Remix: East of Eden (crossover, SGA/SG-1) by dirty_diana.
Spoilers/rating/warnings: Absolute Power AU, PG-13, slash, off camera character death.
Betas: The extraordinary rydra_wong and ivorygates.
A/N: title is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (II, ii, 1-3): "All the infections that the sun sucks up/ From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him/ By inch-meal a disease!" (Caliban)
Summary: There is only one story in the world.
Samantha Carter breaks out of prison in complete silence, following the curved dark back of her former CO. He doesn't say a word and she can't risk letting loose the questions that built up over the months since she'd last seen him, but Daniel had said enough for both of them, she supposed. They weave through a patch of woods in near complete darkness, feet falling lightly on the ground and avoiding twigs and branches where possible. Sam turns left at the road, Jack crosses it and continues on Northward.
She hotwires a rust and blue car and aims it South and West. To go to ground, she thinks, to hide.
Carter cuts a wide curve around the trunk of a hollowed out tree bleeding small bees against gravity. She sometimes turns at the first buzz in her ear, she sometimes walks half a mile past before turning; it's important not to cut a path too easy to follow. Daniel was no tracker, but God knows they'd all learned from Teal'c over the years. Before.
Before she started to hate Daniel. Before he destroyed them then set his sights on the world. Or maybe it was the other way around, but it's been a long time since Sam had looked beyond Earth's borders.
She stands under the edge of the bee tree's canopy and watches the lower horizon line partially reveal stars as the sun falls and the light pollution comes up. Daddy, she thinks, the light buzz in her ear coming and going like she's standing next to a highway. Then turns a little to the North and looks towards Colorado Springs. She's heard cryptic rumors that suggested Jack is back there. It could have meant someone else, but she thinks she still knows Daniel well enough for government work, and she's pretty sure it would only ever be Jack.
She wants to be angry with them all, to rail against the stars with some pithy, meaningful question. Why Teal'c let himself die, why her father isn't sweeping in to save her, why Jack isn't ordering them into some heroic stunt at the last minute that worked in defiance of reason. Why Daniel did anything. She isn't sure who to hate most, though, and she isn't sure it's anger she feels.
She begins thinking of her cliffside cave as the Bat Cave. She knows she'd light up Daniel's satellites outside of it just as surely in the night as in the day, if he wanted to take the resources to look for her naquadah blood. It's still difficult to risk recognition in the eyes of the populace, though, just for a little human camouflage should he be looking for her in a half-assed way without naquadah sensors. The point where she runs out of supplies and risks recognition is always one of the last steps before picking up and running again; Sam is tired of running.
She's underestimated the double negative of a hit put out by Daniel, though. The difference between the alarmed recognition she's expected and the careful non-reaction she gets is enough to give her pause. She guesses that it took a while to trickle down, to morph into a cult belief, for her reputation to settle like a suit of armor. As an experiment, she doesn't run.
She thinks she might hide her face, though, even if she has stopped hiding from the populace in principle. Sam figures the eyes of the populace and exposure to the satellites are roughly the same level of batshit insane risk, but she prefers her metal traced bat cave to a nomadic lifestyle. It is home enough, and it's more safety than she's known in a long time. A very long time.
A boy becomes her gopher—picking up supplies and serving as her go-between to the bigger city. She pays with stolen things she regrets having, but he brings her stories and rumors free of charge. So it's to him that she first uses the word 'rebel' to explain why he can't tell anyone where she is or answer questions about her. She thinks the intrigue of it might be exhilarating enough to keep her alone for a little while longer; before she has to decide whether to continue the experiment.
When he begins leading people to her, quietly telling of the extra lengths he's taken for secrecy, she stares at the walls. When she decides to go out to meet them (neutral place, the bee tree near the turn at the foot of the mesa,) she is shocked by the honesty in their faces.
Sam trains it out of them. She teaches her new people to wear different faces, to infiltrate and pretend and lie. Sam adapts Tok'ra techniques to work Earthside in the dark of her cave in the empty nights. She gathered intel and troops and supplies in the day, then she sends her newly trained and outfitted people out to fight her battles for her.
She wonders if the Tok'ra would have scolded or lionized her for the bastardization of their goals and techniques. She wonders if her father would have approved of her command decisions to send green troops into espionage work, or if he would have understood at all.
She loses touch with three operatives in the first two months, but she learns definitively that Jack is with Daniel, unwillingly. She learns that Rodney McKay is there too, towards a different goal for Daniel, but she hopes, maybe also unwillingly.
Sam doesn't risk contact until the design is solid. Then she piggybacks a compressed, encoded message on the back of a computer part order confirmation.
Her reply is similarly hidden in a scathing complaint to the company about the design of the CPU cooling mechanism, but she's heard of Rodney McKay. Sam didn't expect to like the man, only his work; she is revising her estimation of how much she'll not like him. She has to elaborately outline the plan for extraction, as well as contingency schemes, before Rodney agrees to look at the schematics.
The final message agreeing is succinct and strangely deflated sounding, after the hard time he gave her on every single detail. After all the battles, Sam wonders if she has finally met the first person who has understood the many layers of darkness inherent in the bravery she requires. She has to resist sending another, reassuring message about how she wouldn't risk him any more than absolutely required for everyone's survival. She doesn't have time, though, and she's pretty sure he wouldn't have agreed if he didn't realize that.
The message telling her the device was completed is an elegant example of arrogance and urgency compressed into minimal necessary and sufficient sentences. Sam is looking forward to meeting Rodney; he reminds her of home.
She sends the blonde as a stand-in because she can't go herself. She charges her with making sure Rodney and Jack don't kill each other in the process of getting away, but she also sends Cameron, because Laura is just too small to physically restrain Jack if necessary. Cameron is also her most seasoned officer, a friend. They are the closest thing teammates that she has to send. Jack will respect that, even if he doesn't respect Rodney.
She needn't have worried, apparently. Laura reports that Jack barely spoke to anyone, and gave only the barest indication that he'd even heard the proposal.
"He said he'd think about it and took the phone," Rodney adds indignantly, "I can't believe you had me risk my neck for a plan with this many holes in it. I can't believe you gave him a phone. Don't you know how insecure those cell lines are?"
"Hiding in plain sight, Rodney," She answers the last accusation only, too caught up in her memories of a different Jack to be bothered reassuring his paranoia. After all, someone really was out to get them, and it hurts to know it; she can't change that.
"How can he refuse to help with something this important?" Laura asks, just as accusing.
"It's been a long war," Sam says, turning away. It's hard to muster enthusiasm for yet another battle; even one that is once again the most important, might save them all, yadda. She knows it with a deep ache in her bones. She never expected enthusiasm from Jack, especially when she is asking him to turn assassin, and to go back. Again. But she hadn't expected a Jack too broken to notice how irritating Rodney could be.
Maybe Jack loved Daniel too much to fight anymore. She'd made miscalculations about that before. And yet, he'd tried to kill Daniel for her before too; their past is filled with miscalculations.
The time Jack spent thinking gave Sam time to set and adjust her operatives, and it gave Rodney time to cool down enough to tell her that her father had been to visit Daniel.
"I told him I knew you," Rodney says, with a head tilt that suggests he meant 'knew' in the Biblical sense. It's the closest to laughter she's come in a long time, but it might be mixed with a bit of hysteria. "He said he was worried about you, with what Daniel said."
"What, that I'm insane?" Sam says, the word dangerous when someone who matters might believe it.
"He said he just wanted you to be all right, and 'eluan', which I remembered because it sounds like eluant and I'd been working with biologists a lot at the time." He's babbling, and Sam wonders if it is a result of the look on her face. "What does it mean?"
It was a mission: one that Jolinar had gone on and had trouble getting out of. It had a high, high price. "What were you working on with the biologists?" she asks, her father's voice in her head ringing with the imagined I've got a way to get you out, kid. Her chest aches.
"The sarcophagus project, again. He's obsessed, but it's gotten a lot worse lately." Rodney snaps back and forth between the current conversation and the one he realizes he's being distracted from. "It doesn't mean the end of the world, or anything, does it?"
"No, it doesn't mean the end of the world," she says in spite of a closed throat. They've got a way to get her out, but no one is coming to relieve her any time soon.
"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you? Because I'm really not good at going on the run by myself and I'm pretty sure there's a decent price on my head and you're my only hope here, if you'll forgive the Star Wars reference." His eyes are so wide. Rodney really would have made a terrible Tok'ra; maybe that's why he's such a bizarrely comforting presence to her.
Hope is a strange thing; so is command. "I'll make sure there's someone to do the military thinking in case something happens to me, Rodney," She's doing a lot of reassuring lately, in her head and out loud. She's ready to get moving, she hopes Jack will be soon, too.
"Great, so we'll have a grunt instead. That's very comforting."
"They'll have you, you know," she says absently, wondering afterwards if she should apologize.
She hears from Jack at 1423 on a Tuesday. The message is a set of tones, as though someone were misdialing, but McKay is back-calculating which number makes which tone and the number of potential coordinates before the last, elongated and grating tone stops. Sam wonders if he broke the push button. She also knows, definitively, that he is agreeing to help, but going on record as saying the plan sucks. She only needs Rodney to tell her where to send her people to meet him; message received.
Jack doesn't hang up, though, and neither does Sam. They sit for long breaths, Sam absently looking in McKay's direction and only barely registering his nodding and pointing. She listens for breathing on the other end of the line.
"I'm sorry," she says, careful to use no names.
"I've had this objective before, you know," he says conversationally.
"I know," she says, voice low with shared failure.
"Not that time, I mean more recently," he continues, emphasis laying oddly on the words, "just before. I think maybe it's time to let you take over. I never should have tried to be the brains of the operation."
"We'll find a way to get you out again," she feels as though she's twelve, negotiating for a scheme to go to an amusement park instead of a company function. Words empty, promises transparent bargaining. "We'll—"
"Yes, sir," he cuts her off. The reassurances were sounding hollow to her, too.
"God, I'm sorry," she says again, biting back his name at the last minute. There had been a time when she would never have even thought his name. She isn't sure when that changed.
"Me too," he says. Over the droning of the dial tone, she realizes it only took until the end of the world for them to learn to communicate.
She sends Laura and Cameron again, so that he knows them on sight. She also sends a doctor who isn't Janet, because Janet is watched too closely to become a rebel; she and Cassie inform the battle plan in their own way, though, and Jack will know that. Cam and Laura arrive at his coordinates and check in within 48 hours: package delivered, patient recovering.
She sits cold in her cave and wonders whether they opted to stay on the move while Jack healed from the implant or went to ground. She decides it's best she doesn't know the details, or she might drop everything to go help, to be at his bedside.
The would be a shadow of the team they once were; but it would comfort Sam.
Perils of command, and being too close to her people, she supposes, when she isn't mentally cursing Cameron for following orders and keeping her in the dark about their movements.
She contents herself with reassigning a new soldier to Daniel's ranks. The soldier has insubordination issues and natural leadership, he tells her, when she asks him what she would find in his file if she went to great risk and expense to get it. Sam figures Daniel will like John Sheppard. Or kill him.
The message comes in over an old HAM radio, short distance. It means they've been made.
The boxes are being repacked before Sam's fingers hit the cracked tuning dial on the side of the radio to confirm. A lot of them get out.
She doesn't know when she got so broken, but she thinks it might have been the moment she lost Teal'c because of Daniel. She knows it's long before Daniel allowed his goons to start hitting her.
She isn't sure when she started fighting a war of righteousness, but it wasn't when Teal'c died. She suspects it was when Daniel leaned forward, and with a beneficent smile on his face, stopped talking about how crazy she was and started talking about Jack.
She thought she would outlive them all, once Teal'c was gone. Maybe she has, but she feels like her part in the battle is ending. The promise of a finish line is more reassuring than the belief that anyone will rescue her.
He's left that train of questioning now, is on to the topic of them, him and her. She's getting better at naming what she feels now, she's had a lot of time to think while he was treading far too dangerously close to Jack, and the dynamics between the three of them in recent years. He and he and she, living, and Teal'c dead. Sam is maneuvering in strange territory, redirecting the conversation with silence and the odd spit of blood. She's realized, though, somewhere between the kick to the teeth and the two to the ribcage, that she hasn't been avoiding the thought of Jack and Daniel because she hates them.
"Why do this, Sam?" he asks, all concern and mask.
She knows the answer to this one, though. "Because I loved you, Daniel."
"Really," he says, with the sarcasm he's honed to razor sharp edges in recent years. She huffs out a laugh that tastes of copper and sour stomach acid and thinks of the time Jack called them twin stars. One dark and one light, she thinks, or maybe matter and anti-matter, canceling each other out.
"Didn't you realize that I would go down with you, Daniel?" She can almost see the man he used to be, like a host somewhere deep under the layers of psychosis he's developed. She speaks to that man, squinting through a swollen eye, tries to tell him that they will all go down together, for what it's worth, and to wait for Jack. "I loved you too much to let you go without a fight."
The first shot hurts a hell of a lot more than it usually does, probably because she's had intimate contact with Daniel's thugs' boots this morning. She begins to wonder whether her father is going to get a trade that is worth having in the end. Then she sees Daniel raise the Zat for another shot, and she has her answer.
Mitchell leaves the Air Force first. "There is a protocol for escalation," he would say, in angry, hushed tones "and I grew up post-WWII, man, in Perestroika; first strike is not it. I don't care what grudges the old timers are carrying." They aren't close, but John is listening enough that before going AWOL, Mitchell tells him to contact him through his call sign at a PO in downtown Kansas City. John can't manage more than a fairly blank expression at the time.
The accuracy of Jackson's satellites make fighter pilots obsolete, but it doesn't make for fewer wounded; John flew Medevac for a few months after Mitchell quietly deserted. The order was to take his mounting leave and return to flying, but quiet rumors had it there were new directives to ignore collateral damage in the local population. There are more missing from the ranks than just the deserters, who've taken overdue leave and not rejoined the unit. He makes it Stateside, clears the last base checkout and begins seriously considering not going back about five seconds later.
He's a week late reporting in, spending his leave in an overpriced sublet in a beach town with good surfing. It's the closest he figures he'll ever get to flying again. He picks up and leaves without notice when he gets word; he isn't more than a day from the coordinates Cam sent him. There is a weird calm on the ocean that makes for shit waves anyway.
Cameron's message sends him to a bee tree, and John spends a good hour waiting for it to do something interesting before a hippie backpacker with a soldier's walk arrives to fetch him.
The rebel CO reminds him far too much of every other CO he's ever had, and it's sounding like she's going to turn him right back around and send him back to the base, as far as John can tell. Then her 2IC walks into the room and John decides his dismissal was complete before he'd even arrived at the bee tree.
"I was a pilot once too," Carter says, staring down at the report she's been handed like it's a living thing about to make a sudden move. Only John can see it isn't a report at all, but schematics. She's reading a report written in geometry.
John likes her a little for it, more than for the empty pilot sympathy.
"Cameron told me you were a friend," Carter says then.
The other man interrupts Carter's much-less-business-like voice to say, "he says that a lot, you know. What he probably meant is that they sat around getting drunk and mad at their supervisors together and called it manly bonding."
Carter's cracked half a smile and she tilts her head at the other guy. "John Sheppard, meet Rodney McKay," she says, eyes back on the math.
"He called you a friend too," John says, taking his cue from the less formal tone that McKay brought into the room.
"Well, we were, actually, though it was back in Academy days." Carter looks up, smiles a real smile, even if still close-lipped and strained, and says, "he also mentioned that you were too smart to be a subordinate and too insubordinate to advance. I'd say that makes you leadership material."
"Either that, or he'll make a massive mistake out of boredom and kill us all," McKay interjects, looking disturbed at the fact that Carter's smiling.
"Maybe it just means that Mitchell defines 'friend' differently from the rest of us," John says placatingly.
"How smart?" McKay asks Carter. "Do something smart," he says bluntly then to John.
"Also insubordinate," John says, smiling in a strained way and letting his spine relax minutely. "You seem like you can handle that, actually," he says to Carter. He starts to wonder if he wouldn't mind working for her.
"I could, but I learned it from Daniel," She says, looking back up at him with an abruptness that people didn't usually use when speaking of the new world dictator, "I really do need you to stay in the ranks, if you can handle going back."
It's possibly the strangest, most sympathetic order he's ever been given. The odd part being that he doesn't think all the sympathy is for him.
"I have a much better communication device than cell phones now," McKay proclaims, after nearly dragging him from the room. Not because they'd officially been dismissed, either, though Carter takes it all in stride like she'd had more time to get used to McKay than John has. "Sam will approve it once she finishes reading the report, so we might as well outfit you now. You have weird ears."
It's a strange monolog, punctuated with earpieces being fitted on his head and a lot of pushing around, both physical and verbal. It's unmilitary and strangely comforting.
"You'll be able to check in with me over secure lines, as long as no one sees you use this. I'd suggest you don't call me from anywhere where there might be listening devices, but the channel is secure."
"You're my handler, then?" John asks while pulling the earpiece off with a grimace and pointing out a sharp edge in the plastic.
"Yes, but only because I'm very important and therefore the only one with another prototype." McKay heats the plastic with a mini blowtorch and smushes the earpiece with his thumb. John bizarrely wonders if his life will depend on a partial print being found in an earpiece if he is ever found out and catches himself staring with something like alarm at his connection to these people. "Lucky you," McKay adds, and John feels as if they aren't talking about the same thing.
"Won't this mark me as one of the special kids?" John says, redirecting the conversation because he's still stuck on being found out.
"No, it looks remarkably like, and by that I mean exactly like, the radios I designed for Daniel's personal guard." McKay seems torn between wanting to boast and not. John supposes that one defector couldn't really criticize another, so he crooks an impressed eyebrow. McKay turns away in a flustered way and hooks two, possibly the only two, earpieces up to his laptop with mismatched cords.
"Who are these guys?" John asks, unusually at ease in the presence of McKay's transparent reactions.
"We're the rebel fleet, what the hell does it look like?" McKay says, head drawing back and face scrunched like he's regretting taking Mitchell's word for John having any brain cells at all.
"I mean the other guys, Daniel and the guy I'm supposed to extract if all goes well." John has a file from Carter that has maybe 15 pages in it and won't explain her warmth for a man whose actions are the reason they're all hiding in a cave in Central California.
"O'Neill," McKay says, and seems oddly at a loss for what else to say. "I'm sure they'll brief you on the mission," he says to the keyboard. Images on the screen appear and blink out as Rodney resumes softly clicking keys on the laptop.
John waves the file folder meaningfully in McKay's peripheral vision and when he doesn't respond, says, "She likes him. Carter, I mean, likes Jackson."
"Well, not in a school-girl 'gee aren't you swell' way, but they were SG-1." McKay pauses over them, but seems to think the random letters and number are meaningful. John stares at him until McKay realizes he hadn't been understood. Then John states that he hadn't understood, because apparently McKay doesn't do intuitive or subtle.
"Christ, more people who have no idea about the Stargate Program, fabulous. Yay for the informed military of this country." He taps frenetically at the right program on his laptop before handing one earpiece back to John.
"I know the program. SG is Stargate? What's the one?" John fits the piece over his ear, then pulls it off to gently rebend it to fit while looking to McKay for the answer to his question.
"Give me that, that's delicate, don't go bashing it around." McKay snatches the earpiece and sets about massaging the plastic in exactly the same way John had been. "They were the team. The flagship, closer than family, and weirder, if you believe the rumors, team. With O'Neill and this alien guy who served as some kind of diplomatic liaison, I suppose. They were famous for saving the world together at regular intervals, before they went crazy and messed it up."
"They went crazy?" John asks, allowing the earpiece to be placed again, and his ear bent and pulled to see if it fits well. He thinks he's being pretty docile about it when all he does is shoot a couple incredulous looks in McKay's direction. But it's the anti-history-books-version of Dr. Jackson's heroic rise, and John thinks it's worth having his ears pulled.
"Daniel says Sam is crazy, Sam says Daniel, O'Neill got the wacky nickname and the alien disappeared in strange circumstances." McKay closes the laptop and stands up, meaningfully crossing his arms.
"You'll have to explain the wacky nickname," John says evenly, decidedly not getting up or leaving. He isn't ready for story time to be over yet.
"'Daniel's pet', I'm sure you've heard it, being all military."
John had, he just didn't expect to ever be assigned to rescue it. Or, you know, ever have to deal with it, up close and personal, like. He also hadn't expected it to be a man.
Carter's amorphous person or people on the inside sets up the dressing down to launch nicely into a reassignment. John hasn't ever served in a mansion before, though, certainly not on Air Force assignment. It is just weird enough that he doesn't have to fake his confusion to the CO he's pissed off. The latest CO he's pissed off.
It takes a little over three months in Jackson's employ before he meets the man, sitting calmly at the dining room table. John notes that the table is large enough to seat half an army, and yet it seems that the small contingent of people bustling around are always on their feet, except for Jackson himself.
Who introduces himself as though everyone on the planet doesn't live in fear of him. "Major John Sheppard, sir," John replies, tension and reflex pulling his spine straight and his senses taut.
"You can relax, Major," Jackson says with a smile, putting his napkin carelessly where his plate must have been earlier. "I hear you've been a little bored with your current assignment."
"No sir," John says, letting all his carefully planted comments around the mansion speak for him.
"It's okay, I have a new assignment, if you're willing," Jackson says, clearly entertained by John's inability to go off-script.
"Sir?" There has been some increased frenetic energy in the mansion lately, but it isn't unusual for the staff's energy levels to fluctuate with Daniel's moods and John didn't want to speculate too much. Being called in for reassignment either means John is going to achieve his objective or he absolutely isn't, though. He's hoping the coincidence is a positive sign.
"You've been bored with guard duty and babysitting television cameras, so feel free to say no to this, it could be precisely what you don't want." Jackson sips coffee through the monolog, but keeps his eyes on John, head tilted down, strangely, so he has to raise his eyebrows and look up to maintain eye contact. "I'm sorry," he says, as though just realizing he's drinking, "would you like a cup of coffee? I'm sure Louise would get you some."
The woman who is presumably Louise stops in John's peripheral vision, but he can't see the look on her face to gauge whether the request is well received or not. John has never really seen the appeal of coffee, except as a hot drink on a cold night, so he says "no thank you, sir, I'm fine."
It's weirdly familiar, being asked to share a meal, or what have you, with the effective Commander in Chief, but he thinks he understands why Carter and McKay and everyone who seemed to know the man calls him Daniel.
"Okay," Daniel says, with the kind of winning smile that John himself has faked at too many official functions. "So, how would you feel about becoming a personal bodyguard? It would involve a lot of the same work, but for just one person."
"You need a bodyguard, sir?" John is partly playing obtuse, but he honestly hasn't seen many around. Daniel is as likely to be seen with his rabidly idealistic assistant as with any burly guys in sunglasses, but then, he doesn't leave the mansion much.
"Hardly," Daniel says, as he holds his cup sideways for Louise to refill. John isn't sure when the order for more coffee came in, but maybe that's the point. He also isn't sure he's ever heard a single word infused with more condescension. "I have a friend coming to stay, and I'd like him to be comfortable, but also safe."
"Under what conditions, sir?" John asks, creeped out enough that he doesn't think much about mission objectives. He searches around for something grounding and focuses on the assignment like it's another T.V. crew, on the grounds, in the mansion, in specifically vetted places with specific sets of dangers. Grunt work.
"Mostly the house," Daniel says, the only one John's heard call it house and not mansion or compound. "He'll appreciate a sense of humor, I think, and I would appreciate someone who can judge which orders to follow, rather than just jumping on command. I understand you may be the kind of man who can handle a gun and a decision or two, based on Somalia."
"Sir, are you giving me a team?" John says, not having to fake the surprise; there were some CO's who swore they'd keep letters in his file that would prevent him ever having command of other troops again.
"No, and I don't want you to disobey my orders, just so that we're clear on that," Daniel says with his eyes scrunched into a smile, mouth close-lipped. "I want him here for his own safety as much as any other reason. He was military too, though, and his last guard was either hesitant to shoot or let his guard down; I want someone smart enough to keep up with him. It's taken me a while to find him and make sure he's all right."
John lets himself turn his head and make eye contact with his effective commander. Daniel is smiling.
"You've heard the stories, then?" Daniel asks. John looks at him, deliberately doesn't think of the 'Daniel's Pet' stories he's heard. "He makes bad decisions. I need someone to keep him here and keep him safe. I'd rather have him taken out than out there again. Can you do that?"
Daniel's smile fades, but he doesn't drop his gaze. John feels as though the temperature in the room drops by several degrees. He nods once, sharply, hoping his gaze doesn't waver. Daniel smiles as if he's delighted by some present that has magically appeared somewhere behind John. It is hard not to smile back, and unnerving that he wants to.
"Good," Daniel says decisively, coming over to clap John once on the shoulder and saying, "you've got the night shift. I'm not exactly sure when we'll get him back, but it should be soon." He says the last bit while walking out of the room, hands in his pockets, and John is left to escort himself out with too many eyes boring into the back of his head.
Later, he wanders the grounds on the walk he's made his nightly routine, Rodney's radio in his ear. He'll have to shift his walks to early morning or dawn if he is working the night shift babysitting O'Neill.
"Condescension, huh?" Rodney said, volume purposefully turned low in John's earpiece, "I always called it massive and unwarranted arrogance. I told him to cut it out, but I guess he hasn't changed. He didn't listen to me nearly as much as he should have anyway."
"Maybe it's because you defected, McKay," John says, his gaze casually on the path as he walks, hoping his face looks like he's singing Johnny Cash songs, if anything. The irony of McKay, of all people, lecturing about arrogance was not lost on him. "How you guys doing over there?"
"Fine. Good. I put that down to phasing out the use of common cell phones as communication devices. You could check in a little more often, you know," McKay's words take on a clipped tone that John is coming to associate with vulnerability. It's weird to have such a sense of a person while almost forgetting what they look like.
"Probably will now I'm getting the job I was supposed to get," John says, "you aren't bored, are you, McKay?"
"No," McKay says, shortly, "Well, okay, yes. There's not a lot going on here, scientifically speaking."
"You could always manufacture more headsets, I hear you'd have a corner on the market," John says, just to goad him a little.
"Right, because my time is best used assembling instruments a robot could be doing." John keeps him talking for a while longer, then signs off when he comes back within sight of the sleeping compound. He doesn't point out that babysitting love slaves is possibly not the best use of his time either.
John has about let his guard down, metaphorically speaking, when Daniel comes in and spends five minutes observing them watching a football game. O'Neill has been ribbing John about his favorite team being behind, and John is smiling easily and leaning one hip against the sofa. Neither of them realizes Daniel is there.
John stands impassively at attention by the door when Jack returns to the room, hours later; doesn't try to meet O'Neill's eyes. The next day, during the time he should be sleeping, he accepts Daniel's blessing on the sin of his friendship with the prisoner. He doesn't actually believe the absolution and isn't surprised when Daniel adds the coda that perhaps it will keep Jack from killing him during the next escape attempt.
He does find it reassuring that O'Neill was as creeped out by Daniel's quiet observation of them as he was. Not that they speak of it, but they don't banter about sports for days afterwards, just quietly shift the angle of the couch.
"Should I know what you did to O'Neill?" John hisses into the forest, his face a mask of anger and his lips barely moving. It's almost winter and the melting frost is soaking into John's boots.
"Why? What happened?" Rodney's voice is soft and clear in his ear, deceptively reassuring.
"He's sick, that's what happened. Fever and fainting and the doctor thinks it's a virus that he caught while out there." John is sure this is a kind of betrayal; he'd like to believe it's the betrayal of age, but he's pretty sure Rodney is in on it, and that Carter gave the order. He'd liked them, damn it. "Did you give him AIDS in the hope he'd pass it on or something?"
"Jesus, no." Rodney seems affronted, but John isn't sure about what yet. "Who knows if they could cure that with healing devices and such by now anyway, no. And there's a reason you don't know the details of this, you know."
"Bullshit, Rodney." John is about done with the sneaking around. "Don't you pull need-to-know crap here. He's sick, you did it, now you tell me what you did."
"Daniel's voodoo Goa'uld healing tricks won't invalidate the mission, if that's what you're worried about." It isn't, but John thinks he sees a silhouette in a window in the barracks and he can't risk the time it would take to deal with Rodney's shit. He signs off with a clipped, pithy set of swear words.
John has to give up that Jack has been sick to reestablish himself as a trustworthy guard. Plus he's starting to have to reassure Jack that everything will be okay, and he figures that's nearing a manly stoic breaking point.
He's almost sickened by Daniel's immediate concern and demands for details. John is sure Jack will be pissed. Just as soon as he regains the strength to be pissed.
The atmosphere of the mansion changes; the personalities of everyone get downright dark. John endures it and what is either the silent treatment or invalid weakness from Jack. He doesn't have the balls to touch the T.V. without permission; Rodney doesn't answer his weekly check-in.
John is beginning to be seriously concerned that he should be hiding his end of the secure line somewhere really, really dark when suddenly Rodney is there on the other end of the radio again.
"It's been bad here lately," Rodney sounds like he's confessing. "We were made, and we've scattered. There wasn't much action on this end, anyway, it was just keeping tabs on you. So."
"Daniel wants to put Jack in something called a sarcophagus and Jack is worried." John isn't sure what to make of Rodney's quasi-apology, and he can't fix anything about the situation there anyway.
"Oh, no." Rodney sounds old through the radio. The morning birds are louder than he is.
"Rodney, I need to know." John considers this the moment when he finds out whether Rodney is a good guy or a bad guy.
Rodney continues to stall a long moment before starting to talk. "There was a meeting with the Tok'ra about a sarcophagus when I was there, and some tentative agreement reached, but that was the same time they passed on a message for Sam. Carter. Whatever."
"Why would they do that, then?" John is not in the mood for long stories, seriously, but he can't afford to talk enough to keep Rodney on topic if he doesn't want parabolics or long range cameras picking up on his communion with the stars. With the attitude in the compound at the moment, parabolic microphones feel like a distinct possibility.
"Her father is Tok'ra. I didn't really know what the message meant, she didn't tell me, but they never intended to actually trade the sarc, as far as I could tell."
"So they've traded it for something, is that it?" John has picked up that the Tok'ra are aliens, that the sarcophagus is a big, powerful something resembling a box or a coffin, and he wishes he had the time and the clearance to know more.
"Yes, they traded an evil, soul-sucking machine to a ruthless, genius dictator with far too much understanding of it at his disposal." John catches sight what might be movement in the edge of the woods, a couple of hundred meters up. It might also be the wind changing the light. "And they traded it for her," Rodney says in a whisper in his ear.
"For who, Carter?"
"We were made," Rodney says, and there's an air of desperation in his voice, "Not everyone got out. I wondered how she could possibly let herself get taken. I had an exit strategy planned out from the first week."
"Well lucky her, then, for having friends in high places, but if this is going to screw the mission to hell I need to know if it's time to get us the hell out of here." John needs the conversation to be over. He isn't that securely back in Daniel's good graces, and he isn't sure if he cares to be in Rodney's good graces.
"It's fine, it's designed to thwart Goa'uld technology." Rodney has this way of segueing from one conversation to another without complete sentences. John isn't sure which conversation they're in, but he thinks it's probably good that Rodney's back on the other end of his radio. He also thinks he should probably make sure everything is ready to go in case plans get moved up for getting Jack out. "I guess she's not coming back, then." Rodney's voice is lost sounding.
"I'm sure she would if she could, Rodney," John says, offering platitudes in the absence of actually understanding why it matters so much. In John's experience, there is always someone else in the chain of command just waiting for a field promotion; didn't much matter who it was.
Jack develops a childlike giddiness about the start of hockey season that is almost manic. John doesn't see him for entire nights now, and when he bounces back into the room in the mornings, there are none of the previous marks and bruises Daniel used to leave on his skin. As if Jack were born again out of that box, slightly creepier each time.
John is relieved when Jack gets back to sleeping and spending most of his nights mostly under John's eye. It's ironic that John has become a much better guard, but he is a step too far behind when Jack swerves just inside the doorframe again, in what used to be a normal reaction to time away with Daniel. John's grip is a little harder on Jack's biceps when he catches him, but he agrees readily enough when Jack orders him to keep his mouth shut this time.
Damn straight he will. Or at least, John won't tell Daniel anything.
John has offered a respectful 'sir' to people higher than he is in the chain of command since he learned to speak and found his father preferred it to 'Dad'. He used 'sir' through his teenage years and beyond, far past the point where the respect was just an act, and he's never quite recovered the meaningful intention behind the honorific.
With Jack, though, he has retreated to titles, to honorifics, in an attempt to remind the man of who he was before Daniel's box made him manic and unmarked. Sir, he says, hoping the word will remind Jack of the responsibility someone has to shoulder.
Jack falls down under the weight of it.
"Tell me about the sarcophagus, and tell me why Jack is sick," John demands dangerously to Rodney.
"It's a soul-sucking healing machine. Use it too much and you'll get addicted, though the science of that is very fuzzy, if you ask me," Rodney replies readily enough, but John can sense a tangent coming up. "They found that out when Daniel got addicted, actually."
"Rodney, why is Jack sick?" It's almost a mantra by now. John asks for specific information, Rodney answers whatever question he wants to answer. John is beginning to think he's out of patience waiting for the answer to the right question.
"It's probably rejection, with the fevers, and the fainting."
"Rejection of what?" John prompts. He's stopped his normal ramble in the morning shadows of the treeline. "Why can't the healing machine heal it?"
"Because it's not an illness, it's a device. A delivery mechanism."
"Delivery mechanism?" John is lost, but feeling like if he just gathers enough information, he can sort it out later.
"Yes, Jack is the delivery mechanism, Daniel is the target." Rodney's voice is getting quieter.
"Jesus," John says. "Rodney."
"It was a viable plan, ingenious, really, to use nanotechnology," Rodney sounds hopeful, weirdly, in John's ear. John wonders if it was Carter's plan or Rodney's, why Rodney wants his approval so badly.
"So the box can't heal him, but it can make him crazy?" And Daniel will keep using it as long as Jack gets better for even a little while afterwards. John wants to sit down. He turns and walks into the trees, finding one to sit by and lean against. "Why are you keeping him here? Why aren't we moving up the extraction?"
"You haven't reported any of the signs from Daniel, though he could be using the sarcophagus too and have it mask the initial symptoms." Rodney is providing a laundry list, John realizes, as if his clearance has been raised and this is his briefing.
"Rodney, who is in command now, with Carter MIA?" John has never wanted a chain of command so badly in his life. He rubs his hands roughly over his face, through his hair.
"Well, it's pretty much just you and me. I'm coordinating with a few other operatives, but. You and me."
And John in the middle of a Trojan horse operation to deliver death via a living carrier who's falling apart and having his soul sucked out one night at a time. John thinks he might understand why it had to go down this way, and he almost understands why Jack would do it.
"Is there anything that could heal Jack, Rodney?" John is focusing, the world is becoming very stark.
"A doctor, an operation. Get the device out of him."
"You have one nearby, that you trust?" What do you have? What do you need?
"Janet Fraiser, she was their doctor, but she had always been too visible, before." John waits a beat, and then Rodney answers the question. "She's in Colorado Springs."
"Tell her we're coming." John stands and brushes needles off his legs and bark off his jacket. "I'll give you as long as I can to set it up, but he's not going in that box again."
"You're changing the plan?"
"Accelerating the extraction." John is walking out of the trees with a stride that he has to slow from purposeful to slouchy and lazy. He feels taller, it is an effort to remember to slouch. "Look into destroying the box for me, okay? Get a list of other operatives still in play and have it ready for when I get there."
"Isn't it kind of risky to do it all rushed and suddenly like this?" And oddly, John is pretty sure the concern is all for him this time.
But John is sure. He smiles in a way that doesn't get past his teeth, just in case someone is watching and says, "don't worry, Rodney, if you went darkside, I'd give the order for you too."
"That's not comforting at all, Major." But it is comforting; John is relieved to find out that Rodney is still on his side.
John smiles a little bigger this time, but shuts it down before anyone looking sees him. He turns his face to the woods in a casual move as he says, "you have your orders and I have mine; we'll get it done, Rodney, we're a good team." As pep talks go, he figures it's not a bad start.