: Small StepsAuthor
: Jedi ButtercupDisclaimer
: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.Rating
: Colonel O'Neill has second thoughts about his team's newest acquisition... while Wesley Wyndham-Pryce wraps up a few final tasks in Los Angeles
. 3800 words.Spoilers
: A:tS up to "Ground State" (4.02). Stargate SG-1 through "Redemption, Part 2" (6.02), and AU from there.Notes
: 3rd in the "Starting Over" sequence, for kerravonsen.
Colonel Jack O'Neill watched from the window of his team's hotel suite as Wesley Wyndham-Pryce exited the lobby of the Sheraton below. The darkly-dressed Brit with the rough stubble, callused hands, and thousand-yard stare still baffled Jack a little; he'd come to L.A. expecting to find some lesser European knockoff of Daniel, specifically of the wide-eyed, naïve edition of his friend from back when they'd first joined the program, and ended up with a much more weathered cousin of the bitter, latter-year Dr. Jackson instead.
That wasn't exactly a disaster, on the face of it. Everything Jack had told General Hammond about the benefits of choosing a program outsider to join SG-1 still stood. The fact that the former scholar would come to the SGC with prior knowledge of the Goa'uld would put him a step up over most of the social scientists recruited in the last several years, and might provide a usefully different perspective on humanity's war with the alien parasites who liked to pretend they were gods.
He wasn't sure he liked the guy's attitude, though. Something had ruffled Pryce's feathers pretty severely. And a scar like the one he sported on his neck could only have been earned in close combat-- from an opponent armed with a knife. He moved like he'd had some degree of martial training, too, but he had no law enforcement or military record to explain it. And all that talk of 'demons'... Jack just didn't like it, no matter what explanation Carter had found to patch over it. He didn't appreciate any
of the sums his mind came up with when he tried to add all the relevant facts together.
He keyed his radio to alert SG-2, who'd arrived and set up during their long getting-to-know-you session. "Subject has left the building," he announced.
"On it," Louis Feretti replied. Jack and the Lt. Colonel had previously discussed distributing his team to watch Pryce's car, office, and address of record; they'd decided that Lou himself and Quinn would follow Pryce from the hotel, so as not to risk losing track of him, while SG-1 waited in the suite for further contact.
"Keep me informed," Jack said, then signed off.
"What, not going to tell me I'm being paranoid?" he added after a moment, turning to meet the distracted gaze of his second, Major Samantha Carter.
"Mmm, no sir," she said thoughtfully, tapping away at a laptop balanced on the room's small table. Next to the laptop, a neat stack of paperwork kept it company. Pryce had signed the non-disclosure forms without hesitation, she'd reported; but she hadn't seemed entirely satisfied with his behavior, either.
"I know we initially looked him up due to a recommendation from Daniel, but this wouldn't be the first time one of his former friends was mixed up in Goa'uld business without his knowing about it," she continued. "I know it's a remote possibility, but if Pryce somehow encountered a stranded Goa'uld, or if he were working for some British organization equivalent to the N.I.D...."
"Still might be better than putting a Russian on the team," Jack mused aloud. Provided they didn't catch the guy in a lie, and he wasn't actually a Goa'uld himself-- which if he was, Jack was pretty sure Teal'c would have been able to tell when he met him. Which of them hadn't
come to the program with some kind of sketchiness in their records? Even Carter wasn't perfect.
"Then you believe that if he shows no signs of such duplicity before meeting with us again, his trustworthiness will be assured?" Teal'c said, glancing between Jack and Carter with a raised eyebrow.
"Maybe not assured
," Jack allowed. "But it'll help. And once he's under the mountain, we'll have plenty of time to get to know him better."
Heck, he'd be tempted to bring the guy back to Colorado for just the opportunity to pick his brains, even if he didn't
end up on SG-1. The fact that Pryce knew even a few words of Goa'uld-- and even believed that that they were another species
-- without any prior exposure to the program was something the SGC couldn't ignore. If nothing else, Nyan could use the help keeping the Social Sciences Department organized in Daniel's absence-- or so he would tell General Hammond.
The fact that, just looking at Pryce, Jack felt a painful resonance with a certain time in his past he'd buried during that first trip to Abydos had no bearing on the subject, of course. None at all.
"SG one-niner, this is SG two-niner," his radio crackled again, activating.
"This is SG one-niner. What've you got?" he asked.
"Subject took a cab to the park to retrieve his car. Looks like he's headed for his apartment now."
About what Jack had expected. "Any attempts to communicate yet?"
"No cell phones, no other observed transmissions," Lou replied. Which would include anything sent on any popular Gou'ld, Tok'ra, Asgard, or Tollan frequencies-- not that Jack was really expecting any of the above. It would be nice if, for once, his team had an Earth-side mission that didn't
rapidly devolve into disaster. They'd had more than enough of that for one week already.
"Good," he said, then signed off once more and returned to the table to settle in and wait. He wasn't the most patient guy in all the world, he'd be the first to admit. But sometimes, it was the best strategy to take.
"So, tell me what else you've learned about this guy," he said, steepling his fingers and making an intrigued expression at Carter over the back of her laptop.
Wesley took his time at his apartment after the meeting with Colonel O'Neill's team. He already knew what his answer would be, and while he thought over the ramifications he had decided to make the basic preparations necessary to follow it through.
It was the work of only a few moments to sort his belongings into categories: primarily those he would need to pack for the trip, as well as those that would need to be boxed for shipping to his eventual forwarding address. The remnants far outnumbered either category. Very little of what he'd bought in the city retained any memories worth preserving, or held any real intrinsic value. He would need to pay his coworkers to dispose of it all at one of the local charities. Perhaps the East Hills Teen Center; the idea held a certain air of serendipity.
His books and journals were, of course, the most valuable of his possessions, closely followed by his weapons, though most of the latter were kept at his temporary office. He was still short a few valuable, irreplaceable volumes he'd left behind at the Hyperion, but when he'd dropped Angel off after rescuing him-- when he'd seen the way Fred and Gunn had focused on the vampire, then turned to Wesley for guidance as though the betrayals of the last few months had never occurred-- he had written off the idea of retrieving the books any time soon. He hadn't been able to stomach one more minute within those walls.
Hypocrites, every one of them. And Wesley not least of all.
He was done here. His life in Los Angeles had been burnt, the earth salted; there was no point in waiting for new growth from such poisoned soil, no matter how heavily his regrets weighed him down.
With such perfect timing, if Colonel O'Neill's team had been from any organization other than the U.S. military, Wesley might have suspected the hand of the Watcher's Council or Wolfram and Hart in their offer. But no supernatural organization would expect him to take refuge under the wing of the American Air Force-- which made the Colonel's offer very attractive as a long-term prospect.
When he had finished, a few sealed boxes formed a stack by the door. The bookshelves had been emptied but for a few framed photographs and a recently gifted copy of Dante's Inferno; the rest of the flat still looked much as it had when he'd arrived that evening. A duffel bag containing a few changes of clothes and toiletries lay atop the boxes, packed in anticipation of a cross-country flight.
As his last task, Wesley unplugged the phone, leaving the line to ring endlessly for anyone who might try to track him down. Then he invoked a cantrip that would deter any form of non-supernatural human surveillance-- mechanical or otherwise-- for the next hour or so, and left the apartment.
He locked the door carefully behind him, then headed straight for the underground tunnels. He knew where the safest paths ran under the surface of the city-- where he and his temporary co-workers had had a hand in clearing over the last few weeks-- and was willing to risk what danger remained in order to avoid official notice. After this one last task, he would be completely finished with his supernatural obligations in Los Angeles. If O'Neill wasn't
connected to the Initiative-- and Wesley was fairly certain he was not, given various things he'd said in that day's meeting-- he would only get himself or his teammates hurt trying to follow along with the evening's plans.
It didn't take long to meet up with Jones, Bradstreet, and Hawkins, and learn that the second ransom call had indeed come in. This time, Diana had managed to trace it to a local warehouse connected to Mr. O'Leary's demonic employers and likely inhabited by more of the same; he quickly sketched out a plan of attack, then assembled the proper weaponry and headed out.
None of the men were best pleased by the news that Wesley planned to depart after the warehouse was cleared, but they knew enough of his story to guess his reasons-- that he'd once run Angel Investigations, that there'd been bad blood between him and the firm's namesake, and that Angel's return to the city meant Wesley was no longer comfortable operating there. It didn't hurt, either, that he'd promised they could split his share of the O'Leary case as compensation; the man's wife had promised to divide the ransom among Wesley's team if they succeeded, and it was not a paltry sum of money.
He'd have preferred to attack the warehouse in daylight, but imperfect situations were par for his course, and his people were well enough prepared for what they were facing. Between the four hunters, they swiftly slew the kidnappers and their compatriots, and only picked up one unauthorized audience member in the process.
His anti-surveillance measures had worked. It was a pity there was no such simple trick to prevent a vampire from entering a public building.
Wesley eyed Angel disdainfully as he stooped to lift a hotel key from the body of the demonic leader's corpse, then turned to toss it one of the others. "So, Mr. O'Leary's being kept in a motel. How original. Free him. Report to base; have Diana close out the file. I'll follow you there in a moment."
Angel eyed Wesley's co-workers as they filed out of the building, then slouched closer, his body language a curious mix of menace and apology. "Running your own game now, huh?" he said.
Wesley had thought to prevent any encounter such as this when he'd mailed Cordelia's file to the Angel Investigations offices; the only further purpose a meeting between them could serve would be to 'bury the hatchet', and he was far from ready to forgive and forget-- or even to be
forgiven, in the remote possibility that Angel had already come to terms with what had happened with Connor.
He knew the vampire's resentful temperament; it was, after all, not much different from his own. Only a being prone to brood on grievances dealt him would stew in his own
guilt for more than a hundred years... and Wesley was well aware that his own black mood since the day Justine had ripped Connor from his arms likely sprang from a similar source. But by the same token, it would not be possible for either
of them to go on as though nothing had occurred; and all Wesley's belated rescue would have done to mend fences between them was to add a small degree of obligation on Angel's part to brace against the grave debt on Wesley's. Truly, it was better for both of them that Wesley was leaving town.
While he stood there thinking, staring blankly at the creature who had been variously enemy, associate, boss, employee, family
, and object of fascination over the last several years, Angel cleared his throat and spoke further into the awkward silence.
"Must've been hard for you. No map. All that water. Look... what went down between us...." He shuffled his feet and shrugged, his expression caught somewhere between constipated and apologetic. "I had a lot of time down there to think."
Wesley cut him off there, waving a hand between them in negation. "Enough, Angel. I know what you're really here for-- and you'll find it in the mail tomorrow morning. You didn't need to hunt me down and pretend everything is all right between us; in fact, you'll never need speak to me again, if you should so desire. I'll be resuming my former occupation within the week."
Angel blinked at that, befuddlement forming stormclouds on his brow. "I-- what is it you think I'm here for?" he asked. "And what do you mean-- you can't be leaving town. You're still hunting demons here
." He gestured at the rapidly-dissolving corpses on the concrete floor.
"This is your
city," Wesley said, quietly. "I allowed myself to be snared here by your kindness, and Cordelia's, three years ago-- but I fear I have more than overstayed my welcome."
"You can't mean that," Angel said. His expression had darkened, more offended than surprised or apologetic now. Wesley sighed and turned his back against that denial, heading toward the exit.
"When you find her-- tell her I hope she is content with her choices," he replied as he walked.
Only frustrated silence echoed back to him. Grimly satisfied, Wesley set his jaw and cracked open the door.
Jonas frowned, staring at the officer General Hammond had asked him to follow while Colonel O'Neill made his decision. Lt. Colonel Ferretti seemed like an intelligent enough guy, and he seemed more open to listening to Jonas than O'Neill had since he'd walked through the gate from Langara, but Jonas couldn't help but wish he were with SG-1 all the same. Between O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal'c, surely at least one of them would have come up with a believable explanation for what had just happened.
"I'm telling you, I saw him go into that building," he repeated himself, pointing toward the warehouse a few paces away, then toward the street. "He came out of that car with the three guys we followed here from his office, and went through the door behind me. It was definitely him; I recognized him from the surveillance video."
Ferretti tugged his cap off and rubbed a hand over his thinning hair, then shook his head. "I'm not saying you didn't see someone
get out of the car with them," he replied, "But it can't have been Pryce. He still hasn't left his apartment."
"No one saw
him leave his apartment," Jonas countered, certain he was on the trail of something important. He wasn't imagining things; and the fact that Ferretti hadn't
seen what he had had to be a clue, not a matter of chance. "Look, I've read most of Dr. Jackson's journals; I know
your people have encountered enemies that could turn invisible before."
Ferretti did pause to consider that point as he tugged his cap back on, but didn't seem convinced. "There's just one problem with that idea," he said, sounding frustrated. "Why would you
be able to see him when the rest of us can't?"
Jonas shook his head. That was one step beyond the evidence he had at hand; he couldn't say for sure, and didn't even know what was possible and what wasn't with Earth's advanced level of technology. There were only so many books he could skim for cultural innovations at a time. "I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation," he said. "And-- look. I know it might seem like I've got a reason to cast aspersions at him-- I mean, I've hardly made any secret of the fact that I want to join SG-1, and Colonel O'Neill's actively recruiting him for the position-- but that has nothing to do what I saw, or didn't see."
Ferretti's gaze had drifted over Jonas' shoulder as he spoke; now he lifted his hand, as if to halt the conversation. Jonas raised his voice a little to speak over him, determined to get the rest of his argument out, and continued. "And if he is
going to all these lengths to sneak around and hide what he's doing, don't you think that's something Colonel O'Neill would want to know about?"
"I suppose it might be at that," a very dry voice replied behind him, belatedly explaining Ferretti's attempt to stop him. The words were spoken in an accent Jonas had only heard a handful of times outside of his new planet's media broadcasts-- the most recent of which had at a hotel across town.
He winced, then turned, determined to face the man as he had every other challenge he'd encountered since watching Dr. Jackson sacrifice his own life doing what Jonas should have had the courage to do himself. "You must be Wesley Wyndham-Pryce," he said, smiling carefully and extending a hand.
Compared to the images Jonas had seen earlier, Wesley was considerably the worse for wear, a slowly seeping cut marring one cheek and smudges of dirt and slime decorating his jeans and leather jacket. His eyebrows had drawn together at Jonas' greeting; he seemed surprised, and somewhat taken aback by Jonas' easy acceptance of his presence.
"Yes," he said slowly, accepting the handshake cautiously. "But you have the advantage of me, I'm afraid. Are you a colleague of Colonel O'Neill?"
If he'd been standing there for very long, he'd already overheard at least that much; there could be no harm in confirming it. "My name's Jonas Quinn. And I'd very much like to be," he said. "I'm something of a political refugee, and I'd hoped to take the open position on Colonel O'Neill's team to make myself useful now that I'm here."
Wesley tilted his head slightly, considering that explanation, then glanced past Jonas to the lieutenant colonel. "And what will you do if I am offered that role instead?" he asked.
Jonas turned to look at Ferretti himself; the officer had taken a few steps back to speak quietly into his radio, watching them with a shrewd, considering expression and his free hand on the holster of his gun. Jonas sighed, then turned back to Wesley with a shrug. "I'll probably join Colonel Ferretti's team," he admitted candidly. "I'd really rather work with SG-1, for-- well, personal reasons-- but--" He sighed, thinking the matter over yet again.
He might be able to damage Wesley's chances of joining the SGC if he lied, but as he'd been trying to tell Ferretti, he was on Earth because he wanted to help
, not for his own benefit. If Wesley was
the best choice for SG-1, Jonas wouldn't be much worse off working with the secondary exploration team; it would be a net gain for the program. Whereas if he warned Wesley away, Jonas would be constantly double-checking himself on every mission he went on with O'Neill's team, wondering if Wesley might have done better in his place. After what had happened with Dr. Jackson, something deep inside him quailed at that thought.
Besides-- did he really
need to make himself into a constant reminder of everything Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and Teal'c had lost when they'd visited his birthworld? Did his self-worth really depend on their approval? No
. He smiled again, ruefully this time, and shrugged at the man he'd been wrongfully considering 'the competition' ever since O'Neill had first announced his existence. "I'm sure Colonel O'Neill has his reasons for interviewing you instead, and if you really are a better fit for the job, as long as I can still contribute to the program somehow I'll be satisfied."
Wesley scrutinized his face for a long moment, then nodded. "I believe you," he said. "And I do understand your concerns, and those of your employers." He turned his attention back toward Ferretti on the word 'concerns', casting an intent look in the officer's direction, and continued slowly, choosing each word with care. "But you must understand, I have secrets of my own to protect, including one final and rather sensitive investigation I wanted to wrap up before accepting Colonel O'Neill's offer."
Jonas nodded thoughtfully. He might have been a little concerned, too, in normal circumstances, if he'd gone for an interview and then found his prospective employer following him all around town. "I get that. So is
there an explanation for the fact that I saw you, but Colonel Ferretti didn't?"
Wesley studied him a moment, as though weighing the pros and cons of several possible answers, then nodded slightly. "There is," he said. "You weren't born of this planet, were you?"
Jonas blinked at that. 'Of'? Not 'on'? That was an interesting choice of words. "How did you know?"
Wesley smiled thinly. "Suffice it say that I have learned a great many unusual things in my studies, some of which may apply directly to the SGC's interactions with visitors from beyond this world."
Leaving that enigmatic statement hovering in the air, he turned his attention toward Ferretti again, now that he'd finally lowered his radio. "Now if you're quite finished invading my privacy? I need to wrap up a few things at the office; you can tell the Colonel I'll sign his contract tomorrow."
Ferretti considered that, then nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "But he will
be wanting that explanation."
"I'll take that up with him," Wesley replied. Then he nodded to Jonas and extended his hand for another shake. "Mr. Quinn. Perhaps we'll speak again; I'm sure it will prove useful to have the perspective of another newcomer to the program."
Jonas grasped his hand firmly. "I'd like that," he said, then watched as Wesley turned and headed toward his borrowed vehicle.
He was even more curious now than he'd been when he'd watched Wesley vanish into the warehouse under Ferretti's nose. He was different than anyone he'd had met on Earth so far-- even without his mysterious abilities.
Jonas had the strangest feeling he had just made a very valuable friend.