"Ten minutes until the ZedPm reaches critical mass," Rodney stated ominously and looked to Elizabeth, knowing it was time to leave for when the ZedPM overloaded it would probably take out most of the planet with it. If they did not reach a safe distance before then, the shock wave would kill them all.
Through his headset he could hear all the chatter as the Puddlejumpers took off, aware that only two remained in the hangar above the gate room. One was being loaded with the remaining Athosians from some voodoo death rite that had brought Carson's panic stricken voice floating through the ether, while the other waited for the final members of the expedition.
Although the Daedalus was still in orbit, her decks were filled to capacity, holding as many people as possible for the short trip to the planet out on the edge of the solar system where he and John had faced down a Super Wraith. The ship's complement was restricted by the amount of air circulating through it and it had room for only one more passenger. Rodney could not help smarting at the poor planning for it would have made far more sense to send out the Puddlejumpers earlier and leave the stragglers and others like himself, who had needed to be here until the last moment, the places onboard the Daedalus. Certainly, with only minutes to spare, it seemed better to have them snatched up by the Asgard beam rather than racing for the Puddlejumper in the last minutes and suffering the terror of that final countdown, wondering if they would clear the planet before it went kaboom.
However, the Daedalus was Caldwell's ship and this was the pathetic excuse for an evacuation plan that he had come up with, refusing to accept any advice from others.
As much as he disliked the idea of a fifteen hour journey in a crowded Puddlejumper, having made that return journey twice already, Rodney had already decided that Elizabeth should have that last place onboard the Daedalus. His official reasoning for giving up what should have been his place was that she did not have the ATA gene whereas he could take over some of the piloting, giving John a chance to rest during the long journey. Unofficially, Rodney hated the idea of leaving John's side, fully aware that he was carrying the biggest crush ever on the military head of Atlantis even if no one else had a clue.
Hopefully no one else has a clue, he thought fervently as his mind multi-tasked through all the other problems.
He had spent years perfecting the cloak shrouding his bisexuality, using his supposed infatuation with Samantha Carter as a means of distracting everyone from the truth. Of course it helped that he did find Sam beautiful and smart and sexy - he was bisexual after all - but if everyone believed that he had a taste only for the beautiful, intelligent blond women of the universe then that left him free to lust after the raven-haired and equally beautiful John Sheppard without fear of discovery. At least, that was the theory but he still worried that he would slip one of these days and reveal how much he cared for John, and that thought often distracted him at inappropriate times, especially under threat of impending death.
He leaned over the laptop, his fingers flying over the keyboard, determined to work until dragged away kicking and screaming, in the vain hope of gaining another one of Sheppard's Hail Mary's and cracking the code at the last second but Elizabeth called to him. They had run out of time. He straightened and took a step away but froze in place.
Talking of beautiful blonds, he thought, and he frowned as Cadman approached rapidly, seeing the tension in her smaller frame.
"I've found something," she stated but Rodney knew that unless she had found the access code then it was too little, too late. He opened his mouth to say as much but the light of an Asgard transporter beam swept over her, and then she was gone, leaving Rodney staring into the empty space. Beside him, he heard Elizabeth contacting the Daedalus on an open channel, listening as the response came through on his radio too.
"Dr. Weir, we have Lieutenant Cadman onboard and are preparing to leave. Caldwell out."
Elizabeth raised both eyebrows, realizing that she would have no choice now but to head to the Puddlejumper with Rodney. He glanced at his wristwatch and pressed his lips together tightly; they had only eight minutes left.
"We have to go now." He turned, snapping his fingers at the single remaining control person. "You, head to the Jumper bay. Elizabeth?"
She nodded tightly and turned away, taking a last long glance around the gate room before striding towards the stairs leading up to the Jumper bay where John should already be prepping the Puddlejumper. Rodney grabbed his laptop, disconnecting the cables, and followed her but the sound of pounding feet made him pause. He glanced over his shoulder only to turn sharply when he saw John racing up the stairs from the gate room floor, flanked by Ronon who had an unconscious Kavanagh slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
"Who's prepping the 'jumper?"
"Lorne! Get going, Rodney!"
Rodney felt the heat of John's hand branding his back as John pushed him onwards and upwards. Together, they dashed across the floor of the Jumper Bay towards the one remaining Puddlejumper, momentarily caught by the sight of another lifting upwards and darting off as soon as it cleared the ceiling.
"Dr. McKay!" Teyla called to him from the ramp and the sight of her in a long, flowing turquoise dress made him falter again until another shove on his back had him moving forward once more.
John raced ahead of him, aiming for the cockpit where Lorne was readying for take-off and Rodney stumbled after him, holding onto the back of the co-pilot seat as the ramp closed, sealing the occupants inside. The inertial dampeners ensured a smooth ride as the jumper rose towards daylight.
"What the... ?" John exclaimed as the ceiling began to close above them, trapping them within the city.
"No, no, no, no, no. This can't be happening!" Rodney raced to the back of the jumper and pulled down the control panel, swiftly checking through the crystals that controlled access to and from the Jumper bay via the roof but it seemed that Atlantis was overriding the controls. He flicked a glance at his wristwatch: five minutes and 20 seconds remained before a catastrophic overload of the ZedPM vaporized them along with half the planet.
"This is not my fault!" Frantically, he opened the floor of the Jumper bay instead, realizing that he could do nothing from inside the Puddlejumper. "Head into the gate room... and lower the back. I need to get to the main computer console now."
Lorne did as he was ordered and Rodney took a single deep breath before running and jumping from the end of the ramp, landing without grace, his left ankle twisting under him. Refusing to admit to the pain, he dragged himself to his feet and hobbled to the control console, and froze. The inertial dampeners for the star drive had switched off and the fail-safe for the city had been re-enabled.
"Wait. This can't be right." Someone had entered the access code, releasing control of the city's computer.
"I assure you it is, doctor."
Rodney twisted at the strangely familiar and yet slightly booming voice, and came face to face with Caldwell. "Colonel?"
Caldwell's eyes flashed gold as an evil leer spread across his thin lips; Rodney stepped back in horror, stopping only when he felt the hard metal of the railing press against his spine. Gun shots came from over his shoulder and Rodney ducked, hands over his head, as the bullets bounced harmlessly off a Goa'uld personal shield. Caldwell laughed and strode forward, grabbing Rodney by the back of the neck and pulling him into the line of fire. He backed off several feet, holding Rodney like a body shield, with one strong hand at his throat while his other arm wrapped around Rodney's waist. Rodney could feel the heat and firm muscle of Caldwell's chest and abdomen pressed against the length of his back and he could feel the hardness of an erection digging into the valley between his asscheeks, only now aware of how excited Caldwell appeared to be.
"Put down your weapons or I will break his neck."
Rodney half-gasped, half-choked as Caldwell's grip changed slightly, with one large hand wrapping across his windpipe and tightening a fraction too much for comfort. He grabbed at the hand but Caldwell was far stronger than him even without the Goa'uld parasite inside him, leaving Rodney no choice but to stop struggling and hope Caldwell did not tighten his grip further. His eyes met John's, easily reading the frustration and concern as John made the only decision available to him. He conceded to Caldwell's demands, his gun clattering to the ramp floor at his feet.
"And the others."
"Ronon?" John's voice held a warning tone and Rodney could only watch through a film of tears, wrenched from him by the pain and lack of oxygen, as Ronon cursed under his breath and dropped his blaster. Other weapons followed.
"Dr. Weir. Pick up the weapons and drop them onto the balcony. Now."
Rodney coughed as the grip tightened a fraction before loosening slightly, her eyes widening in fear as she stared straight into Rodney's eyes. She bent quickly to the task, dropping all the guns onto the floor between them, out of reach of anyone except Rodney and Caldwell, though he doubted Caldwell was going to allow him close to any of them.
"Tell Major Lorne to set the jumper down on the gate room floor and then I want all of you to remain inside... except for Dr. Weir."
Black spots were dancing before his eyes now as Rodney tried to draw breaths that were too shallow to fill his lungs with the oxygen he craved. His vision was blurring as Caldwell forced him to take several steps forward until he was mashed up against the railing, caught between the metal and Caldwell's now stronger-than-human body. Rodney could hear the sound of voices as Elizabeth and John pleaded with Caldwell to let him go but he could no longer make out the meaning only the tone, the words lost within the rush of his blood crashing through him as the sound of his erratic heartbeat filled his ears.
The pressure eased suddenly and Rodney fell to his knees gasping, sucking in air greedily as his hands moved to his abused throat. He startled when he felt a hand wrap around his arm, dragging him back across the control room floor to the main console. Caldwell let go of him and he crashed to the floor, crying out when a boot connected with his ribs as Caldwell ordered him back on his feet.
"Determine the position of the Wraith cruisers, doctor."
Rodney hobbled a few steps, favoring his ribs and the ankle he had twisted, and slumped into the seat in front of the main computer console. He ran his hands over the control crystals, glancing over his shoulder at the main screen as it revealed the fire fight going on above Atlantis.
"The Daedalus!" he croaked.
Lt. Colonel Paul Grant looked around at the slightly shocked faces of his crew. Over the headset he could hear Lt. Cadman demanding to be sent back immediately, yelling that she had important information concerning The Trust operative who had infiltrated Atlantis and set up the series of events leading towards its destruction.
They were supposed to have picked up Dr. Weir with the intention of getting her to the rendezvous planet quickly so she could begin the necessary preparations for setting up a temporary encampment but the Colonel had insisted on the last minute change. However, no one had expected Caldwell to order Hermiod to beam him down into Atlantis with only minutes to spare before the catastrophic overload of the ZPM. The action seemed nonsensical, but Grant truly believed Caldwell had his reasons for wanting to speak to Weir and McKay in private, speculating that it had to have something to do with the traitor in their midst. Perhaps Dr. McKay was the traitor. Certainly he had the technical knowledge and the time and means to sabotage the Atlantis operating system. Plus it seemed highly suspicious that all this should happen while the only other scientist who was smart enough to outwit the Trust operative was stuck off-world.
As the few remaining minutes began to tick by with no request for a beam-up, Grant started to feel even more nervous.
Two Wraith cruisers were now circling the planet and the Daedalus was hidden from them only as long as it remained hovering within the city's cloak but time was running out fast. He tried to contact Caldwell again but gained no answer.
"Hermiod, can you distinguish Colonel Caldwell's life sign on Atlantis?"
"I am registering multiple life signs in the gate room area. Determining which of these is Colonel Caldwell will not be possible without further calibration, of which there is no time. ZedPM overload in one minute and forty-three seconds."
With no idea what was going on down on Atlantis, Grant had no choice but to consider the people crammed onto the Daedalus and he assumed command. They had to leave immediately or risk being caught in the massive explosion, even if that action revealed their presence to the Wraith cruisers. As it was, he had to hope he could take the Wraith by surprise and then outrun them because he was in no position to stand and fight. It also made the original plan of jumping only to the edge of the solar system out of the question because, unlike the Puddlejumpers, the Daedalus did not possess cloaking technology and would be picked up by the Wraith as soon as they left hyperspace if they stayed within range.
Grant considered leaving the Atlantean solar system behind altogether and heading straight for the closest world with a Stargate instead, hoping it would be more hospitable but he was not certain if the air supply would last that long, not with so many people breathing it. Needing information fast, he keyed his headset.
"Hermiod? How long will the oxygen supply last with the current complement of personnel?"
"Four hours and twenty-three minutes approximately."
"How far to the nearest planet with a Stargate, at best possible speed?"
"Planet designation MZ-3QM is three hours and forty-four seconds away at maximum speed."
It was tight but doable. He could offload all the passengers on a more hospitable world and return to the rendezvous planet with a skeleton crew, pick up more of the civilians and ferry them to this, hopefully, far safer world. It had to be better for them until a proper rescue could be coordinated from Earth for at least they would have the Stargate if they needed to make another fast evacuation.
With the decision made, he settled into the command chair.
"On my mark, break orbit and prepare to make the jump to hyperspace, heading 037 mark 4."
Kleinman gave him a questioning glance because the heading would take them away from both their original destination, which was the outermost planet in the solar system, and the closest Stargate world, but that was intentional. They could not afford the Wraith turning their attention in either of those directions in case they picked up the cloaked fleet of Puddlejumpers or figured out where the Daedalus would be heading.
"Aye, aye, sir."
Knowing there was little time remaining, Grant watched the screen, white knuckled, trying to determine the best moment to make the break. Momentarily, the Wraith cruisers disappeared over the horizon and Grant knew he would have no better opportunity.
He felt the burn of the engines vibrating through the floor as the Daedalus lifted at a steep angle, hoping to conceal where it had appeared from in case the Wraith should extrapolate backwards and find Atlantis before the last Puddlejumper had made its escape. The Wraith cruisers turned immediately and shouts came from all over the ship as it was rocked by Wraith fire power almost as soon as they left the protection of the Atlantis cloak.
"Shields are failing!"
"Communication's array has taken a direct hit."
"Fore and aft shields down to twenty percent. We have a breach on deck four, venting atmosphere."
"Seal it. Prepare to fire on my mark," Grant yelled even though he knew his people would have acted immediately, closing all the bulkheads to preserve vital oxygen. This couldn't be happening. The Daedalus was built to withstand far greater bombardment than this. Hell, he had been onboard during the siege of Atlantis when they had ambushed the twelve hive ships and run the gauntlet between more than two cruisers. "Fire!"
Four missiles blazed across the darkness of space, each one finding their target and flaring brightly against the shields of the attacking Wraith, buying the Daedalus precious seconds.
"Kleinman, get us out of here," he yelled over the sound of screaming metal, knowing from Novak that their shields were failing fast under the Wraith bombardment, and he had responsibility for more than just the crew of the Daedalus. Over one hundred civilians had been brought onboard for the short hop to the outer planet, where there was even less of a guarantee that they would be safe now with two Wraith cruisers close by. He saw Kleinman struggling with the controls.
"Make the jump, lieutenant!" he ordered and gritted his teeth as the hyperspace window formed; only letting out the breath when they were safe. The short hop should have taken only seconds but Kleinman kept the ship traveling as ordered, aware that they needed to draw the Wraith away from the Atlantean solar system to give the more vulnerable Puddlejumpers a chance to escape detection.
"We'll stay in hyperspace for at least another thirty minutes and then drop out on my mark."
Grant touched his radio. "Hermiod. What the hell happened with the shields?"
"I am investigating the problem."
Grant seethed but knew he would not get any more from Hermiod until that investigation was complete. Instead, he asked another pressing question. "Can we still make it to MZ-3QM?"
"Oxygen will reach critical depletion level in two hours and fifty-three seconds."
"Damn," he cursed softly, knowing they had no option but to head back to the outer planet once they could determine it was safe as going to MZ-3QM was out of the question. He opened his mouth to inform the flight crew but Cadman stormed onto the bridge at that moment with her hand resting on her sidearm, her eyes glittery and hard, going straight to Grant in the command chair; she froze in confusion.
"Where's Colonel Caldwell, sir?"
"He beamed down just after you beamed up."
"Lieutenant," he admonished.
"Sir, I found two deletion points in the system command logs on Atlantis, set several weeks apart using Colonel Caldwell's ID. Sir, he was the operative."
"Caldwell was working for The Trust."
Grant held back a curse of his own.
Even though he didn't know Caldwell all that well, having been promoted to the Daedalus following the destruction of his former ship, the Prometheus, Caldwell had seemed different over the past few months; less sociable, more arrogant and supercilious, and yet Grant couldn't imagine him working for The Trust willingly. He could only assume that Caldwell must have been brainwashed, and now he was on Atlantis with the access code needed to override the operating system. It was too late to go back though. They were already out of range and they could not afford to turn around while those two Wraith cruisers were orbiting the planet.
He released the curse under his breath and stared into the view screen. There was nothing he could do now except protect the civilians under his command and hope Colonel Sheppard could figure a way out of this.
Caldwell's ship ran the gauntlet between the two cruisers while Rodney watched on the main screen. Its shields took multiple impacts as it broke orbit and Rodney could see that they were already down to twenty percent. A few more hits and it would all be over, all of those people dead; Daedalus crew, Athosians and Atlanteans. Even as he thought of the weapons chair, he knew he could never reach it in time and it would do little good anyhow as the Daedalus had brought only a few dozen drones to Atlantis from the Ancient outpost. What was left would remain in Antarctica to protect the Earth.
A hyperspace window opened and Rodney quietly sobbed his relief when the Daedalus made the jump. The Ancient technology tracked it as it avoided the only other inhabitable planet, set at the edge of the solar system. He realized this was most likely intentional, with the Daedalus not wanting to lead the cruisers to the slower moving and cloaked Puddlejumpers that were making their way there too. Unexpectedly, the Wraith cruisers aborted any attempt to follow and returned to a high orbit around the planet, no doubt wondering why they had not registered the Daedalus on their monitors until she made good on her escape.
Rodney could not resist the very human urge to look up as the cruisers past overhead, even though he would not be able to see them through the city walls but just knowing they were there, circling like hungry sharks that had scented blood in the water, was enough to make him whimper softly through his abused throat. Only then did he recall Caldwell. Rodney looked around, spotting him by the balcony overlooking the gate room with Ronon's blaster in his hand, aimed at the floor below.
Caught between two fears - Caldwell and the Wraith - Rodney turned his attention back to the screens and saw the cruisers hovering over the distress beacon that John had planted on the shore of the mainland amid charred debris; a decoy meant to fool the Wraith that what they had picked up was merely wreckage from the destroyed city. He turned back when he heard Elizabeth's voice filtering up from below.
"Colonel, if the Wraith should discover the city then..."
Rodney tried to yell out that this was not Colonel Caldwell but he could barely rasp out the words. Instead he heard Caldwell's mocking laughter.
"The Wraith will have found the false distress beacon by now. They will assume that the Daedalus had lain hidden on this world with the survivors from the destroyed city and will be plotting their trajectory, trying to work out where they will drop out of hyperspace." His thin lips curled into a sneer. "They will leave here soon, still convinced that the city lies in pieces on the bottom of the ocean, and then Dr. McKay will exchange the cloak for the shield. In the meantime, I want everyone in the jumper to step outside, one at a time, and stand to the left of the gate room." A moment of silence followed and Rodney could only guess that John and the others were complying with the order.
"Not you, Dr. Weir. Remain where you are."
Rodney staggered towards the balcony railing, using the consoles for balance and staying well out of Caldwell's reach. He looked down and saw Elizabeth staring back up at him, wide-eyed with concern as he slumped against the railing. John emerged and Rodney tried to croak out a warning, looking around frantically for something he could use as a weapon but he could think of nothing that would penetrate the Goa'uld personal shield. He could only watch as John was herded with Teyla, Ronon, Beckett and the others into one corner of the gate room. His eyes caught and held John's, almost seeing the worry written in them and, for one precious moment, he believed that this concern was solely for him. As his eyes flickered closed, he thought he saw John take a single step towards him.
"Our Goa'uld scientists discovered one other function within the gate room that seems to have escaped your notice, Dr. McKay." Caldwell pressed a few crystals on the security console and Rodney could only stare in shock as a force-field rose around the small group from the Puddlejumper, trapping John and the others inside.
"Doctor, continue to monitor the Wraith or we will all die."
Reluctantly, Rodney did as he was commanded, but he was fully aware that he really had no choice while he was incapacitated and the others incarcerated. He would simply have to bide his time and hope for a better chance to stop Caldwell. He must have missed more of the exchange because Elizabeth appeared on the top step, standing tall and proud, trying to show no fear even as her eyes scanned over Rodney to check for other injuries. He saw her lips tighten in anger, aware that he probably had a few nasty bruises coloring his throat by now.
"Are you okay, Rodney?"
He coughed softly and nodded. "Eliz..." He coughed again, looking up in time to see Caldwell step towards him, annoyance tightening the Colonel's features. The backhanded blow sent him flying and then crashing down against a console. Rodney cried out weakly as he felt several ribs take the brunt of the fall, not certain if he heard them crack. It reminded him vividly of that terrible moment when the Super Wraith had backhanded John, sending him twisting through the air, except John had landed on the hot sand and not against a hard console.
"Rodney!" Elizabeth took several fast steps towards him but she stopped abruptly as Caldwell turned to her, taking a sharp inward breath as Rodney caught a flash of gold from Caldwell's eyes. He almost chuckled because he had gained this blow as he attempted to warn her that Caldwell was not who he claimed to be and now Caldwell had revealed his secret, as if the Goa'uld personal shield was not enough evidence already.
Elizabeth straightened. "Who are you?"
"I am Belatucadros, sub-lieutenant to my Lord Camulus, who will be most pleased that I have saved the city of Atlantis for him."
"Camulus." Her voice was tense, as if she had prior knowledge of the Goa'uld claiming to be the Celtic god of war and it then struck Rodney that she would have been in charge of the SGC when several of the System Lords sought to make an alliance with Earth in the fight against a stronger and more deadly foe, Ba'al. Camulus had been among them and, if Rodney recalled correctly, the so-called god had requested asylum after Ba'al defeated his entire fleet, only to be betrayed later by O'Neill.
This was not good, he thought miserably. This was not good at all, and Elizabeth's expression confirmed his worst fears.
John lightly touched the force-field and cursed as a bolt of pain shot up his arm. He snatched his fingers back and rubbed them vigorously, never taking his eyes off the control room where he could see Elizabeth but not Caldwell or Rodney. With each passing minute, his fears rose exponentially for he had heard something that sounded unmistakably like flesh hitting flesh followed by a crash of a body and a cry of pain. As Elizabeth was standing motionless, her slim frame tense with anger and concern, that meant that the person taking the blow had to be Rodney. John paced back and forth like a caged lion, recalling the red face and blue tinged lips as Caldwell held Rodney's throat in a tight grip, choking him, promising to kill him if John did not concede to Caldwell's demands to throw down their weapons and land the jumper on the gate room floor. With that personal shield protecting Caldwell and with Rodney suffering at Caldwell's brutal hand, he'd had no choice but to obey because, without Rodney, they had little chance of getting out of this situation.
He knew Caldwell was only keeping the chief scientist alive because he needed Rodney's skills for running the city, though John suspected that Kavanagh could do an adequate job should Rodney prove to be too much of a nuisance.
"Don't give him a reason to kill you, McKay," he murmured, well aware that there was little love lost between Caldwell and Rodney at the best of times. Caldwell hated Rodney's ego and arrogance, and Rodney hated Caldwell's narrow military mindset. He glanced sideways at Ronon when he felt a hand grip his arm tightly, almost grimacing as the strong fingers curled around his biceps.
"He'll be okay."
"Yeah. As long as he keeps his big mouth shut."
The sarcasm was not lost on Ronon, his fingers tightening on John's arm a fraction more because Rodney and his big mouth had gotten them all into a whole lot of trouble on a number of occasions. How many times had he unintentionally insulted some local priest or chieftain, or even some farmer? How many times had Rodney mouthed off to the natives of some world and left them running for their lives back to the Stargate? Fortunately, they'd not had to run for their lives too often as Teyla usually managed to placate the wounded pride of whatever dignitary Rodney had managed to insult. This time, however, Teyla was trapped in here with him so John had to trust in Elizabeth to keep Rodney from opening his mouth too wide.
Thoughts of that mouth consumed him as always, recalling the wide smiles and the smug tilt of Rodney's lips when he was proven right yet again. He thought of the secretive crooked smiles too, the coy glances as if seeking approval, and of the motor mouth when Rodney was in full rant mode, face so mobile. John winced in remembrance of some of those rants; he could think of far better things to do with that generous mouth that did not involve talking, things that would probably shock Rodney into silence. He thought of kissing him, of tasting those lips and plunging deep inside his mouth to discover all of Rodney's secrets with licks and bites and the slide of tongues twisting and coiling together.
John swallowed hard and pulled back from those thoughts, his worry increasing as Rodney's unnatural silence continued. He studied the force-field, checking up and down and then across, desperately wishing Rodney was here to put his incredible mind onto the problem. He needed the scientist if they were to figure a way out of this.
Kavanagh, he thought and turned swiftly to face the only other scientist in their midst. Kavanagh was no Rodney McKay but, as Rodney had admitted begrudgingly, the man was not stupid either just a little too orthodox in his approach to problems when they needed someone willing to think outside the box. Kavanagh had regained consciousness when Ronon dropped him onto the bench seat in the back of the jumper and John spotted him standing apart from the rest of them at the back of the cell. His eyes narrowed as Kavanagh tried to back away when John moved towards him, hearing him yelp and stagger forward a step when he hit the force-field. Lifting both hands, palms out in a placating gesture, John was aware that Kavanagh had no reason to trust his intentions after what had happened to him earlier.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I just need to know if you can do anything about this force-field surrounding us."
The fear in Kavanagh's eyes turned to contempt. "Are you joking? Even the highly vaunted McKay couldn't break out of this. It's an Ancient force-field." He emphasized, using his most condescending tone. "It's meant to restrain prisoners."
John gave a tight smile. "Just needed to ask."
Softly, he cursed under his breath and glanced around the group of people trapped in here with him but no one else had the necessary skills to dismantle an Ancient force-field, especially not from the inside. John took stock of those present anyway, hoping something would spring to mind.
Major Lorne and Corporal Singh straightened under his scrutiny while the two technicians from the control room, who had waited until the last moment with Rodney and Elizabeth, shuffled nervously from one foot to the other. If Kavanagh had no clue what to do then it was unlikely that either of them could help. Teyla and Ronon merely raised an eyebrow as his gaze traveled over them while Kavanagh huffed his contempt once more and crossed his arms over his chest belligerently. John looked back towards the control room, teeth worrying at his lower lip. It seemed their only hope of getting out of here lay with Rodney or Elizabeth, and Rodney was still worryingly silent.
Waiting had always been the worst part of the job and today felt no different for Hank Landry despite the fact that there was no SGC team out in the field at this time. Instead, he sat behind his desk and waited for word on Atlantis from whatever source, frustrated that there was nothing he could do to speed up the process. Harriman had poked his head through the door several times but only to tell him that there was still no word. Surely, if Atlantis had survived then Dr. Weir would have sent a data burst by now, and the lack of contact left him decidedly uneasy.
The door opened again and Hank glanced up, eyebrows rising in surprise when Agent Barrett entered, closely followed by Jack O'Neill. Hank stood quickly, coming around his desk to greet the Major General.
"Jack," Hank glanced at Barrett, nodding his greeting, "I take it there's some bad news if they had to drag you all the way down here from Washington."
"Hank. Perhaps I should let Agent Barrett tell you all about it." Jack turned, and an eyebrow raised questioningly, which Barrett took as his cue to begin.
"Our initial belief that this was a low level human operative working for The Trust was incorrect. We now believe that a sub-lieutenant to one of the system lords infiltrated the Dae..."
"Oh for crying out loud," Jack interrupted. "Caldwell's got a snake in his head. Some minor Goa'uld called Bulat... Belata..."
"Belatucadros," Barrett stated softly.
"Whatever... who used to work for Camulus. He used Caldwell's security codes to copy parts of Atlantis's... computer thingy, and then got his snake friends to change the code. The Zee... Zed... whatever was set to overload and destroy the whole planet."
"So the plan is?"
"Well," Jack hedged and Landry almost smiled because that meant Jack had only the formless shape of a plan but that had to be better than all of them sitting here twiddling their thumbs. "Daniel's been whining about going to Atlantis since I stopped him from going with the initial expedition. I figured he and the rest of SG-1 might like to take a little trip. Check out the local galaxy, see if the city is still standing, and find any survivors. That sort of thing."
Hank shook his head. "That won't be possible. Teal'c, Vala and Colonel Carter are currently off-world investigating a report of seeing Adria on M89-4DF and are out of contact for the next two days... and, as you know, the Odyssey is half way across the galaxy dealing with another threat from the Ori."
"I'm aware of that but I could still use Daniel... and Mitchell."
Hank stared at him for a long moment and then nodded tightly. "When do you want them to leave? And how?"
Before Jack could answer, Harriman was at the door. "Sir? The Asgard ship, Daniel-Jackson, has just entered geosynchronous orbit above Cheyenne Mountain."
Hank looked to Jack with both eyebrows raised, seeing the hitch of Jack's shoulders in that carefree gesture of feigned surprise. A smile played about his lips when Hank shook his head in resignation. He should have realized that Jack's arrival was no coincidence for Jack had always had a soft spot for the Atlantis expedition. The arrival of Thor's ship was no surprise either, at least not when Jack was involved.
"I'll tell Dr. Jackson to get packing," but before Hank could move towards his intercom to call Harriman back in, the real Daniel Jackson poked his head round the door.
"Jack. Our lift's here."
"Right." Jack looked chagrined, blowing out his cheeks. He clapped his hands together and then rubbed them vigorously, the way he always seemed to do when he was trying to look completely innocent or nonchalant but Hank was not fooled for an instant. Yet, despite the slightly underhanded way in which Jack had managed to swipe part of Hank's best Stargate team; he felt no ill-will towards his old friend.
He watched as the Asgard beam swept Jack away and sighed heavily, knowing it might still be some time before they had any news. Yet, at least part of his frustration had eased just from knowing something was going to be done to discover the fate of Atlantis and its people, and that had to be enough for now.
Over thirty minutes had passed since the Daedalus made its jump into hyperspace. The Wraith were still hovering over the false distress beacon but they broke orbit while Rodney was watching them, entering hyperspace moments later in the same direction taken by the Daedalus. Rodney could only hope that the Daedalus had remained in hyperspace a lot longer than originally intended rather than risk dropping out by the outer planet and getting picked up on the Wraith sensors.
He glanced across to see Belatucadros staring at him and nodded, not needing to be a genius to know what Belatucadros expected of him. Rodney swallowed hard around the soreness in his throat and staggered back towards the main console.
Caldwell's voice changed timbre as the Colonel loomed over him, taking on the deep booming of a Goa'uld. "Raise the shield. Now."
Sinking into the seat at the main console, Rodney swapped out the cloak for the shield and then shrank back as Belatucadros pushed him aside with the same disregard that Rodney sometimes used towards the gate room staff. He could only look on in frustration, with a curse softly forming under his breath, as Belatucadros re-initiated a lock down of the Atlantis computer, making it accessible only through the Goa'uld's personal ID code. This meant Rodney would have to crack Belatucadros's access code before he could make any rescue attempts and he knew from bitter experience just how hard that would be. Although not impossible for a genius such as him, it would take some considerable amount of time, and he doubted Belatucadros would give him unlimited free access to the console so he could work nonstop on breaking that code.
With the DHD locked down manually and the shield raised, no one was going to get into Atlantis unless the Wraith came back and started bombarding the shield as they had done during the siege. That was unlikely to happen though, especially as the long range sensors would warn of any Wraith in the area long before they could detect the continuing existence of Atlantis, giving them time to swap out the shield for the cloak.
It occurred to Rodney that this was the single flaw in Caldwell's, or should he say Belatucadros's plan, but Rodney could think of no way to exploit that flaw without ending up being eaten by a Wraith, as they might not be fooled by a second false distress signal coming from this world. Next time they might take a far closer look and then all was lost, possibly even Earth.
A flicker of movement beyond the great window showed the shield rising and John cursed anew because this meant they were trapped here with no chance of a rescue from the Daedalus, for even the Asgard beaming technology could not penetrate the Ancient shielding. Silently, he wondered if the Ancients had built in a means for the Puddlejumpers to breach the shield so they had no need to lower it for incoming Ancient vessels during their long siege. It made tactical sense, especially during those last few weeks of the war when the Ancients were preparing to sink the city and abandon Pegasus to the Wraith. If anyone could figure it out then that would be either Rodney or Zelenka, but Zelenka was off-world, trapped on the planet with all the kids, and Rodney...
His thoughts returned to Rodney. He thought he had caught a glimpse of the scientist earlier, alive if not particularly well. The lack of Rodney's distinctive voice had him more concerned but Caldwell had held him pretty tightly around the throat, no doubt causing him pain to go with the near asphyxiation.
Still, he could not believe this of Caldwell. As part of the regular contact, the SGC had kept him apprised of the situation with the Trust and SG-1's mission reports had told him all he needed to know about the Goa'uld. Yet he had never considered Caldwell turning traitor but how else would he have come by that personal shield? He doubted the Goa'uld scientists handed them out like cracker box prizes.
John knew all about Elizabeth's ultimatum when confronted with John being reassigned on Earth rather than returned to Atlantis following the siege. He knew Caldwell had been earmarked to take over as military command of Atlantis and that the man had been royally pissed when Elizabeth got her own way.
Had Caldwell been harboring ill will against them because of this? Had he deliberately sought out the Trust in order to bring them down and take his so-called rightful place in the city?
Certainly, there was no love lost between him and Caldwell, although he thought they might have reached a begrudging respect for each other over these past few months. What worried him more, though, was the animosity between Caldwell and Rodney that had not diminished despite Caldwell saving their asses during the escape from Doranda.
John touched the force-field again, cursing at the pain that radiated up his arm. Somehow, he had to get out of here before Rodney did or said something to make Caldwell too pissed to care if he lived or died.
Rodney shrank back as Belatucadros towered over him, determined not to think of this creature as Caldwell. As much as he disliked Caldwell's Neanderthal attitude towards just about everything that happened on Atlantis, the man had never deserved something like this. He yelped when Belatucadros grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet, pulling on sore ribs and already strained muscles.
"Ow! I am more than capable of standing on my own two feet unassisted," he exclaimed with as much bravado as possible, aware that the strength of his words was lost beneath the croaking of his abused throat, and drowned out by Elizabeth's pleas to handle him with a less force and more consideration. She grabbed for the Goa'uld's arm and he backhanded her across the face, knocking her backwards.
Belatucadros laughed at the dazed look on Elizabeth's face and at the trickle of blood from her split lip. It sounded strange hearing that sound come from Caldwell because Rodney was not certain if he had ever heard Caldwell laugh before. Chuckle, maybe, but not this hearty laugh tinged with more than a little malice. The Goa'uld turned away from Elizabeth and one large hand cupped Rodney's chin, the thumb brushing hard across his lips.
"This host has feelings for Dr. Weir. He considers her to be beautiful and intelligent, a worthy prize." His eyes flared gold with speculation and Rodney knew the Goa'uld meant to intimidate him. "However, my own tastes run in a far different direction." The hand that groped Rodney from throat to groin left no doubt in Rodney's mind as to which direction that might be. "This host considers you arrogant, obnoxious but brilliant. He would like to see someone put you in your proper place, preferably on your knees. Perhaps I shall grant him this wish."
He dragged Rodney closer by the hand wrapped around in his arm and Rodney could only look back in fear as he struggled to free himself from the Goa'uld's grip. Elizabeth was in no position to stop Belatucadros even though she was left standing alone and free. Without Belatucadros's access code, she was just as helpless as Rodney but at least she would be spared the Goa'uld's advances.
Rodney had no intention of giving in easily and he tried to twist, hoping to pull away but Belatucadros's hold on him was too strong. He pressed his lips into a tight line as Belatucadros leaned in, teeth clenched shut, refusing the Goa'uld access to his mouth for this mockery of a kiss. Strong fingers clamped around his jaw, digging into the hinges and leaving Rodney with no option but to open his mouth to relieve the intense pain. He choked as a thick tongue invaded his mouth, stabbing into him without mercy and stealing away his breath until his head swam from oxygen deprivation. Belatucadros released him suddenly and Rodney dropped to his knees at the Goa'uld's feet, gasping for air.
"Yes. You will serve me well, and when my Lord Camulus arrives, I will ask for you as my reward." Belatucadros took on a sly look that seemed out of place on Caldwell's face. "Or perhaps I should turn my attentions to Colonel Sheppard."
"No!" Rodney rasped violently enough to strain his throat further, visions of John being forced to his knees before this creature swimming through his head. He could not let that happen and he dropped his voice to a whisper. "No. That won't be necessary. I'll... I'll cooperate."
Belatucadros grinned and turned back to Elizabeth. "You will attend to my slave's needs when I do not require his services."
Elizabeth swallowed hard and then straightened, wrapping her dignity around her as befitting a leader. "Please don't do this. Let Dr. McKay go."
Belatucadros stared at her and sneered as his hand came down upon Rodney's head, stroking softly for a moment before his fingers tightened cruelly, tugging the fine strands, neither agreeing to nor denying her request verbally but his actions spoke louder. The other hand pulled at the zipper on Caldwell's flight suit, shrugging it from the broad shoulders.
The pain of fingers grasping Rodney's head released for only a second before the hand returned its grip and forced his head forward against the hardened mass at Caldwell's groin. He struggled, panicking at the lack of oxygen once more, hands coming up to press against the strong thighs, trying to push Belatucadros away but gaining only a small respite when Elizabeth tried to tug at Belatucadros's arm only to be shoved back hard.
His cry of concern for her was muffled by the cotton covering Belatucadros's hard shaft. His head was dragged back a few inches and turned sideways in a vise-like grip to where Elizabeth was sprawled out on the floor only a few feet from him, her green eyes wide with pain, fear and horror.
"Suck it or I will kill her."
Rodney gazed along the length of the outstretched arm in horror to see the Goa'uld ribbon device glowing malevolently in the palm of Belatucadros's hand. He heard Elizabeth cry out as the device seared into her brain and Rodney knew she would not be able to endure much more before the device caused permanent brain damage or death.
"Please," he coughed. "Please, I'll do what you say... just... please, let her go."
Belatucadros did not seem to be listening so Rodney did the only thing he could. He leaned in and mouthed at the hard shaft through the thin cotton briefs, drawing Belatucadros's attention back to him. Elizabeth's cries faded into sobs as the hand lowered to caress his face, the metal of the ribbon device scratching against his cheek and chin as Belatucadros angled Rodney's head for better contact.
"Suck me," he demanded and this time Rodney did as he was ordered.
With shaking fingers, he drew aside the briefs, freeing the sizable erection. Rodney hesitated for a moment and then opened his mouth wide around the thick head, taking it in and sucking. Belatucadros pushed forward unexpectedly and Rodney started to gag as the cock hit the back of his throat, fingers scrabbling against the still clothed thighs before the pressure eased back a fraction.
"Suck me," Belatucadros ordered again and Rodney closed his eyes in shame as he complied, sucking on the hard flesh that seemed to grow larger and thicker in his mouth. The sharp bitterness of pre-ejaculate made him falter but the fingers tightened in his hair again, hips thrusting in short jabs until Belatucadros stilled for a split second. Rodney choked as his mouth and throat was filled with the pungent semen but the hand on his head allowed him no escape, leaving him no choice but to swallow or choke to death as Belatucadros gave several more small, erratic thrusts. Instinct prevailed and he swallowed the bitter juices, falling back onto his heels when he was finally released from Belatucadros's hold and wiping away the overspill with the back of his hand.
Elizabeth sat frozen in place, legs akimbo, staring at Rodney's bowed neck and seeing the soft, feathery strands on the nape as if for the very first time. It took a long moment for the fog of pain to lift and then she realized what she was seeing and understood why Belatucadros had stopped his attack.
Her hand flew to her mouth shakily, eyes lifting to meet the golden glow of the Goa'uld's eyes as he fucked Rodney's mouth, taking his pleasure from the man kneeling at his feet.
With shame, she backed away, crawling across the control room floor towards the stairs that led down to the main gate room floor. Her eyes caught a familiar shape beneath one of the consoles and she grabbed hold of Rodney's spare tool kit, only now recalling that this was where he tended to leave it for emergencies. As soon as she had left the Goa'uld's line of sight, she hurried down the gate room steps and paused in front of the containment area, her eyes instantly holding John's. His eyes narrowed in both anger and compassion, and she lifted a hand self-consciously to her swollen and bruised face. He cut lip stung but least she could feel no loose teeth. Talking hurt but she needed to tell John what she knew.
"Caldwell's been taken over by a Goa'uld. He's reset the access code so I can't lower either this force-field or the one surrounding the city." She pulled on her most neutral expression and turned to another of the prisoners before John could say what was foremost on his mind, catching him swallowing his words of concern for Rodney from the corner of her eye. Now was not the time to tell him what Belatucadros was doing to his friend and teammate at this very moment, or what else he obviously intended to do later. "Dr. Kavanagh. I owe you an apology."
He gave her a disdainful look, snorted and turned away, and she really could not blame him for his attitude because she had been prepared to torture him for no good reason other than that her personal dislike had made her believe he was the traitor in their midst. The fact that he looked relatively unharmed was testament more to his terror, fainting at the sight of Ronon, than to Caldwell's timing. What she had ordered done to him was unforgivable even if it had seemed the right action at the time but Kavanagh had been correct about one thing. She had been swayed by her emotions, by her dislike of him, and for the problems he had caused during that first year while they were cut off from Earth. She had allowed her anger to build over the comments he had made regarding her command decisions during that tiny data burst before the Siege.
"I realize that I wronged you but now is not the time to wallow in self-recrimination and remorse, for either of us." She held up the tool kit. "Can you talk me through disabling this containment shield?"
He looked back, mouth pinched with displeasure, chin raised defiantly so like Rodney but without the childlike vulnerability that lay beneath Rodney's arrogance and ego. No doubt, Kavanagh had redeeming qualities too, and even colleagues that he must have cared for enough to send them encrypted messages during the earlier part of this crisis. He had not shown that compassionate side of his nature often, preferring to stir up trouble instead, and undermining the moral of the expedition in the process. How many times had she been forced to step in when Kavanagh had put his own needs before the rest of them? How many times had she refuted his claims of Rodney and Zelenka's incompetence, of his finding fault with their methods, with their theories, and with them personally? His behavior had been so divisive that he, eventually, alienated himself from the rest of the scientists with few left who were willing to work with him. He had been the bane of Rodney's existence and it was only Rodney's generous and professional nature that had given Kavanagh the chance to return to Atlantis onboard the Daedalus a few weeks back. A nature that Rodney tended to camouflage from all but the most determined.
Slowly, Kavanagh pushed to his feet and stepped forward, his eyes scanning the force-field caging him and the others but, unlike the cell where they had held the Wraith, this had no obvious control panel.
"The control will be up in the command center and I have no idea where it is or what it looks like so... No."
"Where's Rodney?" John asked softly.
Elizabeth had known he would not be put off from asking for too long but she had hoped Kavanagh might be able to figure out a way to get them free before she had to tell him. She swallowed with difficulty and faced him, squaring her shoulders against the anger and contempt that would follow as soon as she revealed the truth, aware that she'd had no plan of action beyond freeing him so that he could confront the creature sexually abusing their friend.
"Belatucadros has him."
"Has him where?"
On his knees sucking his cock, she felt like saying but swallowed back the hysteria. She had hoped to distract John away from what was happening to Rodney by revealing the Goa'uld's true name but she should have known better. After being brought into the Stargate program so abruptly, John had spent plenty of weeks going over old SGC mission reports, learning of the enemies and allies out in the vast galaxy. He knew of the Goa'uld and how the parasite took a human host, subverting that person to its will. He knew of their cruelty towards humans, keeping them as slaves to do their bidding, committing all sorts of atrocities against humanity, against individuals, and now against Rodney.
His eyes flashed to the control room where he must have been able to hear Rodney's and her cries but be unable to see anything. She saw confusion narrow his eyes as he looked back to her, expression going blank as he read her self-loathing and fear.
"I'm sorry, John. I tried..."
"You have to get us out of here, Elizabeth. I have to help Rodney."
His words were low and calm, and yet tinged with a fear that she knew was for Rodney rather than for himself. They had both witnessed Belatucadros's brutality towards Rodney already. They had seen his blue-tinged lips, heard the choking noises as he fought for air, his life held in the balance as a surety for John's compliance. She fought back tears of anger and frustration, aware that she was next to useless in this current situation, having even less freedom to act than when Kolya had held them during the storm even though she had no guards watching her every move. Yet there had to be something she could do to free John and protect Rodney, and to get her city back, but what could she do when the only person capable of freeing John was the one being brutalized?
John straightened, body tensing as his eyes flicked towards the stairs, and Elizabeth felt the fine hairs at the nape of her neck rise in fear. She stuffed the small toolkit into her pants, hoping her jacket would conceal its bulk and turned her head as she heard two sets of footsteps upon the gate room floor; one strong and strident, the other far more reluctant.
John was standing as close to the shield as he could without zapping himself, with his concern-darkened eyes focused solely on his friend. "Rodney? You okay, buddy?" His voice was soft and tender but his mouth twisted with anger as the Goa'uld's voice boomed out.
The words were accompanied by a vicious shove that sent Rodney falling to his knees, and John's anger became cold rage as Belatucadros petted Rodney like a dog before leaving his hand gripped around the back of Rodney's neck. Elizabeth knew the Goa'uld could snap Rodney's neck like a twig and Rodney raised his head a fraction as if desperate to see John's face one last time before that happened.
Just like John, her eyes froze on Rodney's tear tracked cheeks and on the bruises darkening against his pale skin. His lips were swollen from unwanted, biting kisses and from the forced fellatio that she had witnessed, and she wondered if John could recognize the sexual abuse. Certainly, from Carson's sharp intake of breath and the soft curses that fell on the exhale, the doctor had figured something out.
"Let him go," John stated softly but with deadly intent but Belatucadros merely grinned at the empty threat within the words, eyes flaring gold as they trailed over the length of John's leaner frame before taking in the others.
"Only if you take his place."
Elizabeth's eyes widened in shock as she looked to John, seeing his face harden, lips tightening into a thin determined line before one corner rose in a patented smirk.
"No... don't," Rodney implored in a rough voice, not realizing that his words would have the opposite effect and make John even more determined to save his friend. He whimpered as Belatucadros tightened his grip on his neck.
Belatucadros laughed softly as he heard Rodney's small cry of pain, and then he turned to John, eyes flashing gold. "The others will move to the back of the containment field, or I will snap his neck."
With a nod from John, they all moved back, though not without a growl of protest from Ronon. Elizabeth swallowed hard as the Goa'uld reached for a button on the ribbon device and moments later, she was caught inside the containment field with the others while John stood outside, his compliance assured by the strong fingers that closed around Rodney's throat.
"You said you'd let him go," John ground out.
Belatucadros indicated towards the door leading from the gate room and Elizabeth could only watch in dismay as both of her friends were taken away by force. Ronon gave a roar filled with anger and frustration as John and Rodney disappeared from view, the containment field flaring from the impact of his body as he slammed into it. Elizabeth understood his frustration, and she wrapped her arms around her own body for cold comfort, staring out into an empty gate room as her fear for her friends grew deeper.
John knew what the Goa'uld had done to Rodney from the moment Rodney raised his head. He had not needed to see the swollen mouth because it was all there in Rodney's eyes; the pain, the disgust, the fear... the shame. Offering to take Rodney's place was one of the easiest things he had ever done because no one had a right to touch Rodney in that way. No one except him and even that had seemed a fantasy to hold onto during the long cold nights because Rodney had never given any indication that his tastes might run to both sexes.
If Rodney had been a virgin with men before this day then the Goa'uld had taken part of that from him and John did not intend for this Belatucadros to take what was left. However, he should have known that Belatucadros could not be trusted to let Rodney go.
As he entered the corridor beyond the gate room, he heard Ronon's cry of rage above the sound of the force-field flaring, and he tightened his lips, aware that his teammate could do nothing to help them. Behind him, he concentrated on Rodney's faltering steps, knowing his friend was being half-dragged along the corridor.
"Left!" Belatucadros barked the order when John reached the first junction, forcing them away from the laboratories and towards the cell where he had kept both of the Wraith prisoners.
John licked his lips nervously as they entered the room, balking when Belatucadros ordered him into the cell, but a sharp whimper of pain from Rodney had him stepping inside quickly, unwilling to add to Rodney's suffering. The force-field flared on, trapping him inside the metal cage, and leaving John to wonder why Belatucadros had simply moved him from one cell to another. He doubted it was because Belatucadros had not wanted an audience for whatever he had planned as all of the Goa'uld John had read about seemed to truly believe that they were gods and held little regard for the servants and slaves beneath them. Certainly, from the despair in her eyes, Belatucadros had not stopped his abuse of Rodney just because Elizabeth had been watching and probably even reveled in her helplessness.
Speaking of helpless, he thought sardonically. His own situation looked pretty bad from where he was standing and Rodney looked downright terrified with his eyes wide and so incredibly blue. His body had a fine tremor running through it too that would barely be noticeable unless you knew where to look. A reassuring smile from John had Rodney swallowing with some difficulty, his chin rising in defiance. His voice was still croaky but John could hear an echo of his normal arrogance in the tone.
"If you hope to keep this city then you need us alive. Both of us." Belatucadros smiled and advanced on Rodney, matching him step for step as Rodney backed off towards the edge of the room on unsteady legs, only stopping when he could go no further. "Without us, this city would be overrun by the Wraith within weeks."
"Lord Camulus has plenty of scientists and soldiers at his disposal."
"Well none of them are as good as me... and him. You need him too."
The smile became a broad grin. "I like you. Caldwell is right. You are arrogant, egocentric, and obnoxious. I look forward to breaking you, to seeing you crawling on your hands and knees begging for me to take my pleasure in your soft body and firm ass." He trapped Rodney up against the wall and reached out to knead the firm curves of Rodney's perfect heart-shaped ass.
"Get your hands... off of me." Rodney struggled, voice quivering and an octave higher as he tried to escape the hand that groped him, the fingers digging into his flesh.
"Don't touch him," John growled before yelping as he came too close to the force-field.
Belatucadros backed away with a harsh laugh before his hand flashed out and smacked across Rodney's face, sending him crashing into the wall and sliding to the floor, blood streaming from his nose.
"I think you broke my nose!"
"That will be the very least of your problems, doctor." He reached down and dragged Rodney up with one hand bunched into his jacket until even Rodney's toes had lifted from the floor, pressing him against the wall. The other hand massaged the unresponsive flesh at Rodney's groin, causing him to groan in pain.
"Caldwell!" John threw himself at the force-field, cursing loudly at the pain radiating through to his extremities while silently screaming at Atlantis to turn it off, though to no effect. He was trapped on one side of the force-field with Rodney on the other, and John could only scream his rage as the Goa'uld continued his assault on Rodney right before John's eyes. "Get off him, you bastard!"
The Goa'uld broke the brutal kiss that had left blood smeared over part of Rodney's already battered face and his own, his eyes flashing gold with excitement and lust. Rodney was struggling weakly, hands alternately flailing or trying to unclench the hand that had fisted into his clothing. His fist bounced uselessly off Caldwell's jaw, snapping the Goa'uld's attention back to him, excitement turning to blood lust as Rodney was thrown aside and kicked viciously.
"Perhaps I need to teach the arrogant Dr. McKay a lesson in servility."
He reached for Rodney again, dragging the fighting and twisting man from the room by the collar of his uniform without a backward glance as John cursed and threatened dire retribution to no avail. The door closed ominously behind them leaving John alone in the silence of the cell room. He threw himself at the force-field one last time, gritting his teeth against the pain before slowly sinking down to the ground, unsure what was worse, seeing Rodney brutalized by that creature in Caldwell's body, or imagining it.
As his mind began to consider all the things Belatucadros could do to his friend and desired lover, he shuddered as his imagination won out.
Rodney shuddered when Belatucadros stopped outside Elizabeth's quarters, keying the override. In those first few days on Atlantis, she had chosen this large, airy room with a balcony overlooking part of the city in one direction and the open ocean in the other. The room lay on the floor just below the gate room with easy access in an emergency and Rodney had always assumed it belonged to whoever controlled the basic operation of the city. Although more sumptuous apartments had been located during the past year, this room had provided everything she needed. She had never felt the need to move and it seemed that Belatucadros thought the same even though he glanced around the room with barely concealed disgust at the Spartan furnishings.
Her room also boasted one of the few slightly larger mattresses; a gift from O'Neill that had arrived on the Daedalus on its second supply run to Atlantis. Elizabeth had felt tremendously guilty at the time because it had taken up space that could have been better allocated to more important equipment but O'Neill had considered a good night sleep as essential, and no one cared to argue with him.
At the time, Rodney recalled mentioning that he had as pressing a need for a good mattress as anyone else, going into his back problems in great detail, almost guilting Elizabeth into handing over the mattress to him. Of course, Sheppard had taken great delight in shooting down all of Rodney's arguments and convincing Elizabeth that O'Neill was right.
Now, as Belatucadros sneered over at the slightly larger than normal bed, it seemed such a silly and pointless debate.
"When Camulus arrives, he will bring many loyal Jaffa and servants with him and provide furnishings fit for a god. Until then, this will have to suffice."
Belatucadros shoved Rodney towards the bed that Rodney had often fantasized about sleeping in - within his own room of course, though not necessarily without Elizabeth on the rare occasion. She was a beautiful woman after all. In truth, his choice of bed partner had taken a completely different direction over the past few months, and if that fantasy should have spilled into a dream and he moaned 'Colonel' in his sleep off-world occasionally, thankfully he had his so-called crush on Samantha Carter to explain that indiscretion away.
Although he shivered in fear, Rodney was not broken or beaten enough to stop the words that flowed in self-righteous anger, even though it hurt to speak. "No. I neither know nor care what malevolent thoughts Caldwell had in his minuscule brain about me but I am not going to be your sex slave. Find someone else to... to..."
Belatucadros stalked forward slowly. "Rape? Oh, I assure you that Colonel Caldwell is most horrified by what I am planning to do to you. I, however, am not."
Rodney froze in shock. "You mean he's..." Rodney waved a hand at Caldwell's head, aghast himself by the very thought but, "... still in there?"
"Does that excite you? To know he will be watching and feeling everything I do to you?"
Rodney stepped back in horror as he recalled the forced fellatio earlier, stopping only when his knees hit the edge of the mattresses and he fell back onto his ass. He scrabbled to get back up but Belatucadros raised his hand, the ribbon device flaring into life, and the most horrific pain filled Rodney's head. He could feel his synapses firing uncontrollably, frying in the searing heat of the device.
"Now I can make this unpleasant, or I can make it excruciating. Which is it to be, doctor?"
Rodney collapsed on his side on the bed, gasping through the incredible pain that had exploded inside his head. Trembling almost uncontrollably, he pushed up to sitting and, with shaking fingers, he began to strip off his jacket and toe off his shoes.
When Grant had asked Kleinman to drop out of hyperspace after traveling for thirty minutes, he was not surprised to discover that the Atlantean world was still on the long range sensors, whole and untouched. Quickly, they jumped back into hyperspace in a different direction to throw the Wraith off the trail, dropping out into normal space again after a few more minutes. Long range sensors had revealed the presence of the two cruisers still circling the planet but, as he monitored the situation, they broke orbit and jumped into hyperspace, taking the same direction the Daedalus had taken after running the gauntlet.
That flight from danger had not been without damage and, with the communication's array down, he could not send out a long range transmission back to Atlantis. This left him, yet again, with only the single option of turning around and heading back towards the Atlantean system.
"Hermiod, how long until the repairs to communications are completed?"
"The communications array was sheared off during the battle with the Wraith cruisers. Rebuilding the array is underway but work cannot be completed while in hyperspace as an engineering crew must go outside to install the new equipment."
Grant noticed that Hermiod had not answered his question. "So how long until the engineers are ready to set up the new array?"
"Two days and three hours."
"The damage was severe and the work is not considered essential while there are hull breaches and..."
"Wait! Those areas are already sealed off so can't we... ?"
"There are ship's personnel trapped within sealed bulkheads. If they are not freed soon then they will asphyxiate."
Grant bowed his head as he imagined the bulkheads sealing across the ship, trapping people into small compartments. As a whole, the Daedalus did not have enough air to hang around here for two days while the engineers fixed up the ship but they had even less time for those trapped. He sighed raggedly.
"Make the trapped personnel the priority. The communications array will have to wait." Grant ran a hand through his hair.
"Colonel Grant, I have completed my investigation. I have discovered a subroutine hidden inside the shield subsystem that was responsible for weakening the shield strength. This subroutine was manually activated only moments before Colonel Caldwell asked to beam off the Daedalus. It was activated using his personal security code."
Grant closed his eyes because this confirmed what Cadman had already discovered in the Atlantis system logs. Caldwell had intended the ship to be destroyed by the Wraith, giving him plenty more time to shore up the city defenses before another Earth ship could reach Atlantis, and leaving the rest of the Atlantis expedition members and the remaining Athosians stranded on another world until the Goa'uld were ready to bring them back as slaves - or until the Wraith found them. However, Caldwell had miscalculated for the Daedalus was still operational.
He looked to his pilot. Now he was certain that the Wraith had gone, he gave the necessary order. "Take us back to Atlantis. Best speed."
Thirty minutes later, the Daedalus dropped out of hyperspace close to the planet and Grant was dismayed when he saw the shimmering gold of the Ancient shield covering Atlantis instead of the cloak, effectively locking them out of the city.
"Open a channel to Atlantis." He waited for the nod from the communications officer, thankful that they had not lost short range communications when the array was destroyed. "Atlantis, this is Lt. Colonel Grant of the Daedalus. The Wraith have departed. Request you lower the shield and give permission for us to land."
"Dr. Weir? Dr. McKay? Please respond."
Grant tried again, keeping his tone calm and well modulated but there was still no response and Grant feared the worst; that Cadman was right and that Caldwell had betrayed them and taken over the city. He tried a different approach, hoping Caldwell believed his cover was still in place.
"Colonel Caldwell, if you are receiving this, please respond."
Again nothing. Grant looked up when Halling, the leader of the Athosians brought onboard the Daedalus, stepped onto the bridge. Halling looked anxious as he gazed through the view screen at the shielded Ancient city floating like a jewel upon a sea of blue. Halling had spent his time reassuring the Athosians and Atlantean scientists, taking that additional task out of Grant's hands, for which he was eternally grateful. His respect for Dr. McKay had gone up a notch when he realized how much trouble a few scientists could get into when not correctly supervised or motivated. Halling had taken on that task, directing those who could provide assistance to help with the repair and rescue crews and leaving those unable to assist to see to the needs of the injured and frightened, leaving the Daedalus crew to get on with their jobs.
"There is no word?"
Grant shook his head, aware that Halling would be concerned for those of his people who had remained behind with Teyla for the ring ceremony.
"I'm sure they all made it to the Puddlejumpers but without long range communications, we couldn't contact them before now... and I didn't dare risk coming back until the Wraith had gone in case we gave away their position."
Halling nodded and as the land mass came into view, Grant had an idea.
"I hope you don't mind, sir, but I think you're going to have a few guests until we can figure out how to get back into the city."
Halling stepped forward, bowing his head and opening his hands in a gesture of friendship. "Please, your people are welcome to share all that we have. You have done no less for us."
Grant nodded his thanks and broke communications silence, contacting the small fleet of Puddlejumpers fleeing slowly towards the edge of the solar system.
"Puddlejumper fleet, this is Lt. Colonel Grant, acting captain of the Daedalus. Atlantis is still standing. I repeat, Atlantis has not been destroyed and the Wraith have left the area. Suggest you return to the Atlantean world. However, do not attempt to land in Atlantis. The city may have fallen into hostile hands. I repeat, do not attempt to land in Atlantis. Rendezvous on the mainland close to the Athosian settlement."
Acknowledgments came in quickly and Grant frowned when he did not hear from Lt. Colonel Sheppard.
As he set a new course for the mainland, part of him hoped that Sheppard would be back on the planet within the hour but he had a bad feeling about the lack of communication from Caldwell, Weir, McKay, and from the military head of Atlantis. That feeling was confirmed when Cadman approached him a few minutes later, presenting him with another set of data showing a hidden, encrypted message sent from the Daedalus towards the Milky Way during the evacuation of Atlantis, followed by a message received fifteen minutes later.
He followed her down to engineering and looked to Hermiod, frowning as the Asgard manipulated the controls in front of him before speaking.
"The first message appears to have been intercepted within this galaxy."
Grant took a deep, steadying breath and let it out slowly, awaiting the worst with as much patience as he could muster while the Asgard concentrated on his work. On the large screen behind him, symbols began to stream across the surface and Hermiod seemed a little surprised despite knowing that the Trust was behind this.
"Goa'uld. I am attempting to decrypt both messages." Large dark eyes blinked as the data slowed to a crawl. "It appears that Colonel Caldwell contacted the Goa'uld System Lord Camulus, receiving new instructions to secure the city rather than allow it to be destroyed."
"A lesser known Goa'uld who was recently defeated by Ba'al. He requested asylum on Earth but was handed over to Ba'al in a hostage exchange for SG-1. It was assumed that Ba'al killed him but, obviously, that was not the case."
Novak looked up nervously. "He must have been shadowing us since we left the Milky Way."
"I have discovered another subroutine, this time in the Daedalus's long range sensors that effectively cloaked the presence of the Goa'uld ship." Hermiod looked back up, blinking slowly. "Camulus expects to be here within two hours."
Grant straightened. "Then we'd best make sure we're ready to meet him when he gets here. Let's head back to the planet and unload our passengers before we run out of air, and then we prepare for battle."
The floor was strangely warm beneath his aching body as if Atlantis had registered his presence there and deliberately heated the ceramic tiles. He had never really noticed that before and yet, when he thought back to the months spent on Atlantis, he had walked around his room barefoot regularly without feeling the cold stone under his feet. His mind drifted for a moment, wondering whether this additional comfort applied only to ATA gene carriers, with the non-ATA tiptoeing across cold tiles each day when they rolled out of bed.
That word brought him back to the present and to the creature that had abused his body and then pushed him out of the slightly larger than average bed. Elizabeth's bed. He shifted slightly and caught the hiss of pain before it echoed around the silent room. It had been a long time since anyone had fucked him and his body had not opened willingly to Belatucadros's brutal assault; the tender, sensitive flesh had torn, sending sharp pain jagging up through his body. Somehow, he had resisted the urge to clench up during the penetration, knowing it would only hurt him more but he had felt the slipperiness of his own blood easing the tight passage eventually, felt the trickle down the inside of his leg before Belatucadros's release gushed into and then seeped out of him.
Once he had taken what he wanted, Belatucadros had shoved him aside and Rodney had barely got his hands beneath him as he hit the floor, flesh smacking hard against stone, adding to the collection of bruises that now mottled his skin from Belatucadros's strong fingers and violent fists. He licked at his lip cautiously, not needing a mirror to know how swollen the lower lip had become. Belatucadros had struck him again when he failed to obey the Goa'uld fast enough after being ordered to hands and knees on the bed.
Rodney shivered as he curled up tighter, wishing the room was a little warmer and sighing in relief when Atlantis heard his call. He glanced up but, at this angle it was hard to see if Belatucadros was asleep or awake. Rodney kept very still, not wanting to draw himself to his rapist's attention in case Belatucadros had not found enough satisfaction in what he had already taken. Yet Rodney knew he couldn't lie there doing nothing forever, not when John and the others were in danger, so he dragged himself slowly across the room, one inch at a time, stopping to check on Belatucadros constantly but seeing no sign of movement. Glancing around, Rodney wondered if Elizabeth had anything in this room that he could use as a weapon. Perhaps he could batter Belatucadros with one of her heavy Athosian ornaments while he slept.
Belatucadros shifted in his sleep, sighing deeply in satisfaction, no doubt from the bone melting pleasure of fucking Rodney almost raw. Of course, if this had been Caldwell rather than a Goa'uld then Caldwell would have been in as much pain as Rodney but, like the Jaffa, the Goa'uld were far more impervious to pain and quicker to heal - and Belatucadros seemed to like it rough.
Unfortunately, Rodney didn't.
He bit down on a whimper as he moved again, his ass burning from the pain, feeling a flood of fresh blood and semen trickling down his inner thigh as his abused ass muscles spasmed. He glanced up at the bed again, hating the Goa'uld's arrogance in assuming he was too weak and afraid to try and fight back. Belatucadros moved again and Rodney cursed when he saw a small flare around the Goa'uld's body. It was little wonder he had done nothing to ensure Rodney couldn't kill him while he slept for he was wearing the activated personal shield. Except Rodney knew from the SG-1 reports that the shield could be penetrated by a slow moving object like a knife but that knowledge was of little use when Rodney could see nothing sharp enough to use even if he could find the rage to commit a murder in such a cold-blooded fashion. What would stay his hand was the fact that this was not some faceless enemy. Rodney knew that, deep inside, Steven Caldwell was screaming to be free, and by Belatucadros's own words, he horrified by the brutality committed using his body but unable to stop it.
No. That left only one option. Rodney had to get back to the control room and see if he could lower the containment shield and free the others, knowing the cell holding John was locked up too tight and that he would need just a little more time to break into it. Once Ronon, Teyla and Lorne were free then he would have that time to not just free John but unlock Atlantis too.
He choked back a sob as he could barely drag himself along the floor right now but he had to do this. There might not be another opportunity. He reached the wall and pulled himself to his feet. Rodney felt a moment of fear at the sharp stabbing pain, uncertain if Belatucadros had perforated his gut but he forced that thought aside. Instead, he tried to convince himself that it was just the burn and tearing of the outer and inner muscle that was causing the pain and that the tell-tale stab in his belly was simply the workings of his paranoia and hypochondria - not that he would ever admit to either psychosis. It did not indicate more severe damage... but if he was badly hurt then he needed Carson. He squashed the fear once more, setting up a soft mantra that he was not badly hurt and that the pain would ease in time. After all, Belatucadros could not afford to lose Rodney's brain so he was not going to cause him irreparable damage. Or so Rodney hoped.
Rodney took several unsteady breaths, knowing the next part would have to be accomplished quickly. Somehow, he had to open the door, get through it and lock it down before Belatucadros realized what was happening. Silently he prayed to Atlantis to let his pseudo-ATA gene be sufficient for the task. He knew the door would not hold Belatucadros for long but he hoped he would have enough time to reach the gate room and release the others. One more deep breath, which he held for a second and then, on the next exhale he moved fast, mentally commanding the door open and then shut as he slipped through the smallest gap. He screamed at Atlantis to lock it even as he tore the panel off the wall and pulled out the crystals. Loud thumps and curses came from inside.
Rodney staggered along the corridor, falling heavily against the wall from time to time, and leaving smears and droplets of blood in his wake.
"Hate to be part of the clean-up crew," he murmured before laughing at the inanity of his words. He stopped only when he reached the bottom of the flight of steps leading up to the gate room, fervently wishing Belatucadros had not locked down the transporters along with everything else. The stairs seemed to stretch up before him but he bit down on his dismay and grabbed the railing, hauling himself up each step, breaking out into a sweat at the exertion. He staggered into the gate room, mentally commanding Atlantis to close every access behind him and absurdly grateful that Belatucadros had not locked out every single system or even instigated a full lock down like the one that had occurred during the nanovirus.
"Eliz...abeth!" He felt a flash of embarrassment under her horrified eyes, knowing he was naked, bloodied and bruised but this was no time for salvaging his already shredded dignity. Rodney coughed to clear his sore throat, aware that all the others had pushed to the front of the containment cell to see what was happening. "We don't have much time. I need to get... to the control room."
Elizabeth looked fearfully towards the closed door and nodded. She looked like she wished she could grab hold of him and draw his arm across her thin shoulders, and as much he would be grateful for her strength when he had so little of his own to call upon, he could not help but wish for Ronon's strength instead.
"McKay!" Ronon called out with a soft growl and Rodney realized his mind was drifting from the task at hand.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm on my way."
He staggered across the gate room floor to the bottom of the grand staircase and grimaced as the stairs loomed steeply above him but he had no choice.
"You can do it, McKay." Ronon shouted out his encouragement. "One step at a time."
"Sure," he whispered, too tired and hurt to answer loudly, even if his damaged voice would carry. "One step... at a time."
It seemed to take forever with every step jarring his sore body until he was reduced to hauling himself up on his hands and knees, and yet every step was accompanied by encouragement from the people below, urging him onwards. He sobbed and laid down his head when he reached the top of the main flight, the tiles of the landing cool against his cheek.
"Don't give up, McKay. Keep going!" This time he recognized Lorne's voice and, for a moment, he wondered where John had gone, and then he remembered and the thought of John trapped in the Wraith cell gave him a boost of energy.
He had almost reached the control room and Rodney hissed through clenched teeth as he dragged himself back to his feet and staggered up the final small flight of stairs. He could feel sweat beading on his brow and trickling down his face as the stabbing pain threatened to overwhelm him, and he brushed the sweat aside as it threatened to sting his eyes. When he reached the first console, he dropped to his knees and hunted for his spare tool kit only to find it missing. For a moment, he hyperventilated in panic before realizing that he could work without it as long as he did not need to solder any connections or reach into any gaps that were smaller than his trembling, blunt fingers.
Unable to gain the strength to stand again, he crawled the last few feet to the main console, needing to be beneath it anyway. With shaking fingers he pried off the panel and delved into the mass of crystals within, pulling some and exchanging them for others while bridging others. Something shorted and he threw his hand across his face to protect it from the sparks, hearing Ronon's triumphant 'yes' drifting up from the gate room below and knowing he had brought down the containment field. Running footsteps echoed along the gate room floor and then upon the stairs, his name falling from Teyla's lips in concern as she dropped down beside him, still clad in her beautiful ceremonial dress.
"Have to get out of here now," Rodney rasped back, feeling the sting of tears at the gentle touch supporting him. "Lock won't keep him for long."
Ronon growled low. "Sheppard. We need to find him."
For a moment, Rodney was confused but then he realized Ronon was talking about finding John rather than talking to their missing team mate. He felt a jacket wrap around his bare shoulders and drew it close, smelling Elizabeth's perfume on the coarse material as she released him into Carson's capable hands.
"First, where's the Goa'uld?" Lorne asked, his hand shaking Rodney gently.
"Locked him in Elizabeth's room."
"And Sheppard," demanded Ronon.
Teyla nodded, her lips tightening and her face holding the cool expression that meant she was in full warrior mode. Rodney had seen that expression plenty of times both here and off-world, though most usually when they were fighting Wraith or hostile natives.
"Beckett? Get McKay and the others back to the jumper and lock it down until I give the all clear." Lorne then turned and pointed at Kavanagh, his expression and the tone of his voice leaving no room for argument. "You, help him."
Kavanagh looked horrified at the thought of touching Rodney, and Rodney almost sniggered at the man's expression but he had a feeling he would simply sound hysterical. As Carson and Kavanagh drew him to his feet, Rodney saw Lorne press a sidearm into Elizabeth's hand. No words passed between them because the meaning was clear. He wanted her to remain behind both for her own protection and to protect the others. She nodded tightly, and Rodney felt his admiration for her grow, knowing it took a strong leader to step back and allow others to take control of a situation.
"Good luck, Major."
Rodney looked over his shoulder as Teyla, Ronon, Lorne and Corporal Singh moved out, heading towards Elizabeth's quarters. He slumped into Carson and Kavanagh's hold, the last ounces of energy draining from him as the adrenaline leaving his body left him feeling even more exhausted. Darkness closed in around him, the murmur of voices becoming a distant rumble as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Freeing himself from the locked quarters had taken far too long and he cursed when he reached the doors leading into the gate room only to find them locked down against him too. Belatucadros knew he did not have much time before McKay freed the others and he needed to find a way to fool them for just a little longer while he made the final preparations for the arrival of Camulus.
If Camulus was to take command of Atlantis and the Pegasus galaxy then he needed access to the Ancient technology and that required an ATA gene carrier. Any one of them would have sufficed, even one whose gene had come from Beckett's research therapy but Sheppard was the prize. His natural ability with the Ancient gene was at least as powerful as O'Neill's, and maybe more so. Of course, Caldwell did not believe that even his Lord Camulus could persuade Sheppard to obey him but Belatucadros knew that every human had its price, every human had a weakness that could be exploited and, if he could not find that weakness then there was always the choice of handing Sheppard's body over to one of his Goa'uld brethren.
Or taking over Sheppard himself.
Belatucadros reflected on that thought for a moment. He liked Caldwell's body for it was strong and powerful, a warrior's body but although leaner, so was Sheppard's body and with the additional benefit of being both beautiful and a natural, strong carrier of the ATA gene. If Belatucadros was to take Sheppard's body then Camulus would be eager to make him his first lieutenant. As for the body he now occupied, it would make a powerful First Prime for his new Jaffa army once he had wiped the human's mind. Yes, once Camulus arrived, Caldwell and the other military from the Daedalus and from Atlantis would become his lord's new Jaffa while the scientists and the Athosians would become their slaves, to do his and his lord's bidding.
With this new plan in mind, he made his way to the Wraith holding cell swiftly, stopping off at the security station to monitor the humans first.
Belatucadros switched through the security monitors until he had a different angle through the gate room. The Puddlejumper looked almost forlorn as it sat in the center of the gate room floor but even that had been a part of his plan once Camulus had realized that he could save the great city for himself rather than follow Ba'al's orders and have it destroyed. He grinned maliciously, priding himself that it was not just simple luck that had netted him the three most important humans on Atlantis. He had known from Caldwell's thoughts that they would be the last to leave, unwilling to leave anyone behind and wanting to wait until all hope was lost before leaving their precious city.
Camulus had wanted Elizabeth Weir especially, holding her personally responsible for accepting his request for political asylum on Earth and then for allowing General O'Neill to trade him and a spent ZPM to Ba'al for the Tau'ri's elite team, SG-1. If Belatucadros could have given him O'Neill as well, then he would have been assured his place as the new right hand of Camulus now that Grannus, his former lieutenant, had been murdered by his own Jaffa. Belatucadros had only just managed to avoid the same fate, having no choice but to bow down to Ba'al and give command of what few armies remained over to the powerful System Lord rather than face death at Ba'al's hand. As it was, both he and Camulus had suffered many hours of torture until Ba'al was convinced enough of their loyalty to risk setting them free, though Belatucadros knew that the hatred Camulus bore for O'Neill and Weir was the deciding factor for both of them. Yes, his liege would be well pleased when he handed over Dr. Weir.
His lips curled up in pleasure at this realization.
Weir would appease Camulus's lust for vengeance; Sheppard would provide both the key to the Ancient technology and secure his promotion to Camulus's first lieutenant, while Rodney McKay would be useful to the Goa'uld in the city. He was one of the few beings in two galaxies who could understand and integrate the Ancient technology with both Goa'uld and human, and perhaps even with Wraith technology.
He paused in thought as he watched the naked image of McKay drag himself to the top of the gate room stairs, and his triumphant smile turned to a leer. Yes. McKay was a worthy prize. He had not anticipated what a delight the good doctor would be when he took him to his bed, having originally wanted the irritating human only for the knowledge crammed inside his brain. Before then, he had not pictured the erotic sight of McKay on hands and knees; his perfect ass with its almost snow-white cheeks raised invitingly, begging to be plundered. It had been most satisfying thrusting into the surprisingly muscular and firm body, and hearing the soft gasps and whimpers of pain that could not be held inside.
Belatucadros felt his host's body awaken with renewed desire at the very thought of having McKay again even as its former owner pleaded with him to leave McKay alone. Instead, he exalted in the power he had over both Caldwell and McKay. He could visualize the thin trickle of blood running bright red against the snowy softness of inner thigh; he could see the pale asscheeks flushed pink from the pounding of flesh against flesh, and McKay's head hanging low as his body trembled from his pain and humiliation. Mottled bruising would color his skin in shades of black and blue, shaped by digging fingers and hard fists.
Beautiful. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Belatucadros swallowed down the desire, forcing his human body back under control for if his plan was successful, it would not be this body that discovered what other delights McKay had to offer with that luscious ass and that wide, insolent mouth. Silently, he wondered if Sheppard would be just as horrified at the experience as Caldwell, or whether he would enjoy seeing his friend laid out beneath him like a feast for the senses.
Dragging his eyes away from the bruised and battered human who was crawling on hands and knees towards the main console, Belatucadros squared his shoulders. He had plenty to accomplish before Camulus arrived and, although John Sheppard may not realize it yet, he was about to gain intimate knowledge of the Goa'uld.
John paced around the cell, his concern for Rodney overriding any personal concerns for his own safety.
How long had it been since Belatucadros dragged Rodney away, his intentions all too clear?
He drew a hand through his unruly hair, tugging on the spiky strands as if the pain could distract his thoughts from what was happening to the man he loved. Sinking back down to the floor and drawing up his knees, John knew he ought to conserve his energy in case he could figure a way out of here. Instead, his thoughts of Rodney churned onwards, sapping all of his strength.
For so long now he had entertained the idea of telling Rodney how he felt, of letting him know how much he wanted to touch and caress him, to be with him and make love with him. Admittedly, he could blame Don't Ask, Don't Tell for his cowardice but, in truth, that useless and outdated policy was one of the first things the SGC military left behind when it became multi-national, despite the majority of soldiers coming from the US. For those serving in the Pegasus galaxy, or in any of the off-world teams in the Milky Way, there was no DADT, and as none of them would ever return to regular US military service, it was not an issue they had to concern themselves with even if they were to take a same-sex lover.
John's fear had come from a different source. He had spent years bedding down beside Rodney off-world, around campfires or in alien villages, stealing quiet moments to study Rodney's sleeping face by the light of a hearth fire, so open and so vulnerable and yet so trusting as he slept like a baby. He could not break that trust and it was the fear of seeing Rodney's eyes widen in shock and then narrow in disgust and betrayal that had always held him back from saying anything in the past. Now, as he recalled the pale, drawn features, he saw fragility in the bruises marring his high cheekbones, saw a deeper downward turn to the soft lips, the high forehead etched with lines of pain, and John was scared that he had waited too long to take that gamble and had lost the chance forever.
When the outer door opened, John leaped to his feet and watched through narrowed eyes as Belatucadros strode in, the taunting smirk looking out of place upon Caldwell's face. John felt a momentary pang of regret for the Colonel, knowing he would never have chosen this willingly and, if the reports were true then he was still in there somewhere, witnessing the terrible atrocities carried out by a creature wearing his body and face. Yet, if it came to killing Caldwell in order to kill the parasite within and save Rodney, then John would do it, and he knew Caldwell would thank him for it.
"Colonel Sheppard... or may I call you John?"
"Colonel Sheppard will do."
Belatucadros grinned. "Such a proud man and so eager to protect those under your command. So eager to protect... him."
"Talking of him, where is McKay? What have you done to him?"
"Doctor McKay is the least of your problems right now... Colonel Sheppard."
John licked his lips when Belatucadros lowered the shield surrounding the cell. He still had the physical lock on the cell to contend with but Belatucadros was approaching the door as if he intended to open it. Instead, he stopped and played with the strange device strapped over his right hand. The jewel placed at the center of the Goa'uld's palm began to glow red and John tensed all his muscles, ready to attack as soon as Belatucadros released the final lock.
The bars covering the cell entrance rose quickly and John leaped forward, only to fall to the ground as agony ripped through his skull.
"Fool. Did you not think I would be ready for such an attack?"
John cried out as the pain intensified, his muscles seemingly locked into a kneeling position before Belatucadros. He had thought having a Hive Queen inside his head was bad enough, with her sifting through his memories, demanding answers that would lead her and her kind to Earth but this was ten times worse. The agony ripped through him, with every brain cell screaming as neurons were fired haphazardly, shattering images and memories in its wake.
He slumped when he was released from the pain, too exhausted to fight when Belatucadros grabbed hold of his chin and leaned down. By the time he felt Belatucadros's mouth upon his in the parody of a kiss, it was too late. He felt something large and slippery force its way into his mouth and tried to cry out as it speared through the soft tissue at the back of his throat. John had a moment to register Caldwell's body falling to the side and then he felt it, the invasive presence of another being that pushed into his head, forcing his own thoughts to the side and crushing him beneath its will.
He watched in horror as his own body betrayed him, controlled by another while he screamed and raged ineffectually inside his own mind, unable to stop the creature that had taken him over. Power flooded through his body, the damaged throat healing, his minor bruises fading and his strength increasing as the creature released chemicals and Naquadah into his blood stream. He fought against the mind that was idly flicking through his thoughts and memories like a man browsing a magazine. It uncovered his feelings for Rodney and laughed with John's voice.
"Oh, this is so much better."
Carson lowered his friend onto a nest of blankets on the floor of the Puddlejumper, swearing softly in Gaelic as he mentally cataloged the bruises and other injuries. Fingerprint bruises around the pelvis and on the soft inner thighs told their own story long before Carson noticed the blood and drying semen. Carson sent all but Elizabeth up to the front of the Puddlejumper to help preserve a little dignity for Rodney while he performed a quick internal to determine how extensive the damage.
"Shush, it's okay," he murmured softly, explaining everything he was doing even though Rodney seemed unconscious, but the small whimpers of pain almost broke his heart. He cursed softly as his sensitive and knowledgeable fingers discovered at least one small internal tear, knowing there was little he could do for Rodney here. They needed to get him into the infirmary as soon as possible so he could confirm his diagnosis but, hopefully, Rodney would need only minor surgery. Instead, all he could do was cleanse his friend carefully and apply an antibiotic cream to the external tears before covering Rodney with a warm blanket. With nothing more he could do until Lorne returned and gave them the all clear, hopefully with Colonel Sheppard, Carson sank down beside Rodney and watched him sleep.
Elizabeth sat down on the opposite side, one slim hand reaching out to hold onto Rodney's. "Is he going to be all right?"
"Oh, aye. I'm sure he'll be fine. Just needs a few stitches." Carson was uncertain who he was trying to reassure - Elizabeth or himself.
"You're a terrible liar, Carson."
Carson barked out a small laugh. "He's far stronger than you would believe." He looked at Elizabeth with an appraising eye but she could see through his fear and reached out to him, allowing him his cloak of denial. "Will you allow me to treat your injuries now, Elizabeth?"
She nodded tiredly, quietly bearing the pain as he probed her cut lip and bruised cheek for the second time, knowing that this time he had a medical kit at his disposal. "I'm still positive there's nothing broken," he stated softly, offering her a little reassuring smile along with a cool gel pack to place over the damaged area. "A little late but this should still help to reduce the swelling faster." He shook out two tablets. "And these are for the pain."
She murmured her thanks, swallowing the tablets with a little water before holding the gel pack to her face with one hand while her other remained tightened around Rodney's lax fingers. A soft clearing of a throat brought Carson's attention back to the small group huddled in the front cabin, and Kavanagh in particular. The scientist stepped forward and sank down close to Rodney, eying him with remorse before looking to Elizabeth.
"I wasn't being difficult," Kavanagh stated a little defensively, arms wrapping around his chest. "I didn't know how to bring down the containment field. I'm... not as good as McKay in that area."
"I know... and I really am sorry for what I put you through. You were right. I was thinking emotionally."
Kavanagh nodded, and Carson sighed as the apology was accepted, wishing everything else could be worked out so easily but his doubts grew with each passing minute. Something had gone wrong or the others would have returned with the good news by now.
"Don't kill him unless you really have to," Lorne stated as they approached the final bend in the corridor before Elizabeth's quarters, waiting for a nod from each member of his assault team before carrying onwards. From what he knew of the Goa'uld, it was possible to recover the host, although with some difficulty. No matter how often Caldwell had clashed with members of the expedition, and Sheppard in particular, he felt he owed Caldwell that much for pulling their collective asses out of the fire on a number of occasions.
White hot anger still burned inside him as he recalled McKay's bruised and battered body, seeing all the signs of both physical and sexual abuse. He had to remind himself that Caldwell was not the one who had done that to McKay. It might have been Caldwell's body used in the assault but the man himself was just as much a victim as the doctor.
Teyla slipped around the corner first, the floor length skirt of her dress pulled up and fastened to give her greater freedom of movement. He had still not quite gotten over the sight of her in her ceremonial dress having become far too used to her skimpy warrior outfits. She was followed by Ronon, who sneaked along on the other side of the corridor but even from here Lorne could tell that the door was wide open. The Goa'uld was gone. He had to make certain though, so he stepped into Elizabeth's quarters and scanned it, P90 held ready to fire.
"Damn it!" He cursed softly as his fears were realized. The room was empty.
"He went this way," Ronon called and began jogging down the corridor.
Lorne had a bad feeling about this and pulled the life signs detector from his TAC vest pocket. Its range was not particularly good but it showed a bunch of life signs in the gate room, the four of them close to Elizabeth's quarters and a single moving blip heading away from them. Lorne frowned and then realized what lay in that direction.
"He's heading for the ZPM."
Lorne cursed his lack of foresight. Why had he not thought of it before? He should have split up the team and sent Singh and Ronon to check on Elizabeth's quarters while he and Teyla disconnected the ZPM as, without it, the city shield would have collapsed and solved most of their current problems. If the Goa'uld had holed up there then they would have no choice left but to try to crack the access code if they wanted to regain control of Atlantis's system commands, and McKay had already estimated that it could take days. Lorne's sixth sense was warning him that they might not have days left, especially if the Wraith should decide to make a return visit.
They raced through the corridors but Lorne knew they would never reach the ZPM room before the Goa'uld. He slammed his hands against the locked door, mentally calling to Atlantis to open the goddamn door for him but it did not budge, most likely physically disabled from the inside. He took a step back and stared hard at the door, aware that he had to be missing something.
Why would the Goa'uld lock himself away in there? Even a Goa'uld needed to eat and drink, if only to supply the needs of the host body. In a siege situation, the ZPM room was not the best place for it to survive, especially when there were plenty of supplies out here to keep Lorne and the other humans healthy until McKay cracked the code. They could wait out the Goa'uld.
Unless the Goa'uld knew it would not have to wait too long.
Lorne took another step back, shoulders and back straightening as the most obvious answer came to him.
He turned to Ronon, seeing the frustration and confusion written plainly across his face. "It's already called for reinforcements."
Ronon stared back at him and nodded. "Seems likely."
"Damn it! And I thought these guys had too big an ego to go run and hide." He turned away from the door. McKay was their only hope and now he had turned his thoughts to the brilliant scientist, all of his concerns and fears came racing back as he recalled the naked, bruised and battered body. Lorne faltered, hands tightening around the P90 as he resisted the temptation to pick up a pack of C4 and blast his way into the ZPM room. The only thing holding him back was his fear of destroying their only ZPM in the process. "Singh, guard the door. Call me if it so much as coughs in there."
"Let's go and get Sheppard."
Lorne strode off with the others falling in behind, wanting to head towards the cells where Sheppard had kept the Wraith prisoners even though he knew he would not be able to open the cell without the assistance of a certain astrophysicist - or perhaps Kavanagh at least.
Belatucadros sneered as he stared at the humans through the bank of monitors in the security station next to the Wraith holding cell. Manipulating Atlantis to falsify a life sign reading had been child's play with Sheppard's ATA gene and his natural ability to use it. He had watched them chase a ghost to the ZPM chamber.
"Fools," he hissed. Had they truly believed that he would run to the ZPM chamber like some cowardly shol'va, a traitor willing to hide in a darkened corner until his Lord Camulus arrived rather than face them? Admittedly, he had given them that impression for a reason. He had activated a lock down on the ZPM room that would make it seem inaccessible without his personal ID but Belatucadros knew that even this complicated code would not stop McKay for long. However, for strategic reasons it was far better that the humans assumed he was locked inside the room, ready to destroy their precious ZPM should they attempt to break through the door, and while Atlantis ensured that their attention was focused there, he would be free to move among them in this body.
They would learn soon enough that they had no need for the human stationed uselessly outside of the ZPM chamber but, for now, he had to maintain that illusion, and that meant hiding Caldwell until he could be prepared for his new life as a First Prime to Camulus.
Belatucadros stood up gracefully and moved to the Wraith cell, looking down upon the body he had abandoned in favor of Sheppard's. He straightened at the sound of running feet, cursing when he realized someone must have brought the transporters back online. Leaving Caldwell where he lay in a drugged stupor, his mind too exhausted after struggling against Belatucadros for so many months to resist, Sheppard stepped outside of the cell and sealed it, raising the force-field once more. As he turned, the outer door opened and Ronon came hurtling in with Lorne, both men slamming to a halt, blaster and P90 raised.
"Took your god damn time, Major!" Sheppard stated in a slightly mocking tone.
"Sir?" Lorne was looking from him to Caldwell's unconscious body, clearly confused because he thought he had the Goa'uld holed up in the ZPM chamber.
"I read one of O'Neill's reports that said these guy had a bit of an ego problem. He played right into my hands."
Lorne relaxed his stance, smiling momentarily before the seriousness of the situation took hold again. "It's not over yet. I think there's more Goa'uld on the way."
"Yeah, so he told me." Belatucadros shot a feigned look of disgust towards the discarded body of Colonel Caldwell. "Some Goa'uld that goes by the name of Camulus."
Lorne frowned. "Damn. That's not good, sir. He has a history with Dr. Weir."
"And I guess that's not a good history."
"Then we'd best get ready to kick his ass all the way back to the Milky Way."
"Sounds like a plan, sir."
Belatucadros smirked as a far different plan began to form in his head, one that would shock the two gullible humans standing next to him.
"What about him?" Ronon indicated towards Caldwell with a slight nod of his head.
"Leave him. Once we've dealt with this Camulus, we'll contact Earth and they can figure out how to get the Goa'uld out of Caldwell's head." Belatucadros gave a wry smile. "He's not going anywhere until then."
By the time he re-entered the gate room with Sheppard and Ronon, Lorne had leached away some of his anger at realizing he and the others had been duped by the Goa'uld into believing it had gone to ground in the ZPM room. Kavanagh managed to bypass the door crystals after several abortive attempts revealing an empty room, but nothing he tried would disconnect the ZPM from its housing so they had gained little except for another headache. They needed McKay to figure this through, and soon.
Lorne's concern for McKay still burned brightly, and he silently wondered when his annoyance with the loud-mouthed scientist had turned to something akin to friendship and respect.
He realized that it was probably when McKay had saved the rest of Sheppard's team for the umpteenth time since the siege, he thought morosely. Lorne recalled all the ways in which the scientist had pushed aside his fears, stepped up to the mark and saved the day, even taking a Wraith enzyme overdose in the futile hope that he would be able to use the increased strength to escape his captors and save his team from the Wraith. When Sheppard was lost in the time dilation field, McKay hadn't faltered, knowing that every second counted and willing to do whatever it took to bring Sheppard home. When Sheppard became stuck inside the Aurora's virtual environment, McKay had gone in to bring him back out.
Truth was, despite his seemingly laid back attitude, Sheppard was the best commanding officer that Lorne had served under. Loyal almost to a fault and never prepared to order his men into a situation that he would not go into himself, though that didn't say much as the man had a protective streak so wide that he would willingly give up his life to save his friends, the expedition and the city. Yet, he inspired the same resolve in those he commanded to the point where two of his men had walked into an iratus bug nest and sacrificed their lives to give the others time to escape when it all went to hell.
Lorne snorted softly, listening to Sheppard contacting Dr. Weir as they approached the Puddlejumper.
"Elizabeth? Open up."
A few seconds passed and then the rear hatch lowered to reveal the frightened civilians within but Lorne had eyes only for the man sized lump curled up on his side on the floor of the Puddlejumper, seeing one bare arm sticking out from beneath a blanket with an IV attached, and the curve of one ear and mussed light brown hair sticking out above the blanket. Sheppard seemed just as intent on McKay, moving inside and dropping down beside the unconscious man.
"How's he doing, doc?" Sheppard asked and Beckett grimaced. Not a good sign as far as Lorne was concerned.
"Physically? He's got many a bruise to cause him some discomfort for the next few days, and one or two minor tears both inside and out but no major injuries. I've set up an IV to counteract shock and the small amount of blood loss, and I'm sure he'll be right as rain soon enough, as long as I can treat his injuries properly."
Lorne nodded, grateful for that news at least because he knew it could have been a lot worse. The Goa'uld were not known for their reverence for human life so the snake controlling Caldwell could have ripped McKay up badly inside.
"I'd still like to verify my diagnosis using the scanner back in the infirmary and repair those small tears. After that, he just needs to rest a while."
Sheppard screwed up his face. "We need to stick together, and I need McKay back on his feet as soon as possible. He has to crack that access code."
"I don't think you realize, Colonel, but the man has been beaten and ra..."
"I know!" Sheppard licked his lips in that familiar way, looking decidedly uncomfortable with the knowledge and with what he was asking of Beckett and of McKay. His voice softened. "Believe me, doc, I know... but we don't have a lot of choices here. There are more Goa'uld on the way and if we don't regain control of Atlantis before they get here then we are in a lot of trouble."
Beckett looked horrified for a moment and then resigned but when he looked back up at Sheppard, his blue eyes were blazing with resolve. "An hour, Colonel. Let me get him fixed up in the infirmary and then at least give him an hour's rest."
Sheppard nodded almost reluctantly considering that this was the man's best friend but Lorne understood as an hour could easily be all they had left. Sometimes they did not have the luxury of allowing someone to recover from their injuries before they were needed back on the front line. In McKay's case, it was highly unlikely that he would be able to break the access code before Camulus arrived with his army of Jaffa anyway though Lorne had seen the man perform enough miracles in the past. He watched as Sheppard sank down next to McKay's sleeping body and laid a hand gently upon the blanket clad leg, eyes locked on the now visible profile. The blanket shifted slightly, revealing the multi-colored bruising mottling McKay's pale skin. When Sheppard raised his eyes, he met Kavanagh's silent appraisal with an inquisitive stare.
"You any good at cracking codes?"
Kavanagh's mouth twitched but, for once, that arrogance was missing. "Not as good as McKay, but I could try. But first, I could check and see what secondary systems are still operational."
"Yeah. You do that."
Lorne watched as Kavanagh climbed to his feet and walked out the Puddlejumper. He glanced towards Dr. Weir. "Ma'am, maybe you and those two," he tilted his head towards the two technicians still seated in the cockpit, "can gather some supplies and bring them back here. Food, water, extra blankets, medical supplies... just in case we need to hold out here."
Dr. Weir nodded and Lorne was relieved that the head of the Atlantis Expedition was not some power hungry bureaucrat who would refuse to take a request from a subordinate. Unlike many of the civilian scientists, who resisted any military intervention until they needed a soldier standing between them and a life-sucking Wraith, she was at least willing to accept that the military had the expertise in this situation and that it was wise to make contingency plans. Sheppard called out again as she made her way down the ramp with the two technicians.
"Take Teyla with you."
Lorne frowned but he could see the logic in the request as there was no telling when Camulus would arrive and place them all back in danger.
Beckett sighed and stood up. "Colonel, would you mind watching over Rodney while I organize a gurney?"
Sheppard shrugged. "It's not that far. Wouldn't it be quicker for Ronon to carry him?"
Beckett nodded, looking thoughtful but also uneasy. "Aye, though I'd not recommend that under normal circumstances."
"These aren't normal, doc."
"No." He sighed deeply. "No they're not."
Beckett wandered outside to call in Ronon, leaving Lorne alone with Sheppard and McKay. He slipped into the space Beckett had vacated and took a better look at the injured doctor, his anger rising anew at the tell-tale signs of brutality from the mottled finger marks circling McKay's throat to the purplish bruise and cut, swollen lip that were a sign of physical blows. He knew there were other injuries hidden beneath the lightweight blanket and he felt sickened knowing what the Goa'uld had done to McKay.
Ronon's shadow dropped over him and Lorne pushed up to his feet. Squatting back down, Lorne and Sheppard helped the stronger man lift McKay into his arms and then Lorne took their six while Sheppard took point, P90 at the ready as they moved through the corridors towards the infirmary. Beckett walked alongside Ronon and McKay, holding onto the IV packet.
With a gentleness that belied his strength, Ronon placed McKay onto the scanner and stood back, staring hard at Sheppard from under dark eyebrows. "We still need that code."
"I'll head back to the control room and see if Kavanagh has made any headway with those secondary systems, and then we'll go have a friendly word with Caldwell."
"Okay." The dark eyes of the Satedan were wary as they held Sheppard's for a moment longer, as if he knew something pertaining to the two men that Lorne did not. "I'll watch over McKay until then."
Lorne frowned when Sheppard faltered, lips tightening with what looked like displeasure but it faded quickly. Instead, Lorne noticed a different expression on Sheppard's face as he turned and walked away, as if leaving McKay behind was the hardest decision he had made in years.
Rodney awoke to a throbbing pain throughout his body. His throat hurt and his ribs ached. In fact, everything ached from his face down to his toes. He tried to move and gasped instead as the dull ache blossomed into raw pain deep in his ass, his vision graying out as bright dots danced before his eyes.
"Oh God," he croaked and tried to focus on the gentle hands that had grabbed for him, using the touch as a lifeline back from the edge of a dark abyss filled with pain. Desperately, he tried not to tense the muscles, trying to focus on the soft litany of words telling him to relax, telling him that he would be fine in a moment and, sure enough, as that moment stretched out before him, he felt a lessening in the pain.
"I've added a wee muscle relaxant. You'll be feeling its effects by now. Just relax, Rodney. You'll be fine soon enough."
His gasps, so harsh to his ears, began to shallow into normal breathing as the excruciating pain brought on by the cramp receded.
"I know, lad. I know... but you'll be fine. You'll be fine."
"Don't... patronize me, Carson. I'm not fine." Carson had the cheek to smile at his words. "Oh, I'm glad you find this all so amusing. Perhaps you'd like to..." Rodney broke off in horror when he realized what he was about to say and saw Carson's smile falter. "I-I..."
Carson patted his hand gently, eyes filled with compassion. "It's all right, Rodney. It's all right."
He had a feeling Carson had added more than a muscle relaxant because his world began to grow fuzzy around the edges and the pain dulled considerably.
"You giving me the good stuff?"
"Aye... but not as much as last time."
"Hmm." His eyelids felt heavy but he forced them open as he felt pressure below, surprised to find Ronon's face seemingly inches from his own. Rodney smiled up at him, memories flooding him of all the times Ronon had been there for him, right from the very beginning when he had stopped an insane Ford from shooting him.
"You saved my life. Have I ever told you how glad I am you saved my life? I'm really, really glad."
Ronon's eyes crinkled up slightly, head tilted slightly. "You gave him too much again."
"Hmm?" That didn't seem to make sense but Rodney's wandering thoughts were round up by another pinch down below. He frowned, trying to look down and wondering when exactly Carson had put his legs up into stirrups. "Are you playing with my ass again?"
Carson's head shot up, blue eyes filled with mirth. "Aye, Rodney."
Rodney flopped back down and stared up at the infirmary ceiling. "Oh, well, Sheppard would have been nicer."
"Playing with your ass?" Ronon asked.
"Hmm." Rodney pictured John's smile and his agile fingers, imagining them stroking over his skin. "He can play with my ass any day."
Ronon smiled. "Okay. I'll tell him."
"Good. Good." Rodney sighed as he drifted off, no longer noticing the final pinches and pulls as Carson completed his work, or the lessening of pressure as Carson removed the instrument he had used to keep Rodney open for him.
"He gonna be okay?"
"Aye. The tears were not as bad as I thought but they could still have led to complications if left untreated."
Ronon smiled, repeating what he had said moments earlier. "You gave him too much... again."
"I know, but he makes it near impossible to treat him otherwise, and under the circumstances too much is better than not enough."
Ronon carried on smiling, enjoying Beckett's discomfort. "I heard about last time from some of the marines."
"Even heard Sheppard teasing him about pretty horses... and cavemen."
Beckett flushed with embarrassment, no doubt wondering if Ronon knew the caveman comment referred to him. He did, and the lieutenant who had tried to use it against him had learned very quickly that only Ronon's teammates had earned that right. In just the same way, Ronon would not tolerate anyone belittling Rodney unless they had earned the right as a teammate, or as a friend like Beckett or that little wild-haired scientist, Zelenka, who hung around with Rodney.
"I'm sure Rodney did not mean to insult you."
"Oh! Well that's good then."
"Yeah. It is."
Beckett gave another uncomfortable smile, eyes darting away from Ronon's stare in a strangely coy manner, leaving Ronon to wonder if the doctor was as enamored with that female soldier, Cadman, as he made out. Perhaps he had a chance after all, if they came out of this alive. He turned his attention back to Rodney, watching as Beckett removed the stirrups and carefully pulled on the light and baggy, white cotton scrubs pants to match the top he had pulled over Rodney's head when they first arrived.
"He safe to move?"
"Sheppard wants us all to stay close to the jumper. Just in case."
Beckett looked worried again as if he had forgotten all about the threat hanging over them. He nodded and stood back as Ronon picked Rodney up with the greatest care as if handling a small child, and yet in his arms, the far smaller man did look almost childlike with his head tucked against Ronon's shoulder. Ronon smiled as he heard Beckett's feet padding on the floor behind him as they made their way back to the gate room, staying as close as he could without actually stepping on Ronon's heels.
They reached the gate room quickly and, very carefully, Ronon set the sedated man back down on the makeshift bed, aware that Sheppard had followed his progress across the room to the jumper with a strange hunger in his eyes. Something was wrong but Ronon couldn't quite figure out what was kicking at his survivor instincts, only that Sheppard was not quite the same as normal. He knew Teyla would have an explanation, probably related to what the creature inside Caldwell had done to Rodney; these Atlanteans were an uptight lot when it came to sex in any form other than the mating dance of a man and woman. Not that one person forcing themselves upon another was an acceptable practice on any world.
When he left the jumper a few minutes later, Sheppard was still standing up on the control room balcony staring down into the gate room as if surveying his domain like a king.
"Sheppard. Let's go."
Sheppard scrunched up his face. "I just checked the monitor and he's still out cold."
"Then we wake him."
Sheppard was walking as he talked, slowly descending the main staircase so he did not have to raise his voice to speak. "Kavanagh thinks he has a handle on this code. We may not need Caldwell."
Ronon frowned, wondering what he was missing as Sheppard was not the kind to rely on any scientist other than Rodney, or maybe that little Zelenka. Sheppard paused several steps from the ground level as if he wanted to keep the illusion of height and, hence, authority over Ronon.
"Let's give Rodney the hour he needs... and then we'll go question Caldwell if Rodney doesn't think Kavanagh's got anywhere."
That still did not make a lot more sense but Ronon grunted in agreement anyway. Another hour would not make a lot of difference and the Atlanteans could spend that time figuring out a way to disconnect the ZPM without risking it getting damaged in the process. He nodded again.
Grant stared at the main screen, unconsciously chewing on one knuckle as a small blip appeared in the top right hand corner. Once Hermiod had removed the subroutine hiding the Goa'uld ship, it had popped into view straight away, moving steadily towards Atlantis.
The computer quickly analyzed the blip and determined it was an al'kesh, a Goa'uld mid range bomber. He figured the al'kesh must have been following the Daedalus having been given the coordinates to Atlantis by Caldwell, though it could have stayed as close as it liked because the sensors had been programmed to ignore it completely. However, more importantly, this proved that the Goa'uld had managed to get hold of the specifications for the intergalactic hyperdrive and had successfully applied that technology to one of their ships. Grant realized that he ought to have anticipated this because the System Lords opposing Ba'al had tried to offer hyperdrive technology as part of the deal for the Tau'ri joining forces with them against Ba'al.
The al'kesh must have been waiting out there since the Daedalus arrived at Atlantis three weeks earlier, though how it had managed to stay just beyond the long range sensors on Atlantis was a mystery, unless Caldwell had loaded a similar subroutine into the Atlantis systems along with the ZPM overload code.
The more he thought about it, the more reasonable that sounded which made Grant wonder what exactly was going on. The Daedalus had been on its way back to Earth when the initial explosive trigger had failed due to the SGC getting a message through to Atlantis in the nick of time. Yet the presence of Camulus hovering just out of range meant that he had anticipated - or at least hoped - for this eventuality, using the subsequent panic to his advantage.
There seemed to be only one plausible explanation.
"Camulus, or one of his people, must have leaked the threat to Atlantis. He wanted the city evacuated so he could take it over with minimal risk to himself."
Grant wished he had the means of sending that knowledge back to the SGC but the communications array was still days away from being repaired, even if they had the power to send a message that far. He straightened, muscles tensing as the blip on the screen gained a little extra speed.
He had less than thirty minutes to plan a battle strategy and for the crew to complete vital repairs to the ship's shielding. Without it they would not last long. He had already off loaded all the additional passengers and had monitored the returning Puddlejumpers, determining for certain who was missing from the expedition personnel. He left many of the marines behind too, aware that they could do nothing onboard the Daedalus in the upcoming battle with al'kesh but would be vital to protect the civilians left behind on the planet's surface.
Now it was time to get the Daedalus back up in space and into position, ready to meet Camulus. He gave the order and felt the power vibrating through the ship as the Daedalus lifted off smoothly, heading up through the atmosphere. The clear blue sky gave way to the black of space as Grant positioned them between Atlantis and the approaching al'kesh.
"We are in position, sir."
"Good. Now we hold position and be prepared to defend Atlantis for as long as we can."
Kleinman nodded and Grant was grateful that this crew had already seen battle in the past, knowing they would be ready when the time came. Grant could only hope that he would be ready by then too.
Since she was a girl, Cadman had wished she was a man. Not because she was sexually inclined towards other women but because men always seemed to get the better deal out of life. To become a marine she'd had to prove that she was twice as good any of the male candidates rather than simply on par or slightly better. Twice as good, and even then they saw her as the weakest link in any team because she did not possess the physical strength to match her expertise with explosives. So, like Teyla, she had learned different combat skills designed to use an enemy's muscle against him, matching brute strength with deadly agility.
Her wish came true on the day she woke up in the Atlantis infirmary inside Rodney's body but, within hours, she was berating herself for not making that wish far more specific. Rodney's body was cumbersome and despite regular exercise, namely running for his life off-world, he was so unfit when she compared him to her own body. He had little grace except in his fingers, which were remarkably agile, and of course his mouth that could spit multi-syllabic words like bullets from a P90.
Still, what stunned her was that he burned energy at an amazing rate for someone who never seemed to exercise, until she realized that he never remained still unless he was deeply engrossed in his work, and that never happened while she was a part of him. It took her a while longer before she noticed that it was his incredible brain that was burning most of this energy, necessitating the need to keep his blood sugar level stable.
Despite all the drawbacks of the unhealthy body wrapped around her mind, it was still a male body possessing easy strength and, though she had never noticed before, powerful arms and thighs. Plus he had the sweetest ass - for a guy - beneath the baggy expedition pants that he wore for the majority of time. She smiled wryly in remembrance of the shower she had taken after forcing Rodney's body out for a run through the corridors of Atlantis, remembering the slippery feel of his soft skin and the fine chest and pubic hairs as she washed away the sweat from the exercise. Part of her still felt guilty for the way she had touched him so intimately but she had never liked falling into bed all sweaty and dirty unless there was no choice. Not that this could excuse the way she had handled him in the shower, rubbing his fingertips over surprisingly sensitive nipples, wrapping his large hand around his slowly filling cock and bringing him off so slow and sweet, the pleasure rolling over his body and through her mind, enhanced by the flowing droplets of water that caressed his skin.
He broke her alarm clock the following morning, too busy ranting and trying to conceal what she had already seen and touched to pay close attention to what he was doing. With the sheet wrapped awkwardly around his body, he had lost his balance, feet tangling in the sheet after pulling on his boxers, and he had toppled sideways, barely managing not to brain himself when he fell. The small travel clock, barely noticeable except for its strident wake up call, had sprung apart when it hit the hard floor, scattering tiny inner workings everywhere.
She tightened her grip on the console as the blip denoting the al'kesh drew closer, confused as to why she was thinking about that insane time with Rodney while the clock ticked down to the last moments before battle commenced. Silently, she wondered how this last half an hour could have flown by so fast when each individual minute had seemed to stretch into an eternity.
Time is relative anyway, he had said as she bemoaned her shattered alarm clock.
Time is relative, and now she understood exactly what he meant though from a metaphysical rather than from a physical point of view.
"Launch the F-302s." Grant leaned forward, eyes intense. "Raise the shields."
There was no need to look at the sensors now as the al'kesh was visible to the naked eye through the front view screen, the strange craft looking like a pyramid wrapped inside another ship. It was a match for the Daedalus on a good day, and today was not a good day.
The first streaks of fire sped from the attacking al'kesh and the Daedalus shuddered from the impact even as Grant ordered a return volley. She could see their missiles blossoming against the al'kesh's shields but nothing penetrated them, while their own already Wraith-weakened shields were collapsing rapidly.
"Shields down to twenty percent."
"Keep firing everything we've got."
Cadman understood his intent. He wanted to throw everything at the al'kesh in the hope that they might destroy it before their own shields collapsed but she had her doubts. The al'kesh was coming into this battle fresh and with a former god of war at its helm. It had launched a number of death gliders with some making runs on the Daedalus while others headed from the surface to divide Grant's forces. He ordered most of the F-302s to protect the defenseless people of the mainland leaving too few to continue the attack on the al'kesh.
She knew it was a no-win scenario.
The Daedalus rolled to avoid another direct hit, taking a glancing blow instead, the klaxon blaring throughout the ship as bulkheads sealed off the F-302 bay. Brilliant flashes marked the demise of another F-302 as well as a death glider as they collided. Another F-302 exploded under a direct hit, another life lost.
Cadman wondered if Grant intended to go down in a blaze of glory after the starboard shield collapsed completely, leaving that side exposed and vulnerable. She took a deep breath and waited for the end only to hear Grant yell above the sound of the klaxon, the fire suppression system and escaping oxygen.
"Get us out of here!"
The hyperspace window opened and the Daedalus seemed to be sucked into it. Shakily, she looked at her watch, expecting to see a lifetime missing only to register that it had been barely seven minutes since the first shot was fired.
Time is relative, she thought as the corridor of hyperspace rushed passed them, a bitter taste in her mouth from knowing they had been forced to abandon Atlantis and its people to their fate and flee - for now. She wondered how much more time would pass before they could come back to save them all.
"Are we there yet?" Jack leaned against the console and stared hard at Thor when the Asgard simply blinked at him; Jack sighed "Can we go any faster?"
"We are already exceeding the recommended velocity. To try and force more from the hyperdrive could damage the engines and leave us stranded between galaxies."
"So that's a 'no' then."
Thor looked up at Jack and blinked once. "That is a 'no'."
"Thought so. And this will take how much longer until we reach Atlantis?"
"Five days and nineteen hours."
From the corner of his eye, he saw Daniel give one of his sympathetic smiles as he pulled off his glasses and began to clean them with the edge of his t-shirt. Mitchell carried on lounging, looking as bored as Jack felt, though he raised an eyebrow in semi-interest. Jack clapped his hands together.
"Well, this is boring."
It was the start of the second day since they lost contact with both Atlantis and the Daedalus and he had forgotten how bad the waiting could be, knowing Atlantis and its people might be fighting for their very lives while he and his team were traveling between galaxies - or maybe they had already lost the battle to survive. However, he could hardly complain as it had taken the Daedalus four days to reach Atlantis while powered by a ZPM. The Daniel-Jackson was only marginally slower, though Jack could feel the strain on the engines from sustaining this speed. Although he had asked about increasing speed, he knew Thor was barely keeping the engines from overloading as it was and he had to marvel anew at the Asgard's abilities and his determination to help them. Still, it did not make the waiting any easier.
He sighed deeply. He had already developed several strategies based on different scenarios and now seemed the right time to start firming up those ideas.
"Okay. Planning time."
He stepped back as a large table rose from the floor, its milky translucence almost indistinguishable from other furnishings scattered about the control room. Jack glanced over his shoulder at Thor. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome, Jack O'Neill."
Mitchell straightened immediately, losing the lethargic look as he pushed to his feet and came over towards Jack, pausing on the other side of the strategy table next to Daniel. Jack could see both men were impressed when the milky white surface became a screen showing the Pegasus galaxy in two dimensions.
"Cool!" Jack exclaimed.
Jack raised an eyebrow at Mitchell before glancing at Daniel, amazed that he had made no remark. Instead, Daniel looked too intrigued for words, which was probably for the best as he did not want to waste a whole lot of time discussing furniture.
"First. We need to get to Atlantis as fast as we can. So far we have the Puddlejumper from the SGC and we have the Daniel-Jackson," he nodded towards Thor, who tilted his head in response.
The map glowed to show their position not far outside of the Milky Way galaxy.
Mitchell pointed at the other glowing mark that represented Atlantis within the Pegasus galaxy. "Quickest way would be to stop at the first Stargate within the Pegasus galaxy and dial up Atlantis. Would take just the blink of an eye to get to Atlantis from there."
"Sure... but that depends on Atlantis not only being there but also still being accessible by the Stargate," Jack stated.
"And in friendly hands," added Daniel wryly.
"There is that," Mitchell conceded.
Jack grimaced as the drawback was that they would need to announce their arrival and place their trust in any answer given in response. "Personally, I'm not too keen on becoming a squashed bug on a windshield should they happen to not lower the shield after saying they have."
Daniel interrupted. "There's still the Daedalus. Elizabeth recalled her to Atlantis to help with the investigation. She may still be out here."
Jack sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. "Thor's been trying to make contact ever since we came into communication range. Nada. Zip. Nothing."
"Maybe she sustained minor damage to her communications array." Mitchell shrugged. "Or maybe our snake destroyed her instead of Atlantis." Mitchell glanced around at the others and Jack had to agree that it was a possibility though it was more likely that Atlantis was gone and the Daedalus was in the process of ferrying as many of the survivors to safety as possible. Dr. Lee had agreed with McKay's estimate that an explosion of that magnitude could affect the whole planet and not just the city.
"Worst case scenario?" Jack asked.
"Atlantis and everyone in it is gone," stated Daniel and Jack could see that, for Daniel, this would seem the worst case but Jack had an imagination full of far worse scenarios involving Wraith hive ships coming to investigate the disturbance and culling any survivors on the mainland.
Mitchell obliged. "If they had to abandon the city only, then they would have used Puddlejumpers and the Daedalus to ferry everyone to the mainland." He continued. "And if they had to abandon the planet then they'd have still loaded as many as they could onto the Daedalus and sent the rest out in the Puddlejumpers."
Daniel frowned and murmured softly. "There was a planet on the edge of the Atlantean solar system, breathable air but no Stargate."
Jack nodded, recalling the mission report. From all accounts, the place was inhospitable with extremes in temperature between day and night but it might have been all the choice they had until the Daedalus could ferry them to a more hospitable world and preferably one with a Stargate. Though that presupposed the Daedalus was not a pile of atoms scattered across space.
"So the real worst case scenario is that both Atlantis and the Daedalus were destroyed, and the survivors were forced to take a fifteen hour flight out to some inhospitable world on the edge of the solar system with limited supplies of food and water, and no means of escape should the Wraith come calling."
Daniel winced and Jack felt a twinge of guilt at having to spell out the worst to him.
"Jack O'Neill, there is another scenario."
Jack turned to Thor. "Yes?"
"The Goa'uld infecting Colonel Caldwell may have decided to save Atlantis for itself, forcing any surviving humans into slavery. However, this is all speculation."
"Right." Jack paused, staring at the others in turn. "The real question is: what has Camulus got to do with any of this?"
"Camulus?" Daniel squinted at Jack. "I thought we were dealing with a Goa'uld called Belatucadros?"
"Right again, Daniel. Ba'al ordered Belatucadros to destroy Atlantis and, if NID hadn't discovered that plan then Atlantis would have been destroyed the moment she opened the gate to Earth."
"To send in the weekly data burst."
Jack nodded. "Exactly. So who let the cat out the bag?"
Daniel's blue eyes widened, putting it all together. "Belatucadros was a lesser Celtic god of war, loyal to Camulus. Between the Jaffa rebellion and Ba'al's rise in power, Camulus lost everything. So, if Camulus is behind this then Belatucadros never intended to destroy Atlantis. He just made it look as if that was the plan while, all along, he was going to take over the city by some other means and hand it over to Camulus."
Mitchell leaned forward. "This means that Camulus is out there, and he's had a three week head start to reach the Pegasus galaxy. Except the Goa'uld don't have an intergalactic hyperdrive." Mitchell groaned suddenly, dropping his head into his hands. "They do have one. Caldwell the Goa'uld stole the hyperdrive plans from the Daedalus and gave them to Camulus."
Daniel looked up at Thor. "So, how long until we reach Atlantis?"
"Five days and nineteen hours."
Jack stared at Thor. "How long until we know if Atlantis still even exists?"
"Four days and two hours... unless the city is cloaked."
Jack winced. "Then I guess we hold fire on any more planning sessions until we can eliminate a few scenarios." He turned to Mitchell. "Hope you brought along a good book."
Jack did not need to know how Daniel planned to spend his time as Thor had already granted him access to the ship's vast library archive. Though he hoped Daniel might spare more than a few hours alone with him, preferably in the large bed provided in the room Thor had assigned to him. It seemed far too long since they had last comforted each other through sex and physical closeness. Perhaps too long. He had missed Daniel more than he would ever admit.
Standing on the stairs, looking down at the humans as they stacked up essentials like food and water, made Belatucadros want to laugh at their naivety. Only the Daedalus stood between Camulus and Atlantis, and any chance the human warship might have had was lost by the lack of leadership. Camulus had not been known as the Celtic god of war for no reason; his prowess in battle was legendary even among the Goa'uld.
In the past, his lord had commanded massive armies of Jaffa and enslaved hundreds of human worlds to do his bidding but all that had changed with the rise of Anubis and the Jaffa rebellion. Anubis had swept through the Milky Way with his strange cybernetic army, cutting swathes through the armies of the System Lords until he met his demise at the hands of the Tau'ri. Meanwhile Teal'c had spearheaded the rebellion with his former trainer, Bra'tac, turning the Jaffa nation against its former gods and masters.
With the destruction of Anubis, all should have settled back down but Ba'al had decided to fill the vacuum left by Anubis, gathering his armies and striking out at the weakest of the System Lords first. With his army already weakened first by Anubis and then by the Jaffa rebels, Grannus was the first to fall. While Camulus went to the Tau'ri to make an allegiance with them, he left his remaining worlds and army in Belatucadros's hands.
I failed him.
Ba'al had attacked in force with six ha'tak ships, numerous al'kesh and enough death gliders to darken the skies above him. Belatucadros had met him head on but the end was inevitable and, eventually, he'd had no choice but to throw himself upon Ba'al's mercy by surrendering. After all these millennia, Lord Camulus was defeated and rather than beg for aid from his fellow System Lords, he had asked for asylum on Earth with the Tau'ri.
In truth, Belatucadros could not blame Dr. Weir for what happened next for it was O'Neill who had handed Camulus over to Ba'al, yet she had made promises that her people had not kept and both he and Camulus had paid a terrible price for that token resistance. Months of torture had left Belatucadros with a useless body for a host, deformed and crippled, refused the use of a sarcophagus to regenerate from the massive trauma and he was left to heal the body of his host alone. Ba'al could be so inventive with his torture, taking the body to the edge of a death filled with terrible, twisting agony. He had caught glimpses of Camulus suffering a similar fate throughout his own ordeal, except Ba'al had taken a liking to the body Camulus had used for millennia, using it often. The hardest part had been watching Camulus brutally sodomized and abused publicly by the new leader of the System Lords.
Belatucadros had no reason to hate O'Neill or Weir or any of the Tau'ri for his own sake but months of hearing the screams of his Lord Camulus while he waited in his cell, his own hoarse throat recovering from the cries of agony ripped from him, had enraged him. He hated them for reducing his Lord Camulus to little more than Ba'al's slave, to be used and abused in any way that suited Ba'al's mood. Torture, humiliation, rape, and sometimes all three together as Ba'al tried to break Camulus but at least he had allowed Camulus access to the sarcophagus to repair his body, if only to preserve his Lord's beauty for the next torture session.
Ba'al had released them only when he was certain that their hatred of the Tau'ri was far greater than their hatred of him but, by then, the host body that Belatucadros had used for millennia was failing beyond even the healing ability of the sarcophagus. Taking over Caldwell's body had seemed a good option at the time. The human was strong despite his slightly more advanced years and controlling another's mind had been a pleasure after his recent subjugation to Ba'al; the mind of his previous host had long since given up and faded into mental death.
Yet, when he glanced at his new reflection in a mirrored surface, he was far more pleased with this new host body. Sheppard was uncommonly beautiful, with a warrior's grace and that precious ATA gene that gave him even greater control over Atlantis. He could feel the hum of the city beneath his skin, almost as erotic as the memory of McKay's skin under his former host's fingers. His new fingers itched to know that pleasure too and he licked his lips hungrily at the thought of having what he desired once Camulus arrived.
Belatucadros turned and walked back up the stairs, knowing he would not have to wait much longer. He felt the anticipation shivering through him, too excited to mock the living conscious of John Sheppard as it struggled uselessly against him. The main screen flared with an incoming message and Belatucadros touched the crystals, bringing the face of his lord up on to the screen.
"My Lord Camulus," Belatucadros bowed in greeting as he slipped the ribbon device back on his hand and raised his personal shield, almost grinning at the shocked exclamation from the scientist working behind him. He heard Kavanagh shouting out a warning to the others but it was too little, too late. He entered the access code, lowered the shield, and opened the jumper bay ceiling.
Within minutes, the al'kesh was landing on the east pier with loyal Jaffa pouring from it.
From the control room gallery, he grinned as the pathetic humans tried to seal the Puddlejumper, wanting to take advantage of the lowered shield and open jumper bay but he had already overridden the jumper controls. By the time Lorne figured it out it would be too late for them to escape. His eyes raised, a triumphant smile playing about his lips as two death gliders came into view in the open sky above, blocking off any escape attempt.
A race of steps behind him alerted him to danger and he turned just as the screwdriver pushed through his personal shield, piercing his side.
"Ha'shak!" he raised his palm, his anger white hot as Kavanagh fell to his knees screaming. Energy danced around the human's head, revealing his skull like an x-ray as Kavanagh's voice grew hoarse from his cries of agony.
Belatucadros's eyes snapped up at the command to stop and Kavanagh dropped to the floor unconscious as Belatucadros bowed low, acknowledging his commander. Camulus stopped before him, with his body still strong and beautiful, and with dark strands of hair shining as they flopped over his tall forehead. Brown eyes appraised him carefully.
"I see you have taken a new host."
Belatucadros stood up straight as Camulus walked around him, inspecting the new body he now possessed before standing before him again. Belatucadros clasped the arm that reached out to him, falling to one knee in deepest respect.
"You have done well... my first lieutenant."
A slight tug brought Belatucadros back on his feet and he could not help his eyes glowing in pride at his long coveted position at Camulus's right hand.
"Where is she?" Camulus demanded softly and Belatucadros smiled malevolently.
He ignored the stab of pain at his hip for the wound was shallow and already healing, and looked to the gate room floor where Dr. Weir could just be seen behind her barrier of weak human warriors. Beyond her, he knew McKay was still inside the Puddlejumper, sleeping off the sedative that Beckett had given him when he made repairs to the fragile human body. Belatucadros had his own request to make concerning McKay but until he had gifted Dr. Weir to Camulus, he knew better than to ask for anything for himself, convinced that Camulus would grant him any wish he desired once he had Weir.
"I will have her brought to you immediately."
Elizabeth swallowed hard as Jaffa surrounded the jumper. Lorne, Ronon, Teyla and Singh stood between them, guns raised defensively but Elizabeth knew they could not protect her and the others. She had heard Kavanagh's shout from above, warning her that John was not who he appeared to be, followed by the scientist's screams.
For all she knew, Kavanagh was dead along with Caldwell, and the Goa'uld that had raped Rodney was now residing in John's body.
"Knew there was something wrong about him," Ronon murmured angrily and she saw Lorne's shoulder's tense in answer, wondering if he had felt the same but had ignored his instincts.
With so much going on, she hadn't had time to feel uneasy in his presence since his so-called escape from Caldwell and it occurred to her that maybe this was why he had set her such a pointless task, telling her to take Teyla with her. Perhaps the Goa'uld knew that he couldn't fool her or Teyla despite having access to John's memories and thoughts.
Watching John swagger down the grand staircase with a malevolent smirk twitching at his lips, she wondered how any of them could have been fooled. He paused before them, with arrogance and disdain written so plainly across his handsome features. His eyes flashed with the golden light of the Naquadah flowing through his veins, leaving no doubt that he was now a Goa'uld.
"Dr. Weir. My Lord Camulus is eager to meet you again. Let us not keep him waiting."
Lorne snapped his P90 to his shoulder, aiming right at his former commanding officer. "I don't think so."
John smirked. "You forgot the 'sir'."
"No. I didn't."
Before Lorne could tighten his finger on the trigger, the Goa'uld reached out with John's hand. Lorne buckled to his knees with a cry of pain but even Ronon's reaction was not fast enough as a Jaffa fired a warning shot from his staff weapon, the charge blackening the floor by Ronon's feet.
Elizabeth pushed between Ronon and Teyla. "Stop! Please."
The energy from the ribbon device dissipated and Lorne slumped to the floor with head bowed low while his soft gasps of pain were clearly heard in the silence of the gate room. Belatucadros put on John's most charming smile and, with a flourish of his arm, ordered her to precede him.
"I suggest the rest of you put down your weapons before anyone else gets hurt."
She closed her eyes for a moment at the hint of sarcasm in the Goa'uld's voice that was so reminiscent of John, knowing it was an order rather than a request. Slowly, she climbed the stairs, well aware who was waiting for her above, and knowing there was nothing she could do to prevent this meeting.
She held her head up high when she saw Camulus. He looked no different from the first and last time she had seen him, still the same handsome host body with dark hair and brown eyes but those eyes were cold rather than merely disinterested now. They swept over her from head to toe as a triumphant smile tugged at his lips.
"Dr. Elizabeth Weir of the Tau'ri," he gloated, appraising her as if she was a prize animal up for auction. "So good to meet you again." He turned to his Jaffa. "Take her to my chambers."
Two Jaffa grabbed her arms and she was forced away, sparing only a single backwards glance to check on the body huddled on the floor and seeing the slight rise and fall of his chest. Kavanagh was still alive but she wondered how much longer any of them would live.
He awoke in darkness, gasping when he realized he was contained inside something only marginally bigger than a coffin.
"No, no, no, don't think coffin." His breathing grew harsher, more erratic and he squeezed his eyes closed. "Wide open space. Blue skies, not a cloud in sight... and grass. Yes. Lots of grass. Grass as far as the eye can see... and sky... lots of sky." He opened one eye but it was still pitch black and his hand struck the side of the coffin. "Oh no. Oh no, no, no. This can't be happening."
A grinding noise had him holding his breath, and then there was a sliver of light, growing wider rapidly. He blinked rapidly as the light stabbed into his eyes, a film of tears making his sight blur momentarily but the world above him was in shades of gold, pure gold light reflecting off ceiling and walls. Someone leaned over him and he knew the shape of that head, knew the outline of the untidy hair.
Rodney blinked again, his sight returning and he smiled up in relief, gasping out a short laugh. Sheppard. It was Sheppard. A hand was proffered and, after a moment's hesitation, Rodney grasped it, using John's strength to pull himself up to sitting. Only then did he register what he had been lying within and he swallowed hard because his first frightened guess had been correct. It was a coffin, a sarcophagus but why would there be a sarcophagus on Atlantis? His gaze flicked around the chamber, seeing the burnished gold walls with hieroglyphics covering every surface depicting gods and goddesses from Ancient Egypt. This was not Atlantis. This was... This was a Goa'uld ship and that meant more Goa'uld had arrived on Atlantis.
"Oh no." Wide eyed with fear, Rodney looked to John as he recalled everything. "Caldwell's a Goa'uld! We have to get out of here."
"It's okay, Rodney. I know, remember? I was there when..." He looked away for a second as if trying to regain his composure, and that brought a fresh memory searing into Rodney's mind, of Caldwell molesting him in front of John. John cut through his growing panic and humiliation. "Come on... it's not safe here. We have to leave."
Rodney accepted John's help as he climbed out of the sarcophagus, leaning heavily into John even though he felt stronger and more alert that he had in months. He knew it was because of the healing properties of the sarcophagus and that reminded him of why he needed to be healed in the first place. Fresh humiliation flooded across his face, heating his cheeks as he wondered how much John knew. His last memory had been of Carson repairing the damage to his body, and of the drugs coursing through him that took away all the pain and fear. How had he come to be here? Where was Carson? Had he been more seriously injured than Carson let on?
John kept a hand under Rodney's elbow even though he did not need the support and, despite everything that had happened to him at Caldwell's hand, Rodney relished the warm touch. It grounded him, pushing down on the fear and rage bubbling up inside. He knew he was due a mental breakdown at some point. In fact, he deserved one after all he had been through since arriving in the Pegasus galaxy but the tight grip on his elbow warned him that it could not be today.
John paused on the threshold and looked in both directions along the corridor outside the chamber with almost feigned vigilance. He tugged on Rodney's arm and drew him along at a brisk pace. There seemed to be no one around and Rodney wondered if all of the Goa'uld soldiers had stormed Atlantis, leaving the ship almost deserted. He bit into his lower lip. He had so many questions but the tight expression on John's face warned him to remain silent. Months of going through the Stargate had taught him to obey that command for silence when they were trying to sneak around or escape some enemy.
John slipped into another chamber, pulling Rodney in behind him and closing the door. Rodney glanced around, eyebrows rising at the luxurious room with its silk drapes and obscenely large bed.
"Where are we?"
"Safe... for the time being." John walked further into the room, unnaturally confident that it was empty apart from the two of them when he was usually almost as paranoid as Rodney.
"Where's Caldwell..." Rodney rotated a wrist, "... or the thing pretending to be Caldwell?"
"He's down on Atlantis."
"And Elizabeth? Carson? Ronon and Teyla?"
"You can't do anything for them right now."
Rodney froze. "You mean 'we'. We can't do anything for them."
John looked blank for a moment but not with an expression that Rodney had ever seen before. There was no furrowing of his forehead, no meeting of those mobile eyebrows. After a moment, he snorted softly. "If I'd said 'we' then you'd have only complained and said I meant 'you'. I was just trying to save a little time here." He looked away, eyes grazing the large bed. "Look, I know you feel great after the sarcophagus but, according to everything I read in Jackson's reports, that's just a temporary feeling. You need to rest so why don't you lie down and take a short nap while I scout around."
"And leave me here all on my own?"
"No one's going to come in here, Rodney."
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. "And how do you know that?"
Irritation flashed across John's face. "Because everyone is down on Atlantis."
"So how did we get up here?"
"The one you were lying in, Rodney."
"The one Caldwell knew all about? How did we escape? Wouldn't he have noticed it was missing by now?" Rodney pursed his lips. "And why aren't we heading for the jumper now? We ought to get away from here very, very fast before they turn us into Goa'ulds."
"Because it's on the other side of the ship."
"But there's no one onboard to stop us going for it."
John's voice sounded exasperated. "Obviously there is a skeleton crew, and I'd rather avoid running into any of them until we're ready to leave." He pouted softly and wheedled. "Come on, Rodney. Give me a break here. We can't go running around a Goa'uld mothership without a plan."
"But you can."
"You're planning on leaving me here."
"Oh for..." His eyes flashed brightly in anger as he loomed over Rodney. "Silence!"
Rodney stumbled back several paces, shocked by the deeper voice and the glowing eyes even though something about John had been niggling at the back of his mind since the moment he awoke in the sarcophagus.
"Oh no." The Goa'uld inhabiting John's body stalked forward and Rodney retreated, hands raised even though he knew they would be of little defense. "Who are you?"
"Oh, you know who I am." He leered, voice smooth as silk. "We already have such intimate knowledge of each other."
Rodney's eyes widened further. "Caldwell?"
"Will become my loyal Jaffa." He grabbed Rodney's upper arms when his retreat came to an abrupt halt beside the door. "And you will remain my personal slave."
"I'm sure the Colonel won't mind. He's wanted to put your mouth to far better use for months."
Rodney turned his head aside as the creature controlling John's body leaned in, struggling when Belatucadros pushed a knee between Rodney's legs and forced up first one of Rodney's hands and then the other until he gripped both of his wrists above his head in one inhumanly strong hand. He rocked into Rodney, brushing groin to groin. Shame filled Rodney as his body reacted to the heat and scent of John's body, to the warm breath that panted against his neck and the strong teeth that nibbled at his ear.
"You know you want this," Belatucadros whispered, rubbing his groin over Rodney's growing erection. "He wants it too. He wants you, too afraid to say it before, too afraid of breaking the last rule. Now you can both have what you want without consequences."
"No." Rodney shook his head, voice hoarse with despair because Belatucadros was wrong. Yes, he wanted John's body, wanted the touch of his hands, longed for the warmth of John's breath against his back as he pushed inside, as he took Rodney with slow, forceful thrusts that sent them both spiraling out of control with need and lust. He wanted to be surrounded by John's musk, to be filled by him but, mostly, he wanted to see the desire dilating those chameleon eyes as he looked at Rodney. John's desire, not this creature inhabiting his body.
The grip tightened on his wrists, the knee jerking upwards to press against his balls bringing a fresh film of tears to his eyes. Strong fingers grasped his chin and turned his head back against Rodney's will, the fantasy of that first kiss destroyed as his mouth was taken brutally.
Although they were moving closer to Atlantis with every passing hour, they were still three days out and still had no way of knowing if either Atlantis or the Daedalus had survived. Within another two days, the more advanced Asgard sensors would be able to pick up the city so long as it was not cloaked, and so long as it still actually existed because they could not rule out that scenario.
Jack stared up at the ceiling above the bed he shared with Daniel, feeling the heat of Daniel's body curling alongside him. He turned onto his side and leaned up, face held in the palm of his hand as he watched Daniel sleep. Without the glasses, Daniel always looked so vulnerable and so young that it was easy to forget that he had stepped onto a hundred alien worlds, and had fought battles and skirmishes against an advanced enemy. It was easy to forget that he had died and ascended twice.
The first time had been almost unbearable even though he knew Daniel had not exactly died. Saying goodbye had been one of the hardest things he had done in his life, almost as hard as watching them lower his only child, Charlie, into his grave. Only the knowledge that Daniel was still out there somewhere had kept him going, and only Daniel's presence during his torture at Ba'al's hand had kept him sane.
When Daniel returned to them, the pain of that initial loss was still too intense so it had been far easier to take a big step back, and then later to accept promotion and distance himself even further rather than risk losing Daniel forever next time. Of course, that had never made it any easier and it had taken him far too long to realize that what he had with Daniel was worth all the pain and sacrifice. Fortunately, Daniel had simply pulled back and waited for Jack to figure it out for himself and now, Jack's only regret was that they could not spend more time together.
Eyelashes fluttered and Jack smiled as Daniel opened his eyes sleepily. He leaned in, intending to start the day with slow kisses building into gentle lovemaking and moaned as Daniel reciprocated with soft, lazy strokes of hand and tongue. Their bodies arched together to increase the delicious friction between them, sighing as his hands mapped Daniel's body before wrapping his arms around him and drawing him close, hard and tight. He swallowed Daniel's whimper of pleasure as his lover thrust erratically against him, his own release following soon after, heat splashing against their bellies.
"Good morning." Jack smirked at his blissed-out lover and planted a soft kiss on his still parted lips before climbing out of bed, a moue of distaste wrinkling his nose from the semen splattered across his belly and chest, sticking the chest hairs together.
The sound of the Asgard equivalent of a shower brought Daniel to his side and they cleaned up quickly before falling back to bed on fresh sheets, having quickly discarded the damp ones. Daniel snuggled up against Jack's side, one leg flung over his thigh while his fingers toyed with the mass of graying hairs on Jack's chest. Jack smiled as a memory assailed him, something he had never shared with Daniel but it seemed vaguely important now.
"McKay propositioned me the night before they left for Atlantis."
The fingers stilled on his chest. "McKay? Rodney McKay?"
"Hmm... Hmm." He could still picture the hopeful expression and the painful stammer as McKay tried to be discrete but almost outed them both to the whole of the SGC. Even so, if he hadn't already given his heart to Daniel then he might have been tempted, wondering if McKay could do other amazing things with that often too agile mouth.
"Guess you turned him down." The fingers began to weave patterns through his chest hair again; tickling his skin and making him shiver slightly as the pad of a finger grazed a nipple.
"I'm a one man... man."
Jack drew Daniel closer, one hand cupping the back of his neck as they kissed tenderly. "Me too." Daniel jerked back as Thor's familiar voice filled the cabin.
"Jack O'Neill, we are receiving a transmission from the Daedalus."
"On my way."
They dressed hurriedly, and Jack was glad they had taken a quick shower after their pleasurable but sweaty exercises in bed. He was not so bothered about Thor knowing about his relationship with Daniel. Hell, he bet the little guy had figured it out before him, but Mitchell was another matter entirely. Mitchell was military and, despite seeming like a nice guy, he was an unknown quantity who could put a serious dent in Jack's military career should he be offended by homosexuality. It seemed unlikely though as the SGC did not make a habit of selecting homophobes or xenophobes for its off-world military, and the few that had displayed those tendencies usually disappeared off to some backwater duty post like the Antarctica outpost research station.
They reached the bridge in time to hear Mitchell taking a report from Caldwell's executive officer, Grant. The man on the communications view screen looked tired and haggard.
"Paul, what's going on?"
"General O'Neill? Good to see you, sir." Grant straightened in his chair but Jack waved him down, secure enough in his position to not need unnecessary deference to his rank. "Colonel Caldwell..."
"Is a Goa'uld." Jack stated.
Grant froze eyes intense for a moment and then he sighed and nodded. "I had my suspicions but I'd hoped it might have been a case of brainwashing."
Jack had hoped for the same because brainwashing they could handle. A little deprogramming and Caldwell would be back on duty... somewhere. A snake in the head was another matter entirely though Jack refused to give up hope for Steven. He might be a bit of a pompous ass on occasion but he was a good man and fine officer.
"That's not all, sir. Camulus has taken Atlantis."
"Then we'll just have to take it back."
"Easier said than done, sir. They've raised the shield."
Jack looked to Thor, who responded immediately. "Asgard technology cannot penetrate the Ancient shield."
"Sir, Doctors Weir and McKay, along with Colonel Sheppard and several others were still on Atlantis when the shield went up. We've had no contact with them since Colonel Caldwell beamed down into the city. We think he might have taken them hostage."
"And the rest of the expedition?"
"On the mainland with the Athosian people." He looked a little uncertain for a moment and then straightened up. "Sir, with the Daedalus damaged after a run in with two Wraith cruisers and then with an al'kesh, and with our communications array down, I made a command decision to go for help rather than risk being destroyed."
Jack could see the cost of that decision on Grant's face, aware of how hard it was to leave people behind and at the mercy of the enemy but Jack could also see that it was the right decision. Damaged, the Daedalus stood no chance against a fully operational al'kesh commanded by a former god of war, and its destruction would have left the Atlantis personnel and their Athosian allies even more defenseless.
"Where's the closest planet to you right now that has a Stargate?"
"Well that means nothing to me," he retorted sarcastically. "Send the coordinates and then head there. Wait for us to rendezvous with you. Don't land unless you have to, and if you do have to, make sure it's someplace remote. Don't want to stir up any trouble with the natives."
The screen went blank and Jack sighed as Thor reported receiving the coordinates.
"Now all we have to do is work on a plan before we get there."
Daniel frowned, his nose scrunching up. "Seems to me the problem is with the shield."
Blue eyes narrowed in disapproval and Jack sighed, scrubbing his hands across his face. He half shrugged out an apology, knowing he was wrong to take both his frustration and his concern for Atlantis out on his lover but they were still days away from being of any help to anyone, especially those trapped in the city with the Goa'uld.
Daniel gave a slight nod - apology accepted - and carried on. "They used the cloak to hide the city from the Wraith."
"That's because they wanted the Wraith to think they were gone." Jack's eyes widened along with his grin. "All we have to do is make them think the Wraith are coming back."
Mitchell smiled. "They take down the shield to raise the cloak..."
"And we beam down into the city," Jack finished with a flourish of his hands.
"Yeah," Mitchell breathed, nodding twice before a frown deepened the lines on his forehead. "Except for the Wraith part."
"I believe I can assist with that part of your plan, Jack O'Neill." Jack turned to Thor, an eyebrow raised in query. "I can modify the Daniel-Jackson to emit the same sensor readings as a Wraith hive ship, but this will take several days."
"Well that's lucky... because we have several days to spare."
Jack took a deep breath and smiled easily for the first time since learning of the Goa'uld reaching Atlantis. Finally, they had the outline of a plan. Now all they had to do was fill in the details.
For far too long, John's fantasies had revolved around seeing Rodney naked - on his back or on his knees - with John's cock thrusting hard inside that sweet and tight, pale ass; his darker tanned hands molding the flesh of each asscheek, pulling the cheeks apart so he could see it all, see his cock burying itself inside Rodney's strong body. The scenario would change depending on whether Rodney was on his knees with his broad back slick with perspiration, arching with every forward snap of John's pelvis, and with John's balls slapping against those pristine asscheeks as he went deeper with every stroke. Or if Rodney was on his back with his muscular legs wrapped around John's waist, hands wrapped over a shoulder or curled around the back of John's neck while looking directly into John's eyes, into his heart and soul as John brought them both to ecstasy.
Rodney was on his back now but his face was turned aside, and yet John could see his lips were twisted in pain, his cheeks wet with tears and flushed with shame. Those large yet elegant and agile fingers were clawed into the bed sheet below him, refusing to loosen their grip and take a hold of the body trying to bury itself balls-deep inside his ass. His legs were spread, driven back towards his chest by John's shoulders and arms, opening him to a vulnerability that should have been given freely but was being forcibly taken from him instead.
John's mother used to say: be careful what you wish for as it might come true. He had not understood at the time but now he did because this was everything he had ever wished for from Rodney and yet nothing like what he had ever wanted.
As the Goa'uld thrust hard into Rodney, John was uncertain what Belatucadros enjoyed more, seeing Rodney's complete humiliation as he was raped repeatedly or taking pleasure from John's reaction to it. Certainly, the Goa'uld did its damnedest to make John an unwilling participant in its despicable acts against his friend, savoring every forceful thrust, every vicious tweak of a nipple and sharp bite of Rodney's soft and vulnerable throat. Marks of possession were scattered across Rodney's pale flesh in colorful bruises that ranged from deep purple to fading yellow, from circles of teeth stained a livid red surrounding one nipple, to finger bruises adorning his throat like a necklace. Rodney's lower lip was swollen from a bite that had welled blood into John's mouth; blood that Belatucadros had swallowed greedily, lapping at the wound as he thrust harder into Rodney's unresisting body.
Yet there was always a single moment when orgasm ripped through his body and Belatucadros was lost in the throes of passion, leaving John alone and looking out through his eyes. In that precious moment of freedom, he held onto Rodney's tear glistened eyes of deepest blue for a split second before Belatucadros took back control and forced John back into the role of an unwilling observer.
At first he had tried to reach Rodney, had tried to put everything he felt into that single moment of heart rending freedom; all of his love and all of his pain, desperate for Rodney to know he was still alive inside his body. Trapped, yes, but very much alive. Then the shame had hit him, making him aware of how much worse this ordeal would be for Rodney if he knew John was a witness to his debasement. It was bad enough that the others - even Kavanagh - had born witness to part of that brutal degradation at Belatucadros's hands and mouth.
Rodney whimpered, unable to hold back the pain as Belatucadros forced his legs back further, doubling him over, and the sound almost broke John's heart. The creature controlling his body thrust hard one last time, stilling momentarily as John's body betrayed its former owner, giving it all away to the Goa'uld, spending itself in Rodney's abused and torn body while John remained a captive audience to Rodney's continued rape and assault at this creature's hand. Yet, at the moment of climax, Rodney's averted gaze swept straight to John's face, as if trying to see straight through the shell of flesh and into his soul. It lasted but a moment before Belatucadros took back control, snarling as he forced John back into darkness where even the sight of Rodney's bruised body was lost to him, but not before John had seen Rodney's eyes widen with joy moments before he turned away from the stranger now looking through John's eyes.
Rodney knew he was in there and if the joy in his eyes was to be believed, then maybe he did not hold John to blame for the actions of his captive body.
Hope stirred inside him for the first time since this nightmare began.
Kavanagh looked up as McKay entered the control room with his ever present and unwanted shadow. He could tell by the stiff way his former colleague and boss walked that he had been hurt yet again by the Goa'uld infesting Sheppard's body. After five days, Kavanagh's own bruises were fading and he made certain to keep his mouth shut and his head down, having already learned the hard way that it was better to keep a low profile around Belatucadros.
The Goa'uld had not forgotten his attack and the aborted punishment, and Kavanagh had made the mistake of showing defiance when the Goa'uld asked him to recalibrate a minor system. Within seconds he had been down on his knees in excruciating pain as the ribbon device tried to tear his brain apart, one cell at a time. McKay had saved him then, begging and pleading for mercy, making some deal with the Goa'uld that left Kavanagh still breathing but that added fresh lines of pain and a split lip to McKay's face by the time he saw him again.
As much as a month ago, the sight of McKay battered, bruised and at odds with Colonel 'Couldn't command a kindergarten class' Sheppard would have been all the vindication he needed to prove he was right about the leadership in Atlantis. He had warned the SGC back before the siege that they had been mistaken in putting the Atlantis expedition in the hands of Dr. Weir and the science division under McKay. He had warned them of Sheppard's inability to follow Weir's orders, naming one particular incident that had exposed them all to a nanovirus that attacked and killed those without the ATA gene. Not that Sheppard disobeying Weir's orders was necessarily a bad thing as it was obvious from very early on that Weir was out of her depth, making poor judgments based on her erratic emotions.
Placing McKay in charge of the scientists was also a mistake because he was an arrogant, petty man who belittled Kavanagh's experiments and showed nothing but disdain for his suggestions and observations. On the rare occasions when they did agree, McKay had made it clear that he was shocked at the very thought that Kavanagh could get something right. It weakened his position in the eyes of others and made it very difficult for him to find colleagues among the scientists who were willing to push his ideas forward, stunting his progress in his own field. After the siege, the bad feeling among his peers had left him no option but to request reassignment back to Earth. It had galled to be given the opportunity of a lifetime only to have it ruined by the likes of Weir and McKay.
Of course, Sheppard could not truly be blamed for his sudden promotion to leader of the military so the fault there had to lie with the SGC for not sending more officers. However, his subsequent promotion and assignment to military commander of Atlantis following the siege was unbelievable considering all the evidence Kavanagh had collected and sent in that data burst.
It had taken a few months before Kavanagh realized the mistake he had made in running away from his problems on Atlantis, especially when the work had far made up for the inconvenience of dealing with people like McKay and Zelenka on a regular basis. When he sent in a request to return, he half expected McKay to refuse permission. In hindsight, he wished the man had because then he would not be in this situation.
Kavanagh kept his eyes averted as Belatucadros pushed McKay into the seat at the main console, ignoring his indrawn hiss of pain and the way he sat gingerly upon the swivel chair. Instead, he focused on the work set by Camulus's head Jaffa. From the corner of his eye, he watched as McKay stiffened suddenly, seeing the warning flash across the main screen behind them but Belatucadros was busy kowtowing to Camulus and might not have realized the significance even if he had been paying attention. The warning was written in Ancient and Kavanagh had enough of a grasp of the language to recognize what it said beneath the tiny image that had appeared: Wraith hive ship. He cast a stronger look towards McKay as the data began to stream across the monitor set right in front of Kavanagh but then something odd caught his eye. For a moment, it seemed as if the deep space sensors had been confused, giving off readings for an Asgard ship.
Kavanagh flicked his gaze towards the communications station, debating whether he should try to send an SOS but if he was wrong then he would be bringing a Wraith hive ship straight to Atlantis and from there, straight to Earth. He glanced back at McKay, seeing the intensity of the look McKay gave in return, and nodded at the tight shake of McKay's head in response to his flicker towards the communications panel. McKay had seen it too. He had seen the small fluctuation that made the hive ship appear, momentarily, as an Asgard vessel but wanted to do nothing, or so it seemed.
"My Lor..." McKay swallowed hard, clearing his throat as if the words were sticking in there. "My Lord. Deep space sensors have picked up a Wraith hive ship about a day out."
Kavanagh wondered how much abuse McKay had taken before he had been willing to use such a title for the Goa'uld but he felt no contempt for McKay's weakness, aware that he had not even made it to the first cut of the Satedan's knife before he had fainted from fear and shock. If anything, he felt growing respect for the man, and deepening shame for decrying McKay as a coward after McKay had given in to Kolya's torture during the storm, nearly losing them the city.
Belatucadros tilted his head in an uncanny Sheppard gesture and stalked forward. "Heading?"
"In this general direction."
"Straight for us?"
"I... no. I don't think..."
"How long until it can see us?"
"The Wraith sensors are not as good as Ancient technology. They won't be in range for at least another six hours, if they continue on their current speed and trajectory."
Camulus stepped up behind Rodney, placing a hand upon his shoulder almost possessively considering he had given McKay to Belatucadros as a captive prize. His fingers tightening painfully judging by the grimace and the submissive bowing of McKay's head.
"Monitor its progress closely. Replace the shield with the cloak only when necessary." His fingers dug in harder and McKay whimpered in pain. "But not too soon. Do you understand?"
"Yes, yes. Please, you're hurting me." His voice cracked on the last word and he slumped forward when Camulus released him from his tight grip. McKay grabbed his sore shoulder, rocking slightly in his seat like a small child and Kavanagh felt a wave of pity roll over him at the sight.
For all of McKay's faults, he did not deserve to be beaten and abused. None of them did, and if McKay was right and this was an Asgard ship pretending to be a Wraith hive ship just so that they would lower the shield, then rescue was on its way. Kavanagh just had to make certain that no one else spotted the ruse before the trap was sprung on the Goa'uld, even if that meant distracting Belatucadros and Camulus at a vital moment and facing torture at their hand.
He swallowed hard at the thought but then drew himself up, determined to do all within his power to save Atlantis... and McKay.
Several hours passed while Rodney watched the monitor intently, knuckles whitening every time the disguise flickered to reveal the true vessel hiding beneath the false sensor image. If he was right then this was one of the latest Asgard ships and Rodney could think of only one person who could mount a rescue operation with the help of the Asgard and that was General O'Neill. A quickly coded program reduced the fluctuations substantially but Rodney still felt a surge of panic every time Belatucadros, Camulus or one of their Jaffa drew too close to the monitor.
"You seem overly nervous, Rodney." John's familiar voice breathed close to his ear making Rodney jump as the Goa'uld came up behind him.
"I have a certain... fear of being eaten by the Wraith." For once, the explanation seemed plausible enough even to his own ears. He let the swivel chair swing around slightly so Belatucadros was not looking directly at the screen over Rodney's shoulder.
A hand brushed across the nape of his neck, toying with the fine hair there and ghosting across his flesh, making him shiver in apprehension as another fantasy crashed and burned. He bowed his head lower, aware that if Belatucadros should look sideways at the monitor now, and if the Asgard ship should reveal itself at the same time then all was lost.
"Don't worry, Rodney." He leaned in and nibbled at the flesh, drawing down the collar of Rodney's t-shirt. "I promise to kill you before that happens," he murmured, leaning in to press another unwelcome kiss on bare skin before licking the exposed side of Rodney's neck from collar to jaw. Rodney let out a soft cry of pain as Belatucadros bit down hard, adding another possessive mark to his already bruised flesh. The Goa'uld leaned in closer still, pressing himself up against Rodney's back while his hands drifted down Rodney's chest, teasing his nipples to hard points through the thin t-shirt.
Rodney swallowed hard, knowing this threat of killing him was not one of Belatucadros's little jests, and yet he experienced a surprising lack of reassurance even though death at the Goa'uld's hand ought to have been preferable to being sucked dry by a Wraith. Memories of Gall resurfaced to haunt him again, with his aged features and the bloodied feeding mark on his emaciated chest. He recalled the scream of pain from when it had first fed; remembered Brendan's growing weakness and the tingling precursor to pain as the stun began to wear off. He compared that terrible memory with what he had suffered at Belatucadros's hand and knew his fear had come from whether Belatucadros would offer him a quick or a slow death.
It made Rodney realize that he was alive only for so long as he entertained Belatucadros, and once that interest had waned then Belatucadros would simply dispose of him. For now, though, the hands played with his body with unwanted intimacy, promising far worse than the unsubtle and painful twisting of his nipples once Rodney could be released from this Wraith watching duty.
"How close are they?"
A sharp bite brought Rodney's attention back to the monitor. He could see that the phantom hive ship was still out of range and felt torn between two options. He could tell the truth, remaining here at the monitor for another hour or he could lie and exchange the shield for the cloak, thereby ending his watch as Kavanagh would be more than capable of taking over. However, if he told the truth then there was the risk that Belatucadros would stay here in the control room with him and would notice the deception eventually but if he lied then Belatucadros would take him back to Elizabeth's nearby quarters, already too eager to abuse him again using John's body.
It really came down to choosing between himself and Atlantis.
"We should go to cloak now."
Rodney could feel Belatucadros's hot breath on his neck as he bent to the task. He flicked his eyes up towards Kavanagh, shame flushing his face as Belatucadros slipped a hand under Rodney's t-shirt to play with his already sore chest. He was surprised to see regret and concern in Kavanagh's expression rather than the anticipated pity or disdain, because they both knew what Belatucadros planned to do to Rodney once he had him alone again.
Kavanagh leaped to his feet, springing between Belatucadros and the large monitor, effectively hiding the screen from the Goa'uld.
"I can take over from here... Sir."
Belatucadros narrowed John's eyes and Rodney winced, choking back a sob as fingers twisted a nipple painfully again, his face burning with fresh humiliation as Kavanagh stared straight at him. The Goa'uld nodded and stepped back, his hand grasping Rodney's upper arm and dragging him from the seat.
"Yes. I'm certain you can. But if you fail me?" Belatucadros let the words hang, their meaning perfectly clear, before turning his head. "Jaffa! Watch him carefully."
The Jaffa saluted, moving towards Kavanagh even as Rodney was dragged away by Belatucadros. He cast a final glance over his shoulder and saw a flicker of a triumphant smile upon Kavanagh's lips as a flash of white light struck the gate room below. Belatucadros froze as the sound of strafing gunfire filled the large atrium but, by the time he had turned with his own gun raised, Kavanagh had ducked down behind a console.
"Mai'tac!" Belatucadros cursed viciously. "Raise the shield!" Yet he knew even as he shouted his order that it was too late; the Tau'ri were already in Atlantis. He touched his wrist communicator, aware that Camulus had ordered no one to disturb him on pain of death while he toyed with his new slave, Weir, but this was an emergency situation. "My Lord Camulus, the hive ship was a ruse. We are under attack."
Ronon had given up on pacing the cell several days back except for brief moments after they were visited by Dr. Weir and the guards. So far, no opportunity to escape had presented itself with the guards too wary, standing well back with staff weapons primed at both them and Weir but it gave her a chance to quickly impart any news for good or bad. Lorne knew they needed all the intelligence they could gather but from the bruises on her face, it came at a price. She looked worse with every visit; tired and battered, walking too carefully as if trying to disguise far graver injuries.
Lorne had no illusions as to what those injuries might entail for he had been part of the Stargate program for several years on an off-world team, fighting the Goa'uld. He had seen the brutality inflicted upon their human slaves, with some chosen to become hosts for more Goa'uld while others were raped, tortured and murdered for the entertainment of their so-called gods. The rest toiled under harsh conditions, out in the sun or deep in the earth within the Naquadria mines. Their overseers, the Jaffa, had lost all memory of their human origin, willingly carrying out the orders of their false gods until a few, like Teal'c, began to question their masters and seek freedom. Many Goa'uld had fallen to the Jaffa rebellion but, from the look of fanaticism on the faces of these Jaffa, Camulus and Belatucadros had retained the loyalty of a good number: certainly enough to control an al'kesh vessel and provide the Goa'uld with plenty of soldiers.
After fighting the Goa'uld for so long, Lorne had wanted to leave all that behind and become a part of the original Atlantis expedition but Sumner had never liked him because he was USAF, preferring to choose a 'wet behind the ears' marine lieutenant as his executive officer. Of course, Sumner did not get his own way over everything and had Sheppard foisted onto him almost at the last minute because of the USAF major's natural ability with the Ancient technology. When, after months of silence, a data burst arrived warning Earth of a dangerous new enemy that saw humans as nothing more than a delicacy to be snacked upon, once more Lorne had volunteered to go but, like Sumner before him, Everett wanted only marines.
O'Neill had not even bothered to argue Everett's decision even though he held a greater rank. What he had done, though, was put Lorne in command of the military reinforcements traveling within the USAF controlled Daedalus. If Everett and the Atlantis military should fail to keep out the Wraith then it would fall to him and the Daedalus to save as many of the survivors as humanly possible and then ensure the city was obliterated, leaving no access back to Earth.
Fortunately it had not come to that and Lorne was given the opportunity to see the fabled city of the Ancients. Still, he had not expected to remain in Atlantis following the siege but Sheppard had taken a liking to him, and even though they were equals in rank at the time, Lorne had found it relatively easy to defer to him. Sheppard's promotion to Lieutenant Colonel had taken them all by surprise even though it was the right thing to do. The man had commanded a distant outpost in hostile territory, out of contact with command for months without hope of reinforcements. He had done far more than what could be expected of a USAF pilot, and was even prepared to give his life to save the people he had sworn to protect. If that was not above and beyond the call of duty then Lorne did not have a clue what would be considered as such.
Perhaps it was not so strange that Lorne found he both liked and respected Sheppard in return and this made Sheppard's possession by a Goa'uld all the more difficult to bear. No one deserved that fate, least of all Sheppard but at least Lorne knew the parasite could be removed without killing the host, or at least, it could remove itself.
His eyes flicked towards Caldwell. Ronon had stopped glaring at the man around the same time he stopped pacing the cell, finally accepting that Caldwell was just as much a victim as Weir and Sheppard... and McKay.
Although Caldwell was the commanding officer, he had not spoken a single word since they were marched into what Sheppard called the Wraith cell only to find Caldwell still lying on the floor, semi-conscious. Lorne had tried to get through to the Colonel but he could only describe Caldwell as shell shocked. The only person able to get Caldwell even to eat was Teyla, and Lorne felt humbled by the amount of patience and compassion she showed to a relative stranger for he doubted that their paths had crossed often before this day. Caldwell was hardly the type to socialize with the Pegasus locals and probably only acknowledged her at all because of her position on Sheppard's team.
Under the circumstances, Caldwell's near catatonic state was no surprise as the Goa'uld had probably taken him as a host months ago. Under the Goa'uld's control, Caldwell would have witnessed the fall of Atlantis and would have seen his own body cause physical harm to at least one person, Rodney McKay, as well as betraying all the rest of the expedition - and possibly his own crew as well.
The Wraith had arrived before the Daedalus was able to jump into hyperspace so she would have been forced to run the gauntlet between the two powerful cruisers. Ordinarily, that would not have been too much of a concern, for the Daedalus had managed to escape against far greater odds during the siege of Atlantis and then later when the Daedalus tried to ambush the next wave of Wraith hive ships. However, the Goa'uld that had taken over Caldwell would not have wanted the Daedalus to remain a threat to Camulus. Lorne could bet the snake had done something to sabotage the Daedalus's chances of surviving a run in with those Wraith cruisers, leaving the rest of the Atlantis expedition and the Athosians defenseless against the ravenous appetite of the Wraith.
For all Lorne knew, this small group held captive in the city, might be all that remained but Lorne refused to dwell on that possibility. He had to believe that the rest were still safe and awaiting rescue, just like him.
With a sigh, Lorne sank deeper into his thoughts as he made a mental note of their current status. Sheppard was compromised and Weir was alive but in danger. Of Kavanagh, he had no word but the man had tried to stick a screwdriver into the Goa'uld so Lorne had a feeling the man was either dead or living on borrowed time. As for McKay? Weir had spoken of McKay just a little, enough to let them know he was still alive but Lorne had learned to read between the lines and knew McKay was suffering the same fate as Weir, perhaps worse, but at the hands of the Goa'uld now infesting Sheppard.
If being on a gate team had taught Lorne one thing, it was tolerance of others, in their beliefs and in their customs. He had found it very easy to apply that same tolerance to the men and women in Atlantis, and to Sheppard and McKay in particular. He knew they cared far deeper for each other than either had admitted and with the right push at the right time, eventually they would have crossed that thin line between best yet platonic friends, and lovers. Now, Lorne was uncertain what to think because the Goa'uld had come between them in more than just the literal sense. It had taken a slowly blossoming love and poisoned it by using Sheppard's body to heap sexual abuse upon McKay. He wondered if either man could ever recover from that trauma even if they did manage to extract the snake from Sheppard's body.
Ronon jerked to his feet suddenly, the dreadlocks spilling over to conceal his face as his head tilted at an angle, eyes focused intensely on the only exit from the room. Lorne joined him, noticing Teyla moving swiftly to her feet too. She moved easier now she was back in her usual attire, having taken advantage of those few hours of freedom, days back, to change out of her ceremonial dress. A pity really, he thought, because she had looked truly beautiful in it, like an alien princess. He pushed aside those fanciful thoughts, straining to learn what had caught at Ronon's exceptional hearing.
"What is it?"
Lorne straightened and turned quickly, pointing to the civilians held captive with them. "Move back to the far corner and get down. Stay low."
If this was a rescue attempt then they had to consider the possibility of the enemy reaching them as quickly as their rescuers, or maybe faster, leading to a running gun battle into this room. By rights the shield surrounding the cell ought to protect them but Lorne did not want to take any chances, especially if the Jaffa lowered the force-field, having decided to execute all the prisoners.
He watched Ronon tense as the volume grew until Lorne could hear the individual stutter of bullets leaving weapons followed by the also too familiar sound of discharging staff weapons.
"Get ready," Ronon murmured, and they all crouched low, prepared to do what they could to defend the civilians huddled behind them.
Ten minutes earlier:
Once they had made their rendezvous with the Daedalus, the rest of the plan came together very easily, with Jack, Daniel and Mitchell transferring over to the Daedalus. Everything hinged on Camulus believing that a Wraith hive ship was in the area, forcing him to drop the shield in favor of the cloak in order to hide the city. Thor had reconfigured the Daniel-Jackson to emit the readings of a Wraith hive ship but, like all good plans, there was always a small hitch that could not be resolved. In this case, Thor had a problem maintaining the illusion and Jack winced every time the Daedalus registered the Asgard ship in place of the hive ship. All he could do was hope that no one was paying too close attention to the readings following the initial identification, and as the hours passed by, his feeling of dismay increased when there was no sign of the shield dropping.
Still, they had to be ready just in case. To that end, the Daedalus waited, hidden behind a gas giant halfway through the Atlantean solar system. When the shield dropped, the Daedalus would race towards Atlantis and beam down each of the strike groups to different locations in the city. Of course, Atlantis would detect them the moment they came out from behind the gas giant but both Hermiod and Thor were banking on the time taken to lower the cloak and then raise the shield being sufficient to make their move, even though Jack knew they would be cutting it fine.
From the intelligence Jack had gathered from the Daedalus and from his knowledge of the Goa'uld and their ships, Jack figured on sixty Jaffa protecting the al'kesh and Atlantis against forty marines taken from the Daedalus. Most of those marines wore the uniform of the Atlantis expedition, and Jack knew that gave them a greater incentive to take on the enemy that had seized their 'home ground' and their leaders. It was good odds, especially with the element of surprise in their favor - hopefully.
"Okay, everyone know what they're supposed to be doing?" Jack asked, looking around at the three main groups standing ready to be beamed down into Atlantis as soon as the shield dropped.
Daniel nodded, a look of determination on his face even though he had argued against being separated from Jack but Jack knew that going for the Atlantean prisoners would be the less dangerous of the three attacks. "I'll check the security cells for Sheppard and the others."
"And you take out any Jaffa guards along the way. Shoot to kill," Jack reiterated, aware that his lover hated to kill but they couldn't allow the Jaffa guards to reach the prisoners in case they had a standing order to execute them in the event of an attack. It would not be the first time.
Mitchell smiled. "I'm on the al'kesh. We split up into two groups. Stackhouse's group heads to engineering and I head for the bridge."
This time it was Jack who nodded and took a deep breath. He had left the hardest part for his group, the largest consisting of fifteen marines. They would beam into the gate room and take control of the Stargate before fanning out. One other group consisting of two men stood ready though only one was a soldier. They would be beamed down to the ZPM chamber to disconnect the ZPM manually, which was why one of them was a scruffy looking, wild haired scientist. Jack looked at him, seeing remnants of paint still clinging to his skin and hair from where the natives of some kid planet had chosen to integrate him into their tribe while he waited to return to Atlantis.
"Dr. Zelenka? You do know what you got to do?"
"Yes. Yes. I am not imbecile. I can understand small instructions when spoken in words of one syllable."
Jack raised an eyebrow but he could see Zelenka was terrified beneath all that sarcasm. "You just make sure you stay with Lt. Cadman." Jack flicked his gaze to Cadman, catching her sharp nod and the "yes, sir" that told him Cadman knew exactly what she had to do; protect the civilian in her charge at all cost.
Grant's voice cut through the room. "The shield's down. Prepare to beam into Atlantis."
"This is it, boys... and girls," he added, acknowledging Cadman and the other female marines. He hefted his P90, taking up a defensive position as the groups of soldiers surrounding him disappeared in a flash of bright light. He felt the pull of the Asgard transporter beam and the gate room coalesced around him, his P90 jumping in his hand as he brought down the first of the startled Jaffa. Using the Puddlejumper, and the staircase architecture, for cover, his men fanned out, catching one Jaffa at the top of the main staircase and disregarding the body as it tumbled to the bottom. He could hear the deeper booming voice of a Goa'uld cursing and Jack took the stairs three at a time, thanking any real deities that he had kept in shape despite the stars on his collar, though he felt his right knee twinge at the abuse.
Two more Jaffa died in a hail of bullets as his men followed him up the stairs and Jack ducked behind a console, swinging around and bringing his gun to bear at the sudden movement beneath the console; he saw a familiar but frightened face - Kavanagh.
"Stay there!" Jack ordered and moved on, relaxing when he saw Sheppard holding onto McKay and firing towards another of the Jaffa, the bullets ricocheting off the metallic design upon the wall. At least Sheppard knew how to take advantage of a rescue and help save himself and his geek even if he was a crap shot.
The last of the Jaffa fell under a hail of bullets from a P90 and Jack stood up. "Colonel."
"General O'Neill, so good to see you again."
Jack barely had time to register the gun as it swung towards him, the flash of gold in Sheppard's eyes giving him away only moments before the first shots left the gun. Jack dived for cover, feeling the burn as a bullet grazed his upper arm.
"For crying out loud!" he cursed, having almost forgotten how much that hurt.
"Jackson!" Lorne yelled out, stepping close enough to the force-field to make it sizzle, though Ronon doubted any of the Atlanteans could hear that high pitched noise. He had discovered early on that their hearing was not as keen as his, but then, he'd had exceptional hearing even among his own people.
The one Lorne called Jackson disabled the force-field quickly, releasing them, and Ronon had wanted to kiss the man after enduring so many days of captivity. As it was, he crushed the man in a fierce hug before demanding a gun off him. Almost gingerly, the man handed over the P90 he carried along with a spare magazine, drawing a strange looking weapon from its holster against his thigh.
"Zat gun," the man murmured at Ronon's inquisitive stare.
It looked part Ancient in design and part something else, and Ronon planned to try it out as soon as they had taken back the city. As he stepped outside the cell, P90 in hand, Jackson tensed as soon as he saw Caldwell in the cell behind Ronon, the strange Zat gun unfolding with a metallic zinging noise, aimed straight at the colonel.
"It's Sheppard now," was all the response Ronon gave and Jackson's blue eyes widened. He reacted fast, clicking on his radio to warn the other teams but from the wince he gave, it sounded like the hasty warning had come a little late. Jackson confirmed that with a tight smile.
Beckett pushed forward. "I need to get to the infirmary to prepare for casualties... and Colonel Caldwell needs-"
"You go with him," Ronon stated to Jackson. "I'm going after Sheppard and McKay."
Jackson seemed taken aback but it was Lorne that answered, having commandeered a headset from one of Jackson's marines to listen in on all the battle chatter. "No. The General's group has that covered but Colonel Mitchell's attack on the al'kesh is not going so well, and that's where Camulus is holding Dr. Weir."
Ronon glanced towards Teyla and saw her agreement. Sheppard and McKay were more than teammates, they had become family in such a short space of time but Dr. Weir was just as important to Ronon, along with Beckett and the other Atlanteans who had taken him in after he had spent years alone and running.
He knew how much she had already suffered at the hands of Camulus. Over these past few days, Lorne had told him as much as he knew about the self-proclaimed gods that had enslaved most of the Atlanteans' home galaxy until recently, and about the history between Camulus and Weir in particular. Ronon understood that it was more than just a need for power that ruled Camulus, that the Goa'uld was also driven by vengeance so there was a very real fear that this Camulus would kill her before Mitchell's team could free her.
Lorne looked relieved and turned to Jackson, giving him an order phrased like a request. Jackson would lead the rest of them, civilians and military, towards the infirmary just as Beckett requested. Ronon had to agree with that plan even though he would normally have suggested that they leave the non-combatants in the relative safety of the holding cell but Beckett had to go where he was needed. The infirmary was one of the most defensible parts of the city and the transporters were close at hand and still operational following the successful Goa'uld invasion, reducing the risk. Plus Ronon recognized that it was far safer taking them all rather than splitting their manpower even further and leaving the civilians with inadequate protection should the Jaffa find them here.
With a single nod and a murmur, Jackson agreed and turned back to the group of frightened men and women that he was to lead.
Lorne checked the corridor in both directions before racing out and Ronon followed. Despite it being one of the Atlantean weapons, it felt good to have a gun in his hand once more, and he barely felt the pull as he emptied several bullets into a Jaffa who chose the wrong moment to step into the corridor ahead of him. He quickly outpaced the Atlantean major, taking point as he traversed the well known corridors that would lead them to the east pier, having mapped out most of the occupied areas of the city in his head during his twice daily runs. He could feel Lorne and Teyla at his back as they raced along the corridor with several of Jackson's marines behind them for back up and he took up position as they entered the transporter that would send them to the one closest to the east pier.
Nothing. Ronon frowned and reached out to press again only for Lorne to intercept him, pressing it instead and feeling the momentary disorientation as they were transported. One of the marines stepped forward.
"Dr. Zelenka must have reached the ZPM room. He was charged with taking it offline. He was also told to disable the transporters so they'll only work for ATA gene carriers."
Ronon nodded as it made a lot of sense. Any Jaffa would be trapped in the unfamiliar terrain of the Atlantis corridors while those humans with the ATA gene would be free to move around quickly. He spared a moment to thank his luck that Lorne had come with them.
Jack grabbed at his arm, dragging a field dressing from a pocket on his vest and wrapping it swiftly around the wound, applying the needed pressure to stop the bleeding. Daniel broke radio silence at that moment.
"Jack! Sheppard's a Goa'uld."
Jack tapped the headset. "Ya think? And you couldn't have warned me thirty seconds earlier?" Aware that he was bleeding but unable to deal with that right away, Jack pulled his Zat gun and went after Sheppard as the Goa'uld escaped from the control room, dragging McKay with him as a hostage. He reached the corridor, only now aware of McKay's bare feet slapping against the floor; he took the shot, cursing as he missed his target. Two marines sent a spray of bullets down the corridor and Jack yelled at them.
"Hold your goddamn fire!"
He could not risk McKay being hit and he wanted Sheppard alive, recalling the Abydonian boy, Skaara, that he had befriended during that very first mission through the Stargate all those years ago. Skaara had been taken by the Goa'uld, becoming a host to Klorel, the son of Apophis, and was eventually freed from the prison of his own flesh. Perhaps the Nox would help Jack again, or maybe the Tok'ra would have a means of extracting the Goa'uld without it killing Sheppard first.
Sheppard ducked into a room, taking McKay with him and Jack cursed when he reached it only to discover it empty. It was one of the transporters that had been mentioned in the reports. Standing inside a room no bigger than a closet with two marines who had dived in after him, presumably to protect him, he rolled his eyes at their confusion, aware that neither was wearing the Atlantean uniform. Jack closed his eyes partly in dismay but mostly deep in thought as he considered his options. Where would Sheppard go?
The fiercest fighting was on the al'kesh but that was also the only ship that could escape Atlantis and return to the Milky Way. Jack's eyes snapped open. This Bela-whatever had Sheppard's ATA gene and hence, his piloting skills, and if Jack was in his place then he would make for one of those little gate ships, the Puddlejumpers. He would use it to get through the Stargate and then wait to be picked up by Camulus as the al'kesh fled the Pegasus galaxy. Except there was only one Puddlejumper sitting in Atlantis right now.
"Gate room," he ordered as he leaped out of the closet, and wasn't that a phrase that brought certain thoughts to mind, he snarked inwardly. "He's going for the Puddlejumper."
Mitchell swore as he got pinned down in a corridor just outside the main control room, the discharge of a staff weapon flashing off the wall close to him, heating his face. He had expected most of the Jaffa to be in Atlantis but Camulus must have had his suspicions concerning the Wraith hive ship, or had simply wanted to be prepared for the worst for he had recalled half of his forces back to the ship.
Getting this far had taken far longer than anticipated and Mitchell had a bad feeling that he would have little choice but to order a retreat when he felt the vibrations of the engines beneath the deck plate. The attack on the engine room had failed too, with Stackhouse retreating with wounded. The al'kesh was preparing to take off, possibly unaware that an Asgard ship was in orbit by now, backing up the damaged Daedalus.
"Ah, damn," he yelled as another flash struck overhead. "Prepare to grab our wounded and fall back."
A door opened just a little along the golden corridor. Mitchell swore again as he saw Dr. Weir crawling forward on hands and knees, trying to keep below the shots being fired along the golden-walled corridor but at least he could complete part of his mission objective.
"Lay down covering fire!" he ordered, barely acknowledging the increase in weapon discharge as he dodged forward, keeping low as he covered half the distance towards Weir and kept the Jaffa pinned down while she half crawled, half scrabbled towards him. He grabbed her arm as soon as she was close enough and pulled her behind him, shielding her as much as she could. Quickly, he activated his comm. "Daedalus, get us out of here. Now!"
The Asgard beam grabbed every human onboard as the al'kesh rose into the sky but when he reformed, he recognized the interior of the Daniel-Jackson.
"Greetings, Colonel Mitchell... and Dr. Weir."
Ronon yelled in rage as the Goa'uld ship rose from the pier. They were too late. The Satedan twisted as Lorne grabbed for his arm, still snarling out his anger and frustration.
"They got her out. They couldn't take the ship but they got Dr. Weir out."
He watched as Ronon leaned over, hands to his slightly bent knees and head lowered as if exhausted after running a marathon. Ronon glanced up sideways towards him, dark eyes full of concern.
"He got away from O'Neill." That earned Lorne a glare.
"Not stopping me this time," Ronon stated and he straightened up, referring back to the last time he was determined to go after his teammates.
"Hell no, I'm coming with you this time."
They raced back towards the closest transporter station, heading for the gate room.
The Stargate stood silent and inactive at the far end of the atrium, natural light streaming through the beautiful stained glass panel behind it sending patterns of gold and green and blue across the polished floor. The Puddlejumper's ramp was still lowered and Jack could ascertain no movement inside. If he was right and the Goa'uld intended to use the small ship as his means of escape then Jack had managed to beat him back here. He ordered his men well back and, carefully, he crossed the floor and entered the craft, moving to the pilot's seat and swinging it around to give him a perfect view of anyone attempting to enter.
Several minutes passed by slowly and, though patience was not his strong point, Jack understood the necessity and was actually quite good at it when he needed to remain still. He was rewarded eventually by the shuffle of both booted and naked footsteps outside, and a small whimper of pain that sounded like it came from McKay. The slightly hollow ring of boots on the ramp brought a smile to his face as the Goa'uld infesting Sheppard grinned triumphantly.
"Foolish humans!" he stated softly as he shoved McKay hard, the scientist sprawling on the floor at his feet; the Goa'uld reached for the control that would raise the ramp.
"What'cha doing?" Jack asked and the Goa'uld spun around, shock widening Sheppard's eyes.
This time Jack did not miss and took perverse pleasure in the way Sheppard dropped as the bolt struck him across the chest, the Goa'uld slumped to the ground, though unfortunately on top of McKay.
Jack rose from his seat just as McKay shoved the body off his legs, his eyebrows rising in surprise when the scientist scrabbled forward on hands and knees, placing himself between Jack and Sheppard's body before looking up, his expression frightened but determined. Jack took inventory of the visible signs of physical abuse, of the bruises and bite marks that denoted worse than plain torture.
"He... Sheppard's still in there."
Jack understood and nodded, lowering the Zat gun and leaning down to strip the ribbon device and controls for the personal shield from the Goa'uld's wrist and hand. He was glad the Goa'uld was too greedy to activate the shield, preferring to hold onto McKay than protect himself.
"Yeah. He is... and we're gonna get that snake out of his head."
McKay blinked up at him rapidly, as if he couldn't believe that his ordeal was almost over. Maybe it wouldn't be over for the man until he had all of his people back safe on Atlantis, including, or maybe especially Sheppard.
"Come on. Let's get him in a holding cell and get you some medical attention."
"You're bleeding." McKay indicated towards Jack's arm and Jack looked down, wincing at the blood seeping through his field dressing and at the pain that returned along with the memory of his own injury.
"Guess we both need to find the doc."
Jack replaced his Zat gun into his holster and held out his good hand to McKay, bracing himself as McKay accepted the assistance back onto his feet. Marines ran up as Jack exited the Puddlejumper with his good hand wrapped gently around McKay's upper arm to guide him. The chatter over his headset warned him of small pockets of resistance from stranded Jaffa but all of the missing Atlanteans and Athosians were now accounted for, including Weir. Camulus had fled in his al'kesh and Jack left it up to Thor to decide whether to finish off the al'kesh or let it go.
"Place Sheppard under full guard."
Very slowly, he led a dazed McKay towards the nearest transporter, intending to make certain he reached the infirmary safely where Beckett and Daniel would be waiting. He could see McKay was glassy eyed with shock and he understood all too well following his own abuse and torture at Ba'al's hand several years back. McKay needed quiet reassurance and a steady hand to guide him back to his friends and surrogate family. Jack couldn't simply pass the man off into a stranger's care, not if he was right and McKay had spent days being abused in every way possible, and that was not including the torture of knowing that some of that abuse had come from a creature wearing the body of a close friend.
As he walked, Jack gave out orders to eliminate or capture the remaining Jaffa, raising his head to acknowledge Zelenka and Kavanagh as they stared down at him and McKay from the control room above. Zelenka looked shell shocked at the state of McKay, eyes flicking across to where Sheppard was being strapped down on a gurney for transportation to a holding cell. He could almost see Zelenka swallow thickly before the smaller man turned back to the consoles, where he and Kavanagh had a city to set back to rights before the stranded members of the expedition could return home.
The infirmary was full though Carson had managed to convince the marines to place the uninjured and not so badly wounded into the isolation rooms just off the side wards to keep them from getting underfoot. Most of the injuries were glancing blows from staff weapons or from flying shrapnel. Those hit straight on tended not to survive the encounter, leaving several bodies lying in the morgue. He knew some of those soldiers well, having performed many a physical on them, laughing and joking as they gossiped about the city and its people. Now they would be returning to Earth in a body bag.
Peripherally, he heard that the majority of the fighting was now over with just a few stragglers left behind from when Camulus fled the city. Of Elizabeth he had yet to hear word, only that she had been rescued and had been transferred to the infirmary onboard the Daedalus. He could only guess at her injuries from the daily visits with food and water, aware that she hid most of the damage from a less discerning eye despite the flimsiness of the clothing she was forced to wear as a means of destroying her dignity but Carson had been her doctor for well over a year now. He knew her too well and knew when she was masking pain. However, he knew Dr. Porter onboard the Daedalus and trusted the woman implicitly, knowing she would take good care of Elizabeth.
Another flash of light heralded the return of vital medical staff from the mainland and Carson breathed a sigh of relief as he handed over patients into their care once he had inspected their injuries. For a moment, he wondered how he had become so good at triage and then recalled the busy times in the Accident and Emergency center in Glasgow and the more recent trauma during the siege.
Dealing with so many wounded here in Atlantis was a far cry from his days as a junior doctor because then, he had not known his patients. He had never sat down with them for a cup of tea, or sat chatting to them over lunch. He had never known the names of their friends and family, of their pets. Had no inkling of the type of person they were; a budding artist, a writer, a bit of a practical joker. His eye caught movement at the door. Or an arrogant, egotistic, genius astrophysicist who had wormed his way into becoming one of his closest friends.
Carson finished triage on his current patient, sending him towards a nurse who would clean and bandage a flesh wound, before moving straight to Rodney's side and helping the strangely quiet and exhausted man to a bed. He did not need to guess what injuries he would find as he had cataloged a few of them several days back when that Goa'uld had sent Rodney to his knees beside the containment cell in the gate room. If that same abuse had continued, and Rodney displayed every indication that it had though with John's body instead of Caldwell's, then he suspected Rodney was in a lot of pain both physically and mentally. He could do nothing about the mental anguish at this moment but he could alleviate the physical pain and offer Rodney a little privacy at the same time.
Carson drew the curtain around the bed, a little surprised when the General did not take a step back or make any move to leave. Carson had noticed O'Neill's injury and he indicated towards it silently, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
"Just a graze."
"You'd no be lying to me in some misguided belief that your men should be seen first?"
O'Neill unwrapped the bandage and revealed the slight furrow across the outer arm where a bullet had grazed the flesh. It would need a couple of stitches.
"Fine. Well, if you'd like to wait outside, General, then the nurse will see to you next and get that cleaned up and re-bandaged." He frowned as instead of doing as he asked, O'Neill glanced down at Rodney; Carson sighed softly. "He'll be fine." Carson saw Teyla through the gap in the curtain and pulled it aside far enough to gain her attention before smiling gently at O'Neill. He understood why O'Neill was unwilling to leave, knowing Carson had more than the one patient to attend to. "He won't be left alone."
O'Neill nodded as Teyla slipped into the screened area surrounding the bed and reached for McKay's hand, the tension leaving his body as he handed McKay over to a friend's care. O'Neill squeezed Rodney's shoulder gently and Carson's smile grew a fraction wider as O'Neill stepped out and almost into Daniel's arms, seeing a closeness between the two men that most would never discern. He forced his errant thoughts away and turned back to Teyla.
"Would you mind watching over Rodney for me, love? After I've made sure he's not requiring immediate medical treatment."
Teyla merely lowered her head in willing acquiescence, allowing Carson to turn his attention back to Rodney. He smiled down at his too quiet friend, laying a hand on Rodney's shoulder and offering his own reassurance before he moved into doctor mode. Carson completed a quick assessment of his friend's condition, finding nothing life threatening. Throughout the quick examination, Teyla murmured so softly to Rodney that even Carson could not overhear her words but they must have reassured him because Rodney made no complaint. Admittedly, that worried Carson a little as he was used to Rodney making a fuss over the simplest procedure, accusing him of voodoo practices and animal husbandry but Carson could see the dark circles under Rodney's eyes and the exhaustion barely held in abeyance. He set up an IV to counter the shock and dehydration of the past few days and patted Rodney gently on the arm before moving on to the next patient.
"I'll be back soon."
By the time he returned from checking over the last of the wounded, Rodney was sound asleep with Teyla seated beside him, her head dropped onto her forearms on the bed, also sleeping. He sighed, wishing he could simply let Rodney sleep but the earlier, cursory examination was only for triage purposes. Now he needed to treat any external injuries and internal tears properly, ensuring they were cleaned to prevent infection.
Teyla jumped when he placed a hand softly on her shoulder.
"Dr. Beckett, I am so sorry. I did not mean to sleep."
"We're all a wee bit tired. It's been a long and trying week."
"For some more than others," she replied with a sad smile, gazing down at Rodney before looking back up. "He was concerned for John."
"Aye. As we all are."
Teyla sighed softly at his troubled expression but he had just received instructions to be on standby while they attempted to free John from the Goa'uld's control. He thought about what they planned to do, finding it very hard to step back and delegate the task to a doctor more skilled in that area. Perhaps if they hadn't had so many casualties then he could have justified his own involvement too but the running battle through Atlantis had brought a number of soldiers into his infirmary, many of them familiar faces around Atlantis. The Daedalus had enough of its own wounded to deal with from its battle against the two Wraith cruisers and the al'kesh to take any patients off Carson's hands.
Teyla brought him out of his inner concerns. "Have you news of Elizabeth?"
"She's doing fine and we'll be bringing her home soon." He looked beyond the crack in the curtain. "As soon as we settle our current stock of patients into the side wards and release a bed for her." He looked back to Rodney. "For now, I need to make Rodney more comfortable, even though that means waking him."
"Do you require my assistance?"
Carson thought hard. All of his nurses were busy but he had to weigh that up against how Rodney would feel about having Teyla, a close friend and teammate, see him under such embarrassing circumstances. Perhaps it would be better that it was a nurse who could treat him with a more impersonal and professional touch, salvaging a little of his lost dignity. Teyla must have read his thoughts for she reached out and touched his forearm.
"Perhaps it would be better if I assisted at a later time by keeping Dr. McKay company as he recovers."
"Aye," Carson smiled, grateful that she understood. He was surprised when she pulled him in and pressed her forehead against his in a gesture of affection and respect before leaving on almost silent feet. Carson watched her progress out of the infirmary, shaking his head before he turned back to his patient.
"She's a bonny lass, Rodney." He snorted softly as Rodney slept on. It still seemed such a shame to wake him but he really had no choice. Carson reached out and gently tapped his friend's face, smiling with reassurance as blue eyes fluttered open.
"There you are, Rodney."
Carson beckoned over a nurse and, together, they removed Rodney's thin t-shirt and then his pants, finding him naked beneath the single layer of clothing. Bruises and bite marks marred his body, some had broken the skin and might even scar. Carefully, he set about cleaning the slight tears from the multiple rapes, keeping his touch light and professional to afford Rodney his dignity. Throughout, Rodney remained unusually silent, biting into his lower lip to hold in any cry of pain. Only once Carson had finished and helped him into light scrubs did he speak, pleading softly.
"Sheppard. He's still in there, Carson. Don't let them kill him."
"They have an idea on how to remove the creature."
"They?" Rodney frowned, forehead creased in thought but he tensed, eyes widening. "If they miscalibrate? I need to..."
He struggled to sit up, movements becoming more erratic when Carson tried to force him back down to rest. A quick call sent the nurse running but she was back in seconds with help and a sedative. While the others gripped Rodney firmly, Carson injected the contents into the IV, waiting for the effects to calm Rodney before he asked the nurses to let go, grateful that they took the hint and moved away, leaving him and Rodney in private. Carson sighed and rubbed a hand soothingly along Rodney's upper arm, trying to offer a little reassurance as Rodney drifted back into sleep, wishing he could stay.
He looked around sharply when the curtain twitched open again, relaxing as Teyla smiled gently.
"I will watch over him again." Her smile widened slightly. "And this time I will not fall asleep."
Looking around the infirmary from her own bed, Elizabeth sighed in silent thanks. For a time it had seemed that all was lost and that she would never see joy on the faces of her people again but several of her marines were grinning and laughing quietly as they talked to wounded friends. She knew they had lost a few good people in the battle and she dreaded the next round of videos she would need to make for the families of those who had fallen but she could not entrust that task to any other person.
Considering her situation only a few short hours ago, it seemed a little surreal to be here with Carson and his medical personnel bustling around her but she had asked - okay, she had demanded to be sent back as soon as Dr. Porter finished her preliminary assessment and deemed her fit enough to travel. Being back in Atlantis was akin to coming home, and everyone knew people recovered best in their own home. She smiled wryly and let her gaze drift to the bed on the far side of the infirmary, hidden by a privacy curtain.
Carson had tried to draw the curtain around her bed too but she had insisted he open it back up, not wanting to hide away from other people. But then, she had always been a people person whereas Rodney was a very private individual despite all his incessant chatter and a certain lack of self-censorship. She wondered what he was feeling and thinking right now, whether the abuse meted out by Belatucadros had seriously damaged him. Her own treatment by Camulus had not been easy to bear but a small, guilt ridden part of herself could justify his actions. No doubt Kate would have something to say about that but all she could feel was relief that he had not raped her despite everyone's fears to the contrary.
What justification could Rodney attach to the way he was treated though?
She had seen enough during those days of captivity to know he had suffered heavily at the hands of a stranger wrapped in a colleague's body and then, far worse, in a friend's. And what of Steven Caldwell and John? How would they cope with what they had witnessed through the eyes of their hijacked bodies?
Admittedly, Caldwell had started to come out of his near catatonic state, registering the world around him once more with Teyla's gentle coaxing. Carson seemed to believe that it was not all psychological and that the Goa'uld had released a neural inhibitor when it vacated Caldwell's body. The inhibitor was breaking down slowly and Carson was confident that Steven would fully recover, physically at least. As for his mental state after what he had seen and done while he was trapped inside his own body, that remained to be seen but Elizabeth was confident because he was a strong man and she had a feeling he would recover quickly. He had to be strong to accept the responsibility of commanding a ship like the Daedalus, traveling through Ori, Goa'uld and Wraith infested space on an almost daily basis. What was less certain was how he would react to Rodney after what Belatucadros had done to him while in Steven's body.
John was still in the holding cell while they figured out what to do about the Goa'uld inside him. If they could not find a way to remove the creature then John was lost to them but she held out hope that, possibly, the Asgard would speak to the Nox on their behalf. She refused to dwell on the possibility that they might say 'no'. She had to believe that John would be returned to them, safe and whole, yet as with Steven, she wondered how he would deal with what his body had done while out of his control. They had all been through so much since arriving in Atlantis; seen so much death, pain and destruction. She and so many others, and especially Rodney, had come to rely on John's strength and on him simply being there to lean on when it all seemed too much to bear alone. Perhaps John did have a hard time explaining his inner feelings but that hesitancy on personal matters was actually endearing, and yet missing completely from the military side of him. He might not have had Steven's length of service or even his experience in the Stargate program but, like Jack, he could think outside the box, pulling in solutions from the people around him like a true team leader; he had extended that ability to the military command of Atlantis. Also like Jack, he had never put his own safety first, never prepared to allow anyone to do something that he was not willing to do in their stead if he had a choice. It made for a military leader that his men trusted and admired even when they knew they would be walking to their deaths at his command.
What had happened to John was far different from being captured and tortured by an enemy. Name, rank and serial number meant nothing to the Goa'uld, instead he would feel the creature sifting through his private thoughts and memories. All those inner feelings that he could never share without embarrassment would have been flicked through like a mildly disinterested reader with an open book. He would have been aware of almost every moment, unable to stop the pain being inflicted on the very people he had sworn to protect, and watching his life pass as if caught in a waking nightmare. Except, it had been a nightmare for all of them, one that had not yet ended for him.
Elizabeth smiled grimly. They would end that nightmare for John one way or another, hopefully by removing the Goa'uld and freeing him from its control. She sighed. Kate would have her work cut out for her and, most likely, was already planning therapy sessions for everyone involved.
Her gaze drifted across the infirmary towards Rodney's bed at thoughts of Kate. Carson would allow only Teyla to speak to Rodney or touch him, shutting out all others. She could understand his reluctance, knowing the trauma of the past few days was still too raw for Rodney. He needed time to come to terms with what had happened, to find his equilibrium again. She knew Rodney had a boatload of neuroses even before this ordeal, some of them concealed behind all the bluster and arrogance, but he had overcome so many fears and doubts since joining the expedition.
"And we need him," she whispered, aware of how many times he had stepped between them and certain death, even between her and Kolya's gun. Oh, she was not foolish enough to believe he was indispensable to Atlantis, that all would fall to pieces should he leave but it would be so much harder without him, without his incredible mind working on the problems, and without his friendship.
She was so focused on the other bed that she failed to see someone approaching her until he was almost at her bedside. Elizabeth flinched, silently cursing her reaction as a show of weakness and forced the slight panic from her face.
"Dr. Kavanagh," she stated with as little emotion as possible. She had wronged him, giving him every reason to abandon them all to their fate; her, Rodney, and John. Instead, from the little Carson had gleaned from Rodney, Kavanagh had kept a cool head and had done everything in his power to hinder the Goa'uld, even hiding the rescue plans from them at the risk of his own life until it was too late for Camulus to fortify his position. The people here owed him; she owed him, and far more than a simple apology.
He had that supercilious air about him, hair pulled back sharply into a pony tail, nose and chin turned upwards but, for once, Elizabeth tried to look beyond that arrogance, wondering if it was just a defense shield, a little like Rodney's. Her years of diplomacy had put plenty of experience and words at her command and she could reel off an entire speech to pander to his ego but the events of the past few days had left her feeling raw too. She looked him straight in the eye and offered two simple words with heartfelt emotion.
His blue eyes widened a fraction, caught off guard by simple gratitude. He flustered and hesitated, stumbling over a few words before settling for a simple, "you're welcome."
Elizabeth laughed softly for the first time in days and, for the first time ever, she bade him to sit down and talk as if they were friends rather than hostile colleagues. She had discovered, finally, that there was a decent person behind that arrogant facade.
"I'm working on it, Daniel." Jack heaved a sigh of exasperation. "Or rather, they're working on it."
Daniel nodded. He liked Sheppard and if there was a way of freeing him from the Goa'uld then he hoped for the best outcome, if only for Rodney's sake. Daniel's lips twitched worriedly at that thought because he had seen Rodney's attraction to Sheppard almost as love at first sight in Antarctica, though he could bet Rodney was as oblivious as always even to his own desires, attributing his lust to Sheppard's command of that coveted ATA gene. Sheppard was another matter entirely but Daniel had noticed a certain amount of interest in Rodney back then that went a touch beyond normal intrigue. Perhaps it was the way Sheppard checked out Rodney's ass whenever Rodney bent over to modify some control or other.
The fact that they had survived all these months together; living on top of each other, eating together, running for their lives together, only made Daniel more certain that they had to care far deeper for each other than either had revealed to the other. Otherwise, Sheppard would have shot Rodney by now, the same way Jack used to threaten to shoot him.
Jack had mentioned Rodney crawling between him and Sheppard in the Puddlejumper, determined to protect Sheppard despite the brutality he had received from the Goa'uld wearing Sheppard's face and body. It that wasn't love then it was masquerading as something very close.
The thought of Rodney losing someone he cared for reminded Daniel that he had come just as close, his eyes dropping to Jack's bandaged arm. Just a flesh wound but the outcome could have been far different if Jack had not ducked quickly enough, because Daniel had a feeling that Sheppard's aim was pretty good normally.
Daniel stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Jack's waist, leaning his head on Jack's shoulder, and relaxing when he felt the strong arms encircle him and hold him tight. He pulled back as he heard a noise in the corridor beyond, aware that neither of them would care about US military regulations had Jack not accepted promotion to a rank that was far more visible to the general public; Jack was no longer hidden and protected by the secrecy of the SGC any more.
"I have to go keep Bela... what's its name..."
"Yeah... keep him company." He took a step away and then moved back swiftly, planting a sloppy kiss on Daniel's mouth. "Later," he promised, and Daniel smiled because he had a strong feeling that everything was going to work out fine for all of them.
John pushed back with his mind as Belatucadros sneered at the soldiers on the other side of the force-field, but he may as well have been trying to wade through quicksand, hating the way his conscious felt smothered by the creature. His voice sounded strange to his ears, booming with a deep resonance that trembled through him.
"How about I don't?" O'Neill gave a cocky smirk as he strode into the holding cell area, tilting his head to one side and raising an eyebrow.
"I am your god! If you do not release me then I will destroy you and every living creature on Atlantis."
"And you plan to do that... how exactly? With your great army?" O'Neill glanced around the room, turned back and clicked his fingers. "Wait! You haven't got an army because Camulus ran away."
John laughed silently, sensing the way Belatucadros bristled at the implication that Camulus, his lord and master, was a coward.
"He will return for me and I will have my vengeance upon all of you. You will become my personal body slave."
O'Neill crunched up his face, wrinkling his nose. "I thought McKay had first dibs on that job?"
Belatucadros drew himself up to John's full height. "I would not touch you except to torture you, as Ba'al did before me. I would see you writhe in agony--"
"So not so much of the body slave, more the entertainment?"
John could not help the bubble of hysterical laughter filling his mind as O'Neill continued to taunt the Goa'uld.
"Silence! For your insolence, I will cut out your tongue and feed it to you."
"But then you won't be able to hear me scream as I writhe in agony."
"Well, as much fun as it's been talking to you. I think it's time you had to leave that body."
John's body tensed momentarily before a slow smile spread across his features; John felt a certain malicious warmth pervading him as the Goa'uld met the words with a threat of his own.
"If you attempt to remove me from this body then he will die."
"I kind of figured you'd say that so..." O'Neill tapped his radio headset. "Any time you're ready, Thor."
"The Asgard cannot save..."
John jerked as he felt something hit him from within, the weirdest of sensations filling him. It lasted but a second and then he was falling as if all control had left his limbs. He crumpled like a marionette with its strings suddenly cut and ended up seated on the floor with his legs akimbo. John reeled in shock when his limbs obeyed him, staring with awe as he wiggled his fingers in front of his face and felt nothing trying to claw back control from him. Peripherally, he was aware of the force-field dropping and of someone kneeling down carefully beside him. A hand grasped his shoulder, strong fingers digging in with enough force to draw his attention away from his own body.
John looked up into O'Neill's face seeing concern rather than the almost smarmy indifference from when he spoke with the Goa'uld.
"Yeah, sorry I couldn't warn you but Thor and his buddy..." There was a pause while Jack searched his memory for the other Asgard's name.
"Yeah, that's the one. Well, they configured the Asgard transporter beam to remove the snake from your head. Complicated stuff, apparently. Wouldn't have been so good if they'd beamed out a chunk of your brain by mistake."
"But worth the risk."
"Figured you'd agree."
John closed his eyes as the relief threatened to overwhelm him. "Thank you, sir." He opened them at the sound of rushing feet, only then noticing the team of medics hovering by the now open door.
"It's okay, kids." Jack stated to them but the doctor was already in John's face, shining a light and asking dumb questions.
"I feel fine."
The doctor frowned. "I'd still like to run some more tests."
John nodded with only token resistance, too tired to argue. "Okay."
O'Neill pushed to his feet with a grimace, favoring his right knee. "Let's get you to Beckett." He held out a hand and John grasped his forearm, allowing the General to boost him to his feet.
"Where'd they send it?"
"Oh, I don't know." His brown eyes danced with inner mirth as O'Neill waved a hand towards the ceiling. "Somewhere out there. The Asgard are not as forgiving as the Nox, which reminds me." He keyed his radio. "Good job, Thor."
The quirk of his lips told John he had gained a response from the Asgard. John chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully as he recalled all the brutality inflicted upon his friend since being healed in the sarcophagus. Belatucadros had only used the sarcophagus for one reason and that was to try to convince Rodney that he was the real John Sheppard so that he could dupe Rodney into having sex with him willingly. The Goa'uld had wanted to experience Rodney's full submission, and then his abject horror when Rodney realized he had given himself over to the Goa'uld rather than to his friend. When the ruse failed, Belatucadros had lost interest in Rodney's health, preferring his victim to suffer as new bruises layered over old ones, and barely healing tears were re-opened, adding the slickness of blood to the pathetic amount of lubricant used to ease his body's passage into Rodney's tight ass. If anything, knowing the sarcophagus was available had made Belatucadros even more careless and cruel to Rodney and John was concerned as to how much damage had been inflicted upon Rodney; damage that could not be easily repaired now that the al'kesh and its sarcophagus had escaped. He licked his lips nervously.
Some of the smile left O'Neill's eyes. "He's in the infirmary getting checked over by Beckett." The grip returned and tightened fractionally upon John's shoulder. "You weren't the one who hurt him, and you couldn't do anything to stop what happened."
"On the contrary, sir. I should have stopped this before it even started. I should have realized what was happening the moment the ceiling closed up."
"Yeah, well, I've never found hindsight particularly useful in these situations." O'Neill leveled him with a look. "Don't beat yourself up over this. McKay won't."
John was not convinced but he murmured the appropriate thanks, respecting O'Neill more than any other commanding officer he'd known. He followed him out of the cell and towards the infirmary with reluctance, his personal entourage of medics behind him. Rodney was there, and he was not sure how either of them was going to handle facing each other after all that had happened.
The door to the infirmary appeared far too soon for John's liking and he took an unconscious, deep breath before entering behind O'Neill. The number of occupied beds struck him immediately and he felt a little ashamed that his thoughts had been solely on his own dilemma, almost forgetting about the battle that had raged through Atlantis.
John gave a shaky smile as he spotted Elizabeth sitting up in bed with... was that Kavanagh? Kavanagh tensed as John approached and a flash of memory assailed him, of a screwdriver pushing through the personal shield to pierce his side. The healing powers of the Goa'uld had closed the wound, leaving no trace of it behind but the memory remained and he had to hand it to Kavanagh. He never believed the cowardly scientist would ever take such a risk especially after having fainted at the mere thought of being tortured by Ronon. Something told him he owed Kavanagh for a lot more than this one act of bravery but all John could recall now was his wide, horrified eyes as the Goa'uld inside John abused Rodney in front of him, and of his screams of pain when Belatucadros punished him. Kavanagh dropped his gaze and Elizabeth - damn her perception - smiled gently, offering a little reassurance and compassion because she had witnessed the abuse of Rodney too.
He cleared his throat. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing..." She scrunched up her eyes a little. "... okay."
He could see that she meant this even though he saw flashes of her flying backwards when he backhanded her, except it wasn't him it was Caldwell, or at least it was Belatucadros's memory from his time spent inside Caldwell. He could recall Camulus hitting her though, even kicking her when she did not move fast enough one time.
"You didn't do anything wrong, John."
"That's debatable," he murmured. He glanced across the room as the curtain in the far corner swished open, heart dropping to his stomach when he caught sight of Rodney presumably asleep on the bed. Carson was moving towards him cautiously, head tilted at a slight angle.
"I gather the wee beastie's gone?" He gave a tight smile. "No offense, Colonel, but I'd like to check you over to make certain you've no been harmed by the creature and by the removal process."
Although it wasn't deliberate, John could not help his eyes flicking back to Rodney, his own health so unimportant compared to that of his friend.
"Is he... okay?"
Carson glanced around too, his expression softening to one of affection, the smile and the compassion remaining in his eyes when he turned back and grasped John's forearm. "Aye... and he does'nae blame you for what happened, if that's what's bothering you. He was convinced you were still in there and he was very concerned when he worked out how the Asgard proposed to remove the wee beastie. I had to sedate him to stop him from leaving his bed to go assist."
John licked his lips as he thought through Carson's words, recalling those moments when he had been free in his own body, when he truly believed Rodney knew he was there, subjugated, but still there. Rodney had never turned away from him in those moments, not even when his cock was still buried deep inside Rodney's torn and bloodied ass. Rodney had held his eyes for those split seconds without disgust, and John had desperately wanted to believe that he was making silent promises that he would do all in his power to help him escape from the monster controlling him.
"Anyway, come with me, Colonel and I'll run those tests."
John grimaced but allowed himself to be led away. He knew he would have to face Rodney some time but perhaps it would be better to leave that confrontation just a little longer.
The low murmur of voices brought him out of his sleep and Rodney blinked sluggishly as he tried to take in his surroundings. He registered warmth around his hand and felt a little bemused at the small, obviously feminine hand entwined in his. He squeezed gently and was rewarded with a gentle sigh as Teyla lifted her head and yawned delicately. She smiled softly, sleepily and perhaps it was because he was still half-asleep that he smiled back just as warmly, having almost forgotten what it was like to wake up feeling so safe and secure.
"How are you feeling, Rodney?"
"Oh... fine. Good, I think."
He pushed his thoughts inwards to assess all the little aches and pains that flared when he moved but there was nothing particularly sharp and nasty, and he certainly was not going to mention that dull ache in his ass to Teyla. He winced as he tried to sit upright, flustered when Teyla acknowledged his hidden discomfort with a sympathetic smile and raised the head of the bed for him. The curtain pulled back and Carson stepped through, making Rodney wonder if the man had a sixth sense for when his patients were waking up.
"How are you feeling today, Rodney?" he asked, echoing Teyla's greeting and Rodney could think of no better answer even the second time around but Carson was already in doctor mode by then, pushing a freezing cold stethoscope against Rodney's chest and ordering him to take a deep breath. Carson turned to Teyla, who had vacated her seat and was hovering just out of the way. "Teyla, my love, perhaps you can go fetch Rodney some supper while I'm examining him. I would ask one of the nurses but I sent most off to take some rest now that most of my patients are settled."
"Of course, Dr. Beckett."
"Oh, and I think you can call me Carson by now." He gave her a boyish smile, the one that displayed his cute dimples and Rodney was surprised at the softened look she bestowed upon both of them before she slipped away.
As Carson finished with his examination, Rodney wondered how many people could honestly say that their platonic best friend knew them as intimately as Carson knew Rodney's body. He certainly couldn't say the same in return and despite his genuine though often hidden affection for Carson, he had no inclination to touch him back with the same intimacy, professional or not. For someone used to multi-tasking in the laboratory, his mind seemed to have only a single track where relationships were concerned and all of his focus had been on John for months now, with those little mentions of Sam dropped in solely to disguise the truth.
In reality, he thought John was straight despite the hair, though Rodney was the first to admit that his so-called gaydar had never really worked properly, leading to several embarrassing situations in his youth; plus one incident in the SGC just before they head out to Atlantis that he really did not want to think about too hard. He was sure General O'Neill had forgotten all about it by now, hopefully passing it off as some weird science thing.
Yes, he had believed John was straight but unless Belatucadros was lying then John had been harboring lustful thoughts after him too, and that changed everything. Or did it? He was so confused now, uncertain whether he should give into the guilt and shame of wanting John even when it was Belatucadros in control and thrusting hard into his body, or whether he should work on the denial. Except he could not deny that he had closed his eyes and pretended that it was John making love to him, perhaps a lot rougher than he preferred in a partner but still John rather than an alien abusing him.
Then came the moment when John's body emptied itself inside him and for those precious few seconds, Rodney was certain it truly was John looking deep into his eyes, holding him. His eyes had darkened in despair, sorrow and regret but, underneath all of that, they were filled with adoration, want and need, perhaps even love. Desperately, Rodney wanted to believe it, that Belatucadros had not lied and that John had wanted him, too afraid to make a move because of a stupid US military rule that had been thrown out the moment the expedition was classified as both multi-national and civilian-run.
He sighed raggedly, earning a worried look from Carson. Believing John wanted him as much as he wanted John had made the whole ordeal bearable but now John was free to make his own choices, but would he choose Rodney after all that had happened between them?
"Well, Rodney. All you need is a hot meal and a little more rest and you'll be right as rain... physically speaking." His eyes continued to shine with concern. "I took the liberty of setting up an appointment with Kate tomorrow at nine."
"Well, I'm sure you'll enjoy the chance to exchange chants and voodoo curses."
Carson huffed in exaggerated annoyance. "Not for me, Rodney. For you." He dropped the irritation, turning deadly serious. "Though you do know my door is always open if you need to talk?"
Rodney grimaced, biting back a retort because he really was not in the mood to 'kick a puppy' today, especially as Carson had taken more than his fair share of battle wounded and dead following what must have been days of hell under Goa'uld control. He could tell by the dark circles under the man's eyes that Carson had found little time to rest since the start of this whole ordeal.
"So I can go? Not that it hasn't been a joy..."
"Only if you agree to rest," Carson interrupted. "And if I hear you've stepped one foot inside a laboratory, or made one call to do with work then I'll have you back in here so fast your feet won't touch the ground... and I'll have you sedated for the rest of the night as I can no spare the staff to watch over you to make certain you rest." His blue eyes narrowed. "Do I make myself clear, Rodney?"
"I am perfectly capable of determining if I need..."
"Nurse, get me..."
"Wait! Wait!" Rodney sighed, the fight going out of him. "Yes. Yes, you've made your point. I'll rest. Are you happy?"
"Deliriously." Carson gave him a smug smile. "I'll have a nurse bring you some clothes the moment you finish your supper." His eyes brightened and his smile widened appreciably. "Ah! Teyla. Such perfect timing. I've agreed to release Rodney to his quarters to rest once he's eaten. Would you mind making certain he reaches them without accidentally losing his way and ending up in a laboratory?"
Teyla stifled a smile as Carson raised his eyebrows in all innocence.
"Oh ha, ha."
Carson shoved his hands into the pockets of his white coat and swaggered off with the broadest grin lighting his face, leaving Rodney alone with Teyla but the sight and smell of food soon took his mind away from the way Carson had treated him like a recalcitrant toddler. He had lost much of his appetite over the past week, unable to do more than pick at food even on the occasions when Belatucadros had allowed him to eat, but he was starving now and quickly wolfed down the bland meal. Within another twenty minutes, he was outside the infirmary and making his way slowly to his quarters under Teyla's watchful eye, knowing it would be a waste of breath to persuade her otherwise. At least she allowed him some privacy once they reached his quarters, bidding him a good evening after he refused her assistance to settle in.
He hated to admit it but he was still tired so he lay down on top of his bed and closed his eyes, intending only to take a very short nap to give Teyla time to leave the area before he snuck out to check on the repairs to the city. He had no idea how much damage had occurred during the running battles through Atlantis but had spotted evidence of at least one staff weapon blast in the corridor outside the control room plus he had heard the ricochet of P90 bullets when O'Neill's grunts had shot at him and John.
He snapped his eyes open at the chimes from his door, momentarily disoriented by the complete lack of natural light when it had still been daylight when he had closed his eyes. Atlantis answered his quick thought by raising the internal lights to half-level and he glanced at his bedside clock. His short doze had turned into a three hour sleep.
"Who is it?"
Rodney froze partway off the bed at the muffled response. He sank back down to ease the pain in his ass and commanded the door to open, watching as John hesitated on the threshold before straightening a fraction and stepping inside. The door closed gently but firmly behind him.
"Rodney?" He tensed when he spotted Rodney half-reclined on the bed rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He could bet he looked no better than Carson with dark rings beneath his eyes and lines of pain that had yet to be smoothed away by the painkillers still sitting on the cabinet by his bed. "Hey, look! I can come back tomorrow."
"No. We need to talk and now's as good a time as any. Never put off till tomorrow... etc, etc," he rolled a hand nervously.
John swallowed hard, his Adam's apple bobbing; he licked his lips in that nervous fashion that Rodney had long since learned to recognize as unease. "I came to..." He stalled, staring at Rodney. "I'm sorry," he emphasized, expression deadly serious and Rodney waited, confused when it became apparent that there was no more coming.
And John had the nerve to call O'Neill succinct, he thought in annoyance. Rodney wiggled his fingers. "Sorry for... um... what exactly?"
It was John's turn to look confused. "You know... for..."
"Raping me? Beating me?" John's face lost all color, turning ashen at Rodney's words. "Well, I have a news flash for you, Colonel. It wasn't you."
"Then who the hell was it, Rodney. Sure looked like me from where I was standing."
"Then what? You wanted to fuck me up the ass so hard I bled? You wanted to shove your dick so far down my throat I turned blue and passed out?"
"HELL... NO!" John was visibly shaking from the images that Rodney knew they both could see, though from different angles: rape victim number one and rape victim number two, because that was what they were, as much as either would want to deny it in a fit of male pride.
"It wasn't you, John."
"It was my fault," John stated softly as he dropped into the chair by the bed that was strangely bereft of books, papers and journals, head bowed low and hands scrubbing through his already messy hair. "I-I wanted to... wanted... He took that from my mind. Used it against... us."
"So what he said was true? That you wanted..." He could not quite add that final word; he could not put it out there between them in case John denied it, knowing it gave him the illusion of pretending he had intended another word other than 'me'.
"You." John stated with heavy finality, still unable to raise his head and look at Rodney, forearms resting on his parted thighs with his hands clasped tightly, hanging between them. "I wanted you."
"Well that's... that's good." He frowned at the understatement pouring from his mouth while the rest of his mind went into paroxysms of jubilation.
John looked up in confusion, head tilted to one side. "Good?"
"I... um. I wanted... want you too." He screwed up his face. "Though preferably without the pain and the asphyxiation. Though you can't help being the metaphorical pain in the ass."
John stared at him in horrified fascination, and then it started softly as John looked back down into the hands clasped between his thighs, a shaking of his shoulders and a soft deep rumble. Was he crying? Rodney felt horrified because it was one thing to reduce one of his poor excuses for a minion to tears but another entirely to break Sheppard. He reached out towards him, hand falling too far short to touch.
John looked up hearing the concern but his eyes were filled with bittersweet mirth rather than sorrow. He was laughing. The bastard was laughing at him. Before Rodney could let loose his outrage, John grabbed his hand, clasping it tightly and refusing to allow Rodney to pull it back.
His voice was still full of mirth. "You are... the most infuriating, obnoxious, arrogant, unbelievable... and the most amazing person I have ever met. You were raped, Rodney. By this body and yet..."
"Maybe that's why it hasn't... you know."
"Sent you reaching for a straitjacket and a padded cell?"
Rodney nodded. "Because it was your body... and I wanted." He sighed. "Personally, I have more of an issue with Caldwell."
"Had you ever... before?"
Rodney almost had to laugh out loud because they both really stank at this heart to heart stuff, unable even to form complete sentences and instead, relying on allusion and hand gestures to fill in the gaps. At least he could put the last question into context and answer it with a single word that held no shades of gray.
"Me too. Though not since I enlisted."
"So..." Rodney looked down at their still clasped hands, feeling the warmth and the strength that seemed to ground him, taking away some of the lingering memories of abuse at those hands. He pushed forward from the bed, completely uncoordinated and ungainly, and pressed his lips to John's in an almost chaste kiss before pulling back with a hiss at the sudden discomfort in certain parts of his anatomy.
A tongue slithered across John's lips as if tasting Rodney's kiss, assessing its composition, and debating on whether he liked the taste and wanted more. The answer came as John tightened his grip on Rodney's hand and leaned into him; seeking Rodney this time with amazing gentleness as his other hand reached up to caress Rodney's cheek and guide their lips. The flicker of a tongue against his lips had Rodney parting them willingly, his own tongue tentatively seeking its partner, tasting and retreating, coyly accepting the small invasion as John followed, eyes fluttering closed as he gave into the taste memory and let it unfurl, secure in the knowledge that this was John and not some alien masquerading as John. Throughout the kiss, John's hand stroked his face gently, learning the curve of his cheek and jaw, fingernails scraping over the bristles barely lying proud of the surface of his skin. The slightly callused thumb smoothed along an eyebrow and across his temple before fingers carded back through his hair, the hand cupping the back of his head as John deepened the kiss with the same keen attention to gentleness as if afraid of scaring him.
A sensation of falling lasted but a second and then Rodney was lying back on the bed with John beside him, covering him without pressing him down into the mattress, giving him room to escape if he should need it but Rodney had no intention of escaping this. He had wanted this for too long. Throughout his so-called ordeal, he had convinced his mind that it had been John covering him, holding him, making love to him. He had reinforced that belief by holding John's eyes for that split second while Belatucadros was mind numbed in ecstasy, all the while compartmentalizing the moments of pain and indignity as not-John, as the actions of a hostile and unwanted other.
A warm hand stroked beneath his t-shirt, sending fresh licks of fiery need through his body, igniting desire and want. He gasped when a thumbnail dragged across a sensitive nipple teasingly. God he loved it when a lover played with his nipples, squeezing and pinching them gently, flicking a finger or tongue over the tightened flesh. No pain though. He abhorred pain in any form, finding no joy in taking his body over that thin line between pain and pleasure. John seemed to know this, his touches remaining exquisitely light, stoking the fire in his body as he arched up with his hips to seek the elusive friction against his groin.
The fingers stopped playing with his nipple, stroking down along his ribcage and belly to slip beneath the waistband of his sweatpants and palm the length of his hard cock with too much reverence. He arched up again, pressing against the hand, trapping it between his cock and John's muscled belly, and groaning when he found that desperately needed pressure and slide of flesh on flesh if only for one excruciatingly short stroke.
"John!" he whined, hating that neediness in his voice but uncaring when, a moment later, he had what he needed, gasping into John's mouth as John wrapped a hand around him and jacked him with perfect, even strokes. No pain, only pleasure that flowed over him, through him, rocking him into near oblivion as John swallowed his soft cries, erasing any lingering sense memory of Belatucadros. This was John and only John, and as his reeling senses slowed, he looked deep into John's eyes and grinned at the mirrored satisfaction found there before melting into a deeply possessive kiss.
John pulled back when Rodney stopped responding to his kiss and he sighed in relief when he realized Rodney had fallen asleep in his arms. He knew that would make great blackmail material in the future but, for now, it represented all that he had longed for since the moment Belatucadros took over his body; it showed him how safe Rodney felt with him once more.
Perhaps they both found it difficult to put their feelings into words but, for once, actions spoke louder, and the contented smile on Rodney's sleeping face spoke loudest of all.
Beyond the walls of this room, his fellow Atlanteans would be returning from their temporary exile, their own fears allayed for another day. They would be walking through battle-scarred corridors and making plans to repair the damage, probably in the morning. They would be breathing in the Atlantean air, tasting the freedom that had been returned to them with the help of O'Neill, the Asgard, and the stubborn crew of the Daedalus who had battled the Wraith and an al'kesh unsuccessfully, and yet had still come back to save them on O'Neill's command.
John wondered if Kavanagh would be holding court in the mess hall tonight, regaling the crowds with his tales of bravery but, hopefully, missing out the worst of the indignities heaped upon Rodney and Elizabeth. John could not begrudge the man his moment of glory because, within that hindsight that O'Neill had told him to ignore, he had memories of Kavanagh acting suspiciously in the control room. Now he understood why, recognizing the courage it had taken to conceal the approaching attack.
No, John would not begrudge Kavanagh his heroic story, not when John had his own personal hero lying safe in his arms, a contented smile on his lover's sleeping face.
John tightened his embrace as he recalled how Belatucadros had proclaimed himself a god and forced Rodney onto his knees to worship him. One day, when the memory of this time was no longer so immediate and raw, he would tease Rodney about that but, for now, he pushed aside the memory of being a false god. Instead, he concentrated instead on the exceptional man lying in his arms, and bestowed a worshipful kiss upon his softly parted lips.
The weight of water was crushing but eased as he came closer to the surface. Twice he had outwitted predators from the deep, creatures that saw him as an easy meal, to be snapped up in their hungry jaws. He knew from his observations of the planet that it was mainly water with but a single land mass, and with so few humans upon it.
Fools! He thought as he pushed onwards and upwards. The Asgard should have beamed him into the unrelenting vacuum of space. Instead they had sent him into the depths of the ocean but he was birthed in water. His kind had come from the sea.
When he broke the surface, he exalted in the air flowing across his scales, gazing around to see nothing but ocean stretching in all directions. Somewhere on this vast ocean, the amazing city of the Ancients floated upon the water, a city that should have become the start of a new empire ruled by Camulus and with him at his right hand. Together, they would have ruled the Pegasus galaxy, using the knowledge of both the Ancients and the Goa'uld to destroy the Wraith and subjugate every world.
He swore that he would take back Sheppard's body and bring Rodney back to his knees before him, using the sarcophagus to extend both their lives for as long as Rodney's mind and body pleased him. Once he had taken his fill of the human then, perhaps, he would hand him over to become the host of another of his kind, or take one last moment of pleasure as he squeezed the life out of the human.
He kept those thoughts shining in his mind as he journeyed onwards, using them like a mantra as the days passed slowly. Most often, he would skim the surface, staying just beneath where the water was warmer and not so turbulent. He stopped, once more, to get his bearings, bobbing on the surface of a calm sea as he watched the unfamiliar stars and allowed his senses to direct him towards the floating city. Assured that he was on the right path, he thought of the host body awaiting him and he thought of the delicious pleasure of using that body to bend Rodney to his will, taunting both of his unwilling victims.
Flaring his fins, he prepared to duck back beneath the waves, to continue on the long journey back to Atlantis and to the lives that would be his for the taking. He had but a moment to register the darkness hurtling towards him from below.
The young Flagecallus breached as the tasty morsel slid into his belly. For some reason, he thought of the strange underwater coral that had resisted any attempts to feed off it, surrounded by a shimmering light that was impenetrable to all of his kind. It had risen back to the surface many moons ago.
The thought was fleeting and it faded as he digested the small, snake like creature that had floated carelessly on the surface, but the intrigue remained. He called to his mother, feeling her reassuring echo as he set out across the ocean towards the floating coral, knowing she would follow him at her own pace.