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The Return (Remix)

Chapter Text

“You’re pouting,” Sam said. “And not that I don’t think it’s a little adorable, but I don’t want you to be in a bad mood on our trip.”

Jack O’Neill added another t-shirt to his suitcase. “I’m not pouting.”

Sam grabbed both their toothbrushes from the bathroom and handed his over before putting hers in her suitcase. “Sulking, then.”

She went to grab underwear and her swimming suit out of the dresser before adding them to her luggage.

Jack continued packing, with a haphazard lack of efficiency he only ever demonstrated for non-work trips.

“I just can’t believe that man said that I was no longer a test pilot.”

Sam managed to hold in the laugh, but couldn’t quite stop the smile.

That man is the President of the United States.”

Jack scoffed, as if the title meant nothing to him.

“I never should have voted for him.”

Sam walked over, took the t-shirt from Jack’s hand and threw it on the bed, and then placed her arms around his waist. He paused a moment before returning the embrace.

“Jack, you know why John Sheppard was chosen for the maiden voyage of the Gate Bridge.”

He tightened his hold, just a bit.

“Because he’s even more of a pain in the ass than me?”

She laughed, just a little.

“No, because he’s on active duty. He’s still in the field.”

She knew that Jack missed his time out in the field. For all the terrible things they’d gone through, he thrived out there the way few people did. Flying a desk had been one frustrating challenge for him after another.

He was still good at it and the best person for the job, but she knew it wore on him.

“I hate my job,” he complained.

She hugged him tight and placed a kiss over his heart. “Good thing we’re going on vacation.”

“Good thing.” He leaned down and pulled her into a long, slow kiss. “I have lots of plans for this vacation. We have our very own maiden voyage to the Bahamas to worry about.”

They had been trying to plan a real, warm weather vacation for a long time and she was glad they were finally going to manage it.

“Just think, if you were John Sheppard, you wouldn’t be going to the beach with me in eight hours.”

A grin spread across his face. “You make a very good point, Carter. I always said you were smart.”

One of his hands slid under the fabric of her top to rest low on her back. His fingers ran across the skin just under the waistband of her jeans.

“Also,” Sam added as she slowly unbuttoned his shirt, “The President doesn’t realize that once you’re a test pilot you’re always a test pilot. And lucky for you, I’m really into test pilots.”

His free hand moved to the front of her jeans and popped the button loose. Then he slowly lowered the zipper.

“Imagine that,” Jack replied, his voice a low rumble, “me too.”

Sam finished unbuttoning his shirt and placed a kiss right at the spot where his neck met his collarbone. Her tongue dipped out to taste him before she pulled back and refocused on tugging his undershirt out of his pants.

Jack’s hand dipped below her underwear and he felt exactly how much one particular test pilot did it for her.

He groaned her name into her ear and began to move his fingers in a steady rhythm. She tried to focus on undoing his jeans.

When she spoke, her voice came out almost breathless.

“Want to go for a test flight, General?”

She felt his quick intake of breath against her neck.

“When you’re my co-pilot, Sam?” he answered. “Always.”

She pulled back her head and adjusted the angle so she could capture his lips in a heated kiss.

Their suitcases were pushed to the floor in a hurry as they cleared the bed and shed their clothes. After all, they figured they deserved a break before they finished packing.

Sam’s original goal had been to cheer Jack up, but he was so focused on making her feel good that she wasn’t sure how much help she actually was.

She had never appreciated until they got together how many of his skills in the field could translate to the bedroom.

Those same hands that were steady enough to play with explosives and powerful enough to take down an enemy ran along the scars on her skin with a delicate touch and pulled her to him with a firm grip.

The ability to read her with a quick glance kept him adaptable and working towards their common goal.

The close combat experience made it easy for him to flip their positions to his advantage.

That sense of strategy that once kept them alive now left her moaning and gasping for air as he mapped his way across her body with his lips and fingertips, always one step ahead.

His attention to detail told him what it meant when her hand clenched against his shoulders and her fingers tugged on his hair.

The years of giving orders kept his whispered instructions clipped and concise.

“Look at me, Sam.”

Years of following orders left him with no hesitation when she pleaded, “Jack, now.”

They moved together with a sense of rightness that still surprised her.

Sex with Jack was always great. But sex with Jack when he felt like he had something to prove was a whole other level.

It took her a while to catch her breath afterwards.

“You can fly my plane anytime, O’Neill.”

He laughed loud and pulled her close, pressing a kiss to her temple. “God, I love you.”

They were laying there, naked and comfortable, her body curled up against his, when his cell phone rang.

“I’m not going to answer it,” he said, low voice brushing against her hair. “I’m off duty.”

“It might be an emergency,” she pointed out, running a hand along his shoulder and down his arm.

“Don’t care,” he said, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“It might be the end of the world.”

He laughed and pulled back, laying his head back against the pillow and running a hand over his face. “You know, someone else should start figuring out how to fix those problems. It shouldn’t always be us. I wanna play hooky.”

The phone rang again and it sounded more insistent this time.

“I’ll still be here when you get back.”

Jack leaned up until he was sitting on the bed. He reached behind him for the cell phone, but kept looking at her.

“Will you really?”

They still had these moments sometimes, where one or the other of them would realize how fragile their relationship could become if they weren’t careful.

They had a solid foundation, but lived in metaphorical earthquake territory. The ground was always shifting beneath them.

“No place else I’d rather be,” she admitted.

Jack pulled her forward for a brief, loving kiss before answering the call.

Sam watched as he got dressed while he spoke on the phone, awkwardly repositioning his grip as he pulled on an undershirt and dress shirt. He almost tripped when trying to put on a clean pair of underwear so she grabbed his phone and held it up against his ear.

He mouthed the word “thank you” in her direction and got briefly distracted by her lack of clothing as she kneeled before him on the bed before the phone conversation regained his attention. He gave short, brusque answers as he finished dressing and eventually grabbed the phone out of her grip, turning to face the window.

She pulled one of his t-shirts out of the dresser and put it on. Being naked around him was less fun when she knew nothing was going to come of it.

A couple minutes later, Jack got off the phone and turned back around to face her. As she suspected, the call came from Landry. Apparently Jack needed to go to Atlantis because Sheppard and McKay had stumbled upon an Ancient ship with a full crew in stasis.

“According to Elizabeth Weir, the Ancients asked to talk to the person who can speak for all of Earth,” he told her, shaking his head at the description.

“You’ve come so far,” she teased. “First a test pilot and now Earth spokesman.”

He looked over at her, vague discomfort in his expression, as he put his tie on and tied it.

“The IOA is also sending Richard Woolsey.”

He opened his suitcase, dumped the contents on the floor on his side of the bed, and started packing with military precision for this impromptu trip to Atlantis.

“Maybe it won’t be so bad?” she said, hoping to help him stay positive.

Jack shot her a glare that told her exactly what he thought about spending time with Richard Woolsey in the Pegasus galaxy.

“It’ll probably only be a day or two, but we should reschedule our vacation plans. I don’t want you waiting on me in case I have to stay longer.”

She wanted to argue that it would be fine if they left on vacation a couple days late, but she knew Jack was right. Real live Ancients were in Atlantis. This would be a flexible situation and he couldn’t make any guarantees.

“Okay,” she agreed.

“Two days max,” he told her, leaning forward to press a kiss against her forehead. “Unfortunately, given this new situation, I’ll probably have to fly directly back to Washington to meet with the President afterward.”

Just like that, their two weeks of planned vacation together had been cut down to zero. Sam decided that she’d cancel her leave all together.

She slid her hand down to grasp his, not ready to let him go just yet.

“When are you going to be back out here?”

She didn’t ask when they would be able to reschedule their trip because she didn’t want him to feel worse than he already did.

“I’ll have to check my calendar, but I think about three weeks.”

She leaned against Jack and he wrapped his free arm around her.

“We could try the trip again then,” she suggested.

It wouldn’t be the first time they’d needed to adjust their plans because of work. It just happened to be the first time with a traditional beach vacation planned where flights and hotel reservations were involved.

“I like that idea.”

He turned her slightly and cupped her cheeks with his palms.

“Three weeks, Carter. You, me, sun, surf, and sand. I promise.”

They shared a smile and Sam leaned into his kiss. She felt a little light-headed when he eventually pulled away.

“I’ll hold you to that,” she replied. “Now go save a galaxy.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It was her turn now to wait while he kept the universe on the right track. A part of her couldn’t help wishing that he’d never picked up the phone.

Chapter Text

A little more than three weeks later, Jack was back in Colorado and their bags were packed again. They had both rescheduled their leave, rebooked their flights and hotel, and cleared their schedules again. It had been a pain, but it would be worth it.

Jack had flown to Colorado from D.C. early so he could have a few days at the SGC to check in on things before they went on vacation. That was the official reason, anyway. It also let them have a few extra days together.

Sam and Jack each grabbed a beer and headed out to the back deck. After their vacation, she planned to come back here and he’d have to fly directly back to D.C., but for the past three days it had actually felt like they were living together like a normal couple. It was nice.

“So how were the talks with the Ancients, really?” she asked.

He’d given her a brief overview when he returned, but they had both been too busy to have a detailed conversation about his experience in Atlantis. Due to security concerns, their conversations over the phone about work-related matters were also usually limited. She didn’t want their entire relationship to revolve around work all the time anyway. That’s the way it had been for way too many years.

“Like I told Sheppard at the time, it was listening more than talking on our part. They basically gave us forty eight hours to get the hell out of there. Woolsey thinks it’s for the best - less risk, less expense. And we do need to focus on things in our neck of the woods with the Ori. I just can’t help feeling like we got kicked out before we accomplished what we needed to do.”

Sam understood where Jack was coming from. They had been making such great progress with the Atlantis project that it was a shame to see it come to an end. Plus, there were allies who they’d be leaving defenseless out there against the Wraith.

“Also, that Commander Helia reminds me of someone and I can’t figure out who,” Jack continued. “It’s been bugging me for weeks, Carter. She reminds me of someone I don’t trust. I just know it.”

“So it’s all bad news then?”

He shook his head and took a drink of his beer.

“I wouldn’t say that. There’s one benefit, Sam. Now I don’t have to worry about you being lured away to the Pegasus galaxy.”

She didn’t know that he’d been worried about that.

“I’m not planning on going anywhere. We get such little time together as it is.”

Jack nodded. “I’m not saying I won’t support you if we get some sort of timeshare agreement with the Lanteans and you want to do a tour there. Of course I would. I’d just like a little more time for us to be us first.”

“Me too,” she agreed.

Sam leaned against his side and rested her head on his shoulder.

“I can’t wait to see you in a bikini,” he said, breath warm against her hair.

Oh yeah, she was really looking forward to this vacation. Of course, she did have to correct him on one thing.

“You know it’s a one piece and you’ve already seen me in it. At the cabin last summer.”

“Now, Carter, don’t go and ruin my fun.”

She rolled her eyes at him and he laughed at her.

“Trust me, Sam, the way that suit looks on you has been seared into my brain. I ever get my head sucked into an Ancient repository again, that’ll be the last thing to go. I’ll be speaking in tongues but still have perfect recall about how that blue and green fabric clings to your body.”

He was being playful now and she liked it. It boded well for their trip.

Sam leaned in to kiss him.

Then Jack’s cell phone rang.

She sat up straight and he pulled the phone out of his pocket. He saw the number and let out a quick, frustrated sigh.

“Work.”

Jack raised a hand in apology and walked out into the yard for the conversation.

She wasn’t sure if that meant the SGC, IOA, Homeworld Security, the Joint Chiefs, or the President. He’d tell her as much as he could afterward. She just hoped that it didn’t delay their flight.

With the way their jobs worked, it was tough enough to get time off at the same time. She didn’t really want to waste it.

Sam watched as Jack had a swift, forceful conversation. He didn’t look happy.

“Damn it.” His voice drifted across the yard. “I’ll be there in an hour.”

Jack hung up the phone and stalked back over to her.

“Remember how I said I hate my job?”

“Vividly,” she replied.

He grabbed his beer from where he’d left it and downed the entire thing.

“They need me in Atlantis again. Tonight.”

It took a while for his words to sink in.

“We had plans.”

She didn’t even bother pointing out that they’d already rescheduled once.

Jack started to pace across the wooden deck, running an agitated hand through his hair.

“Believe me, I know. But Woolsey is being a pain in the ass.” He shook his head in frustration before pausing and turning back to her. “See, even people in another galaxy don’t like him. And for some reason they want me back to mediate.”

She never thought she’d see the day when Jack O’Neill got pulled into negotiations to soothe people’s nerves.

“You’re going to be the calm, personable voice of reason?” she teased.

“I know, Carter. No one will believe me when I tell them I’m a grumpy son of a bitch who hates diplomacy. Daniel should go. He’d get a kick out of it.”

Jack was right, Daniel would love to go in his place. Unfortunately, it wasn’t their call and Daniel had other things going on.

“You’ll do a great job, Jack. You always do.”

Sam would let herself be sad later, once he was gone. Right now, she needed to bolster him so that he could go do what needed to be done.

“I’m so sorry. We’ll reschedule when I come back.” He captured her lips in a soft, sweet kiss. “And if anyone tries to come between you and me and carefully applied sunblock again, I’ll tell them to shove it.”

“Third time’s the charm.”

Sam hugged Jack tight, unsure of whether they’d actually be able to reschedule once he got back, and unsure what to do now about the leave she’d already put in for, but knowing that she didn’t have any other choice.

“Go save the Ancients from Woolsey,” she said before letting him go. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Sam.”

This was their life and she was glad they’d chosen it, but sometimes she wished there were fewer disasters pulling their attention away from each other.

“Go pack. I’ll drive you to the SGC when you’re ready.”

She grabbed the beer bottles as he walked back to the house.

Jack was just about to open the back door when he paused. She wondered if he’d forgotten to tell her something else.

“Ke’ra, Carter!” he shouted as he let go of the door handle and turned back around. His eyes lit up in realization. “She looks like Ke’ra. Or Linea. Whatever. The Destroyer of Worlds. Commander Helia looks just like her, only a little older.”

Jack walked a few steps towards her.

“But it’s not her,” Sam said cautiously, aware that Linea hid her identity before.

“It’s not,” Jack confirmed. “We weren’t going to turn over the city without proof they were who they said they were, but I swear to god they could be twins. This is not a good sign.”

Neither of them were superstitious, but they knew that there was something to be said for good intuition in jobs like theirs.

“Be careful,” she told him. “Stay safe.”

He gave a single, quick nod and knocked on the wood railing of their deck before heading inside to pack for another completely different trip than the one they planned to take.

She hoped he didn’t leave everything from his suitcase in a pile on the floor like last time.

Chapter Text

By the time Jack got to Atlantis, he was in a horrible mood.

Not only had he been forced to cancel his trip with Sam again, but the powers that be didn’t even let him fly himself out to Pegasus because they didn’t want the SGC to be down a jumper while he was gone. They made John Sheppard play chauffeur and Jack flashed back to the last time the pilot had flown him somewhere and they’d almost gotten killed by a rogue drone.

Nothing so drastic had happened this time, but he still had to stay in Atlantis while Sheppard got to go home to Earth. He got the feeling that both of them would have preferred to trade places.

Sheppard looked oddly reluctant to leave and even made a half-joking “I’d be happy to stick around and be your tour guide, General” comment as they parked the jumper. If it was Jack’s decision, he might have let Sheppard stay. Unfortunately, he had to send him back on his way to Earth with the jumper that was more valuable than either of their preferences. He asked Sheppard to send his regards to everybody at the SGC, including those from his former SG team.

Richard Woolsey greeted Jack as soon as he arrived. The man looked relieved, as if Jack’s arrival solved the problems he’d been having. If only Woolsey knew that he’d invited more problems onto himself by requesting help.

“General O’Neill, thanks for coming back. I hope we aren’t interrupting anything important.”

Jack grudgingly shook Woolsey’s outstretched hand.

“Only my vacation with my girlfriend, Woolsey,” he replied. “Of course hanging out with you because you couldn’t get the job done on your own is so much better than laying out on the beach next to a beautiful woman. Perfect use of my time.”

At Jack’s words, it was almost like Woolsey folded back into himself. Jack knew that there were some things the man was good at, but he never should have been placed in the position of being Earth’s representative. Jack had tried to argue for Elizabeth Weir, but the Lanteans didn’t want her hanging around and he’d been overruled. The IOA thought Woolsey was the one.

Personally, Jack thought if the man couldn’t hold his own with a pissed off General, there was no way he’d hold his own with another race of people.

He wasn’t looking forward to having to be both the peacemaker and the hardass in these negotiations. Hopefully, Woolsey would contribute more than awkwardly putting his hand on Jack’s arm when he objected to his word choice.

“Sorry about that,” Woolsey finally managed.

Jack didn’t feel like making the other man feel better so he just waved the man’s apology away and got to work.

“So what’s been the problem here?” he asked.

Woolsey frowned and adjusted his glasses.

“Well, when we came here last...That is, when they asked to talk to the leader who could speak for all of the people of Earth -”

“I remember.”

That had been a hell of an awkward meeting, trying to balance the sunk costs of everything they’d put into Atlantis with the very real emotions of the Tria crew who just wanted to return home without interlopers there.

Jack wasn’t looking forward to more of those discussions, especially if they veered back into the “Who is really responsible for the Wraith?” blame game.

“It seems they’re under the impression that even though both of us came to Atlantis to represent the interests of Earth…” Woolsey trailed off.

“What is the problem?” Jack repeated.

Woolsey adjusted the sleeve of his suit.

“They’re under the impression that I’m somewhat powerless,” he admitted after a moment’s pause. “They don’t seem to like me much, General. They believe that you’re the only one who can speak for the people of Earth.”

The weight of that responsibility suddenly felt so heavy that Jack worried it was going to pull him under.

“Leader of Earth?” he replied instead, as he tugged slightly on his tie to loosen it. “Cool.”

Woolsey didn’t look like he thought it was cool at all.

Jack didn’t think Woolsey deserved to be upset. If he’d done his job correctly, Jack would be on a flight with Carter right now. She’d be leaning against his side, reading some unpublished theoretical physics article and he’d be able to smell her shampoo. He’d be relaxed instead of feeling that the weight of the universe was on his shoulders.

“Why don’t you show me to my room and brief me on where things are with the talks.”

“Yes,” Woolsey agreed as they started to walk towards the residential area of the city. “Things have been challenging. In fact, at this point I’m not certain why they allowed us to have a liaison in the first place. They don’t seem to want to offer us much of anything in terms of knowledge or technology.”

“So basically the same as every other advanced race we’ve come in contact with,” Jack observed as Woolsey directed him towards a doorway and it opened automatically.

The room was spare and lacking even the small touches of home that had existed when the Atlantis team was here. At least they’d left the sheets and pillows.

Jack tossed his suitcase onto the bed.

“Yes,” Woolsey admitted. “We’ve barely been able to broach the list of questions left by the Atlantis science team and they’re very close-lipped about the additional new pieces of technology that I’ve seen them use since they arrived.”

This sounded like it was going to be a headache and not the quick turnaround that he’d been hoping for. He might as well unpack.

“And what are they saying about a timeline for the return of Earth exploratory and military teams?”

Jack opened the suitcase and opened a drawer in a nearby dresser. He began the slow process of transferring items from one to another.

“They’re saying twenty years.”

Jack paused, straightened, and turned back to Woolsey. “Twenty years?”

The shock must have been evident in his voice because Woolsey grimaced before he nodded.

“If they don’t want people from Earth back on Atlantis for two decades, why the hell are you and I here?”

Woolsey sighed, took off his glasses to rub the lenses against the fabric of his jacket, and placed them back on.

“I have no idea.”

Jack couldn’t help but think that at least Elizabeth Weir would have had more answers for him if she’d been the one who stayed.

He gave up trying to unpack and sat down on the bed.

“They haven’t given you any reason for that timeline?” Jack asked. “What about when you talk to them outside of the formal negotiations, at meals or just around the city? What are they saying?”

Jack had been in a lot of situations where the most important information came up not during formal negotiations, but informal conversations.

Woolsey pulled up a nearby chair and sat down.

“They don’t particularly like socializing with me. They’re also busy reacquainting themselves with the city and restoring areas that have been damaged.”

“Who have you been talking to then?” Jack asked. Woolsey had been the only person from Earth on Atlantis for a little over three weeks.

“It’s fine. I have the check-ins with Landry and have been over to the Athosian settlement once. I brought a few books to read.”

Oh god.

Jack really hoped that he wasn’t going to have to be Richard Woolsey’s friend.

“You have more books, right?”

“On the last one,” Woolsey admitted. “I should have asked you to bring more.”

Jack frowned. “Don’t worry, we’ll make you some friends. I’m sure the Ancients will like you once they get to know you.”

Woolsey looked relieved and Jack was glad he didn’t see through the lie. Three weeks was a long time. If the people on Atlantis didn’t like the man yet, Jack wasn’t sure how much he could do to change their mind.

There had to be at least one other person out there, though, who would talk to Richard so he didn’t have to. If that didn’t work, Jack hoped Woolsey’s last book was a long one.

When they were done debriefing, Woolsey returned to his room and Jack finished unpacking.

At the bottom of the suitcase, he felt something hard. He grabbed the unexpected item and pulled it out.

Jack looked at it and let out a short laugh. His travel chess set. Sam must’ve packed it when he wasn’t looking. He set it next to his deck of cards. At least he’d have a couple ways to entertain himself while the negotiations were ongoing.

It was better than nothing.

It, of course, was also far worse than being able to personally apply sunblock to Samantha Carter’s fair skin, but life wasn’t perfect.

He’d get through it and then go home.

On the second day of renewed talks, Jack finally realized why they were being rolled on negotiations. Helia and her people did want something from them, they just didn’t want to give up anything in return. They were stonewalling and setting absurdly high negotiation anchor points so that by the time they gave on anything, Earth’s representatives would be so grateful that they wouldn’t realize they’d gotten the bad end of the deal.

He thought back to something Woolsey had said in that first meeting with the Ancients over a month ago, when they still thought they could form a collaborative alliance: There is so much that we can learn from you. And in return, we can offer supplies, manpower, the kind of support you'll need to restore Atlantis to its former glory.

They didn’t seem to want the manpower, so Jack figured it was probably down to supplies and raw materials of some kind. He just didn’t understand why they hadn’t asked yet for what they wanted. Until they gave a hint of their priorities, these talks were just going to keep going in circles. As it was, Helia had started leaving most of the conversations to her second in command in favor of other responsibilities, which left Jack feeling like they were negotiating with the B team.

He wondered if this was what the Lanteans felt like when they’d been left to negotiate with Woolsey.

On the third day, Jack gave up on dressing formally and went back to wearing his more comfortable BDUs. He figured, as the supposed Leader of Earth and a man who was supposed to be on vacation, he could make his own rules. Rule number one was no tie if you had to spend more then a few days off-world.

A week later, he started to understand what the Ancients really wanted. They wanted information. They’d been out of touch for thousands of years and knew nothing about the current status of either the Pegasus or Milky Way galaxies. Woolsey, unknowingly, had been doling it out piece by piece, but they wanted it all. All of the intel, all of the gate addresses with civilized populations, all of the data on current stores of elements such as naquadah, naquadria, and trinium...they basically wanted everything that Stargate Command had earned with sweat and blood over the past decade for next to nothing.

Of course, they never said that outright. They only dropped hints about wanting to look in the SGC databases.

Jack O’Neill had never been a fan of subtlety.

The talks continued to drag on.

Then, one day, Helia interrupted the negotiations to announce that their long range sensors had picked up a Replicator ship heading their way.

In a bizarre twist, no one on Atlantis seemed concerned about that update. For a moment, he started to wonder if the Ancients were actually Replicators themselves. He knew they weren’t - several of them had submitted to blood tests after their arrival - but for a crew that had been beaten so badly they got stuck on the other side of the universe, their confidence was really odd.

When it was time for their daily check in with the SGC, he and Woolsey stepped up to the console and the call connected.

“General!” he greeted.

“General,” Landry replied.

Jack thought he spotted John Sheppard on the screen. He wondered how the man was liking working at the SGC.

“Is that Sheppard there with you?”

“Yes, sir,” the man in question responded.

Jack was about to ask him a question when Woolsey spoke.

“Talks are proceeding at an acceptable pace, but the real news is that the Pegasus Replicators are heading back to Atlantis to make another run at the city.”

Woolsey was putting a rosy spin on things. The talks were not proceeding at an acceptable pace. They were slow as hell and barely making any progress. Jack’s addition had only marginally improved things. He’d been here for more than two weeks already, unable to do his real job or start making things up to Carter. It was completely unacceptable.

He’d been worried that she would get sent out to Atlantis and instead, he was stranded out here for the foreseeable future without her.

And now the Replicators were on their way to the city.

“They are?” Sheppard asked.

“No one here seems to be that worried about it,” Jack replied. It was a fact that made Jack feel more than a little suspicious.

He wished he could go into more detail, but they didn’t have a secure place to make calls here. For all he knew, the Ancients were listening in to each and every one of them.

“Why not?” Landry asked.

“They’re Ancients,” Jack replied with a shrug.

“Apparently these Replicators have a law in their base code that makes it impossible for them to harm their creators,” Woolsey added.

It sounded a little too good to be true, as far as Jack was concerned.

“And they’re expecting to find us,” Sheppard filled in.

“According to Helia they’re going to run into some kind of nasty surprise,” Jack explained. He was still annoyed that the Ancients refused to elaborate on what might happen to the Replicators if they tried to invade.

“So you can pass it on to Doctor McKay that if you and he hadn’t rescued the Ancients,” Woolsey continued, “and returned Atlantis to their care -”

“Might’ve lost the city anyway,” Sheppard realized.

“Right,” Jack confirmed. “Well, we should get back to our talks...and talks and talks. O’Neill out.”

Jack wasn’t sure what was left to talk about. He walked away and headed towards the western pier, telling Woolsey to end the negotiations for the day or go without him. He’d been spending a lot of time on the pier, looking out on the ocean and pretending to fish.

At the check-in a couple days ago, Landry had been pulled away before the call concluded and Jack asked Sergeant Harriman to pass along a message to Carter that he’d only be here one more week. Woolsey, thankfully, had been talking to one of the Ancients at the time.

He crossed his fingers that he’d been telling the truth about the timeframe. He was tempted to just steal a jumper and head home now, regardless of what effect it had on diplomatic relations.

At this point, Jack hoped he and Carter were still dating by the time he returned to Earth.

When he was first sent out here, Jack thought it would only be a couple of days. A couple of days turned into a couple of weeks.

Now he was starting to wonder if the additional week he’d promised Carter had been overly optimistic. With the minutiae of the day’s discussions and the Replicators on their way, he doubted the pace would pick up. The end of the week would mark a month and a half since the Atlantis team had left the city.

So little had been accomplished since then. The personal cost was too high.

Jack didn’t want to end up spending the rest of his life pretending to fish all by himself.

He wasn’t surprised when Woolsey sat down next to him half an hour later, book in hand.

“What are your thoughts about the Replicators returning?” Woolsey asked after spending about ten minutes attempting to read.

“I think it sounds too good to be true. Their information is ten thousand years out of date. They have no reason to be that confident that the Replicators don’t pose a threat.”

Woolsey placed his book to the side. “Yeah, I was wondering if you’d say something like that.”

Jack wondered if they should ‘gate home tomorrow just so they were out of harm’s way in case the worst happened and it turned out that the Ancients underestimated the threat after all. He just wasn’t sure if he could justify that choice and potentially causing negotiations to break down again just because he had a bad feeling.

If Sam were here, she would’ve helped him figure out the best path forward.

“Did you leave anybody at home, Richard?”

“Me?” the man asked, no doubt surprised that Jack was trying to have a personal conversation with him. “No. I’m divorced, no kids. Married to the job, as it were.”

Jack made a soft, noncommittal noise.

“I was married to the job once. It’s not worth as much as you might think.”

He thought of all of the years he’d sacrificed being away from Charlie and Sara, and then all the years he sacrificed being close to Carter without being able to offer her what she deserved. He’d almost lost her so many times and now he was stuck in a different galaxy without her.

“You worried the girlfriend won’t understand?”

Jack was a little surprised that Richard would broach the topic, but it wasn’t like there were any other people from Earth here for either of them to talk to.

“She’ll understand,” he replied. Sam Carter was one of the few people on Earth who would. “I just wish she didn’t have to.”

Chapter Text

One more week. All she had to do was last one more week and then she’d see him again.

She’d been relieved when Walter passed along the message that Jack planned to be back in a week. It was the only real message she’d gotten from Jack aside from John Sheppard passing along a “General O’Neill sends his regards to SG-1” comment a couple days after Jack left.

Sam could handle the idea of a week a lot better than the giant question mark she’d been living with since Jack left. At first, she hoped it would only be a couple days like his first trip. Then that time passed and no one she talked to seemed to have any idea of how long the negotiations with the Ancients would last.

Sam tried to tell herself that this situation was closer to living in different states than when he’d been trapped on an alien planet or an alien moon. He had a way to get back and he’d return soon.

They had been separated for longer periods of time before. She tried to tell herself that this wasn’t anything special.

Technically, with the Gate Bridge now active, he was only about a half an hour away.

Sam wished she had the ability to fly the jumper and could go there herself.

There had to be some excuse she could make up about wanting to test out the functionality of the Gate Bridge. She could get it approved by Landry and rope in someone with the ATA gene - maybe John Sheppard - and then she’d be able to see that Jack was okay.

She just had an odd feeling that something wasn’t right. It was keeping her up at night.

Sam kept thinking about his offhand comment that the Lantean Commander looked like The Destroyer of Worlds and every time it sent a shiver down her spine.

It didn’t help that there was no way for her to communicate privately with him. She’d managed to find excuses to be in the SGC control room for a few of his daily check-in meetings with Landry and it helped a little to see his face, even if he did look tired and unhappy.

He needed their vacation even more than she did.

She’d rescheduled her leave for the day after he was supposed to arrive home. She also rebooked their plane tickets and the hotel. It would be a hefty fee if she had to cancel again, but not booking it felt like admitting they weren’t going to make it on vacation after all.

Sam didn’t want to give up on the idea that easily, even if it might end up costing her some money in the long run.

They had a mission scheduled the day after Walter gave her Jack’s updated timeline and she let that pull her focus, the same way she’d been drowning herself in work since he went back to Atlantis. She thought it would be a good thing. They’d accomplish their objective and she’d be back a few days before Jack returned.

Looking back afterwards, Sam had no idea why she thought that the mission would help distract her.

Instead, it just pulled so many feelings of loss and grief to the surface.

Having to work side by side with Ba’al to try to locate the Sangraal and then to fix the DHD made her skin crawl.

Jack still had nightmares sometimes about when he was tortured by the System Lord. She heard him shout out and beg and shiver in his sleep before her soft murmurs and comforting touch helped bring him back to himself. On those nights, Sam was never far from her guilt over persuading him to undertake a blending that he didn’t want - one that led him to be murdered and revived over and over again.

Every time they formed a tentative partnership with Ba’al, even when it was necessary, it felt like an act of betrayal. It felt like she was trading pieces of her soul.

That moment when she had to ask Ba’al for help with the programing of the obelisk, Sam thought she might be sick when forcing the words out of her mouth.

She almost appreciated his refusal. Punching the Goa’uld in the face had felt incredibly satisfying and had been a long time coming. She only wished Jack could have seen it.

Part of her wanted Ba’al to continue to refuse so she could follow through on her threat to kill him.

If it had only been Ba’al, she might’ve been able to handle it. But it was so much more.

When they found Merlin in a stasis pod, she couldn’t help thinking about when they had to leave Jack frozen in Antarctica.

When Daniel looked into that Ancient Repository and Cam continued to update her on his worsening condition, she felt like she was reliving both times Jack had done so and almost died.

Sam tried to focus on the mission anyway and get them out of there alive.

But Daniel didn’t make it through the ‘gate.

She had no idea how to find him and the one person she wanted to turn to for comfort was out of reach in another galaxy.

Vala was spinning out. Cam was doing the best to keep the team’s spirit’s up, but his logic that the Ori would keep Daniel alive for his knowledge brought to mind thoughts of torture instead of thoughts of hope.

Teal’c was the strong, steady force that Sam needed him to be - the way he was when any member of their team went missing. She still remembered how he held her as she cried when Jack was lost with Maybourne.

Teal’c brought her food when she skipped meals and forced her to her quarters for sleep in the middle of the night.

He listened to her rant when she was pulled off the search and rescue efforts until they had actionable information.

He hugged her when she started to break down.

“I miss Daniel,” she admitted as she pulled away, eyes glossy with tears.

“As do I, Colonel Carter.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “I believe, as O’Neill once said, that Daniel Jackson will always make his way home eventually.”

Sam could really use Jack’s jokes now about how Daniel had nine lives and that even if he did die he’d just turn up again naked somewhere.

“I miss Jack too,” she shared.

Teal’c nodded and pulled her close for another hug. “Indeed.”

SG-1 was out of the mission rotation while analysts ran through the DHD gate address records to see if they could track down the planet and find out where Daniel had been taken. General Landry reminded Sam that she had put in for leave and this time she was damn well going to take it.

Teal’c planned to spend a few days visiting Ry’ac while they waited for the ‘gate address that would let them implement a real SAR. She understood his need to be close to family after the loss their team had just been through.

Sam went to the lab and started half-heartedly working on projects that had been put aside months ago, anger bubbling inside her that she wasn’t allowed to help with the ‘gate address analysis and was being forced to take leave...leave that she had been desperately looking forward to less than a week ago.

She told herself that all she had to do was hold it together until Jack made it home. Then she could fall apart in his arms and he’d help piece her back together.

Sam stayed on base because it made her feel closer to Daniel and it made her feel closer to Jack. She worked because she needed the distraction.

Jack would be home soon. She just had to wait.

Chapter Text

They were in the middle of another long, unending set of conversations when one of the Lanteans interrupted the meeting to let Commander Helia know that the Replicators had arrived at the city.

Jack and Woolsey followed Helia to the control room and learned that the Tria crew had sent up a single jumper to engage with the enemy.

Jack stared at the display, well aware that it was never good to underestimate your opponent like the Ancients seemed set on doing.

“That seems like a pretty big ship,” Woolsey commented, “You’re sure only sending up one jumper to fend it off is the right thing to do?”

“It is impossible for them to harm us,” Helia replied.

“I could use some enemies like that,” he joked to ease the sudden tension he felt.

Once again, Jack was reminded of Ke’ra and Linea and the dangers of people with too much confidence in their own abilities. He remembered how he told Sam that it was a bad sign. He’d knocked on wood, but as he looked up at the icon of the rapidly approaching ship, he felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his gut.

Impossible was a word that hardly ever worked out the way you wanted it to.

He watched as Helia contacted the enemy ship and the jumper blinked out of existence.

Yeah, this was not going to be good.

“I thought you said they couldn’t harm you!” Woolsey shouted.

“Raise the shield!”

Helia had barely given the order before the first explosion rocked the city.

Jack watched the Ancients scramble into position in the control room.

Another explosion hit Atlantis.

“Damage to the southwest pier grounding station,” one of the Lanteans announced.

“Another hit near the generator between the north and west piers.”

“Shield’s almost up.”

A third explosion shook the ground.

“Commander Helia,” Jack asked, “What are our options here?”

The woman looked over and he saw fear on her face. She had been so confident that the Replicators would never attack the city. He wondered what had happened to the “nasty surprise” he’d been promised if the Replicators even attempted an attack.

“The shield will hold...hopefully it will hold long enough.”

“We can evacuate to Earth,” Jack suggested.

Helia shook her head. “This is our city.”

He heard the unspoken statement that the Ancients felt it was their duty to stay and defend the city. Jack admired the sentiment, but he’d been in too many situations where going down with the ship was just an idiotic move when you had another option.

The floor shook again with another hit.

“Shield at one hundred percent. Weapons at sixty percent.”

“Fire drones,” Helia commanded.

Jack felt the touch of a hand on his arm and turned to see Woolsey.

“What should we do?” His eyes were wide with terror.

Jack mentally went through his options quickly. He wasn’t in command here so there wasn’t much he could do in the control room. He couldn’t exactly dial home while they were in the middle of an attack and all of the personnel and technology were focused on defending the city. It was clear that Helia wouldn’t entertain his offer of a strategic retreat to the Milky Way.

Another hit shook the city, only slightly dampened by the shield.

“Shield at seventy percent. Weapons at forty.”

“Control room for the secondary jumper bay is flooded.”

He watched as Helia directed several of her crew to the main jumper bay so they could add additional fire to the fight.

“Sensors are failing in damaged areas of the city,” another voice called, listing off the sectors that they could no longer get readings for.

“General O’Neill,” Woolsey asked, “what should we do?”

There were no good options.

If things kept going the way they were, the Replicators would disable the shield soon and breach the city. Then they were all going to be screwed.

“We get weapons and see if we can make it to a jumper. Follow me.”

He didn’t bother telling Helia where they were going. The woman and the rest of their people were preoccupied as hit after hit shook the city.

They were almost down the stairs when Jack heard another update from the control room.

“Shields failing.”

“Shit,” he muttered before he began to run.

Jack headed for his room. The Lanteans hadn’t allowed he and Woolsey to see their weapons stores and he had Sheppard bring all of Earth’s weapons home when they originally left the city. All he had were the weapons he brought with him just in case - a Beretta and a P90.

By the time they made it to his room, Woolsey was out of breath and Jack had made the decision to fit more running into his schedule if they ever got back home.

He grabbed the guns from the locked drawer next to his bed and handed the pistol to Woolsey, quickly showing him how to disengage the safety and giving him a few tips on handling and shooting the weapon.

“Got it?” he asked once he was done.

“I hope so,” the other man replied.

“Then let’s go.”

Jack could feel the adrenaline surging through him, making him more alert and pushing all of those troublesome worries he’d have when this was over to the back of his mind.

His priority right now wasn’t to help defend Atlantis. It was to make it home to Earth alive, with Richard Woolsey in tow. It was to make it home to Sam.

When they got back to Stargate Ops, the Ancients were nowhere in sight.

“Oh, that’s not good,” he said aloud when he saw the empty room.

“Where did they all go?”

Jack looked at the displays. There was a lot of red - a lot of damage. He watched as life signs all over the city flickered and disappeared. Some of those disappearing life signs were near the central core of the city. That meant the Replicators were already inside.

He ran over to the console with Woolsey close behind. He dialed Earth but didn’t even wait for the sequence to finish before he hit the record button for a video message.

The Replicators were already on the ground and closing in on their location. He explained the situation as quickly as possible and hoped they’d be able to reach the ‘gate in time.

“Atlantis is under attack from Replicators! Somehow, they've figured out how to override their programming. The Ancients were taken off-guard and have lost most of the city already. Request immediate evacuation!”

Jack heard shots behind him and hoped that Woolsey was decent with a gun.

“They’re coming!” Woolsey shouted.

“God damn it,” Jack cursed as he cut off and sent the recording, hoping that it made it there in time.

The Daedalus was still too far away and Jack doubted they’d survive the wait. He wasn’t sure if they could make it all the way to the primary jumper bay. That meant their only way out was through the Stargate. He didn’t have a GDO on him and they didn’t have enough time for him to shut down the ‘gate and redial a planet without an iris, so he just hoped his luck held out and they didn’t go splat.

“Richard, we’ve got to go.”

Just as they were about to head towards the ‘gate, Jack watched as another group of Replicators teleported down right in front of it.

“Oh, that’s not good,” he muttered.

There were too many of them and he and Woolsey only had two projectile weapons with limited rounds. Maybe if he had real backup or if they had some of Carter’s anti-replicator guns, they could have made it in one piece to the ‘gate, but that wasn’t going to happen now.

They’d have to go with Plan B. They couldn’t make it to the Stargate now, so they’d have to retreat.

Jack shut down the Stargate to sever the connection to Earth and left the room at a run. He hoped that Woolsey followed him, but he didn’t have the time to look.

As he ran through the halls, his mind worked fast. He thought back to what he’d heard about damage to certain areas of the city rendering them inaccessible to the city’s sensors. He turned right, heading to one of the damaged areas of the city far away from Stargate Operations.

Jack tried not to think about what was going to happen to them after they got there. Help wouldn’t be coming, he’d personally made sure of it.

Chapter Text

Dinner with McKay, Beckett, and Weir had been fun. John missed his teammates and he missed Atlantis.

He thought that being the leader of SG-4 and still going though the gate would give him a similar thrill, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t help that he was used to working with some of the smartest, most skilled people in the Pegasus galaxy and his subordinates on SG-4 just weren’t up to par. General Landry had pointed out that it took time for team chemistry to develop. That was true, but Sheppard wondered if his standards were too high now.

At first, he’d been excited that they were all being called back to the SCG because of a problem in Atlantis. It turned out that he should have been careful what he wished for.

Now he had to deal not only with the fact that he might never be going back to Atlantis, but also that the city he loved was going to be destroyed by Replicators a month and a half after they handed it back to the Ancients for their safekeeping.

The moment he heard that, he realized that he’d been in a holding pattern since they got back. He had been waiting and hoping that they would be able to go back to Atlantis soon, even if it was in a scaled down fashion. He understood why the Ancients wanted the place to themselves for a while. Like he said, he wouldn’t want to come home to somebody sitting on his couch eating his Cheetos. It was just that Atlantis felt like his couch too. A worn in, perfectly comfortable couch that he had to give to a stranger just because they owned it thousands of years ago.

John wished “finders keepers” was a real thing. He never should have given McKay that idea about overtaking the Tria and maxing out the sublight engines in order to contact the ship. Things had all gone downhill since then.

After they found out what had happened on Atlantis and General Landry’s plans to nuke the city, John tried to argue for a rescue mission.

“Sir, General O'Neill and Woolsey may still be alive,” he pointed out. “Now, I know the city like the back of my hand. Just give me sixty marines and...and some of Colonel Carter's new, um…”

He reached for the words and McKay jumped in.

“Anti-replicator weapons.”

“Yeah, those things.”

Landry shook his head.

“I'm sorry, Colonel. I have standing orders. They happen to be General O'Neill's standing orders. The Daedalus will be there in a little under four days. Now how do I get a nuke past their shield?”

At that point, John stopped participating much in the meeting and let McKay stall with a lengthy list of what ifs and technological challenges. Taking down the shield was more of a problem for a scientist anyway.

John Sheppard was used to following orders, even orders that he didn’t like. He just didn’t like leaving people behind. He’d gone on two unsanctioned rescue missions in his career. During one, he saved the lives of three servicemen. In the other, he lost a good friend. Those occasions left him with one black mark on his record and a narrow escape from a dishonorable discharge.

Even so, it was worth it taking those chances both times.

General O’Neill had gotten him into the Stargate program. It had changed his life and given it meaning. Because of that he had gotten close to some amazing people and done amazing things.

John figured he owed the man.

Sitting in the briefing room, listening to his boss argue with Rodney McKay, John Sheppard considered whether he was willing to undertake a third unsanctioned rescue mission, even if it might mean that he actually got discharged this time.

Third time’s the charm, as the saying went.

Eventually, General Landry dismissed them and asked them to come back when they had some options.

The Atlantis team gathered in John’s office. They were supposed to be brainstorming ways past the city’s shield for Landry, but had other things on their mind.

Beckett was the first to broach the topic they were all thinking about.

“Now, those replicator thingamajigies you're talking about…”

“Let's just call them ARGs,” he interrupted.

He had no interest in saying anti-replicator weapon every time they needed to talk about the guns. To his surprise, McKay didn’t fight him on this one like he did when John named the puddle jumpers. Instead, the man went right into the description of the weapons themselves.

“They're energy weapons. They disrupt the link between the nanite cells. The Replicators literally fall apart when you fire on them.”

The ARGs would be key for any plan. They just needed enough people to fire them. And considering he was less than confident about the current prospective rescue team’s background with weapons, he made a suggestion.

“You know, uh, hypothetically, Teyla and Ronon would be more than willing to help…if we asked.”

Elizabeth Weir folded her arms in front of her.

“We would need to gate into Atlantis,” she pointed out. “All they need to do to keep us out is activate the 'gate shield.”

McKay spoke up.

“Well, I did write a backdoor to the shield program. Couple years ago when Kolya stormed the city? So, I mean, it could "hypothetically" let us get into the Gate Room.”

Weir’s eyes widened.

“General Landry was worried about the Replicators rewriting the bridge macro to 'gate them somewhere else in the Milky Way. Does that mean you could change the macro?” she asked. “Take us somewhere else in Pegasus?”

They could do it, John realized. This could actually work. And if they could end up somewhere else in Pegasus, that meant they could get additional reinforcements.

“Somewhere like, uh…just talking here,” he said, “the Athosian settlement where Teyla and Ronon are?”

Suddenly a plan was coming together.

“We’d need a jumper!”

McKay was getting into the spirit now.

John snapped his fingers. “And, uh, some of those ARGs.”

“And,” Weir pointed out, “someone to make sure Landry doesn't close the iris on us.”

“Hmm.” McKay was already deep in thought working through the problem.

“Hypothetically,” Weir added, as if they weren’t all thinking about stealing a jumper and heading back to Atlantis.

“Of course,” Beckett agreed.

John nodded and looked around the room. None of these people were military - Carson Beckett wasn’t even supposed to be on the base right now - but this team had heart and they had skills. They would be able to do this. He would make sure of it.

“Let’s do this then. What’s our plan?”

McKay seemed to have an idea for gaining access to the jumper and asked Weir to go with him. While they were doing that, he and Beckett went to track down the ARGs and other gear they would need for the rescue operation.

John went in alone to one of the supply rooms to grab a few duffle bags and fill them with tac vests, uniforms, and basic supplies. Once he had everything, he handed the bags to Beckett and told him to wait around the corner.

The armory was trickier, but he decided to sign out a single zat, chatting with the airman on duty who wasn’t aware that John’s next mission with SG-4 wasn’t scheduled until the next morning.

Once he had the weapon, he met up with Beckett and they headed for the stairs. Getting the ARGs was a crucial part of their plan. Most of them were in the armory, but he couldn’t risk it, not with an airman on duty and the busy corridors on that level. Luckily, they had another option. John knew that there were still some ARGs secured in one of the labs three levels below for testing. He and Beckett took the stairs to avoid running into anyone at the elevators.

When they made it to the correct level, they walked down the corridors and said hello to other SGC staff that walked by. The closer they got to the lab he was looking for, the fewer people they ran into. Everyone who worked at Stargate Command had some experience working crazy hours, but the scientists tended to have more normal schedules unless it was an emergency.

The Atlantis team had arrived for their briefing with Landry after dinner, which would work to their advantage. Most of the scientists should be home by now.

He found the correct lab and left the lights off when they entered. The cameras would still capture them if anyone was looking, but hopefully no one in security was paying much attention to the labs after hours.

“This way,” he whispered.

He and Beckett walked over to the large secured storage closet on the other side of the room.

John took out his ID card and felt a slight pang of regret, knowing that he was basically saying goodbye to his military career. He swiped the card anyway and opened the door.

“Okay, try to fit at least eight ARGs in the extra duffle bags, more if possible. I want us to bring extras for O’Neill and Woolsey if we can. I’ll watch the door.”

Beckett nodded and started to grab the weapons.

The light came on and John turned to the door.

Well, this wasn’t good.

He raised the zat in his hand and aimed it at her.

“Colonel Carter.”

Chapter Text

Sam looked at the zat aimed in her direction and the two anti-replicator weapons in the hands of Doctor Carson Beckett.

“Colonel Sheppard, what’s going on here? Why are you taking the anti-replicator weapons?”

Sheppard’s hold on the zat was steady, but he gave a slight tilt of his head. “We’re calling them ARGs.”

ARGs. Anti-Replicator Guns, she assumed. With a sudden wave of emotion, she missed Jack desperately. He also liked naming things.

Such as the zat that John Sheppard was pointing at her chest.

“Is there something I can help you with?” she asked cautiously.

For all that there were moments when John Sheppard reminded her of Jack, she didn’t know the man that well. She had no idea what he could possibly be doing here with another former member of the Atlantis operation, taking weapons they should have no need of. More so, she couldn’t even fathom why Carson Beckett might be handling a weapon at all, let alone stealing several from a lab at ten o’clock at night.

“I’d really appreciate it if you got out of our way, Colonel Carter. I don’t want to have to shoot you.”

Sam knew she was at least four steps away from the security alarm and she didn’t have a weapon on her. She didn’t think she’d need one for a late night in the lab.

She should have been a little more specific when she’d been wishing for a distraction.

“I’d really appreciate if you avoided shooting me, John,” she replied calmly. “I don’t exactly want to spend more time in the infirmary. But I need to know why you’re taking those weapons from the lab. I’ve been running some experiments on them and the truth is, they won’t work with their current modifications unless I reset them to the default.”

It was all a bluff and based on the way Sheppard was looking at her, she suspected he knew it.

Thankfully, Beckett believed her.

“The Replicators are attacking Atlantis,” the doctor explained.

Sheppard let out a frustrated sigh and lowered his weapon.

“Seriously, Carson? What part of secret rescue operation do you not understand?”

“She said the ARGs won’t work,” the Scotsman exclaimed.

Sheppard shook his head. “She was probably lying.”

The pieces were starting to come together in Sam’s mind and she didn’t like the picture they were making.

Replicators attacking Atlantis.

Rescue operation.

“Is General O’Neill still there?” she asked, voice rough.

Both men looked back in her direction.

“He and Woolsey didn’t make it back to the ‘gate,” Sheppard admitted. “General Landry is sending the Daedalus to nuke the city in less than four days.”

Sam felt her stomach plummet to the floor. She couldn’t lose Jack too.

“Landry can’t do that.”

She knew that Landry technically could make that decision, but she was surprised that he’d make it unilaterally.

“General O’Neill’s standing orders, apparently,” Sheppard responded. “We’re supposed to be working on a plan to get the nuke through the shield.”

Things just kept getting worse.

Sam could only imagine how Jack must feel, trapped on Atlantis knowing that an order he’d given was going to cause his death. Assuming, that was, that he wasn’t dead already.

She blinked back the tears that started to form in the corner of her eye and focused.

“What’s your plan?”

Sam watched as Sheppard raised his weapon again.

“No offense, Colonel, but things are on a need to know basis right now,” he said. “And I need to know if you’re going to fix those weapons and let us out of here peacefully or if I’m going to have to shoot you before we go on our merry way.”

She took in the determined look on John Sheppard’s face and remembered how the one black mark on the man’s record was an unsanctioned rescue mission where he saved three lives.

Jack would be so proud of him right now.

Of course, first he’d be mad as hell at Sheppard for disobeying direct orders and returning to a high risk situation with low odds, and he’d argue for some stupid reason that he wasn’t worth the risk, but then he’d cycle back to being proud of the man without showing it. After all, this was exactly the type of thing she’d seen Jack O’Neill do many times during their years on SG-1.

“Don’t bother shooting me,” Sam replied. “I’m coming with you.”

“Really?” Beckett asked.

Sam shrugged. “Why not? I love a good covert rescue operation, and plus -”

She cut herself off. She couldn’t exactly say that the love of her life was one of the people stranded out there.

She couldn’t say that she’d already lost one person she loved this week and she sure as hell wasn’t going to lose a second.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I scheduled a couple week’s leave and my plans just fell through.”

Sheppard visibly relaxed and lowered his weapon.

“Well, Colonel, we’re happy to have you along.”

For the first time since she found out that Jack was stranded on Atlantis and under attack - maybe for the first time since the Stargate shut down without Daniel walking through - Sam felt like she could breathe. This was where she was comfortable - not sitting at home waiting to hear from him, but instead taking action to make sure he was safe.

She might not be able to help Daniel, but she could save Jack.

Beckett lifted up one of the ARGs. “What do you need to do to fix these?”

Sam shook her head.

“Nothing. Those are all fine.”

The truth is?” Sheppard teased, referring to her comment about the problem with the weapons.

Sam gave him a pointed look. “Hey, it worked, didn’t it?”

While Sheppard and Beckett changed, she walked to the other side of the lab and texted Cassie to let her know that she might be out of touch for a while, but not to worry. She also asked the girl to do her a favor and cancel the plane tickets and hotel reservation that she’d already been hesitant about keeping after Daniel went missing. She definitely wouldn’t need them now.

Sam didn’t bother to contact anyone else. All the people she worked with would find out soon enough and those who cared about her would understand the choice she made to go after Jack.

“We don’t have an extra tac vest,” Sheppard acknowledged when she walked back over to them. “I don’t think it’s worth trying to get another one.”

They hadn’t planned to have a another member of this operation and she hoped that it didn’t cause any more problems.

“It’s okay,” Beckett said as he handed his tactical vest to Sam, “You’ll make better use out of this anyway.”

It was the right decision. She’d be more likely to be on the front lines of whatever situation they encountered than he would. Still, she appreciated the gesture and would make sure he didn't end up regretting it.

“Thanks, Carson.”

Sam was in the middle of putting on the vest when Elizabeth Weir and Rodney McKay entered the room.

“We got it done,” McKay said, laptop in hand. “You should have seen Elizabeth in there talking World of Warcraft with Bill Lee. I wish I had it recorded.”

Elizabeth Weir didn’t look like she found the World of Warcraft conversation with Bill Lee nearly as amusing as McKay did. Sam didn’t blame her.

“We’ve got an extra passenger joining us,” Sheppard announced.

“I added my name to the authorized personnel list so we should be good to go,” McKay continued.

Then he looked up, spotted her, and came to a complete stop.

“Sam?”

“I figured I’d come along and help you all out.”

“But...what…” Rodney sputtered.

Elizabeth walked over and Beckett handed her a uniform. “Nice to have you join us, Colonel Carter.”

“Happy to be invited, Doctor Weir.”

Sheppard shoved a uniform into Rodney’s chest. “Get changed now, act surprised later. Colonel Carter’s coming with us.”

Minutes later they were all ready to go and headed towards the jumper bay. Unfortunately, they ran into Captain Wallace on the way. The man had been on SG-4 with Sheppard, which made it all the more difficult.

“Wallace. What are you doing here?”

Sam planned to follow Sheppard’s lead on this one and tried to hang back from the man on crutches. He might not recognize McKay, Beckett, and Weir, but he would recognize her.

“General Landry wanted to talk to me about reassignment.”

Sheppard winced and for the first time she wondered how his non-Atlantis missions had been going. She remembered hearing some rumors about SG-4’s recent bad luck.

“Oh, right. Sorry about that,” Sheppard said.

Wallace looked uncomfortable.

“Are you already going on missions without me, or…?” His voice trailed off.

Beckett placed a comforting had on Wallace’s shoulder to distract him as Sheppard checked the status of the corridor behind them.

“You should really stay off of that ankle, son,” Beckett advised, a medical doctor even in the middle of a covert operation.

Sheppard nodded to her to let her know the corridor was clear and she nodded back in acknowledgement.

“Yeah, well when General Landry says now, it's now.”

Sam frowned. If the man planned to go directly from talking with them to meeting with General Landry, it would make their plan even more difficult.

“Colonel Carter, are you going with them? I thought you were on leave.”

“You know me,” she replied, “Can’t keep away from the lab.”

“But you’re geared up…” Wallace’s voice trailed off as he looked at the group and began to notice that something wasn’t right.

Sam glanced at Sheppard.

“Sorry about this,” he apologized before firing the zat at Wallace.

Beckett grabbed Wallace’s crutches and Sam caught the man as he fell.

Sam never liked it when they had to fire on their own people. She wondered if it was even tougher for Sheppard to fire on Wallace because the man had been a member of his SG team and under his command.

They dragged Wallace’s unconscious body through the closest door and left him there.

Sheppard looked at her and then answered her unasked question. “Can't afford to have him tell Landry he ran into us.”

Sam gave him a nod and they all headed towards the jumper storage area where, unfortunately, Sergeant Siler was working on one of the jumpers. Luckily, he was the only staff member there.

She turned to Sheppard.

“Let me handle it. All of you fall back out of sight and I’ll get him to leave.”

Sheppard peered around the corner to where Siler was running through a checklist and performing diagnostics tests.

“Sure you can get him to leave without sending up any red flags?”

Sam didn’t bother to get into her long history of working with Siler.

“Yes, as long as all of you hang back and wait for my signal.”

Sheppard nodded and asked the rest of the team to head to the storage room they passed further down the hallway.

“I’m giving you two minutes before we move in anyway, Colonel.”

“Understood.”

Sam gave the gear she’d been holding, and her tac vest, and went to go have a chat with Siler.

“Hey Sergeant,” she called when she got in range. “They got you doing ship diagnostics again?”

He looked up and adjusted his glasses.

“Colonel, I thought you were on leave.”

Sam smiled.

“Starting tomorrow.”

The technician chuckled. “Which explains why you haven’t left for the day yet.”

“You know me well,” she replied.

Siler looked over at her and she could see his expression become more serious. She knew what was coming.

“I’m sorry about Doctor Jackson.”

“Thank you.”

“I heard they’re getting close to narrowing down the address. Might be able to find it and send a MALP through tomorrow.”

Sam knew he was trying to be hopeful, but it just reminded her of how Daniel was gone and she’d been kicked off the project for all intents and purposes and forced to take her leave.

And then there was Jack.

“So what’s the deal with the jumper?” she asked, desperate to change the subject and get things back on track. “I thought you were working on some updates to the power grid.”

Siler looked down at the paperwork in his hand before looking back up.

“I got pulled off of that because we’re using this jumper for a mission tomorrow afternoon. They wanted me to make sure it was in good shape. Took some enemy fire to the outer hull last mission.”

He handed over the folder of paperwork to her and Sam glanced through it.

“Why aren’t they taking one of the other jumpers?”

Siler shrugged.

“This one’s in the best shape. The others need more extensive repairs and we don’t have the resources right now to fix them all at the same time. This jumper is looking good and it’s passed all the initial diagnostics, but I haven’t put it through the stress tests yet.”

It wasn’t ideal news to know that the one jumper they had an option of taking could have some unknown repercussions from its last mission. Then again, it wasn’t like they were going to find a brand new ship anywhere either, and these jumpers could withstand way more than any of their man-made ships could.

She’d tell Sheppard, but this was still their best bet.

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, you’re going to have to come back for the stress tests later. I didn’t come down just to catch up. Felger’s experiment just cut the power to several labs on level 19. The General asked me to grab you for repairs.”

Siler closed his eyes and grimaced.

“I thought after the last time when he brought down the whole base that we isolated his lab enough to prevent this from happening again.”

“At least it didn’t take out rest of the base this time,” Sam offered.

“Okay,” he sighed, before placing the paperwork and diagnostic tools on a nearby table. “You going up with me?”

Sam shook her head. “I’ve got some other things to finish up before I’m off for two weeks.”

Siler nodded.

“I know things aren’t great right now, but try to enjoy some of your time off.”

Sam almost laughed. Enjoying herself wasn’t even on her radar right now. She had much more important things to worry about. Still, it was sweet of Sergeant Siler to worry.

“Thanks. I will,” she replied. “Now you better get up there.”

They walked out into the corridor together and then Sheppard showed up.

“Colonel Carter, there you are! I’ve been looking for you. I was hoping we could discuss your recent mission to P4Z-433. We’re doing the follow-up next week and I wanted to get your opinion on a few things before you leave.”

Siler looked at them and greeted Sheppard before looking back at her.

“Have a good leave, Colonel.”

“Thanks again. I have a few ideas for that power grid we’ll have to talk about when I get back.”

“Always a pleasure to hear your ideas.”

As soon as Siler walked away, Sheppard started talking. Sam continued to watch Siler walk down the hallway.

“Now, about some of the local traditions on ‘433. What components of that are necessary for us to participate in and what’s optional? Because I -”

“He’s gone,” she hissed.

Sheppard opened the door where the remaining team was hiding.

“Let’s move!”

Beckett handed her the gear and tac vest that she’d taken off before going to talk to Siler and then they moved quickly to the jumper storage room.

Sam walked next to Sheppard and gave him an update.

“We have to use the jumper Siler was running diagnostics on. The others are out of commission for repairs. He didn’t finish the stress tests, but it’s good based on initial diagnostics. It did take enemy fire on its last mission out.”

“So,” Sheppard said, “try not to damage the SGC’s only currently functional puddle jumper while engaging enemies in another galaxy. No pressure there.”

“On the plus side,” Sam added. “It was supposed to be used for a mission tomorrow afternoon, so it’s all packed up.”

Sheppard grinned.

“Maybe luck will be on our side after all.”

They tossed duffles packed with extra ARGs and additional gear in the jumper and then Beckett and Weir went inside to sit down. Sam and McKay headed to the computer outside the jumper.

“Do you think this will work?” Sam asked.

“Of course it’ll work,” McKay said, ignoring her to focus on his work interfacing with the SGC dialing computer.

Sam hated this feeling of jumping into a mission halfway through. Her contributions were necessarily limited without knowing the full plan, but she needed to help because otherwise her mind would turn to the reason why they were stealing a jumper to return to Atlantis in the first place.

She headed to the jumper and hoped they’d all be able to fill her in with the rest of the details on the way to the Pegasus galaxy.

“You set?” McKay shouted at Sheppard.

“Go for it,” came the call from the jumper.

McKay joined them in the jumper and sat down next to Sam.

“Okay, they’re going to be able to get through my hack pretty quickly.”

Quickly, but not quick enough, Sam assumed. Maybe if she’d been in the control room when the Stargate started dialing she would have been able to stop it. Sergeant Harriman, as good as he was at his job, wouldn’t be able to discover the hack and shut things down in enough time.

“It’s all right,” Sheppard assured them, “I don’t need much time.”

He piloted the jumper to the ‘gate room, where the wormhole was already open to send them to the McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge. Jack liked to tease her and say that it should have been the Carter-McKay Intergalactic Gate Bridge, but Sam didn’t mind. Rodney McKay seemed like he needed those wins a little more than she did.

General Landry’s voice, telling Sheppard to stand down, echoed through the puddle jumper before being cut off as they entered the event horizon.

They were at Midway Station before she knew it and Sam hoped that she’d be able to get some answers before they arrived in Atlantis.

Beckett started talking about turtles that he left behind, but Sam interrupted.

“So how did this happen?” she asked.

“The Ancients were supposed to be safe from attack from this version of the Replicators,” Weir began.

McKay shifted uncomfortably and jumped in. “Like I told General Landry, it is remotely - only remotely - possible that in trying to rewrite Niam’s base code we may have opened the door for them to make other changes.”

This was what always happened. They tried to solve one problem and then it caused another. Sam was getting really sick of it. She was also pissed because she was supposed to be on vacation with Jack right now. Instead, Daniel was gone and Jack might be dead in another galaxy.

“So this is all your fault then, McKay,” she replied, with more of an edge to her voice than she would’ve normally shown.

“At the time, we needed to do it to save the city,” Dr. Weir tried to explain.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sheppard cut in.

“It does matter if General O’Neill and Richard Woolsey die because of it,” Sam replied. “They might even be dead already.”

“Hey, we’re trying to fix it now,” Sheppard said. His voice was soft and comforting.

“I know, I just -”

How did she explain that her heart was out there in Atlantis, unprotected?

“I’ve read some of your SG-1 mission reports. General O’Neill has been known to get out of pretty tight spots.” Sheppard’s look was appraising and she wondered how much he saw. “We’re good at getting out of tight spots too. We’re going to make this work.”

Sam nodded and reminded herself that she couldn’t break down now. She needed to hold it together.

“How’s it coming, McKay?” Sheppard asked.

Sam watched as McKay’s fingers flew over the keyboard.

“Trust me, I’m going as fast as I can.”

All of the sudden, the Milky Way gate activated. Sheppard turned to McKay.

“Did you do that?”

“Nope,” McKay replied.

General Landry’s face appeared on the display.

“Colonel Sheppard. I'm going to assume that you're still at the Midway Station waiting for Doctor McKay to rewrite his macro. I understand what you're doing, Colonel. Hell, I'll even call it brave, but if you don't turn that ship around immediately and come back to the SGC-”

Sam moved next to John Sheppard and interrupted Landry’s tirade.

“Hi General, in all the madness I might have forgotten to mention that during my leave I was going to hang out with some friends off-world. I hitched a ride.”

“Colonel Carter?” Landry asked. “Why the hell are you involved in this? You weren’t even supposed to be on base.”

“Seemed like they might need some assistance, sir.”

“Both of you turn around right now or I’ll see that your careers in the military are -”

Sheppard hit a button to shut off the transmission. Weir, Beckett, and McKay looked at him in surprise, but Sam knew exactly why he hit that button.

Sheppard shrugged. “That way I won't know what he was gonna say.”

It was usually easier to plead ignorance when disobeying a direct order.

“Okay!” McKay suddenly shouted. “I’ve got it!”

Sam took a breath, glad they were getting closer.

“All right,” Sheppard offered as he turned to face them, “last chance to change our minds.”

They all sat silent, determined to move forward with the plan to save Jack and Woolsey. Sam looked around at the Atlantis team. They came from such different professional backgrounds, but were set on doing the right thing and making sure no one was left behind. They reminded her of SG-1, in all of its various incarnations.

Sam felt so grateful that they were all here with her. She was so grateful that they’d told her what happened and accepted her on this rescue mission.

If she’d known that Jack was trapped on Atlantis, she would have tried to plan a rescue. The fact that these people, who didn’t know or care about him nearly as much as she did, would break the rules to do the same, meant the world to her. She just had to make sure they all made it out of here alive.

“All right,” Sheppard replied as he faced forward, “let's do it.”

Chapter Text

Fifteen minutes later they parked the jumper near the Athosian settlement and walked over to meet Ronon and Teyla, who had been part of Sheppard’s team on Atlantis.

When they arrived at the settlement, the scents of a hearty meat stew drifted over the air. Sam’s stomach grumbled and she realized that she hadn’t had anything to eat for almost five hours. The last thing she had was a granola bar.

Jack would have given her such a hard time for not eating, especially before a big mission.

Daniel would have brought some snacks with.

“That smells great!” Sheppard called. She assumed that the two figures talking outside a nearby tent were the other members of the Atlantis team.

The woman and man both turned around at the sound of Sheppard’s voice. He was tall and she was somewhat short, but they both looked like - as Teal’c would say - “formidable warriors.” She looked forward to getting to know Sheppard’s other team members.

“Hope you saved some for us,” Sheppard continued.

The woman’s face lit up when she saw them.

“John?! It is wonderful to see you—all of you!”

“And you,” Weir replied before gesturing towards Sam. “Ronon, Teyla, this is Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter.”

Sam stepped forward. “It’s great to meet you. And you can call me Sam.”

“Hi.”

Sam smiled at Ronon in response, but it seemed that the single word was all he was going to manage. It made her think of Teal’c’s understated way of communicating.

“It’s wonderful to meet you, Sam,” Teyla replied, clasping her hand in greeting. Sam appreciated the woman’s welcoming demeanor.

“Something’s wrong,” Ronon observed.

The group from Earth all looked at each other.

“Yes,” Sam eventually replied. “Something is very wrong and we need your help.”

“Let’s talk inside,” Teyla offered.

They all moved into a nearby tent. Once inside, Teyla asked if any of them wanted something to eat. She looked at Sheppard first, no doubt because of his comment about the smell of the stew, but directed the invitation to all of them.

Sam’s stomach growled again.

“I’d love some if you don’t mind,” she said to Teyla. “I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ve had to eat since lunch has been a granola bar.”

“I’ll have some too,” McKay added.

Sheppard looked at McKay. “We all just ate dinner.”

Sam remembered a brief mention in the jumper about how the four of them had been at a restaurant when they got the call to come into the SGC.

“That was hours ago,” McKay retorted, “and we have no idea when we’re going to eat again. In fact, we should also pack some food supplies into the jumper just in case.”

“That’s actually a good idea, Rodney,” Weir said.

Teyla came back with a bowl for her and one for McKay.

Sam thanked her and started eating. Everyone else sat around the table and Sheppard started to describe the outline of their plan for getting back to the city, destroying the Replicators, and rescuing Jack and Woolsey.

The main part of the plan that Sam was concerned about was using a Replicator to defeat the Replicators.

She knew that the Asgard always advocated for using humanity’s “stupid ideas” to fight Replicators, but the odds of success for McKay’s plan seemed really slim if it all hinged on finding the right energy level to get Niam to transmit the code without having access to any other abilities.

“Are you sure the code will be uploaded to the other Replicators before Niam reawakens?” Sam asked.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“I’ve had plenty of experience with Replicators and -”

“The plan will work,” McKay snapped.

Sam tried to contain her anger and took a deep breath. McKay may have had some experience with Replicators, but she also knew exactly what they were capable of. Being overconfident was never a good idea where the Replicators were concerned.

“It’s always good to have a backup plan,” she pointed out.

Sam watched Beckett and Ronon look quickly between the two of them. Sam didn’t want to start a fight, but it was always better to work through these things in safety while you could.

“He tends to prefer coming up with backup plans on the fly,” Sheppard explained with a shrug. “He works better under pressure.”

McKay glared at Sheppard. “He would prefer if people didn’t keep trying to poke holes in his plan.”

“Rodney, I don’t think she’s trying to poke holes,” Weir said, trying to play peacemaker. “We’re just all trying to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be.”

Sheppard looked at all of them and seemed to just give up on the whole situation altogether.

“Okay, you two sort this out. Ronon and I are going to bring the supplies we need back to the jumper and bring back the ARGs. We need to make sure that everyone knows exactly how to use them before we set out for Atlantis.”

“Don’t forget the food.”

“We won’t, McKay.”

Sheppard and Ronon left to gather supplies and carry them back to the jumper.

“I’m not saying that it’s a bad plan,” Sam said, trying to soothe McKay’s ego. “It’s just always good to have a plan B.”

He glared at her.

“It would be worth coming up with options, Rodney,” Weir tried.

Beckett nodded, but wisely didn’t open his mouth.

“Rodney,” Teyla said, “It might be wise to listen to Sam’s ideas.”

McKay set his laptop down on the table and stood up, facing Sam.

“How come when you have a crazy plan no one doubts it, but I have a crazy plan and have to deal with all these questions?!”

Sam wasn’t sure how to answer that question when she didn’t agree with the premise.

“I get lots of questions on my plans,” she eventually responded. “Some even from you saying my plans are going to be a catastrophic failure.”

The anger left McKay’s face.

“Oh, I suppose I might have said something like that in the past. It doesn’t preclude the fact that my plan is going to work.”

She really hoped that his plan did work. She just didn’t want them to be caught without a net if it didn’t.

He grudgingly let her look at his code and listened to a few of her suggestions before complaining that she was distracting him.

It made Sam feel a little helpless. Normally what McKay was working on would be in her job description. There wasn’t even a second computer for her to work on. For the first time since she’d joined the Atlantis team on this mission, she felt like an outsider.

McKay went to the far end of the table to work on his laptop, firmly refusing any more of her help and saying he needed to concentrate. Sam walked over to join Weir, Teyla, and Beckett at the other end of the table.

She sat down, wishing that she could help more to make sure this mission was a success.

“What are you and John going to do when you get back to the SGC?” Weir asked her.

If they got back, Sam corrected silently.

“The rest of us don’t have military careers to think about, but General Landry threatened -”

Sam shrugged.

“It wouldn’t be the first time I’d disobeyed orders to make sure that Jack O’Neill got home alive. He’s done the same for me. I learned a long time ago that you never leave a member of your team behind.”

She felt a sudden, sharp pang of guilt about Daniel, but pushed it to the side. One rescue mission at a time.

Weir looked at her shrewdly. “He’s not exactly a member of SG-1 anymore.”

People didn’t stop being members of SG-1 just because they weren’t on the current team roster and Weir should understand that better than anyone.

After all, Sam had practically blackmailed her once upon a time to try and help Jack O’Neill when he was in stasis in Antarctica.

“And you’re not the leader of Atlantis anymore...and yet here we are.”

“I suppose we are,” Weir agreed.

Sam changed the topic by asking Teyla how her people were adjusting to the new settlement. Then she asked Beckett how he’d been faring as a doctor at the SGC. She asked Weir how her consulting position was and what else she’d been doing with her spare time.

The woman’s guarded look make Sam feel like she wasn’t the only one who’d been having a tough time of it lately due to Atlantis.

No one, thankfully, asked about her. If they had, she would have needed to lie. She’d been working long hours in the lab to distract herself from Jack’s absence. When she had gone on a mission with SG-1, it had all gone to hell. Her life right now wasn’t one she’d want to talk about in polite company.

“I just don’t get it,” Sam admitted after Weir’s halting response led them all back to the conversation about the unsanctioned mission they were on. “They should have had some sort of advance notice or warning before the Replicators got to the city. They should have been able to put a plan in place without being ambushed.”

None of it made sense. The Replicators shouldn’t have been able to catch them so off guard.

“They did have notice,” Beckett admitted. “We found out from General Landry that the Replicators were detected on the Atlantis long range sensors almost a week ago.”

“And they didn’t do anything to prepare,” Sam filled in with disbelief.

Why didn’t Jack just return home until after the danger passed?

Almost as soon as the question surfaced in her head she knew the likely answer: duty. He wasn’t willing to risk breaking off the talks with the Ancients early just to save his own ass. He also probably realized that leaving would make it seem like Earth’s representatives didn’t trust their potential new allies.

“I thought it seemed off and offered to brief Landry on the Replicators, but he said that things sounded like they were under control,” John Sheppard explained from the entrance of the tent.

Sheppard entered with a black duffle bag and placed it on a nearby table. Ronon entered the tent behind him. Everyone else stood and moved closer.

“You’re telling me that they knew about the Replicators?” Sam asked, just to double check.

Sheppard nodded.

“And General O’Neill wasn’t concerned?”

“Maybe he did think it was fishy, but Lanteans were walking behind them the entire time they were making the call. What was I supposed to do when Landry didn’t care to look into it any further?”

Sam felt a red-hot flush of anger run through her. All of this could have been prevented if the Ancients and Stargate Command had taken the threat seriously.

She might have - probably would have - fought against General Landry’s assumptions longer than Sheppard had, but she couldn’t fault the man. It was difficult to be the only one to notice a problem and want to fix it.

“It’s okay,” she replied, “You’re not the one who screwed up.”

Sheppard’s expression made it seem like he wasn’t sure if he believed her.

“The Ancients said that the Replicators couldn’t harm them,” Weir said.

Oh, for crying out loud!

The phrase that she always associated with Jack echoed in the back of her mind at Weir’s comment. Everyone should have been suspicious about that claim: Jack, Woolsey, Landry, the President...hell, even the maintenance staff would have found something wrong with that line of reasoning. You should never assume that an enemy wouldn’t be able to harm you. The thing about enemies was they got creative with boundaries like that. They always found loopholes.

“Couldn’t harm them?” she asked for clarification.

“They told General O’Neill the Replicators would get a nasty surprise if they tried anything. No precautions were taken to protect the city,” Sheppard added. “At least, not that I’m aware of.”

That was so unbelievably arrogant that Sam almost couldn’t accept that they’d known Replicators were on their way and had done nothing. How stupid could you get?

“They were making decisions like that after being out of contact for ten thousand years?” she said, baffled and angry.

“Yeah,” McKay piped in. “To think that we always assumed the Ancients were smart.”

“I - ” Sam took a breath to calm herself. “I don’t know what to say.”

She felt a hand squeeze her arm and looked over to see that it had been Elizabeth Weir, likely trying to give her a show of support.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Sheppard replied. “We all know the failures that have led us here and we know the odds against us, but we’ve always liked challenges and this isn’t any different. We’re going to do what we need to do.”

Jack would have laughed at the cliches.

Sheppard looked around the group and they all nodded, resolved to do whatever they could to save the two men stuck on Atlantis and save the city.

McKay unzipped the bag on the table to show the weapons inside.

“The anti-replicator weapon -” Sam started.

“ARG,” Sheppard cut in.

“Yes,” Sam agreed. “The ARG was a weapon that I designed. It’s based on disruptor technology General O’Neill developed, back when he was Colonel O’Neill, under the influence of an Ancient Repository of knowledge. They reduce the target to a harmless pile of individual cells using an emitter placed at the end of the barrel.”

“So,” Ronon asked, “they work good against the Replicators?”

Before she could open her mouth to answer him, McKay started speaking.

“They emit a directional energy beam that disrupts the connection between nanites -”

While he was speaking, McKay picked up one of the ARGs, turned it on, and handed it over to Ronon.

“Not what I asked,” Ronon interrupted.

McKay paused and she could tell that it pained him to respond to the question in such a simplified manner.

“Er, yes. They work good.”

Ronon lifted the weapon and practiced aiming it, gauging the weight.

“Good. So you need us because, uh, we know our way around the city?”

McKay handed the next weapon to Teyla.

“I need you because you're part of our team,” Sheppard replied.

Sam found the way Sheppard said that to be sweet. The bond between all of the members of the former Atlantis team was clearly a strong one.

She realized, suddenly, how difficult it must have been for Sheppard and the others to leave Teyla and Ronon here, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

It was a little different for her to have off-world friends because all of hers were still located in the Milky Way and reachable via a quick walk through the Stargate.

Sam wondered if Sheppard knew what she had started to suspect - if Atlantis was lost, the leadership on Earth would do anything to prevent the Replicators from making it to the Milky Way, including destroying the newly constructed McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge.

With that thought, Sam realized that this rescue mission might be a one way trip. If Atlantis was lost and the Gate Bridge destroyed, there would be no way home. She doubted the Daedalus would wait to search for them after dropping a nuclear weapon.

Still, it wasn’t the first time she’d been on a mission with bad odds.

“There may be hundreds of Replicators on Atlantis by now,” Teyla pointed out.

And, as they all knew, the longer you left Replicators alone, the more of them there would be. Their situation would become more dire the longer they waited to go in.

“We've got a plan,” Sheppard pointed out. “A good one. I wouldn't ask you to come with us if I didn't think we could do it.”

Teyla and Ronon seemed to consider that and then Elizabeth Weir spoke up.

“Also, General O'Neill and Richard Woolsey were both on Atlantis when the Replicators attacked. There is a chance they're still alive.”

They had to be alive. Sam wouldn’t let herself think about the alternative.

Sheppard gripped his gun tighter.

“I'll be damned if I'm going to let a bunch of Replicators take our home away from us. So…you with us?”

Ronon and and Teyla exchanged a look and then smiled at Sheppard. He nodded and smiled back in return.

“Great,” he replied, “Then let’s take our city back.”

Plan in place, they all walked back to the jumper.

On the walk over, Sam and McKay discussed the program to force the Atlantis shield to stay open. He explained the modifications he made in order to upload it to the gate. She suggested a couple changes that might help it load faster that McKay grumbled about and then grudgingly accepted.

Sam had never felt entirely comfortable around Rodney McKay. He was arrogant, annoying, and unfailingly condescending. At least he was a lot less sexist than he used to be.

In spite of his flaws, she suspected that McKay’s time on Atlantis - where he could shine and bond with a team - was somehow making him into a better person. Slowly.

“So how’s Jeannie?” Sam asked.

“What?”

“Your sister, Jeannie.”

Sam had really liked Jeannie Miller, even with her initial refusal to be involved in any way in the Stargate Program with its inherent secrecy demands.

What had shocked her was the sudden stab of jealousy she felt at meeting Jeannie. Here was a woman who’d given up science entirely for a happy home life with a husband and daughter and still managed to come up with a proof beyond the abilities of most of their scientists and mathematicians.

She solved - or almost solved, as it turned out - their problem with finger paints and still seemed happy living a normal life.

Sam had tried for that kind of normal life once, but it never fit quite right. She still wasn’t entirely sure if it had been because Pete was the wrong man or because normal wasn’t a word that could ever be applied to Sam Carter.

“Yes,” McKay replied. “I know who my sister is. Why are you asking?”

She knew he had other things on his mind, with their plan probably bouncing around his head, but Rodney McKay was always so abrupt.

“I was just wondering how it was for her to settle back into normal life after seeing everything she saw. It’s probably been nice being able to spend time with her.”

“What are you talking about?”

She thought that McKay and his sister had reconciled since the events that led an alternate Rodney McKay to temporarily travel to this universe’s Atlantis.

“It’s been six weeks. Surely you’ve let her know that you were back on Earth.”

Rodney McKay stopped, paused, and looked up.

“I’m sure I sent her an e-mail,” he replied, mostly to himself. “Or it might still be in the drafts folder.”

He grimaced and started walking again.

“Thanks for the reminder. I’ll worry about it later assuming we’re still alive.”

The situation wasn’t the same, but Sam knew what it was like to have an estranged sibling. She also knew those relationships could be repaired if both people wanted them to be.

“She’ll forgive you, Rodney. She’s done it once already and six weeks isn’t nearly as bad as four years.”

He looked over at her.

“Yes, well, maybe.” They entered the jumper and he sat down, placing the laptop on the nearest flat surface. “Still need to not die first.”

Sam, Weir, Beckett, McKay, and Sheppard sat in the font half of the jumper while Teyla and Ronon stayed in the back to gear up.

Sheppard started the jumper up and moved it to hover near the Stargate.

Sam watched McKay make a few final adjustments to the code. His hands pulled away from the laptop.

“Okay, I think I've loaded up the GDO. It'll lower the shield when we dial.”

“Go for it,” Sheppard ordered.

“All right,” McKay said, taking a deep breath and looking around at the group. “Dialing Atlantis.”

He pressed the dialing buttons on the laptop.

“And…”

He drew out the word and Sam felt nervous that this might not work, that she might not be able to make it to Jack.

Her memory flashed back to the months she spent desperately dialing the Stargate on Edora.

The Stargate activated and then settled back into a stable wormhole.

Sam breathed a sigh of relief. The Atlantis Stargate was still active. That was step one.

McKay continued to look at his laptop.

“That's confirmation. Gate shield has been lowered.”

“Great job, McKay,” Sam replied.

He gave her a nod of acknowledgement and turned back to face forward. They all looked at the Stargate shining in front of them.

“I hope this little plan of ours works,” Sheppard said.

“Yeah,” McKay replied, sounding less than confident, “you and me both.”

Sheppard flew the jumper into the active wormhole, back to Atlantis.

Chapter Text

Jack didn’t feel any better about their situation after his recon. The entire city was crawling with Replicators. There had to be hundreds of them.

This time out, he’d headed towards Stargate Operations on the off chance they might be able to make a run for the control room and ‘gate home. He’d been able to duck into rooms and corridors to hide from Replicators walking by, but when he got to the ‘gate, he counted at least fifteen of them in the control room and nine more standing around by the Stargate itself.

Jack was feeling decidedly less than optimistic about their chances of survival by the time he made it back to the area where he’d left Woolsey.

“General?”

He heard the sharp whisper and had to close his eyes and count to ten so he didn’t overreact.

“General?!”

Woolsey’s voice was even louder the second time. Jack saw the man start to peer around the corner, with a loose hold on his gun. He couldn’t believe that this was who he’d been left with for backup.

Jack took a step forward.

“And if I’m a Replicator?” he asked, with barely restrained patience.

Woolsey jumped back and looked guilty.

“Then I’ve just exposed my position,” he admitted.

“Again,” Jack reminded him.

This wasn’t the first time they had to split up so that Jack could get a better picture of their current situation. He’d gone on two other recon runs, neither with positive results. Things were bad, possibly even worse than he realized when the Replicators first hit the city.

Jack had walked past a hell of a lot of dead bodies. He was starting to suspect that none of the Tria crew had survived. He had recognized a lot of faces after spending weeks here in Atlantis. And as much as he hated the negotiations, the Lanteans were good people. They had been good people. Their knowledge had been lost with them and they only got to live out a month and a half of their second chance. It was too much to think about so Jack shoved it to the back of his mind where he placed everything he didn’t have the time or energy to think about right now.

All he knew was that Richard Woolsey was damn lucky the Replicators hadn’t made it to this damaged section of the city yet. They would have found him immediately.

“I'm sorry. I'm not very good at this.”

The both walked into the damaged room where Woolsey had been hiding. Jack pulled a power bar out of his pocket and handed it over to Woolsey.

“Here.”

“Thank God! I’m starving!”

Woolsey grabbed the bar, opened it, and started eating it as if he’d gone a week without food instead of half a day.

He didn’t find much in terms of food while he was walking around this sector - only a couple remaining bars in a room that must’ve previously been occupied by Stargate staff. The kitchens were on the other side of the city. Getting to them wasn’t a priority and they’d never be able to manage it right now anyway. If they even survived that long, they’d have to worry about dehydration before starvation.

“Was this all you could find?” Woolsey asked as soon as he swallowed the last of the bar.

If the Replicators didn’t end up killing Woolsey, Jack was concerned that he might.

“No. Actually there was a lovely buffet,” he replied sarcastically.

“How did the recon go?”

Not well, he admitted internally. They were rapidly running out of options and he wasn’t sure if they had any viable ones left.

“Well, the Stargate Ops is crawlin’ with `em. There's no way we're gonna get across to the jumper bay.”

The jumper bay had been their best bet. He easily could have flown them out of here and cloaked the ship to hide from the Replicators. They would have had to go to another planet with a Stargate to avoid the fallout from the Daedalus attack he knew was coming, but at least they would have been able to eventually make it home.

He would have been able to make it back to Sam.

Jack wondered if she’d been told about the Replicator attack. He should’ve gone home this morning instead of waiting until tomorrow as scheduled.

“Are they looking for us?”

Any friendly feelings he had started to feel towards Richard Woolsey were rapidly fading. The man did not understand the scope of their current situation. They were as good as dead anyway unless they could rescue themselves soon.

“I plum forgot to ask.”

He’d done this long enough to know how to move around without being spotted. At this point, if they were spotted, it would be because Woolsey gave them away or the life signs detectors got repaired and removed their ability to hide.

They sat down on the floor and leaned against the wall.

“Well, as long as the life signs detectors aren't working in these damaged areas, we should be able to hold out until they rescue us.”

He didn’t want to destroy the man’s optimism, but he had no choice.

“Uh, Richard, there's not going to be a rescue.”

Woolsey looked over at him in surprise.

“What?”

There was no rescue coming. Based on his last recon mission, they had no options left unless something drastically changed. They were going to be here in the city when the Daedalus arrived. They weren’t going to make it out.

“Landry has standing orders to nuke the city if there's any sign of a foothold situation.”

Woolsey pulled back in shock.

“What kind of a standing order is that?”

There was a time when Jack had been suicidal. He’d spent nights drinking too much on the couch and holding the loaded gun that killed his son and wondering if he didn’t deserve to join Charlie six feet under. He’d click the safety on and off as he drank, sometimes forgetting whether it was engaged or not. He only did this on nights when Sara wasn’t home, but as grief drowned them, he allowed the guilt to drive them apart. She started to stay over with her dad more often and he spent more nights wondering if he was ready to pull the trigger.

Then the United States Air Force decided that they had the perfect type of mission for a man who had a death wish anyway.

Instead of killing him, the Abydos mission brought Jack back to life.

That suicide mission had brought him to the Stargate Program and Daniel and Skaara. Eventually, it brought him to Teal’c and Sam.

One day about a year into leading SG-1 he realized that those wishes for death no longer haunted him. When Sam had asked if he’d have any regrets as they huddled for warmth in Antarctica, he told her he’d regret dying.

There may have been times after that when he’d been so desperate and broken that he wanted to die, like when he was tortured by Ba’al, but ever since he was injured beside her in that frozen wasteland, Jack O’Neill had known that he was no longer the type of person at risk of taking his own life.

What standing order?

Jack would have laughed if the answer wasn’t so tragic.

“Mine,” he replied.

Chapter Text

Sam felt tense, but ready. She tried to get herself into the same focused mindset she usually aimed for when going on a mission in enemy territory.

That’s all this was, she told herself, just a regular mission.

The feelings that were tightening her chest and bubbling in her stomach...those exact feelings were one of the reasons for the fraternization regulations that kept her and Jack apart for so many years. She had to keep her cool. She could break down afterwards if she still needed to.

She would break down after they got home.

It was a good plan, Sam decided. Colonel Carter could get Jack home and then Samantha Carter could hug him until she was convinced he wasn’t in danger any longer.

As soon as they arrived in Atlantis, Replicators started firing on them from all sides.

Sam watched as Sheppard switched on the comms as the firefight continued around them.

“Authentication code Alpha Six Delta Charlie Niner. General O'Neill, Woolsey, do you copy?”

The response was almost immediate.

“Sheppard? Is that you?”

Sam heard Jack’s voice and breathed a sigh of relief. He was still alive. They weren’t too late. The Replicators hadn’t killed him or captured him.

“Yes, sir,” Sheppard replied. “I need to know if you're anywhere near Stargate Operations.”

She hoped they weren’t anywhere nearby. Not only would it mess with the next step of their plan, but she’d also have to worry about them getting caught in the firefight. She didn’t even know if they had access to weapons. Not to mention any possible injuries and diminished response times that could cause trouble.

They were all running on adrenaline now. Sam had already been up for close to 20 hours at this point. Given the longer days caused by the planet’s relative distance from its sun, Jack and Woolsey had likely been awake for even longer.

“No, we're not.”

Jack’s voice was steady. That was good sign.

“That's good. Can't talk right now, sir. Get back to you in a couple of hours. Sheppard out.”

Sam wished they’d had enough time to get a situation report from Jack. It would have helped to know exactly what they were facing.

Unfortunately, time was in short supply as weapon blasts continued to batter the jumper. The Stargate deactivated behind the ship. Sheppard turned to McKay.

“Drop the package.”

McKay hit a few buttons to drop the timed explosive onto the floor in front of the Stargate.

“Package is away.”

“Hold on,” Sheppard warned.

They all braced themselves as Sheppard put the jumper into reverse and flew the ship backward through the ‘gate and crashed through the glass wall directly behind it. Sam gripped the doorway to the cargo hold tightly and pressed her body against the interior wall. Beckett almost lost his ability to stay upright and she saw Ronon being buffeted by the crash, holding tightly to the upper storage area of the cargo hold.

Thankfully, the wall they crashed through led to the exterior of the tower. Now free of obstacles, flying through the night sky, Sheppard continued to accelerate as much as possible to get more distance between them and the bomb.

He continued to move the jumper in reverse, so they all watched as the tower housing Stargate Operations exploded in a huge fireball.

Sam briefly wondered whether the the ‘gate and control room would still be usable after a hit like that, but reminded herself that they had other options if they needed them and pushed the thoughts aside.

Large chunks of the tower fell and a secondary explosion occurred. Everyone in the jumper looked on in awe, faces lit up from the light of the blast.

“That went well,” Sheppard observed nonchalantly.

Sam smiled.

They were one step closer.

Sheppard reversed the puddle jumper and headed back towards the city before sharply directing the ship towards the upper atmosphere.

Chapter Text

John Sheppard was here, on Atlantis.

Jack was still trying to figure out how he felt about that.

Relief was there, certainly. In fact, it was the most overwhelming feeling at the moment. He was relieved that he might not die, relieved that he might actually be able to make it back to Sam.

But in addition to relief, there was also curiosity and a not small amount of suspicion.

Why was Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard here?

The city was supposed to be destroyed in nuclear hellfire. That was supposed to happen as soon as the Daedalus could make it happen, which meant no rescue missions. After all, you wouldn’t want anyone else caught in the blast and it didn’t make sense to risk more people.

Jack knew his worth to the military, but he was only one man. He doubted they would send an official operation to rescue one man - and Woolsey, he supposed - who might already be dead or compromised.

He wouldn’t be surprised if Sheppard had proposed an official rescue operation, but there was no way in hell that Landry would have approved it, especially given Jack’s standing orders and the lack of intel they had about the situation.

Which meant that this might be an unofficial rescue op. It meant their odds of success were a whole lot lower.

Unsanctioned rescue missions weren’t something new for Sheppard. Jack sort of admired that about the man. After all, he had a similar “leave no one behind” philosophy. It just made Sheppard a hell of a wild card. Wild cards in the military were rarely a good thing. It was only in the weird world of Stargate Command that men like he and Sheppard tended to flourish.

If it wasn’t an official rescue operation, that opened questions of how Sheppard stole a jumper and got through the gate.

For example, who helped him with those tasks? McKay, possibly? Or Harriman?

He doubted that Sheppard would have asked for Carter’s help, even if she had been on base. Knowing her, she’d probably thrown herself into work while he’d been away...possibly even asked to assist on other missions. She might still be off-world as far as Jack knew. It was still a day until his promised return.

Pushing thoughts of Carter to the side, he considered this rescue mission yet again.

How much backup had Sheppard been able to bring with him? Jack knew that Sheppard was well-respected by the men and women under his command, but he wasn’t sure how many of them he’d be able to convince to come on an unsanctioned mission with him.

Then again, maybe he had it all wrong and Landry had given the go-ahead for a rescue after all.

If they had, it likely would have been less because of who Jack was on a personal level, and more because as the General in charge of Homeworld Security, he had a lot of information in his head that they wouldn’t want in enemy hands.

He heard a muffled explosion from a remote section of the city. Based on Sheppard’s earlier question about their location, Jack assumed that the explosion occurred at or near the ‘gate.

Richard Woolsey had crouched into what Jack guessed was some attempt at a military ready position. His gun was tight in his hand, pointed up towards the ceiling. Jack, on the other hand, had decided to get more comfortable. He placed his weapon beside him on the floor, still close by in case he needed it, and stretched out his legs in front of him.

Jack also checked the time on his watch. He hoped that Sheppard was being precise when he used the term couple of hours. He was a military man, so Jack assumed that Sheppard would check in approximately two hours from now.

When Jack was younger, one of his aunts would use the term couple of hours to refer to anything from an hour and a half to eight hours. It used to drive his dad crazy.

Jack did not want to waste the next two hours overthinking terminology and language. That was more Daniel’s cup of tea. Two hours had to be two hours.

“That sounded like an explosion,” Woolsey said as he looked around.

Talk about stating the obvious.

“Because it was,” Jack replied.

Woolsey turned to look at him. “Is Sheppard attacking the city?”

Jack could think of a lot of potential causes for that explosion and most of them weren’t good. One possibility, however, gave him hope.

So, was Sheppard attacking the city?

“He'd better be.”

If nothing else, attacking the city would slow the Replicators down. That was something. He just hoped that there was more to the plan than a single explosion that destroyed the best way back to Earth.

“Why can't he get back to us for two hours?” Woolsey asked, irritation affecting the man’s tone.

“I don't know.”

Jack didn’t even really have a good guess about why Sheppard would be gone for that amount of time.

Woolsey continued with his game of twenty questions.

“Will we be safe here?”

“I don’t know,” Jack repeated.

Jack had no idea. Safe was a relative term.

He was pretty sure that all of the Lanteans were dead, given all of the bodies he’d seen strewn across the city when he went out for reconnaissance. If they bothered to interrogate even one of them before death, the Replicators might know that he and Woolsey were here too.

At this point, their only advantage was that there were large areas of the city that had been damaged. As long as the lifesigns detectors didn’t work in those areas of the city and the Replicators didn’t send out search parties, they should be okay.

He just hoped that Sheppard made it back before the Replicators were able to repair the sensors or made looking for them a priority.

For now, they were safe.

“I shouldn’t even be here,” Jack said aloud.

Granted, here was a whole lot better-looking now than it had been twenty minutes ago, but he still wished that he was home instead. It didn’t really matter which home, D.C. or Colorado Springs, as long as Sam was there too.

He had missed her a lot over the past weeks.

It wasn’t the first time they’d been apart. It hadn’t even been their first time apart with little chance of return. This was just the first time since their relationship had started that he really thought he wouldn’t make it back to her. Jack thought he was going to die out here, without even a chance to say goodbye.

“I’m sorry,” Woolsey said. “I’m sorry we had to pull you out here.”

“Yeah,” Jack sighed.

He closed his eyes and tried not to wonder again if he should have forced a timetable onto the Atlantis talks. He wouldn’t have been able to do anything about Woolsey needing help or the fact that he had to return to the city. He still could have gotten home before the Replicators even arrived. The talks never should have gone on this long.

They had just spun out of his control and he’d felt so much responsibility to make something of the mess. He didn’t want all of the time spent on Atlantis to amount to next to nothing.

Even so, he should’ve made a strategic retreat and left the Lanteans here alone until they realized they needed Earth’s help.

All Jack could do right now was sit here in this damaged room and second guess himself. Maybe he should have grabbed the deck of cards when he was getting his weapons. He probably could’ve fit the small travel chess set that Sam packed him in one of his pockets.

Jack wondered if Woolsey played chess.

“You going to go on that vacation of yours when you get back?”

Jack didn’t point out that they weren’t guaranteed a safe return just because Sheppard was back. The other man needed hope. Jack figured that he probably needed some hope too.

“I sure as hell need a vacation after all this. Tickets and reservations won’t be good anymore. I might go to my cabin in Minnesota instead.”

Woolsey made a sound of acknowledgement.

“No more beach with the girlfriend?”

Jack shrugged.

“Not sure if she can reschedule her leave.”

He also wasn’t sure how upset she might be when he eventually got back. He’d screwed up their time together and it had taken a lot of effort to get that scheduled. Plus, he’d gotten himself in massive trouble in another galaxy.

“She’s in the military too?”

He probably shouldn’t have let that slip. He and Sam tried to keep their relationship relatively private because of their former chain of command relationship. Jack doubted she would want Woolsey to know.

“She’s a scientist,” he replied, telling the truth while obscuring it. Woolsey would probably assume he used the term leave instead of time off because it was what he was used to.

“Ah.”

Jack assumed that Woolsey wanted him to share more, but he had no plans to.

“How’d you meet her?”

This was exactly why he didn’t want to have personal conversations with Richard Woolsey.

“No offense, Woolsey, but I really don’t want to talk to you about my personal life. Especially when you’re the reason I had to cancel a trip with her that we’d been planning for months. Not to mention that it’s entirely possible that we still might die out here.”

“I suppose that’s my fault too.”

Jack sighed again. He’d spent way too much time over the past couple of weeks bolstering the man beside him. Just because he didn’t want to do it anymore, didn’t mean he needed to make him feel worse than necessary.

“Only partially,” he finally acknowledged. “Don’t worry, I blame the Replicators and the Lantean’s hubris too.”

“Well, that’s something.”

Jack leaned his head back against the wall and tried to get comfortable. He took the remaining powerbar out of his pocket, opened it, and ripped it in half. He handed half to Woolsey and got a soft thanks in return. He finished his own half and then wondered how he was going to spend the next hour and forty five minutes.

“What do we do now?” Woolsey asked.

“We wait.”

Jack O’Neill hated waiting.

Chapter Text

John exited the atmosphere and directed the jumper towards the last known coordinates of Niam’s body. He let himself relax, just a little, and enjoy flying in space above the planet.

“It's good to be back,” McKay said, “however briefly.”

The man sounded a little breathless and John wondered if maybe he’d accelerated a bit too hard.

“I feel like I'm gonna be ill,” Beckett added.

“Don't be,” Ronon told him firmly.

Maybe John had temporarily forgotten in the midst of escaping the Stargate Command tower that some of his passengers weren’t used to pulling serious Gs in an engagement with an enemy.

It probably didn’t help that the jumper’s inertial dampeners had been at least partially damaged when they broke through the exterior wall of the tower.

John watched as Weir placed a hand on Beckett’s arm.

“All right, just take some deep breaths, Carson.”

Beckett sighed and nodded, taking deep breaths to try and reduce the nausea.

John looked around at the rest of his crew. McKay was pale, but was back to work on his laptop. Weir seemed fine, which surprised him a little.

Teyla and Ronon were settled in relaxed positions. They both had a lot of experience with his driving.

Carter caught his eye and smiled. He still didn’t have a great read on her, but knew she would be an asset on this mission. If nothing else, it was a positive to have someone with a military background and extensive Stargate experience as backup.

Now that he thought about it, John was a little surprised that she let him take lead on this mission. She had been promoted before him and had worked in the Stargate program much longer than him. It may have been the idea of the former Atlantis team to come back here, but by all rights, Colonel Carter should be the one leading this mission.

Instead, she’d let him take the lead.

Before he could wonder about that more, Teyla spoke.

“Should we not have informed General O'Neill of our plan?”

John wish he’d had the time to let General O’Neill know what the plan was. For that matter, it also would have been good to see what information the General had been able to gather down on the ground. Unfortunately, they needed to hightail it out of the city quick.

He also wasn’t sure if the Replicators would be able to hack into their communications. Best not to share any details this far in advance.

“He knows we're here. We'll contact him again as soon as we get closer to the city.”

“Well, that is gonna be easier said than done,” McKay said. “With all those hits we took, it's gonna be impossible for me to convert the shield back to a cloak.”

This wasn’t a great start to their plan. Then again, Rodney McKay usually said things were impossible until you pushed him a little and then he would pull an idea out of his ass to get it done.

“And by ‘impossible,’ you mean …”

“I mean ‘not possible,’” McKay told him. “What do you think I mean?”

John wasn’t sure if it was worth responding. McKay would only try to refute his theory that impossible only meant impossible about fifty percent of the time anyway. Then Colonel Carter spoke up and he didn’t have to respond anyway.

“There may be a way to get the cloak back online,” she mentioned. “I’m just not sure it’s one we’d want to use.”

“What’s that?” he asked.

“We can try to reroute power from the weapons array to the coak instead. It’s not damaged like the shield is.”

“Ah.”

It was a risky idea. Swapping out their only means of defense to power the cloak wasn’t ideal, especially without the safety of the shield to protect them.

“What would be the likelihood of getting that as an option in the next hour?”

She thought a moment before responding. “About seventy percent.”

“Those are actually pretty good odds, considering. It’s just that using that option would put us at a serious disadvantage if the cloak still failed or the Replicators had another way of tracking them.”

“I know.”

He doubted that they would end up in a situation where losing weapons to power the cloak would be the best idea, but more options were always better.

“See what you can do,” he finally said. “We’ll leave it as a last resort.”

Carter nodded and John turned his attention to finding the last known location of Niam, the Replicator they left out here in space.

“You don’t seriously think that’s going to work, do you?” McKay asked. “It’s a waste of time.”

John looked over and saw Carter deliberately pause before responding. He wondered if she made herself count to ten first.

“We need to get close to the city for your program to work. You won’t let me help you with the code. I’m doing what I can to help implement this plan. We need options.”

She turned back to the ship’s control console in front of her, but McKay couldn’t just let it go.

“I don’t need your help,” McKay responded. “Anyway, this isn’t really your area of expertise.”

It was a talent that McKay had, John supposed, that he was always able to say the exact wrong thing. Telling Samantha Carter - a woman who had been with the Stargate program since the beginning - that she didn’t have the necessary expertise was laughable.

“I don’t have expertise?” Carter said, her voice thick with disbelief. “You are such an arrogant -”

“Well, hopefully we took out the sensors when we blew the tower,” John interrupted before Sam Carter could fully air her opinions of Rodney McKay. “Then they won’t see us anyway.”

“Well, you said they could rebuild remarkably fast,” Weir noted. “How long before they restore critical systems?”

McKay shrugged.

“Who knows? A couple of hours?”

A couple of hours was also the timeframe he’d given General O’Neill. If McKay’s estimate was correct, this was going to be tight.

“There's the painting and redecorating,” he suggested, hoping for anything that might draw out the amount of time that the Replicators were distracted.

McKay nodded, but John doubted it was an agreement with his comment. He looked like his mind was already far down a new track.

“If we time this right,” McKay said, before turning back to his computer, “this could work to our advantage.”

Sheppard continued to pilot the jumper in the direction of Niam’s last known location while McKay talked to the others about how they could use the rebuilding of Stargate Operations to their advantage.

Carter worked beside him and he turned to ask her the question that had been bothering him ever since they left for Atlantis.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Colonel Carter, why are you letting me take command on this one? You have more time in grade. You should have command.”

Carter looked around and he could tell she was glad that no one was paying attention to their conversation.

“I’m a little too personally involved on this one,” she said quietly. “And you know Atlantis a whole lot better. I think we have a higher chance of success this time with you in the lead.”

The second half of her statement made sense - he did know Atlantis like the back of his hand - but it was the first part he didn’t get. Colonel Samantha Carter had never spent much time on Atlantis.

“This is personal for all of us too.”

She pursed her lips and he caught her glancing around them yet again to ensure no one was listening.

“General O’Neill and I have known each other a long time. I…” She trailed off and he watched as she faltered and then pulled herself back together. “I owe it to him to get him out of here.”

John nodded, now remembering that Colonel Carter and General O’Neill had been on the same SG team together for years. Of course she’d take this mission personally.

He looked over at her and noticed the shadows under her eyes and the strain in her face. John suddenly remembered hearing that SG-1’s last mission hadn’t gone well. Someone had mentioned that Dr. Jackson was MIA.

What a hell of a thing for her to be going through, having two of the original members of SG-1 in danger and out of reach. No wonder she wanted to join them on the rescue mission to Atlantis.

He wanted to comfort her, or say something hopeful about Jackson, but he didn’t think she’d appreciate that right now.

“And here I thought Richard Woolsey owed you some money,” he joked instead.

Colonel Carter laughed and he was relieved that the tension had dissipated.

“John, I trust you to lead this one. You’re the right person for the job.”

She placed a supportive hand on his shoulder to emphasize her point.

“Thanks, Colonel.”

Her hand dropped when the display pulled up in front of them, showing an unidentified object in space nearby. If John was lucky, it would be the Replicator. He looked at the readings.

“Got him. Right where we left him.”

McKay looked at his laptop computer. “That's him,” he confirmed.

Ronon looked over in confusion. “Who else would it be?”

“True,” McKay agreed. “His power levels are barely registering. It's no wonder the Replicators didn't find him.”

John was just glad that they didn’t have to search very long. Finding a Replicator in space above a planet wasn’t quite as bad as trying to find a needle in a haystack, but it wasn’t easy either.

“All right, I'll swing around and pick him up. Watch yourselves, I'm closing the bulkhead.”

The bulkhead door closed behind Teyla and Ronon.

John opened the cargo door as they approached Niam’s body and backed up slowly.

“Will we not be vulnerable to the same nanovirus with which Niam infected Elizabeth?” Teyla asked.

Teyla, Ronon, and Weir exchanged nervous looks.

Beckett, still looking a little sick, replied.

“He's been floating in space for over a month now. He's resting in such a harsh environment, direct solar radiation has severely diminished his power levels. We're fairly certain he's almost completely incapacitated.”

Ronon, always one to cut right to the point, asked the most important question.

“Is he dead?”

The fact that McKay’s answer wasn’t a simple yes didn’t make Sheppard feel positive about this.

“He's mostly dead. Besides, we don't have a choice. He's the key to our whole plan.”

John clued into the nervousness in Weir’s eyes even before she spoke.

“All right. But if he even twitches…”

Based on Elizabeth Weir’s previous experience with Niam and being infected by nanites, he wasn’t surprised that she was having a more difficult time with this plan than the others.

Colonel Carter was also looking particularly grim. He thought he remembered some gossip about her having a bad run-in with Replicators too.

“Don't worry,” Ronon replied, knocking his weapons together and turning to face the bulkhead door.

“Thank you!”

John caught sight of Weir’s smile and turned his attention back to getting Niam’s body onto the jumper.

It was a delicate maneuver to back up around something in the middle of space, where hitting the body would cause it to spin away. Not for the first time, John was glad that the ship could sort of read his mind.

“Got him,” he announced as he finally captured the Replicator in the cargo hold. “Closing the rear hatch.”

He turned to Beckett and asked him to take the pilot’s chair. The doctor looked nervous, but there wasn’t anything John could do about that. He wished that Carter had the ATA gene. He would have felt much better leaving the ship controls in her care.

Hoping that Beckett would be fine for a while, he walked over to join Teyla and Ronon by the door to the cargo hold.

“The compartment's re-pressurized,” Beckett announced.

Ronon hit the button to open door with his weapon and quickly aimed it through the open. John and Teyla aimed through the doorway beside Ronon and he knew that Carter was armed with an ARG behind them just in case.

Niam’s body lay sprawled on the floor of the cargo hold. He looked frozen and non-threatening, but John wasn’t taking any chances.

He looked back and McKay and indicated with a tilt of his head that the scientist should join them.

“Okay, okay,” McKay muttered as he got out of his seat.

He hurried towards the back of the jumper with the handheld computer device in his grip. John moved further into the cargo hold so that he could get a close range direct shot if needed.

McKay knelt down to scan the Replicator.

“Okay. Okay, this is good. His power levels are minimal but not too minimal. I'm fairly sure he doesn't have the juice to regain consciousness.”

All of the sudden, two of Niam's fingers moved.

“Wh-whoa!”

McKay stumbled back away from the Replicator while Ronon and Sheppard stood at the ready with their weapons.

Niam’s fingers settled back down on his body. His chest moved up and down as if he was breathing.

“I was fairly sure,” McKay said.

His voice was a little shaky as he stared at the fingers that had just moved.

John didn’t like the look of this situation. McKay had promised that a low enough level would prevent the Replicator from waking for at least an hour. It looked like that wasn’t going to be the case.

“Wait,” Carter called, hand raised. She grabbed plastic restraints from one of the nearby bags and walked over to the Replicator. John watched as she set her hand lightly on Niam’s arm.

“He’s still cold.” Satisfied that he wasn’t waking up again yet, she used the restraints on his wrists and ankles. “If nothing else, this will give us a little extra time if Niam does wake up.”

McKay scoffed. “You think those are going to stop him if he wakes back up? If he wakes up, we’re dead.”

Carter had a point. John knew that sometimes in the field every moment counted. Sometimes mere seconds could be the difference between life and death. He nodded at her in agreement before facing back towards McKay.

“Just…load the program.”

McKay cautiously approached the Replicator with the handheld device and entered necessary commands.

John crouched down beside him.

“Well?” he asked. “Done yet?”

McKay nodded.

“I think we're good to go.”

“All right. I'll take us back.”

John moved to return to the pilot’s chair. Beckett cleared out of the way and he sat down. He could hear McKay and Weir’s conversation continuing behind him as he steered them back towards the planet.

“Why don't we do this from here?”

“Do what from here?” McKay asked.

“Render the Replicators helpless, Rodney? Remember the plan?”

“Of course I remember the plan. It's my plan.”

“Uh, actually,” John cut in, “using Niam was Elizabeth's plan.”

“Thank you!” she shouted.

“It was mostly my plan,” McKay replied, adding “It was my freezing program” under his breath.

John thought he heard Carter laugh before Beckett spoke up.

“You said they'd be frozen in place six or seven hours. Why not do it now?”

Six or seven hours seemed a little to good to be true. John planned to get them all out of here way before the deadline hit.

“Because I've gotta keep Niam at nominal power levels, otherwise we risk him waking up. Look, low power means short range. Short range means we need to get closer.”

They entered the upper atmosphere.

“How much closer?” Teyla asked.

“Much.”

“Even with what we were able to do to boost the signal, we’ll still need to be in really close range to the city. Well within weapons range,” Carter explained.

“With no cloak?” Ronon asked, pointing out the biggest issue with their plan.

Everything would have been so much easier if they’d been met with less force in the ‘gate room.

“No cloak,” McKay confirmed.

“Good to be back home, huh?” he replied, the sarcasm barely seeping into his voice.

Things could never work the easy way out here in Atlantis. The plan was going to be exponentially more difficult without the cloak. He briefly considered Carter’s option of using the weapons array to power the cloak, but that would potentially leave them in an even worse position.

Weir turned to look at him.

“Hmph. There's no place like it.”

John dipped the jumper below the clouds. He could see the reflection of the moon lighting up the water below them and the city lightly glowing in the distance. There really was no place like Atlantis.

“All right, we're about a mile out.”

“Okay,” McKay replied, “I'll start broadcasting the virus now, but, uh, we're gonna need to get closer than that.”

Unfortunately, their arrival didn’t go unnoticed.

“Drones!” Teyla yelled as they saw five drones exit the city and fly towards the puddle jumper.

John turned behind him. “McKay!”

“We're still not close enough.”

That was not the answer he wanted to hear. He told everyone to hang on and began evasive maneuvers through the city, flying around and through buildings to avoid the drones. He turned sharply enough that one of them hit against the side of a tower, but the rest were still right on his tail. No cloak and minimal shields with four drones right behind him.

John Sheppard might be good with challenges, but even he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get them out of this alive.

Chapter Text

Jack O’Neill always hated the waiting section of missions. Waiting made him edgy. It was even worse when he wasn’t the one who was able to determine whether the waiting was over.

It didn’t help that after more than an hour had passed, he was bored out of his mind. That didn’t usually happen to him in the midst of life and death situations. Normally there were too many things to do and he had to prioritize. Now, his only responsibility was to sit here and not get killed.

Jack was so bored that he was even trying to chat with Richard Woolsey again. He still planned to avoid personal stuff, but there had to be something the two of them could talk about.

First he tried to discuss sports.

Only it turned out that Richard Woolsey wasn’t much of a sports fan. He had no favorite teams and no favorite athletes. The last time he’d been to an athletic event was more than ten years ago and it sounded like his attendance had more to do with career politics than the love of the game. Woolsey mentioned that he played tennis in high school, but Jack couldn’t follow that thread of conversation very far when it turned out that the man hadn’t watched any of the Grand Slam tournaments in years.

Discussing hockey, unfortunately, was out of the question.

Next, he tried television. Jack discovered that Woolsey enjoyed watching Law & Order, but hardly ever had the time to watch it. Jack had never seen the show and Woolsey had never watched The Simpsons, so that topic didn’t last long.

“Ever finish that book of yours?” he asked as a last ditch effort to entertain himself.

Woolsey looked over at him and nodded.

“I finished it and started something new. I found a copy of War and Peace in one of the rooms. Someone from the Atlantis team must’ve left it behind.”

War and Peace was a long slog of a novel.

Jack remembered trying to read it in school once, but as much as he enjoyed reading as a general rule, he hated books that were longer than they needed to be. War and Peace was a prime example.

Maybe if he tried the book again he’d like it. It was supposed to be a masterpiece.

Jack considered the idea for half a second before accepting that he was never going to pick up the book. Seemed like a waste of time.

“How is it?”

Woolsey frowned. “I don’t think I’ve gotten to the good part yet.”

He decided not to ask how far into the book Woolsey was. Based on the frown, it might be a depressing answer.

“You’ll have to let me know if you ever do get to the good part.”

Jack had a brief vision of Richard Woolsey tracking him down a decade from now at his cabin in Minnesota just to tell him that he’d finally gotten to the good part.

A decade from now, he’d be retired, but Sam probably wouldn’t be yet. He didn’t know if she had it in her to ever fully retire. Still, he hoped between now and then they would finally figure out how to live in the same time zone and ideally the same house for more than a couple weeks at a time.

He kinda thought that it would be nice to see a ring on her finger.

It was weird, how they used to spend every single day together, but not be able to express how they felt...and now that they could express how they felt, the challenge was actually getting time together.

Well, that and not dying before he could make it home to her.

He was still working on that one.

Jack heard a muffled crash and felt a slight vibration from the exterior wall.

“That sounded like another explosion.”

Woolsey’s voice was a little higher than normal and his eyes were darting around the empty room.

“Yes. Yes, it did,” Jack confirmed.

He did a quick mental tally of their minimal supplies and considered where they might move to if the explosions got closer. If they needed to, their best bet might be one of the rooms on the lower level. If he remembered correctly, one of the rooms the Atlantis team used for an armory when they were here wasn’t too far away and was built in such a way that it could withstand a lot of damage.

“What does that mean?”

“Something exploded,” Jack explained, slow and deliberate, as if talking to a small child.

The answer did not help calm Woolsey down. He looked even more agitated than normal.

“But is it Sheppard attacking the Replicators, or the Replicators attacking Sheppard?”

“We'll find out!”

Truthfully, there was a good chance that Sheppard and the Replicators were attacking each other. Jack just hoped the good guys won this time.

“How did they even get here?” Woolsey asked. “Through the Gate?”

Jack turned towards him, exasperated.

“I've been sitting next to you through the whole thing. Why do you think I have more information?”

It didn’t help that Jack had been asking himself the exact same questions.

Woolsey dropped his pistol to the ground, evidently giving up on holding the weapon at the ready after almost two hours of waiting. Jack thought it was funny that the man held it so long only to let go of it right as things were starting to happen again.

Huffing in frustration, Woolsey tugged on his loosened tie and pulled it off, throwing it down onto the floor.

“Look, I told you I wasn't good at this.”

Jack did his best not to roll his eyes. Richard Woolsey not being good at this was the understatement of the year.

“He said he'd be back in a couple of hours. That gives him a good…” His voice trailed off as he checked his watch. “Eleven seconds.”

Another explosion hit, much closer this time. It shook the walls and the floor. He’d wait to see if things got any worse before moving them. Right now their location in this damaged sector of the city was their greatest advantage. Woolsey scrambled towards a broken piece of furniture in front of him and leaned against it.

“What was that?” Woolsey said, terrified.

Jack shrugged. He didn’t have any more answers than he had two hours ago.

“Hopefully Sheppard,” he replied.

Chapter Text

Sheppard cut close to a building and they all watched as the drone crashed into the exterior wall. Sam saw a gaping hole and tumbling raw materials before Sheppard turned again to dodge another drone.

For a split second, Sam missed doing this kind of flying. It might have been terrifying, but it was also a rush to twist and turn out of the way of enemy fire. It was something she’d been good at once upon a time.

Jack had been even better, but Sheppard gave them both a run for their money. He was a natural pilot, especially in the puddle jumpers.

Right now, they were really lucky he was the one who was flying.

Sheppard did a quick maneuver to get out of the way of another drone and it crashed into another tower.

“If we keep this up,” Weir commented, “there won't be much of a city left to save.”

He threw an irritated glance in her direction before facing front again.

“I'll try to run the drones into your least favorite buildings,” Sheppard said to Weir before shouting McKay’s name.

“It should be working,” the man replied, looking a little desperately at the readings he was getting.

“Well, it's not working!” Beckett shouted as another drone hit the shield.

McKay turned towards Beckett, full of tension.

“Well, if I give him any more power, he'll wake up and kill us all!”

If it hadn’t been such a dire situation, Sam wouldn’t have been able to hold back her desire to say I told you so to Rodney McKay. They should have had a backup plan, just like she suggested.

Ronon turned to McKay. “Sheppard can't keep this up forever.”

Just then a drone hit the side of the puddle jumper on its starboard side, cushioned by the shield, but still rocking the jumper.

“Shields have been damaged,” Teyla announced.

Damn it. First they lost the cloak and now the shields had been hit with more damage. Ronon was right, they couldn’t keep this up for much longer. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if the jumper went down.

“Alright, I've had enough,” Sheppard said as he turned the jumper towards the ocean, “I've got a different idea.”

Sam heard the engines retract as the ship dove into ocean. She braced for impact and there was a slight jolt as they hit the water before going deeper.

“I hope you know what you’re doing, John,” Weir commented.

“I always know what I’m doing.”

“He doesn’t,” Ronon added.

Sheppard glared at them and grumbled before turning back to the display. “A little support from my team would be nice here.”

“You are doing a wonderful job,” Teyla said with an indulgent smile that seemed to smooth Sheppard’s ruffled feathers.

Sam watched as the icons representing the drones moved further and further away.

“Will we be able to surface?” she asked Sheppard. “Or will the drones be able to track us as soon as we’re above water again?”

He took a moment before he answered, probably trying to readjust and calm down after that difficult flight through the city.

“Doesn’t matter. If we resurface and those drones don’t catch us, other ones will. Don’t worry, I think there might be an underwater jumper bay around here somewhere.”

Sam really hoped that Sheppard was right. In fact, an underwater jumper bay would make it easier for them to enter the city unnoticed.

Then she noticed McKay staring at her from where he stood next to Niam.

“McKay?”

He tilted his head and kept looking directly at her. “You know, last time we were in a jumper underwater, you wore this flirty pink top. It was a good look on you.”

“What?”

Sam had no idea what the man was talking about.

“I mean, I suppose I owe you, sort of,” he rambled. “Although it was really my own mind, so maybe I don’t owe you.”

Suddenly it clicked and she thought back to that completely awkward conversation with McKay on the Odyssey when they’d been dealing with the Ori Supergate.

“Are you talking about that -” She cut herself off, cringed at the thought, and then decided to power through. “That fantasy of yours?”

“Hallucination,” he replied. “I’m sure I explained that it was a hallucination.”

“Even so.”

Just because she was getting along with McKay better most of the time, didn’t mean she wanted to think about any “partially” naked thoughts the man had about her, regardless of whether or not that hallucination had saved his life.

“Being here just made me remember.”

McKay shrugged.

“Nothing to remember,” Sam insisted. “Not real.”

She caught Dr. Weir and Teyla glancing their way before sharing a look. McKay had probably told the entire Atlantis team how he hallucinated Sam’s presence when he was stuck in that underwater jumper. How embarrassing.

“I mean,” McKay continued, “You can’t deny that we have chemistry and an intellectual connection, so it’s not surprising that I would conjure you up in that moment of desperate need.”

She never wanted to hear Rodney McKay use the words desperate need in conjunction with her ever again.

“No, I would definitely deny that. Strongly deny, in fact.”

Sam thought she heard Ronon laugh. Luckily, the conversation went no further because Sheppard opened up the communications channel to contact Jack.

“General O'Neill, are you there, sir?”

Jack’s response came through loud and clear.

“Yes, we're here. You're late.”

Sam laughed at the irritation in his voice. They actually would have been early if they didn’t need to fly all around the city dodging drones.

“Sorry, sir,” Sheppard replied. “Had to go into space and pick up some…frozen goods.”

That was certainly one way of putting it.

There was a pause before Jack answered.

“Whatever. Where are you now?”

He sounded tired. Not for the first time, Sam wondered if he and Woolsey had been able to remain uninjured while eluding the Replicators.

She hoped they had enough medical supplies on the ship just in case.

“We're not exactly inside the city yet,” Sheppard answered. “We're headed toward an underwater jumper bay.”

The jumper moved smoothly, floodlights illuminating the water in front of them. Sam hoped that Sheppard knew where he was going because it was dark out there and the front display wasn’t that detailed.

“Well, what we think may be an underwater jumper bay,” Weir clarified.

The silence stretched out before Jack responded.

“Is that Doctor Weir I hear?”

“Yes, General,” Weir replied with a smile on her face. “It's good to hear your voice too.”

The smile dropped as soon as Jack started talking again.

“I didn't say it was good, Elizabeth. Please, don't be offended as I express my surprise that Landry would send you on a mission like this.”

The Atlantis team exchanged a look.

“Well, sir,” Weir responded, with only a slight hesitation in her voice, “General Landry didn't sanction this mission.”

There was another pause and Sam could only imagine what was going through Jack’s mind right now.

“So, am I to assume you are not surrounded by heavily-armed SG teams and young strapping marines?”

The sarcasm seeped out of his voice.

Weir took a breath before she replied.

“From the Atlantis team, you've got Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla, McKay, myself, and Doctor Beckett -”

“Woo! Doctor Beckett, is it?” Jack interrupted. “Well, I'm comforted.”

Yeah, Jack O’Neill was definitely in a bad mood. She couldn’t completely blame him. He’d probably been going through an emotional rollercoaster since the Replicators arrived - first thinking that the Ancients would prevent the attack, then finding out he was stranded on Atlantis with a nuke on the way, and getting his hopes back up when Sheppard radioed. Only to ultimately discover that it wasn’t an official rescue, but a ragtag group of people, almost half of whom weren’t comfortable firing weapons.

Still, she felt bad that Beckett had to take the brunt of his temper.

The doctor looked around, confused at Jack’s comment. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Weir shook her head and Teyla gave a supportive pat to Beckett’s forearm.

Before Jack could open his mouth and explain why he wasn’t happy to learn that Beckett was part of the rescue mission - probably something to do with the man almost shooting Jack down in Antarctica - she interjected.

“And me, sir. Glad to hear you’re alive and well.”

Sam bit the inside of her lip, realizing she hadn’t quite broken her habit of calling him sir in non-work situations after all. Although, maybe this did sort of count as a work situation. Off-world usually meant work, even if she was technically on leave.

There was a long pause and at first she wondered if the connection had been lost. Then they heard Jack clear his throat.

“Carter, good to hear your voice.”

Damn, she wished she could hug him right now.

McKay turned away from the laptop. “Okay, ready to open the lock.”

“We've got a plan, sir, a good one,” Sheppard shared over the radio.

Good one might have been overstating it a little, but Sam hoped it worked anyway.

“Yes, Colonel, I'm sure you do,” Jack said over the radio, sounding less than confident in their ability to rescue him. “But in the unlikely event you don't fail miserably, you're fired.”

Sheppard pursed his lips.

“Yes, sir. Look…forward to that.” With that, he shut off communications and continued to move the jumper forward as the bay doors opened.

“Why didn’t he threaten to fire you too?” McKay asked.

She turned and saw that the question was directed to her, as the only other military member of the rescue operation.

“Oh, he gave up trying to intimidate me years ago,” she said. “Besides, we used to do this type of thing together all the time. If anything, he’s just annoyed he’s not the person doing the rescuing.”

“Really?” McKay drew out the single word with suspicion.

Rodney McKay clearly did not have a high opinion of Jack O’Neill.

“Yes, really.”

She didn’t mention that Jack also wasn’t likely to threaten to fire the woman he was sleeping with...and living with when they were both on the same planet and in the same state. Technically, he couldn’t fire her even if he wanted to because they were no longer in the same chain of command as far as official records went.

She turned to Sheppard.

“Don’t worry. He won’t fire you.”

“Hope you’re right. Every other job would be a letdown compared to this.”

“I know what you mean.”

Chapter Text

Sheppard found the underwater jumper bay and Sam was glad that at least one part of their plan seemed to be back on track.

He slowly moved through the entrance.

“Careful,” Beckett said quietly.

“Thanks, Doc.”

She and Teyla traded a glance at Sheppard’s barely restrained response to Beckett’s backseat driving.

“Okay, closing the outer door. Yes. Now, I just have to pressurize the compartment and we are…” McKay’s computer beeped. “Huh?”

“What?” Sheppard asked him.

McKay hit a few more keys on the computer and frowned.

“It's not letting me do it.”

Beckett looked out the window. “The water's not draining out.”

“Yeah, excellent observation,” McKay muttered. “Thank you.”

Weir stepped into the rear of the puddle jumper and looked up.

“It is, however, draining in.”

“Oh, not again,” McKay said. He looked over to where the water was dripping into the cargo hold.

She assumed he was thinking about the time he’d been stuck in a leaking jumper at the bottom of the Lantean sea, with only a hallucination of her as company.

Sam watched as his face filled with dread.

Then he looked at her with a strange mixture of desperation and hope. As well as something else she didn’t want to name that was somewhere in the neighborhood of desire.

She pointed a finger at him. “Stop whatever those thoughts are right now. No pink shirts, no supposed partial nudity, no drowning.”

“There was some kissing too,” McKay said.

Sam barely stopped herself from swearing out loud.

“Never,” she spit out before moving towards the back of the ship.

Sheppard stood and asked Beckett to move over to the pilot’s chair. He followed her to the cargo hold, passing Rodney McKay on the way.

“Don’t be a creep, McKay.”

Sam sent Sheppard a look of thanks and then looked up at the leak Elizabeth Weir had pointed out. The water was coming down faster than she’d like and the rate would probably only increase.

“Well, guess we took some damage,” Sheppard said, stating the obvious.

McKay, now that he was no longer focused on her, seemed like he was on the verge of panicking. He looked between the leak and the underwater jumper bay they could barely see through the front window and back to the leak.

“I just want to point out that this was not my idea.”

Teyla lifted an eyebrow and Ronon shook his head. Weir and Beckett shared a look. Sam assumed that McKay refusing to take responsibility wasn’t exactly a new thing for the Atlantis crew.

“You said, ‘Get us close to the city.’” Sheppard gestured at the window towards the jumper bay. “This is pretty damned close!”

Sheppard stopped just short of blaming McKay, but Sam could tell he wanted to.

“And yet, no cigar!”

Sheppard looked around and his eyes landed on her. “Any chance we can still convert weapons power back to the cloak if I fly us back out of here? I might be able to find an unoccupied area of the city to land as long as they can’t see us or track us.”

His plan would at least keep them from drowning, but she’d been watching the status panels during their flight through the city and journey underwater. The weapons system had taken a hit too and the leak wasn’t a great sign.

“I think we lost that chance when the drones hit the side of the ship,” she admitted. “It would take too long to fix it, if it were even possible to do so without having access to the exterior of the jumper.”

“Of course.”

She watched as Sheppard pushed down the frustration and focused on next steps.

“All right. Just open up the outer doors. I'll figure something else out.”

Sheppard grabbed a case from the side of the cargo hold, set it on the ground, and started to open it.

“Right,” McKay said. He looked at some readings on his computer and Sam could tell right away it wasn’t good news. His added “oh dear” didn’t help her feel any better.

“What?” Weir asked.

“I don't think I'm gonna be able to open the outer door.”

Everyone turned to look at McKay. Sheppard stood up. Weir asked the question they were all wondering.

“Why not?”

McKay looked up. “I think it might be jammed.”

Sheppard turned to face him.

"Might?"

The single word might as well have been in bold and italics for all the emphasis he gave it.

“Okay,” McKay admitted, "is."

“Well, that's unfortunate,” Sheppard replied, voice threaded with irritation.

McKay nodded.

“Yeah, I'd have to agree with you on that.”

Sheppard looked around the jumper and up at the leaking ceiling.

“This part of the plan isn't going so well.”

They were so close. There had to be a way to actually get them into the city undetected.

“There must be a manual override somewhere,” Weir pointed out.

She had to be right. As advanced as all this technology got, there was almost always a manual backup option in case things went wrong. Today, they were going to need that backup option.

“In the bay's control room, yes.”

There was an unusual hesitance to McKay’s answer.

“Okay, I'll swim to it,” Sheppard said.

Sam was a good swimmer, but she could tell by the ease with which Sheppard proposed the solution that he was probably as much a natural at swimming as he was at flying the puddle jumper.

He reached up to check something on the ceiling while McKay continued speaking.

“…which is sealed from the other side.”

Sheppard dropped his arm in surprise and barely banked frustration.

“Of course it is!”

His reaction in that moment reminded her of Jack’s in the original SG-1 days when she or Daniel would tell him something he didn’t want to hear.

“Perhaps General O'Neill can reach it,” Teyla suggested.

It was a good idea, and probably their best option, but Sam didn’t like the idea of Jack needing to fight his way through a city of Replicators to rescue the people who were supposed to be rescuing him. With Richard Woolsey in tow, it would be even more of a challenge.

“Good,” McKay said in response to Teyla’s suggestion. “Okay, give me half an hour to get Niam to the right power level, so we can do this.”

“We've got more than one fracture,” Sheppard told him. “We don't have that kind of time.”

Sam watched as he hit the button to turn on the communications channel.

“General O'Neill? We're gonna need a favor.”

Chapter Text

“A favor?” Jack asked into the radio. “I don’t really think that we’re in the position to do anyone a favor right now. In fact, I was under the impression that you were supposed to be rescuing us.”

He wondered what problem Sheppard and his gang of misfits had gotten themselves into. Even more pertinent, he wondered what problem they’d gotten themselves into that they couldn’t shoot themselves out of or have Sam and Rodney McKay solve.

“Well, sir, we seem to be trapped underwater.”

So it turned out that the underwater jumper bay wasn’t a good plan after all. Great.

“Sheppard, I don’t really know how we can help you. This place is crawling with hundreds of Replicators and we’ve only remained undiscovered because we’re in a damaged area of the city. We move and they’ll spot us, either visually or on the sensors.”

They were lucky that they’d kept away from the Replicators so far, but Jack didn’t really want to test that luck.

“The sensors should be out right now,” McKay’s voice jumped in. “They were probably damaged when we set off the original explosive.”

That would have been good to know. It would have given him and Woolsey the option of freer movement right after the blast.

“Replicators fix things fast, McKay,” he pointed out.

Woolsey, gun in hand again, was darting nervous glances toward the hallway.

“They shouldn’t have fixed them yet,” McKay insisted.

Jack wasn’t really sure he wanted to base his survival on Rodney McKay’s gut instinct.

“Sir,” Sheppard’s voice cut in, “unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if they’ve fixed the sensors or not. We’re going to need you to come help us.”

Jack closed his eyes and tried to get in the right mindset for the task he had in front of him. He was a little out of practice, but all of this life and death bullshit was coming back to him quicker than he would have thought. He just wasn’t sure if he could pull this off with Woolsey dragging him down. The man didn’t know the meaning of the word quiet.

Add that to the fact that he still didn’t know what they wanted him to do, besides getting across the city without dying or being captured.

Jack thought back again to the dead bodies of the Ancients he’d walked past in the hallways.

“Sir.” It was a different sir this time, softer and feminine with a backbone of steel.

“Yes, Carter?”

“The jumper has a leak. It’s slowly filling with water. The manual override in the jumper bay control room is the only way we can get out of here.”

He thought back to another time when he and Sam were stuck in a small, enclosed space filing with ocean water. He remembered how the space filled much more quickly than either of them were expecting it to. Jack thought about how he held her hand underwater when they thought they were going to die. They clung to each other when the water finally drained for a few breathless moments before they had to get up and run again.

“Carter, how long do you have?”

She went quiet and he imagined her eyes going to the leaks, trying to calculate the volume of the interior of the jumper and the rate of the leaks.

Eventually, Sam spoke.

“More time than the last time we almost drowned, but not by a lot. As the pressure keeps up, the cracks will expand and it will continue to get worse more rapidly as time passes.”

He’d already decided to go, but the thought of Sam drowning because she’d come to another galaxy to save him led Jack to feel a sudden sense of urgency. He stood up, picking up his P90 in the process, and motioned for Woolsey to do the same.

“We’ll get there as soon as we can.”

“Thanks,” she replied.

He knew which smile would be on her face at that moment. It would be the soft one that usually preceded a happy hug where she cuddled into his body. The one bright spot of his day was that he’d soon see that smile in person.

“Anytime,” he told her.

Of course, then McKay had to speak up and ruin the moment.

“I’m going to give you directions.”

“McKay, we’re walking through enemy territory. I’m going to need you to maintain radio silence until I signal you.”

“How are you going to signal me?”

They’d have to use the same methods they used on SG-1, with clicks on the radio to identify when it was safe and not safe to talk.

“Carter will explain.”

He thought about Sam sitting there telling McKay when he was allowed to talk and when he had to shut up. It made Jack smile, just a little.

“Now, tell me the first section of the route. We’ll make it as far as possible and contact you when we can.”

McKay explained the start of the way to the underwater jumper bay, with Sheppard jumping in every once in a while with corrections or ideas for shortcuts. Jack was glad that he’d spent a lot of time wandering around the city while he was here for the negotiations. It made it a lot easier to add Sheppard and McKay’s instructions to his own mental map of the city.

The first leg of the journey was normally about a ten minute walk. If they were lucky, today they’d accomplish it in less.

Jack gave Woolsey a recap of all the instructions on staying alive that he’d been trying to drill into his head.

It all worked pretty well until Jack peered around a corner as they were leaving the damaged area of the city and the man asked if he saw anything.

Jack turned around, frustrated and angry. He did not get this close to survival only to have the IOA rep ruin it for him.

“When I said to maintain silence, I meant you too,” he hissed.

Woolsey nodded, eyes wide.

After making their way through several corridors, they ducked into an empty room. Jack clicked the radio twice.

“How far did you get?” Sam’s voice asked.

“About two thirds of the way through McKay’s initial set of directions. We just exited the damaged section of the city we were holed up in.” He mentioned a couple nearby landmarks and then McKay took over, spouting another set of directions.

“Be safe,” Sam said once McKay finished.

“Will do. O’Neill out.”

The next few minutes were the most dangerous. He and Woolsey had to pass somewhat close to the central core of the city before veering away from it again. Jack stayed at the ready and they passed slowly and deliberately.

When they got back into another damaged area, he breathed a sigh of relief. He still couldn’t let down his guard. There was something suspicious about the fact that they hadn’t encountered any Replicators yet. Not knowing where they were didn’t make him feel any safer.

He signaled McKay and the man started speaking with the next set of directions.

Jack and Woolsey walked for another five minutes and turned into the hallway McKay had mentioned on their last exchange. He signaled the scientist again and told him where they were.

“You should be getting close to the jumper bay. You’re one level above it. Turn right when you get to the end of the hallway and then go down the stairs.”

They turned another corner and Jack gave a mental thanks for the auxiliary lights he could control with the ATA gene. Having a long lost ancestor with Ancient blood had caused him a lot of trouble in the past, but every once in a while it came in handy.

They headed down a set of stairs and McKay spoke again.

“Okay, there should be a hatch leading down to the next level. Do you see it?”

“Yep. Sure do. We see it.”

He and Woolsey walked over to the hatch at the end of the hall. It was surrounded on three sides by a metal railing and had a ladder leading to the level beneath them.

“The Control Room should be almost directly below,” McKay explained.

Jack and Woolsey leaned against the metal and looked down into the hatch.

It looked like the group on the jumper weren’t the only ones with water issues.

“Okay, slight problem here.”

Massive problem, really, but he didn’t want to overstate it.

“What's that?” McKay asked.

Jack looked back down at the water below. It was above the ceiling, which meant there wouldn’t be any breathable air down there.

“Well, the level below is completely flooded, too.”

He hoped that the controls were right by the ladder.

“Ah,” McKay replied. “I, uh, couldn't convince you to take a swim today, could I?”

Jack almost let him try to be persuasive, just because he thought it would be good for a laugh. He’d known he would attempt it ever since McKay asked, though, and he didn’t have time to mess around. Their jumper was leaking out of two cracks and he was their only hope to get out of there. Sam needed him, so Jack would do what he needed to do.

He sighed and handed his P90 and the radio over to Woolsey.

“All right. If you hear something, don't call out to it. Shoot it.”

“Understood.”

The fact that they were relying on Richard Woolsey to not get himself caught showed what a bad plan this was. Jack wished they had any other choice.

“Anything that's not me is a Replicator,” Jack reminded him, “so don't hesitate.”

He took off his outer fatigue shirt and boots and placed both his hands on the railing at the edge of the hatch.

The water looked dark and cold.

Jack was sure as hell taking a vacation after this.

Chapter Text

“You won't be gone long, will you?” Woolsey asked.

Woolsey must have kept his thumb down on the radio after Jack handed it to him.

“Uh, kinda depends on the temperature of the water,” came Jack’s response loud and clear. “Let's see.”

She could hear the swift intake of his breath as Jack stepped down into the water.

“Not long,” he told Woolsey.

Then the radio cut out and cut back in again. She assumed that Jack grabbed it back.

“Carter, when we were in this type of situation before, I was sure we settled on shallow water in the tropics next time. This is freezing.”

She laughed, glad to hear that he still had a sense of humor about it all. If the temperature of the water was anything like when they’d been trapped in the hallway of that sunken Goa-uld ship in the Pacific Ocean, she didn’t envy what he had to do.

“My mistake, sir. You can head to the tropics once we all get out of here.”

“Sounds like a good plan. Beaches, bikinis, those little umbrellas in the drinks. Hey, Carter, how would you feel about -”

“General!”

McKay’s voice cut off Jack’s question, but it was probably for the best. Flirting in the midst of a tense mission might make them both feel better, but she preferred not to do it with company around.

Jack’s voice had lost all levity by the time he responded.

“McKay? What do I do once I get down there?”

McKay explained about the manual override with more confidence than Sam felt. She didn’t know how far Jack would have to swim and whether he’d be able to identify and use the manual override. He could hold his breath a long time, but it had also been a while since he was regularly in the field.

The wait was long. Without meaning to, she held her breath in time with him, trying not to let terror overtake her when she had to take a breath and Jack still hadn’t radioed back yet.

Then she heard the slight crackle of the radio and his voice, angry but steady as he called McKay’s name.

“Did you do it?” McKay asked, even though it was a stupid question. If Jack had been able to do what they asked him to do, the jumper bay would be draining right now.

“You and I have very different ideas of what ‘obvious’ is.”

Jack’s anger was palpable and she wished she could be by his side. McKay tried to explain how to differentiate between the possible levers without any real information to impart and she could tell that Jack was getting frustrated.

Sam interrupted McKay.

“Jack, try for any switches that are larger or more distinctive first, but take multiple trips if you need to.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Beckett mouth Jack’s name to Teyla. Before she could see the other woman’s reaction, McKay jumped back in.

“We don’t exactly have a lot of time here,” he blurted, as if Jack was going to take a leisurely swim just for the hell of it.

“And all of this will be pointless if he drowns,” she replied back, an edge in her voice that she knew none of these people were used to.

She could feel Sheppard, Teyla, Beckett, Ronon, and Weir looking between them, but she refused to back down. Even a man like Jack O’Neill had his limits, and she wouldn’t let Rodney McKay try to push him into an untenable situation.

“Hopefully this won’t take too many laps.” Jack’s voice cut through the tension. “O’Neill out.”

They waited, silently, until something started to happen. The water began to drain out of the jumper bay. She watched a look of relief cross Beckett’s face and McKay’s, but Sam knew that you couldn’t celebrate until you knew your team was safe.

Then the water stopped draining and her heart stopped with it.

“What happened?” Weir asked.

“He had the right control,” McKay said. “I don’t know why he stopped.”

Sam traded a glace with Sheppard, the only other military member of this rescue team. They both knew it was a bad sign that Jack stopped draining the jumper bay. She assumed he’d also been counting the seconds and knew that Jack should have made it back and radioed in by now.

Just when she was about to give up hope, she heard Jack coughing over the radio as Woolsey made an impressed comment about how long the man could hold his breath.

McKay, because he had no tact, just asked why Jack didn’t finish the job.

“It’s a dead man’s switch,” he replied. “I have to hold it in place.”

Immediately, Sam wished they had time for simulations to figure out how long it would take for the bay to drain vs. how long he would have to hold the switch.

McKay’s face fell as he also realized the difficult position Jack was in. “I had no idea.”

“Really?” Jack asked sarcastically, and she knew he was going to dive back in even before she heard his muttered “Oh, God.”

Sam waited, and hoped, and the water level started to go down.

“He's doing it!” McKay yelled. “He's almost got it!”

Ronon and Sheppard started to pass out the ARGs to the group.

“Tell him, like, thirty more seconds and we're good to go,” McKay shouted.

Sam wondered how McKay thought Woolsey would convey that information when Jack was still underwater. Then she noticed that the slight static had stopped and Woolsey wasn’t responding.

The water was still draining. Jack was pushing himself to the limits underwater and now they couldn’t get in touch with Woolsey. What would Jack be swimming back to?

“Woolsey?” McKay tried. “Woolsey, come in.”

Sam looked at Sheppard.

“Something's wrong.”

His voice was low and serious. He knew exactly what it meant for Jack and Woolsey that they weren’t getting any response on the radio. Woolsey was likely captured or dead. Jack would be heading back towards a trap.

“I know,” Sam replied.

The water finished draining and Sheppard lowered the cargo hold door.

“McKay and Carter, you stay here and reprogram Niam. We're gonna go meet General O'Neill and Woolsey, all right? We'll wait for your okay.”

He looked at her and Sam nodded. She was the best backup for McKay to have and they both knew it, as much as she wanted to go with him to save Jack.

Sam adjusted the ARG in her hands and watched as Sheppard led the rest of the Atlantis group away.

“We’re going to need to send a message to the Daedalus too,” Sam mentioned as soon as she and McKay were alone.

He looked up at her.

“We’ll send it from the control room. We’ll have plenty of time once the Replicators are frozen.”

Sam wondered what it felt like to be that confident that nothing would go wrong with your plans in the face of constant evidence to the contrary.

“If the control room has been repaired,” Sam pointed out. “And if the Replicators stay frozen as long as we need them to be.”

She hoped that Sheppard was right and McKay always worked better under pressure. It seemed like they were going to need it this time.

McKay glared at her.

“One problem at a time.”

Chapter Text

Things were never as easy as people said they were. In this instance, the water was freezing, the control room wasn’t right by the ladder, a doorway almost locked him inside, the correct lever wasn’t easy to find, and when he did find it, it was a dead man’s switch.

In spite of all of those obstacles, Jack O’Neill got the job done. He emptied the jumper bay, saved Sam and the rest of the haphazard rescue team, and didn’t drown.

He might be a desk jockey right now, but he still had it. He could still save the day when he needed too. There was something exhilarating about that knowledge.

When he got to the hatch he used the ladder to pull himself up. He wiped a hand across his face and shook his head to get rid of the excess water.

“Woo!” he yelled. “Yeah!”

Jack turned around and his confidence sank. Two Replicators stood above him, aiming weapons at his head. He glanced over to see that even more were holding Woolsey captive. Seeing the numbers, he couldn’t even feel angry that Woolsey let himself be captured. It would have been a difficult fight even for someone who was trained.

“Don't move!” the Replicator directly in front of him shouted.

“Where would I possibly go?” Jack asked.

The Replicators didn’t respond to his rhetorical question. They just waited for him to exit the water, grabbed him, and shoved him back towards the stairs.

As he and Woolsey were marched along the corridor, Jack tried to think of the positive. For example, they weren’t dead yet. He assumed they were going to be interrogated - tortured - for information. While he wasn’t looking forward to that, he also knew it wasn’t the worst possible outcome. As long as they were alive, they still had a chance of making it out of here.

The Replicators had brought quite a crowd to capture them. He should be flattered they thought those numbers were necessary. One Replicator had a tight grip on his shoulder as they walked and Jack could see that Woolsey’s shoulder was in a similar. He asked a few minutes earlier if they could let up on the pressure, but his request had just been ignored. In fact, the grip went even tighter.

Maybe if he did survive, he could convince Sam to massage his shoulders.

The sharp hold only released when the Replicators pushed them into the Atlantis brig and shoved them onto a bench in the holding cell.

“Ow!” Jack shouted, wincing at the pain in his shoulder and reaching a hand up to rub it.

“Where are the others?” the lead Replicator asked.

Jack glanced over at Woolsey, trying to keep his face mostly blank. He hoped to hell the guy tried to keep his mouth shut. The more time they could buy for the others, the better.

He knew he’d held that lever down long enough. They were in the city. It was their turn to save him.

Now, he just had to stall.

“What…others?” he asked, drawing out the question.

The Replicators didn’t like his answer. This was going to turn into a real interrogation soon and Jack wasn’t looking forward to it.

All he had been trying to do for a month and a half was go on vacation. Instead he had to deal with Ancients and Replicators and being in the damn Pegasus galaxy.

His job sucked.

“What were you doing in the flooded sections of the city?”

Jack glanced up at the first Replicator and purposefully looked confused.

“The backstroke, I think.”

He always did enjoy being a smartass to the bad guys, even if he usually ended up paying for it in the end.

“What are you planning?”

There were a lot of ways to answer that question. It was the second Replicator’s fault for not being more specific.

“Well, I was planning to retire,” Jack started with a laugh, “but, man, is that overrated. I mean, it's not like I'm a workaholic or anything, but, you know, I like to stay active…with the community. It's...it's a health maintenance sort of thing, you know?”

Tool late, he realized that the machines had grown tired of the banter.

The two Replicators behind them moved forward to grab their shoulders and hold them in place. The two Replicators in front of them took a step forward.

“I don't like where this is going,” Jack muttered.

Woolsey looked around nervously.

“What are they doing?”

Jack wasn’t sure if it was better to be prepared for this experience or if it was easier to not know what you were getting into.

He decided not to answer the man beside him. Woolsey would find out soon enough what it was like to be interrogated by a Replicator.

Their hands reached out and one pressed into Jack’s forehead.

“Ow.”

Soon enough he was in his own mind with the taller Replicator standing next to him in the ‘gate room, an active wormhole glowing blue beside them.

The difficult thing with Replicators was that they could look so human, and almost kind. The one in front of him had messy brown hair, curling at the edges, and pale skin. His eyes were as brilliantly blue as Carter’s.

“Whatcha doin'?”

“Probing your mind,” the Replicator responded, not at all concerned about the inherent violation.

Jack looked around. Sometimes he wondered what it meant that the interior of his mind looked like an empty ‘gate room.

Once upon a time, he said that his mind took this form because he worked at the SGC. He knew now that the reason wasn’t that simple. He no longer worked at Stargate Command and yet here he was.

Then again, he much preferred this mental image to one of his office in D.C.

“Kinda roomy, ain't it?” he quipped.

The Replicator smiled and there was something eerie about it.

“Your ability to resist is quite remarkable, General O'Neill.”

He felt a little smug at the compliment and might have smiled back.

“It's not the first time I've had a hand in my head, as it were.”

Jack did his best not to think back on those other times and the bits and pieces he remembered of the experiences. He’d gotten better at resisting each time and he wasn’t sure if it was really because he learned something from those awful events or if his supposed superior ability to resist had something to with his own Ancient ancestry.

Not that the Ancients had fared very well in the long run.

All Jack knew was that the Replicators could skim his brain for certain memorable events, people, details, and locations...but in order to get all the facts, they needed his cooperation. He could hide away certain information in the chaos of his mind for a limited amount of time if he tried hard enough.

“If you do not give me what I am looking for, I am sure Richard Woolsey will.”

He didn’t even bother to refute that statement. They all knew that Woolsey was the weak link here. Jack’s job was just to keep the Replicators preoccupied, without giving away too much information, until help arrived.

“I'll tell you what,” he offered, “you look around, and I'll tell you if you're gettin' warmer or colder, alright?”

The Replicator looked smug and only waited a few seconds before responding.

“Ah. There it is.”

Damn, he really had hoped it would take longer for the sentient machines to get what they needed.

“So…hot, I guess.”

For his own pride, Jack hoped that Woolsey had given up the information and his mind hadn’t failed him that quickly.

Jack shouted in pain as the Replicator removed the hand from his temple. He found himself back in the brig, breathing heavily. Richard Woolsey leaned forward on his knees beside him, panting and holding his head as the Replicators left the room.

“That was the worst thing I've ever experienced,” Woolsey shared, voice shaky.

Jack put a hand on his shoulder, a small bit of comfort before he shared the bad news.

“Yeah. It gets worse.”

He knew that from experience.

Chapter Text

Standing next to the human-form Replicator set Sam on edge.

She kept waiting for another slight movement that would indicate it was coming back alive. She knew that it was only a matter of time.

Still, Sam told herself that she had to stay positive.

She couldn’t let herself drift to previous experiences with the Replicators. She couldn’t let herself think about Fifth. She couldn’t let herself think about the Replicator who had been molded in her image and wanted to rule a universe.

Sam couldn’t think about her capture and torture and whether the Replicators were hurting Jack right now with similar flashes of nightmares.

The Replicators, the Ori, and Ba’al...it was like the past week had been a greatest hits list of SG-1’s worst villains.

She had a brief thought that the only ones they were missing were Apophis and Anubis and then immediately looked around wishing she could knock on wood.

She had to stay positive.

She had to not think about the other times she’d almost lost him.

Sam stared at Niam, weapon at the ready, almost daring the Replicator to wake up so that she could shoot something.

After the code was disseminated of course.

It was not in Sam Carter’s nature to just stand there and do nothing when people’s lives were on the line, especially when one of those people was Jack O’Neill.

It was also not in Rodney McKay’s nature to work well with others.

It wasn’t a good combination.

“Are you sure there isn’t something I can help with?”

McKay let out a disgruntled-sounding noise and ignored her. Water dripped down around them from the ceiling of the jumper - the last remnants of the leak - and the exterior above the open rear hatch. McKay sat on one of the cargo hold benches, working diligently on the handheld device. Sam stood on the opposite side of Niam’s body, ARG at the ready.

“I really am good at this stuff,” she reminded him.

Sam couldn’t help feeling like she wasn’t doing nearly enough. She was off her game.

If only she’d been able to figure out the obelisk herself...if only she had been quicker with the DHD...Daniel would be safe right now.

She didn’t do enough to save Daniel.

She wasn’t doing enough to save Jack.

Finally, McKay looked at her.

“You can help me by not distracting me. How would you feel if I was constantly looking over your shoulder and judging what you were doing?”

Sam didn’t point out that he had done so many times in the past.

“I’m just saying I can help you. It’s clearly not going the way you want. Another set of eyes might be good.”

McKay looked back down at the handheld computer and then back up at her, anger bubbling in his expression.

“On this mission, you’re muscle,” he ground out. “You’re my backup.”

It was too much. Sam knew that she’d taken herself out of the leadership role on this mission, but she wasn’t going to be talked down to by Rodney McKay. She didn’t care if he was only lashing out because his plan was crumbling in front of him. If it was going to work the way he had it written, the code would have started affecting the Replicators as soon as they arrived in the underwater jumper bay.

“Sheppard said you’re good under pressure,” she commented. “I’m sure as hell not seeing it.”

He looked up at her.

“You were much more helpful as a hallucination.”

She glared at him.

“Maybe she was more helpful because you actually listened to her.”

McKay growled in frustration and set the handheld computer to the side.

“This is just some rescue mission joy ride for you. Just showing off. I care about this place and what happens to it.”

It was times like these when she wished that she could just tell the world how she felt about Jack O’Neill. If people knew they were together - if they knew that Sam Carter was absolutely in love with her former CO - they might not make assumptions like the one McKay was making now. She wasn’t here just for the hell of it. And there was no way that she cared any less about the outcome here than he did.

“I’m here because I care too, Rodney.”

It occurred to her a split second too late that he might make the wrong assumption based on the emotion in her words. His jaw dropped in surprise and his expression softened.

“Not like that,” she corrected quickly, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. “Definitely not like whatever you’re thinking.”

Shit.

“Sam?”

“I care about the city and everything we’re learning here and the technology,” she rambled. It sounded like she was lying...because she was.

His voice was full of suspicion when he responded. “You care about the city?”

“Yes,” she replied firmly. “A lot.”

McKay chuckled and turned his attention back to the device. She hoped that the awkward moment was past, but then he spoke.

“You know, if you wanted to ask me out, you didn’t have to come all the way to the Pegasus galaxy.”

This time it was her jaw that dropped.

“Ask you out?! I’m dating someone!”

He scoffed and looked up from the handheld. “Yeah, right. I’d know if you were.”

She was so thrown off by the fact he didn’t believe her that she didn’t even stop to think about the implication that he apparently tried to track her relationship status somehow.

“You are so -”

The comms clicked on and they heard Sheppard’s voice fill the jumper. She was glad. It probably prevented her from saying something truly awful.

“McKay, fire up that virus.”

Sam caught the sudden panic in McKay’s expression before it turned to frustration. He was starting to sweat.

“I am working as fast as I can.”

Then Sheppard spoke again and her heart dropped.

“The Replicators have O'Neill and Woolsey.”

Sam gripped her gun tighter and kept trying not to think about what might be happening to Jack right now. She’d known it was a possibility when Woolsey didn’t respond, but there was a world of difference between suspecting and knowing for sure.

She should have shut down that earlier argument with McKay or forced him to accept her help. If the slight delay in the process left Jack injured or dead, she would never forgive herself.

“Unfortunately, that information can't make me work any faster,” McKay replied, his finger jabbing at the screen.

“Do you know where they would have been brought?” Sam asked.

There was a pause before Sheppard replied.

“The brig is close by this spot so that would be my best guess. We’ll head in that direction.”

Sam wished that she was out there with the rest of them, on her way to track down Jack. She was needed here, but she couldn’t help but feel that right now Jack needed her more. She hadn’t signed up for this rescue mission to be Rodney McKay’s personal bodyguard.

“Okay, if I…that should…” he muttered. “Yeah. Okay, yes.”

McKay was definitely talking to himself, but she decided not to mention it. All she cared about right now was the outcome. She wanted the Replicators frozen so she could get Jack and drag him back to Earth.

“Stand by,” he said, confidence returning to his voice.

McKay continued to make adjustments on the handheld device as he walked to the front of the jumper.

“I've got his power levels about as high as I'm comfortable with. I'm gonna try to get him to …”

Sam only took her eye off the Replicator for a second, intending to say something to McKay. He turned around first and she saw his eyes widen.

She knew exactly what she was going to find when her head snapped back to position.

Niam, alive and angry.

“McKay, is it uploading?”

Niam broke the restraints around his legs and stood up. Sam lifted her weapon. She’d have to shoot him, but waited in hopes that it would give the freezing code time to work.

“McKay!”

“I don’t know!” he hissed.

Niam broke the restraints around his wrists.

“You've been warned about tampering with our base code, Doctor. You won't get a second chance.”

The Replicator charged forward.

McKay fumbled for his ARG, but before he could even pick it up, Sam aimed at the Replicator and fired. The body in front of her broke into tiny nanite pieces and fell to the floor.

Sheppard’s voice echoed over the radio.

“Carter? McKay? Come in, McKay. What’s happening?”

McKay’s eyes were wide as he looked at the empty space in the cargo hold where Niam used to be. His hand touched the ARG beside him for comfort.

He looked at her briefly, in awe, and then hit the comms button to talk back to Sheppard.

“Fall back to the jumper!” McKay shouted. “We're gonna need a new plan.”

Sam looked at the pile of Replicator parts at her feet.

The display on the jumper lit up and she glanced back at it. She tensed when she saw the indicator that a ship had been picked up by the sensors. It turned out that the Daedalus wasn’t three days away after all. If she had to guess, it was only a few hours away, which significantly limited their options.

“Won’t need a backup plan, huh?” Sam asked.

“Shut up,” McKay replied.

Chapter Text

They had almost arrived at the brig when McKay asked them to fall back. One of these days, John wanted things to go according to plan. It would be a nice change of pace.

He made it back to the jumper with Teyla, Ronon, Beckett, and Weir in record time.

Carter was waiting for them outside the jumper.

“I had to shoot Niam.”

John nodded, not completely surprised it had come to that. It would’ve been good if the plan had worked, but they could be adaptable.

“O’Neill and Woolsey?” Carter asked as they turned to enter the ship.

“One of them got a hell of a lot of shots off before they were captured.” He thought about the bullets scattered on the floor, the nearby boots and fatigue shirt. There were wet footprints on the ground, but no blood. At least there hadn’t been any blood. “We didn’t make it to the brig before we turned back, but they went in that direction.”

“Okay.” She took a deep breath and nodded. “Okay.”

If she was anything like him, she was already thinking about potential enemy engagement strategies to get them to that holding cell. They would need some sort of a distraction now that they couldn’t freeze the Replicators. It would have to be a big one.

They’d probably have to blow something up.

John crouched down in front of the pile of Replicator blocks, grabbed a handful, and then let them fall back to the floor of the jumper. He still found it weird that something so deadly could be made up of these small, seemingly harmless, parts.

“He just came to life?” Weir asked.

“They must have got to O'Neill and Woolsey,” Ronon concluded.

John considered the possibility.

“O'Neill would've never given us away.”

Of course, as sure as he was about General O’Neill, John was well aware that Richard Woolsey might not have been able to hold out during interrogation.

He was suddenly very glad that he’d been guarded and brief in any discussions of their plans. It had mainly been because he didn’t want the Replicators to pick up on their radio signals, but it helped in this situation too.

“Obviously their minds were probed,” Teyla said.

Yes, he admitted to himself. Teyla was probably right. John wished that he could have kept more details from O’Neill and Woolsey, but he hadn’t been able to think of an alternate option when they discovered that they were trapped underwater in a leaking ship.

Maybe Colonel Carter would have done better if she were the one in change. John looked over at her. He wasn’t sure what he expected - anger or disappointment, perhaps - but instead she looked at him with unwavering support.

“Well, they know we're here and how we got in.”

“Which is how they were able to reactivate Niam,” McKay pointed out, “which pretty much screws Plan A.”

John wasn’t entirely clear how knowing they were in the underwater jumper bay led to the Replicators finding out about Niam and being able to reactivate him, but they didn’t have enough time for him to go around questioning McKay’s logic.

“We have more bad news,” Carter said. “The Daedalus is much closer than we thought. I’ll have to review the sensor data to get specifics, but we’ve got hours, not days, to pull this off.”

Calling that bad news was an understatement, especially when McKay’s Replicator plan just fell through. John had planned to have them all out of here days before the Daedalus could arrive.

“I thought Elizabeth told us the Daedalus was at least three days away,” Teyla said, glancing at Weir, who nodded.

“Aye, that’s what General Landry told us in the briefing,” Beckett replied.

John wondered, with suspicion, if General Landry had been less than upfront with them about the timeline so they wouldn’t be quick enough to stop the Daedalus from nuking Atlantis if they got it in their heads to defy orders, or if someone had given the General incorrect intel.

Either way, he was more glad than ever that they had left the SGC as fast as they had. It was the only reason they had a chance in hell of stopping the destruction of the city and completing their rescue mission.

Their chance of success was lower than they thought it was twenty minutes ago, but he knew that they could still manage to figure something out. They’d been in worse situations before and still made it out alive.

“We can’t waste time on why the Daedalus ETA was wrong,” he said, as much for himself as for the others. “We need to brainstorm our next option.”

Beckett spoke next.

“Could you activate the freezing program another way?”

McKay shook his head.

“No. I need to load the program directly into a Replicator and spread it that way.”

“And that’s not possible?” he asked.

McKay opened his mouth, but Carter answered.

“The likelihood that we can get one of them alone and capture it without destroying it, and then be able to get close enough to upload the program without it killing one of us...well, let’s just say that plan would have to be an absolute last resort. I don’t think we have the equipment and time to pull it off in a safe way. It wouldn’t be easy, if it was at all possible.”

Of course. The backup plans were never simple. No freezing the Replicators.

“All right, so that plan's out the window,” Weir said with a crisp, authoritative tone. “We need another one.”

Ronon lifted and looked at his ARG.

“Well, these weapons blow them apart, right? I say we just start killing `em.”

Another shake of McKay’s head.

“Well, normally I would share your run-and-gun enthusiasm, but these weapons are only gonna work for so long before they manage to identify the frequency they use to disrupt the bonds that hold the Replicators together.”

“What'd he say?” Ronon asked.

John took it upon himself to answer.

“They build up an immunity.”

“Exactly,” McKay confirmed. “Look, the freezing plan would have worked because they would be unable to communicate with each other while we were blasting them, but the more we shoot, the greater the likelihood these weapons are gonna become ineffective.”

He heard Colonel Carter utter a curse under her breath.

“The lab that we took these from, I was working on a version that randomly generated new frequencies,” she admitted. “We knew this was a problem, but it was so far down the priority list that we didn’t have the time and resources to figure out the solution. I should have spent more time working on it.”

She was second-guessing decisions that had probably been made months ago by people far above her. John wondered if that was a typical thing for her or if it was because she was a little too personally involved on this one, whatever she meant by that.

“Hey, you can’t change the past,” he said.

Carter gave him a look and he remembered where they both worked.

“You can’t change the past right now,” he corrected. “So let’s focus on alternatives.”

“Okay,” Weir asked, “so what are our options?”

Ronon looked at Weir.

“I just gave you one.”

Well, it was an option. He had to give Ronon that. However, as much as he wanted to shoot Replicators too, that plan wouldn’t get them very far. All the Replicators would be immune and then they’d be screwed.

“We'll call that…Plan B.”

“Anyone for a Plan C?” Weir asked, sounding like an auctioneer asking for bids.

McKay snapped his fingers. “C-4. How much do we have?”

John thought about the inventory of supplies on the jumper.

“A bunch. Why?”

“Well, it's desperate…”

“Well, so are we,” Weir reminded them.

“Desperate and running out of time,” Carter added.

McKay looked around at everyone in the jumper. “We need to split into groups.”

Okay, so far they were on the same page. He just hoped McKay would be able to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat.

“I was gonna suggest that anyway. Why? What are you thinking?”

“If we're gonna destroy these guys using Replicator disruptors, we have to hit them all at once,” McKay explained. “We'll probably only get a dozen or so shots off before they manage to figure out the frequency.”

A dozen or so shots when they knew there were hundreds of Replicators roaming the city. Even if the Replicators were all in the same spot, those would be tough shots to make. If it were even possible to shoot that many Replicators at one time. They’d have to knock them down like dominos.

“So, what,” he asked, “you gonna get 'em all to stand in one place at the same time?”

He supposed it could work, but they’d have a hell of a time herding Replicators together without getting captured themselves.

“Clever, yes,” McKay allowed with a sarcastic tone that John didn’t appreciate. “Or we could figure out a way to send one massive blast through the city. Look, follow me.”

“One massive blast,” Carter repeated quietly, a grin spreading across her face.

It looked like she understood where McKay was going with this one and also thought it could work.

Carter looked over at him. “Let’s go.”

John motioned for everyone to follow Rodney.

“If this insane idea of yours works,” he overheard her tell McKay as they headed out, “you might have to admit that you’ve become a bit of an artist with this stuff too.”

John had no idea what she was referencing, but it sounded like a compliment.

“Of course it’s going to work.”

Based on McKay’s gruff response, he either didn’t take it that way or didn’t notice that she meant the remark positively.

John hoped that McKay’s plan worked. The idea of making this rescue mission a success is starting to feel a little more far-fetched than it did even when they were on Earth and he could feel the heavy weight of leadership pressing down on him.

He had two unsanctioned rescue missions before this one. Only one of them was a success. The way he figured it, he had a fifty-fifty record of getting people out alive in these types of situations. Those odds weren’t nearly as good as he’d like.

Which way was this third rescue going to fall?

He hoped they could still save the day and that his average would increase, but it was no guarantee.

John wanted his city back, but more than that, he wanted all of his people to make it out alive.

They were running through letters for backup plans fast. At what letter would the ideas give out? Plan E? Plan F?

He just had to hope that McKay’s current idea worked.

When they got to the first door, John indicated that Teyla and Ronon should take the lead while he and Carter covered the back.

“Where are we going?” Ronon asked.

McKay opened his mouth to respond.

“Closest shield emitter,” Carter said before looking over to McKay. “Right?”

In that moment, McKay seemed like he would have given anything to be able to disagree with her.

“Yes,” he finally said. “This way.”

The closest shield emitter was only a three minute walk away.

“Atlantis has ten of these emitters with which it creates the city's shields,” McKay explained. “So, if we can interface the crystals from the disrupter weapons with those of the shield emitters, we should be able to trigger a massive anti-Replicator wave throughout the city.”

Okay, it was all starting to make sense now. Plan C was a step up from the last one, as long as they were able to make it to all ten emitters. After the one McKay was showing them now, there were nine others. He looked around. If this had been an all-military team he would have been tempted to give everyone their own assignments individually, but he didn’t trust letting people like Beckett, Weir, and McKay go out there on their own. Nine emitters would split well into three groups with three emitters each.

“Okay, that's where splitting into teams comes in,” he said aloud.

“Exactly,” McKay said. “Now, I need to show you how to do this, so listen carefully. You slide out the crystal tray, you take the crystal from the Replicator weapon, you place it in the third slot from the right. Third symbol from the left activates the crystal tray. Clear on that? Great.”

He demonstrated the process of replacing the crystal and activating the tray as he talked.

“They are bound to find one of our groups working on the shield emitters,” Teyla pointed out as they started to walk back to the jumper.

“I already thought of that,” McKay answered. “That's what the C-4's for.”

“We blow them up?” Ronon asked. He looked pleased with the idea.

McKay shook his head.

“No. We feed them misinformation.”

Carter nodded. “We make them think that the C-4 is our only plan. That way, they’ll only be looking for that and hopefully miss the crystals we’re going to swap out.”

“Exactly!”

John nodded. “Seems like a good plan, but do we have enough of the crystals?”

“We brought twelve ARGs with us,” Beckett said. “That’s all that would fit in the duffle bags.”

That would only leave them with two functional weapons. It wasn’t enough.

“There should be four more in the cargo hold,” Carter mentioned. “The jumper we took was geared up for a mission.”

John let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Okay, six we can work with.”

It wasn’t ideal, but it would be manageable.

“Who isn’t getting a weapon?” Beckett asked. “There are seven of us.”

He hated making these types of choices.

“Everybody gets a weapon. We only have six ARGs, but we still have other guns.”

Carter stepped forward. “I’ll do it.”

She cast a look at Beckett and he wondered if she was volunteering because Beckett gave up his tac vest for her back at the SGC.

John wasn’t sure if he should let her do this. She was the one who was trained. It would be more worthwhile to the mission for her to have the ARG than to give one to the doctor.

“After all,” Carter added, “we’re not supposed to be using them anyway, right?”

He couldn’t fault her logic, so he gave her the go ahead to arm herself with a P90 anyway. Projectile weapons weren’t as good with the Replicators as ARGs, but they still slowed them down.

“How are we going to feed the misinformation to the Replicators?” Teyla asked.

John watched the expressions shift on McKay and Carter’s faces. He looked guilty and she looked like the idea pained her.

“Through O’Neill and Woolsey,” McKay admitted.

“We’re going to have to fake a jailbreak and leave them in there, knowing that they’ll be tortured for information again.”

The silence to Carter’s response was deafening.

“Isn’t there another way?” Weir asked.

Carter sighed.

“I really wish there was. We can’t risk the Replicators figuring anything out until all of the crystals have been swapped out. And then we have to slow them down with the idea of the C-4. If they interrogate General O’Neill and Richard Woolsey, they’ll only learn whatever information we feed them. If they interrogate any of us, they’d find out the whole plan. We have to redirect their attention just long enough for this plan to work.”

“We can’t exactly leave them the misleading information in a note,” McKay added. “This is our best option.”

Beckett spoke up.

“We’re still going to be able to break them out, right?”

McKay nodded. “If all goes according to plan.”

John tried not to think about how they’d been going through plans more quickly than usual during this mission.

“All right,” he said, holding up an ARG, “Once you guys have made all your alterations, avoid using your shiny new toys even if that means getting caught, okay?”

Most of the group nodded, but Ronon frowned.

“I still wish we could just shoot them.”

John looked at his friend and teammate with a sympathetic expression. He wished they could just shoot the hell out of the Replicators too.

“Maybe next time.”

Chapter Text

They had the start of a new plan and Sam thought it might even have a chance of working. Maybe Sheppard was right and Rodney McKay did work better under pressure. She was pretty sure he’d come close to a breakdown after she shot Niam, but he’d come up with an innovative, off-the-wall idea afterward.

She just wished that the idea wasn’t at the expense of Jack and Woolsey’s well-being.

Choices like those were exactly why she let Sheppard lead the mission.

She still would have ordered it if she had to, and she knew that Jack had survived Replicator-style interrogations before, but she felt worse leaving him there and knowing what would happen to him than she did turning back to the ‘gate and finding out that Daniel didn’t make it through. One was a horrible circumstance. The other was an active choice to leave someone she cared about in enemy hands.

Sam couldn’t guarantee that she would make the same decision if their situation were any worse than it currently was.

Once McKay finished demonstrating the placement of the C4 and crystals, they all headed back to the jumper to get supplies before splitting up to accomplish the task in front of them.

“All right, Ronon you go with Elizabeth and Carson you go with Teyla,” Sheppard ordered. “Carter and I will go to the holding cell where they’re keeping O’Neill and Woolsey. Rodney, you see if you can get a message to the Daedalus to keep them from blowing us up.”

Ronon, Weir, Teyla, and Beckett gathered some of the C4 and the crystals that had already been removed from the ARGs. They left the jumper to get a head start because each team was traveling to more remote areas of the city for at least one of their emitters. Ronon and Weir were hitting a group on the opposite end of the city. Teyla and Beckett were starting with their furthest emitter and then doubling back to the other two that were in closer proximity to the underwater jumper bay.

Sam removed the crystal and put down the ARG she’d been disassembling.

She turned to Sheppard.

“I can’t go with you to the brig,” she told him. “You have to bring Rodney instead.”

She didn’t want to make this choice. Right now, she wished that she could be right by Jack’s side.

“Why?” Sheppard asked.

She had to stay far away now so that she’d be able to see him alive later. Jack O’Neill knew her too well. If she was in the same room as him, there was a higher likelihood that he’d figure out their plan. It would compromise him and if the Replicators interrogated him again, which they were counting on for their plan to succeed, it might ruin everything.

“We can’t risk it. He’d see through my lies and he might figure it all out too soon. He knows me too well.”

On any other mission, the fact that Jack O’Neill knew her so well would be an asset, but not when they were trying to use him and Woolsey to feed false information to the Replicators.

John Sheppard nodded, taking her at her word.

“McKay, change of plans,” Sheppard called to the man at the other end of the jumper. “You’re coming with me and Colonel Carter is staying here. Carter will join Teyla and Beckett if she gets done early.”

McKay looked up from his laptop. “What? Why?”

Sheppard adjusted his weapon. “Carter made a good point. The mission will work better if you trade places.”

McKay set down the laptop and looked between the two of them, incredulous.

Sam didn’t know why he was so surprised. It had been her idea in the first place to contact the Daedalus from the jumper instead of waiting and hoping the control room was still in good shape.

“This is the difficult part of the mission.” He gestured to the computer. “I need to be here to do this. Blondie can handle the fake lock picking.”

Every time she started to think that Rodney McKay might actually be a decent person, he went ahead and said something like that.

“Nice to know I have your respect, McKay.”

The sarcasm in her voice was heavy, but he must’ve missed it.

“It’s okay, not everyone can be me,” he replied with a wave of his hand, “but you still have your talents.”

McKay turned back to his computer and kept typing.

“Rodney,” Sheppard said, his tone impatient, “You’re coming with me now. Give her the laptop and grab the C4 and crystals we need.”

“Fine,” he blurted before shoving the computer at her chest. “Hope you don’t screw it up for the rest of us.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Sam set the laptop down and reviewed where McKay was at in coding the message. He hadn’t gotten very far, which would actually make picking up his work way easier for her.

She just hoped that he was as good doing her original assigned task as she would be with his.

Jack O’Neill, to put it lightly, did not like Rodney McKay.

She remembered how pissed off he’d been after one recent memorable meeting with McKay. He waited to complain about it until they were both off base, but before he’d even shut the car door, Jack blurted, “People like him are exactly why I don’t like scientists!” She laughed and promised him that she’d remind him later why there was an exception to every rule.

Yes, the fact that McKay was going with Sheppard would distract Jack. She just wasn’t sure if it would be enough. Sam doubted that McKay was a great actor. Luckily, she had an idea.

“Rodney, if things start going badly, I need you to pass along a message for me to General O’Neill.”

“Yeah, okay,” McKay replied as he collected the C4 and crystals needed for the plan.

She and Jack always tried to keep things professional, but she told herself ever since they got together that she was never going to leave things unsaid when they got themselves into possible end of the line situations. Today seemed like it might be one of them. Especially with the Daedalus on the way to carry out Jack’s standing orders to destroy the city.

She might not be able to see him yet to carry out this part of the plan, but she could be there in spirit.

“Just tell him I love him.”

McKay turned, startled. “I’m sorry, what? Who?”

She would treasure forever the look of surprise on Rodney McKay’s face and higher register of his voice as she caught him off guard. Maybe he’d finally stop hitting on her.

“General O’Neill,” she responded.

McKay turned to where Sheppard was awkwardly fiddling with the ARG and pretending not to listen in.

“Do I have a head injury? I am I hallucinating again?”

Sheppard gave a low chuckle and shook his head. “You never seemed right in the head to me.”

McKay rose, indignant. “Oh, that’s a nice thing to say.”

Their dynamic reminded her a little of Daniel and Jack on some of their early missions, if Daniel had been more arrogant and Jack had less of a temper.

She decided to jump in before anything escalated.

“I can’t go with you, so just do me this favor if things start to go badly.”

McKay turned back to her, disbelief still evident in his features. “But why? Why would you...and him? I…”

He trailed off.

“You did seem to think you owed me.”

McKay sputtered. “Well, yes, but it wasn’t really you and - “

“It’ll help with the plan anyway. You need him distracted.”

It wouldn’t be anything that Jack hadn’t heard before, but she suspected he’d find special delight in the fact that she was forcing Rodney McKay to send the message.

“Oh, that’ll distract him all right,” Sheppard commented from the corner.

“Why does he need to be distracted?” McKay asked. “He’ll pass on exactly the information we tell him. This plan will work.”

Rodney McKay had gotten better over the years, but he was still full of himself and was way too comfortable looking down on those who didn’t demonstrate their intelligence the same way as him.

“If I went in there, he’d figure out the plan in two minutes. With you, it will probably only take four. He’s smart, McKay, especially with things like this. You need him distracted so he doesn’t put it together too soon that something’s off with what you tell him. We can’t let the Replicators get a hint.”

“Fine,” McKay grumbled, “but only for the sake of the mission. I don’t like being a go-between.”

Sheppard laughed. “Speaking of, Colonel Carter, did you hear about the time Rodney had to share his body with Lieutenant Cadman and she planted a kiss on Dr. Beckett?”

McKay shoved Sheppard. “What did I say about never discussing that again?”

Sheppard shrugged, an amused smile still pulling at his lips.

Sam knew what it felt like to not have complete control of your body so she couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for McKay. Only a little bit.

“Yeah, body-sharing is rough. Trust me, you could have had it much worse.”

Sam was glad that Jolinar’s memories had started to fade as the years passed by. There had been situations where they were useful, but she still wasn’t sure if the trade off had been completely worth it. At least, outside of having extra years with her dad due to the Tok’ra and the handful of situations where having naquadah in her blood had been an advantage.

“That story never leaves this jumper,” McKay insisted. Sam nodded. She didn’t really care who he ended up kissing anyway.

An awkward silence followed until Sheppard suggested they head out. While they were all busy planting the C4 and installing the crystals from the ARGs, she was going to try to contact the Daedalus from the jumper and ask them to delay deploying the warhead if the ship got here before their plan succeeded.

She’d have to boost the signal, encrypt an encoded message, and hope the Daedalus figured it out before the Replicators did, but it would be worth it if they all survived.

Sam had better things to do today than die.

Chapter Text

“She can’t possibly expect me to tell General O’Neill that she loves him. That’s madness.”

Rodney trudged along the hallway with less stealth than was ideal. John felt like they had better things to do than worry about McKay’s crush on Colonel Sam Carter, but he also didn’t want it to turn into a problem.

“They served together a long time,” John responded evenly. “That type of thing forms a connection between people. It’s why I, in my more desperate moments, might even call you a friend, McKay.”

McKay huffed.

“There can’t be anything going on between them, right? She’s way too smart for him. And too hot for him.”

John Sheppard didn’t really like to get in the middle of other people’s personal business and most of the time he didn’t care. He had no idea if there was something going on between Carter and O’Neill, but he liked them both. Whatever was or wasn’t going on, he just didn’t want McKay to spin out about it in the middle of a mission.

Still, he couldn’t help needling the man a bit.

“Colonel Carter seems to think he’s plenty smart.”

John didn’t think you could be an idiot and become the head of Homeworld Security, but McKay had never let the facts get in the way of his opinions of people.

“That’s ridiculous,” McKay replied.

They walked a few more steps before Sheppard realized he wasn’t done pushing McKay’s buttons.

“Must be in pretty good shape for someone who sits behind a desk too,” he commented. “He was underwater a long time to get us out of there.”

“I’m in better shape than him,” McKay grumbled, ignoring the disbelieving look that Sheppard shot his way.

“Oh really?”

It would be pretty amusing to watch General O’Neill in an athletic competition with McKay. Every once in a while McKay needed people to bring him down a few notches.

“How about you do a few laps in the underwater control room when we get back by the jumper?”

McKay ignored his suggestion and kept talking.

“I doubt they’re in a relationship. I bet it’s like you said, just that connection from working together for so long. She probably loves him like a friend, or an older brother. That’s all.”

Rodney McKay was going through a lot of work to convince himself that Carter was single. He didn’t want to point out that even if she wasn’t with O’Neill, she’d shown no interest in ever dating McKay.

Sheppard looked at McKay and raised an eyebrow. “Feeling better now?”

McKay nodded as he fiddled with the device in his hand.

“Yes, of course. I don’t know why I was ever worried. After all, she can’t ignore the undeniable chemistry between us. She’s just intimidated by me, you know?”

Since he’d called McKay a friend a few minutes ago, he didn’t laugh in the man’s face.

“Sure, Rodney. We’re all intimidated by you.”

The other man completely missed his sarcasm.

“It’s okay,” he said, still looking down at the device. “I don’t mind.”

Colonel Carter probably would have been much better company. It really was too bad she had to back out of this leg of the mission. He would’ve liked to see her in action. John had heard lots of stories about the legendary SG-1 since he joined the Stargate program. He didn’t know the members of the flagship team that well, but he felt a sense of kinship to them. After all, he’d been doing a very similar thing out here in the Pegasus Galaxy as the leader of Atlantis’ flagship team.

At least, he had been doing a similar thing right up until they got kicked out of the city. Leading SG-4 should have been almost a lateral move, but it sure felt like a demotion. He hadn’t even been allowed to pick his own team. Babbis and Wallace wouldn’t have made the cut if he’d had any say in the decision-making.

John was also fairly sure that General Landry didn’t like him much. His maverick record might give him common ground with men like General O’Neill, but he’d gotten the impression that Landry ran a tighter ship that allowed for less flexibility.

He tried not to think too much about the fact that if they did make it home, he’d be dishonorably discharged.

Even knowing that, he’d still make the same decision if he had to do it all over again. This was his city and it deserved to be defended. He also wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if he’d done nothing knowing that O’Neill and Woolsey had been left behind and could have been saved.

John hoped to god that this plan of McKay’s worked a whole lot better than his last plan. Carter seemed to think it had potential and it comforted him to have a second opinion from someone who knew both science and military strategy.

He and McKay turned another corner. They still hadn’t seen any Replicators, but he knew that there would be guards when they got to the brig. By John’s estimate, they’d get there in about five more minutes.

He had, when he looked down a corridor they walked past, seen a few bodies laying on the floor about twenty yards away. He didn’t bother pointing them out to McKay. Rodney McKay was anxious on his best days. John didn’t want to give him something else to worry about.

“I want to ask you something,” McKay asked from behind him. “I want your honest opinion.”

John glanced back. McKay had stopped working on the handheld device and was looking serious.

“Sure, why not?”

John had assumed the question would be something important. Why else ask it when you’re in the middle of a rescue mission against an enemy that was stronger and arguably smarter?

He was wrong.

“Where do you think Sam would like to go on a date?”

John stopped, looked around quickly to make sure their path was currently secure, and faced his teammate.

“McKay, we are in the middle of trying not to die right now. If you want to, after this mission, you can ask Colonel Carter where she likes to go on dates, but you probably won’t be going on one with her. I have seen no indication that she wants to go out with you. Give it up.”

“You don’t see the sparks?”

Truthfully, he saw sparks of anger and frustration. Not sexual chemistry.

“The woman is just trying to do her damn job. Leave it alone.”

McKay frowned.

“When I said I wanted you to be honest, I didn’t mean I wanted you to be that honest.”

John growled and turned around, continuing the walk towards the brig.

“She loves General O’Neill anyway,” he teased. “Remember?”

“Hey!” McKay shouted from behind him. “You said that was just because they were friends or like family.”

John didn’t remember saying anything of the sort, but if McKay wanted to continue to believe that, he was free to.

“Here’s a couple tips, Rodney. If you like a woman, don’t come on too strong and don’t be an asshole. Also, don’t bother chasing after the ones who aren’t interested. If a woman likes you, she’ll let you know.”

McKay stayed silent after John finished talking and that silence was glorious. He was starting to regret that offhand comment he made the other day about missing having Rodney McKay on his team. This was clearly some sort of be careful what you wish for type of situation.

John raised his weapon as they neared the final corner. He hoped the Replicators hadn’t left many guards behind.

“What if she -”

“If you ask me one more question about Samantha Carter, I’m going to kill you before the Replicators have a chance.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t as simple as sending a quick message to the Daedalus, but she wasn’t expecting it would be.

After all, it wouldn’t be a Stargate mission if it were simple.

First she had to look through the sensor data to determine the ship’s position and calculate its ETA. The timing wasn’t good. They only had about two hours. She started the countdown timer on her watch.

The communications systems in the puddle jumpers could transmit to the other side of the solar system, but they weren’t as good as the Atlantis control room or the larger ships she’d come across and helped build over the years.

The Daedalus was too close, and yet not close enough.

Sam tried to boost the signal first, but she didn’t have the right equipment to make a significant difference in range. She wasn’t sure if it would be enough.

To up the odds, she decided to write a program to send the message every five minutes. That way, even if the Daedalus wasn’t close enough to receive the message now, they would be once they reached the solar system.

It was a risk to transmit multiple times, but she’d have to take it.

Then Sam needed to write the message. She didn’t have enough time to fully encrypt the message, and it probably would have been a bad idea anyway given that the Daedalus crew would need to receive the signal and decrypt it in time, but she still tried to use enough security protocols to hopefully slow down the Replicators in case they were able to intercept the message.

Sam hoped they were still too busy fixing the control room to be able to catch the message. If she was extremely lucky, they might not have brought those systems back online yet.

She paused with her fingers on the keyboard.

The guilt that she had successfully pushed away until now flooded her and threatened to pull her under.

Sam made the right decision out of a lot of bad options, but it didn’t make her feel any better. The plan that she and McKay had put in place also put Jack in immediate danger. If the Replicators weren’t already interrogating him and Woolsey, it was only a matter of time. Their plan relied on it.

She should have been doing just about anything to spare Jack more pain, but she had to prioritize destroying the Replicators instead.

She had considered, briefly, whether they could just break Woolsey and Jack out of the holding cell and escape in a jumper, but that lead to its own difficulties.

If they were able to escape, would they be able to get the underwater jumper bay door back open?

Could they plug the leak well enough to survive the underwater and interplanetary travel that would be required to escape? If not, were any of the other jumpers in that bay viable?

Could they make it to another ‘gate and rewrite the macro to get back to the Milky Way before the Midway Station ‘gates were destroyed? Or could they intercept with the Daedalus without the Replicators noticing or their own people treating them as an enemy vessel?

Even if they were able to get away from the city safely, what about the Replicators? If they left them here, unharmed, they would destroy countless planets and eventually come for Earth. She had no doubt about that.

As Sam began to write the encrypted message, she kept thinking back to her time with Fifth.

She had been naive the first time she encountered the human-form Replicators. She believed that Fifth was different enough, human enough, that he was worth saving. She felt disillusioned when Jack had signaled to her that they should leave Fifth behind during that initial encounter.

She followed his orders, but afterward she and Jonas had blamed Jack for using Fifth’s humanity against him.

She knew now that they’d been unfair. Jack had only been making the best decision in a bad situation, just as she was doing now.

She may have been inside Fifth’s head for a brief time, but that didn’t mean she knew him. Bringing him back to Earth could have been the most disastrous decision ever made by an SG team and Sam was glad now that Jack held his ground, even if she did pay for it afterwards with her imprisonment by the Replicator.

She wasn’t sure if her betrayal was the true root cause for Fifth’s turn towards evil or Fifth’s programming would have moved him in that direction regardless of any actions she took. It was a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario.

Either way, Sam knew that Jack wouldn’t hold this decision against her because he would have had to make the exact same one if their positions were switched. The Replicators were a scourge and they had to take advantage of any opportunity to prevent them from causing more harm.

Sam finished the message and set it to loop, asking the Daedalus to refrain from releasing their payload unless no human lifeforms remained on Atlantis because they were in the midst of a rescue operation. She also included her name and personal authentication code. Unfortunately, she couldn’t provide details about their plan in case the message was intercepted, but Sam hoped this would be good enough.

Once the message was sent, Sam grabbed her P90 and left the jumper, closing the rear hatch in case any Replicators came this way.

She and Sheppard had decided that it would be best for her to meet up with Teyla and Beckett after sending the message. Their final two emitters were the closest to the underwater jumper bay, so it would be easiest for Sam to catch up with them, and their team already had two ARGs. Based on the time she’d been in the jumper, Sam guessed that Teyla and Beckett would be at the second or third shield emitter by now. Luckily, the second was on the way to the third, so she’d pass by that regardless.

After she exited the jumper bay, Sam jogged down the corridor at a steady clip in the direction of Teyla’s second emitter. She kept an eye out for any Replicators and kept her weapon at the ready.

She didn’t see any Replicators, but when she rounded the corner near the second emitter room, she did see a body sprawled out on the floor.

Sam glanced at the face on instinct, not expecting to know the individual clad in the tan and off-white clothes common for the Ancients. Instead, she froze. The curly blonde hair, slightly upturned nose, pale skin, and dent in her chin...this was the woman Jack thought looked like Ke’ra. This was Commander Helia.

Her eyes were vacant and still, but the resemblance was uncanny. It had been years since they had encountered Ke’ra on Vyus, unaware that she was really the dangerous scientist Linea, but Sam remembered her well enough to recognize the woman. The body in front of her did appear how she imagined Ke’ra would have by now.

Sam wished that she could have done something for this woman to prevent her death or give her a proper burial. Maybe if they all survived, they could make sure something was done to honor the sacrifice of the Lanteans.

She didn’t have time to worry about that now.

Sam picked up to the pace and ran in the direction of room that was second on Teyla and Beckett’s list.

She couldn’t think about dead bodies and personal sacrifices and what the Replicators might do to people who didn’t give them the answers they wanted.

Sam couldn’t think about Jack’s stubbornness and the nightmares she still had from the torture she had to endure under Fifth - a being who claimed he loved her - and what might happen to Jack if he didn’t break under interrogation from Replicators who had no interest in keeping him alive.

She didn’t come all this way to lose Jack now. Sam might have made the decision that would leave him in the hands of the Replicators, but she had to make sure that choice was both worthwhile and temporary. She had to make sure that McKay’s shield emitter plan succeeded.

Sam arrived at the room and looked inside, peeking around the corner to ensure that there weren’t any Replicators there. There weren’t but Teyla and Beckett weren’t in the room either. Sam lowered her weapon and walked straight to the tray that held the shield emitter crystal and opened it, clicking on the third symbol to the left to open the tray.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the crystal had been swapped out and the C-4 was in place. It meant that Teyla and Carson Beckett had already been here and left and hadn’t run into any trouble on the way. That was a good sign.

Two down, one to go.

She raised her weapon and left the room, heading in the direction of the final emitter room that Teyla and Beckett were responsible for. She hoped that Weir and Ronon were making good progress.

Sam also wondered how things were going with McKay and Sheppard. She would have given just about anything to see Rodney McKay have to pass along her message to Jack. Hopefully that would lighten things up a little for him.

If should couldn’t be there for him, if she couldn’t get him out of there yet, if she couldn’t prevent him from enduring likely pain...at least she could hope that she gave him something to smile about.

Hopefully, in less than two hours, Jack O’Neill would be standing in front of her alive and well. Then she’d have something to smile about too.

Chapter Text

Jack wasn’t really sleeping. He was curled up on the bench in the holding cell with his eyes closed and his head resting on Woolsey’s folded up suit jacket. The man had handed it over in a desperate apology for getting them captured and Jack wasn’t above using Woolsey’s guilt to his advantage.

He’d lost track of how many hours he’d been up. Lantea had longer days than Earth in the first place - about 27 hours - and the negotiations had started pretty early in the day.

He couldn’t believe how much had changed since he woke up. He thought he would be spending his day wrapping up this phase of negotiations and handing things back to Woolsey so he could get back to Earth when he promised Carter. Instead, he was dealing with underwater rooms and mental torture. Plus, there was that whole pesky “threat of death” thing that Sam and the others were now roped into as well.

Jack wasn’t sure if it was morning yet, but it had been dark still when Sheppard and the gang arrived. He could feel the exhaustion weighing on him and the adrenaline burning off.

He always slept lightly during missions, ready to wake up and move at a moment’s notice, but even that was a little refreshing because he felt safe enough to manage some level of sleep while a member of his team was on watch. Here, there wasn’t anyone he trusted to watch his back and he felt responsible for Richard Woolsey’s welfare.

So instead of trying to sleep, he just laid down on the bench and closed his eyes, hoping that a simulation of sleep might fool his mind and body into being energetic when he had to run for his life again. It was only a matter of time.

In the silence, Jack thought about how little he’d accomplished here on Atlantis. He thought about how angry he was at the Ancients for ignoring a threat they had advanced warning for. He thought about the fact that he’d put the requirements of his job ahead of his relationship again.

Jack thought about the changes he would make if he made it home and he hoped that he would have the opportunity.

He thought about how the word girlfriend had never seemed quite right to describe his relationship with Samantha Carter.

Jack heard a commotion outside and sat up just in time to see John Sheppard kill two Replicators and enter the brig, with Rodney McKay trailing behind.

He got up and walked over to the bars. Woolsey followed behind him.

“Well, it's about time!” he shouted.

“Oh, thank God!” The relief in Woolsey’s voice was tangible.

“Alright, get 'em out of here. I'll stand guard.”

Sheppard gave a quick nod after speaking and left to cover the entrance to the room.

McKay stood in front of him, gripping a handheld computer. He touched something on the control panel on the outside of the holding cell and didn’t even acknowledge them.

Something in Jack snapped.

“Hey! ‘Thanks for the rescue!’”

McKay looked up, surprised.

“Oh, hey! No problem.”

He smiled and waved his hand as if brushing away the thanks that Jack had not been giving him. Then McKay went back to the control panel.

It pissed him off. No wonder Sam hated working with this guy.

“No! You should be saying: ‘thanks for the rescue’!”

Jack pointed to himself in case the scientist was dumb enough not to make the connection.

The only reason Jack had been captured was because McKay and company had gotten themselves into a jam. It was all their fault and now the guy couldn’t even show some proper gratitude.

The surprise bloomed on McKay’s face and shifted briefly into something like contrition.

“Oh! Uh, right. Thanks. Should have you outta there in no time. This won't take long at all.”

Halfway through talking to them he went back to ignoring them and stared at the control panel and the device in his hand.

“Oh, my. They've changed the codes.”

McKay took a step back from the panel, his free hand lifting and holding in the air as he continued to look at the panel in confusion.

Woolsey got closer to the horizontal cell bars. “But you can crack it, right? You need to get us out of here.”

McKay didn’t look over and just gave another little wave of his hand.

“Yeah, of course I can. Just give me like one…two seconds.”

Maybe it was the mention of one or two seconds that clued him in to the fact that something wasn’t right. Or maybe it was the fact that McKay actually said the words “oh, my” like a five year old girl.

Jack had been in a lot of situations like this with Samantha Carter and he felt like he’d learned a few things about working with scientists over the years. Scientists preferred precision. They also didn’t like to be rushed. They certainly weren’t able to accomplish anything in just one to two seconds. Even brilliant scientists took a little time to crack codes and accomplish miracles.

It was entirely possible that Rodney McKay was speaking in hyperbole.

Jack just knew that something felt off.

“Where’s Carter?”

“Not here,” McKay replied, still looking at the keypad.

“So I guess that frozen Replicator plan didn't pan out?” he asked.

It had taken Jack a while to work out what Sheppard had meant by that picking up frozen goods statement. It niggled at the back of his mind until he remembered reading a detail from an Atlantis mission report about ejecting a Replicator out into space above the planet.

It also reminded him of Thor’s plan when the Replicators were attacking Orilla to grab a Replicator from space and use it to gain intel.

“Yeah, not-not so much,” McKay admitted.

Jack wasn’t surprised that the plan didn’t work out.

He could’ve told McKay that Replicators never stayed asleep when you wanted them to.

Jack leaned closer.

“How's that Plan B working for ya? Good?”

“Actually, it's more like Plan C. ‘C’ as in C-4, if you catch my drift.”

McKay actually thought that stupid line was clever. It was probably a stupid plan too.

“No.”

McKay continued in that over-the-top “hint-hint” way of his. “Let's just say that we're concerned the Daedalus won't be able to carry out your standing orders.”

Oh god, it was a stupid plan. Why had Sam gone along with this?

Where the hell was she, anyway?

“What?” Woolsey shouted beside him. “To destroy Atlantis with nuclear weapons? I thought we were past that! Why are we going back to that?”

McKay briefly turned back.

“Yeah, it's the only way.”

So they were basically right back where they started. Atlantis would still be destroyed. He was trapped in a cell relying on Rodney McKay of all people to get him out of here. Hell of a rescue.

“Can you do that?” he managed to ask.

McKay grinned.

“Yeah. If we plant charges in all ten of the shield emitters before the Daedalus arrives, that way when the Replicators try to activate the shield…”

He trailed off and Woolsey continued the train of logic, such as it was.

“The C-4 detonates, the Daedalus beams a warhead into the city, and we all get vaporized.”

Woolsey threw his hands up in the air, moved to the other side of the cell, and started to pace. Jack thought he heard Woolsey muttering to himself.

This was a fucking stupid plan.

“Sounds more like a Plan F, doesn't it?” Jack asked, learning against the cell bars. “As in: we are totally f—”

“If we can fight our way back to the bay, then we'll be able to fly the jumper to a safe distance,” McKay interrupted. “That is, if we can get the underwater bay door open.”

A totally fucking stupid plan. Not to mention their jumper had a leak and he and Woolsey were still trapped in a holding cell.

Jack gestured around them.

“You can't even open this door! If Carter were here, she would have had us out by now.”

“Hey,” McKay shouted, “I'm workin' on it!”

“Yes. I see that,” Jack replied, voice full of sarcasm.

At that, McKay finally lost his temper.

“Yeah, well I didn’t even want to be here. Sam was supposed to have this job. I was supposed to be in charge of contacting the Daedalus, but then she thought she had a better plan.”

Plan B.

Jack froze.

McKay said that Plans A and B failed and they were on Plan C. What the hell had happened during Plan B?

What had happened with the frozen Replicator?

“Wait,” Jack interrupted, “Why did you take her place? What’s going on?”

Where the hell was Sam?

“I don’t have time to talk about it right now.”

“McKay, what the fuck was Plan B?”

His eyes shot up. “What?”

Jack’s voice, when he responded, was ice cold. It was the voice he used to get answers out of enemy combatants. A voice he’d used in his black ops days and when needed as commander of SG-1.

“Where. Is. Sam?”

Chapter Text

This was not going well, John realized, hearing the edge of desperation and anger in the General’s voice. They needed to wrap things up soon.

He walked to the entryway and looked down the corridor. No one in sight yet, but they would be coming back soon. He headed back to where General O’Neill was trying to ask what had happened to Colonel Carter.

McKay looked terrified of the General. As much as that might amuse John normally, they didn’t have the time.

“We got company,” he told O’Neill. “Sorry, sir, we're gonna have to come back for you.”

General O’Neill still looked troubled, and possibly on the verge of losing it, but inclined his head in acceptance.

“No-no-no-no-no-no,” McKay said, “we can't leave them here. They know too much.”

Not the best acting job, but it would have to do.

“What'd you tell `em?”

McKay looked over at O’Neill and Woolsey before looking back at him.

“Uh, uh, I mean, they guessed most of it.”

John smacked McKay in the back of the head.

“What, and you filled in the rest?!”

He did his best not to grin. This part of the plan was kind of fun.

“I thought I would have time to get them out of here!” McKay exclaimed before turning to General O’Neill. “Look, just forget what I said.”

Sheppard noticed O’Neill’s shrewd attention on them. Maybe Carter was right. The General would figure it out too early.

“Rodney, wasn’t there something you were supposed to tell the General?”

McKay let out a loud sigh. “Do I really have to? I don’t like being put in this position. Maybe you should tell him.”

“Tell me what?” O’Neill asked, voice serious. “What happened?”

They really did not have time for this. As much as it might be diverting General O’Neill’s attention, it was also slowing down their progress. If they waited too much longer, the Replicators really would be back. They still had to swap out their emitter crystals. The rooms were reasonably close, but they lacked the head start that the two other teams had.

“Rodney, you promised her you would tell him and we need to get out of here.”

General O’Neill seemed concerned and Sheppard saw Woolsey sitting on the bench with his head in his hands, not even looking at them.

“Fine,” McKay grumbled at him before facing O’Neill. “Sam wanted me to tell you that she loved you.”

It looked like it physically pained McKay to say the words and Sheppard forced himself not to laugh.

“What happened to her? Is she okay?” O’Neill asked, all of the earlier fight drained out of his voice.

“What do you mean?” McKay asked, clearly confused by the question. “Aside from being annoying earlier and thinking she knew better than me -”

General O’Neill’s face had lost all color and Sheppard knew that none of McKay’s words were sinking in for the older man.

He suddenly realized that the General was worried that Carter’s message was a deathbed confession. McKay’s inadvertent use of the past tense probably didn’t help.

“Carter is safe,” he cut in quickly. “Probably meeting up with Beckett and Teyla right now.”

John had been under the impression that getting Rodney McKay to send that three word message was something Colonel Carter thought the General would find amusing. Instead, the man behind the bars seemed to take it as a sign of how bad their situation was.

And now John had to leave him here, believing he was about to die.

“She’s fine,” he reiterated.

The General’s face cleared and then John saw as it hit O’Neill all over again that their situation was still bad even if Carter was okay.

“Sheppard, get out of here while you still can. Get everyone else to safety. That's an order.”

There was a particular emphasis on the way General O’Neill said the words “everyone else” that made John wonder if the man was mostly thinking about one specific person’s safety.

John directed Rodney to get going and then faced the General while McKay headed towards the exit.

“Sorry it has to be this way,” he apologized. Even though John knew that they had a plan to get all of them out of here alive, he still felt bad leaving O’Neill and Woolsey here under the belief that they were going to die.

“Yeah, I get it. Go,” O’Neill said, resignation in his voice. “If you see Carter, tell her I love her too. And let her know I’m sorry I ruined our vacation.”

“Will do, sir.”

As he was running out of the room, John heard Woolsey’s voice.

“So, we're back to being vaporized...”

When he caught up to McKay, he decided not to tell the man that General O’Neill and Colonel Carter were definitely together.

“General O'Neill didn't buy it, but I think Woolsey did,” he told McKay, referring to the false plan they'd shared.

“Well, I did win a Sears drama festival award when I was a kid. Could have made it a career if I wanted to.”

“Wish you would've,” John muttered.

“Hmm?”

“Nevermind.”

“You know, you didn’t need to hit me so hard,” McKay complained as they headed towards the first shield emitter.

“I needed to sell it. Carter was right, the General started to piece it together quick.”

They continued walking, keeping an eye out for any sign of the hundreds of Replicators that were somewhere in the city.

“You know,” McKay said after a few minutes, “I thought he would react differently when I told him.”

John looked around the corner and made sure it was clear for them to advance. He should tell Rodney to be quiet, but because they hadn’t come across any Replicators yet, he wasn’t too worried as long as McKay kept his voice down.

“I mean, if Sam Carter said she loved me, I’d be ecstatic.”

John really did not want to spend this entire leg of the mission talking about Colonel Samantha Carter.

“He thought she died...or was dying,” he explained as they turned another corner. “General O’Neill was worried you were conveying her last words. It probably didn’t help that you told him she was originally supposed to go to the brig with me and you took her place.”

“Oh,” McKay said in surprise. “Oh, that’s morbid.”

“Yeah,” he agreed.

They made it to the first shield emitter without encountering any Replicators. It was eerie how empty the city was. There was something odd going on.

The second emitter was a comparatively short walk away.

McKay replaced the crystal quickly.

“Okay, that should do it,” he announced, pushing the tray back in.

“One more to go.”

“And it’s all over but the crying.”

John looked over at McKay. “Hopefully them, not us,” he clarified.

All of the sudden there was a loud, clanging noise and the city started to hum.

“What the hell?” McKay asked, before looking at the readout screens. “No wonder they weren't coming after us. They've been busy repairing the city.”

He supposed they’d have to after both the original attack that they’d perpetrated and the explosive that John had dropped in front of the gate.

“What is that?”

McKay looked up from the screen. “They brought their ZPMs to power the stardrive.”

“So that sound is..?”

McKay frowned. “The city about to take off.”

“Shit.”

“Time to start crying,” McKay muttered as the city started to rise.

“They'll still have to activate the shield to take off, won't they?” John asked. “We got most of their emitters.”

He hoped that would be good enough. They didn’t have a backup plan for the backup plan.

“Yeah, ‘most’ ain't gonna cut it,” McKay said. “For this plan to work, it is all or nothing.”

He wished he’d known that ahead of time. If he had, he might’ve pulled Carter off sending a message to the Daedalus and asked her to focus on a couple of emitters instead. Or, he might’ve switched the order so that he and McKay replaced the crystals first and then went to find O’Neill and Woolsey.

Too late to second guess himself now.

“What do they want to fly around for?”

It seemed to him that once the Replicators had control of Atlantis, there wasn’t really a reason for them to drain a ZPM to move the city.

“Well, maybe they wanna fly home,” McKay suggested, “back to their homeworld.”

That would be really bad. It would strand them in another section of the Pegasus galaxy surrounded by even more Replicators.

“And take on the Daedalus,” John added, thinking about how Atlantis would likely encounter the ship on its way out of this solar system. “Well, how are we gonna stop 'em?”

“Well, I…”

“Drones,” he suddenly realized. “They fired drones at us. That means the Chair is active and powered.”

It should have occurred to him earlier that the Chair was still in play. He didn’t have time to wonder if that knowledge would have affected their plans. No point in second guessing himself, he repeated. They could at least use the weapons platform now. At the very least, they could try to prevent the city from taking off.

“You wanna fire drones at the city? We're nowhere near the Chair!”

“But Teyla and Beckett are,” John realized. Beckett had the ATA gene. He’d never been comfortable using the Chair, but he would have to do. “Maybe Carter too.”

John reached for his radio to contact them.

Chapter Text

Sam was on her way down the corridor when she felt the city start to shake. That was not good. If the Replicators had repaired the stardrive and were able to take off before they were finished with the plan, it might not work.

She was almost to the third shield emitter room, where she hoped to meet up with Beckett and Teyla, when both of them ran out.

“Change of plans,” Teyla explained. “John wants us to go to the Chair room and use drones to stop the city from taking off.”

“I still think this is a bad idea,” Beckett said as they ran towards the room. “I’m just as likely to blow the entire place up as stop the city from leaving the planet by firing on the stardrive.”

Sam remembered hearing about Beckett’s attempts at using the chair in Antarctica and how he almost accidentally shot down the helicopter that John Sheppard was piloting to bring Jack to the outpost. No wonder Beckett was worried about his abilities.

“You can do it,” she told him.

He had to do it. They had no other choice.

“Here, take this.”

Beckett handed over his ARG. They all knew that it would be more useful if Sam was the one holding it. She clipped her P90 to her vest when Beckett declined the weapon, saying that he was more likely to get himself injured than hurt any Replicators with it.

Teyla looked over at Sam. “Were you able to send the message?”

“Yes, but I’m not sure if they got it. And, unfortunately, I discovered that we don’t have much leeway. They’re a little over an hour away.”

No briefing was worth a damn without good intelligence, so Sam kept wondering what had caused the disconnect with the information the Atlantis team had been provided with. They should have had a lot more time.

All three of them paused when they reached the end of the corridor around the corner from the Chair room.

“Then we need to make sure we succeed,” Teyla whispered as she adjusted her ARG in preparation to take out the guards that were sure to be in the room.

“I just wish we weren’t cutting it so close,” Sam said as she got her ARG in the ready position. “I’m ninety five percent sure they’ll get the data burst I sent, but whether they know what it is and are able to decrypt it in time is a whole other question.”

Outside of the Chair room, Sam looked at Teyla.

“I’ll take right, you take left.”

Teyla nodded and they entered the room. Sam quickly clocked the four Replicators and shot at the two on the right while Teyla did the same on the left. All four Replicators dissolved into a pile of blocks.

“Clear,” Teyla called.

Beckett entered the room and headed for the Chair.

“Thank you dears.”

“Hurry,” Teyla prompted.

Beckett sat down in the Chair and activated it.

“I really don’t think I’m the best person to be doing this,” he said.

Sam almost laughed. No one thought that Carson Beckett was the best person to be doing this.

“Well, you’re the only option we’ve got.”

She tried to give him an encouraging look, but it didn’t seem to work.

“I almost killed General O’Neill and Colonel Sheppard last time I sat in one of these weapons chairs,” the doctor admitted.

“Yeah,” Sam replied, “You should try very hard not to do that this time.”

Sheppard really should work on getting Beckett more comfortable with the Ancient weapons systems. If it happened twice already, there would probably be a third time he ended up in that Chair.

Teyla glanced at Beckett in sympathy. “You will be fine, Carson.”

He nodded and laid back in the Chair. Sam watched as he pulled up the weapons system display.

“Think about the stardrive,” Sam advised. “Then send as many drones towards it as you can.”

Part of her mourned the loss of that spectacular piece of technology, but a larger part knew that destroying it was the only way for all of them to survive this.

They needed to be here in order for the Daedalus to be a threat. They also needed to buy time for Sheppard, McKay, Ronon, and Weir in case they had additional emitters to place. Ronon and Weir’s emitters had been furthest from the jumper bay. And Sheppard and McKay stopped by the brig to feed false information to Jack and Woolsey before working on their emitters.

Sam really hoped that Jack was okay. She knew exactly how bad it could get when Replicators set out to torture you.

She saw movement on the display and then nearly lost her footing when one of the drones made contact with the nearby stardrive.

“Again,” she said.

The room shook.

“Again.”

Sam would make sure Beckett kept this up until the Replicators arrived to capture them. They needed to make sure the stardrive was out of commission and they had to create enough of a distraction to make sure the others could get the final emitters in place.

“Again.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe we’re still going to be vaporized,” Woolsey muttered.

Jack sat back on the bench.

“Yeah, well, I’ve had better days.”

He hoped that Sheppard was right and that Sam was okay out there. McKay had nearly given him a heart attack with those evasive comments about her location and unexpected message from her. Not that the message content had been unexpected, but hearing that she forced Rodney McKay to pass it along made him fear that she was at least seriously injured.

Sam never referenced their relationship with people they worked with unless those people were true friends.

McKay was no friend.

He comforted himself with the certainty that had been in Sheppard’s voice.

If nothing else, he needed to believe that Samantha Carter would make it out of here alive, even if that meant he wouldn’t make it out with her.

“What was that you were arguing with McKay about?”

Jack turned his head to see that Woolsey was now beside him on the bench.

“You didn’t hear?”

He vaguely remembered Woolsey pacing at the back of the cell, muttering about McKay’s revelations, but it wasn’t like he’d been worried about trying to be quiet when he was trying to find out whether Sam was alive.

Jack told himself that it would be okay if Woolsey found out that he and Carter were together. After all, they weren’t breaking any rules.

The truth was, he wouldn’t really mind it if more people knew that they were together. Although he had no interest in opening his heart to Woolsey, it would be kind of nice if someone understood the extra layer of stress he was under with his girlfriend out there, her status potentially unknown.

His mind stuttered again on the word girlfriend. It had never felt exactly right, but it was starting to feel downright wrong.

“I heard you were arguing, but I was a little preoccupied with the fact that we’re going to be vaporized.”

Woolsey didn’t seem like he was lying and Jack wasn’t sure if he was glad or disappointed that the other man had clearly missed the whole exchange about Sam.

“McKay was being an ass and wouldn’t tell me why Carter wasn’t there to break us out.”

Jack observed Woolsey closely, but didn’t see any suspicions arise at his mention of Carter.

“You think she would’ve done a better job at it?”

There was no question in his mind. McKay clearly had no idea what he’d been doing.

“Hell yeah.”

Woolsey took a deep breath. “Then I wish she’d been here too.”

They sat there in silence. Jack counted the bars in the cell and tried not to worry too deeply about the situation they were now in. He even tried thinking the door open, in hopes that his ATA gene would help them get out of here. Nothing happened.

“Does Sheppard have a backup plan?”

Apparently Woolsey missed that part of the conversation too. For a man who prided himself on his observation skills, Richard Woolsey was certainly out of his element during life and death situations.

“I think that was the backup plan,” Jack admitted. “I ordered him out of here and to get everyone to safety. I hope he can manage it.”

He really hoped that Sheppard was able to get one of those other jumpers to work so they wouldn’t have to rely on the one with the leak. Leaking water was bad enough, but if they tried to fly that jumper out, it would start leaking oxygen out into space.

“So there’s no backup plan to save us?”

All of this would be a lot easier to deal with if Richard Woolsey could stop himself from continuously asking questions that underscored what deep shit they were in. Jack didn’t need any reminders that things were FUBAR.

“Not that I’m aware of, Richard.”

Woolsey’s body slumped in response, his hands going to his knees.

“Oh. That’s not good.”

“No,” he replied. “No, it’s not.”

The annoying part about facing death was that it left you too much time to think back on your life and all of the things you’d done wrong. This type of death anyway, where it was all about waiting for the end to come.

There were a lot of things he’d done well in his life. He had a lot of things to be proud of. None of it made up for the death of his son, and over the years he’d done better about coming to terms with that loss, but Jack knew that saving the universe however many times they’d done it had to count for something.

There were also plenty of things he’d done wrong. Military decisions that had cost people’s lives or made situations worse, forgetting to double check that his gun was locked up and out of reach one summer day, not being there for his ex-wife after that tragedy, and more.

The regret that came to him most these days, especially since he returned to Atlantis, was that he’d let Sam think he was okay with locking their feelings in that room years ago. They had lost so much time together and now they were about to lose the rest.

He was happy with their relationship. He was. They were happy together. And even though their “living together” meant splitting their things between a townhouse and a home in two different states, they were making it work.

Lately, he was just starting to wonder if it was all just a variation on the room...where he was afraid to tell her that he wanted more because if he did he might lose it all.

Now he might never get the chance.

“So we just wait to die?” Woolsey asked.

Jack grimaced.

“If we’re lucky. Otherwise our Replicator friends might come back for fun mental torture before the Daedalus nukes the city.”

Woolsey groaned.

“Again? I couldn’t take it the first time.”

Jack didn’t particularly like it either. He still had a headache from the first time, not to mention that his clothes were still damp. He was also hungry and thirsty.

Plus, there was that pesky fact that he was going to die soon.

And maybe be tortured again first.

This was a really shitty day.

“I wish I could tell you that the mind-probing gets easier,” Jack said, a note of apology in his voice.

“Maybe they won’t come back.”

Jack heard the desperate hope in Woolsey’s voice.

Unfortunately, the Replicators returned.

They didn’t say a word before sticking their hands in Jack and Woolsey’s heads.

Jack opened his eyes. He was back in the ‘gate room at the SGC. The Replicator with the bright blue eyes and wavy brown hair stood in front of him.

“There are many scenes from your life I can use to get you to tell me what I need to know. So much pain.” The Replicator grinned. It was creepy. “Normally I don’t have so many options to choose from.”

Jack kept his face as blank as possible. He only remembered bits and pieces of his previous experiences being tortured by the Replicators, but he had a vague memory of being forced to remember Charlie’s death in vivid detail.

“Well,” he eventually responded, “feel free to take as much time as you need making a decision. I’m fine waiting.”

Suddenly, he was in a hotel room with Sam. They were both sitting on the edge of the bed. The wide glass doors looked out onto a beach and the sun was sinking into the ocean at the horizon, spreading beautiful splashes of orange, pink, and crimson across the sky.

He was pretty sure this was the hotel they were supposed to go to on vacation. He remembered pictures of rooms where you could open the glass sliding doors of your room and walk right onto the beach.

Jack was confused. Normally, the Replicators liked to torture him with horrible things. This looked more like a fantasy.

Then Sam handed back a black velvet ring box and he understood. His heart crashed to the floor. This Replicator was just getting a little more creative with his torture.

“I’ve broken two other engagements,” she said. “What makes you think I want to get married anyway?”

Jack grabbed Sam’s hand before she could turn away.

“We don’t have to get married. It was just an idea.”

She looked at him with pity.

“Who said I wanted to get married to you? This was fun while it lasted.”

Sam let go of his hand, got up off the bed, and walked out the glass doors. He followed her figure until she disappeared down the beach.

“This never happened.”

The Replicator stood beside him. “But you think it will.”

Was that why his head had been going in circles during his time on Atlantis? Was he really worried that if he proposed to Sam that she’d walk away?

“Shall I show you what you worry might happen next? Do you want to see her wedding to another man?”

Jack had already been through that type of torture already when she was planning a wedding to Shanahan. He had no interest in doing it again.

“If you think this is enough to hurt me, enough to make me tell you whatever you want, you’re wrong.”

And yet, he continued to stare at the closed glass door while the sun sank below the horizon.

“You’ve been shot and you’ve lost those you love,” the Replicator pointed out. “Which pain lingers longer? Which pain have you spent so much time and effort trying to avoid?”

Jack looked away from the door and fell back on the bed, not bothering to respond to the question when the answer was so evident. Jack really did not need a Replicator trying to play amateur psychiatrist.

“She’s one of the others, isn’t she?” the Replicator asked. “How many are here and what are they planning?”

Jack just glared in response.

“As amusing as this is, we’ll try another way. Tell me what I need to know. Where are the others and what are they planning?”

Pain shot through Jack’s chest and he looked down to see a knife protruding out of his clothes. He looked back up and a shiver ran down his spine.

He did his best not to remember this room, but here it was in vivid detail.

The octagonal platform and the table for torture implements. The weird angular wall sconces. The massive light fixture hanging from the ceiling that looked a little like stained glass.

“If you tell me what I wish to know,” Ba’al promised, “I will end this.”

The Replicator stood by Ba’al’s side, watching and waiting.

“I’m not telling you anything.”

Ba’al picked up another knife and gracefully rotated it in his hand, testing its weight and the sharpness of the blade. He was drawing it out so that Jack would have more time to think about the moment of impact.

Ba’al lifted the knife, pointed it towards him, and let it fly.

Jack forcefully kept his mouth shut, but couldn’t help groaning at the sudden burst of pain.

“Tell me what I wish to know.”

“Never,” Jack ground out.

“Perhaps we should return to the Tal'vak acid. Maybe then you will tell us about the others.”

Ba’al reached for the container of acid.

“Just tell us what we need to know,” the Replicator said.

“I won’t tell you anything.”

“The truth will be rewarded,” Ba’al said as he held the bottle out in front of him and smirked as if he’d already won.

Jack laughed. “I’m pretty sure you told me that before and I didn’t believe you then either.”

Ba’al tilted the bottle and released some of the liquid. The droplets flew through the air horizontally.

The acid hit his chest and started to burn through his body.

Jack screamed.

“What are they planning?”

His response was halting, voice sore from screaming. He remembered this feeling of hopelessness. He remembered the desperation in his words.

“I don’t know! And I don’t care!”

Jack blinked and the scene changed. He was tied to a chair next to where Ba’al stood. He looked over to the torture web. Sam was there, dressed in the outfit of the Lotar woman Kanaan had been in love with, her body immobile. There were tear tracks down her face, as if she’d been crying.

“Tell him what he wants to know, Jack,” she pleaded.

Ba’al leaned down to whisper into his ear.

“Do you not know the pain she will suffer for your impudence?”

With this variation of Ba’al’s question he couldn’t joke around like he did last time, pretending not to know the definition of the word.

Jack knew this wasn’t real, but it felt real.

“Please don’t hurt her.”

A smarmy smile slid across Ba’al’s face. “Don’t you understand? We’re not hurting her. You’re hurting her. We’re hurting you.”

He looked back to Sam. She was crying now, her body shaking with sobs.

“Please, Jack,” she whispered. “Tell them what they need to know.”

This wasn’t right. The Sam Carter he knew wouldn’t beg him to give information to the enemy just to save herself.

Ba’al lifted a knife from the table and aimed it at her.

“Are you sure you don’t want to tell me anything, O’Neill?”

The real Sam Carter was relying on him to make sure they could get away safe. He wasn’t going to say a word.

“No,” he replied.

Jack winced, not wanting to watch the knife hit Carter, but unable to look away.

Then everything paused.

The Replicator smiled and Ba’al froze. The knife stopped mid-air and dropped to the floor. Sam disappeared, no longer held in place against Ba’al’s web.

“Torturing you is much more entertaining,” the Replicator said, “but your friend breaks easier. I shall return. We look forward to learning much more before we kill you.”

The ‘gate room faded and Jack was back in the holding cell.

He groaned and his hands shot up to his temples. Every time one of these evil machines put a hand in his head, his headache got worse. He also just felt awful and depressed.

Jack thought he remembered seeing Sam and being back in that torture room with Ba’al, but the memories were fractured. He knew he hadn’t told them anything about Sheppard and McKay’s plan.

As he came back to himself, Jack thought he felt the floor shake.

“We need to get to the shield emitter stations. Remove the C-4 explosive you find there.”

Several of the Replicators left and the door to their holding cell was locked again.

He hoped they didn’t find Sam and the others. Sheppard should have gotten them out of the city by now.

Jack turned to Woolsey and glared. “Way to resist.”

“I said I wasn't good at this!” Woolsey whined.

That was quite possibly the understatement of the year. Woolsey would likely never be comfortable out in the field or dealing with enemy combatants. His preferred weapon was piles of paperwork. Still, Jack supposed that it was good that he was aware of his own weaknesses.

“Well, they do always say that it’s important to know yourself.”

Chapter Text

John Sheppard and Rodney McKay stood in front of their final emitter, facing the open tray. The crystal had already been swapped out and the C4-placed in position.

Then John heard footsteps.

“Now,” he whispered.

McKay closed the tray and they turned around.

“And I was so sure we were going to survive this one,” he said as he looked at the armed Replicators surrounding them.

“Me too,” McKay replied.

John knew this had to happen, but it rankled him to have to surrender to the enemy. They put their hands up and were relieved of their weapons.

He would have preferred shooting their way out, but it would have reduced the efficacy of the crystals and threatened their plan. Hiding would have been better than being captured, but it had just taken too long to get to the final emitter.

Beckett and Teyla had likely been captured, plus Carter if she’d made it to them. They definitely would have sent more Replicators to the Chair room. Could be that Ronon and Weir were still out there roaming the city, though.

“Move.”

They couldn’t do anything but follow the Replicator’s order as they were marched in the direction of the brig.

He hoped that the rest of his team was okay. Getting captured was always a risky bet. People could get injured or even killed in the process if they weren’t careful.

When they were thrown into the holding cell, Beckett, Weir, Carter, Ronon, and Teyla were all already there. No one looked injured, which made him feel a whole lot better.

“Bring the prisoners from the other cell,” one of the Replicators ordered.

John watched as a few of them left and two remained to stand guard.

The cell door closed and the shields between the horizontal bars surrounding them were enabled. They were well and truly trapped. He hoped to god that McKay’s plan worked.

He stood up and looked around.

“Everyone okay?”

“So far,” Weir replied.

Beckett shrugged. “I'll be fine.”

Ronon, sitting on the bench, delivered his line with a laid-back lack of care that would have made John laugh under other circumstances.

“Why aren't we dead yet?”

They weren’t dead yet because the Replicators wouldn’t bother killing them until they had all the information they needed. For now, they had to do what they could to direct the enemy’s attention where they wanted it focused.

Because they had an audience, they had to put on a little show to make sure the Replicators knew they had finished planting all the C-4. That way, they would focus on retrieving those based on the information from Woolsey instead of spending time interrogating the rest of them.

“Probably saving us for a little recreational mind-probing,” he said in response to Ronon’s question. “Did everyone get the…?”

He let his voice trail off and watched as one of the guards looked over at them with interest.

“We completed our task,” Teyla acknowledged. Beckett shook his head in agreement.

“So did we.” Weir agreed. “In the nick of time.”

“You?” Ronon asked.

“Yeah. Just under the wire,” McKay said, complete with a sweeping hand gesture to emphasize the response.

“Colonel?” John asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “I met up with Teyla and Beckett.”

The yes was the response to his question. The second sentence was her cover so the Replicators wouldn’t try to find out what the seventh member of their team had been doing.

She’d gotten a message to the Daedalus. That was good. As long as the ship arrived and held steady in orbit without dropping the nuke, their plan would work. The Replicators would need to raise the shield.

“Were they already in position when you got there?” he asked, hoping that she could follow his line of questioning.

He caught the brief grin and knowing look in Carter’s eyes.

“Almost there,” she replied. “We got everything done in twenty minutes.”

The Daedalus was twenty minutes out. They were in good shape as long as Colonel Caldwell acted threatening, but delayed destroying the city.

They needed the Replicators to raise the shield.

Chapter Text

The first thing Jack noticed when he and Woolsey were brought to another cell was that Samantha Carter refused to look his way.

She was doing it on purpose. Sam noticed when they’d arrived. He saw the quick flash of her blond hair and blue eyes behind Ronon, but her head quickly turned towards the ground. He still wasn’t sure what had happened to her, but it looked like he was going to have to wait to find out. She either didn’t want him to know or didn’t want to tell him in a crowded cell.

When Sheppard told him that Carter was on her way to rendezvous with Beckett and Teyla, a part of him hoped for a happy reunion. He was starting to get the impression that things were going to be much more complicated than that.

The second thing Jack noticed was that John Sheppard was smiling. Considering he’d given Sheppard a direct order to get everyone to safety and they were all currently in a holding cell together, Jack figured that something was up.

He just hoped Sheppard knew what he was doing.

Getting captured and locked up was not an indicator of a great plan. Jack didn’t even want to know what letter they were up to by now.

The Replicator finally let his arm go as he pushed him into the cell and Jack tried to stretch out, feeling cramped after having his arm twisted behind his back like that.

He followed Woolsey to the back of the cell and then moved a few feet to the left until he was standing next to Sam.

God, she was a sight for sore eyes.

Even if she looked about as exhausted as he felt.

“Sam? You okay?”

She finally looked up at him and Jack felt such a surge of relief knowing that she was alive. If they didn’t have company right now and weren’t in a really dire-looking position, he’d pull her into his arms.

Sam smiled at him, but it was a worn and weary sort of smile, as if she wanted to look hopeful and happy, but couldn’t quite manage it.

“Daniel’s missing.” Her voice cracked on the second word.

No wonder she looked like she’d been through hell.

“And yet you came to find me?”

In a normal relationship, the prioritization wouldn’t have been a surprise, but he knew her. If Sam lost Daniel on a mission she would move heaven and earth to try and find him. If she could’ve, he had no doubt she would try to clone herself to undertake two rescue missions at once.

Sam gave a low, bittersweet chuckle. “At least I knew where you were.”

Jack grabbed her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before releasing it.

“He’ll make his way back or we’ll find him. Daniel isn’t the type to stay lost.”

Sam nodded, but still looked upset.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t come break you out,” she whispered.

Jack knew there had to be more of a story there. No way Sam would have left him to Rodney McKay unless there was a reason.

“Yeah, about that -”

Sam shot him a look telling him to shut up and he knew the conversation was over for now. She glanced towards the entrance of the cell and he followed her gaze.

The Replicator who’d probed Jack’s mind stood in front of Sheppard.

“Did you really think you'd be able to stop us?”

Jack brushed the back of his hand against Carter’s, just so he could feel the touch of her skin. The few minutes when he thought she’d sacrificed herself on a rescue mission to save him were still too fresh in his memory for him to be completely circumspect in his actions.

“Well, of course we did,” Sheppard said. “Why else would we be here?”

John Sheppard was a cocky son of a bitch sometimes, but Jack appreciated that type of attitude when the man had the record to back it up.

“Colonel? Am I gonna have to fire you?”

It was his way of asking whether the mission was successful. Sheppard caught on and responded.

“No, sir. I think you'll have that to look forward to when we get back.”

Jack nodded. That was a good sign. It meant that Sheppard thought their plan would work, whatever it was.

“I'm afraid your plan has been discovered, Colonel Sheppard.” The Replicator said confidently. “It is over.”

The sentient machine looked pointedly at Richard Woolsey.

Of course.

Jack had known all along that Woolsey would be their weak point. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that the rest of the group turned to look at Woolsey too. Sheppard had his arms crossed in front of him.

Was this part of their plan or had things just gone wrong?

“He put his hand in my forehead,” Woolsey protested. “How can you resist that?”

“Well,” Jack said, “I like to close my eyes and think of England.”

Sam frowned.

It wasn’t really a funny joke, but given the situation, he didn’t care.

The Replicator ignored him and started talking. One of those typical evil monologues that all the bad guys liked to do.

“Mr. Woolsey informed us of everything we need to know. All of your C-4 has been removed from the emitters. I'm afraid they won't be destroyed when the Daedalus arrives…which should be in any moment. Your plan has failed.”

Another replicator opened a bag and pulled out one of the blocks of C-4. Elizabeth Weir closed her eyes and turned away, pressing a hand to her forehead.

That wasn’t a good sign.

“Carter?” he asked, under his breath.

“Don’t worry,” she replied.

She looked down at her watch and barely suppressed a smile. Jack was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of relief. Sam Carter wouldn’t look like that if they were all about to die. There was something else going on here.

A voice spoke over the intercom.

“Talus. The Daedalus is approaching the planet.”

Nice to finally learn a guy’s name after he’d spent hours interrogating you, Jack supposed.

“As expected,” Talus responded. “Activate the shield.”

Jack watched as a blue-ish wave of energy moved from ceiling to floor. The six Replicators standing outside the cell disintegrated and fell to the ground in pieces.

That was unexpected.

“Ha! It worked!” McKay shouted. “I can't believe it worked!”

Weir looked at the pile of Replicator blocks and then back to McKay.

“Rodney, amazing.”

McKay looked uncomfortable with the compliment.

“Well, it was-it was a group effort.”

“You share credit now?” Sam asked. Her voice had a teasing note to it that let Jack know that she was feeling lighter now that they were out of danger.

“I always share credit.”

Carson Beckett laughed.

“What?” McKay asked. “I do!”

“Sure you do, Rodney,” Teyla said as she put a hand on his shoulder.

“Good old Plan D. Works every time.” Sheppard threw the bag with the C-4 to McKay. “You guys stay here a sec.”

Sheppard and Ronon left, no doubt to make sure that there weren’t any remaining Replicators hanging around who were unaffected by Plan D, whatever it was.

“Excuse me,” Woolsey asked, “but what just happened?”

McKay, still holding the bag of explosives - not very carefully, Jack noticed - looked almost giddy.

“We turned the shield into a giant Replicator weapon.”

“I knew that!” Jack shouted.

Okay, so maybe he didn’t know the exact plan, but he’d known that something was up when McKay supposedly tried to break them out and didn’t do a damn thing except make him worry about Carter.

Woolsey turned towards him. “You knew?”

Jack’s eyes shot to McKay and then to Carter. Her lips turned up slightly and he couldn’t shake the unexpected feeling that she looked proud of him.

“Well, I've seen Carter crack enough codes to know that McKay was faking the door thing.”

McKay frowned.

“He was?” Woolsey asked. “I bought it completely.”

Teyla looked back.

“I believe that was the point.”

He heard Sam turn a laugh into a cough beside him and Woolsey’s eyes went wide.

“Wait a minute, you-you used me?”

Teyla smiled.

“You're alive, and you're welcome,” Beckett replied.

Ronon re-entered the room.

“Hey, we're clear.”

“Okay,” Weir said, “we've gotta get to the Control Room and contact the Daedalus.”

Sam spoke up.

“I’m 95% sure that they got my encrypted message so they should be waiting on our call, but we shouldn’t wait long to get in touch with them just in case they missed the message and are still planning on dropping that bomb. They won’t know that the Replicators are gone from the city.”

The realization that they weren’t completely out of the woods yet ran through the group.

“I’ll run ahead,” Sheppard said. He left with Teyla and Ronon.

Sam walked towards the exit with Weir, Beckett, and McKay.

Jack and Woolsey were the last two people to leave the cell. As they walked out, Jack put a hand on Woolsey’s shoulder.

“You see, Richard? You were good for something.”

In fact, it could’ve been argued that this final plan wouldn’t have worked at all without Woolsey’s gullible nature and the fact that he broke easily during interrogation. Of course, Jack kept that part to himself. It wouldn’t be good for Woolsey’s ego.

“Thanks,” Woolsey replied.

Chapter Text

“So, I hope you’re not too mad at me.”

Sam turned her head at the sound of Jack’s voice as they made their way to the control room. Woolsey had caught up with Weir and Beckett. She and Jack were trailing slightly behind.

“Mad at you? Why?”

She was anything but mad at him. She was relieved and full of adrenaline and lacking sleep, and so in love with the man beside her that she almost couldn’t think straight, but she wasn’t anywhere near mad. If anything, she was still feeling the remnants of guilt after the “think of England” reminder that he’d been interrogated again by Replicators because of her.

Jack shrugged.

“I screwed up our trip a few times and then almost got myself killed in another galaxy,” he replied. “You know, the usual.”

Sam laughed.

“I did think when it all came down to it that out of the two of us, my job right now would be the more dangerous one. You had to go and prove me wrong, didn’t you?”

She looked over and caught his smirk.

“I’m not sure if you knew this about me,” Jack replied, “but I can be stubborn. I like to prove I’ve still got it.”

“Still got it?” she asked.

The look he gave her was smug and she liked it.

She really liked it.

“Oh yeah. For example, I can hold my breath a really long time.”

He winked at her.

Sam did what she had to do and pulled Jack into the closest empty room, after making sure that no one was looking their way.

“Sam?”

She caught the confusion in his voice when she pushed him against the wall. The fabric under her hands was still a little damp from his swim.

Jack raised his eyebrows, prompting a response.

“You presented a hypothesis,” she replied with a grin. “We should probably test it.”

His hands hooked around her waist and pulled her close.

“Uh, sure. You know how much I like helping with your science experiments. What is this one again?”

Sam moved a hand behind his head and pulled him towards her for a deep, heady kiss before she drew back just enough to whisper against his lips.

“How long can you hold your breath, Jack?”

She wouldn’t have chanced this if she didn’t trust that Sheppard would be able to take care of contacting the Daedalus and McKay could handle any tech issues that came up. Plus, she was good at what she did. The crew of the BC-304 ship would have received her message. If the crew ignored it, they were as good as dead anyway and she wasn’t going to let anything stop her from being in Jack O’Neill’s arms.

Plus, they deserved a few moments to celebrate surviving another near disaster before they had to go back to the real world.

Jack was more than willing to go along with her plan. One of his hands pressed on the small of her back and the other threaded through her hair.

“Like I said, Sam. I’m always happy to prove I’ve still got it.”

He cut off her laugh with his lips and before she knew it, he had her pressed back against the wall and was kissing her like the world was ending...which, given the way their days had been, wasn’t entirely off.

They’d never done this before, desperately made out against a wall before a mission was complete. It was exhilarating.

The mental timer in the back of Sam’s mind was ticking, counting down the time they could be away before everyone noticed, but her attention was on the man who just slid his leg between hers and tangled his tongue with hers.

Her hands were in constant motion - fingers running through his hair, hand trailing down his chest, palm against his ass.

It felt like she had to touch every inch of him to prove to herself that he was okay.

She wished they could stay like this and block out the outside world, but the timer kept ticking.

Proving Jack’s hypothesis, Sam was the first to pull back for an intake of air.

She rested her forehead against his shoulder and tried to catch her breath while his lips trailed down her neck and his nimble fingers undid the buttons on the front of her shirt.

“Jack.”

She tried to say his name as a warning, but it came out more like a sigh instead. Jack moved his hand under her shirt and went to cup her breast.

Sam pushed against his chest before things could get too out of control and smoothed down her hair.

“We’ve got to go. Have to make sure they’re not going to nuke the city.”

Jack blinked and looked around, as if suddenly remembering where they were. She felt a small amount of pride that she’d distracted him that much given how hyper-aware he usually was in the field.

“Carter!” Jack growled her name in frustration. He pointedly looked down at the bulge in his pants. “Do we not have a rule about mid-mission making out for this very reason?”

This time, Sam was the one looking smug.

“I don’t think we ever made a rule like that.”

The frat regs had been the rules they lived by for years and then once those were no longer in play, they were rarely out in the field together.

“We should’ve,” he grumbled.

“Poor baby,” she teased, reaching up to cup his cheek. His stubble was rough against her hand.

He turned his head and kissed her palm.

“You know, if I end up sporting an erection when I’m in the same room as the Atlantis team and Richard Woolsey, I’m going to tell them all it’s your fault.”

She wasn’t worried about that happening. Jack wouldn’t let it. When he needed to, he had fairly solid control over his mind and body. It was part of the reason Sam loved to see him lose it. Under other circumstances, she’d pull him back for a kiss just to see how far she could push him.

Unfortunately, they didn’t have that kind of time.

“Race you to the control room,” she said with a grin, before turning and running down the corridor.

Sam heard him shout her last name and call her a cheater as she rounded the corner.

She was quick, but he eventually caught up to her right by the stairs. Both of them were a little out of breath, but she felt amazing.

They were alive.

Jack grabbed at her elbow as they were climbing the stairs. “You so owe me.”

His voice held promises of long nights under shared sheets.

Still, she wasn’t about to give in that easily.

“I don’t know,” she replied as she fixed the buttons that Jack’s hands had been too quick undoing and zipped the tac vest back up. She smoothed the side of his hair that looked too obviously ruffled and ran a hand through her own. “I saved your life. I’m pretty sure you owe me.”

She gave him a quick grin and then entered the control room, slipping back into the persona of Colonel Carter. Jack followed close behind her.

Beckett, Teyla, and Ronon were gathered in the back of the room and each briefly glanced Sam and Jack’s way as they entered. She knew that they couldn’t have arrived more than a minute or two after them.

It looked like the Replicators had been able to fix everything after the explosion. The control room was in near-perfect condition.

Sheppard was already at the comms panel and trying to contact the Daedalus.

“I really hope it worked,” Sam said, after explaining that she tried to send a message from the jumper to the ship to the pre-empt the nuclear strike.

Jack looked over at her. “I think the fact that we’re all not dead is a good sign that it worked.”

She supposed he was right. The Daedalus was in orbit, but the ship hadn’t dropped its payload.

They waited and then heard Colonel Steven Caldwell’s voice.

“Colonel, I'd like to believe this is you.”

“Well, it is,” Sheppard responded. “Authentication code Alpha Delta Charlie Niner Six.”

“That code is no longer valid, Colonel,” Caldwell pointed out.

Sam chimed in.

“Colonel Caldwell, this is Colonel Carter.” She shared her authentication code. “I sent a message earlier informing you of our situation with a request to disregard General O’Neill’s standing order to nuke the city while the rescue mission was underway.”

The Atlantis team all looked at each other as they waited for a response.

Sam pressed her palm down on the railing beside her so she wouldn’t grab for Jack’s hand.

“The message was received. However, Colonel Carter, you know that your code is also invalid. Plus, as you’re well aware, you do not have the authority to circumvent that order.”

Everything Caldwell said was true, but the fact was, he should have nuked the city as soon as he got here and he didn’t after getting her message. Sam counted that as a success.

“Hey, Caldwell,” Jack interrupted. “General Jack O'Neill here. That valid enough for you?”

They all heard Caldwell sigh before he responded.

“You may have been compromised, sir.”

Sam was fairly sure that she heard Jack mutter the words “compromised, my ass” under his breath. She held in a laugh, but couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across her face.

Elizabeth Weir tried to reason with Caldwell next.

“We're lowering the city's shields, Steven. You can send a team to come check us out if you need to. We'll explain everything.”

There was a long stretch of silence. Everyone in the command center looked around at each other and hoped that Weir’s suggestion would work.

“Do you think it would speed things up if I threatened to fire him?” Jack asked.

This time she did laugh.

“You’re racking up quite a long list of people to fire.” Then, remembering they had company, Sam tacked on an irreverent “sir.”

“You know, some people actually find me intimidating and rush to follow my orders,” he muttered.

Sam let the back of her hand brush against his.

“Those people just don’t know you very well,” she replied, voice low.

He glanced over at her and smiled. “You know, you didn’t used to be so cheeky.”

“Really? I have a strong memory of offering to arm wrestle you the first day we met.”

When she looked over to see his reaction, she was struck by the affection and fondness in his gaze.

“Yeah, I never took you up on that, did I? Bad decision on my part.”

“Maybe when we get back home?” she suggested.

Jack lifted an eyebrow and she could barely contain her grin in response. This feeling inside her was familiar, the adrenaline and excitement and joy at having survived vibrating through her body like an electric jolt.

The difference, this time, was that she could do something about it. They were together and chain of command was an issue in the rearview mirror and they had both survived. She was tempted to pull him back into another empty room to prove just how alive she felt.

“Carter?”

He drew out her name and said it with caution, looking around at the other occupants in the room.

“You’re alive,” she whispered. “Lots of adrenaline running through my system. Lots of excess energy.”

Lots of excess energy that she wanted to put towards time spent with him.

Jack looked around at the other people in the control room. They were all chatting with each other, waiting for Caldwell’s response.

“Sam,” he warned, voice low.

She loved when he got that tone in his voice - the one where he was completely on board with whatever she suggested, but still felt like he had to be the voice of reason anyway and talk her out of it.

“Fine,” she agreed. “Later.”

He looked half relieved and half disappointed. It made her wonder whether he would have gone along with it if she kissed him right here in the middle of the control room.

Caldwell’s voice spoke before she could say anything else.

“We’ll get a team of marines ready to beam down. Lower the shields, set down any weapons, and stand by.”

Caldwell’s voice cut out and everyone looked at Jack.

“McKay, lower the shields. Everyone else, head down by the ‘gate. Let’s do what the nice people with the guns say.”

Everyone started to move and then Jack held up a hand and spoke again.

“Oh yeah, and congrats on saving Atlantis and killing a mess of Replicators. Good work.” He spared a withering glance at McKay. “Mostly.”

The group responded with a mix of tentative smiles and nods of acknowledgement before disbursing to go to their assigned areas.

Jack looked back at Sam and she shook her head at his half-hearted congratulations.

“Really?”

He shrugged.

“You know I hate giving speeches.”

They headed towards the stairs.

“But you’re so good at them.”

His lips quirked into a half smile.

“Smartass.”