asgard, Goaíuld, Tokíra, Tollans, Nox, and even Maybourne, but no one has gone out of his way to be as annoying as you do."
"What the hell are you talking about, OíNeill?" Kavanagh asked, staring at him as if he were insane.
Jack shook his head. "Do you really think that a just-commissioned second lieutenant would be assigned to the SGC, let alone Atlantis? I thought you were supposed to be a brain. I am Jack OíNeill, you idiot. Up until three years ago, that is. Thatís where our experience diverges."
"Clone," Jack said helpfully.
"Cool," Harrison breathed.
"Asgard technology," Laura cut in when it looked as if Kavanagh was going to press for details.
"Not so cool at first, but... yeah." Jack grinned. "Hasnít everyone wished for the chance to do things over? Fifty years of experience in a twenty-year-old body."
"Thatís quite... interesting, and I hope all that experience means we can count on you not to run into situations with your guns blazing."
Laura stifled a chuckle. "Doctor, have you ever heard of Gen. OíNeill or SG-1?"
Jack snickered. "I never blaze."
"Something weíre all grateful for, Iím sure."
"But I always come out on top."
"Much too much information!" Kavanagh exclaimed, causing Laura and Harrison to chuckle.
"Not exactly what I meant. And are the gates always this far from the nearest village in this galaxy?" Jack complained. "If so, I want a jumper!"
"Remember, the people here donít want to be too near a gate in case the Wraith come," Laura commented, "and it should be over the next hill."
"Why is it always uphill?" Jack sighed, shifting his P90 to a more comfortable position.
"At least itís not snowing," Harrison commented cheerfully. He suddenly stopped and looked down in confusion at the small arrow sticking out of his arm before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed.
"Harrison!" Laura exclaimed, lifting her P90 and scanning the area.
Jack crouched beside the fallen sergeant, checking for a pulse while keeping his eyes on the surrounding area. "Heís alive," he reported. "Either we have a Marine who faints or they have one hell of a fast-acting knockout drug on those arrows. Which means weíd better get the hell out of here. Maíam." He added as an afterthought, reminding himself that he wasnít the one in charge.
"Shit!" His eyes widened when Jaffaís pincers shot out, catching an arrow only inches from him.
"I think itís the second," Kavanagh commented before collapsing behind them, an arrow in his butt.
"No way we can get them both out of here and Iím not leaving them," Laura snapped as a group of shabbily dressed people emerged from the trees up ahead. "Hey! Weíre friendly here, so stop the shooting!"
"We are so fucked," Jack muttered, narrowed brown eyes fixed on the approaching natives. Jaffa moved in front of him, and there was a collective moan and every native took aim at the cart.
"Who are you? Why are you here?" the native in the lead demanded. "Why did you bring that?"
"Just take it easy," Laura soothed, as she and Jack tried to get in front of the cart. "Weíre here looking for things the AncientsóI mean the Ancestorsómay have left behind. Thereís no need to be afraid of the cart, itís a machineóa tool."
"It is a demon!" wailed someone in the crowd. "We must destroy it, or the Ancestors will be offended, and the Wraith will destroy us."
Jack rolled his eyes, though at least he made sure none of the natives could see him do it. "No oneís destroying anything. Weíre more than happy to go back where we came from if you donít want us here."
"The cart is not a demon," Laura said firmly. "It was created by the Ancestors to help them. As Lt. OíNeill said, weíd be glad to leave except for the fact that you drugged our teammates. How about we stay here until they wake up and you go back to your village, okay?"
"We must destroy the demon!"
Jack sighed. "Why do these things always happen to me?"
"Boo hoo, at least you were never stuck in Rodneyís head," she muttered. "Look, we arenít going to stand here and let you destroy the cart, so donít even try. How about you take us back to your village so we can talk to your leader?"
"Stuck in..." Jack made a mental note to find out about that once they were safely back in Atlantis. Or locked up in yet another cellóit would pass the time.
The natives surrounded them, shifting uneasily as they kept as much distance as possible between themselves and the cart, and prodded the team into movement. Jack rolled his eyes at the gasps when Jaffa picked Kavanagh up, and the lieutenant heaved Sgt. Harrison over his shoulder in a firemanís carry, making sure his P90 was still accessible.
Laura gathered up Kavanaghís equipment and Harrisonís weapon as they were herded along, finally coming to a small village built around a rough stone alter. "Letís hope thatís not for sacrifices."
Jack eyed it warily. "Either of blood or other bodily fluids," he muttered.
"Bodily fluids? Just what kind of missions did you go on before?"
"You really donít want to know," Jack sighed. "I think we got married even more often than we died."
Laura stifled a laugh at that comment, finding it amusing despite their current predicament. "Iím not sure which is worse, seeing as you all seemed to come back from the second condition."
"The first never really stuck either," Jack pointed out, trying not to grin. "Fortunately. Weíd all have to pool our salaries and hand them over as alimony if they did."
"That or youíd have angry galactic lawyers on your tails." Laura stiffened when two burly villagers escorted a wizened man out of one of the huts. "Looks like this is the leader, and advice other than donít piss him off?"
Jack shrugged as much as he could under Harrisonís weight. "Wait and see. Every timeís different. Just hope theyíre more the marrying kind than the die for the blasphemy kind."
"Letís hope itís neither."
"Why have you brought a demon into our midst?" the old man cried out in a surprisingly strong voice.
"Well, your people were the ones who brought us to the village," Laura pointed out.
His back starting to hurt, Jack decided that he was going to have to put Harrison down. He hadnít wanted to do it case they had to make a run for it, but the drugged arrows pretty much made it a moot point anyhow. He set the sergeant down next to Jaffa, knowing the cart would protect the unconscious team members, and he concentrated on Cadmanís conversation with the apparent leader of the village.
"We have brought you here for judgment!" The crowd murmured its agreement when the leader said this.
"If you have a problem with the cart, weíll leave your village and your planet; thereís no need for judgment."
"And weíre not letting you destroy the cart!" Jack put in, moving protectively closer to Jaffa.
"You will be judged," the elder hissed. "The Ancestors will be appeased and will keep the Wraith from finding us."
"If we are to be judged, can we at least speak on our own behalf?"
Sighing as he tried to work the kinks out of his back, Jack moved to the side and leaned a hand on the altar. His eyebrows rose when the thing in the middle started to glow under its covering, but that was nothing to the villagersí reaction.
A moment later all the natives were prostrate on the ground facing the altar, and Jack was left blinking in surprise at Cadman.
"Whatever it is youíre doing, keep doing it," she commented before moving closer to peer at the object and gasping. "Oh my God, Rodneyís going to have a fit."
Jack leaned closer to see what had surprised her, and he raised an eyebrow. "Huh. Thatís one of those ZPM thingies, isnít it?"
"Thatís exactly what it is. Damn it, I wish Dr. Kavanagh was awake; we need to know how much power this thing has left in it."
"I really donít think these people are going to be into us taking it with us, no matter how much power it has," Jack pointed out, looking around at the still prone villagers. "They seem pretty attached to it."
"True," she sighed, glancing around. "The question is, will this prove to them we arenít here to call the wrath of the Ancestors down on them?"
"The Ancestors have returned!" the headman finally managed to moan. "Forgive us for not recognizing you!"
"Um, I think that would be an affirmative, maíam."
Ignoring the comment, Laura turned to the headman. "This is why we kept telling you that the cart wasnít a demon. It is one of the Ancestorsí helpers, and to do it injury would be a very bad thing."
A collective moan arose from the villagers, and Jack hissed, "Tone it down, Lieutenant. We donít want them all to commit ritual suicide or something!"
"Iíd really rather not have them decide they made a mistake and shoot us again when weíre leaving, Lieutenant," she hissed back before taking a deep breath. "Now that you understand what has happened, we will be returning to our home. Others like us may visit, and if they do, show them the courtesy you did not show us. You will recognize them because they will bring a cart as we did."
By now Harrison and Kavanagh were starting to stir, so Jack helped to them their feet, Jaffa offering support, and started urging them back toward the gate. "Címon, guys, explanations later. We need to make tracksósilently!" he added with a ferocious glare at Kavanagh, "back to the gate now."
"I have an arrow in my butt!" Kavanagh exclaimed.
"Which Iím sure Dr. Beckett will treat once we get back to Atlantis," Laura hissed. "Now walk, Doctor!"
"Or Jaffa will pinch you to urge you on. Heís been taking lessons from Rover," Jack put in, trying to hasten their pace.
"But..." Kavanagh began.
Laura reached out and yanked the arrow from his ass. "Walk, Doctor; Sgt. Harrison was shot as well, and heís managing it."
All three soldiers gave Kavanagh coldly toothy grins, and Jaffa clacked his pincers, making the scientist almost scurry forward. Jack and Laura exchanged satisfied grins behind his back before following him at more dignified pace.
"Do me a favor and have Jaffa scan behind him," Laura murmured as they left the confines of the village. "I want to make sure they arenít following us."
Jack gave her a spare nod before thinking the instructions to the cart. "Heíll warn me if anyone does." The whole mental connection with technology thing still freaked him out, but Jack had to admit it gave them a definite tactical advantage.
"Good." She nodded tightly, obviously not comfortable with leaving their backs exposed to the village. "And thank you, Lt. OíNeill."
"Just doing my job, maíam. A missionís not complete if someone doesnít start worshipping me." He quirked a grin.
She chuckled at that. "At least you didnít have to die or get married."
"There is that. Divorce makes it so much harder to get to know people."
"Why is it all the men here are taken, gay, or in my chain of command?" Laura sighed. "Or some combination of the three?"
Lisa chuckled. "Hey, there are a few straight ones. Iíve found two so far." She refilled her glass of wine and toasted Laura. "And you could always transfer OíNeill to another team."
"Minor problem, heís one of the gay ones." She sipped her wine and looked at Lisa, who was staring at her. "Oh, come on, you havenít heard about Gen. OíNeill and Dr. Jackson?"
"Of course I have. Iíve met them. But heís not gay, heís bi. Or havenít you heard about his wife and son?"
Lauraís eyebrows rose. "No, I hadnít heard about them," she admitted, "but that doesnít mean anything."
"The general has almost of much of a Kirk reputation as the colonel," Lisa laughed. "Iíve noticed that there are a hell of a lot of bi people in the SGC. I think that, hrm, flexibility may be part of the personality type thatís open to this job to begin with."
"Oh, and what am I supposed to say: So, OíNeill, are you leaning more towards men or women this time around, and if itís women, would you mind if I kick you off my team so I can jump you?"
"Did you learn that subtlety from Rodney?" Lisa laughed.
Laura picked up a roll and threw it at Lisa.
"Thanks, I am a bit hungry." Lisa took a bite. "Seriously, youíre a woman. Surely you can tell if a man is interested, even if heís not doing anything about it."
"Should I bring up a certain Marcus Bates?"
"I was in mourning," Lisa retorted before chuckling. "And he was just so damn irritating. How was I supposed to know he was hot under all that?
"You really should go for it with OíNeill, Laura. Someoneís going to go after him. Heís too hot to be on his own."
"Heís on my team, Lisa, and Iíd feel like an idiot going to Col. Sheppard and explaining thatís why I wanted him off."
Lisa shrugged easily. "Iím pretty sure the colonelís heard stranger things. I know weíve heard stranger things from him."
"Mostly dealing with Rodney," Laura chuckled.
"Very true. But I think the real question here is, are you interested in him? If so, go for it. If things do work out, then he can transfer."
"And if they donít, he will transfer. Damn it, I hate feeling stupid; I went through that enough with Dr. Beckett!"
"Well, your other option is to start a Pegasus chapter of some nunnery!"
"Katie might be up for that. Dr. Heightmeyer too."
Lisa threw the local equivalent of a grape at Lauraís head. "Would you ask the man to have dinner with you already!"
"Maybe after the next mission." Laura said, dodging the missile.
"I swear, if I wasnít already seeing Marcus, Iíd ask Jack out just to light a fire under you!"
"Hey, I can deal with being turned down for a man once, but twice? No thank you!"
Lisa growled. "Youíre an idiot. And youíre going to deserve being miserable when someone else gets him if you donít do something about it!"
Laura glowered at the other woman. "With friends like you, who needs mothers!"
"You obviously need someone to give you a kick in the ass!"
"Fine, after the mission, Iíll see if he wants to have dinner. Does that meet with your approval, Mom?"
"Good girl. Now make sure you finish all your homework before going out to play."
"Bitch," Laura grumbled.
"I love you too. And you," Lisa laughed when Loki nudged her after collecting the various missiles she and Laura had thrown at each other.
"Times like this, I rally wish the gene therapy had taken with me." Laura reached out to stroke Lokiís sensor array when he rolled over to her.
"So you did try it? I wondered." Lisa patted Loki absently. "I guess it just goes to prove that some people are one hundred percent human, no Ancient genes anywhere."
"Which isnít a plus here."
Lisa shrugged. "Itíd be worse if you were a hard scientist or even an anthropologist. They interact with Ancient artifacts all the time. But a soldier doesnít really need it, aside from flying the jumpers. Besides, every team has at least one person with the gene, preferably two as a backup. You donít need it."
"And if I kick OíNeill off my team, I have no one," Laura sighed. "And yes, Iím feeling sorry for myself, so donít say it!"
"Take the shot," Lisa advised.
"Iíll need a shot after this."
"I have tequila."
"Gimme, I may need it before as well."
Lisa was still laughing when Loki set the bottle on the table between them. "Sorry, no limes. Weíll just have to rough it."
"We never have any citrus here; I think itís Rodneyís fault."
"Well, fresh fruit is pretty hard to get when itís an eighteen day trip to deliver it," Lisa pointed out. "And yeah, itís easier to keep citrus to a minimum. Rodneyís much more useful alive." She shuddered and poured herself a shot when she thought about Col. Sheppardís and Roverís reactions if anything happened to him.
"Iím not arguing that fact; I like the guy."
"And if anyone would know if heís likable or not, you would."
Laura chuckled. "Not that it didnít make me appreciate the man, I just never want to go through that again."
"I think pretty much everyone would agree with that. The colonel and Rover especially!"
"Most definitely!" Laura laughed.
"So if you want someone to worry about you like that, youíre going to have to go after Jack OíNeill." Lisa smiled smugly.
"Hey, I outrank you; donít give me orders," Laura laughed before sticking her tongue out at Lisa.
"Fine, should I get you a vibrator for your birthday then?"
"Pornoís fine," Laura grinned.
"Iíll get you a copy of the recording of Rodney and the colonel then," Lisa laughed.
"No way, Iím not watching them!"
Lisa nearly fell off the couch, she was laughing so hard. "Youíre awfully picky."
"It was enough that I was in Rodneyís head; I donít need to see him and the colonel... Ewwww!"
"It was audio only. Which was more than enough for the rest of the city," Lisa snickered. "The colonel had a little accident with the cityís PA system."
Laura shuddered. "I donít care who it is; I donít need to see, hear, or think about people I know getting funky, and that includes you and Bates!"
"You have no idea what youíre missing," Lisa purred.
"Are you inviting me to join you?"
"God, Iím tempted just to see the expression on Marcusí face," Lisa chortled. "Heíd look like heíd just swallowed a porcupine."
"And then faint and youíd end up spending the night in the infirmary with him."
"Playing doctor can be fun."
"Iím sure Dr. Zelenka thinks thatís true."
Lisa chuckled warmly. "Soldiers are good too."
"In other words, get my butt in gear and let him know Iím interested."
"See, I knew you were more than just a pretty face."
"Look whoís talking. Now, are you going to hog all that tequila or give me some more?"
Laughing, Lisa poured them both another shot.. "We could go on a double date."
"Uh, no! If he says yes, Iíd like him to myself for a bit!"
"Letís hope the rest of the universe cooperates."
"It would be a miracle."
"I think I like this planet," Jack observed, smiling again at the gathered tribal leaders, the chiefís granddaughter in particular."
"Just make sure you donít wind up married," Laura commented as she watched Jaffa take a flower over to the dark-haired young woman.
"For her I might be willing to pay alimony," Jack murmured.
"Donít make us have to save you when her large male relatives come after you," she sighed.
"Iíll make sure sheís very, very happy." Jack grinned at Cadman before moving toward the smiling woman.
"Day late and a dollar short as usual, Laura," she sighed to herself before looking around to check on Harrison and Dr. Kavanagh.
Jack looked over Shariaís shoulder, watching the lieutenant move away, and for a moment he allowed himself to wish... But that was impossible, and he firmly quashed the thought, concentrating on the pretty, available woman on his arm.
"Iíve never met a man like you," she purred, leaning into his side.
"Iím one of a kind. Almost," Jack added under his breath. "Maybe youíd like to get to know each other better?"
"Iíd enjoy that greatly." She rested her head against his shoulder and sighed happily as they walked away from the central village.
"Your family isnít going to try to kill me to redeem your honor or anything like that, are they?" he asked suspiciously. This all seemed to be going much too easily for an off-world encounter.
She laughed and squeezed his arm. "Of course not! You are honored guests!"
"Just checking." Jack slid his arm around her waist and drew her closer. "So is there someplace private weíre heading to?"
"Unless youíd rather be in public," she teased.
"Um, no, some things are better without an audience."
"Then come with me." She caught his hand, urging him toward a quiet building away from the central buildings.
"Coming," Jack replied cheerfully, knowing she wouldnít understand the double entendre.
"Men," Laura sighed to herself when all three of her team members disappeared with local women during the evening.
"Do you not care for men, LieutenantLauraCadman?" one of the local men asked her as he stopped at her side. "If that is so, one of our women would be happy to pass the dark with you."
She smiled gamely. "Thank you, but thatís not the case."
"Then perhaps you would do me the honor of accepting my company?"
"I appreciate the offer, but it isnít my custom to spend the dark with people I donít know."
Looking confused, the young man looked in the directions the three male members of her team had disappeared and then back at her.
"Different people from our land have different customs," she explained carefully. "I mean you no disrespect."
"I take no offense," he replied with equal care. "I will admit to some disappointment, however," he added with a very masculine glance of appreciation.
She chuckled quietly. "I feel the same, though I wouldnít mind spending the evening talking to you."
"I would be honored. And I hope you will take no offense if I attempt to persuade you to change your customs."
"None at all, in fact, Iím looking forward to your attempts."
"I am Telev." He bowed slightly as he reintroduced himself, knowing that she was unlikely to remember all the names of the people who had been presented to her that day.
"Itís good to meet you Televóagain," she laughed. "Your people are very welcoming."
"We enjoy meeting new people. And it is helpful to our population to bring in outside strengths. Women who bear children resulting from welcomings are greatly honored."
"Thatís very wise of you," Laura smiled, wondering if Jack, Calvin or Robert had any idea they might be fathering a child that night.
"It has been our custom as long as anyone can remember. And we find it a very pleasant one. Even when no child results, it is most enjoyable." He sidled a little closer.
"Iím sure it can be and is."
"But you still donít wish to experience it for yourself."
"Iím sorry if you donít understand, but I prefer to know something more about a person than their name before sleeping with them."
"Ah, I think I begin to understand. You equate the act of welcoming with true pairing." Telev looked somewhat taken aback.
"Forgive me if I offend unintentionally, but that seems very odd to me." Telev shook his head. "It would be like saying that I can only ever eat the one food that I love most and never enjoy any others."
Laura chuckled and nodded. "No offense taken, and I can understand your position; itís one many people of my land share."
"Among your people, there can be different customs? I have only heard of this with people from different worlds. How marvelous your world must be!"
"It is, but sadly the people with different customs donít always get along."
After thinking for a moment, Telev nodded. "Yes, I can see where it might be a problem. If, for instance, you had been offended by our customs, or us by yours, we might have argued rather than learning from one another."
"Exactly, and when you factor in the idea that we all donít speak the same language, itís quite a challenge."
"The ring of the Ancestors does not allow everyone to understand each other? That is by the far the strangest thing you have said."
"Most on my world donít know of the ring of the Ancestors, and if they did, there would be many battles to control it."
"Even stranger," Telev said after a moment. "Your world sounds unlike any other I have ever heard described. I am glad our peoples have met. I think we will learn much from each other."
Laura smiled as she nodded. "I agree; if all the people of my world could learn to be as welcoming as yours, the world would be a much better place.
"It will be our very great pleasure to demonstrate our ways."
"Somehow, I thought that might be the case."
Telev smiled and leaned in to kiss her, moving slowly enough for her to stop him if this too was unwelcome to her.
"Mmm," Laura murmured once his lips left hers. "You make it difficult to remember my customs."
The dark eyes sparkled warmly against his naturally bronzed skin, and Telev chuckled. "Good. Perhaps if I keep trying, you will forget them entirely."
"Perhaps," she allowed, running a hand down his muscular chest. "But if not, Iíll enjoy your company until you must go."
Telev raised a hand to cover her, pressing it to his skin. "And I yours." He raised her hand to his lips, first pressing a kiss to the palm and then beginning to gently nibble and suck each finger, one after the other.
Laura sighed and reached up with her free hand to stroke Televís long, dark hair, her breath catching in her throat as he tasted her fingers. Telev slowly released her hand from his mouth and was leaning closer for another kiss when he felt something slam into his legs and he tumbled to the ground.
"What?" Laura gasped. "TelevóJaffa!" She pushed the cart back away from the now prone man. "If you want to bother someone, go bother your owner!"
Jaffa stubbornly pushed back between Laura and Telev, clearly determined to remain.
"Is this another custom of your people?" Telev asked from the ground, having decided he was safest there for the moment.
"What the hellís going on out here? And why didnít anyone tell me the carts can yell?" Jack demanded, stomping up to them wearing nothing but his pants and dog tags. "Well, mentally, not verbally," he added before anyone could ask, "but I sure as hell knew he wanted me."
"I have no idea," Laura snapped, pushing past Jaffa to help Telev to his feet. "Are you all right?"
"I am well." He regarded the cart warily, stepping away from her when it moved closer. "It would seem that your device shares your customs and means to enforce them."
Jack blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
"Iíll explain later, and it would seem so. Lt. OíNeill, is there a problem with your cart that we donít know about?"
"If so, I donít know about it either. But I donít think thereís anything wrong with him; I think heís upset about something." Jack crouched down, and Jaffa immediately pressed close while Jack patted his sensor array. "Whatís wrong, J? What got you going?"
"You device seems to have taken a dislike to me," Telev offered from behind Laura.
"Maybe you should take him inside with you," Laura offered.
"Yeah, I guess so. Please accept my apologies," Jack said to Telev as he stood up, trying to urge Jaffa away, but the cart wouldnít move. "Jaffa, whatís your problem?" Jack exclaimed in exasperation, and Jaffa darted forward, pushing between Laura and Telev again.
Jackís eyes widened. "Oh."
Frowning, Laura squatted down in front of the cart. "Jaffa, Iím past the age of needing a chaperone, so get your metal butt in there with Jack, or youíre going to be trying to pinch people with no pincers!"
The cart shimmied in place, but he didnít move away. Jack groaned and raked a hand through his hair. "Um, itís not exactly his fault. I think. I, um... Oh shit!" The last was a heartfelt exclamation.
Telev frowned as he observed the offworldersí interaction, and suddenly he thought he understood. "Oh!"
"If either of you says Ďohí one more time, Iím going to be tempted to shoot you!"
"I should let you rest," Telev said, starting to back away with an apologetic glance at Jack.
"Fine, go right ahead." Laura watched him go before turning her glare to Jack. "So, is your cart going to interrupt Dr. Kavanagh or Sgt. Harrison next?"
"Wonderful, Iím so happy to hear that."
Jack sighed. He looked around to stall for time and noticed that Leila had disappeared as well, probably around the same time Telev did. "Look, Jaffa and I have a stronger connection than most. Because of the gene." He hesitated, not sure how to continue and really wishing for something to save him from this conversation.
"And, uh, sometimes he responds to subconscious desires." Jack was staring fixedly at his feet.
"So apparently because of you he thinks itís fine for you three to go and get your rocks off while I should sit here and drink tea?"
"No, damnit, he thought you shouldnít be going off with someone else!" Jack nearly yelled before staring at his feet again. "Maíam."
"As opposed to whom?" Laura asked through gritted teeth.
Looking hunted, Jack ground out, "Me."
"You." She glanced first at the cart, then at the bare-chested man. "And it was fine for you to go off to the little welcoming party?"
Resigned to having this conversation that heíd never wanted, Jack bit back a sigh. "I said it was subconscious. Youíre my CO. I know that what I might want doesnít figure into it."
"Funny, in everything I heard about Jack OíNeill, it never included him being a defeatist."
The brown eyes narrowed slightly, and that was all the warning Laura got before she was yanked against a bare chest and kissed.
Laura stiffened at the abrupt action, then relaxed, though she pulled back before the kiss could deepen. "When we go back, Iím going to talk to Col. Sheppard."
"Iím going to go with the optimistic approach and assume itíll be about reassignment and not a firing squad."
She had to laugh at that, and nodded. "Reassignment takes us out of line of command and removes the main issue."
"The only real issue. Or were there others I didnít notice?"
"No, no, I suppose there arenít; any questions I had about your orientation were answered when you went off with Hot Lips there."
Jackís eyebrows rose. "My orientation?"
Now it was Lauraís turn to clear her throat. "Considering Gen. OíNeill and Dr. Jackson and the fact that a lot of you is Gen. OíNeill... yes, your orientation."
"Huh. Okay, point. However, ex-wife Sara? Those missions I alluded to earlier? Lots more women than men." Jack shrugged easily.
"Point taken and is it just me or does Jaffa look very smug?"
"I refuse to give him the satisfaction of looking."
"Good idea, but so you know, heís radiating smugness."
"I know. I can feel it," Jack sighed. "And I suppose we should wait till Iím reassigned to do anything about this," he said reluctantly without making any more to release her.
She nodded and rubbed her thumb over his chest. "We should, if only because I donít want to shoot Dr. Kavanagh in the morning for the comments he would make."
"Hmm, well, if you shoot Kavanagh, Rodney will probably kiss you. And then Iíd have to shoot Rodney, and Sheppard would shoot me. Dr. Weir would probably not be pleased."
"And donít forget that Rover and Jaffa would get into a fight in the middle of it all, so itís better to wait."
"In that case, do you have any plans for tomorrow night?"
"Now I do, unless of course that was a rhetorical question."
"Nope. That was my last line of defense against getting shot down when I ask you on a date."
"Would it salve your male ego if I asked you to dinner tomorrow?"
"Hmm, Iím not sure. It might bruise my manhood instead, but I think Iíll chance it if you will."
"I promise to kiss it and make it better if it gets bruised," Laura chuckled.
"This sounds promising. I think things are looking up."
"Now we just have to make it through the night."
Jack leaned back to give her a wistful once-over. "This is going to be a very long night."
"I meant without anything happening here, but yeah, the other applies as well."
Jaffa came up behind Jack and pushed him into Laura.
"A very long night," Jack sighed once heíd regained his balance.
"Col. Sheppard, do you have a moment?"
John looked up with relief. "Considering that youíre saving me from paperwork, you can have two. Hell, you can have ten, the whole damn day if you want it. Unless itís Kavanagh again. Iíd just have to shoot him the way this day has been going."
"No, sir." Laura chuckled quietly. "He was actually in a very good mood on this last mission. Itís regarding Lt. OíNeill."
"Kavanagh was in a good mood?" John repeated, momentarily distracted. "Did you touch that quantum mirror? Never mind, what about Jack?"
Laura took a deep breath. "Iíd like him reassigned to another team."
Startled, John straightened up in his chair. "Reassigned? Is there a problem? I thought youíd get along."
"Thatís the problemóor not the problem, sir. We get along too well, and it would be betterópersonallyóif he was on another team."
"Huh? Oh!" John tried unsuccessfully to hide a grin. "I see. Well, Iíll speak to Lt. Lindstrom, but if she has no objection, we can swap Lt. OíNeill and Sgt. Matthews. That way youíll still have a team member with the gene, although no cart."
"I think the team can survive that, sir. In fact, Iím sure Dr. Kavanagh will be pleased."
John sniggered. "Yeah, I can imagine that OíNeill rode him pretty hard."
Laura bit back a laugh at the memory of the way Kavanagh had been walking that morning. "Heís not the only one, though I was speaking about the carts and the team not having one."
John grinned wickedly at that. "Yeah, he has a few issues with the carts. I think it has something to do with Rover hating the very air he breathes."
"Which has nothing to do with Rodney hating the air he breathes, Iím sure."
"Absolutely nothing at all."
Unable to keep a straight face any longer, Laura burst out laughing. John followed suit, and it was a while before they got themselves under control. "Rodneyís not very subtle, is he?" John finally said, still chuckling.
"Not in the least, sir," she laughed, "especially when it comes to things he does or doesnít like."
"And here I thought people might find it hard to tell the difference between his feelings for Kavanagh and for me."
"Somehow I find that hard to believe," she grinned.
"Smart woman. Thatís why I made you a team leader."
"I do my best, sir."
"You tell OíNeill to keep you happy or heíll have me to answer to," John said, trying to sound fatherly but having trouble keeping a straight face.
"He might be more worried if I told him heíd have to answer to Rodney."
"Oh, he will. And donít forget Rover. Weíre a set."
"Iíll be sure to tell him," she promised.
John chuckled. "You probably wonít have to; Iím pretty sure Rover will make it clear. He hovers sometimes. In all senses of the word."
"Heíd just better not hover too close; Jaffa might take offense."
Laughing, John surrendered. "Good thing itís never likely to be an issue. From what Iíve heard and know about Jack OíNeill, heís a good guy."
She nodded, her smile softening. "Yes, sir, that he is."
"Best wishes to you both, Lieutenant." John suddenly snickered. "Only you could manage to get an older man and a younger man all in one."
"Just so long as no clones of Dr. Jackson show up, I think I can handle it, sir," she laughed.
"Clones? Dr. Jackson? What are the two of you talking about?" Rodney asked as he walked into Johnís office, making notes on his datapad.
"We were just discussing Lt. Cadman and OíNeillís new couple-hood," John replied, automatically patting Rover when the cart passed by.
"OíNeill? Isnít he too old for you? Mentally I mean?"
"Sir, Iím leaving before Iím forced to strangle Dr. McKay," Laura said quickly, sidestepping around Rover when the cart darted back toward her.
"Thank you for your restraint," John called after her, laughing.
When she was gone, Rodney leaned over Johnís desk, looking at him intently. "Okay, spill."
John stared back innocently. "What?"
"What what? Details, man! Now!"
"Are you implying that you expect me to divulge confidential personal details about people under my command? Rodney, Iím shocked. Shocked and appalled."
"And youíre going to tell me, or youíre also going to be celibate!"
"Thereís no need to get nasty!" John started laughing. "Besides, itís not as if I know a lot more. Cadman asked me to transfer OíNeill off her team because theyíre getting involved personally. If you want more details than that, send Rover to talk to Jaffa."
"I just may," Rodney sniffed, "youíre no help at all."
"Iím not a mind reader, and itís not like she started giving me every detail for you to salivate over. You want to know, go ask her! She considers you a friend for some reason, so she might even tell you." John shook his head, eyeing Rodney with fond exasperation.
"I donít want to salivate over details!" Rodney sputtered. "Iím just curious is all!"
"Yes, Rodney. Whatever you say, Rodney."
"Good answer, I like it."
John rolled his eyes. "Care to make better use of it?"
"I thought you had paperwork to do."
"Gee, paperwork or you. Itís a tough choice."
"Then why are we sitting here?"
"Hey, Lisa, we need to make a trade," Laura called when she saw the blonde Marine in the mess hall.
Lisa eyed her friend curiously. "And what exactly are we trading? ĎCause your lipstick would look like hell on me."
"Yes, it would," Laura laughed, "and not lipstick, personnel."
"Iím not taking Kavanagh!"
"Not him!" Laura laughed, "OíNeill. For Matthews."
"Why would you want to..." Lisaís eyes widened. "Give, girl!"
Laura flushed slightly. "We found the planet of free love, and apparently Jaffa didnít like the idea that I might take advantage of that."
"Okay, I want the address. I wouldnít mind dragging Marcus away for R&R," Lisa chuckled. "So, you and OíNeill, huh? Nice!"
Laura chuckled. "I somehow donít think that Marcus would appreciate all those men offering to share the dark with youóthough they were pretty damn hot." She grinned again and bumped into Lisa. "And yeah, not yet, but yeah; weíre having dinner tonight."
Lisa grinned back. "So much for complaining about no available men here," she teased. "You caught one with stamina and experience."
"And a very nice chest too," Laura snickered. "Now I just need to figure out what to wear tonight."
"With your coloring? Please! Iíll bet a monthís salary youíve got a little black dress thatíll make him sit up and beg."
"Maybe," Laura admitted, "though these things are easier when you donít have this much time to think about them!"
"Oh please. Youíre a woman, heís a man, you want each other, and you took care of the only problem. Have fun!"
"Itís always so much easier when itís someone elseís love-life youíre talking about," Laura laughed before sticking her tongue out at the other woman.
"So jump the handsome lieutenant and then we can worry about Katieís love life," Lisa retorted.
"There you go; thereís always Dr. ParrishÖ" Laura mused.
Lisa burst into laughter. "What is it about Atlantis? Itís like Noahís arc, two by two."
"Isolated outpost, life-threatening situations; can you blame people for wanting some human comfort?"
"Hardly. Iíve fallen in love twice since I got here, after all," Lisa replied. "Though that doesnít really explain the yenta factor."
"Boredom?" Laura asked innocently.
"Speak for yourself! I have plenty to keep me occupied in my free time," Lisa laughed.
"And it looks like Iíll have more nowónot that Iím complaining!"
"I should hope not! Dr. Jackson always had a smile on his face in the morning."
"You know, Iím really not going to think about that right now if you donít mind; no matter how he started, Jackís a different person from Gen. OíNeill, and I need to go arrange something for dinner. Talk to you later!"
"Have fun!" Inspired by their conversation, Lisa tossed the rest of her meal and went in search of Marcus Bates to see if she could convince him to take a long lunch.
Jack surprised himself with his nervousness when he arrived at Lauraís door that evening, but he triggered a chime to let her know he was there.
"Hi," she smiled, stepping back from the door after it slid open to invite him inside. "And hello to you too, Jaffa."
The cart shimmied in place, clearly pleased by the date, and Jack chuckled. "I think itís safe to say he approves." He took a long look at her. "You look beautiful."
Laura smoothed a hand down the sleeveless black dress, and a slight flush colored her cheeks. "Thank you; I like the shirt, though the shirtless look last night was pretty nice as well."
"I thought weíd work our way back up to that." Jack leaned in, giving her a chance to stop him if she wanted to, and his lips settled against hers in a gentle, exploratory kiss. Chuckling quietly, Laura slid her arms around Jackís neck and leaned into the kiss, opening her mouth beneath his and welcoming the way their tongues slid together. Jack drew her closer, his hands sliding up from her hips to explore her curves.
"Mmm," Laura sighed, leaning against him and tangling her fingers in his short hair.
"If we donít go to dinner soon, youíre going to need your weapon to chase me out of here," Jack warned, pulling her closer.
Laura chuckled quietly and leaned back enough to focus on his face. "And since I donít want you to go hungry, weíd better go."
"I hope Iíll get a raincheck on this part of the evening?"
"I was planning on coffee and dessert back here so what do you think?" Laura stepped into a pair of low, strappy heels and shook her hair back out of her face. "So, off we go."
"Off we go." Jack slid an arm around her waist as they walked out of her quarters. "Itís going to be weird going out with a new team tomorrow."
"I assume Lisa came and talked to you today?" she asked, settling her arm around his waist as well and leaning comfortably against him.
"Yup. And Col. Sheppard stopped by too, though he mostly smirked. There are moments when I really wish I still outranked him."
Laura chuckled at that. "And just what would you have done?"
"Made him do security sweeps for a month!"
"Rodney would have set Rover on you for that, and speaking of Rodney, did he come to talk to you too?"
"He walked past, but he didnít stop. I can still do the glare," Jack chuckled.
"Shame on you, youíre going to be lucky not to have cold showers for the next month at this rate."
"Naw, he likes you, and he wonít be sure when or if youíll be sharing those showers."
"This is Rodney; heíd set up sensors."
"Good point. I may have to move in with you."
"Moving in before weíve even gotten to our first dinner together? Now that sounds more like what Iíve heard about Gen. OíNeill."
"Iíll wait till after dinner to pack."
She burst into laughter at that and glanced back to see if Jaffa was still with them. "Just checking to see if he was going to do it alreadyóthat subconscious thing."
"Heíll wait till I tell him to," Jack laughed.
"Glad to hear it, and we just need to pick up our meal."
"I was hoping for a private meal," Jack admitted. "Having everyone watching us isnít my idea of a relaxing first date."
"God, no; thereís enough gossip here without sitting through it," she nodded. "There are some balconies over the west pier that people have set up tables on; we can use one of those, and Jaffa can guard the door."
"Dating someone with a good grasp of tactical planning is obviously a plus," Jack chuckled. "I think Iím going to like my second life even better than my first."
"And weíll try to keep your marriages and deaths at a minimum!"
"Iím thinking that one of each will do me, and a very long time from now for that second one."
Laura nodded emphatically. "Weíll make that a priority." They reached a transporter, and she touched the map, sending them to the spot nearest to their destination.
"Iíd appreciate any help you can give me. On either one."
"How about I promise to save you from dying, marrying alien priestesses and princesses, and cold showers," she vowed solemnly.
"I think thatíll work for me. Iíd like a few details on how you plan to manage the last couple though."
"Chastity belt, and Iíll remind Rodney Iíve seen him naked; that should do it," she answered with a wink.
"Not quite what I was hoping for," Jack retorted, trying not to cringe.
"How about I keep you too tired to think about looking at them and agree to share my hot water with you?"
"That sounds more promising... again depending on how you plan to accomplish it."
"Now, Lieutenant, you know a good strategist never gives away their plans ahead." They walked into the mess hall, and there was an audible drop in the conversation level as people turned to look at the new arrivals.
"Nothing to see here, folks, go on about your business," Jack said loudly, glaring at one captain who flinched away, remembering the older Jack OíNeill. "Maybe we should make an announcement and get it over with," he muttered to Laura.
"Go right ahead," she laughed, waiting to see just what he would say.
"I didnít mean... Oh what the hell." Jack looked around. "Okay, people, Lt. Cadman and I are seeing each other. Now leave us alone!"
"Very nice," she commented, giving him a kiss on the cheek, "now letís get our food and get out of here."
"Good plan. I think theyíre regrouping for another attack."
"Then double-time it, soldier; youíve got the cart, use him!"
"Yes, maíam!" Jack snapped a salute while Jaffa had already zipped up to the counter and was quickly grabbing enough food for both of them.
"Hold on, Jaffa, there should be a tray in the back for us," Laura called.
Jaffa hesitated and put back the food heíd grabbed, then went into the kitchen to find what Laura had ordered.
"Should we go help him?"
"Naw, heís good. Weíll guard our means of egress."
"He takes after his owner," she murmured before chuckling when Jaffa trundled out of the kitchen bearing a tray and carrying a bottle of wine in his pincers.
"Which means heís just about perfect. After you." Jack gestured grandly toward the door, Jaffa already on his way out.
"Why thank you, Lieutenant," she replied graciously, following the cart back into the transporter and then out in the hallway near the spire they were heading to.
"So, how many people do you think will be lying wait for us at breakfast to try to get details?"
She groaned. "How many people have you met over the past month?"
He groaned too. "Think we can make a break for the stargate?"
"Donít worry," she laughed, "Iím sure Rodney and Col. Sheppard will do something noteworthy soon, and people will focus on them again."
Jack snorted. "Iím not sure if thatís actually comforting."
"Maybe not, but it is entertaining." She touched a panel on the wall, and the door opened to reveal a mid-sized room that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the dark ocean.
"Nice view," Jack said as he went out onto the balcony and looked out over the water that stretched to the horizon in every direction. "Nice romantic flair, Lieutenant."
"All I did was bring the candles up; the Ancients did the rest." She smiled back at him as she walked over to the table on the balcony and lit the candles in the center.
"You picked a good spot." Jack came over to the table. "Do you know if this area is cleared for living quarters? I wouldnít mind laying claim to this room. I have a feeling itís going to have some good memories."
"Iím not sure, but it would be easy enough to find outóin the morning." Jaffa held out the bottle of wine and Laura patted the cart before accepting it. "Thank you for the help, Jaffa."
The cart shimmied happily before going to settle in a corner of the room, leaving the two of them alone on the balcony.
"He definitely approves," Jack chuckled.
"Of course thereís the small matter of there being no furniture in here other than the table," Laura commented, uncovering the trays that Jaffa had set on the table.
"Yeah, a bed would be good," Jack started, only to stare into the room in disbelief when one extruded from a wall. "Um."
Laura stifled a giggle behind a hand. "Should we see what else the city will give you?"
"I think Iím afraid to find out!"
"Just so you know, if itís some leftover Ancient man or woman, Iím tossing them over the balcony!"
"And Iím fine with that," Jack laughed, relaxing again and sitting down at the table. "Are you ever planning to open that wine?" He nodded at the bottle she was still holding.
"Did the bed scare you so much you need a drink?" she teased, finding the corkscrew and opening the bottle, pouring them each a glass of the fragrant red.
He made a face at her. "Does the city do that kind of thing often?"
"I donít know; I donít have the gene," she sighed. "But Col. Sheppard could probably tell you."
"I think Iíll ignore it and hope it goes away. At least for tonight. Iíd much rather concentrate on you."
"Thatís much safer for all of us." She handed him one of the glasses and kept the other for herself.
"And a lot more fun for us in particular." Jack toasted her with the wine before taking a sip.
She nodded and raised her glass as well. "Most definitely. Iím looking forward to seeing how much fun."
"Me too. I like your style, Laura."
"Thanks, and ditto, and I do mean your style."
Jack smiled. "I wasnít really worrying about that. After all, you never really knew older me. And weíre not the same person any more. In case you were wondering about that."
"I didnít think that was the case any longer," she commented as they sat down. "Youíve got your own life now."
"Exactly. And I like the way itís going."
"Having a cart to run your life?" she teased.
"Now that I never expected. Although maybe I should have. But I was thinking more about a certain pretty and deadly redhead."
"I like that idea, not that Iím going to try to run your life too muchóexcept to tell you we should start eating before this gets cold."
"Whatever you say, maíam." Jack grinned at her and dug into his meal.
"And stop with the maíam. I feel enough like a cradle-robber no matter how old your brain is!"
Jack chuckled. "And if I thought about it, Iíd feel like a dirty old man. Charlie would be about your age if heíd lived. But I was referring to ranks not ages, Laura."
"Even then; I donít intend to be giving you orders over dinner or in bed, so we can put aside the rank part."
"Whatever you say... Laura." He hesitated just long enough to make her think he was going to say maíam again then grinned at her. "Though Iím not against the occasional order, you understand."
"Oh really?" she smiled slowly. "Well, weíll just have to see when and if that situation comes... up."
"I imagine a lot of things will come up around you."
"I hope they donít get strained."
"I might need a little help to handle the situation."
"Iíd be glad to helpóunless of course you mean Jaffa or Dr. Beckett." She smiled sweetly and took a bite of her meal.
"I donít think either of them would do." He eyed her over the table. "This is going to be very interesting."
"How soóother than the obvious that is."
"Weíre going to fight as much as anything else. Which isnít a complaint. Iíve never been interested in passive sorts. And the makeup sex is gonna be great."
Laura burst into laughter. "I like you, Jack; I really do." She toed off a shoe and rubbed her foot against his calf. "I really do."
He swallowed hard as he shifted in his seat. "Right back atcha." He saluted her with his wineglass again, his eyes intent on her.
Enjoying the attention, Laura nibbled at a carrotish vegetable, her hazel eyes warm.
Jack inhaled sharply and shifted again, never looking away from her mouth.
"If you keep looking at me like that, weíre going to be giving up on this meal soon," she murmured.
"The only reason weíre still eating is that I donít want you to think Iím a selfish guy whoís only interested in one thing."
"So just how many things are you interested in?"
"Pretty much everything. Iíve never been involved with someone in the military before. I think Iím looking forward to it."
"I havenít either, and I know I am." Laura set her utensils down and finished her wine. "No point in pretending to eat any more, is there?"
"We can snack later." Jack stood and came around the table, holding out a hand to her.
"Iím sure Jaffa will bring the leftovers." She stood and slipped her hand into his, tugging him in for a kiss as she did so.
"Or we could stay right here since the room so kindly created a bed for us." Jack smiled at her before lowering his head for another kiss, drawing her flush against him.
"True, but if we stay here, we eventually have to move," Laura countered, grinning as she ran a hand over his back.
"If only for clean clothes in the morning. Though Iíll bet Jaffa would go get those for us." Jack walked them over to the wall and leaned into her, letting her feel his growing erection.
"Youíre very convincing, Jack," Laura murmured, rocking against him and feeling herself grow wet.
"Itís all that experience," he said against her ear, nibbling the tender lobe while his hands slid down to cup her ass and raise her, urging her to wrap her legs around his waist.
"Smug bastard," she countered even as she tightened her legs around him, the move drawing a gasp from her as they pressed together.
"Thatís me." Jack slid a hand between her legs, rubbing her through her panties from behind while continuing to rock against her. Laura groaned and nipped at his lower lip while tugging at his shirt to get at the bare skin beneath.
"God, I want you," he rasped, hitching her higher against him so their groins lined up perfectly.
"Then we need to get rid of the clothes because I want to touch you."
"That sounds like a great idea to me." Jack made sure he had a secure grip on her before walking into the room and setting her down on the edge of the bed. He never looked away from the warm hazel eyes as he reached for the buttons on his shirt.
"Wait, let me," Laura murmured, standing and sliding her hands under his shirt to move the soft cotton, baring his chest to her sight and touch.
"In the interest of fairness..." He reached around her to unzip her dress and pushed it from her shoulders, his eyes watching the fabric slowly descend.
Giving a small shimmy, Laura let the dress slide to the floor, leaving her clad in her black bra and panties. "We have to be fair," she sighed, reaching for his belt and undoing it, then the button and zipper that held his khakis closed.
"Laura, you donít need to worry about fairness. Seeing you in that underwear melted my brain!"
"You are very good for my ego," she murmured, easing his pants down, her fingers trailing over his newly bared skin, teasing the edge of his briefs.
"And youíre really good for my everything!" Jack thrust forward eagerly, his hands coming to rest on her hips.
"So why are we standing here and not in the bed the city so helpfully provided?"
"A gentleman waits to be invited. And I was admiring the view," Jack laughed before tumbling her onto the bed.
Laughing, Laura shook her hair out of her face and stretched her arms over her head. "You mean this view?"
"Oh yeah." Jack stared down at her, the long length of creamy flesh broken only by the tiny scraps of black lace, and he licked his lips.
"I hope you plan on doing more than looking..." She stroked a hand down his chest, teasing the light dusting of hair there.
"Iím planning to taste every inch of you." Jack slid down to nuzzle her breasts through the black lace, his brown eyes rising to grin at her.
Laura sucked in a quick gasp and arched upward, rubbing her body against him and feeling the solid length of his erection against her thigh. He opened his mouth, suckling her through the lace, then blew on the damp fabric while a hand slid under her panties to slid over her wetness.
"Jack!" she moaned, twisting into his touch as she dug her fingers into his arm as she hooked a leg around his thigh.
"God, youíre so wet for me," Jack rasped, biting at a nipple before sliding down again, pulling her panties down as he went. He settled between her thighs, pulling them over his shoulders, and licked her once, making her cry out and push up enough to rid herself of her bra.
Jack licked Laura again, opening her, then nibbled gently on her clit while pushing a finger into her.
"Oh God," she whispered, rocking against his tongue and finger, her whole body tightening with pleasure until she jerked and spasmed beneath him.
Jack didnít stop, instead driving her on to another climax before he finally raised his head to smile up the length of her body at her. "Even better than I thought," he said, licking his lips.
"Come here," she growled, shifting her hips to slide her legs off his shoulders to wrap them around his hips as he crawled up her.
"Yes, maíam?" Jack grinned at her and rocked his hips against her wetness.
Twisting, she flipped them over and settled astride him, rubbing against his erection, wanting to hear him moan.
"Oh fuck yeah," he groaned, thrusting up against her. "You feel so good."
"But I bet this will feel better." She leaned in to kiss him, brushing her breasts against his chest, and sank down on him when she straightened up again.
"Laura!" His eyes shut, and his teeth sank into his lower lip as he fought not to come as soon as she closed around him.
"Oh yes," she breathed, rocking over him as she played with his nipples.
"Hang on for a minute, sweetheart, or Iím not going to last," he gasped out, his fingers digging into her hips.
"Then weíll just have to do it again later," she chuckled, though her movements became slow and languid as she smiled down at Jack.
"I hope thatís going to happen regardless." He stroked his hands up over her ribs until he could cup her breasts, fingers lightly kneading the soft flesh. "Gorgeous," he breathed.
She took a deep breath and arched her back, pressing her breasts against his palms as they moved together.
Jack moved his thumbs over her nipples, then pinched them lightly as he thrust up into her, groaning. "So good," he gasped, his eyes fixing on her face to watch her pleasure.
Laura nodded, her whole body shivering as he slid in and against her, and she twitched around him.
"Go on," he urged. "Take what you want."
"Jack!" she gasped, catching his hand and bringing it between her legs as she rode him, her sharp cry as she came loud in the silence of the room. She was still spasming around him as Jack rolled them over and drove into her, thrusting hard and fast in search of his own climax. Laura moved with him, winding her legs high around his hips, her fingers digging into his back as she urged him on. Jack buried himself deep inside her, gasping her name as his climax ripped through him.
"I hope we donít have to move for a month or so," Laura murmured as she relaxed, her legs sliding down Jackís and her hands stroking his back as they gently rocked together.
"Works for me," Jack said easily. "And youíre the senior officer, so you can explain it to Sheppard."
"And you and Jaffa can save me when Rodney comes after me when Col. Sheppard dies laughing."
"Are you nuts? Face McKay and his crazy cart?" Jack laughed, rolling them over so she was lying on top of him. "Hell no. Anything happens to the colonel and we make a break for the stargate!"
"All the way back to Earth!" she laughed before crossing her arms on Jackís chest and smiling down at him. "Iím going to miss having you on my team, OíNeill, but this is a pretty damn good trade off."
"Yeah, I wish we could stick together like the colonel and McKay, but both military makes that impossible. But yeah, this makes it worthwhile. Youíre pretty damn special, Laur."
The bed rocked, and Laura turned her head to see Jaffa bumping against the frame. "Youíre pretty special too, Jaffa," she smiled, reaching out to stroke his sensor array. "And as for us," she turned her gaze back to Jack. "Weíre military; adapt, improvise and overcome, right?"
"Works for me, especially when the results are like this." Jack ran a hand down her back before patting Jaffa as well. "I definitely like this."
"Then weíll have to do it often."
"Yet another advantage of my younger body," Jack said appreciatively. "Itíll be a lot more often than I could have managed a few years ago."
Laura chuckled and pushed up on her elbows. "Mind if I ask you a question?"
"Sure. I think weíre at the stage where youíre allowed personal questions."
"How hard has it been, reconciling who you were with who you are?"
Jack sighed. "Itís been... weird. I mean at first I thought I was the original, just somehow younger, and then... well, this. It was hard. I remember being Col. OíNeill of SG-1, remember Daniel and Carter and Tealíc being my best friends, but theyíre not mine." He looked up, meeting her eyes. "And I canít keep trying to take his life, or Iíll drive myself crazy. Thatís why I went to school, no matter how annoying it was. I had to make my own memories. And Iíve done that. Mostly. Whatís left... I use. Itís helpful having an extra thirty years of memories."
"And here we need every edge we can get, so theyíll come in handy." She reached up and brushed a hand over his face. Jack caught it and pressed a kiss to the palm.
"Itís also kinda nice to be someplace where Iím not the freakiest thing around," Jack chuckled. "I mean whatís a rejuvenated clone compared to sentient flying carts?"
Jaffa banged against the bed, and Laura giggled. "You know he loves you, Jaffa, and honestly, I donít think anythingís weird around here any longer."
"Which is probably why I feel right at home. Of course, it doesnít hurt that this place comes equipped with sexy redheads who can outfight most men and cute carts."
"So, like home, but different enough to intrigue you?"
"Yup. I like the differences." He grinned up at her, brushing her hair back behind her ear.
"Iíd gathered you did," she laughed.
"And here I thought Iíd hidden it so well." Jack ran a hand up her arm, stroking absently. "I donít think of this as something casual," he said quietly.
She nodded, raising her gaze to meet his dark eyes. "Neither do I; I wouldnít have traded your skills on the team for just a one-night thing. It had to be something special."
"And it is." Jack sat up under her, wrapping his arms around her as he kissed her tenderly. "You are."
"Charmer," Laura murmured, closing the small distance between them to kiss him. He smiled into her hazel eyes before deepening the kiss, his arms tightening around her as he held her close.
"Youíre not so bad yourself, Lt. Cadman."
"Aw, gee, youíre going to turn my head, Jack."
"Good, then I wonít have to worry about anyone else stealing you away from me." Jaffa clacked his pincers menacingly at the idea.
"Hey! Youíre the one who has princesses and priestesses going after you!"
"Fine, Iíll pin a Ďtakení sign on my chest. The princesses and priestesses are going to have to look outside Atlantis; everyone hereís taken."
Laura burst into laughter at that. "Sounds good to me, and I know Rodney will be glad if they stop coming on to the colonel as well."
"Ya think?" Jack chuckled. "I really thought he was going to shoot that priestess last week. Joint missions with that team are nuts!"
"Iím not arguing that fact one bit," Laura laughed before kissing Jack on the nose. "They run into the weirdest things in two galaxies!"
"And I ought to know!" Jack agreed laughingly. He lay back down, drawing Laura down with him, and traced aimless patterns with a fingertip on her back.
"Hrmmm, that means my missions are going to be really boring from now on."
"I donít think that this galaxy knows how to be boring," Jack snorted. "And much as Iíd love it if you were never in danger, I know thatís not going to happen."
"It comes with the territory, and Iím very glad that you arenít even attempting to suggest I should stay out of danger."
"No, I prefer not to have my balls ripped off and shoved down my throat."
Laura had to laugh at that. "No, I prefer you un-neutered myself."
"You have no idea how relieved I am to hear it."
"I appreciate all of you, Jack."
"Likewise, Laura. And right back atcha."
"So... think we should eat now that weíve had our dessert?"
"Thatís probably a good idea. Or we wonít have the energy for any more dessert."
Laura grinned and ran a fingernail down the center of his chest. "And thatís definitely something I want seconds of."
"Lieutenant, Iím good for as many helpings as you can dish out."
"Lieutenant, Ancient gene or no, I know damn well no man is ever going to wear out a woman. Though Iíll bet we can both have fun trying."
Laura burst into laughter at that and kissed him again before rolling off of him, standing and stretching. "I bet we will."
Jack leaned back against the pillows and enjoyed the view. "I donít suppose I could convince you to become a nudist when weíre alone in your or my quarters."
"Only if you do, OíNeill, only if you do, and are you getting up, or are we eating there?"
"Just admiring the view, gorgeous." He got up and stretched before reaching for his pants. "Unless youíd like to start that nudity policy?"
"Well, Iím certainly not putting my dress back on right now so unless youíre going to loan me your shirt..."
Jack hesitated, debating the merits of naked Laura versus Laura wearing only his shirt. "If it was a button down, Iíd have to go for the shirt. Thereís nothing sexier than a woman wearing a manís shirt, but since itís not..." He dropped the pants and padded naked toward the table.
"Next time Iíll make sure youíre wearing one and put on a show," she promised, admiring his ass as he passed her by.
"Iím going to hold you to it."
"You can wear those tight boxer briefs, and Iíll hold whatever you like."
Jack grinned over his shoulder at her. "Are you going to peel them off me?"
"With my teeth."
Jack shivered. "Is it too soon to proclaim my undying love and ask you to move in with me?"
When Jaffa nudged her from behind, pushing her up against Jackís back, Laura laughed. "I donít think your cart thinks it is."
"Hey, Jaffa, some things a guy likes to do on his own," Jack laughed, turning around to wrap his arms around her.
The cart waved an arm in his direction before rolling over to the table and pulling out one of the chairs.
"Somehow, I donít think he was listening," Laura murmured, sliding her arms around his waist.
"Iím not sure, but I think we just got married," Jack chuckled. "At least in Jaffaís mind." He kissed her lightly, sounding rather pleased by the fact.
"Somehow I think that in his mind we were married the other night on the planet of free love."
"I think youíre right," Jack agreed. "Do you mind?"
She shrugged before looking over at the cart and smiling. "When I mind something, youíll know."
"Iíll keep that in mind for the next few decades."
"Oh, like youíre a push-over," she laughed, stepping back to catch his hand and lead him over to the table.
"Well, when facing a knockout..."
Laughing, he dug into his dinner, with frequent smiles for Laura.
"Good boy," she laughed before taking a sip of her wine. "And you too, Jaffa."
Jack eyed her over the table. "Youíre enjoying this much too much, Lieutenant," he said in a purely Col. OíNeill tone.
"Having a man wanting to be with me and enjoying it? Hell yes!"
He grinned slowly. "Well, I can attest to the wanting and the enjoying."
"And I appreciate it very much."
Jack looked down at himself. "Good thing since this is everything Iíve got."
Laura leaned over to the side and gave Jack a full once-over. "Well, I have to say that your everything is a hell of a lot."
He beamed at her. "I like your style."
Laura only chuckled and started eating again.
After a moment, Jack said, "I have to say that this is the best view Iíve seen since I got to Atlantis."
"Flatterer," Laura murmured before grinning mischievously and tossing a small round vegetable at Jack, who caught it and crunched it between his teeth.
"I call them the way I see them.
"Yes, you do, donít you."
"Always have, always will."
"No arguments here, I tend to do the same thing."
"Yeah, I noticed that about you. Itís a quality I admire. Especially when it makes McKay crazy."
"Now donít make him too crazy, or Col. Sheppard will throw us on opposite shifts to pay you back for his pain!"
"Naw, heíd be too busy soothing his ruffled scientist," Jack laughed.
"Itís a wonder he has time for anything else," Laura chuckled. "Not that I donít like Rodney, but he is a full-time occupation."
"Better Sheppard than me!" Jack said fervently. "I much prefer self-sufficient military types."
"So if I went all googly-eyed and fawned at your feet, youíd puke?"
"Actually, I think Iíd call for Dr. Beckett to find out what was wrong with you!"
"Dr. Zelenka doesnít let him come near me, so youíd have to find someone else."
Jack laughed. "Iíd forgotten about that. Maybe us being together will help calm Zelenka."
She shrugged. "The funny part is that everyone but him knows Iím doing it to get him riledóeven Dr. Beckett, though he doesnít say anything because he likes the outcome."
Jack chuckled. "Yeah, Iíd imagine a jealous, possessive Czech could be fun in bed."
"Just donít go trying to find out if thatís fact, or youíll find out about a jealous, possessive Marine, and you know we can take you fly-boys any day of the week." She smirked at the last.
"So youíre laying claim to me, are you? I can live with that," Jack laughed, ignoring the insult to the Air Force... for now.
"Well, we are married, arenít we?" she asked, grinning.
"Hmph. Maybe to a cart, but I expect you to make an honest man of me."
"On the first date?"
"Well, maybe we can wait till next week."
"True, donít want to rush into anything."
Jack eyed her. "That sounded a lot like a yes, in time."
Laura looked down at her plate before raising her gaze to meet Jackís dark eyes. "One thing Iíve learned here is if you miss a chance at something, it may be gone for good, so yes, in time, thatís a yes."
Jackís smile slowly spread across his face, but all he said was, "Iím glad."
The table vibrated, and Jaffa backed away to spin in a circle. "Looks as if you arenít the only one."
"Gene or no gene, I think youíve been adopted."
"Does this mean I get an allowance?"
"It means you get me and my cart."
"Who needs an allowance!"
"Welcome to the family."
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