Season one; some aspects of season two to follow - mostly season two AU.Summary:
Returning to Earth after the end of Pieces
, Adam Stackhouse has a new friend, some old issues and not a lot else. Author Note:
Somewhere around chapter three of writing Pieces
realised she couldn't bring herself to leave it at the drafted conclusion. Luckily, beta and partner in crime shiny_starlight
already had a plot ideal for a sequel. So they united forces, and this is the result.
If you're happy with the way Pieces ended, that's cool; but we just couldn't forgive ourselves.Strands: 1/8
From the AbyssOnce more I say goodbye
He'd been able to hear them for what could have been minutes, or could have been days; just a bubbling of voices in the darkness. He couldn't identify them, exactly, but they brought pangs of emotion that made him want to reach out to them. And they'd been growing closer - clearer - for some time, until suddenly there was light, and blurred shapes, and his mother standing beside him, a hand clasped to her mouth. Moments later he drifted back again, this time to something like sleep.
The next time he opened his eyes, sunlight filled his room, making everything even more blurry than they had been before. He blinked at the dark shape sitting in the chair next to his bed.
"Mom?" he croaked past a parched throat.
"Not exactly," a male voice answered. The person moved to press a button next to the bed and reached for a cup and straw. "Here, sip slowly," the figure ordered, holding the straw to his lips. As he drank, his vision cleared and it certainly wasn't who he was expecting it to be.
It didn't look like him. Or, not the youthful-faced sergeant Marcus had known; his once thoughtful hazel eyes were dull and ringed with dark circles that suggested insomnia, his formerly easy-to-blush cheeks pale and faintly grey-looking. He was neat, clean-shaven, but something didn't seem quite right.
"What happ – ?" Marcus managed to say before a coughing fit overtook him.
"Easy, Bates," Adam said, pressing the call button again. "The doctor's on the way. You're in Beaufort Naval Hospital. You've been in a coma for three weeks."
He got no further as a doctor and two nurses rushed in, ushering him into the corridor and out of sight.
It was the next morning before he next saw the other marine again. He was propped up against his pillows, worn out by the very effort of trying to consume some bland oatmeal-like substance that had only resulted in making him gag. He was surprised to see the other marine slip into his room and close the door behind him; he'd already asked the nurse when visiting hours were and when his family would be allowed in, and it wasn't now. He didn't even want visitors at the moment; but he did want answers.
"Stealthy, Staff Sergeant," he commented dryly, gladly pushing the bowl of 'pitiful excuse for oatmeal' out of his way. Stackhouse slipped into the chair beside the bed, and glanced nervously over his shoulder.
"Nurse Philips almost caught me coming here," Adam told him.
"Don't tell me one of the world's military elite is scared of one little nurse?" Marc sneered.
"She has sedatives," Adam explained, grimly. Marc snorted softly and a silence fell between them.
"What happened?" he asked after a few moments.
"Well, she caught me sneaking in a week ago and…"
"Stackhouse," Bates used his best drill-sergeant voice. "I've just woken up on Earth after what you tell me was a three-week coma. I don't remember a thing. My entire body aches. I'm weak as a school girl. I've had my mother in here crying into a tissue. I've had the Colonel in here -"
"My Father. I had my father in here telling me to stay strong and so far, no one has told me anything about what fucking happened. So I want answers, Staff Sergeant, and you're going to give them to me. What happened to me? What happened to the city? Did we fail?"
"We didn't fail," Adam told him softly. "The city still stands. You were attacked by a Wraith and Beckett had to put you in a coma so you could heal. We came through after the siege and we've been here ever since."
Marc took several moments to mull this over; Adam hadn't said they'd won.
"Did we lose anyone?"
The other marine flinched, and his eyes grew duller in a way Marc hadn't thought possible. "We lost a lot of people."
"Uh. Coop... Winslow. Tens and tens of replacements they brought in when they came through from Earth. Billy and Fauzzy got stunned, but I think they're okay. Aiden Ford nearly died; went crazy... last I heard, he went AWOL. Dr. Grodin died in the satellite – he got trapped there, sh... shot apart by the..." Stackhouse stopped and stared at his hands.
Vaguely, Marc had the feeling that he should understand, but so much of his recall was muddled and missing that all he could comprehend was that something had happened that was very, very bad.
He closed his eyes and willed himself to remember, but all he saw were flashes; fragments of memories. He remembered sitting in front of Lt. Ford, talking about taking his little brother Jake to a basketball game. He remembered shooting Teyla with a stunner. He remembered sitting, listening to Dr. McKay talk about the satellite and how it was their last hope. He remembered facing Teyla, as she spat words at him, a fire in her eyes.
He remembered the Wraith, appearing out of nowhere as he patrolled near the generator and the agony of his body slamming against the wall. He remembered Beckett's panicked voice saying he couldn't see him. See whom?
Then he remembered the moment where Markham and Smith's jumper blew up right before their eyes, with crystal clarity.
He looked at the man seated beside him. That explained a lot.
"I'm sorry, Stacks," he said. "I'm sorry about Markham."
Adam looked away, anguish in his eyes. He swallowed several times, as if he was composing himself, and Marc wisely moved on.
"You said 'we've' been here ever since. You got injured?"
"Severe concussion. Some bruises," Adam told him blandly. "I'm getting headaches, so they're keeping me in for 'observation'."
Marc correctly translated 'observation' into 'suicide watch', and almost snorted out loud. Like Adam, he knew there was no need. If he hadn't done it right after Markham died, he never would.
"So... how come you're braving Nurse Philips' needles to sit here with an invalid?"
Stackhouse didn't answer, for several moments; he simply gazed wearily at the edge of Marc's blankets, tentatively brushing a loose fold with his fingertips. "I've been waiting for a chance to tell you I was sorry."
Marc's throat tightened. He didn't speak about Anthony, and he had no idea how Adam knew about him.
"I always assumed you just hated... people like us. Jamie didn't. He just didn't think you understood. It never occurred to either of us that you did. Or that you were trying to protect us."
"Never figured Markham for the brains of the operation," Marc told him, smirking.
Adam smiled slightly, a glazed look in his eyes. "Well, Jamie is…" he swallowed again, "Jamie was a lot smarter than he let people believe."
"He had the 'clueless puppy-dog' look down well."
"Don't I know it," Adam muttered, with a small laugh.
"I really am sorry about him, Stacks. He was a good guy. Completely smitten with you, of course. But a good guy."
Marc was aiming for a smile, but the look on Adam's face stopped him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"You said he was completely smitten with me. That's what Dr. Beckett said when you were talking about Jamie with Weir and Sheppard."
"How do you know?" Marc asked, desperately searching his memory for a glimpse of what Stacks was talking about.
"The meeting you all had about Jamie and my state of mind, that accidentally got broadcast all over Atlantis," Adam told him emotionlessly.
The words 'Oh Fuck' raced across Marc's mind.
"The entire city knows?"
"Yep," Adam confirmed, staring at his hands. He did that a lot – gazed at his hands and rubbed them on things. He'd only been in Marc's room a few minutes, but he hadn't stopped fiddling.
"Adam – what about the Corps? Because, if they know..."
"I'd be out by now. In both senses of the word. That, and the small fact that they don't want to piss off the guys they sent to another galaxy to be harvested by life-sucking aliens."
When he smiled, Adam's mouth merely quirked at the corner as if it didn't bear the strength to reach his eyes.
"So, are you sticking around? Or you want to take discharge if they offer it?"
"Do I seem fit for duty?"
"Honestly? I think you're the one who should be in here, because there's no way I look as fucked as you do."
He gave a small choke of a laugh, "Someone ought to get you a mirror... But, no. I mean, I don't know. I've just been back here a week – and I have to... I have some promises to keep. I'm going to need some time for that."
Marc studied the exaggerated slope of his shoulders, the way his gaze automatically dipped floorwards whenever he wasn't directly addressing Marc himself. It didn't take a shrink to see how thoroughly depressed Adam was. Worse, he seemed slightly bewildered, as if he didn't know quite where he was. Whether that was because they'd been away from Earth for so long, or because he didn't have Markham there to act as a buffer – or a mixture of both – was altogether less obvious. Perhaps it was just the seds they had him on.
"You going to see his family?" Marc asked, knowing he had to, if only to talk him out of unwise choices that could make sure the Corps used this to wave him off into the sunset for good.
For a long moment, Adam didn't say anything. He cracked the knuckles on his left hand and said simply, "Better than wasting time on mine."
If possible, Adam’s shoulders slumped even more at the mention of his family, and Marc winced slightly. "You think that’s wise?" he asked.
Adam raised his head and looked Marc straight in the eyes. "He asked me to," he told him, absentmindedly touching the breast pocket of his shirt, where a the corner of a well-worn piece of paper protruded slightly. Adam followed his gaze and tucked the letter deeper down into his pocket protectively.
"So," Marc started in an attempt to lighten the sombre mood, "When you getting out of here?"
"A couple of days," Adam told him. "I think they’re beginning to realise that I’m not about to jump in front of a train, so they’re discharging me on Tuesday."
"That's good. I'm pleased for you."
"I'm still based here. Until they decide what to do with me. I'll be over on the south residential section, I guess, seeing as I don't have a unit."
"You do have a unit. It's just in a different Galaxy."
Adam sighed and stood up. "I'd better get back before Nurse Philips figures I escaped."
"Tactical retreat?" Marc smirked.
"More like running like hell, Gunnery Sergeant," Adam answered, a ghost of a smile gracing his lips as he stood. He raised his hand in farewell, and was gone; slipping out the door with stealth that Marc’s drill-instructor would have been proud of.
Marc lay back on the bed, letting everything he had been told sink in. The city was safe – so far, and he had been in a coma for three weeks. Some of his people were dead, and he didn’t even know which ones... A hard knot settled in his stomach, one that wouldn’t go away until he spoke with Sheppard and got a list of the wounded, and dead.
If Sheppard was still alive, that is.
Driving down the narrow road to the Markhams' farm, every metre diced Adam's guts a little more. It was strange, how he knew the way having only been there once and not even driven himself that time. All he could think was – what if they blamed him as much as Adam blamed himself
? What if he got there and they told him to leave without even having time to say the things he needed to?
Several times he thought of turning back; of sending them a letter or making a phone call when he was far enough away that he could put the anger in their voices down to a long-distance line.
But he didn't. He pulled into the yard and walked up to the wooden porch. The same wooden porch where Jamie's grandmother had taken the photo of them both. For a moment, he closed his eyes behind his sunglasses, trying to deflect the cramping sensation in his stomach. He remembered the moment so well. Jamie was relaxed and content – being with his family seemed to ensure that.
Adam had barely raised his hand to knock on the door, when it opened wide to reveal Jamie's mother standing behind it. She had a dish towel in her hands and her hair was scraped back into a disorganised knot; she looked older than he remembered her – sadder.
Abruptly, he realised that if she had received his message at all, it could only have been in the past week or so. Once it had been decoded and censored, they wouldn't have been in a hurry to deliver it.
"Jimmy, I thought I heard a car, you’re home earl…" Lynn Markham trailed off when she saw who was standing there before her. She paled a little, and Adam winced. Not a good start.
"Mrs. Markham," he began nervously, "I… I wasn’t sure whether I should come or not. I mean, you probably just got the news about Jamie." He took a deep breath to steady himself before he continued. "But they just let me outta the hospital, and I... well, I thought I’d come down here to say how sorry I was..." His voice cracked when he said Jamie’s name and he was glad that he had his sunglasses on to hide the tears in his eyes.
Lynn started at him for a moment, then stepped out onto the porch and drew him into a tight hug, "Oh, Adam, sweetheart," she said, pulling back and laying a hand on his cheek. "Don’t you apologise. You lost him, too... And I thought I told you to call me Lynn."
In a moment, Adam's nerves faded and all he was left with was a deep, sad relief that he'd finally found someone who understood.
"You come on inside," she said, pulling him into the safety of her warm, comfortable home, "let me get you something."
Adam looked around the house that Jamie had spent his childhood in. Nothing had changed since he had been there a year before; nothing except the large, framed photograph of Jamie in full dress uniform that now stood in pride of place on the table in the living room.
Adam sat at the dinner table and watched as Lynn pottered around the kitchen making coffee. She was never still. She had developed a nervous habit of tapping her fingers on whatever surface she was near.
"So," she said as she sat down. "You said you were in hospital. How are you?"
"Surviving," Adam answered plainly.
Lynn smiled slightly. "Me too."
For a few unhappy moments silence rang out in the kitchen.
"Adam," she said eventually, reaching across the table to claps at his hand, "What happened to my baby?"
Adam opened his mouth a little, not sure where to begin, but she continued – swallowing with difficulty and struggling to maintain her composure, "Why won't they send my child home to me so I can bury him by his daddy?" He had to look away as a tear slipped down her face and she wiped it away with the back of her hand. He could feel his own throat tightening and no matter how hard he clenched his jaw he couldn't stop his lip quaking.
"It..." he began, swallowing, "it's because there wasn't – " It was no use. Before he could go any further, he let out a harsh, involuntary sob and tears were pouring down his cheeks so that he had to bury his face in his hands to hide it. Of course, it was a redundant motion because a moment later Lynn was on her feet, and wrapping her arms around him, crushing him against her t-shirt and making the soothing sounds of a parent comforting one of her own. Adam gave up all pretence and clung to her, burying his face in her stomach as he cried. A second later, he could feel the tremors of her own sobbing as she stroked his hair regardless.
"I'm so s-sorry I couldn't – " he choked out hopelessly, "I should have... I wasn't even l-looking! There was just... just...Fire. And just... little p-pieces..."He'd heard it in the control room, as he made his way in stunned silence, back to his quarters; Miller's voice telling the guy on the front desk: "Not enough left for a funeral between them."
"It was so sudden," he sobbed, tightening his grip on her waist. "I couldn’t stop it. I just looked up and they were gone. I watched him…"
All words escaped him and he clung even tighter. Lynn held on just as tight, the sound of her sobs mixing with his own.
He couldn't say how long they stayed that way, but the coffee was stone cold by the time he sat up properly, drying his eyes as the front door open and Jimmy walked in, Lucy-Louise in tow.
They looked surprised to see Adam sitting there, holding a cup of cold coffee; his eyes red and his skin pale.
"Adam!" Jimmy smiled as Adam stood to greet him. He ignored the hand Adam offered, and pulled him into a hug instead. After a moment's surprised hesitation, Adam hung on tightly until Lucy-Louise clamoured at him, declaring her turn was next. He crouched down to her level and she wrapped her arms around his neck - then refused to let go, so he was forced to pick her up and hold her on his hip as she snuggled into his shoulder.
"It’s good to see you, son," Jimmy told him gruffly, gripping his shoulder with a firm hand. "We didn’t think we’d see you again. How you holding up?"
All Adam could do was give him a strained smile and nod as Jimmy leaned over to kiss his wife hello. The level of love and support that he received from Jamie’s family was humbling. They were dealing with their own grief, but still, they welcomed him with open arms and made him wish all the harder that he’d had a family like this, growing up.
"Adam?" Lucy asked, gazing up at him with the huge round eyes that seemed so much more like Jamie's, now. "Why are you sad?"
He glanced at her parents, not sure what they had told her – although he remembered Jamie's insistence that they didn't lie to her, even as an eight year old. She must be nine – possibly even ten by now.
"Is it because Jammy's gone to Heaven?"
For a second, Adam's heart seemed to falter and he had to take a deep breath so as not to start crying in front of her. "Um hm."
She gave him a kiss on the cheek and clumsily petted his hair, "I was sad, too, but I'm going to Heaven, one day, and Jammy will show me around so I'll know where to go and it'll all be okay. Won't it, Momma?"
"Sure thing, sweetie," Lynn replied, tugging one of her pigtails and turning to pick up the coffee mugs from the table.
"Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll show you around too," Lucy told him, giving him another kiss on the cheek.
"I look forward to it," Adam told her honestly.
"Are you staying for dinner?" she asked. "Momma’s making lasagne, and she makes the best lasagne in the whole wide world."
"Yes, Adam, stay for dinner," Lynn said, smiling at him, and Adam just didn’t have it in him to refuse.
After they'd eaten, Lynn put Lucy to bed and the three of them settled on the porch. There was no TV, nothing for them to do but watch the stars prick out the sky one by one as the twilight faded; and talk, of course. He'd known they would want to know what happened to their son, if he could hold himself together long enough to explain it. He'd tried to find an excuse to explain the fact that Jamie had been flying the jumper, but it wasn't easy. He could have said a humvee, of course – some other armoured vehicle. But it just didn't give Jamie the honour he deserved for having the courage to take point on a mission like that when he was only capable of little more than milk runs.
And when they coaxed the conversation back towards what had caused Jamie's death, Adam realised he couldn't lie to them.
"I want to tell you something," he said, tentatively, wondering if the Government had bugged him in some way. "But if I do, you can never tell anybody else. Not even the rest of the family."
Lynn and Jimmy looked at each other, uneasy glances which hinted that their suspicions had already been confirmed. After brief hesitation, Jimmy said, "Go on."
Taking a deep, uneven breath, Adam began to explain; "Jamie and I... well, we couldn't be honest with you before. I know he wanted to be – for what it's worth, so did I – but there are some things we would have needed to explain that even we didn't understand, then. See, the thing is – we weren't just off in the Middle East or Korea fighting other people's battles... We weren't even on this planet."
He paused to allow the information to sink in. Jimmy looked slightly apprehensive, as if he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what was coming next; Lynn merely closed her eyes and covered her mouth.
"In the past decade or so, there's been a top security program running that involves technology so far advanced most of the scientists I know were just starting to figure it out... People are going to other planets... Jamie and I were part of the program – part of an expedition to learn about this technology and the people who created it... in a place called the Pegasus Galaxy. We spent the past year working off a floating city they think was behind the myth of Atlantis."
"You're kidding," Jimmy whispered.
"I wish I was..." If he was kidding, Jamie wouldn't be dead.
"But why was - ? How comes they wanted my Jammy out there? He was just a mechanic - !"
"No... no, he wasn't," Adam corrected, gently. "Jamie was one of a handful of people who have a kind of freak gene that links back to the people who made the Gates and – "
Adam sighed and rubbed his forehead – there was so much to explain. "The Gates are how we get there. They create a gateway through space to get to other parts of the Universe – y'know, I'm not a scientist, I'm just a marine... All I know is I got stuck in one once and I didn't like it. Jamie didn't either... had nightmares about it for a long time after.
"But, the fact is – because Jamie had the ATA – um, that's the gene I was talking about... some of you probably have it, too – because he had that, they taught him to fly these little space ships made to go through the Gate. We called them puddle jumpers, because the Gate looks like a giant ring of water standing on its side... I thought it was kind of pretty until the time one of the puddle jumpers trapped us in there..."
"Wait a second – was Jammy flying
"Yeah... He hated flying, but he didn't have a choice – our CO was hurt and he was the only one we had who really knew how to fly at all. On the way back through, one of the engines got all wedged and... But you know – that's beside the point. The fact is, Jamie was... he was flying one of the puddle jumpers, trying to protect the city from a Wraith dart – "
"A dart. There were aliens – it's such a long story... but they were attacking us – they did
attack us – in their hundreds – and we didn't think we were going to make it. But Jamie was flying the first jumper when the scout came and... I wanted to be with him, but Marc wouldn't let me. He knew about me and Jay and he... I didn't realise at the time, but he was trying to protect us... He's still in hospital. We didn't think he was going to make it, either... But when it happened, I was in the jumper right behind. We were flying almost blind – we couldn't see the damn thing anywhere – and then..." Adam turned away and looked out toward the distant ridge and the silhouette of its single tree, teetering on the edge, "He was just gone. All it took was one direct hit... Just one. Then there was nothing left – just fire, and smoke. And little pieces of jumper and – and... and things I don't want to even think about, hitting all over the front of the ship like fucking hail."
He didn't even notice the tears rolling down his face again until Lynn moved over to the wicker loveseat beside him, and gathered him up in another hug. Jimmy had stood up and wandered to the darker end of the porch, his hand in his hair.
Adam wiped the tears from his eyes and sat up. Lynn smiled at him a little shakily, stroking his fringe straight.
"So, my baby was in another galaxy with you, huh?"
"Yes, Ma’am," Adam mumbled.
"Well, then it's no wonder y'all never got my care packages," she laughed.
It felt strange, knocking on the door of his own apartment. Or, what had been his own apartment. He stood there, a confused and hurt while the chain rattled and the door creaked open. Maggie stood on the other side, the cordless phone held next to her ear. She dropped it in surprise when she saw who was there.
"Adam!" she squealed, launching herself into his arms. He held on tight, glad that at least one blood-relative was glad to see him. Maggie’s tears dampened his collar and she was babbling something into his shirt front as he edged them both inside and out of the hallway before Mrs. Clarkson next-door stuck her busy-body head out into the hall. He closed the door behind them, and gently pulled Maggie back so he could see her tear-streaked face. Her sobs had subsided into little hiccups and even they were fading fast.
"Hey, Maggie," he said softly.
"'Hey, Maggie'? 'Hey Maggie
'?" She smacked him on the side of the head.
"Ow!" Adam exclaimed, rubbing his temple. "What was that for?"
"That was for sending me a seventy-three word message goodbye. Jesus Adam, you were talking like you weren’t coming home. I thought you were dead!"
"I’m sorry, Mags," he said. "Really I am. At the time… well, there wasn’t much hope."
Maggie must have seen the bleak look in his eyes, because she just pulled him into a tight hug. As someone who had spent the majority of his life as an outsider, he wasn’t used to as much affection as he had received in the past few days, but he found himself grateful for the support.
Maggie leaned back and looked him straight in the eye. "This is going to need alcohol," she announced.
Adam looked around the apartment as Maggie went to dig out ‘the good stuff’, as she called it. It was so strange to see all her personal effects scattered about the place. While he had rented this place from his parents, it had been very bare. He had rarely spent time in it, and it had been very functional, Spartan even. He basically just used it as a place to store his things when he was away. But when he had gone through the Gate to Atlantis, and Maggie had taken over the lease, she had put her own stamp on it. The apartment was warm and bright, reflecting her personality. A giant sketchpad was set up on a table in the corner, and Adam caught glimpses of little drawings which would probably soon become one of Maggie’s spectacular paintings.
"How are you?" she asked when she returned with a full bottle of Sambucca and two novelty shot glasses.
"Hanging in there," Adam told her, accepting his glass with a small grimace. It was so like Maggie to have a cabinet full of girly drinks and cute glasses. She'd be making him play with her dolls' tea set if he wasn't careful.
"Athy, I am so sorry about Jamie," Maggie said, squeezing his hand. Adam felt himself tear up at her words, but refused to cry in front of her; she was his little sister. "What happened to you guys out there?" she asked once Adam’s breathing returned to normal.
"I can’t tell you details Maggie," he said softly. "It’s classified."
"But you can tell me something! Come on Adam, you look like shit, and it's more than losing Jamie. What happened?"
"We were on a base. There was an attack. The scout sent took out Jamie’s… humvee when he went out to intercept them. He died trying to save the rest of us."
"What happened after that?" Maggie asked, her voice hushed.
"There was a full-scale attack. A lot of people died. I got a pretty bad bang on the head. It put me in hospital for a few days."
Adam poured himself another glass of the peculiar aniseed syrup and tossed it back. Maggie looked at him in concern, and gently edged the bottle away from him. Adam wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it. If he hadn’t shot himself/slashed his wrists/hanged himself, he certainly wasn’t going to drink himself into a regular stupor.
Silence reigned between them for a moment while Maggie processed what Adam had said.
"I drove by Mom and Dad’s house," he told her quietly, and she winced. He sat in his rented car in front of the house he grew up in, and had just known that something was up. For one thing, there was a station wagon in the drive, and Adam knew his father would rather eat his own nine-iron than drive a station wagon. Also, the few scattered toys and two young boys playing in the front yard clued him in.
His parents didn’t live there any more.
They had moved, and hadn’t told him. They hadn't even left a forwarding address.
As if to taunt him, a young woman opened the door of the house and called the two boys in for dinner. Their peals of laughter rang in his ears as they played tag around the garden, and his heart squeezed as the mother hugged each of her children when they entered their home.
It had made him think of the few days he had spent on the Markham farm, and his heart ached for the life he should have had but never did. He had never lived in a house where he was considered as special as his siblings. It just didn't seem fair.
And now, his parents had moved. He had stored his boxes of stuff in the garage before he went away, and he highly doubted that they took it with him. There were some things he wanted from his boxes; some things that reminded him of Jamie, and he needed them back. That was in part what had driven him to Maggie’s door and the uncomfortable silence he now found himself in.
"They said the house was too big, since I left," Maggie told him, swirling the dregs of liquid in her glass. "They bought a place down in Florida. Mom can get her tan and Dad can have his fucking golf."
"Well, it's about time the old bastards retired."
"I'll drink to that," she agreed, laughing and raising her glass.
Adam realised, suddenly, that something was different about her. He reached out and tugged at one of her shoulder-length curls of dark, red-brown hair; "You stopped chewing."
She smiled at him and said wryly, "Isn't that odd?"
"You've been doing it since you were three, Maggie..."
"Well, this is the first time since I was three that I haven't had Mom telling me not to."
He gave a small laugh and bumped his fist affectionately against her shoulder.
"You know, I kept as many boxes as I could when they sold up. I hope I picked the right ones..."
Adam gazed at her, is mouth falling open in amazement; "You kept my stuff? Really?"
"Hey – not all of it. I just picked the ones that had the big asterisks on the corner. I mean, the apartment's not big... Actually," she paused and scratched at her lip, as if she wasn't sure she should tell him, "Peter has some of them. He put them in the attic at his place. I think he'd like to see you, while you're here."
Adam bristled at the mention of his older brother’s name. Peter had always been the favourite son, the Golden Child. They had never been close despite the fact that there were only a few years between them. They were as different as chalk and cheese and Adam could not get over the fact that he never even raised his voice in defence of Adam the last time he had seen his family. He had just sat there, staring at his plate and shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
"Look, he feels terrible about what Mon and Dad did to you, and that he didn’t stand up for you."
"I’m sure he does," Adam muttered sarcastically.
"Well," he said slowly, "Let's check which boxes of mine you have here and then we’ll see about visiting him."
Maggie looked at him sadly, but didn't push the issue.
"They’re in the hall closet," she told him, standing up. Adam also stood, draining another shot of the Sambucca before following her. He hefted the boxes out of the cupboard one by one, and laid them on the floor, smiling in relief when he saw the last box labelled with a double asterisk. It was the one he was looking for.
Maggie left him, silently closing the door as Adam sat on the floor and pulled open the box. Inside were several smaller boxes, each containing their own specific set of memories. He pulled out the first and opened it, lifting out a set of old pictures and mementoes from his childhood; photos of him looking uncomfortable in the middle of his classmates, and the school chess club. There were several certificates from the chess club as well as other trinkets from his youth before he joined the Corps.
He picked up the large envelope marked 'certificates' and flinched at what he found immediately underneath.
Adam’s hand trembled slightly as he reached out to touch the picture. He and Carl stood in front of a dirty humvee parked on the side of a muddy forest road. They were leaning casually against the vehicle, grinning at the camera. Adam remembered when Brennan had taken that shot. They were stationed in Serbia at the time. It had been their first posting after boot and Adam had been relieved to find Carl still in his unit. The two had formed a close bond over their time in training, and, though Adam would never admit it, having Carl there had given him a sense of safety that he otherwise would not have felt.
Adam hadn't even known who Carl was when he'd heard about him being attacked by the other guys in his barrack. He had a vague idea that there was a
Pvt. Tucker in his unit, but he couldn't have picked him out of a line up if you stuck him with Johnson, Wokeman or Curdy. And he hadn't expected him to be the sort of guy who'd bounce back from it and put it down to life experience. If it had been Adam whose nose they'd broken and left concussed and bruised, he would have been out of the Corps quicker than you could say 'queerbashed'.
It was strange, how young they looked. Probably nineteen – maybe twenty in Carl's case – every inch the middle-class white boys on an adventure. Carl never took what they did seriously; he got through the whole first month without firing a single bullet. He was smarter than most of the other boys in their platoon and could talk them in circles until they threatened violence – only occasionally with any actual malice. Everyone had their role, and Carl's was the smart-ass could've-been college boy who dropped out because he didn't need any qualifications to join his daddy's business when he got bored of the military. He and Anna were spoiled, but not bad people for it. Adam's own parents were tight-fisted, calling it discipline.
In the picture, Adam had his kevlar helmet in his hand – it looked as though he'd taken it off to rub his hair or wipe his forehead; he was a tiny bit sunburned. Carl has his helmet tilted right back so some of his dark hair was just visible beneath it. He was unscrewing the lid of his flask and either winking or squinting in the sunlight. Adam would have put money on winking. He was always smirking or winking or goosing people. He liked to think he was suave – a little like an old-fashioned film star; a ladies' man.
In truth, if they hadn't known he was engaged, Adam probably would have pinned him for a queer as well.
If Carl had been on the fence about his sexuality, then the next picture Adam found would have definitely given him pause for thought. They were in the middle of a group of men, all of them pointing and laughing and several of them were holding up drinks. Carl looked very macho with a pink feather boa around his neck, but since that was his bachelor party, he was lucky he got away with just that. They had been laughing at the camera, but just before Carl’s school friend Phil took the photo, Carl had grabbed Adam and kissed him. Carl's lips were smashed against Adam’s cheek and Adam’s face was a picture of shock. Of course, once the photo was taken, Carl had pulled away laughing, and Adam had made sure to make the all appropriate ‘I’m-Straight-So-Yuck’ noises.The rest of the crowd laughed and jeered after Carl pulled away, but then a pretty blonde walked by and distracted most of them. All except Adam and Carl. Adam watched Carl as he sat there with a silly smile on his face.
"I’m getting married in four days," Carl beamed at him, and Adam’s heart twisted in his chest. He tried to block Carl's voice out as he continued – telling Adam for the five-hundredth time how much he loved his fiancée; and in particular, which parts. In minute detail.
Later, as Adam dragged Carl’s heavily inebriated ass back to his hotel room, he felt a hand where it really shouldn’t be. It wasn't as if they didn't joke around with the rest of the guys; as if over-familiarity wasn't common place among them – but even if Adam had few objections, he had no choice but to protest.
"Get your hand off my ass, Tucker," he growled good-naturedly. "Or I'll be forced to remove it for you."
"Oh, big threat Mr. Scary-Marine," Carl snorted drunkenly. "Like I didn’t kick your ass in hand-to-hand every day in basic."
"All that alcohol must have clouded your memory," Adam laughed as he started hauling Carl up the stairs, "'Cause I seem to remember handing you your ass on a plate several times."
"Ha -!" Carl began, but his foot caught on one of the steps and he went down, dragging Adam with him. They landed in a heap, Adam beneath Carl who, for a guy that wasn’t overly bulky, weighed a ton.
"Get off," Adam laughed up him, but Carl didn’t laugh back. He was staring down at Adam with a strange intensity, an undecided look on his face. "Tuck?"
Carl bit his lip, then suddenly ducked his head and kissed him square on the mouth.
Adam froze in shock as Carl’s warm lips pressed against his own, torn between wanting to respond and the crippling fear of alienating the person he was closest to; but all too soon, the decision was made for him.
"Wha… What was that for?" Adam asked, clearing his throat as Carl pulled away.
"I dunno," he shrugged, winking, "I guess that I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like to kiss a guy and this is the last chance I get before I get married."
"Thanks for the warning."
"Well, you’re my best friend. I figured you were less likely to deck me or throw me down the stairs for doing it," he grinned. "And hey – if I'd warned you, would you have let me do it?"
Adam rolled his eyes to hide his reaction. "Come on, lets get you to bed before you decide you always wanted to puke up all over a guy before your wedding too,"
"Aw, Stack, as if I’d do that to you," Carl grinned drunkenly, pinching his cheek. "I’m saving that for DI Carter."
And four days later, Adam had handed over the wedding rings, watched him kiss the bride, made his speech about the time they'd stopped in that bar where there seemed to be strangely few women; he'd even made out with the bridesmaid. And hadn't that been a slippery slope?
Adam took a deep breath and released it in a wistful sigh. He missed Carl so much; more than he realised, most of the time. He'd never had another friend as close as he was to the Portland boy who had taken the beating that should probably have come to Adam himself. There were some things that even Jamie had never understood – things he and Adam had never been able to bond over – the way Carl had.
But then, Carl wasn't Jamie, either.
And in part, if he was honest with himself, that was why he was here. To rediscover the way he'd felt when he'd lost Carl, in the hope that if he could just remember how that had hurt and how he'd managed; then maybe he'd also be able to work out how the hell he should deal with losing the most important person in his life. A second time.
Of course, the first time, he'd turned to Anna. She'd lost the brother she adored, so she understood, to an extent. And she'd loved Adam and taken him on as her little distraction project; pulled his head against her chest and soothed him during long nights 'talking' in her parents' den, when very little was said - at first because they were too busy crying, and eventually because there was nothing left to say.
He doubted she would have been so prepared to let him treat her like a comfort blanket if she had known the truth.
And there was no Anna, now.
Before he had decided that he wanted to be a Marine, Adam had dreamed of travelling the country; the world even. Just him, a backpack and the open road. He gave up that dream and that sense of freedom the day he joined the Corps, and he never looked back. He loved this life.
Still, there was a big difference between being an idealistic young eighteen year old with no ties or responsibilities, and being a full-grown man running from his pain.
Adam dropped his duffel bag on the floor of his motel room and stretched, his back creaking from his seven hour journey. He had rented a car, and just driven. He didn’t care where he went or who or what he saw. He just needed to escape, even for a little while.
He found it hard everywhere he went. He just couldn’t settle in one place for more than two nights. Everything seemed so strange. Streets were more crowded, there were shopping malls and cars, and people. Lots and lots of people. The gravity felt a little heavier and he hadn’t realised how much he liked the slightly lesser gravitational pull that put a spring in his step back on Atlantis.
He dropped back onto the double bed and stretched out, trying to get comfortable. Even though he had all that back pay built up, and was technically still getting paid for this leave, Adam preferred to stay in the smaller motel rather than bigger hotels. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, and if he decided not to go back to Atlantis, who knew how long that money would have to last for? The Powers That Be may be willing to let him return to Pegasus, despite the public announcement (literally) that he was gay, but he didn’t think they’d have much tolerance for a queer in the military on Earth.
Besides, after spending the better part of a year fighting aliens intent on eating him, he just couldn’t bring himself to kill another human from Earth over politics and religion.
He reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulled out his dog tags; the ones with his and Jamie’s plates on the same chain. He put them on the bedside locker, then pulled a stack of photos out of the pocket of his duffel. He shifted through them until he found the one he wanted.
It was The Photo. The one Jamie’s grandmother had taken of them on the porch, and the one Adam thought he’d never see again."Adam, honey, I've got something I want you to take," Lynn told him when he came down to the kitchen, his bag in one hand, Lucy-Louise hanging off his hip. He had stayed with the Markhams for five days, and now, it was time to go home, maybe see his parents and brother. Definitely his sister, like Jamie wanted.
Lynn handed him a small stack of photographs and Adam shifted Lucy more comfortably on his hip so he could look through them. She had been by Adam’s side almost all her waking hours, and Adam found strange comfort in her presence and her childlike insistence that ‘Jammy's gone to heaven'.
He smiled slightly at some of the pictures; images of a chubby, laughing baby, and an adorable toddler; self-conscious teenage pictures and several of adult Jamie that made Adam proud to have known and loved him. The last one caught his breath, simply because it had been so unexpected. He and Jamie were reclining on the porch, comfortable and obviously a couple. They hadn’t been aware that Jamie’s grandmother was taking it, and they looked relaxed and happy. He had thought he’d never see it again. The original had been in Jamie’s vest pocket when his jumper blew; but the negatives weren't.
"You are always welcome here," Lynn told him, seeing the look in Adam's eyes. "Don’t ever be afraid to come back."
Adam smiled, and reverently put the photographs in the top of his duffel.
He wished that he had had a chance to explore more of Jamie's past with him. A week running around with the kids and spending evenings with his parents, a long year before, hadn't given him the time he should have had to get to know the little boy in the pictures. While Jamie had always been willing to talk about his family, he had almost stopped after he'd met Adam's own parents. It was as if he didn't want to rub salt in old wounds.
That was so like Jamie. For all the naïveté and innocence he could display one moment, he could be so compassionate and mature, the next. And wildly mischievous and improper moments later.
Adam rolled onto is side, nuzzling into the pillow. He remembered that mischievousness and the devious ways that Jamie would seek his attention – get him to do exactly what he wanted – as clearly as he could recall the corona of fire where the puddle jumper had been.Jamie's skin was always warm; always felt like it was a couple of degrees above normal body temperature. But even in the balmy September night, Adam wouldn't push him away when he curled up against Adam's back. He just smiled against the motel linen as he felt the familiar sensation of a single press of lips to the nape of his neck before Jamie snuggled down, all wrapped around him, and pretended he wanted to sleep. It was reverse psychology. Adam could never resist turning over and wrapping his own arms around him, smoothing his fingertips down the warm curve of his spine. He couldn't stop himself, even when he was tired from driving for hours and wanted nothing more than to drift off to sleep; even though he knew that Jamie would never let him stop at an innocent goodnight kiss.
And as he drifted into an exhausted slumber, Adam could recall the feeling of Jamie snuggled beside him just enough to fall into the first full-night's sleep he'd had in weeks.