'It matters less to a person where they are born than where they live.'
- Turkish Proverb
Rodney wandered into their bedroom, his toothbrush in his mouth. John glanced up from where he was reading on the bed.
"Whatever you're going to say, say it over there where you won't spit toothpaste all over me."
Rodney rolled his eyes at him and pulled his toothbrush out of his mouth. "You still have time to apply. The data burst is going through tomorrow. I can help you write all that garbage you have to write and it'll be ready in time."
John groaned and dropped his book. "Rodney, give it up already."
"I'm not giving up until you bend to my will."
John snorted. "That'll be the day. Go finish brushing your teeth and get into bed. I'm exhausted and the Daedalus is coming tomorrow."
"Hey, I don't like that tone. The Daedalus getting in means chocolate cake again for a few weeks."
"It also means heavy lifting, lots of paper work, lots of yelling and pointing and comforting a sobbing Miko whose comics probably won't be arriving again, and cracking the heads of the idiots who mess up our orders."
"You're changing the subject."
"There was never a subject to change. We finished that previous conversation and it's now over."
Rodney narrowed his eyes at him, letting him know that this conversation was not over and went back into the bathroom. He came back out a few minutes later and got into bed beside John. John tossed his book onto the desk and thought the lights off. Atlantis gave a cheerful hum in his mind and obediently turned them off.
Sleep tight, old girl. Don't let anything blow up, John thought. He swore he felt a tingle racing through the back of his mind but it was gone before he could focus on it. It always was. It had stopped bothering John years ago.
He had become completely accustomed to the strange connection he had with the city and had stopped asking Rodney to come up with explanations for something none of them could wrap their minds around. Besides, it was nice.
Rolling onto his side, he draped himself over Rodney and stuck his hand underneath the pillow to feel for the gun he always kept there.
Rodney tilted his head, let John settle under his chin and tangled a hand into John's hair, gently started scratching his scalp. John let out the content moan that Rodney was sure very few people had ever been allowed to hear.
"I still want you to apply."
John let out a tired and frustrated groan. "No, Rodney."
"Why the hell not? Don't give me that garbage about not wanting to 'be the man'."
John sighed and pushed himself up, framing Rodney's head with his forearms so he was looking down at him. "That's not the only reason and you know it. If I'm at the top, I have to deal with all the headaches and all the paperwork and none of the fun stuff. I couldn't go off world or fly the puddle jumpers as much as before. I wouldn't have time to train new pilots and I'd have to quit the team."
Rodney frowned. "I didn't think this through all the way."
John smiled. "No. You just want me to be in charge because you think you'll have a better chance of bullying me into agreeing to give your crazy science experiments more resources."
Rodney gave him a wide grin. "That thought never crossed my mind."
"No, really. I'd be just as willing to trade blow jobs for project resources with whoever the SGC sends over as I would with you."
"I never figured you for a cheater, McKay."
Rodney waved a hand. "A choice between science and staying faithful is no choice."
John chuckled and lay back down, draping an arm over Rodney's chest as the other moved under the pillow until he could feel the gun.
"I'll just make sure they pick someone like Woolsey and then we'll see where you're willing to put your mouth."
"Nice for you to talk, Kirk."
"Hey, I never threatened to whore myself out in the name of science."
Rodney reached back up and resumed gently scratching John's scalp. "Right now, there's only one person around who I'd whore myself out to in the name of science. It's tough, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."
"I hate you."
Rodney laughed. "Me too, Sheppard. Me too."
"For the third time, Dr. McKay, I said that Colonel Ellis will be replacing Dr. Weir as head of the expedition. Is there a lot of static in the connection on your end?"
John was careful not to roll his eyes since the General could still see him. "No, sir. Dr. McKay is just a bit cranky."
General Landry gave him a tight smile. "I trust you'll do your best to make Colonel Ellis feel welcome and comfortable. He'll be arriving tomorrow via the midway station."
"Right, sir. We'll be expecting him."
"I'll check back in a few days time to see how things are going."
John returned the General's tight smile with one of his own. What the General had meant was that he would be checking in to make sure John was being a good little soldier boy and not challenging and questioning Ellis like he had Sumner and Everett.
Right after the connection was cut, Rodney starting ranting.
"I can't believe they gave the job to that tool! He's an idiot who doesn't understand or listen to the people with brains, barely has any idea of what life out here is like and –"
Rodney snapped his mouth shut and glared up at him. "What? I'm not allowed to state my opinion now? Are we turning into a military dictatorship already?"
John sighed, grabbed Rodney by the arm and yanked him into his office. The door slid shut and John asked Atlantis to make the wall windows translucent.
Rodney was glaring at him and yanked his arm out of John's grasp and slumped into the chair in front of John's desk. John let out a sigh.
"Look. I know you don't like him. I know you two didn't get along last time we met and I sure as hell don't think anything will change, but you have to suck it up and learn to at least pretend to get along with him."
"You are such a damn hypocrite!"
"I'm not going to be a hypocrite because I'll be doing the same thing."
Rodney rolled his eyes. John spun Rodney's chair around and knelt down before him, squeezing his thighs. "Listen to me. I have no idea what Ellis has planned for Atlantis, but we can't do anybody any good if he boots us back to earth. And that's what he'll do if we even breathe the wrong way. We'll be the poster children of the 'yes, sir' and the 'right away, sir' and then we just tweak things behind his back to keep things the way they should be. But openly defying him will get us nothing but time in the brig and eventually shipped back to earth."
Rodney gave him a long look. "Are you even listening to yourself? I'm used to taking what the military has to dish out and smiling and nodding at the right times so I keep my funding, but you? You couldn't even obey Elizabeth half the time."
John squeezed his thighs to interrupt him. "I'm going to try. And I need you to remind me to keep trying. I know I'll mess up, but I'll need you to give me the same speech I just gave you."
"Even when you're chomping at the bit and already half way to throwing your career out the window?"
Rodney sighed and reached forward and wrapped his arms around John. He turned his head and kissed John's collarbone.
"This is going to suck."
John nodded, digging his hands between Rodney's back and the chair so he could hug him properly. "Let's wait and see what Ellis has in mind. It might not turn out to be so bad."
John was standing so straight he felt like he had swallowed a pole but he didn't dare start slouching now. If his shoulders slumped even a few degrees, he'd stand out like a sore thumb, especially standing beside his second in command, Major Military-Poster-Boy. Speaking of whom, Lorne kept shooting him amused smirks, muttering questions out of the corner of his mouth, asking if his back hurt and if he'd like for him to arrange a massage for him later on. John resisted the urge to smack him over the head, if only because it would mess up Lorne's hair and wrinkle the shoulders of his own uniform.
He could hear Rodney quietly hissing at one of his scientists for having worn a uniform shirt with a small coffee stain in it.
He couldn't help but feel very proud of how nicely they had all cleaned up. Everybody except for people manning mandatory stations had put on their nice uniforms (all military personnel having donned their dress uniforms), done up their hair and were standing straight and smiling as Chuck lowered the shield and their new expedition leader strolled through.
Colonel Ellis slowed his pace and took a second to glance around at the gathered crowd. He had a small case in his hand and was also wearing his dress uniform. His gaze immediately went to John.
John gave him a nod. "Colonel. I hope everything went smoothly on Midway."
"Things couldn't have gone better." The Colonel signaled for one of the marines to take his case and Lieutenant Pierce immediately leapt forward and grabbed it.
Colonel Ellis turned his attention back to John, straightened and gave him a firm salute.
Out of instinct, John returned the salute, not sure what he was saluting the man for. Then Ellis gave him a nod and said, "I thank you for the job you have done on this base, Colonel. I am now relieving you of command of this base."
John blinked twice, not sure if he was hearing things or if Ellis was cracking a joke. From the way the man turned away from him and gave Pierce instructions to carry the case to his room, John guessed it wasn't a joke.
He saw Lorne shooting him a slightly panicked look while trying to keep a calm, blank expression and he could practically feel Rodney vibrating with the need to demand Ellis explain what the hell he had meant.
John didn't have time to process anything else before Colonel Ellis turned to him and asked to see him and Major Lorne in his office immediately. Ellis gave them both tight smiles.
"We have a lot to cover and it's best if we don't waste any more time." Ellis turned to the marines and pilots. "Dismissed."
They all snapped to attention as one, neatly spun on their heels and marched off. The rest of the expedition remained, exchanging confused glances. Teyla was smiling politely but looking bewildered, Radek had a tight grip on Rodney's arm and Jennifer looked like she had no idea what was going on.
"Uhm, Colonel, don't you want to be introduced to the rest of—"
"There will be plenty of time for me to become acquainted with the civilians on this base, Colonel. Right now, we have military matters to attend to, which don't concern the civilians."
John caught Rodney's narrowed eyed glare before Lorne was moving towards the stairs and John forced himself to catch up. There would be time to catch Rodney up later, John reasoned. Maybe Ellis just wanted to get the military low down before consulting with their chief medical officer and chief science officer.
Rodney didn't bother looking at John while he spoke. He knew John was looking straight ahead at the far wall, carefully parroting everything that Ellis had just finished telling him. John was in full military mode. John wasn't really here, it was all Colonel Sheppard.
Rodney kept silent throughout John's speech. He stared at his laptop and stayed still on his chair, listening to John quietly reel through the long list of policy changes which would come into effect first thing tomorrow morning. Included in that list was an enforcement of all US military protocols. John didn't explicitly say that DADT would be strictly enforced, but Rodney didn't need to hear it to know it.
When John finally fell silent, Rodney clenched his jaw and forced himself to remember that he had to keep his temper for John's sake. He knew John was barely holding himself in check right now and if he lost it, John would quickly follow and they'd both be back on earth faster than he could blink.
Forcing himself to uncross his arms, Rodney spun his chair around and stared up at John.
John was still staring at the wall. "It's not forever, Rodney. We just have to wait until Ellis has relaxed a bit. Until then it's best if we take a bit of a break."
A break. Right. Rodney wanted to throw his laptop at the wall, grab John and shake him and scream at him that Ellis would never relax about things like DADT and that this wouldn't just be 'a bit of a break'.
But he knew if he said any of that, John would crumble and give Ellis the finger and stay with Rodney.
Which meant that by tomorrow, John would be in the brig, and the day after, he'd be going back to earth in hand cuffs.
With extreme difficulty, Rodney forced a smile onto his face and forced a note of cheeriness into his voice. "Of course. Just a bit of a break. It's safer for both of us."
"Just a bit of a break."
"Just a bit of a break."
"We'll be fine."
John kept his back straight and stared straight ahead as his people filled the messhall, sitting on chairs and tables or leaning against the walls. Lorne stood by his side, the same blank expression on his face.
John had asked the Colonel to let him explain the changes in policy without him present so that he could take care of any negativity right away and deal with issues that might crop up. Ellis hadn't been happy about it, insisting that as commander of Atlantis it was his job to address the expedition members, but John had been nothing but polite and accepting of the policy changes he had rolled out, so he had allowed John to have this meeting without him present.
"In fact, it really is a good idea, Sheppard. It'll help officially close this chapter of the expedition and open a brand new one. You'll explain the new policies, ease everybody into it and I'll address everybody the day after. Smooth transitions, Sheppard. That's what we're going for. Smooth transitions."
He waited until Dr. Parrish had come sliding through the door, mouthing apologies and perched on the bench which already held Kate Heightmeyer and Corporal Sanders.
"Okay, I need everybody's attention and I need everybody to keep quiet and listen until I'm done. I'll take any and all questions once I'm done, but you need to understand that these aren't issues we're debating. This is a set policy which has been determined by the IOA and the SGC and is being implemented. The new policy is effective immediately and will stay in effect until the SGC or the IOA see fit to change it."
He could see Rodney leaning against the wall and glaring some of his whispering scientists into silence. Rodney had been one of the first to come in and had given John a polite nod, greeting him with a 'Good morning, Colonel'. John had responded with a 'Good morning, Doctor' and then they had carefully ignored each other.
The need to touch Rodney had started gnawing on him and he'd been beyond grateful when the mess hall had begun filling with people who put themselves between him and Rodney.
After their conversation last night, Rodney had helped him pack up his stuff and cart it back to his old room. Within fifteen minutes, he had erased his presence from the room he had to come to think of as 'theirs' and had become a single man again.
Rodney had kept such a phoney smile on his face the whole time that John had wanted to throw the desk through the window and yell at Rodney to go to hell. Their conversations were polite and quick – "Would you like to keep the toothpaste?" "Thanks, I think I've got some in my room." "Right. Is this your razor?" "Yup." – and everything had seemed normal and fine. Things were so normal and fine that John had snapped his toothbrush in half at one point. Rodney had blinked at the broken pieces for a moment before throwing them into the trash and getting him a new one.
John had spent about ten minutes in bed after Rodney had left, thinking that his ridiculously small bed was much too large and missing Rodney's snoring and comforting warmth beside him. He'd gotten up and watched movies on his laptop for a few hours until he'd fallen asleep.
He didn't have a clue what he had been watching.
He'd woken up a few hours later and gone for a hard run, ignoring Ronon's questions and carefully formulating the speech he had to give the rest of the expedition within a few hours.
He knew that if he didn't prepare standard responses in his head and have everything carefully planned, he'd lose his temper, give in to what his people would ask of him, and he'd end the day in the brig, waiting to be shipped back to earth.
"First of all, the IOA and the SGC have determined that Atlantis is now considered a military base in a combat zone. Which means that the base will be run by the military and will be run as a military base. Colonel Ellis is in charge of the entire expedition. I am his second in command and Major Lorne is third in command."
He could see people frowning and opening their mouths but Lorne shot everybody a stern look and they all kept quiet.
"Due to the city being a military base, there will be several changes in policy. Security will be increased, starting with the installation of security cameras in most inhabited places in the city, excluding personal quarters. They only record visual data, but will be monitored at all times by rotating security personnel. The sensors in the brig will of course remain as they are and record everything that occurs there, visual and audio."
Dr. Parrish was frowning and held up a hand, not waiting for John to ask him to wait until he was finished. "Colonel, isn't that a bit invasive of our privacy?"
John blinked. "The IOA and SGC specifically requested that security be increased. This was how Colonel Ellis has chosen to fulfill that request."
The truth was, if the expedition were only made out of military personnel, Ellis probably wouldn't have insisted on all the new security measures. But Ellis wasn't an idiot and knew that the scientists wouldn't be happy about the changes in policy and were all smart enough to betray him and cover their tracks if presented with the opportunity. It was Ellis' hope that keeping everybody under nearly constant surveillance would deter anybody from betraying him behind his back.
Parrish looked like he wanted to argue the point, but Kate gently squeezed his arm and mutely shook her head before nodding for John to continue.
"We will be scaling back our humanitarian and exploratory missions and be focusing on defending this base. Civilians are going to be restricted to base unless their presence is considered vital on off world missions. That means gate teams will have to be rearranged. Civilians are no longer allowed to be active members of gate teams. Training will be restricted to military personnel to allow for more in-depth training. Lastly, military protocols will be strictly enforced."
Once he was finished, he shut his mouth and the messhall was so silent that they could hear the waves gently lapping at the nearby pier through the open windows.
Nearly everybody threw their hands into the air and John took a silent, deep breath and got ready to wage battle on his own people.
He picked Katie Brown to speak first. "What about ongoing research missions? We just finished setting up the research station on P2R-759, Colonel."
"I'm aware of that, Doctor. The mission is not essential for the defense of this base so it will be canceled. The research station will be dismantled and the supplies brought back to the city."
She looked utterly crestfallen. "We spent months preparing for that study, Colonel!"
Dr. Parrish looked completely outraged now. "And the medicinal herbs we were studying will only be in bloom for another two weeks!"
"I'm aware of that, Dr. Parrish, Dr. Brown. I'm sorry. But the mission is not essential for the defense of this base."
"The mission is not essential for the defense of this base."
A sudden image went through his head of a Cylon droning out 'By your command' over and over again in response to nearly everything. He wanted to laugh out loud at how ridiculous he must sound, but he knew this wasn't funny. Nothing about this was funny.
"Yes, Dr. Simpson?"
"What about the people who have been on gate teams for years and regularly trained with the military? Why can't we stay on the teams? We know the military protocols, we can handle the weapons and we can take care of ourselves. You know that. You made sure we could."
"Civilians are going to be restricted to base unless their presence is considered vital on off world missions. They are no longer allowed to be active members of gate teams. I'm sorry Dr. Simpson."
Teyla had sat quietly, frowning and carefully listening to what he was saying before raising her hand.
"Is there no distinction being made between civilians who are scientists and civilians who are trained warriors?"
John stared at her and carefully kept his face blank. If he let himself crack now, he'd be back on earth before dinner.
"Anybody on this base who is not a member of an earth based military is considered a civilian."
That made Ronon sit up and stare at him as if he had suddenly grown a second head.
He moved on, answering other questions. It was all the same. People asking if exceptions were going to be made for the way they had been running things and John repeating the same standard phrases he had practiced over and over again.
Finally, John's throat was dry and he felt like he was about to snap in half from the tension and anger building up inside of him.
When somebody asked John the same question he had just finished answering, Rodney pushed himself off the wall.
"Are you all deaf or just stupid? These rules aren't complicated and there aren't that many of them and you've had them explained to you a dozen times now! Start using those few brain cells you've got and if the Colonel already answered your question then put your hand down!"
In the silence that followed, Lorne smoothly stepped in front of John, saying that he would take any other questions that people had but the meeting had gone for longer than anticipated and they all had things to do.
When the room started emptying, John's gaze went back to the spot where Rodney stood. Rodney gave him a strained half smile and a nod before walking out.
John grabbed a water bottle from the cooler and went for another long run, running much harder and faster than he should. When his legs were shaking and his lungs burning and he couldn't gulp in air fast enough to keep going, he collapsed on the pier he was on, staring up at the sun and listening to the waves lapping the edges of the city around him.
As he lay there, he couldn't help but wonder at how in the space of one day, this city had gone from being his home to a place he didn't recognize.
He noticed that the cheerful humming in the back of his mind was the same as it always was. He didn't know whether to be happy or upset by it.
"Everything is about to change except for you," he whispered, the humming not changing in tone or volume.
"You're used to change around here, aren't you? Well, congratulations. You'll have the easiest time adjusting."
Then he got up and kept running. When the humming grew sadder and louder he mentally snarled at her to leave him alone and the humming abruptly returned to its usual tone and volume.
Keeping his face carefully blank, John sat down in the chair and tossed Captain Branson the scissors and the razor.
Branson stared down at the tools in his hands as if John had tossed him two grenades. "Are you sure about this, sir?"
"What does protocol say concerning hair styles, Captain?"
"Short and neat, sir."
"Right. Get to it."
Branson tightened his jaw and gave him a stiff nod. "Yes, sir." He stepped up behind John and John carefully started thinking about the Dr. Who episodes he had waiting on his laptop.
He had made sure to sit looking away from the window so he couldn't see his own reflection in the glass and when Branson finally finished cutting and the razor had been turned off and the floor was covered in John's hair, John refused the mirror the Captain had pulled out of his desk.
"Thank you, Captain."
John pushed himself up, brushed stray strands of hair off his jacket and walked out.
A day later, Lorne and Lieutenant Sonia Jedson had gotten buzz cuts, prompting every person on their teams – female and male – to get regulation marine buzz cuts.
Sergeant Mehra had gone a step farther and told the captain to shave her head. Apparently she strode right into Ellis' office afterwards, tossed a bag of her hair onto his desk and asked him to send it back to earth, saying she wanted to donate it to cancer victims. When Ellis had asked her why she'd shaved all of her hair off, she'd given him a mocking smile, stared straight over his left shoulder and told him she was simply adhering to military protocol.
When John had come into the lab, Rodney had dropped his coffee mug and looked completely shell-shocked. Then he had blinked twice, said that it was about time for him to start acting like a military poster child and gone back to work.
As John lay alone in bed that night, he thought that it was probably a good thing he and Rodney were 'taking a break'. Rodney probably wouldn't want to touch his hair now.
Sheppard quietly stood at attention just outside the door, waiting for Ellis to tell him come in.
The Colonel looked up from his tablet. "Come in, Colonel."
Sheppard marched into the room and remained standing before Ellis' desk. He kept his gaze glued to the wall behind Ellis' desk.
Ellis had gone back to looking at his tablet. "I heard from Major Lorne that you've finished reorganizing the gate teams."
"Yes, sir. We'll be submitting the new training schedule within a few hours."
"Very good, Colonel. You're dismissed," Ellis said, tapping on the screen with his stylus.
When Sheppard remained standing in front of his desk, Ellis lowered the stylus. "Was there something else, Colonel?"
"Yes, sir. Teyla and Ronon were wondering when the IOA will be ready to conduct their interviews. We're keeping slots open for them on gate teams but they haven't been officially approved yet."
The Colonel gave him a tight smile. "Until aliens have been approved by the IOA, they are not permitted to be on gate teams."
"I understand that, sir."
"In fact, you and I both know that even permitting them to live on this base is going against regulation, but I managed to convince the IOA to let them stay for the time being."
"A fact which they very much appreciate, Colonel."
"Good. If that's all then, Colonel."
"I was still wondering when the IOA would—"
"The IOA will be conducting their interviews when their schedules permit, Colonel. It is not up to you or me to tell the IOA how and when they do their business. Understood?"
Sheppard opened his mouth and Ellis could tell that the brash pilot was readying himself for a fight. He remained still, waiting for the inevitable explosion. He'd toss Sheppard into the brig faster than he could blink and let the man stew in there for a few days. That ought to finally get the rudeness and attitude out of him. It was best if Sheppard got this out of his system now and started learning how to behave like a proper soldier.
It was a lesson his previous COs had miserably failed at teaching him, but Ellis felt that the past few years had given Sheppard the maturity and experience to appreciate military protocol and behavior.
To his surprise, Sheppard snapped his mouth shut and gave him a firm nod. "Yes, sir. Am I dismissed?"
Ellis allowed a small smile to grace his face. That had been damn impressive. It seemed that Sheppard had more control than he'd given him credit for. The past few years really had changed the man for the better.
"Of course, Colonel. I'll be waiting for that list of the gate teams."
"Yes, sir." Sheppard spun around and marched back out of his office. Ellis twirled the stylus in his fingers and then called after him.
"I want the new teams to start off world training as soon as possible. In order to make that happen, you'll remove Ms. Emmagen and Mr. Dex from the list for now. If and when the IOA approves them, we will re-examine the teams and decide where they would best fit."
The Colonel barely glanced up when Rodney and John came into the conference room, Eldon trailing along behind them.
John immediately took the chair on Ellis' right and Rodney went towards a chair further down the table. Eldon was staring at Ellis with huge eyes and Rodney kept a firm hold of his sleeve and steered him to the seat beside him and then yanked him down into it.
"So, what did you wish to discuss, Dr. McKay?"
Rodney wasted no time getting to the point. "I want to know why one of my top engineers got reassigned to help the green thumbs grow weeds."
The Colonel carefully folded his hands on the desk. "We've discussed this, Dr. McKay. It's against security protocols to allow aliens to have access to sensitive equipment and key areas of this base."
Rodney scoffed. "He's not some alien passing through! He's been living with us for over a year and he's got nowhere else to go."
Rodney turned to Eldon, who was nodding frantically. Eldon blinked at his boss before mumbling something in reply.
Ellis frowned. "Do you mind repeating that?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "He said that not only doesn't he have anywhere else to go, he doesn't want to go anywhere else."
"That's all very well and good, Dr. McKay, but the regulations are clear. It's a security risk to allow aliens access to technology and areas of the base which can be used to pose a threat against this base."
Eldon leaned towards Rodney and whispered some more. Rodney was scowling at Ellis but listened to what Eldon had to say before relaying it. "He says that he's completely loyal to us and would never betray us. The Olesians aren't his people anymore – we are."
"Eldon's personal loyalty is appreciated, Dr. McKay, but it doesn't change his status on this base."
Eldon slumped in his chair and looked miserable and Rodney's scowl deepened. John could practically hear the rant welling up inside of him. Just when he thought an explosion was inevitable, Rodney clenched his jaw and forced a smile on his face.
"I see. Well, policy is policy." He pushed himself up and Eldon also stumbled to his feet. Rodney shot Ellis a tight smile. "Thank you so much for your time, Colonel."
Ellis returned the tight smile with one of his own. "I'm glad we came to an agreement, doctor."
Rodney elbowed Eldon and Eldon bowed to Ellis and mumbled his gratitude at having had a chance to discuss the situation. Then Rodney spun around and strode out of the room, Eldon trailing along behind him.
John hadn't said a word the entire time.
What was worse was that he hadn't needed to.
What was worse than that was the fact that Rodney hadn't looked like he had expected him to.
John watched Jennifer walk out of the infirmary to fill in his medical report and gave Teyla a smirk.
"I told you I was fine."
Teyla gave him a look. "The marines said you were flung back quite a distance, John—"
"Not to mention that we have no idea what that crystalline growth was, so why the hell would you touch it?" A voice piped up behind them.
John groaned. "Rodney, I'm fine. Keller says I'm fine and I feel fine."
"Yes, well, pardon me if your own opinion of your health doesn't interest me. You could be missing a leg and still insist you're fine."
Rodney had reached the infirmary bed John was sitting on and automatically reached out to touch John to reassure himself that he was fine. At the last second, Rodney remembered the cameras and made his hand detour to the infirmary bed and tapped on the edge of it as if that had been his hand's destination all along.
He tore his gaze away from John and crossed his arms, trying to look nonchalant about the whole thing.
John forced himself to look away from Rodney. He knew that they were currently the only three people in the room and he might be able to get away with grabbing Rodney for a quick, hard hug and soaking up his warmth for a second before letting go. Cpl Yamato could easily erase those few seconds from the security feeds.
But they couldn't risk it.
The yearning to touch Rodney was starting to overwhelm him and he knew he had to get out of there soon if he was going to keep a hold of himself. He curled his fingers around the edge of the infirmary bed to keep them from grabbing Rodney. He doubted he'd ever be able to let go if he did.
"Rodney, I'm fine. Really."
"I still don't get why you would touch it!"
"I don't know! I just did."
"You were on a recon mission. That means checking out potentially suspicious activity, not touching strange alien life-forms!"
John clenched his jaw. His fingers were aching from clutching the edge of the infirmary bed and the urge to reach over and kiss Rodney was getting stronger every second.
"You're damn right we were on a recon mission, that means it's none of your damn business what happened, Dr. McKay. Nothing of scientific significance happened, which means you can go back to your lab and get back to your job!"
Rodney went stiff and silent beside him. "Very well, Colonel."
John didn't look up as he heard Rodney turning around and his steps retreating from the infirmary. He could feel Teyla staring at him and he threw her a glare.
"Don't even start, Teyla!"
"I was not going to, John. I know how difficult this is for both of you."
"Then do me a favor and shut up about it."
Ellis leaned back in his chair. "We need to go back to the planet and bring one of these entities back."
John tried not to smirk. Typical of the arrogant bastard. Give him hints and he'd come up with a brilliant plan that anybody could have thought up, but only he could get credit for. "Agreed, sir."
"Assemble two teams, Colonel. Take Dr. Zelenka with you."
John double checked Radek's hazmat suit and then gave him a slap on the back. "You're all set, doc."
"Are you sure Rodney shouldn't be going instead of me, Colonel?"
"McKay is the CSO. It's too high of a security risk to have him off base."
Radek paused and stared at him for a long moment. John busied himself with pulling on his gloves and checking Sergeant Chang's air hose.
Ten minutes later they were through the gate. As soon as the gate shut down and the marines fanned out around Radek, John grabbed hold of his sleeve.
"Doc, hold up a second."
Radek turned back and John slipped an extra handgun from his pocket and into Radek's.
"It's fully loaded but the safety's on. You remember how to handle it?"
"Good. Give it back to me before we head back through the gate. You and I both know that civilians aren't supposed to carry weapons, so—"
"So we never had this conversation and this never happened. I understand, Colonel. Thank you."
"You can thank me by staying in one piece, Radek." Yelling an order for the marines to head out, John headed off into the forest, Radek, surrounded by marines, trailing along behind him.
John forced himself not to run as he headed up the stairs to the observation lounge above the isolation chamber. He clenched his jaw and kept his panic off his face.
All he could think about was that the entity had stepped up its sick little game and forced Kate to kill herself, and now that twisted being was inside Rodney.
The only thing that kept him from going insane was the fact that Teyla always kept a clear head during emergencies and she and Radek had time reading up on past SGC missions and together, they had come up with a plan. John couldn't believe that he hadn't helped contribute anything to the thinking process, but where Rodney was concerned, his thought processes were taken up with worry and fear for the damn astrophysicist. Not that Ellis could ever know that.
His chest hurt from the pent up panic he felt and he forced himself to slow down and get a hold of himself as he approached Ellis, who was staring down at Rodney.
"Any ideas, Sheppard?"
John came to a halt beside Ellis and carefully kept his eyes off Rodney pacing below them in the isolation room.
"Teyla had an idea, sir."
"Let's hear it."
"She suggested that maybe the entity is capable of being manipulated by the person it possesses as much as it can manipulate the host. If Dr. McKay could somehow control his own dreams and fight the entity without losing control, we may have a chance at kicking this thing out."
"How the hell can somebody control their own dreams, Colonel?"
"Hypnosis, sir. Dr. McKay has had some experience with meditation in the past. Teyla thinks he can do it." John didn't add that he knew Rodney could do it.
"Alright. We'll give this a try."
Ellis was already turning away from him, hand going up to his ear piece to get the ball rolling when John threw caution to the wind.
"Sir, I think McKay could use some moral support in there."
Ellis turned back to him and stared at him. "Pardon?"
"Dr. McKay isn't too good at…at handling intimidating situations. If I were there with him, I could give him a hand and keep him going in the right direction."
Ellis stared at him as if he'd gone insane. "And how the hell are you supposed to get into somebody else's head?"
John smiled. "That's the easy part, sir. The SGC already figured this all out for us a couple of years ago."
John stared at Jennifer, unwilling to understand how the hell this had happened. They had been so close. So damn close! Rodney had been so brave and he'd been rowing and had calmed down enough to focus, and suddenly, the alarms were blaring and Jennifer was looking at him with utter despair on her face.
"I'm sorry. I've done all I can. He's dead."
John felt himself sliding off the bed and Radek grabbed his arm to steady him. He stared at Rodney's still body, his shirt pushed up and the defibrillator pads still on his chest. He took a shaky step towards Rodney, needing to touch, needing to check for himself, because surely, Keller was wrong, surely Rodney was just sleeping.
He was aware of the alarm still screeching and Ellis staring up at him from above, but he didn't care. Radek and Jennifer had stepped beside him with their backs to him, shielding Rodney and him from view of the observation lounge.
He crossed the small space between their beds and clutched Rodney's still hand. His skin was still warm and John suddenly flashed back to the last time these hands had held his face as Rodney kissed him and stroked his back in long, lazy strokes as they lay tangled in bed together.
He realized he was shaking and he reached up and gently touched Rodney's face, trying to memorize it and burn it into his memory so he would never, ever forget. He was aware of Ellis demanding updates from him but John ignored him. He leaned over and gently pressed a kiss to Rodney's mouth.
"I'm sorry," he whispered against Rodney's skin, knowing that nobody could hear him. "I- I'm so sorry."
Then he forced himself to release Rodney's hand and stepped back from him. He locked his knees and ignored everything and everyone around him and walked out.
He had no idea how long he spent wandering the hallways. He didn't notice the people walking past him or where he was going.
He was lost in his memories.
Lounging on their bed watching movies and parroting lines and throwing popcorn at Rodney for complaining about the science too loudly.
Waking up on their Sundays off wrapped around each other, the sunshine streaming through the window and just smiling at each other, knowing they didn't have to move for hours.
Chasing each other across a field on one of their last off world missions as a team and John tripping over his untied shoelace and Rodney catching him in a spectacular tackle with a triumphant shout, both of them going down hard and laughing hysterically until Rodney pinned John down and got him to stop squirming by kissing him.
He barely noticed the hallway filling with people. Teyla, Jennifer, Ronon, all telling him that this was all his fault, that he'd killed the man he loved. He wanted to scream at them that he already knew all that and they needed to leave him the fuck alone – when he saw the entity standing at the far end of the hallway, staring at him.
Rage filled him, a rage stronger than any he had ever felt. His whole body vibrated with it and his fingers itched with the need to rip the entity to pieces and make it feel every bit of the pain John felt right now.
"Son of a bitch," he snarled and launched himself at the entity, determined to destroy it with his bare hands.
Ten minutes later, the aching in his body was starting to mask out the pain in his chest and he realized that this wasn't a bad way to go. Rodney was dead, Ellis was in control of their city, the Replicators were going to destroy them any day – all around, this didn't look like a bad time for John to check out.
He closed his eyes and prepared himself for the entity to stomp on his neck or toss him through the gate into space.
"I'm not dead."
His eyes flew open again. He knew that voice. God, he'd know that voice anywhere. His heart leapt for a moment, until he realized that this must be another trick the entity was playing on him.
He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and then forced himself to get up and look at the fake Rodney that the entity had somehow conjured up.
There he was. Glaring at the entity with more rage than John remembered Rodney ever showing in real life and muttering something about electric shock and how that was the only reason he was still alive.
John decided to ignore pseudo-Rodney for the time being and focused on tossing the severely weakened entity out through the gate.
Gasping for breath and wanting nothing more than to lie his aching body onto the floor and never move again, he turned back to Rodney, who was staring at him warily.
After he had reassured pseudo-Rodney that of course it was the real him, he realized that if this was a fake Rodney which the entity had created, fake-Rodney should be gone now.
But he was still there.
"Is that you, you?"
Rodney stared at him with wide eyes. "I think so."
John reached out and poked Rodney in the side. "Ow!" Rodney leapt back from him and shot him a glare. "What the hell was that for?"
"You were dead."
Rodney sighed loudly, the sound he usually reserved for the dumbest of the dumb. John had thought he'd never hear that sound again. "I was in cardiac arrest, but the electricity from the defibrillators kicked the entity out of me and into you. And how did you know I was in cardiac arrest?"
"I didn't. You were dead. Keller told me you were dead and there was nothing she could do. I saw your body."
"That was when the entity must have transferred over to you. It took the last thing it remembered having happened to me and used it to start twisting your own mind."
John stared at him. Rodney. His Rodney, standing right in front of him, whole and alive.
"So you're really not dead?"
Rodney gave him an exasperated but fond smile. "No, I'm really not. Everything's okay, John. The entity's gone, we're both fine and people are just waiting for us to leave your drea—oof!"
His last word was slightly lost when John threw himself at Rodney. He clutched Rodney to himself, twisting his fists into his shirt and burying his face into the side of his neck. His arms were shaking from the strength he was hanging onto Rodney with, but he couldn't let go. He was never ever letting go again.
Rodney drew in a deep breath and hugged him back, both of them having difficulty breathing but not caring. "God, I can't imagine what you went through. There have been a lot of times when I've thought you were dead, but I never had a body there to make it real. Until you see a body, you can still hold out hope, you know? But I can't imagine actually seeing your body and…and…"
John blinked hard. "Shh, stop it. It's over. I need to forget I ever saw that, okay?"
John released him only far enough so he could look at him. He untangled his hands from Rodney's shirt, grabbed his face and kissed him hard. The force of the kiss propelled Rodney backwards until he slammed against the wall behind them.
John kept a bruising hold of Rodney's face with one hand, slipping his tongue into Rodney's mouth and wanting to devour every inch of him, as if making Rodney a part of him would keep him safe.
His other hand clawed Rodney's shirt out of his pants until he was touching bare skin. He wanted to sob, he'd missed this so much. Rodney's smell surrounding him, how his bare skin felt beneath his fingers, Rodney's mouth moving against his, tongues sliding against each other.
John became aware of Rodney having let go of him and grabbing John's wandering hand. He broke the kiss and drew in a shaky breath. "John, stop."
John ignored him and reclaimed his lips, shaking off Rodney's attempts to trap his hand and finally finding and rubbing one of Rodney's nipples. Rodney gasped into his mouth and John shoved his thigh between Rodney's legs, rubbing anxiously, wanting to feel that growing hardness.
Rodney wrenched his mouth away and turned his head to the side. "John, I'm serious. Stop. We can't do this."
John dropped his other hand from Rodney's face and moved it down to Rodney's pants, squeezing his cock through the layers of fabric.
Rodney gasped loudly as his eyes widened. "Jesus! John, please."
"No," John growled against his neck, biting Rodney's smooth skin and then gently sucking on the spot. He was going to mark Rodney and let the entire galaxy know that this man was his. He didn't care what anybody else thought about it.
Rodney muttered a curse and then brought his arms up. A second later, John found himself pinned to the wall, his arms tightly held against his back and Rodney's arm pressing into the back of his neck.
Rodney was gasping into his neck and John could feel the hard length of his cock digging into his ass. "I'm serious. We can't do this and you know it. Ellis is standing right up there, staring down at us and there are medical personnel swarming all over us. What do you think they're going to do when they notice both of our heart rates spiking and both of us getting hard-ons, huh?" Rodney hissed into his ear.
"I don't care, Rodney. I really, really don't give a shit. Screw Ellis, screw everybody else."
"I care! Not about any of those idiots, but I care about you. If I didn't, I'd be more than willing to fuck you right on Ellis' desk, but the stupid part of this whole situation is that I do care. A lot. Which means that I'm not going to be the reason you're shipped back to earth in hand cuffs. I'm not going to cost you your job and your life just because I can't keep my hands off you."
John tensed up, ready to spin around and fight Rodney off, but Rodney stepped back. By the time John turned around, there was a good five feet of space between them.
"It's about a lot more than sex, McKay."
Rodney clenched his jaw. "You think I don't know that?! You think this has been easy for me?"
"You've certainly been acting like it!"
"That's because a certain somebody asked me to be the one to help keep him on the path of military perfection! I'm doing this for you, you idiot! All of it! You think I don't know that if I say okay, we'd be all over each other? You have such a miniscule amount of self control when it comes to certain things that it's not even funny, so this is the way it has to be." Rodney wished his voice hadn't cracked on that last word but he doubted John had noticed.
John was leaning against the wall, looking like he was about to slide down it in a heap and never get up again.
"I don't want to do this anymore."
"You have to. This is about a lot more than you and me, John. This is about the Pegasus Galaxy and protecting our people and our city. We can't do that if you're back on earth waiting for a court martial and I lose the ability to even add because I'm worried sick about you being alone."
They stared at each other for a long moment. They both slowly forced the sadness and longing out of their eyes until they were looking at each other the same way that two good colleagues would. They could do this. They had to.
"Ready to go, Colonel?"
"After you, Doctor."
Rodney burst into the locker room, yelling into his radio that he would take care of the damn plumbing problems when he'd gotten back. He headed straight for his locker and yanked it open, hands already starting to pull out his tac vest and gun holster.
He pulled the vest on and started snapping the buckles shut when he realized that the vest was damn tight. He tried taking a deep breath and heard the material make the kind of noise that usually preceded fabric ripping into shreds.
"What the hell?!"
Rodney didn't turn around. "Corporal, did somebody wash the vests recently?"
"Uhm, no, sir."
"Then some idiot put their stuff into my locker because this isn't my vest. Unless I put on twenty extra pounds in the past few weeks. I realize I'm not regularly going off world anymore and don't have to do PT every morning, but I have been keeping up with my exercise, thank you very much."
"Uh, doc, that's not...that's not your stuff."
"Right. Thank you for stating the obvious, Corporal. Whose things are in my locker then?"
"Uh, Sergeant Mehra's, sir."
Rodney yanked off the vest, swearing that his rib cage actually creaked in expansion and turned to face the young Corporal.
"Why are Mehra's things in my locker?"
"Because...because it's her locker, sir. Lockers were reassigned after gate teams were reorganized. Colonel Ellis felt that letting non-gate team members keep their lockers would be…would be a bad use of space."
Rodney stared at the Corporal, who was carefully staring over his shoulder. He obviously didn't want to come out and say what the Colonel had obviously said. Civilians didn't belong on gate teams and they sure as hell didn't belong in locker rooms.
Rodney realized everybody was staring at him and he realized what an absolute idiot he was being. Of course he didn't have a locker any more. Of course he didn't have a vest anymore or a holster or any off world equipment.
It didn't matter that John and two of his men had been captured by who knows what and taken who knew where and Rodney had just figured out where John had sent his SOS from. Rodney wouldn't be going along to find him.
That wasn't his job anymore.
John wasn't on his team anymore, in more ways than one.
Forcing a smile onto his face, Rodney let out a strangled laugh. "Of course. How silly of me. Old habits die hard." He carefully put Sergeant Mehra's things back into her locker and shut the door.
He stared at the shut door for a moment, noticing how the R. McKay had been replaced with D. Mehra. Well, if that didn't help drive the point home, nothing would.
"I'm sorry, doc."
Rodney turned back and gave the Corporal a tight smile. "Not to worry, Corporal. This is a rescue mission and we both know that civilians aren't needed for rescue missions."
The Corporal took a step closer to him and lowered his voice. "Most of us would really like to have you out there with us, doc. You know, if it wasn't against the regs."
"Nonsense, Corporal. For once I won't be slowing you all down. Go and get Sheppard back."
The Corporal forced a smile onto his face and turned around to do a buddy check for Captain Misaki.
Rodney walked towards the door, passing Major Lorne along the way. The Major stopped and gave Rodney what he probably thought was a reassuring smile.
"I'll bring them back in one piece, doc. I promise."
"Don't make promises you might not be able to keep, Major."
"Right. I'll do my best to bring him home. Better?"
"You'll do your best to bring them home, Major."
Lorne shot him a sheepish grin. "Right."
Rodney glanced around the locker room and saw all the military personnel getting dressed or doing buddy checks on each other.
"Did somebody do your buddy check yet, Major?"
"Would you consider it too risky to have a civilian do your check for you?"
"Not if that civilian is you, doc."
Nodding, Rodney stepped up and started checking Lorne's equipment, making sure everything was there, strapped on correctly and mission ready.
Once he was done, he stepped back and gave the Major a firm nod. "Good luck, Major."
"Thanks, doc. We'll do our best."
Turning, he headed for the door once more when he heard Lieutenant Pierce call his name.
"I just wanted to say that….well, you stopped slowing us down a while ago."
Rodney stared at him for a long moment. If anything, the comment only made him feel more hollow inside than he already felt.
Not only was he no longer part of the alpha strike team, but he was actually missed on that team. It would be easier if they were all glad to finally have gotten rid of the whiny scientist.
Giving the Lieutenant a thin smile, Rodney spun around and left the locker room.
He was barely around the corner when he spied Ronon and Teyla standing out on a nearby balcony.
Waving the door open he stepped out into the cool ocean breeze and went to the railing. His two team mates were leaning against the railing, staring out at the ocean.
Or rather, his former team mates.
"Has the rescue team left yet?" Teyla asked, glancing at him.
"They were just kitting up."
"They'll find them."
Teyla nodded and gave him a smile.
The silence was interrupted by Ronon slamming his fists against the railing. Rodney felt the vibrations shaking the entire railing. He wished he felt the same rage that Ronon felt. It would be better than this hollow hurt.
"This is stupid!"
Teyla sighed. "Ronon—"
"No! You know this is stupid as much as I do! We're his team and we should be out there looking for him! We should be out there going on recon missions and looking for ZPMs. But McKay's stuck in his lab, you and I are suddenly house guests and aren't allowed on a team until some stupid people on earth who don't even know us decide they like us."
"Reacting like this will not hasten their decision to allow you back on a team, Ronon!"
"Maybe I don't want to be on a team anymore, not if we're being controlled by Ellis and those idiots on Earth."
Rodney blinked and turned to stare at Ronon. Teyla did the same.
Ronon glanced at both of them and lifted his chin. "Don't ask me to repeat myself. You both heard me."
"You wish to leave Atlantis."
"I don't want to, but this is stupid. I came here so I could fight the Wraith in ways that I never could on my own. Now I teach new marines how to fight Wraith and stay in the city all day long, waiting for some idiot to sign a paper and say I'm allowed to go off world. It's dumb and it's a waste of my time."
"John has given you a home here, Ronon."
"I know that. Believe me, I'll never forget what he did for me. What any of you did for me. But this isn't home anymore. And I don't owe Ellis anything."
Rodney resumed staring at the ocean. He wished he could say he was surprised, but sitting still and listening to somebody else telling him what he could and couldn't do was something Ronon had outgrown during the seven years he spent as a Runner.
"At least stay until we get John back. He'll never forgive you if you leave without telling him."
Ronon shot him a look, clearly letting Rodney know what a moron he was for even thinking he'd leave before knowing whether John was going to be alright.
Rodney tried to kept his face blank as he watched Ronon setting his pack onto the floor and turning to face his former team.
Rodney went to him first and stuck out a hand for him to shake. Ronon laughed, grabbed his hand and yanked Rodney into a bear hug.
After releasing him, Ronon clapped him on the shoulder. John would have fallen over from the gesture, but Rodney just gave him a mild glare.
"You're okay, McKay."
"Why thank you, Conan."
Ronon laughed. "No, really. Anytime you want to be on a new team, you come find me."
Rodney's eyes widened. "Oh. Well. Thank you. I might take you up on that offer."
Ronon grabbed Rodney by the shoulders and turned them slightly away from John and Teyla. Bending down, Ronon shook his dreads out of his face and whispered directly into Rodney's ear so that the other two couldn't hear.
"Listen, in case Teyla decides she's had enough of this too…take care of Sheppard, alright?"
Rodney swallowed hard. "Of course."
"You might be the last thing he's got. You two need each other."
All Rodney could do was nod dumbly, but that was apparently enough for Ronon, who clapped him on the back again and then turned to John.
Before John could blink, he found himself hoisted into the air and being squeezed in an enormous hug.
Once Ronon released him, they grinned at each other.
"Thanks, Sheppard. For everything."
"You take care of yourself, buddy, alright?"
"Let us know when you find a place to settle for a while."
"You really think Ellis would let me come by for movie nights?"
"No, but I think there will be something of scientific importance where ever you end up. It'll definitely be worth checking out."
Ronon laughed and then turned to Teyla. He leaned over and they pressed their foreheads together in silence. Then Ronon pulled Teyla into a hug too and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"I know better than to tell you to take care of yourself."
She smiled, her eyes shimmering. "But I will still tell you to take care of yourself."
Ronon grunted and rolled his eyes. Then he glanced at Rodney and John. "You take care of these two idiots, okay?"
"I always do."
"And hey, after I've found a place I like, don't be a stranger."
He pointed a finger at Rodney and then John. "That goes for all of you."
Then he stepped back and picked up his pack again. He glanced up.
"Dial the gate, Sergeant."
"Anywhere in particular, Ronon?" Chuck called down.
"No. Pick something you like."
The gate started up and lights raced around the edge of the gate as Chuck started locking in chevrons.
The gate locked and Ronon adjusted his sword and blaster before hollering his thanks up to Chuck. Then he threw his former team a cheeky grin and strode through the gate.
Moments later, the gate deactivated and Ronon was gone.
Rodney heard John's screaming as soon as he entered the infirmary. Ignoring the medical personnel trying to keep him out of the infirmary, he shoved his way in until he could see John madly fighting two of his marines, who were trying to pin him to the bed.
As he watched, John suddenly let out a scream of pain and Rodney jumped forward to rip the marines off him.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
He heard somebody calling his name, but he ignored them. The only thing he could see was John in pain and people hurting him.
He felt somebody grabbing his arms and forcing him to turn around. He clenched his jaw and brought his arms up to shove the person away from him, but Teyla grabbed his hands and tightly pinned them to his sides.
"Rodney, you must let them work."
"They're hurting him!"
"It is the withdrawal that is hurting him! We must get him restrained so we can put the IVs into him so the doctors can give him the drugs he needs to ease his pain!"
She leaned closer to him and lowered her voice. "I know it is difficult for you to watch, but you know this is for the best."
Rodney blinked. At the same moment, the marines managed to finally get John pined down and Dr. Keller got the restraints onto him. Within moments, she had gotten an IV into him and started administering the drugs that would hopefully make John feel better.
It was only then that Rodney noticed that there were dozens of beds filled with fitfully sleeping soldiers, all grimacing in their sleep and sweating their way through stim withdrawal.
Some of the beds held sleeping civilians, but Rodney could tell from their readings that they were all fine and their bodies were just taking a bit longer to make the necessary antibodies to kick the Kirsan Fever out of their system.
It was damn ironic that the people who had saved them were all grimacing their way through painful withdrawal, while the people they helped save were either sleeping peacefully or walking around feeling perfectly fine, bodies healthy and memories recovered.
Well, walking around feeling perfectly fine and worrying like crazy. Even though Rodney had regained his memories, remembering that not only did he know the soldiers who were fighting stim withdrawal, but he happened to be in love with one of them certainly didn't leave him care free.
Damn flyboys and their hero complexes.
John and his team had come back from the mainland with the Enchuri plant a few hours ago and John had sweet talked Atlantis into figuring out how to aerosolize the sap and then distribute it through the ventilation system using the ancient chair. Atlantis had been compliant with John's strange request and Rodney wasn't looking forward to untangling the snarl Atlantis had tied her systems into to accommodate John's plan, but John had come through and saved them all.
He watched John tossing his head back and forth on the bed, his eyes moving rapidly beneath his eye lids. His arm muscles tensed constantly, fighting against the restraints he wasn't even really aware of. Rodney longed to go over, give him a kiss and whisper into his ear that they were all fine now and just needed him to get better, but he was aware of all the eyes — including the electronic ones — in the room and knew he couldn't risk it. Even if none of the people in the room would say anything if they were asked and the recording could easily be altered, he wouldn't allow them to lie for him and John and jeopardize their own careers. Rodney knew John wouldn't stand for that either.
Rodney had been firmly against the idea of giving the military stimulants, but of course, his opinion on the matter hadn't been asked. It was only upon seeing Lieutenant Kemp popping the pills like candy while rounding up the scientists in the lab that he heard what Colonel Ellis' latest desperate plan was. Round up the civilians, lock them away for safety, then head to the mainland and collect samples of the plant.
He noticed that their brilliant leader wasn't in one of the beds. Keller had mentioned that Ellis was in his own quarters, having the medical team check in on him from time to time. Rodney rolled his eyes. Apparently it was alright for the rest of the military to be embarrassed in front of the general population, but not Colonel Ellis.
On the plus side, the Colonel not being here meant that Rodney could get away with sticking around the infirmary.
Rodney grabbed himself a chair and sat down beside Teyla, keeping a careful eye on John as he slipped into sleep, twitching and sweating.
At one point, Dr. Biro came over to him and stared at the wall behind his head.
"Dr. McKay, I'm supposed to remind you that unless an individual is in need of medical attention or their aid is required, their presence is not permitted in the infirmary."
Rodney rolled his eyes. Beside him, Teyla stiffened.
"Right. Thank you for the reminder."
"You're welcome, Dr. McKay." Without another word, Dr. Biro turned away from him and didn't acknowledge their presence for the rest of the night. She didn't even blink as Dr. Benson brought them both dinner trays from the mess.
When Dr. Chen came on duty half way through the night and asked Dr. Biro about their presence, Sheila gave him a hard stare and declared that everyone in this infirmary was well aware of infirmary regulations. Frowning slightly, Dr. Chen looked like he was about to put up a fuss, but a glare from Rodney and Teyla quickly silenced him.
At one point during the night, the ward was empty except for sleeping soldiers and others sleeping off the effects of the fever, and Teyla whispered that she would keep a watch for him and Rodney could go see John for a moment.
Rodney wanted nothing more than to cross those few feet of space and brush John's hair off his forehead, wipe the sweat off his face and give him a kiss, whispering that it would be over soon and he'd be fine. He wouldn't care that John probably wouldn't understand him, lost in his delirium.
But Rodney was all too aware of the cameras keeping a careful eye on everything going on in the infirmary.
Teyla leaned over and whispered in his ear that he could easily manipulate the recordings, but Rodney shushed her and told her to drop it.
It was too much of a risk, and although Rodney might be turning into quite a risk taker living on Atlantis, John's well being would never be something Rodney would ever take risks with.
So he tangled the fingers of one hand with Teyla's and clutched the edges of his chair with the other and stared at John breathing, forcing himself to stay glued in his chair.
Rodney and Teyla both glanced up, trying not to look too hopeful as John appeared in the doorway of Teyla's quarters.
He stared at them both and looked like he couldn't decide whether to be angry or sad.
Rodney clenched his jaw and let his head fall back against Teyla's bed. They were both sprawled on the floor, having spent half an hour sitting and waiting for John to talk to Ellis.
Teyla gave a small nod. "I suspected he would not allow it."
"I tried, Teyla. I really tried. I told him how much your people helped us when we first came here, I told him you're a part of my team and the Athosians are practically our family too –"
Teyla held up a hand. "It is alright, John. I understand his reasons for not allowing us to go search for them."
John ran a frustrated hand through his hair and Rodney watched as the movement hardly made a difference to the short strands of hair.
"I told him I wouldn't need a large team, just you and Rodney would be fine. We wouldn't be using any other military personnel and the Replicators have stayed away from Atlantis so far, so really, we can gather intel on the Replicators' movements at the same time, but he wouldn't hear of it. I can't take a group of civilians off world, even if those civilians are military trained and have both qualified for off world missions a hundred times, and of course, chasing your people isn't a top priority mission at the moment!"
John was pacing around as he spoke, his whole body tense and angry. He paused and stared down at Teyla, his hands clenching and unclenching.
Rodney wanted to tell him to go and find Ronon and beat each other up for a while to work the anger out of his system.
Then he remembered that Ronon wasn't here anymore.
Teyla pushed herself up and gently touched John's shoulders. They stared at each other and Teyla gave him a soft smile.
"Thank you for trying, John."
"He's being an idiot."
"He is adhering to the guidelines set for him by the SGC."
"I agree with John," Rodney piped up from the floor.
Teyla gave him an equally soft smile before looking at John again. "I understand his decision. It is not the decision I would have expected from Elizabeth or from you, John, if you were in charge, but it is a decision I expected from Colonel Ellis. My people are strangers to him and he has a very militaristic mind set."
"He's an ass who doesn't understand how things work around here!"
Rodney looked up with surprise at the rough anger in John's voice. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd heard John yelling out of anger.
He pushed himself off the floor and stepped up to John. His hands reached out to him, but at the last second, he forced himself to admit that if he touched John now, he'd never stop and this mess would get a lot worse.
Instead, he turned to Teyla. He already knew what she was going to say and what she was going to do. There was nothing left on Atlantis for her, and now that her people, including the father of her child were missing, she needed to go find them.
"When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow morning. Ronon sent word of his latest location and I will go find him. He will help me begin my search."
Rodney nodded, mind already thinking ahead to what needed to be done. "Ellis won't let you take anything that isn't yours, but I'll find a way to get you the supplies you'll need."
"Rodney, I will be fine."
Rodney gave her a hard look. "You're family, Teyla, and I'll be damned if I let another part of my family walk out of here without making sure they're going to be safe and taken care of. Never mind that the little brat you're lugging around needs to be taken care of as well."
Teyla laid a hand on her still flat belly and nodded her agreement.
John had gone to Teyla's computer and was accessing his files. "I'll give you a list of the planets we know that they could have been taken to, Teyla. That way you can avoid the planets with inhospitable atmospheres or ones crawling with Wraith."
None of them said that if her people had ended up somewhere crawling with Wraith, the chances of her finding any of them alive were slim to none.
"Thank you, John."
They spent the night in Teyla's quarters, helping her pack and sitting on the floor, Teyla between them as they leaned against her, her holding their hands.
During the night, Rodney saw John pause with Teyla's bantos sticks in his hands as he was about to put them into her pack. His grip tightened on them and Rodney could tell something was about to be broken. Teyla was faster than him – of course – and grabbed them before John could swing them. She gently pulled them out of his hands, shaking her head.
"That will not help, John. You know it. You will be fine. I am not leaving you. Ever. I am going to find my people and then see if the IOA has finally decided to allow me the pleasure of their company."
Rodney wished that he could feel something as well. Teyla was a part of his family and had been his constant support, his friend, his teammate, his anchor for so long now that he really couldn't picture life without her.
All he felt was the constant numbness that had filled his body since the night that John had told him about the new policies and that they were going to take a 'bit of a break'.
Rodney tore his gaze off the brig's ceiling when he heard the footsteps.
"Tell me you're bringing me dinner."
"I'm bringing you dinner."
"Oh, thank god!" Rodney rolled off the cot and onto his feet. John waited until the force field came down and the door slid open before stepping inside, the folded up table tucked under his arm and a full tray in his hands.
He set up the table and stood at parade rest in the brig's open doorframe, watching Rodney dig into his dinner.
"You know what you did was against regulations, Dr. McKay. Those supplies were the property of the U.S. military."
Rodney struggled not to roll his eyes. Acting disrespectful towards the base's second in command wasn't smart. If he started shooting his mouth off, Ellis might find an excuse to keep him in here for longer, and he knew that John hated seeing him in here. Besides, he knew John was only saying these things because Ellis was keeping a sharp eye on the brig's sensors.
Rodney had always thought it was amusing that the Ancients had been happy only installing AV sensors in the brig and solely relying on life sign detection as their only form of monitoring their own population in the rest of the city – a method the expedition had continued. Their way of thinking had been in direct contrast to Ellis' Big Brotherly approach to security. Rodney missed those days.
"I'm aware of that, Colonel."
"Colonel Ellis wants me to inform you that this will be going into your permanent record."
Rodney carefully kept eating his dinner and ignored John. He didn't want to speak to Colonel Sheppard anymore. He was sick and tired of Colonel Sheppard and the rest of the military.
He still couldn't believe that when he was released in a few hours, Teyla wouldn't be there to greet him. She had been one of the few remaining pieces of his life pre-Ellis, asides from the lab.
All he had left now was a Lieutenant Colonel who called him Dr. McKay, never smiled and never touched him.
John stayed standing in the brig's door until Rodney was done with dinner and then efficiently grabbed the tray and table, being careful to not even let his fingers brush Rodney's as he took the tray from him and left.
Rodney lay back down on the cot and closed his eyes, missing Teyla fiercely. He'd mourned losing John weeks ago, and he knew Ronon was happier out there than he had been trapped here, but losing Teyla was a fresh wound, and one that would hurt him for a long time to come. It amazed him that she had become such an essential part of his life.
It was why he didn't regret what he had done that morning, even if it had landed him in the brig for twelve hours and a mark on his permanent record.
He'd crept out of Teyla's room before dawn, dodged the night patrols and hidden a full field pack in the side closets near the gate where they stored emergency supplies. He'd crammed the pack full of all essential field gear, and as many extras of everything as he could possibly fit into it.
He'd waited until he and John had said good bye to Teyla. John and Teyla had touched foreheads for so long that Rodney was afraid John wouldn't actually be able to release her. After Chuck had dialed the gate, Rodney had slowly wandered towards the closet. The wormhole had stabilized and Teyla had given them a sad smile and walked towards the horizon. Rodney had leapt towards the closet and yanked the pack out. He'd raced towards the horizon and thrown it through moments before Teyla stepped through.
By the time anybody had realized what he had done, Teyla and the pack had gone through and the wormhole had disengaged. Rodney knew that Teyla would already have grabbed the pack and if Ellis demanded they re-dial and go after her to reclaim U.S. military property, she'd be long gone by the time the marines got organized.
John had stared at Rodney, his face blank but his eyes shining with something Rodney thought might have been pride.
Then Ellis was yelling over his radio, demanding Rodney walk himself up to his office or he'd have the marines bring him by force.
Fifteen minutes later, Rodney was sitting in the brig for a twelve hour stay.
He found he didn't really mind the isolation. Lieutenant Pierce knew he wouldn't try to escape – what would be the point? – so he let him be.
The solitude allowed Rodney to have a fierce, good cry to mourn the loss of the amazing woman who had walked out of their lives, possibly forever.
Todd watched as the man walked up to the force-field keeping him confined. The man gave one of his men a nod. The force field flickered and went out and one of the soldiers darted forward to open the door.
The man stepped inside and stared at him, eyes dark and hard.
Todd carefully studied the man. "You are not Elizabeth Weir." It was obvious, but he was curious about this new human. John Sheppard hadn't told him there was somebody new in charge.
"I'm Colonel Ellis. I'm the commander of this base."
Todd regretted not having John Sheppard be the one to speak with him. He had heard of the Earth human custom of shaking hands as a greeting a while ago and had been looking forward to making a joke out of it with his semi-allies.
He somehow didn't think this commander would appreciate the joke. More likely, he would end up shot if he even lifted his feeding hand. Rather than trying to see if the Colonel had a sense of humor or not, he made a mental note to share the joke with John Sheppard when he saw him next and then focused his attention back to the task at hand.
"Base? I assumed this was a city."
"Colonel Sheppard tells me that you have information regarding the Replicator attack code."
"Yes. My hive does not have the technology I need to work with the code efficiently. Dr. McKay possesses the knowledge and equipment I need to complete the necessary work."
"The Replicators are busy destroying Wraith and have so far left us alone. Why would we help you put a stop to this?"
"As you well know, the Replicators have started destroying human worlds to deliver an additional strike against my people. Millions of innocent lives have already been destroyed."
"As I said, the Replicators have thus far left us alone. Why would we spend resources and time helping you when we can spend our time preparing ourselves for an attack?"
He stared at Ellis for a long moment. This man was different from the city's previous commander. He had never met Elizabeth Weir, but he had heard many things from other Wraith. She had been a strong, smart woman and had always made it clear that their purpose in this galaxy was not only exploration, but to protect those who couldn't protect themselves. It seemed that her ideals were not shared by this new commander.
Quickly, he decided to change his plan. He knew if he were speaking with Elizabeth Weir or John Sheppard, being reminded of what the Replicators were doing to human worlds would be enough for them to give him their help, but this man needed something else.
"The Replicators have more ships than the small two you possess." He smirked slightly at the slight flicker of surprise he detected in Ellis' eyes. He had known about the two Earth ships the Lanteans were using for quite some time. It would have been more advantageous to keep such information to himself to use as a later bargaining chip, but he enjoyed seeing that flicker of surprise.
"They outnumber you in ratios which are too ridiculous to even mention. They have better and more numerous weapons than you. Your chances of winning in a direct engagement with them are laughable. Your best chance for victory is turning off their attack code. You will suffer less casualties, lose less equipment and perhaps eliminate the Replicators as a threat once and for all."
That got Ellis' attention. The man stared at him for a long moment, formulating a response in his head.
"You will remain in this cell the entire duration of your stay on this base. Dr. McKay will bring his questions to you. You will only be using equipment if Dr. McKay needs additional help. You will be monitored at all times and if you are seen threatening any personnel on this base or behaving in a threatening manner, my men have orders to shot you."
"I understand." He would have preferred to be allowed to work in the lab directly. It would slow their progress if Dr. McKay would have to continuously run back and forth from here to his lab. Not having his own equipment would also slow them down. Instead of being able to get twice the work done, they would have to do the work of one person with two heads. But it was better than nothing.
"So you agree to these terms?"
He gave the Colonel a small bow. "I do."
John took a deep breath, willing himself to remain calm. "Sir, McKay says he and the Wraith won't have the code figured out for weeks still. The Replicators aren't going to stop until they annihilate every human world in this galaxy."
"And until this base is threatened, we will continue making battle preparations. That means McKay and the Wraith continue their work and we continue getting the base battle ready."
John took another breath and kept his gaze fixed on the back wall.
He knew the chances of Ellis agreeing were slim to none, but just yesterday M9I-457 had been attacked and all of the 23,000 Churians had been killed.
The Churians had been their long time trade partners, having been one of the first planets John's team had visited in their first year in Pegasus. They had been very eager to trade portions of their harvest in exchange for medical supplies and had welcomed any of the Lanteans with open arms whenever they stopped by. John remembered going to the pre-harvest festival just five months ago, two weeks before Ellis decided to launch their first strike against the Replicators. Rodney had complained before going, as he did every time they were invited to go, but still ended up having a good time. John had sat with Kenoran, an old and wise warrior and listened to probably exaggerated war stories from long ago, sipping Takra and watching Teyla dancing by the fire. Ronon had been laughing with some young Churian warriors while Rodney had made his way through the feast, arguing that there wasn't as much Laka meat as there usually was and didn't Urana know by now that it was his favourite?
Now Kenoran and Urana were dead, murdered by an enemy whom the Churians had never even heard of. After hearing Captain Branson quietly tell of the devastation his reconnaissance team had stumbled into when they had stepped through the gate had finally convinced John that enough was enough. Their mission in this galaxy wasn't to keep their own asses covered and leave everybody else to rot.
"They're heading directly for M7G-677, sir."
Ellis frowned for a moment, trying to remember which planet that was. "The planet with the ZPM run shield."
"The planet with the kids, sir. They depend on us."
"No, Sheppard. They were fine on their own before you initially interfered and they will continue to be fine."
"Their shield would have failed and they would have become Wraith food within hours, sir!"
"Which would have been the natural end for their civilization. Civilizations are meant come and go, Sheppard. We can't start playing God and deciding who lives and who dies."
"I'm not asking us to play God, sir. I'm asking us to evacuate them to Atlantis for a few days until the Replicators have passed their planet, and then they can go back home. Please."
"We can't start making exceptions, Colonel. We need to use our resources on getting battle ready. We can't be filling the base with civilians with little to no combat experience. It's enough of a problem that nearly half of our contingent is made up of scientists."
With that, John's patience snapped. "Protecting the scientists is the reason we're in this galaxy, sir!"
Ellis' expression hardened and he stood up. "You better watch that attitude, Colonel."
They glared at each other.
"In case you forgot that portion of the SGC brief, Sheppard, I'll remind you. The reason we are in this galaxy and on this base is to protect that Stargate and prevent any enemies from making it to earth. That's our one and only mission. Am I perfectly clear?"
John pressed his lips together. Without waiting to be dismissed, he spun around and left the office. He heard Ellis yelling after him but ignored him.
He headed straight for his room and wrote up a disciplinary report for his insubordination. Then he submitted it and went for a long run.
His mind was racing nearly as fast as his legs were as he made his way past the west pier.
They had two days before the Replicators would arrive at M7G-677. Which meant that John had two days to figure out how to smuggle over a hundred kids into the city without Ellis noticing.
He let out a laugh and stumbled to his knees, gasping for breath.
Yeah, right. Even if he stole a jumper and somehow made it through the gate, he couldn't fit them all into the jumper. If he dialed the gate himself and leapt through on foot, Chuck wouldn't be allowed to lower the shield and let him come back.
He stretched out on his back and threw his arms over his face. In two days, Keras, Neleus, Ares and all the others would be dead.
It seemed like hours later that a shadow fell over him and he heard the rustling of cloth as somebody sat down next to him.
He could tell from the person's scent that it was Rodney. The longing that shot through him was almost painful. He wanted nothing more than to roll over onto Rodney and hold him and make sure that at least one part of his life wouldn't be destroyed.
But really, he had already destroyed this part of his life. Just because Rodney was still physically here didn't make it any less true.
"So I'm guessing Ellis said to forget about it."
"Well, Keras is nearly 30 now anyway. Really, he's an old man by now. Ares is what? 28 or something? He's even been bonded with Akara for what? 2 years now? He's had plenty of life experience."
"This isn't funny, McKay."
"You think I don't know that? I was over there a few months ago, Akara's brats crawling all over me and Keras arguing physics with me. The kid thinks he knows enough now to start maintaining the ZPM by himself! I mean, teach a man how to read and give him some elementary physics textbooks and he thinks he's ready to dismantle a ZPM."
"Pretty soon nobody will have to maintain that ZPM anymore."
Silence fell and John heard Rodney shifted around. "At least you tried."
John sighed. "What are you doing out here, McKay?"
"I just thought you wanted company."
The last thing he needed right now was to have Rodney sitting so close to him, yet be so far out of reach. Having Rodney this close to him and knowing he couldn't touch him was worse than not having him around at all.
"If I wanted company, I would have asked for it. Usually when somebody comes out to the middle of nowhere, it's because they want to be left alone."
There was a long silence and John could feel Rodney staring at him. When he didn't respond and kept his face covered with his arms, he heard Rodney sigh softly and get up.
Rodney's footsteps slowly moved away from him until John was left alone again.
Ellis barely glanced up when Rodney entered his office. "Dr. McKay, I'm a very busy man at the moment. Cut to the chase or get out of my office and back to your lab."
Rodney clenched his jaw but forced himself to stay civil. "Todd—"
"Who the hell is Todd?"
"Uh, the Wraith."
"The Wraith's name is Todd?"
"Uh, no. Well, according to our records, yes, but that's not his real name. I'm not sure if Wraith have names really. Anyway, Colonel Sheppard always gives our Wraith prisoners names so we know who we're talking about. Calling them all 'the Wraith' makes conversations a bit confusing."
"Right. What about him?"
"He needs to feed soon. It's been three weeks and he's getting very weak."
Ellis blinked at him. Rodney stared back expectantly.
"What do you want from me, McKay? Do you want me to ask for volunteers?"
"No! No, of course not. He says if we allow one of his ships within range, he can be beamed up by a dart, feed and be back within twenty minutes."
"Did you just propose that we let a hive ship within range of this base?"
"The Wraith communicate telepathically. Technically he can summon his ships whenever he wants. They've been orbiting just outside this system. He didn't want us getting the wrong impression."
"Dr. McKay, this is the most absurd idea I've ever heard."
"If you won't let him go and feed, he'll get weaker until he's no help to anybody and eventually die."
"And until that happens, you'll get as much information out of him as possible and finish the work on the code."
Rodney stared at him. "You can't just let him starve."
"He's a prisoner of war and unfortunately, we can't meet his dietary requirements."
"Which is why he can just go up to one of his ships, feed and come right back!"
"And what guarantee do we have that he'll come back?"
"Furthermore, he has been on this base for three weeks, meaning he might have been able to glean tactical information from expedition members heads. Letting him go is a security risk."
Rodney stared at him incredulously. "If he wanted to transmit information to other Wraith, he can do it anytime he wants! Once again – Wraith equals telepathy!"
"You're out of line, McKay."
"I'm not in your damn line, Ellis!"
"If you don't change your tone, I will have you removed from this office and this expedition, doctor."
"Like hell you will!"
"Don't force my hand, McKay."
Rodney threw him a disgusted look and stormed out of the office, wishing he could slam the door shut behind him.
This situation had been getting more and more out of hand, but this was the top.
"You are certain he will not change his mind?"
Rodney stopped typing and stared at Todd through the force-field. "I tried. I explained the situation and he said it was too much of a security risk."
Todd laughed weakly. He was sitting on the cot, not able to stand for long periods of time anymore. It had taken Rodney days to realize how weak he was getting. Rodney had moved most of his equipment into the holding cells area – if Ellis wouldn't let Todd come to him, he'd go to Todd – and spent his days typing, running simulations and asking Todd questions and showing him the readouts from the laptop.
Three days ago, he had asked Todd a question and not received an answer. When he'd looked up, he'd seen Todd hunched over, moaning in pain.
Todd had become weaker each day and the help he was providing Rodney was slowing down as well. He'd already made three stupid mistakes in the last hour and Rodney had wanted to yell at him but knew it wouldn't do any good.
A weak chuckle met his response. "Is he not aware that if I were here to betray you, I would have already taken information from the Lantean minds in this city and transmitted that information?"
"I told him. He doesn't seem to get that."
"Letting me go to my ship wouldn't increase that risk."
Rodney stared at the readouts on his screen and then glanced up. "Have you?"
"Have I what?"
"Have you stolen any information and transmitted it?"
Todd gave him a long look. "You are not a trained interrogator, Rodney McKay."
Rodney snorted. "Obviously. Why?"
"Asking such a question is a waste of time. Do you think I would say yes if I had?"
The Wraith grunted in agreement and shifted against the bars he was leaning against.
"To answer your question, no, I have not. Of course, you should not believe me, but the honest answer is no. I have little interest in this city. We cannot operate most of the Lantean technology and going to your planet doesn't interest me. We have enough in-fighting amongst our factions. If we found your galaxy, the fighting over new territory ownership would divide us even more. At least in this galaxy, we know whose territory is whose." Todd shifted and softly moaned in pain.
"Besides, the fact that you have relocated to this planet is starting to become common knowledge among the Wraith. Most factions are too busy dealing with these nuisance machines at the moment to bother with this city and the galaxy it leads to."
"So really, there isn't anything of interest you could relay to your people."
"I don't think Ellis would agree."
Another weak chuckle. "No."
The door to the holding cell area slid open and Rodney glanced over. John walked in, glancing at Rodney.
"How's it going, McKay?"
"Slowly. Todd is become slower than Simpson. In a few days, Kavanagh could take his place and make more progress. And if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know, I don't know what would."
John stepped up to the bars and stared at the Wraith.
"Ahh, John Sheppard. I have not seen as much of you as I would have thought."
"I've got a lot of stuff to do. Can't be babysitting Wraith all day long."
Todd tilted his head and stared at John for a long moment. Rodney glanced up and looked at John standing there, back straight, arms folded behind his back, a perfect military stance.
"You have changed much since we last met."
"You saw me a few weeks ago."
"Even so, I noticed the change."
"Noticed the hair, huh?" Rodney said, going back to typing. He still couldn't get used to the short hair. It was wrong. Just wrong.
"No. I noticed your stance. You hold yourself differently. It is not a good look for you."
"I'm here to tell you that Colonel Ellis' decision is final. You'll remain here for the time being. You will not be permitted to beam to your ship and you will continue to aid Dr. McKay with the code."
Todd stared at him for a long moment. "And if I don't? Then what? You'll kill me?" Todd laughed weakly.
"There are ways of forcing your cooperation."
Rodney stopped typing. Todd stopped laughing and stared at John, narrowing his eyes. He looked at Rodney.
"He has really changed. And not for the better."
Rodney grunted in response.
Todd slowly pushed himself up and slowly shuffled to the bars to stand before John.
"I came here as your ally. We had a common problem and I wanted to find a solution together which would benefit both of us. As I recall, we found ourselves in a similar situation previously. We had made an agreement and we both followed through with it."
Todd gave a weak laugh. "I have to admit, I did not expect you to keep your end of the bargain. I gave you your life back and you could have left me to die or killed me. I had nothing you wanted at that moment. But you kept your end of the bargain. It was then I learned you were not just a strong, intelligent warrior, but an honorable one as well. I am sure you recall that I told you Wraith only give the gift of life to their followers and their brothers? I considered you my brother, John Sheppard."
Rodney couldn't see John's expression, but he knew his face must be carefully blank, if the rigidness of his back was anything to go by.
"My fellow Wraith considered me a fool for coming to you like this. They quite rightly claimed that we could easily take this city by force. I have 12 hive ships under my command. This city, even with its impressive weapons wouldn't have outlasted those 12 ships. We would have gained control of this city and then fed on every single Lantean, one by one until Dr. McKay agreed to help me with the code. They even knew exactly which Lanteans to feed on first to get Dr. McKay to agree to our terms faster. Teyla Emmagan was mentioned, but of course, she has since departed. Ronon Dex the runner would have also been a good motivator, but he is also gone. But there are others. Radek Zelenka, Evan Lorne, Lisa Simpson, Miko Kusanagi to name a few. And of course, you would have been the first."
Rodney stared at the floor by Todd's feet, his mind filling with those horrifying images. John kneeling on the floor before a Wraith, the life being sucked out of him until he fell, nothing more than a desiccated corpse.
Rodney didn't even need his imagination to come up with those visuals. He knew exactly what John looked like while being fed on. The screams of pain muffled behind a filthy gag. His eyes wide with pain and despair. His face getting drawn, wrinkles deepening, his hair slowly going grey, his eyes dimming. Rodney would never forget those grainy images from that camera feed as long as he lived.
He squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to release his laptop, which he realized he'd been clutching. John was okay. John was not being fed on. John was standing right in front of him.
Todd was still staring at John. "I told them you were a honorable warrior who had kept is agreement the last time we met and you would do the same now. I told them if I approached you with a proposition and you agreed, you would keep your word and follow through with your end of our agreement."
"I never agreed to anything."
Todd hissed, obviously angry now. "Do not treat me as a fool, John Sheppard! Releasing me once my work is finished or if I must feed was implied in the terms of our agreement! Did you think I was intentionally coming here on a suicide mission? I believed that you were still the honorable warrior I had come to know. Now it seems I was badly mistaken. Once more you have gotten what you wanted and what I promised to deliver, and you have the chance to go back on your word or follow through. It seems that this time, you will choose to do the former rather than the latter."
Todd stared at John, the anger gone from his face. "You disappoint me, John Sheppard. I expected better from one I considered a brother."
Then he turned and slowly made his way back to the cot and wearily collapsed on it, leaning against the bars and closing his eyes.
"Wake me when the simulation finishes running, Rodney McKay," he muttered.
Rodney grunted in agreement, but his eyes were on John.
John stayed standing before the bars for a long moment. Then he spun around and left.
Rodney was sorely tempted to go after him, but he knew his company wouldn't be welcomed. John had washed his hands of him and Rodney had to start accepting that.
But Todd's words must have stung John. Todd was right, of course. Todd had taken a gamble, using what he knew of John's character to formulate a temporary alliance between their two people. What he hadn't counted on – of course – was the change in leadership in the city and the changes it would bring about in everybody, including John.
John lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He had no idea what the hell he was doing anymore.
He spent all day walking around like a robot, mechanically answering questions, saluting, nodding, filling in forms, inspecting supplies and people, standing before Ellis' desk and 'yes, sir'ing his way through all conversations. Then he went to bed and got up to do it all over again.
Is this what his life had become? His team had left him, Rodney couldn't stand to be around him anymore and had left him in more ways than John could count, thousands of people they had been friends with and traded with for years were dead and now, he was betraying a former ally who had always kept his word and given John his life back.
Todd could have walked away from him, leaving John on the ground so near death that by the time his team got there, he would have been long gone. Todd could have signaled a nearby Wraith ship and probably been picked up before his team found his corpse.
But he hadn't. He'd given John his life back, and not just a bit so he could live long enough to see his team and city again only to die within a few days. He'd given John every bit of life back that he had taken. He knew that in Todd's mind, after John had let Todd go, the debt had been repaid. They'd been even and gone their separate ways.
It wasn't that John felt he still owed Todd anything. They had helped each other survive and they had both agreed without words that they were even.
Now Todd had come to him again and instead of John, he had been the one to suggest they work together to achieve a common goal. He had come to John, expecting John to keep his end of the bargain and continue this strange temporary alliance they had forged the beginnings of in Kolya's dim prison. This time, it had been Todd who put his trust in John.
And now John was about to betray that trust.
He knew that he was following orders and setting a good example by doing what Ellis wanted.
But what kind of an example was he really setting?
He frowned and slowly sat up, thinking it over.
Todd's words had hit him hard, especially his first words, telling him that he had changed a lot and not for the better. He'd been trying so hard to be a good soldier and set a good example for the rest of the expedition to follow.
But did he really want them following this example? Driving away his team, his lover and best friend, letting people who had depended on him for help suffer and die alone, and betraying the trust an ally had placed in him.
He lifted his gaze and stared at the windows beside his bed. It was already dark outside and with the lights shining in his quarters, John could see his reflection.
He hardly recognized himself with the short hair. It wasn't just his hair that surprised him. It was the dead look in his eyes.
What the hell was he doing?
He was trying to set a good example, but all he was doing was butchering all the friendships and trust he had built over the past few years. That wasn't who he was and that sure as hell wasn't who he wanted other people to think he was.
The short haired, blank faced man staring back at him wasn't who he was.
Clenching his jaw, John lifted his chin at his reflection, glaring at it. Well, he was done with this crap. If this was the price he had to pay in order to be Ellis' perfect little Air Force officer, it was way too steep a price.
And he was going to stop paying it right now.
Todd heard the surprised grunt from outside the holding cell area door before he had opened his eyes. Frowning, he pushed himself up, grimacing at the pain that raced through his body.
A few moments later, the door slid open and John came in, a stunner clutched in his hands.
He punched in a code and the force-field automatically dropped and the door slid open.
Todd raised an eyebrow and remained where he was. He wasn't going to give the man a reason to stun him or shoot him. His body wouldn't be able to take it in its weakened state.
John stood at the door. "Do you need me to write you an invitation? Come on!"
Todd shuffled forward and moved past John. John stayed by his side and together, they left the brig.
John led him down twisting corridors, slowing his pace to allow Todd to keep up.
Gasping for breath, Todd grimaced in pain. "The last time we did this, I recall that you were just as slow as me."
"The advantages of being young."
Todd smiled and forced himself to keep walking.
"I'm taking you to the gateroom. You'll give me an address you want me to dial and you'll go through. Can you contact your ship once you're on the other side?"
As they made their way to the gateroom, they passed the slumped over figures of five soldiers on night patrol. Todd glanced at them and didn't say a word.
They reached the gateroom without speaking.
"Tell me the coordinates."
Todd gave him the coordinates and John was about to race up the stairs to the control room when Todd called after him.
John paused on the stairs, stunner in his hands.
"Dr. McKay has everything he needs to finish the code. I will continue working on it on my own, but Dr. McKay is a very intelligent man. I have no doubt he will finish it before I do. I trust that you will eliminate these nuisances for both of our people?"
John nodded. "That's the plan."
He turned to go, then turned back and looked at John. "Thank you, John Sheppard."
"Don't make me regret this."
"I will do my best. You have my promise." Before John turned to resume his run up the stairs, Todd thought he should mention one last thing. "I knew I was not making a mistake calling you my brother."
John stared at him, his expression unreadable. "I'm just glad you reminded me."
Todd gave him a bow and watched John head up to the control room. Within seconds, the gate started dialing. As he watched the chevrons light up, he noticed that the guards near the gate and the people manning the stations in the control room were all slumped over, stunned.
He waited until the wormhole had stabilized and then headed towards the horizon, giving John another nod before he stepped through.
He would be seeing John Sheppard again, of that he had no doubt. And he would do his best to continue this strange alliance they had developed and honor the trust they had placed in each other.
After all, they were both commanders who were trying to keep their people safe. This meant they were in the unique positions to understand each other better than most.
"I'm sorry, Dr. McKay. Colonel Ellis gave specific orders that Colonel Sheppard is to have no contact with anybody until he is shipped back to earth."
Rodney stared at Lieutenant Pierce, wanting to throttle him. Then he felt bad because he knew Pierce was just following orders.
Rodney stared past the Lieutenant to where he could see John lying on the cot in the brig.
He just needed an excuse to talk to John for a while. But he didn't want to get Pierce into trouble either.
Thinking fast, Rodney pretended to turn around. As soon as Pierce relaxed, Rodney spun back around, yanked the Lieutenant's gun out of his holster, aimed and shot the code panel near the brig's door.
Pierce let out a yell, John leapt off the cot and Rodney nearly dropped the gun. Damn, he'd forgotten what a kick these things had.
"What the hell, McKay?" John yelled out at the same time that Pierce yanked his gun out of Rodney's hands, staring at him like he was nuts.
Rodney stepped closer and inspected the damage. "Well, this thing is certainly busted. It'll have to be fixed immediately, wouldn't you agree, Lieutenant?"
Pierce stared at Rodney and then at John and then at the smoking and sparking mess that was the code panel.
"Uh, I guess so."
"It would be inhumane to leave a prisoner in the brig with no means of getting out in the case of an emergency, isn't it?"
"We could just beam him—"
"Did I ask for alternative ideas, Lieutenant?"
"Uh. It definitely needs to be fixed, sir. Immediately."
Rodney sighed loudly. "Well, since you insist and since I'm here, I might as well get started on that."
He pulled some tools out of his pockets and started poking at the panel. Damn, he still had good aim considering he hadn't shot a gun in months. This mess would take him hours to fix.
John had recovered from the shock and was glaring at Rodney through the bars.
Rodney shot him an innocent look. "What? It was an accident. The circuit overloaded."
"You could have shot my head off!"
"Don't be ridiculous. The bullet ricocheted off the force-field and hit that far wall. There isn't anybody else in here so I couldn't have possibly hit anybody. Besides, according to the sensor logs and my account, nobody shot anybody. It was an overload in the circuit."
Rodney threw a look at Pierce. "I really don't think the Colonel is going to reach through a force-field and strangle me, Lieutenant. You can wait outside."
"I'm not supposed to leave the prisoner unattended, sir."
Rodney glared at him. "This man was your commander for three years and helped save your butt more times than I can count. He let you play Wraith three times in a row during training and spent five days negotiating for your release when you smiled at that princess the wrong way and her father decided that meant you were going to be cut into many, many little pieces. You'll give him the respect he deserves and at least grant him some privacy."
Pierce looked utterly ashamed and quickly shuffled out the door, letting it slide shut behind him.
Rodney turned back to the panel. John was staring at him like he was crazy.
"McKay, what the hell are you thinking? As soon as Ellis sees this on the security feeds he'll toss you in here next to me and you'll be shipped back to earth with me!"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh, ye of little faith. Would you relax? Zelenka is busy tampering with the security feeds as we speak. Nobody will ever see that shot or hear this conversation."
John stared at him for a moment before going back to sit on his cot. "What the hell are you doing this for anyway? I'm going back to earth as soon as the Daedalus gets back and you're supposed to be working on that code."
"See, that's where I have a problem."
"I'm not going to let them send you back to earth."
John scowled at him. "Nobody is going to ask you for your permission, McKay. Besides, I made my decision. I knew what I was doing and I knew I was committing treason. The military has every right to punish me and I'm just going to suck it up and deal with it."
"What do you mean 'that's it?'"
"You're just going to roll over and let them take your whole life away from you?"
"McKay, it's not such a big deal."
"You committed treason, John! Treason! You could be put into prison for life. You know that! You wouldn't just be losing Atlantis and your people, you wouldn't even have the chance to start a new life back on Earth."
"It was my decision, McKay."
"I know that. And I would have done the exact same thing."
John stared at him. "You would?"
"It was the right thing to do. I don't care what the military and what everybody on Earth calls it. You made an honorable decision and kept your end of a bargain. I'm damn proud of you for that."
John blinked. "You are?"
Rodney stared at him with mild disgust. It was a good thing he loved this man, otherwise, these random instances of stupidity would make him strangle him.
"Of course I am. For the first time in months, I'm proud of what you did and support your decision. And let me tell you, I didn't think that would ever happen again. But this is all beside the point. We can talk about this all you want later. Right now, we have to focus on planning."
Rodney shot him another incredulous look. "When Branson cut your hair, did he also cut out half your brain?"
"You're not making any damn sense, McKay! There's nothing you can do about it. Ellis won't change his mind and the law and SGC are on his side."
"I know that. Which is why we're not going to stay here."
When John continued staring at him blankly, Rodney thought he'd clarify. "We're going to run, John. We've got two weeks before the Daedalus gets here. Which means in a week and a half, we have to be long gone from the city."
"That's desertion, McKay," John said, starting to sound pissed.
Rodney narrowed his eyes at him, getting irritated at how slow John's thought processes were. "You think I don't know that?" He slammed his fists onto the bars and then hissed slightly when the force-field flared up and the electricity stung his skin.
Shaking the sting out of his hands, he focused on John again. "You have a choice, John. You can keep your commission, stay locked up and go back to earth, then stand trail and spend the rest of your life in prison. Or you can throw your old life on Earth away and make a new life in Pegasus, helping the people who have come to depend on you and living a life you've come to love more than anything you ever had on Earth."
Rodney stared at him, the words sounding slightly terrifying now that he was actually saying them. "And if you don't mind the company, I'd really like to come along."
John scowled at him. "Have you been drinking Zelenka's rot gut again?"
"Damn it, John, I'm serious!"
"So am I. This is absolutely insane, McKay!"
Rodney crossed his arms and cocked an eyebrow, knowing that this was a fight he'd win. "Why is this insane?"
John stared at him incredulously. "You're asking me why this is crazy?"
"Yes, I am."
John shook his head. "Even having this conversation is crazy, McKay!"
"That doesn't answer my original question. Tell me why this plan is crazy."
John threw his hands up and spun away from him. He paced up and down the length of the brig, muttering something under his breath and shaking his head.
John spun back around and glared at him. "It's not funny anymore, McKay!"
The sudden change in his mood completely threw Rodney. "What?"
"I said that this shit isn't funny anymore! I'm going to spend the rest of my life in prison and if you ever considered me a friend, you'd help me out by not waving crazy promises of freedom under my nose!"
Now it was Rodney's turn to look incredulous. "You think this is a joke? You think that I'd come in here and say this as a joke?"
"And it's not particularly funny either."
Rodney straightened up and glared at him. "You know me better than that," he said quietly.
John turned away from him and crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the cot.
"I wasn't lying and this isn't my idea of a joke. I'm not letting them ship you back to earth to go to prison while I sit here twiddling my thumbs. However, if I help you escape, it'll be pretty obvious who helped you so I'll have to tag along with you. If you want to split up as soon as we're safely out of Ellis' grasp, fine, I understand that. But until then, we have to work together."
John pressed his lips together. "Why does it matter to you?"
Rodney laughed harshly. "If you have to ask that question, you're a lot dumber than I ever gave you credit for."
Without another word, Rodney spun around and left the brig, telling Pierce that he'd send one of his minions to fix the code panel. He had more important things to do.
By the time you get this email, I'll (hopefully) be long gone from Atlantis. If not, I'll probably be arriving at the SGC in handcuffs within a few hours of you reading this. Don't bother getting me a good lawyer. They'll have every right to lock me up and throw away the key. Get John a good lawyer though. He shouldn't be locked up for what he did, even if it was technically treason. In case I don't get to talk to you, visit John from time to time, okay? Tell him…tell him that I miss him and want him taking care of himself, okay?
Evan started as his ear piece squawked to life in his ear and he heard McKay's voice telling him that he needed him for something down in the labs.
"I'll be right there, doc."
Forcing an encouraging smile onto his face, Evan made his way out of his CO's – well, former CO's – office and headed for McKay's lab, giving what he hoped was a cheery smile to everyone he passed. Keeping up morale was at the top of the priority list these days. Well, at the top of his priority list anyway.
He swung around the corner and stepped through the open lab doors. "Hey, doc, what's up?"
Rodney barely glanced up from his laptop. "Ahh, Major, there you are. I need you to come and turn this device on."
Evan raised an eyebrow. He wanted to ask why the hell he was needed for it when there were dozens of other ATA gene carrying people around, including McKay himself.
But McKay shot him a look that plainly told him not to ask stupid questions. Evan knew McKay wouldn't have asked him if this wasn't something serious, so he stepped closer and picked up the small sphere.
He thought 'on' at it and watched it light up. McKay had turned away from him and was typing away on his laptop, probably downloading energy readings. The scientist glanced at him.
"That's good, Major. Just keep doing that. Feel free to look around, but stay focused." Before McKay turned away from him again, he let his eyes drift down to a tablet sitting at a slight angle on the lab bench before him.
Evan blinked and carefully kept his expression blank. Was it him or did McKay give that tablet a significant glance before looking away? Deciding that he might as well give the tablet a glance while staring around, he leaned against the lab bench and twisted his head until he could see what was on the tablet.
It was a short message. Given normal circumstances, Evan would have demanded why the hell McKay had needed such an elaborate set up to ask him something he could ask him any day, any time. But these weren't normal circumstances.
I need a way to get to Tarana as soon as possible.
His mind started racing, wondering what the hell the scientist had planned. It probably had something to do with his CO – former CO – sitting in the brig and awaiting the Daedalus and a life long prison sentence.
He knew that he would probably be helping commit some sort of crime by agreeing. The thought was barely through his head before he realized he didn't care. This was the right thing to do.
"There. All done, Major. Thank you so much for your time."
Evan gave him a smile. "Not a problem, doc."
"I realize I shouldn't be bothering you with such nonsense."
Evan had no trouble hearing the double meaning behind the scientist's words.
"It's no trouble at all, doc. I'm always glad to help, you know that."
They stared at each other, Evan hoping that McKay could read the double meaning in his own words.
McKay gave him a firm nod, his eyes looking slightly panicked. Evan leaned against the lab bench for another moment and allowed his hand to slightly touch the tablet. With a casual press of his thumb, he deleted the message.
"Well, have a good night, doc. I just remembered I have more work to do."
"Good night, Major."
Evan gave him a smile and strode out, his mind already far ahead of him. He had to pull up those records from Tarana and find a scientific reason for McKay to be needed on an urgent scientific mission to Tarana tomorrow.
You'll probably have heard what happened before you manage to decipher this code and read this email properly. Before you start spitting nails and accusing the SGC of lying or convincing everybody I was brainwashed – yes, it's all true. I did break John out and I did run. Hopefully successfully.
Rodney made a big show out of scanning around himself and frowning at the results, as if the scanner could possibly detect anything except background radiation on this farming planet. The marines were milling around him, keeping a sharp eye on the farmers and children walking by.
He slowly walked closer to the pub and stopped before the door, scowling. "These readings don't make any sense. The frequencies keep changing at random intervals," he groused loudly. He glanced behind him and spied Sergeant Mehra. She was impossible to miss in a crowd, being one of the shortest marines and the only short, female marine with a shaved head. He still couldn't get used to that sight.
"Sergeant, I'm going to head into the pub and ask the barkeep some questions about the power source they're using."
Mehra reached up and relayed the information to the rest of the marines and then nodded. "Alright, doc. Let's head in."
Rodney let the Sergeant walk ahead of him and quickly scan the crowd for any surprises. Once he was inside, Rodney immediately headed for the bartender. Mehra trailed along behind him and Rodney shot her a glare.
"Sergeant, I don't know what they taught you in marine school, but you'd be protecting my rear end far better if you stay by the door and keep your field of view open."
Mehra hesitated and frowned at him and Rodney shot her a pleading look. She paused to argue, but then she must have caught the desperation in Rodney's gaze. She hesitated for a moment before slowly nodding and moving back towards the door to keep a sharp eye on everybody in the pub.
Rodney immediately headed to the bar and called over the bartender.
"What do you want, stranger?"
"I need you to relay a very important message for me."
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "Relaying information has a price, stranger."
Rodney reached into his pack and pulled out two bottles of Radek's home made vodka. The bartender frowned suspiciously. Rodney set the bottles onto the counter. "Go ahead. Pour yourself a glass."
The bartender laughed. "Do you think of me as a fool? Why would I accept a drink from a stranger?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Fine. Pour us both a glass and I'll drink first."
The bartender did as he suggested, and moments later they had each had a fingers worth of vodka sitting infront of them. Rodney downed his and the bartender stared at him for about a minute to see if he keeled over dead. When he didn't, the barkeep downed his own shot, swirled the liquid in his mouth, frowned and then swallowed, a satisfied smile on his face.
"This will do nicely." He reached over and was about to grab both bottles, when Rodney snatched one back.
"I don't think so. You get one now and another when our message has been relayed successfully."
"How will I reach you if I relayed the message?"
"Ahh, that's part of this arrangement, my friend, don't worry. A certain group of people often come to this planet for trade. They call themselves the Travellers and are led by Commander Larrin. Have you ever met them before?
He grunted in response. "Of course. Her first officer drinks ganash like it was water. And she knows some filthy drinking songs."
Rodney grinned ruefully. That was Larrin alright. "They're due to come here within a few days – "
"How do you know they will be here soon?"
Rodney waved a dismissive hand. "Your harvest just finished and the bargaining will start tomorrow, won't it? They'll be here."
The barkeep grunted. "Continue."
"Once they get here, you'll tell them that her favorite fly boy and his genius engineer need a ride and a place to stay for a while. Tell her that the genius engineer will help fix her special ship if she agrees. She should be back here in eight of your solar cycles to pick them up."
The bartender raised an eyebrow. "And she will know who this flyboy and genius engineer are?"
"Fine. I will give them the message when I see them."
"Good. The genius engineer will give you this second bottle once he gets here and Larrin is here to pick him up."
"And if she doesn't agree?"
"Believe me, she wants her special ship tweaked. She won't say no."
"And if she doesn't come?"
"Then you won't get this second bottle."
The bartender laughed. "You are a fine bargainer."
Rodney grinned ruefully. "What can I say? I've got all sorts of talents."
The reasons why are long and complicated and you'll probably hear all about them from other people so I won't waste your time repeating them. Trust me when I say that John did the right thing and I supported his decision 100%. Also trust me when I say that this was our only option. I can't let him rot in prison by himself and I'd be stuck in prison, too, if they catch me – seeing how I aided and abetted a criminal.
Eldon glanced up when he heard the greenhouse doors open and his former boss walked in. "Dr. McKay! It's so good to –"
"Yes, yes, always a pleasure, Eldon. I need a moment of your time."
Eldon blinked. What could Dr. McKay possibly want with him? He hadn't touched anything except soil and plants for months.
Dr. McKay snapped his fingers at him and Eldon found himself following his former boss out of the greenhouse and down the corridor and stopping before a secluded storage closet.
"Uhm, why are we about to go into a storage closet, sir?"
Dr. McKay shot him a glare. "Because I need to discuss your recent rude remarks towards Dr. Brown. I'm told that employees don't like being reprimanded in public and it's bad for their self esteem and yaddida, so we're having this conversation in here."
The door swished open and Eldon found himself pushed inside of it. As soon as the door slid shut, Dr. McKay turned to him, the irritated look gone from his face.
"Alright, you have to listen to me very carefully, Eldon. We don't have much time and this is one of the few places in the city which doesn't have cameras, meaning Corporal Yamato will get suspicious and have to inform Ellis if we're in here for too long."
"Do you want to leave the city?"
Eldon frowned. "N-no, sir. Do you want me to leave the city?"
Dr. McKay scowled. "Idiot! Of course not!" He sighed loudly and pinched the bridge of his nose as if calming himself down. Eldon had no idea what had happened to make his boss so stressed. He was always a bit high-strung, but he hadn't been doing anything recently except working on that replicator code.
"Certain individuals will be leaving the city very shortly and they were wondering whether you would like to come along."
"Which individuals, sir?"
"Does it matter? What matters is that you can stay here and muck around in dirt or you can go with them and go back to being an engineer and making use of your talents. Not to mention you won't be considered a stranger in your own home anymore."
Eldon carefully thought it over for a moment. Dr. McKay made an impatient noise. "Well? Do you want to go or not?"
"I'd really like to know which people are leaving, sir. I mean, there are some people in the city who don't like me."
Dr. McKay rolled his eyes. "Let's just say that most of the people leaving can tolerate you and some even like you."
Eldon grinned, now liking the proposition. "When would they be leaving, sir?"
"So you're in?"
"Of course, sir. I don't like being here anymore."
"Good. Well, that's not good, but…you know what I mean. We're leaving – I mean, they're leaving five days from now. Pack everything you'll need in a field pack – I assume you can swipe one without being caught – and make sure your hands will be free to carry things."
Eldon nodded. "I can do that, sir."
"Also, the people leaving need to know if anybody else wants to come along. I need you to snoop around and find those who would want to come. They need to keep their mouths shut about this and be ready to go in five days with one field pack each."
"How are we going to get out of here, sir? Ellis won't just let the Colonel walk out of the brig and through the gate."
Dr. McKay stared at him for a long moment and Eldon rolled his eyes. As if he hadn't understood what was happening here the moment after the doctor had asked him if he wanted to leave the city with them.
"That's going to be complicated. Leave that to me. I'll find a way to let everybody know the specifics the day before we leave. I don't want to give you too much information in case somebody finds out and goes to Ellis. We'll be exploiting the weaknesses of the city in order to get out and Ellis can't know about those weaknesses until after we're gone."
This will probably be the last time I ever write to you. I doubt I'll ever go back to the Milky Way Galaxy, even if I wouldn't be facing a whole host of legal problems if I were to go back. I'm sorry we didn't get to spend more time together. That will be one of the few regrets I carry with me for the rest of my life. Another one is to leave the city and her still undiscovered secrets behind.
Rodney slowed his pace as he neared the corner before the hallway John's room was in and tapped his ear pierce. "Now, Radek," he whispered.
He kept his pace even and slow, trying to appear as casual as possible while he waited for Radek's all clear. Finally, he heard Radek whisper "Okay, everything is fine."
Careful not to lengthen his pace and appear suspicious, Rodney glanced down at the LSD hidden beneath his sleeve and checked to ensure the hallway was still empty.
Seeing that it was clear, he quickly headed for John's room and let himself in, locking the door behind him.
As long as nobody saw him come in or leave, nobody would ever know he was in here.
He and Radek had hacked into the camera feeds weeks ago and had set up programs which could play repeating loops of empty hallways located anywhere in the city. Radek hadn't asked him why it was necessary for them to hide the fact that Rodney was going into John's room, and Rodney hadn't volunteered any answers. The less everybody else knew about what he was planning, the safer they would all be.
As soon as he was safe, Rodney grabbed John's field pack and started tossing all of John's clothes, toiletries and personal belongings onto his bed. He quickly sorted through everything, deciding how many socks and shirts to pack and which sweats to leave behind. He carefully folded everything and stuffed the clothes into the bottom of the pack, packing them as tightly and efficiently as possible. Not a single cubic millimeter of space could be wasted.
Having packed as many of John's clothes as he dared, he packed the toiletries, carefully wedging his shampoo beside the razor kit and deciding that John could live without conditioner. He always went without conditioner or cologne out in the field and this would be like an extended stay in the field. A very extended stay.
He slid his hand under John's pillow and pulled out his spare hand gun. He slid out the clip and stuffed both into the pack. Then he took down John's curtain and folded it into as small of a square as he could and jammed it into the pack. Extra cloth was always a good thing. He took John's first aid kit, extra power bars, extra ammo clip, flashlight, knife, thigh holster and belt and also stuffed them into the pack.
Lastly, he started the difficult process of deciding which of John's personal effects to take with them. He couldn't take the surfboard or the guitar, that was obvious. He also didn't need 'War and Peace' or the Sudoku book. Rodney could make him Sudoku puzzles if he wanted them. He did carefully wrap the picture of John and Evil Knievel in an extra shirt and slid it into the pack.
Then he stared up at Johnny Cash staring down at him from above John's bed.
"You're too big to come along, Johnny. But your name can come." Reaching up, Rodney gently tore the singer's name from the poster. Folding the piece of paper, he slid it in beside the picture frame.
Then he strapped John's sleeping bag to the top of the pack and tied his pillow to the front of it. Giving the pack a pat, he shoved it under John's bed.
John Sheppard's entire life had now been successfully crammed into a small field pack.
Well, onto more technical things: I'm sending you my bank account information. As soon as you enter the code hidden in this message, all of the money from my account will transfer into yours. Also attached is a document giving my legal consent to the transfer. If the SGC tries to get it back, give them the document. I included all the legal information which will remind them that the money I made from my contract with them is mine and mine alone. Use it wisely and try to not spend it all at once. Put some away for Maddie and use some to give some young Nobel Prize wannabe a chance to get off the ground.
They were almost ready.
Eldon had come to him a few hours ago and said that five soldiers and three civilians wanted to come with them. Some of the names Eldon had given him had surprised him, others had not. Out of the military, Lieutenant Pierce was coming, along with Corporal Yamato and Sergeant Stackhouse. Out of the scientists, Sheila Biro, Miko Kusanagi and Marla Corrigan from Lorne's old team were coming with them.
The fact that they were all from the original expedition didn't surprise Rodney. Pegasus was their home more than Earth had ever been.
Aside from that, their mix of talents would serve them well wherever they ended up. Marla had been an offworld team member just a year less than Rodney had, and knew all the military procedures and tactics they'd need as well as Rodney did. Sheila was a doctor and Miko and Eldon had more engineering and ancient tech knowledge between them than most of the idiots he was leaving behind.
Rodney was paranoid that one of them would turn them in, but Eldon said he'd taken care of that. He'd made them all sign a document declaring their intentions to desert. He promised nobody would ever see the documents, unless one of them went and squealed on them to Ellis.
Eldon's mentality of 'if we go down, we take you with us' was probably left over from the years he spent living in a prison colony, but his shrewd thinking would serve them well in this case.
Meanwhile, Rodney had been busy hoarding everything he could safely remove from the city in his room.
The trickiest part was getting the supplies into his room. Radek would switch the camera feeds to show empty hallways in the places Rodney was, following Rodney's whispered instructions of which hallway he was currently in. The LSD allowed Rodney to avoid running into anybody and so far, he'd been damn lucky and nobody had caught him.
Once he was safely in his room and finally away from the constant watch of the cameras, he could relax – or relax as much as anybody planning a desertion possibly could.
When he'd first started stocking up their supplies in his room, he knew he may have been able to explain away the first few items, but as the days went on, he knew that there was no logical explanation he could offer anyone if they ever entered his room and saw the mountains of things he had stockpiled.
To keep that awkward conversation from ever happening and to keep himself out of the brig, he'd locked his door in such a complicated manner that only Radek and a healthy dose of C4 could possibly get through.
Then he'd started the process of packing.
He was very aware of the fact that they would have to move quickly once they got started and couldn't be weighed down by a lot of supplies. However, he was also aware of the fact that Larrin didn't have a lot of extras of anything and wouldn't be able to give them more than the bare essentials. They weren't leaving for a week long excursion. They would be making new lives for themselves and Rodney wanted to make sure they would have everything they needed to survive.
Each soldier and civilian coming with them would have their own field pack filled with their clothes, toiletries and a few personal belongings. Everybody also had to carry their own first aid kit, one handgun with three spare clips (which Rodney had already smuggled out of the armory and distributed to the civilians) and every available space left in their packs would be taken up by powerbars, ammo and water purification tablets. Everybody also had their sleeping bags and pillows strapped to their packs. Thankfully, Sergeant Stackhouse was in charge of the armory and had 'adjusted' some of the inventory lists so nobody would miss the ammunition and weapons they took.
This way, Rodney could ensure that everybody would have the bare essentials to survive if they ended up on some barren planet and had to hide out for a week or so. Then he'd started packing the supplies which they could use but could survive without.
Packs of field tents, stacks of MREs, boxes of ammo and a medical kit with additional medication which didn't come in the first aid kits or which Rodney thought they would need more of (morphine, antihistamines, antibiotics) lay all around his room, waiting to be packed. Other medical supplies which they might need, bags of different seeds (mostly to use for trade, since Rodney had no intentions of becoming a farmer in the near future), scraps of colorful cloth which they could also use for trade and his laptop and charger cables lay in another pile. Collapsible pots, a stack of bowls and sporks, bundles of rope, flashlights and extra batteries and large bottles of water lay in yet another pile. Hidden under his bed were stacks of Wraith stunners, handguns, a few P-90s, extra ammo, some C4 packets and extra knives and a handful of LSDs. He had been careful to take only what was necessary. The last thing he wanted was to leave the city defenseless.
For the past two days, he had been slowly bundling things together, finding ways to tie stacks of supplies together which made them easy to carry.
He had downloaded as much relevant information from the database as he could and he was taking the replicator code with him. Radek would be able to continue his work on it, but Rodney would probably end up finishing it sooner. He deleted all tactical information concerning Atlantis, just in case somebody else got a hold of his laptop but had collected personal letters and pictures the other soon-to-be deserters had sent him to store. None of them would need tactical information about Atlantis anymore, but some of them would appreciate some reminders of the lives they were leaving behind.
He was sitting on the floor, tying one of the ropes through the hand holds of the P-90 to attach it to one of the tent packages, when his door slid open.
His heart leapt into his throat and by instinct, he grabbed the P-90 and aimed at the person standing in his doorway. There was no way anybody could get through that door unless they were…
Radek let out a shout, threw his arms over his head and dropped into a crouch. "Please don't shoot, Rodney!"
It took him a second to realize it was Radek and that Radek meant him no harm. Breathing hard, Rodney lowered the gun and switched the safety back on.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Radek lowered his arms and stumbled back to his feet. Rodney saw he was holding a small package in his hands which he tossed at Rodney.
"They are last chocolate chip powerbars. Have been saving them for special occasion. If this isn't special occasion, I don't know what is."
Rodney stared at Radek, holding the package in one hand and the P-90 in the other.
Radek pushed his glasses up his nose and rolled his eyes. "As if I let you run around galaxy without giving you all the important tools you'll need." He stared at the piles of supplies littering every available surface of Rodney's room. "How is the packing?"
"Not good. I'm getting stressed and I'm slowing down."
"I can help if you want."
Rodney stared at him. "If they find out you helped—"
Radek waved a dismissive hand. "They will have to prove it and believe me, they will have no proof. This is not first time I am screwing over dictatorship."
"Alright then. The main goal is to make packages of supplies which can be easily carried and won't fall apart."
"Right. That we can do." Radek stepped over the pile of tents and went to work sorting through the supplies and picking random objects to tie together and wrap in the folds of the tents.
Three hours later, they sat on the floor of his room, nine packages of supplies neatly stacked around them.
Rodney leaned against his bed and stared at the far wall. Tomorrow he would put the finishing touches on his escape plan and the day after, they were leaving. In forty-eight hours, he would be a deserter, hiding in one galaxy while being wanted in another.
"You will continue working on the code, yes?"
Rodney nodded. "Of course. We'll know which one of us got it done first when the machines pack it up and head back home."
Radek grunted in response. They sat there in silence before Radek clapped his hands. "Well, I must be off. If I am going to be in charge of our pack of brilliant thinkers in two days time, I must prepare."
"I left the hot pokers in the bottom drawer of my desk."
"Good, good. And the whips?"
"Hanging in the spare closet in lab 2."
Radek laughed and shook his head at Rodney. He reached down a hand and hauled his friend up to his feet.
"Take care of yourself, Rodney. And of the others, especially the Colonel."
"Will do. You better take good care of our city."
"I will do my best. The city will miss you all, but we will do our best to keep her happy."
They stared at each other for an awkward moment before Rodney stuck out a hand. Radek rolled his eyes and pulled Rodney into a tight hug instead.
"Good luck, Rodney. And be careful."
"Smartest and most careful man in two galaxies, remember?"
"Most careful? I thought it was most paranoid."
They both laughed and gave each other a tight squeeze, clapped each other on the back and then separated.
Radek gave him a sad smile. "I doubt you will ever be in this neighborhood again, but try to casually stumble across us from time to time."
"I'll see what I can do."
Radek nodded and then headed for the door. He paused and gave his fellow scientist and close friend another long look.
"It has been a pleasure and a pain working with you, Rodney McKay."
Then Radek gave him a mock salute and headed through the door. Rodney watched him go, a heavy feeling clogging his chest. He had lost too many good friends over the past few months.
Hopefully, he'd be seeing Radek Zelenka again one day.
Rodney just hoped it wouldn't be from behind bars.
Say hi to Caleb and Madison for me and remind her of her Uncle Meredith from time to time. Know that I'll always be thinking of you. Please don't be mad at me. This was my choice and if Caleb were in John's situation, you'd do the same thing, wouldn't you? Know that I'll do my best to find happiness wherever we end up and I expect the same from you.
Your brother Meredith Rodney McKay
John jerked out of sleep at the sound of a soft thump. That sound could only be created by two things: One of his guards stumbling and falling over…..or one of his guards being stunned.
The door to the holding cells slid open with a soft hiss. Frowning, John swung his legs over the side of the cot.
"Everything alright, Pier—"
The rest of the Lieutenant's name died on his lips when he saw the Lieutenant move into the brig's lights. He was wearing his field pack and carrying another enormous bundle of various supplies in one hand.
He held a Wraith stunner in his other hand.
"What the hell is going on, Pierce?"
"We don't have a lot of time to explain right now, sir." Pierce was busy punching in the code to lower the force shield and open the brig door.
John stood there and stared at him. He couldn't be serious. He'd long ago pushed Rodney's crazy plan out of his mind. The man had been distressed at the time and worried over his former teammate. He'd had time to calm down and realize that of course, any escape plan was stupid and insane.
John had to admit, the idea had excited him for exactly 0.02 seconds. Then he'd realized that breaking out was stupid and insane and that nobody would ever attempt to actually do it.
But here was Pierce, standing infront of him, trying to coax him out of the brig. This meant that either the universe had gone crazy, or John had gone crazy.
Pierce was staring at him, his eyes worried. "Sir? We really have to hurry. The doctor calculated everything out very carefully but we have to stay on schedule."
John opened his mouth to ask what universe he was in or to ask for a medical exam. It was a very good possibility that he'd fallen off his cot and smacked his head on the floor and right now he was hallucinating or unconscious.
He heard an impatient curse being spat from the direction of the door. "John! Quit gawking and get out here!"
Or maybe these were alien imposters and everybody on base had been taken over. The forcefield had probably blocked them from getting at John.
John started taking a careful step backwards. Pierce's eyes widened even further and before John could take another step back, Pierce grabbed his shirt and yanked him forwards and out of the brig.
Finding himself hauled to the door of the holding cells by one of his Lieutenants, John stared in disbelief at the group of people standing clustered around the door. Miko was holding a stunner in her hands and looked terrified, Sgt. Stackhouse was keeping watch on one end of the hallway while Corporal Yamato was watching the other. All of them were wearing their field packs and carrying a bundle of other supplies.
John suddenly found his own field pack being shoved into his hands. "Here. Hurry up, Sheppard!"
He blinked at Rodney, who stared back at him with an impatient look in his eyes. Rodney rolled his eyes. "We're not aliens and you're not hallucinating, idiot. We're getting out of here just like I promised we would. Now get your pack on, grab your extra bundle of things and let's go."
Fumbling with the strap, John got his pack strapped on and then grabbed the stunner that a wide eyed Sheila Biro pressed into his hand and the bundle a nervously smiling Eldon pushed into his other.
As soon as he was ready, they started moving down the hallway. John followed along, his mind still trying to catch up. They were actually leaving Atlantis. They were actually deserting the city and going on the run.
As they made their way through the slumbering city, the mind of a soldier quickly took over and John started paying attention to what they were doing.
Sgt. Stackhouse and Corporal Yamato were taking point, leap frogging down the corridors and checking for any lifesigns on the LSDs, their stunners ready to take down anybody whose path they crossed. Marla Corrigan and Lieutenant Pierce had taken their six and were hurrying along almost backwards, keeping one eye on their LSDs and the other on the hallway behind them.
They didn't follow a direct route to the gateroom but instead wound their way through less used corridors and up stairways. Miko, Eldon, Sheila Biro, himself and Rodney stayed in the center of the group, moving at a continuous but slow pace, following the predetermined path Stackhouse and Yamato were taking them on.
All of them kept their eyes on Yamato and Stackhouse, waiting to see them freeze and raise a fist. As soon as they'd see that fist, they'd freeze and flatten themselves against the walls, waiting with raised stunners for the unsuspecting person to step into view. Luckily, they only came across Dr. Esposito on their way to the gateroom. Yamato stunned her and gently lowered her to the ground before they continued. It seemed that the group had carefully mapped out the night patrols routes and knew exactly where everybody was and what they would be doing.
It seemed so strange to be using their intimate knowledge of the city and their people to betray them like this. John shook his head firmly. They weren't betraying their people. The SGC had let them down and this was the only way they could deal with it. The rest of their people had to stay here to keep their city in one piece.
They weren't leaving the city or their people. They were leaving the situation Ellis and the SGC and IOA had created.
In no time at all, they had reached the gateroom. Immediately, Stackhouse and Yamato broke off from the group and hurried up to the control room and stunned the night crew. Once Stackhouse gently lowered Sgt. Lee's unconscious body out of the chair by the DHD, he pulled out a small device from his pocket and attached it to the DHD. John could see it immediately start to glow and he saw Rodney smirking, staring down at the tablet he had clutched in one hand. Rodney gave Stackhouse a thumbs up and the Sergeant punched in a gate address.
Moments later, the wormhole exploded from the gate and then settled into the smooth, rippling surface John had first stepped out of more than three years ago.
Stackhouse and Yamato quickly ran back down and exchanged their stunners for P-90s. John felt somebody taking his own stunner and replacing it with the P-90. His fingers automatically clipped it to the sling Pierce had slung over his neck and his fingers did an unconscious check of the gun's settings.
He was barely aware of what his fingers were doing. His mind was suddenly reeling with the thought that he was leaving the city.
At that thought, an intense wave of sadness washed through him and John squeezed his eyes shut at the despair he felt.
He knew it wasn't all his.
He felt a hand on his arm and opened his eyes. Rodney was staring at him with concern.
The faint humming in his head got louder. Atlantis was sad. Scared. Anxious.
She only sounded anxious like this when he had to go offworld on a mission. But even then, she never sounded this scared and sad. "The city…she's….she's sad we're leaving."
Something flickered in Rodney's eyes and he clenched his jaw. He stared around the gateroom before straightening up. "She understands why we have to do this. She has to."
"Sir. We have to go."
Rodney gave the Lieutenant a nod and jerked his head. "You heard him, people. Let's get out of here. The cameras will unfreeze themselves in two more minutes and we have to be long gone by then."
At a signal from Stackhouse, Yamato and Pierce raised their P-90s and moved through the wormhole. Stackhouse first checked that Miko was holding her handgun properly and then went through with her. Biro, Corrigan and Eldon went next, Marla correcting Sheila's grip on her handgun before they went through.
Then it was just Rodney and John left in the gateroom. The thick despair in his head was making John reel and he took a stumbling step away from the wormhole. The humming was getting louder, more anxious.
He took another step back. The song took on a note of cheerful encouragement.
"What are you doing?! John!"
"Rodney, she…she….I can't leave her. She's….she's our city, Rodney."
"John, she'll be fine. She's been taking care of herself for thousands of years."
"She needs us, Rodney. We can't just leave her with Ellis."
He felt Rodney grabbing his arms and shaking him. "John! John, look at me!"
John forced himself to focus on Rodney, the humming in his head making it throb. Fear. Anxiety. Despair. Fear. Fear. Fear.
"If we stay here, you'll leave her anyway. Think! You can stay here for a few more days and leave in chains or you can leave now and be a free man. Well, a wanted man, but a free man."
John shook his head sharply, realizing that of course, Rodney was right.
I'm sorry, he thought. I'm sorry. I'm not leaving you because I want to. None of us are. If I stay, I'll have to leave anyway. Please, please try to understand that.
The humming got louder and mournful.
John squeezed his eyes shut. I have to go. I have to go.
He felt Rodney pulling him forwards and forced his shaky legs to move towards the wormhole.
He felt the cool draft of the wormhole on his face and his head spun as a loud screech erupted in his head. He nearly fell to his knees and felt Rodney dragging him forwards.
I'm sorry, he pleaded, his thoughts drowned out by the screeching.
He felt the wormhole wash over his face, Rodney's tight grip on his arm yanking him forward and the screeching erupted into a high pitched screaming wail of loss and utter despair…..
…..and he stumbled out onto a new world. As soon as the wormhole disengaged, the screeching abruptly stopped. For a moment, John thought he'd gone deaf. There was absolute silence in his mind. The loss nearly made him fall to his knees and only Rodney's tight grip kept him standing.
He'd had so much more he had wanted to say to her – I'll try to be back one day. Take care of our people. You're my home and you'll always be my home.
You'll always be my home.
They hurried away from the gate and wound their way through the mid-day crowd of the market place which lay spread before the gate.
"Mind telling me where we're going?" He asked Cpl. Yamato.
The Corporal adjusted his grip on the P-90 and shot him a small smile. "Dr. McKay arranged for Larrin and her crew to pick us up."
"He's a smart cookie, sir."
John tried being impressed with Rodney's ability to plan, but he was just feeling drained. The heavy pack on his back and the weight of the other bundle he was carrying was straining on his muscles after days spent lying on a cot in the brig.
The sudden time change left him reeling as well. To go from the middle of the night to the middle of the day was always jarring, but the fact that they were now fugitives added to the strain.
He kept wanting to look back at the gate, worried that Atlantis would dial in at any second and the marines would come to drag them back.
"Don't worry, sir," Eldon said, who'd obviously noticed him starting to look back and always stopping himself. "That device the Sergeant put onto the DHD completely wiped the original address from the system. It's impossible for anybody who isn't Dr. McKay to figure out where we went."
"You're telling me that Rodney pulled this off without anybody on Atlantis knowing we're here?"
"Well, Major Lorne arranged for Dr. McKay to come here a few Lantean days ago, sir. He doesn't know why Dr. McKay had to come and didn't ask."
John clenched his jaw, worried at this small nugget of information. It wasn't that he didn't trust his XO – former XO – to keep his mouth shut. He didn't trust that Ellis wouldn't go to extreme lengths to get that information out of him.
Lieutenant Pierce adjusted the bundle in his hand and shrugged his pack into a more comfortable position. "Don't worry about the Major knowing, sir. By the time Ellis gets Tarana's location out of him – if he ever does – we'll be long gone from here."
They'd reached a small pub in the middle of the market place and Marla and Yamato pushed their way inside. When Yamato stuck his head back out and gave them the all clear, they slowly made their way inside, trying to get their packs and bundles of supplies through the door without dropping anything.
John blinked at the dimness of the pub and did a quick scan for any potential threats. Hardly any of the pub's patrons bothered looking up, probably well used to strangers walking in with heavy laden packs, wanting to trade with the locals.
"Well, well, if it isn't my favorite flyboy and his genius engineer."
John spun around at the words, his hands automatically raising his gun.
Larrin laughed at his reaction and continued lounging on the chair she sat on, one of her legs propped onto the table, a mug of something by her booted foot.
A tall man immediately leapt out of his chair, drew his gun and stepped in front of Larrin.
Larrin waved him back. "It's alright Garan. Sheppard's tired and running on reflexes and not much else."
While Garan relaxed and sat back, Larrin kicked out the chair beside her and gestured at the tables around them. "You all look like you're about to fall over. What in the Ancestor's names are you all carrying? I didn't realize you were bringing the entire city with you. Sit down."
John stepped over to the chair beside Larrin and felt Rodney and Miko by his side. They all struggled out of their packs and collapsed in their chairs. John shot Yamato, Stackhouse and Pierce a look, and they all carefully took chairs where they could keep a close eye on their civilians and the rest of the pub.
John wearily rubbed his face, still feeling half asleep.
"Any of your people hungry, Sheppard?"
John glanced around. Everybody looked exhausted and pale but they all shook their heads at him. They all looked terrible. Miko's hair was a mess, Eldon was keeping his head propped up on one arm and Yamato was struggling to keep his eyes open. Dr. Biro was the only one who was wide awake, but she had been on the night shift.
He turned back to Larrin. "No. It was the middle of the night when we left."
She nodded and then jerked her chin towards the bartender, who had been eyeing them since they'd sat down.
"I believe the barkeep wants something from McKay."
Rodney stared at her blankly, his exhaustion visible in the puffiness and dark circles around his eyes. Larrin gestured at her drink.
"Oh. Right." Rodney bent down and fumbled in his pack before pulling out a bottle of Radek's pseudo-vodka. Getting up, he stumbled towards the bar, Stackhouse automatically getting up to trail after him, his finger on his P-90's trigger.
Once they'd returned, John focused on Larrin. She stared at him. "You look terrible, Sheppard."
"Things have been a bit rough since our last meeting."
"So I've heard."
Rodney frowned. "From who?"
"Worlds you used to trade with and have now stopped or worlds you've set up your fancy equipment on and then suddenly dismantled it and taken it away. The most vocal are the folks who thought you'd help them before the machines attacked them and you left them to fend for themselves. Very classy. Let's just say that people haven't been happy with you."
John started to feel mildly irritated. "Well, we haven't been happy with the situation either."
She raised an eyebrow. "Alright, time to get down to business. What exactly do you want from me?"
"A place to stay for a while."
"How long, what would I get in return and how many of you are we talking about?"
John exchanged a look with Rodney. "Rodney?"
"Why is she asking how many of us she's going to be taking?"
Rodney shifted in his chair and shot Larrin a huge smile before turning back to John. "I may have only told her the two of us were going."
"At the time I didn't realize how many were going to come with us! I remembered that we should ask Eldon if he wanted to come and then I asked Eldon to ask around. I honestly didn't expect so many of us to go through with it and come!"
John squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. He was exhausted, stressed, still half fearing that his marines would come barging into the pub at any second to haul him back in chains, and he was responsible for eight of his people who now had nothing except the clothes on their backs and the few belongings scattered around the floor at their feet.
John forced his flirtatious grin onto his face and turned back to Larrin. "We come as a package deal."
She gave him a hard look. "I don't have the room or the resources to take on all of you."
Rodney leaned forward and put on his I'm-trying-to-be-patient-with-the-difficult-natives-smile. "We wouldn't be in your hair for long. We need you to show us some places where we can purchase a ship. A relatively cheap ship since we don't have a lot to pay with."
Larrin glared at him, not appreciating the smile. Rodney blinked at her and then quickly wiped the smile off his face.
John stared at Rodney. "You want to find a ship?"
"No, Colonel. I want to spend the rest of my life farming on some planet until the Replicators show up and blow us into tiny particles."
John realized that made a lot of sense. But where they would find a ship when they only had the clothes on their backs was beyond him. He shook thoughts of a ship out of his head. Right now, they had to focus on getting off this planet and finding a safe place to rest and take stock of their situation.
"As I said, you either take all of us or none of us. You can put us all into one little corner. We'll make do."
"We have our own food too so we won't make use of your resources except to bathe, sleep and breathe your oxygen," Marla put in.
Rodney leaned forward, eager to help make them as appealing as possible. "And we'll fix your ship and the – and any other ships in your fleet."
Larrin gave a half smile, appreciating the fact that Rodney hadn't mentioned the Ancient ship out loud. Then she grew serious again and gave them a hard look.
"Fine. We'll say that you stay on board as long as you're making sufficient progress fixing up my ships or you want to leave. You'll discuss exactly what needs doing with my chief engineer and the engineers on the other ships and you'll do it. Your work will be supervised and has to meet a certain standard – which will be set by the people whose ship you're working on. As long as your people do the work they said they'd do and don't cause any problems, you can stay." She turned to Garan. "My first officer here will find a place for you all to stay. Maybe the boiler room."
Garan shrugged. "It's warm enough and there's enough room for all of them."
"Fine. You'll only eat the food we give you. If we don't have leftovers, we don't have leftovers. If we do, we'll share. And you'll bathe when Garan can fit you into the bathing schedule."
Sheila raised an eyebrow. "You have a bathing schedule, Commander?"
Larrin gave her a hard look. "We live on a ship. Everything is a precious resource and will not be wasted. That includes every breathe of air and every drop of water. If you want to stay on my ship, you'll learn to live like a spacer and treat our resources with the respect they deserve."
Miko was frowning. "Commander, why aren't you living on the…the other ship? It has a lot more room and resources."
"That ship is housing 1300 of my people who have been living crammed into corners and bathing once every Tarian solar eclipse. It was only fair to give them the more spacious living quarters and showers. Besides, most of the ship is still not fully operational. Some of my crew moved over there to man the bridge and I go over often to keep an eye on things, but I don't live there. I have a home, I don't need another."
John couldn't imagine wanting to live somewhere else when she could be living on a Lantean anything, but that wasn't the issue right now. "So, we have an agreement then?"
Larrin gave him a long look and then pointed a finger at him. "If this is some massive deception on your part, Sheppard –"
"If we wanted something from you, we'd be honest and upfront about it and propose a straight forward deal. Besides, you don't have any tactical information we need."
"Right. But I'm warning you, if you are trying to screw me over, you'll regret the day you were born. And you won't be the first. Clear?"
They stared at each other for a moment, sizing each other up, two leaders only wanting what was best for their people. Finally, she nodded. "Alright. You have yourself a deal."
After trudging through the market place for what seemed like hours, they finally made it to the docking station where Larrin's ship was.
Garan went ahead and punched in the security code next to the hatch, and a ramp slowly lowered itself.
Larrin pushed the little joy stick on the remote device she held in her hands. With a cheery whirring sound, the small cart stacked with her trading items slid across the wooden dock and up onto the ramp.
Rodney had been glaring at the machine since Larrin first started it up at the pub and she had leisurely started trailing after it, Garan openly grinning at the rest of them struggling with their packs.
Larrin threw him a grin. "Jealousy will do you no good, McKay. Besides, carrying all that is good exercise for you, not to mention that my little friend here might break if I put any more weight on him."
Rodney shot her a glare and muttered something rude under his breath. Larrin laughed and followed the small cart up onto the ramp. Garan moved to the side, waiting for them to go up first and looking to see if any of them were going to try anything funny.
John stopped before the ramp and stared up into the gaping darkness which was the interior of Larrin's ship. This was it. Time for them all to decide if this was what they really wanted.
Well, he didn't have a choice. But the rest of his people did.
He turned around and took a deep breath. "Alright people, listen up. I appreciate what you're trying to do here. Really. I've never had the privilege of serving with people who are as loyal, helpful and trustworthy as you. You'd walk through fire with me and for me and believe me, I appreciate it. What's more is that I'll never forget it. I owe you all my life, literally and figuratively. So, I want to thank you for what you all did for me and what you're trying to do, but you can go home now."
Eight blank faces stared up at him. Miko pushed strands of her hair out of her face and frowned. Yamato and Stackhouse exchanged confused looks and Eldon was giving him that smile he gave to potentially crazy people who might snap and kill him at any second.
Rodney was staring up at him as if he'd grown a second head. "Why do you have to act stupid when I have two heavy packs on me and I haven't slept in about three days and my body still thinks it's 0200?"
John sighed. "McKay, like I said, I appreciate what you did for me and I could have never gotten away without all your help, but none of you thought this through properly."
Sheila crossed her arms. "And what exactly didn't we think through, Colonel?"
"The fact that I'm not just going for a spin around the galaxy, after which I can whirl back through the gate to Atlantis and pick up my life where I left off. I'm a wanted criminal. I'm never going back to Atlantis or Earth. Which means that any of you who come with me would never be able to go back home either."
Miko blinked at him. "We are aware, Colonel."
John sighed. "Miko, come on! It seems like a great idea right now, but what happens tomorrow? Or next week? Or next year or next decade? You're going to want the comforts of Atlantis back, you're going to want to see your family and go back to Earth eventually and do something other than this craziness. If you go back now, you can still claim that I forced you to help me and you escaped, but the longer you stay with me, the less credible that's going to sound."
Pierce straightened. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
John nodded. "Of course, Lieutenant." Being the highest ranking officer among them after himself, it was natural that the Lieutenant would want to put in his own two cents.
Pierce stepped up beside him in perfect parade rest, his back straight. "If somebody wants to go back to Atlantis, say so now. Keep the consequences in mind and know that nobody here or in Atlantis will hold it against you if you want to go back. But if you stay, keep in mind that we have no idea what life will be like and what challenges we'll face. If you have the slightest doubt, turn back now."
John waited for all of them to shoulder their packs and turn around to trudge back to the gate like sensible people should.
None of them moved. Eldon even dropped his pack to the ground and grimaced as he rotated his shoulders. John stared and started to get angry.
"Look. Eldon has nobody in this entire galaxy so it doesn't matter where he goes and what he does. But the rest of you have families and careers on Earth. You can't just leave those behind."
Stackhouse stepped forward. "Permission to speak, sir?"
"Christ, of course, Sergeant."
"Not all of us have family back on Earth, sir. And the ones who do, well, like yourself sir, we may have blood ties back on Earth, but that's not necessarily family. The only family I've had for years is the people on Atlantis. The city is my home, sir, and Ellis has completely ruined it. I don't feel comfortable on Atlantis anymore and Earth hasn't been home for me for a long time, sir."
John noticed he didn't mention the fact that he'd lost Sgt. Markham – his best friend and lover more than two years ago when they'd been forced to engage in a vicious dog fight against that Wraith dart that had approached Atlantis. He hadn't heard of the Sergeant dating anybody since and guessed that a new start was probably very appealing to the younger Sergeant – especially one far away from the military's archaic regulations.
Dr. Biro pushed her glasses farther up her nose. "And we're not even doing what we came to do in this galaxy. At least you have your priorities straight, Colonel."
"Sheila, I don't even know when I'm going to have a shower next, never mind when I'll be launching vast humanitarian efforts across the galaxy."
Sheila gave him a half smile. "I have faith in you. I don't have any in Ellis. Thus, I'm here. Wherever you go is good enough for me."
John blinked at her and then stared at each of them. He realized that most of them really didn't have anybody on Earth they were close to – except Rodney, but that was something he would deal with later. Add to that the fact that all of them had been part of the original expedition and had been away from Earth for more than three years.
He gave them all a hard look.
"You are all going to be fugitives." He said, aware he was starting to sound desperate and anxious, but damn it, he was. These were his people.
"All of you! Ellis is probably writing up our wanted ads as we speak. We're going to be hunted criminals for the rest of our lives."
Pierce was smiling. "Sir, I honestly doubt the rest of the galaxy cares about who the SGC and IOA considers criminals. We aren't a threat to anybody else. Besides, they like us a lot more than they like Ellis. As long as we stay away from Atlantis and the Milky Way galaxy, we have a whole galaxy to run around in."
Marla Corrigan nodded. "Not to mention that a lot of our trading partners and allies would probably be glad to hide us, even if it's just to give Ellis the finger, sir."
Eldon let out a snort of laughter and then quickly quelled it at the look on John's face.
He wasn't irritated with Marla for the comment, he was just upset that so many of them would throw their lives out the window for his sake.
"Is there nothing I can do short of manhandling you back through the gate to get you to go back?"
They all lifted their chins and stared at him, letting him know that he'd have a tough time if he even tried.
He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Fine," he said. Then he pointed his finger at each of them. "If any of you ever – ever – want to go back, you have to promise me you'll tell me right away. I'll do my best to get you back with minimal consequences facing you."
They all nodded and mumbled their agreement.
John turned back around and started walking up the ramp into Larrin's ship. She was leaning against the hatch and raised an eyebrow at him.
"So, am I taking all of you?"
"Looks like it."
She laughed. "Your people are crazy, Sheppard. But then, so are you."
"You're hilarious. Where's the boiler room?"
The boiler room was quite large, noisy and warm. They all struggled inside and dropped their packs, most of them collapsing right on top of them. Miko declared she wasn't moving for the next year and Eldon yawned, curled up, ready to fall asleep right away.
John rubbed his face vigorously to keep himself awake. "Okay, folks, let's make our beds and get some sleep."
It was slow going but everybody managed to pull their sleeping bags and pillows out and yank off their boots and outerwear before collapsing into their sleeping bags. Yamato agreed to take the first watch and went to sit by the door with his P-90.
John waited while all of his people got changed and fell into their sleeping bags, most of them asleep within moments.
He pushed all thoughts of their uncertain future out of his mind. He was exhausted, they were exhausted and there was nothing he could do right now. He would just pretend that they were on another trading mission and were spending the night in an ally's home before going back to Atlantis.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'd face reality.
John barely slept, despite how exhausted he was. He never slept well when he was offworld, never able to turn off his spidey sense enough to properly sleep. His soldiers were used to it and never said anything about sharing watch with their commander, despite the fact that only one of them was officially on watch.
Adding to that was that feeling of emptiness that was simmering in the back of his mind. He could only feel it if he concentrated hard enough, but he knew it was there.
When everybody started stirring, John pushed himself up. They all rolled up their sleeping bags and stowed them away, conscious that they were sleeping in somebody else's home and didn't want to leave too much clutter.
Sheila ripped open two MREs and carefully portioned out a small amount for everybody. Definitely not enough to fill them up for the rest of the day, but enough to get them going and give them some calories to burn.
John yawned and stretched. "Change your underwear but keep your other clothes on for now. Be careful with all of your clothes and wear them until they fall apart, then use new things. The exception is socks and underwear. If you wear them for too long without cleaning them, the bacteria and fungus will eat you alive, literally."
A chorus of 'yes, sir' rose up around John and he bent over his pack to hunt for his underwear. While digging past his shirts, first aid kit and shampoo, John's fingers touched a shirt that had something heavy wrapped in it.
Frowning, John pulled it out and carefully unwrapped the shirt.
It was the picture of him and Evil Knievel. John immediately looked up and searched out Rodney. He was bent over his pack, yanking out a pair of boxers and struggling out of his pants at the same time, grumbling about Pierce being in his space.
John had been curious as to who had packed up his stuff, but this made it clear. Well, that had been nice of Rodney. Even if they weren't together anymore, Rodney was still decent enough to think about what John would want to take with him when he left his whole life behind.
Realizing he was staring at Rodney and that McKay probably wouldn't appreciate it, John turned back to his pack and continued digging.
Moments later, his fingers touched a scrap of paper carefully tucked in beside the first aid kit. Gently pulling it free, he unfolded it.
An involuntary smile spread over his face when he saw Johnny's name on it. Damn, Rodney really knew John too well.
John risked another glance at the astrophysicist, who was busy rolling his sleeping bag into an efficient military bundle and berating Miko's attempts to copy him.
He had to remember to thank Rodney. Usually the people he broke up with didn't want anything to do with him anymore, never mind taking the time to do something like this.
Before he had a chance to ask Rodney if he could see him in the corridor for a moment, a young, strange man stuck his head into the boiler room.
His eyes zeroed in on Sheppard. "You must be Sheppard."
"Larrin said you were the one with the shortest hair."
John had honestly never before heard that sentence directed at him.
"I'm Derryn, the ship's chief engineer. We have two slots open on the bathing schedule right now. None of our crew need them so Larrin said to come ask you. Which two of you stink the worst?"
"Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard," Pierce immediately said.
Rodney and John both turned to glare at him. The Lieutenant shrugged at them. "It's true, sirs. Dr. McKay hasn't been doing anything but packing for three days and Colonel Sheppard's been in the brig. You both really need a shower."
Derryn nodded. "Alright. Come on then."
Rodney was still glaring at the Lieutenant. "Lieutenant, I do not stink that –"
John had bent back over his pack and was frantically digging for a towel and shampoo. "McKay, come on. Who knows how long these slots are open for and if we lose our turn, who knows when we'll have another chance?"
That was enough to spur Rodney into action, who dumped the contents of his entire pack onto the floor and snapped at Miko and Yamato to help him find his towel and shampoo.
Marla slid her handgun into her holster and waited by the door to accompany them. Derryn raised an eyebrow at her and she gave him a tight smile, daring him to question her actions. He shrugged and went back to leaning against the hatch.
Derryn waited until they were ready and then led them down some twisting corridors until they reached the small shower room.
It looked very close to the communal showers John had spent most of his adult life in. Large drains in the floor, five shower heads hanging from the ceiling and five taps on the wall.
Marla took up her position by the door, keeping one eye on them and one eye on the corridor.
Derryn gestured at the taps and at the empty glass cylinders stuck to the wall below each shower head. "Turns on the two showers you're going to use. The cylinders will start filling with sand as soon as you turn on the taps and will cut off once the cylinders are full. Use the time wisely."
"How much of your water can you recycle?"
"We recycle all of it, but some of it can't be used for drinking or bathing after a while. We pick up water where we can and then portion it out. That's why the schedule is so important and trust me, we don't take kindly to strangers taking more of our resources than we're willing to share."
Rodney was already stripping and tossing his clothes into a pile. Derryn gave them a nod and then left them.
John figured that he should thank Rodney now before he lost the nerve. "Uh, McKay?"
Rodney was grumbling under his breath about the cold metal grating beneath his feet and hopping towards the tap. "—obviously never heard of infloor heating – what?"
"I found Johnny and the picture in my pack. Thank you."
Rodney paused in his hopping and momentarily forgot about his cold feet. He got that funny half smile on his face, the smile that was more shy than anything Rodney McKay was capable of expressing. "Oh, you're welcome. I knew you were never going to go back to Atlantis so I wanted to bring some of your personal effects with us. I couldn't pack the Sudoku book or your surfboard or skateboard, but –"
"It's okay, McKay. Really. I'm just happy to have anything from home that wasn't military issue. I'm impressed you managed to cram those two things in there. Fitting my skateboard wouldn't have been possible, never mind my guitar."
They stared at each other for a long moment. John got the feeling Rodney wanted to say something but was stopping himself. That was such a rare event that it made John uncomfortable.
He quickly stripped off his own clothes and put them in a neat pile and snagged his shampoo before hopping over the cold grating until he reached the slick tiles of the shower.
He turned on his shower and set to work getting all the sweat and dust he'd collected sitting and working out in the brig off himself, keeping an eye on his cylinder filling with sand. When he was done, he shut off the water and snapped the shampoo shut. Shaking the water off himself, he grabbed his towel and started drying off.
Rodney was just finishing rinsing his own hair, by now well used to the speed and efficiency military showering required.
While they both toweled themselves dry, John debated whether now was a good time to launch into what he was sure would turn into a heck of an argument.
Rubbing his hair dry, he dropped the towel and pulled his clothes back on. Well, if he didn't do it now, he probably wouldn't ever bring it up, and he had to for Rodney's sake.
Having done up his pants, he turned to Rodney, who was busy toweling himself off.
"So where do you want us to drop you off? I have no idea what's close to Tarana, but I'm sure we'll swing by a planet whose gate you can use to get back."
Rodney paused in the middle of rubbing water off his arms. He stared at John, his eyes filling with hurt before he quickly looked away.
John frowned. That wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting. Anger maybe, defiance probably. But this surprised hurt, no.
"Oh. Well, that makes sense, of course. Well, if you just give me time to grab what I need from the supplies we brought – and I assure you I'll discuss it with you before taking something that can't physically be divided evenly – I'll go speak to Larrin and be out of your hair before tonight. When is tonight, by the way? In fact, what time is it? We were technically operating on Atlantis time these past few hours but we have no idea what kind of a time cycle Larrin's crew—"
John reached up and put a finger before Rodney's lips to stop the chatter before he went off topic. He had no idea what time Larrin's crew considered it to be right now, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that Rodney was making it sound like John wanted to boot him off the ship.
"McKay, there's no reason to make it sound like I'm forcing you to go back."
"Well, obviously you can't force me to go back. You can just force me to leave. I'll find some place, Colonel, don't worry. With my skills, I can pretty much make myself a decent living anywhere. Any farming community needs irrigation systems tweaked and other Genii-like people out there need nuclear physics secrets."
"McKay, I'm talking about you going back home. As in Atlantis. As in Earth."
Rodney stared at him. "Why would I go back to Atlantis, Colonel?"
"Because you have family on Earth, McKay! Unlike the rest of us, you actually have a relationship with your family – one which you just recently started improving – which means that it's pretty damn stupid for you to be playing outlaw with the rest of us out here. Besides, nobody's going to award you a Nobel if you're out here."
John glared at the blank look on Rodney's face. "Jesus, McKay! You have a life on Earth, you have plans! There's still enough time for you to convince Ellis that I forced you to help us. You can still go back."
Rodney was shaking his head. "Colonel, that's all very true and good, but I took care of all that."
"You can't just 'take care' of family, McKay!"
"I wrote Jeannie an email explaining everything. We haven't been close for the past five years, and yes, getting back in touch with her was nice, but this is more important."
"What's more important? Playing outlaw in a galaxy constantly at war while we only have the clothes on our backs?"
"Protecting what I've come to think of as my home, Colonel. You're not the only one who cares about what happens to the people in this galaxy. Back home, I'm one of the many physicists fighting over funding and prizes and recognition. I've come to the realization that those things may matter to me, but they matter only to me."
John stared at him.
"The things I can do here matter not only to me but many, many people who have come to depend on me. On us. That's more important than my Nobel and more important than Jeannie. Besides, Radek will make sure my name is attached to everything once the program is declassified. I'll still get to thumb my nose at my competition back on Earth, and I don't have to physically be there to do that."
John kept staring at him. He wished Jeannie were here to hear her brother. This wasn't the Rodney McKay who had stepped through the gate more than three long years ago at his side, eager to tear all of Atlantis' secrets out of her and haul them back to Earth to flaunt them in Carter's face.
But Rodney wasn't done yet. "But, of course, if you'd rather that I go somewhere else, I'll go. This galaxy, you, Teyla and Ronon have taught me everything I need to know about surviving out here on my own. In fact, I might even be able to find Teyla or Ronon." He brightened considerably at the thought. "Hey, that's a great idea!"
John frowned, still caught on that one sentence. "McKay, why would I want you to go somewhere else?"
Rodney had resumed drying himself and had tossed his towel down to start pulling his boxers on. "Oh, please, Colonel. As if this awkwardness between us will ever get easier. I'm used to working with people I've had sex with, but that was always a case of friends fulfilling each others needs. Not…not what we….had. Anyway, you've always been the one to run away from the awkward break up. This time, I'll do you the favor and be the one to do it."
Ahh, that's what it was. Well, John could understand that. "If that's the way you want it, okay. I'll go see Larrin in a bit." His hands were starting to hurt him and he glanced down to find them viciously twisting his shirt. He forced himself to stop. He didn't have enough clothes now to afford tearing them from…from whatever was making him try to kill his shirt.
Rodney gave a bitter laugh while pulling his pants on. "It's not about what I want, Colonel."
John frowned at him. "Of course it is, McKay. It's not like I want you to leave."
Rodney straightened up. They frowned at each other. "What?"
John shrugged. "It's not like I wanted us to…to go our separate ways either. I thought it was just a break, but hey, that's okay. If you don't want any of….this anymore, that's fine. I completely understand that. But I really don't need you to leave. It's a bit awkward, sure, but we'll work through that. Unless you want to leave, obviously. In that case, I'll…"
This time it was Rodney who put his finger onto John's lips to halt his own rambling. That was a random enough occurrence that it automatically made John shut his mouth. Not to mention the touch of Rodney's fingers made a shiver of want run down his spine. God, he couldn't even remember the last time Rodney had touched him. Really touched him.
But now was not the time to be thinking about that. Rodney was giving him a look of pure disbelief. Then he removed his finger.
John automatically tried following the finger, but forced himself to regain focus.
"You never wanted us to break up permanently?"
John frowned. What? "Of course not. I said we were just taking a break, didn't I? I just assumed that once Ellis calmed down things would….things would go back to normal."
"That never happened."
"No. Then I thought you must have gotten sick of waiting, so…."
"So, what?" Rodney had straightened up, crossed his arms and was glaring at him. He was pissed. "You decided that just because I was putting a lot of effort into you keeping your career – which by the way, I might as well not have bothered with – that I decided I had enough?"
"Why would you want to be with someone you can't be with?!" John demanded. He heard a door sliding shut and realized that Marla had been listening to their entire conversation. He realized that he should care, but right now, he was frustrated and pissed off. He didn't know or care to know if he was more angry with Rodney or with himself.
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Because I figured the situation wasn't permanent, you idiot! I figured we'd find a way to get rid of Ellis or we'd leave!"
John stared at him. "So it's not technically over?"
"No! Well, unless you want it to be."
Rodney was turning red he was so pissed. "I can't believe I've been willingly letting you share bodily fluids with me for months, you moron! No! No, no, no! Do you need me to translate it into other languages for you?"
As an answer, John grabbed Rodney's face and kissed him hard. Rodney's last words were abruptly cut off and Rodney grabbed John's face and yanked him closer.
John groaned against Rodney's lips and nudged them open with his tongue. Rodney immediately parted his lips and slid his tongue against John's.
"Jesus," Rodney breathed into his mouth. Both of them kept a tight grip on each others faces and kept their mouths crushed together, as if afraid the other would change his mind and back away.
When their legs started getting weaker, John moved one hand to Rodney's back and the other behind him and they stumbled back to the wall. John's hand absorbed the shock and stayed curled over Rodney's head to keep it from thudding into the wall.
With Rodney pushed firmly against the wall, John flattened himself over him, pressing himself into Rodney's body. He was getting hard and rubbed himself against Rodney. Rodney groaned into his mouth and John could feel him getting hard against his thigh.
John's jaw started to ache, not having kissed anybody in months, never mind like this. He didn't care and kept sucking on Rodney's tongue, never wanting to stop. He could very happily spend the rest of his life glued to Rodney McKay's mouth just like this.
John slid the hand which wasn't protecting Rodney's head down his chest, stopping to pinch a nipple and scratch lightly through Rodney's chest hair, glad that Rodney hadn't had time to put his shirt on yet. His hand moved down to Rodney's pants and discovered that he hadn't had time to close them yet, which made his mission easier. He felt Rodney's hard cock tenting his boxers and straining against the fabric. He shoved his pants farther down and then gently pulled his boxers down and wrapped his hand around him.
Rodney nearly buckled and gasped into John's mouth. John pushed himself more firmly against him to keep him from falling down.
Rodney let go of John's face and made fast work of John's own pants and boxers.
They stroked each other with fast, jerky movements, both of them too turned on to take it slow, panting into each others mouths. Realizing that they were in somebody else's bathroom, John waited until Rodney was making those desperate, keening sounds he made when he was close to coming. Then he slid down Rodney's body and wrapped his lips around the head of his cock.
Rodney bit his lip to keep from crying out and his hips jerked once, twice, and he was coming down John's throat. John swallowed every drop, glad his gag reflex hadn't had time to reassert itself since he'd last done this. Pulling off him, John gently ran his knuckles down the length of Rodney's now soft cock and tucked him back in.
Rodney was staring down at him with that vacant, debauched look he always got after a mind blowing orgasm.
Once he'd caught his breath, he reached down, grabbed John's chin and hauled him back up. He kissed John and then licked his way into his mouth, groaning when he tasted himself.
John rubbed himself against Rodney's stomach, his body trembling. He whined when one of Rodney's hands closed around him and stroked him.
"Shhh," Rodney murmured into his mouth. "I've got you." Then he turned them so John was leaning against the wall. Rodney slid to his knees and moments later, John felt the hot, moist suction of Rodney's mouth on him.
He lifted his hand to his mouth and bit into the back of his hand to keep quiet. He tried not thrusting into Rodney's mouth, but when he felt Rodney's hands on his hips, urging him to keep going, he completely lost it. He thrust down Rodney's throat and then he was coming.
His vision had gone slightly blurry and he realized he was still shaking and barely managing to stay standing. The only noise in the bathroom was water still dripping down the drain and his loud gasping.
Rodney pushed himself up and gave his crotch a pat. John realized he'd been tucked back in and everything around them looked as neat as it had been five minutes ago. Rodney had even pulled his shirt on.
They stared at each for a moment before grinning at each other. "We're damn efficient, McKay."
Rodney grinned at him. "It still smells like sex in here."
John waved away that remark. "As if we're the only ones who have had sex in here."
"Good point, Colonel."
That made the smile slide off John's face.
Rodney pressed his lips together and gave him a apologetic look, understanding right away. "I didn't want to slip up and call you by anything but your rank in front of Ellis."
"Ellis isn't here anymore."
Rodney leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his lips. "No, he isn't. And if you're John from now on, I'm going to be Rodney again, okay? No more McKay. Well, only if you're pissed at me."
John smiled. "Okay, Rodney."
Rodney grinned back at him. "Okay, John."
John reached out and yanked Rodney into his arms, crushing him against his body. Rodney let out a laugh and wrapped his own arms around him, both of them nearly becoming one body through the force of the pressure they were exerting on each other.
John turned his head and kissed Rodney's neck. He wanted to tell Rodney how much he'd missed him and how…how weird life had been without him. Well, not weird, just… something. Something for which he didn't have the right words.
He pressed another firm kiss into Rodney's neck, hoping that his actions would communicate what he didn't have the words for.
Rodney sighed his name into his neck. His actual name, not his rank. That, more than anything told John that his message had been received and understood.
Not only that, but when Rodney tightened his grip on him, he received his own message and there was no doubt about what it meant.
By the time John and Rodney made it back to the boiler room, it was obvious that Marla had somehow gotten the message down the corridor that their commander and chief science officer were once more together. John knew she wouldn't have left her post and they'd left their radios on Atlantis, so he wasn't sure how she'd done it, but from the smirks and grins they got, it was obvious that she had.
John narrowed his eyes at Yamato, who was contorting his face in an attempt to mask his grin. "Something particularly amusing happen, Corporal?"
"Not at all, sir. Just a twitch."
"Right. My foot might just twitch into your rear, Corporal, if the twitching doesn't stop." This ended up being a poor choice of words, since Miko burst out laughing and Pierce choked on the water he was drinking.
Derryn chose that moment to come back in, trailed by two of Larrin's crew who John hadn't yet had the pleasure of meeting.
"The Commander says it's high time you all get to work."
John, Stackhouse and Rodney crowded around the chief engineer, who had brought a map of the different ships and a pseudo-tablet thing that Rodney could write on. Since they obviously couldn't read each others writing, Derryn and his engineers went over what ship needed what repairs and Rodney dutifully wrote it down, turning to discuss with Miko and Eldon over who would do what.
At the end, it was decided that anybody with some engineering capability would be fixing things, while those with none – like Marla and Sheila – would do the more menial work. John insisted that no civilian went anywhere alone and quickly paired everybody up.
They set up a working schedule for their first day and then set off to go to their respective ships. Derryn loaned them some radios so they could check in with each other from time to time.
John's initial instinct had been to pair himself with Rodney, but he knew that they wouldn't get much done and John knew more about ancient systems than most of his people so he elected to head over to the Ancient ship and start doing some tweaking.
They all took a break later on in the day and met in the boiler room, lounging on their sleeping bags and leaning against their packs while they discussed their day and shared some more MREs.
That night, John pulled his sleeping bag next to Rodney's. He didn't want to put on a show for his people, so he kept a respectable two inches of space between their sleeping bags, but he still leaned over the space to kiss Rodney good night.
Marla's 'aww' was abruptly cut short when Rodney grabbed his boot and flung it in her direction. Moments later, Stackhouse let out a yelp and hissed at Rodney for his lack of aim and they all erupted into laughter.
Rodney stared at Miko, thoroughly annoyed. "And where the hell do you want to find these three replacement crystals?"
Miko gave him one of those smiles that plainly said she was just putting up with his attitude because he was still her boss.
"From the spare control panel for the Ancient chair."
Eldon frowned from further down the table and leaned past Lieutenant Pierce, who was busy chatting with Garan and one of Larrin's pilots.
"But what if they need to use that spare control panel?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "They either keep the back up or they get their deep space sensors working. Which one would be more important when you're flying around in space? Hmm, let's think about this."
John frowned and dipped the pseudo-bread into the goopy combination of pseudo-vegetable mush and portions of MRE spaghetti meat sauce. "Don't be rude, Rodney. You're both partially right."
"Yeah. You're right that the deep space sensors are important, but so is the back up system for the chair. Seeing how it's not your ship and thus, not your call, ask Larrin first."
Rodney rolled his eyes and stabbed his spork into the strange torquoise vegetable thing Derryn swore had all the nutrients any space living person needed.
It was strange how accustomed he was getting to this.
He'd already lost track of how many days they'd spent with Larrin's people. Her crew used a very, very strange system of telling time which had completely thrown the Lanteans for a loop.
Being in space constantly meant that they didn't have the position of the sun to indicate what time it was and when a day had ended. Time was completely relative. People slept when they were tired, they ate whenever meals were served and they bathed when they were scheduled to. Days had no meaning to them. Rodney had asked Garan how the hell they made it to annual markets or even knew how old they were if they didn't keep time and Garan had introduced him to the spacer way of telling time.
They'd long ago figured out when the worlds they traded with began their harvest/market/trading season. Their computers were constantly calculating what day and time it was on the worlds they traded with so they always knew exactly when they had to arrive there. Having figured out when these events took place, they simply programmed in a route to take which had been carefully calculated out to get them where they needed to be and when. They simply repeated this route constantly to get the supplies they needed. Every time they finished a loop, they had a large celebration to start their 'new cycle' and everybody said they were a cycle older. They rarely deviated from the route unless an emergency came up, knowing that they might miss a crucial trading opportunity on certain worlds if they strayed off course for too long.
Rodney still couldn't really get his head around their system and he and the other Lanteans stuck to the 26 hour day they were accustomed to and kept their watches synchronized. Garan got a good laugh out of them constantly asking each other what time it was.
They'd started socializing with Larrin's crew more. They ate all of their meals with her crew now, contributing portions of their MREs to the meals they were eating. They still slept in the boiler room, but had spread out the curtains and tent covers to make more comfortable mattresses than the floor. Marla, Sheila and Stackhouse had spent an afternoon pulling apart some of their weapons and other supplies and using the curtains to make privacy dividers between their sleeping bags. It wasn't much, but the place did look a bit more cozy.
Miko and Sheila had a tough time getting used to communal showering, but the female Lanteans managed to secure a few showering slots when only women were showering to make them feel more at ease.
Marla and Rodney had been members of off world teams for too long to find the group showering strange, and of course, the soldiers and Eldon had spent more of their adult lives showering with other people than alone.
Some of them had started joining Larrin's crew for some of the games they played at the end of their days. On days when the large cargo hold was mostly empty, they gathered up there and learned some of the crews sports games and earned themselves quite a few bruises along the way. Other days, they sat in the messhall, talking and playing variations of different board games the crew had amassed over the years.
John had become slightly moodier the longer they were away from the city. He wouldn't admit it openly, but Rodney knew he was missing the connection he usually felt with the city. They soon realized that being on the Ancient warship helped so Rodney made sure to schedule as many of John's maintenance shifts on the ship as possible.
A few days into their stay with Larrin, Rodney snuck two barely functioning crystals back to the boiler room for John. He'd punched holes into them and told John to string them onto his dog tags chain. The crystals weren't powerful enough to do anything, but they'd have a slight glow when John touched them and the connection he felt with them was enough to make him feel better.
It became a habit for John to constantly touch the crystals, but Rodney didn't see the harm in it. John was happier with the crystals than without and making sure John was happy had always been high on Rodney's list of priorities.
John scrolled down the tablet Rodney had handed him before dinner, checking off which repairs had been completed and needed to be checked by Derryn while rubbing the crystals hanging around his neck. A mug of some vegetable juice sat by his elbow and Larrin sat across from him, her feet on the table.
Two tables over, Miko was playing a boardgame against Garan. From the random cheers erupting from the group of people gathered around Miko, it seemed that she was winning for the first time.
Rodney sat a few tables over, loudly arguing with two of Larrin's engineers and the chief engineer from the Hega, who had come over for the night, twice knocking over his thankfully empty mug with his hand gesturing. Both times, Eldon automatically straightening it up without taking his eyes off the flying hands of his boss.
Yamato was over at another table watching Marla arm-wrestling Larrin's cook while cheering her on. John hoped that they hadn't placed any bets on the outcome. He had no doubt that Marla could hold her own, but he didn't want to piss off Larrin's crew by appearing to want to milk them dry. He also didn't want to give any of their sparse supplies to pay off a debt.
"No betting allowed on my ship."
John looked up to see Larrin smiling at him, his fingers stilling on the edge of the crystals. He grinned back. "Good. I might have had to crack some skulls together."
"Mmm, let's just say that I've already done my share of head cracking."
"Hence, no betting."
He heard a cheer from Garan's table and glanced over to see Miko blushing furiously and apologizing and moving her pieces steadily towards Garan's with Pierce and Stackhouse clapping and making absolutely no apologies for their glee.
Despite the noise in the messhall, John was still startled by Rodney's angry yell across the room. He glanced over and saw Rodney glaring at Larrin, his hand still raised in mid-gesture, his rant apparently forgotten.
He frowned. If Rodney pissed Larrin off, she'd toss them out in a second, whether they happened to be docked somewhere or not.
He turned to Larrin to apologize, when he saw her laughing and holding up both hands in an calming gesture. "Just looking, McKay! Just looking! No harm in looking, is there?"
Rodney narrowed his eyes. Eldon was biting his lip, his eyes wide, obviously trying to stop himself from laughing.
Larrin laughed harder. "Besides, if he's the type to stray because of an appreciatory glance, do you really want him?"
"That's my business, Commander. However, you could help by keeping those lecherous gazes off him."
John finally got that they were talking about him. He spun around and glared at Larrin. "How long have you been ogling me?" he demanded.
He could practically hear Rodney rolling his eyes. "Anytime you look away she's ogling, Sheppard! Why do you never, ever see these things coming?!"
Larrin was still laughing. "I just have a natural appreciation for pretty boys, McKay. I thought you'd be pleased. We have something in common!"
Eldon had buried his head in his arms, his whole body shaking with laughter.
John narrowed his eyes at her. "Watch who you're calling pretty."
Rodney was still pissed. "You just keep your ogling to the available pretty boys or we're going to have some issues."
Larrin raised an eyebrow, completely ignoring John. "Are you threatening me, Dr. McKay?"
"Stating facts, Commander. Nothing more."
They stared at each other for a long moment, John glaring at both of them. Finally, Larrin lowered her gaze and gave Rodney a half bow, a smile on her lips.
Rodney's face immediately relaxed and he gave her a firm nod before returning to his argument, lightly smacking Eldon over the back of the head to stop laughing.
John was feeling quite offended. "I don't appreciate being talked about like I'm some shiny accessory sitting on a damn shelf."
Larrin snorted into her juice. "Take it as a compliment. Besides, what do you care what I think? McKay isn't the type to go for pretty but empty heads."
John swirled the juice in his mug and shot her a mild glare, slightly mollified by the compliment, his hand going back to fiddle with the crystals.
Moments later, wild cheering erupted from Miko's table. John looked over just in time to see Miko clapping and letting out a very un-Miko like cheer and raising her fists in triumph before Pierce and Stackhouse hoisted her onto their shoulders to parade her around. Garan glared at the board before knocking it off the table, game pieces flying all over the room.
Larrin stopped laughing and let her boots hit the floor with a thump. "Garan!"
Garan immediately shot her an apologetic glance and went to start picking the pieces off the floor. One of Larrin's doctors bent to help him and once they'd finished, she went to get him a mug of juice and pat him on the shoulder as he glared into the purple liquid.
Once Miko had been put back on the ground and she went to go make peace with Garan, John turned back to his juice.
Larrin had pulled her gun out of her holster and was busy disassembling it and taking out the spent cartridge. She could feel him staring at it and she smiled.
"You still want one of these, don't you?"
"You know I do. Where'd you get it?"
"I can't go giving all of my secrets away, can I?"
John gave her a flirtatious smile. "I can be pretty persuasive."
"Hmm, as much as I want to risk it and have McKay kill me in my sleep, I'll pass." She bent down and pulled out a new cartridge from her boot and snapped it into place. Swiftly closing the gun back up, she powered it up and aimed at some distant point. Satisfied that the sound the gun made was appropriate, she turned it off and stuck it back into her holster.
"So, what are you going to do once we find you a ship?"
John shrugged. "We have to deal with this Replicator mess first. Then we have some friends to look up. Then there are the dozens of worlds that need help rebuilding. Whatever else comes along, we'll have to deal with it once it comes."
"You never have huge expectations of yourself, do you?" Larrin deadpanned.
John narrowed his eyes at her. "I went from sitting in the brig, waiting to be shipped back to Earth in chains to running for our lives with no plans. Just the fact that we're still all alive and together is pretty damn impressive."
Larrin traced the rim of her mug with a finger. "Planning what to do later won't be the biggest of your problems – finding you a ship will be."
Not knowing anything about purchasing ships, John frowned "Why?"
"First off, with the pathetic price you're capable of paying for it, I'll only be able to get you a rust bucket. Then there's the fact that none of you are spacers and have any experience living in space on your own, never mind on a ship that's barely capable of supplying life support never mind anything else."
John sighed and felt like slamming his head into the table. Only the realization that it wouldn't help matters stopped him. "Well, the longer you take to find us that rust bucket, the happier I'll be."
"The longer you'll live, you mean." Larrin smiled. "Well, it just so happens that I don't mind having brilliant engineers running around fixing my fleet and pretty boys for me to ogle."
She went to take another sip, paused and glared into the empty mug. Pushing it away, she leaned back in her chair and stared at John. "But I was serious when I said that we don't have the resources to keep you permanently."
"That's not going to change."
She gave him a rueful smile. "You're screwed, Sheppard."
John rubbed his face and shot her a glare. "I know that too."
He took another sip of his juice and went back to studying the tablet. Larrin yelled over at Garan to quit sulking just because he was beat by a girl and a tiny one at that.
John smiled, knowing Miko was blushing furiously.
He decided that obsessing over their uncertain futures wouldn't help matters. As long as they stayed on Larrin's good side she'd let them stick around for a while.
Once she found them some piece of crap to call home, they'd….they'd deal with it then.
Larrin was laughing at Garan, who kicked a chair her way. She swung her legs off the table just in time to kick it back at him and nail him in the shins.
Garan grimaced in pain and swore under his breath.
"Cheer up, Garan. We'll stop by Ellaca in a while, okay?"
Garan perked up at that. "You gonna buy me a drink?"
"I'll buy you two. And I'll remind Wenna about your many, many amazing talents and positive attributes."
"Starting with my stamina."
"That'll be top of my list."
"You get me Wenna for the night and I'll buy you a drink."
"I'd rather you remind Turan of my own many, many amazing talents and positive attributes."
He raised his mug at her and Larrin raised hers, sealing their deal.
John smiled, scrolling through the tablet, glad to see that Miko had finished tweaking the deep space sensors on the Ancient ship.
After fiddling with her mug for a while, Larrin put it down. "Alright, bed time for me."
She pushed herself up, pinched John's cheek, ducked his swatting arm and started making the rounds around the room, chatting to the people she hadn't had time to catch up with recently and getting progress reports.
Then she gave John a mock-salute – something she'd picked up from chatting with Yamato about Earth military protocol – and blew him a kiss before heading out and laughing at the glare Rodney shot her way.
Speaking of Rodney, John saw that he was finished whatever argument he'd been having and the other engineers had set up a board game. Eldon had joined in but Rodney was staring at the far wall, obviously still in a bad mood.
John pushed himself up and turned off the tablet as he wandered over to Rodney. He nudged him with his hip as he came to stop beside the table.
"Hey grouch. Cheer up. We're starting on the second shift tomorrow so we get to sleep in."
"Do you hear me celebrating over here? An whole half an hour of extra sleep! Wow!"
John's smile slid off his face. He'd meant to cheer Rodney up and Rodney had not only shot down his attempt, he'd driven a tank over it.
Deciding that Rodney's completely misplaced jealousy over Larrin was getting irritating and was providing Larrin with endless entertainment, John decided that he needed to fix this as soon as possible.
Leaving the messhall, he went to the boiler room and dug around in Rodney's pack until he found the unique McKay made sunscreen which had often served a double purpose for them. Sliding the tube into his pocket, he headed off for the bathroom. If he was really going to knock all thoughts of Larrin out of Rodney's head, he'd have to do some preparing first.
Five minutes later, John headed back into the messhall, the tube back in Rodney's pack and hoping he didn't have any sunscreen on his pants.
Interrupting the game the engineers were playing, John greeted them all and grinned at Eldon, who smiled back a bit ruefully, glancing at his boss and plainly telling John with his eyes that he wished him luck.
Wishing Eldon a good night and good luck, John grabbed Rodney by the shirt and hauled him up. "I think it's time for all good scientists to be in bed, McKay."
Rodney shook his hands off him and stalked out of the messhall, ignoring Miko and Pierce's attempts to wish him a good night.
John followed him out and down the corridor. Just before they reached the boiler room, they passed by a small storage closet. John reached forward, grabbed Rodney and shoved open the closet.
Before Rodney had a chance to complain, John yanked him into the closet, pulled the door closed with his foot and shoved him against some spare blankets filling the shelf behind them.
"I don't appreciate being –"
The rest of Rodney's words were lost when John grabbed his face and kissed him. John put everything he had into the kiss – he licked at Rodney's lips, nibbled on his lower lip and he brought one hand down to cup Rodney and gently squeeze him.
Rodney finally started responding – John's hand being on his dick might have had something to do with it – and opened his mouth and tangled his tongue with John's.
Pulling away for a second, Rodney started undoing John's belt and shoving his pants down. "If you think –" he gasped into John's mouth. "That this – this makes that woman's – oh, god – that woman's ogling okay, then – mmm – then – guh, John – you're crazy."
John gave him one final squeeze, Rodney's pants probably uncomfortably tight by now. He undid Rodney's pants and pulled them down, leaving his boxers on.
Pulling Rodney's hands off himself, John crouched on the floor, careful not to kneel on the hard metal grating. Sticking his thumb under the waistband of Rodney's boxers, John stroked the soft hair which lead down to his hard cock eagerly tenting the thin cloth.
Leaning up, John mouthed him through the fabric, sucking on the head of his cock and tonguing the slit.
Rodney let out a high pitched whine and John felt one of his hands tangling in his hair and the other squeezing his shoulder.
When Rodney wasn't capable of complaining about Larrin anymore, John pushed himself up and pulled Rodney's boxers down, giving him a firm kiss. "Fuck me."
Rodney nibbled on his lower lip and looked frustrated. "We don't have anything, you know that."
"Don't need anything."
John untied one boot, kicked it off and then kicked one of his pant legs and boxers off. Giving Rodney one last kiss, he turned to the shelf and leaned against it, spreading his legs and waiting for Rodney to get it.
He could tell the second Rodney saw the streaks of sunscreen left on his legs when he let out a moan and ran his thumb down his crack. John shivered. "Do it already."
Rodney gently pushed a finger into him and John relaxed, letting Rodney easily slide into him. Rodney added another finger and then a third, stretching John open. Feeling himself leaking onto his belly, John growled, impatient.
"Shut up, idiot. I don't want to hurt you. It's either slow or nothing. You think it's easy taking my time when you're – you're like this?"
Finally, Rodney withdrew his fingers, lined himself up and pushed into him. John moaned as he felt Rodney filling him. It had been so damn long since they'd done this. Way too long.
Once Rodney was all the way inside him, he rested his chin on John's shoulder and brushed a kiss onto his ear. "God, I missed this."
John felt his legs trembling and nearly reached down to start stroking himself, but knew that they'd both fall into the shelf if he let go.
"I'm going, I'm going."
Rodney slowly pulled out and then pushed back in, both of them groaning. Just when John was about to threaten him with a very slow, very painful death if he didn't start moving faster right this very second, Rodney grabbed his hip with one hand, closed his other hand over John's cock and gave him what he needed.
John let his head fall back onto Rodney's shoulder and let Rodney fuck him.
Rodney was gasping in his ear, muttering words John couldn't understand, jerking John off at the same rhythm he was pushing into him with.
John felt his toes curling and his breath caught and he barely had time to suck in a last breath before he was coming, biting his lip to keep quiet.
Rodney kept stroking him until he stopped coming, then released him. He'd slowed down, wrapping one hand around John's waist to keep him upright and dragging his other hand through the mess on John's stomach. Swirling his fingers through it, Rodney brought his finger up to John's mouth and John immediately sucked the finger into his mouth.
"Oh, god. That should be illegal," Rodney moaned into his ear. John chuckled, nipping Rodney's finger before letting it go.
Pulling his fingers from John's mouth, Rodney grabbed hold of his hips and resumed his faster pace, the trembling of his arms indicating that he was close.
John smiled, loving the sounds Rodney made, snatches of words and groans that nobody else got to hear. He heard his breathe catch and then felt Rodney coming inside of him.
When Rodney was done, he collapsed against John's back. Thankfully, John had gotten his breathe back by then and he locked his arms and kept them from slamming into the metal shelf. Damn, things were so much easier to do on a bed.
"Just-just give me a second," Rodney gasped out, His sweat slicked chest pressed to John's equally sweaty back.
"Like I'm going anywhere."
"Your – your arms are gonna – gonna – god – give out soon."
"Let me worry about that."
When Rodney's legs were operating fully under his control again, he pulled out, turned John around and kissed him.
John moaned and let himself slump back against the shelves, hissing slightly at the cold metal.
Rodney drew back, frowning. "You okay?"
In answer, John grabbed his chin and pulled him back in. Time spent with Rodney's lips not on his was time badly wasted in his opinion.
When their jaws were sore, their legs shaking and both of them were trembling from sweat drying too quickly in the cool storage room, they pulled apart. John snuck in one more kiss before Rodney smiled and wiped some saliva off the corner of John's lips.
"So," John said, staring at Rodney. "You okay now?"
"What gave you the idea I wasn't okay?"
"Please. You were being ridiculous."
"Don't be a two year old. That whole jealous thing with Larrin. It's ridiculous."
Rodney stuck his chin out and John could tell a tirade was about to start, so he grabbed him, gave him a firm kiss and then pulled back, leaning his forehead against Rodney's.
"It's ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. You get it?" He whispered.
Rodney didn't say anything.
"You think I'd stick my sunscreen covered fingers up my own ass in the bathroom while three people are in the cubicles right next to me for just anyone?"
Finally he got a smile from Rodney, but a cynical, strained one. "Well, you wouldn't need to use any sunscreen with her, would you?"
John scowled and kissed him again to get those stupid words out of his mouth. "You're being an idiot, McKay and it doesn't suit you at all. If I wanted something other than this, you think I'd still be here?"
Rodney stared at him for a long moment before finally realizing that it was true. John could have jumped on Larrin or anybody else the second they got on the ship.
"You'd rather have this than Larrin?"
John smiled and kissed him, nipping his lower lip and then running his tongue over it to sooth it. "Any day, any time, any where. You want me gone, you'll have to boot me out the airlock."
That got a genuine smile out of Rodney, who kissed him back and then started complaining over the fact that they were both freezing and John wasn't even wearing his socks.
While they were getting dressed, Rodney turned to him, half way through doing up his pants.
"So we really get to sleep in tomorrow, huh?"
"Well, in case you do wake up a bit earlier than we have to and just in case that time happens to coincide with everybody having left the boiler room, I may have a bit of room in my sleeping bag."
"You have to be kidding me!"
John didn't bother turning around. Larrin's outburst was completely expected. If he hadn't been holding a tablet at that moment, he would have kicked something.
Marla and he were standing in the auxiliary control room of the Lantean ship, staring at the viewscreen showing them the planet they had just arrived at.
It was one of the main stops on the Travellers route and their main supplier of water.
Now the entire planet was a smoldering mess covered in kilometer deep gouges and a disgusting grayish yellow haze coated the planet – residue from the attack.
Gone were the markets and gone were the dozens of civilizations who had lived on the planet for thousands of years in relative peace.
Also gone were the enormous freshwater lakes and rivers which had covered the planet and given it its lush vegetation and given it the reputation for being the most reliable supplier of freshwater for any space dwelling people.
Larrin cursed under her breath, staring at the viewscreen. "It was those damn machines again, wasn't it?"
Marla nodded. "The damage done to the planet is consistent with their weapons fire."
John slumped against the nearest wall. "Now what?" he asked Larrin.
She scowled. "Now we cut off showering and decrease water rations by half."
John nodded. "How far is it to the next world with enough water?"
"We can jump there relatively quickly, but we'll probably end up at the end of a very long line of ships waiting for resupplying. None of the nearby planets have ever been water suppliers. They probably don't have the amount we all need and they wouldn't know how to handle the chaos this has started." She clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes at the viewscreen. "Damn! The machines just had to target the Torans, didn't they?"
Turning around, Larrin strode out, contacting Garan on her radio and telling him to meet with her on the bridge to discuss cutting rations.
Marla sighed softly. "So no showering for a while, Colonel?"
"Looks like we'll be roughing it a bit more than usual, doc."
"You want me to what?"
John pressed his lips together. "Rodney, it's not the end of the world. You've done it before."
"No, you said I'd have to do it before and I managed to put it off until we were back on Atlantis."
Grabbing Rodney by the arm, John gave Eldon a tight lipped smile and marched them down the corridor and into the empty messhall. Once inside, John turned on Rodney.
"This is a matter of survival, McKay. I know you don't like it – hell, none of us do, but this is where we're at."
Rodney glared at him. Then he realized that glaring wouldn't change the situation and he turned around and kicked at a nearby chair.
"I can't believe I'll actually be doing this."
"No, no, I get it. It's not our fault that the machines are being idiots."
"It'll only be until we find a place where we can resupply."
Rodney snorted. "Which will probably never happen with the luck we've been having."
The next world they'd tried for resupplying had also been attacked and turned into an uninhabitable mess of rock and dust. The next water rich world after that was completely overwhelmed by spaceships lining up at each docking station and captains trying to sell everything onboard for the chance to have some of their water. Larrin had decided that taking their chance there was too big a risk, especially considering how many people they had in their fleet, so they had continued on their way.
Now they were racing through hyperspace, four Lantean days away from the next world which would hopefully have some water to spare. The rationing had helped to a certain degree, but they were at the point where it was time to make 'lemonade' – as Stackhouse affectionately called it.
All off-world personnel were taught that if their access to the gate had been cut off and they were down to their last quarter of water, they would mix their urine with the water and stretch the supply. The water purification tablets would kill any harmful organisms in the liquid, so from a medical stand point, it was safe to drink. Extra sugar packets had been included in packs to help with the taste, but as Pierce had remarked, there was only so much you could do to urine-water to make it appealing.
"I can't believe I'm going to be drinking my own piss."
"Technically, you'll be drinking several people's piss, Rodney."
Rodney threw him a glare and dropped into a chair. "I can't believe this is what our lives have turned into. Living in a boiler room and drinking piss."
John was about to retort that Rodney could have gone back any time, and still could, but knew that would lead to another argument. Instead, he decided to get productive.
"How's work on the code going?"
Rodney snorted. "Nowhere."
"Would it help if we looked Todd up?"
"No. The work would go a bit faster, but that isn't the problem. I thought I had a good enough idea concerning shutting off the code, but the closer I get to the finish, the more I'm realizing that it won't work."
"So try something else."
"I have. I've tried everything I could think of. We can't shut down that portion of their program, we can't shut them down entirely, we can't reprogram them and blowing them all to pieces would take forever……" Suddenly, Rodney snapped his fingers and sat up with a jerk.
"That's it! That's – blowing them up would take forever but what if we went the other way?"
"We've been trying to figure out a way to get their atoms to repel each other, right?"
"So what if we did the opposite? What if we figure out a way to have their atoms attract each other?"
"Their atoms already attract each other, Rodney. Hence the whole humanoid looking robots?"
"Right, right, but you're thinking small scale. Think large scale."
John couldn't believe that he was actually keeping up with this insanity. "You want them to what? Attract each other's atoms? They'd become a…a…blob thing. We'd have a Godzilla Replicator on our hands. How the hell does that help us?"
"Think, Sheppard! If something is large enough, it will eventually collapse in on itself, won't it?"
"Yeah, but…Rodney this is crazy."
"Look, you're getting dehydrated. I've got a tiny bit of water let in my canteen – real water, not lemonade – you're going to drink that and then lie down for a bit." He reached over to grab Rodney's hand to pull him up.
Rodney rolled his eyes and yanked his hand out of his reach. "I'm not dehydrated – well, I am but not to the point of being delirious – this could really work, John."
"How the hell would we make them attract each other? I thought you said you can't get their program to do what you want it to do. How is getting them to attract any different from getting them to repel?"
Rodney was grinning at him but after John stared at him for a while, the smile gradually slipped off his face and he blinked up at John.
"You see? You gotta think of the practicality of the plans before you start getting me all excited."
Rodney flapped a hand. "No, no. It's not as bad as you think. I mean, it's still impossible, but not the impossible that you think."
"You think it can't be done, period. Well there is a way to do it, but we can't do that."
"What are we missing? Man-power? Brains? Tablets? Let me talk to Larrin and she can get us in touch with Todd within a few days."
"No, Todd couldn't help."
"Okay, then what are we missing?"
"The best way to do this would be to leave their program alone entirely. It'll take less time and there would be a smaller chance that they would detect what we're up to and reprogram themselves. Our best chance would be to have a few nanites that we can tweak and then bring them to the Replicator homeworld. I could program those nanites to attract others and it would become the…the nucleus of the blob."
"Okay, how do we make nanites?"
Rodney gave him a sad smile. "There is a Replicator building machine we could use. It's perfectly intact and functioning perfectly."
John stared at him, his hand playing with the crystals around his neck. "So? What's the problem?"
Rodney stared back at him as if he was expecting John to connect the dots on his own, but John was tired, cranky and starting to feel the effects of dehydration. He wasn't up to connecting dots right now.
"Spit it out already, McKay."
"It's on Atlantis, John."
John ducked into the small conference room and nodded at the ship captains he recognized. Captain Asha Sango from the Helga saw him and pulled out the chair next to hers.
John dropped into it and heard Rodney convincing Captain Chiko Altair to move over a few seats so he could sit next to John.
Larrin ducked into the room, rolling her eyes at Captain Kojo who was ahead of her. He was a rough looking old man who constantly liked reminiscing about the days prior to hyper-drives when drinking 'lemonade' was a part of everyday spacer life.
"Everybody smelled like piss but we got used to it. Those crewmen, they never complained about things like that. No showering for an entire cycle – no problem. Drinking piss – no problem."
Garan stepped in on Larrin's heels as Asha Sango laughed and shook her head at the old captain. "But back in those days you were all perpetually drunk from drinking engine fluid residue. You were probably too drunk to smell each other."
Laughter erupted in the room and Kojo threw her a dirty look while finding himself a seat.
Larrin was the last to sit, Garan taking the seat beside her.
"Alright people, let's get started. Hopefully we'll get water at our next stop. If not, we may have to split up and go looking on our own. We can cover more space and hopefully beat others to it. Anyway, we go down that route when we get to it. We need to discuss Dr. McKay's plans concerning these damn machines."
Larrin nodded at Rodney, who launched into a simplified version of what his crazy plan was. They needed the Replicator building machine to make a Replicator blob that would implode. Said machine was on Atlantis. This was a problem. The end.
Once he was finished, Larrin didn't wait for anybody to start chattering and asking other questions.
"We're not here to debate whether we're going to help put this plan into action. I think it's very clear that we need to stop the machines as quickly as possible. Not only are they devastating the rest of the galaxy, but they're slowly killing us too. We may never have to fight the things off ourselves, but they're killing us just like they're killing any planet-dwellers they come across." She gave everybody a tight smile. "But unlike the others, we aren't going to get a quick death."
She let that sink in for a bit before she continued. "So, it's pretty clear that we're going to do everything we can to stop these things. The Lanteans have fought with them more than we have and Dr. McKay says that this will work."
Cpt. Sango leaned forward. "And how are we supposed to get at this machine? Sheppard and the others are fugitives amongst the Lanteans. As soon as they poke their pretty little noses into the place they'll get locked up and unless somebody here knows how that machine making machine works, that won't end in our favor."
John grimaced, one hand fiddling with the crystals around his neck. "And that's not our biggest problem."
Larrin raised an eyebrow. "What is our biggest problem, Sheppard?"
"Ellis won't let us use the machine. Even if we showed up and somehow convinced him not to toss us all into the brig – which he would – he wouldn't let us use the machine."
"Why not? He has to know what the machines are doing to us."
"Ellis seems to think that our main responsibility in this galaxy is to protect the gate. Using resources to fight something that's away from that gate is a bad use of resources in terms of achieving that goal. As long as the fight isn't on their door step, Ellis won't move a finger."
Cpt. Altair narrowed his eyes. "So the bastard is willing to sit there all smug in a city that could practically defend itself and let the rest of us rot, just because the machines haven't come knocking on his hatch?"
John shot her a tight smile. "We did leave the bastard for a good reason. This was why."
Rodney winced. "Only we never stopped to realize that we may need that bastard."
Larrin leaned back in her chair, her knees braced against the table. She propped her elbow onto that knee and stared at Rodney, lost in thought. "Technically we don't need Ellis at all, do we? We just need that machine."
John sighed. "If you had transporter technology then we could do a raid, beam up the machine and be on our way. But we don't."
Larrin smiled at him. "Well, if we can't take the machine from the city, we'll just take the whole city."
Dead silence greeted this statement.
Rodney blinked. "Oh, Ellis won't like that all."
John stared at Larrin, starting to understand what she was thinking. "You're thinking more long term, aren't you?"
She nodded, smiling at him.
John slowly smiled back. "Oh, Ellis definitely won't like this."
Giving the straight backed soldier standing by the office door a smirk, Larrin walked in, Garan at her heels. She gave him a look and he remained by the door, one hand on his blaster.
She went right up to the desk and smirked at the man sitting behind it. Ellis immediately rose and stretched out his hand to shake hers.
She wanted to sneer at him for being so damn presumptuous. The only reason she was familiar with the gesture was because Sheppard had gone over everything that would happen a hundred times. It was still damn presumptuous of the bastard.
Sheppard never tried to shake her hand or any of the Pegasus natives they had come across together. That fact firmly reminded her that Ellis didn't deserve to be in charge of the Ancestral city.
"Colonel Ellis," she said, firmly shaking his hand. He gestured for her to take a seat.
He shut the lid of one of the computers which McKay was also very fond of and then clasped his hands together, smiling at her. She forced herself to smile back.
"So, I'm told you have a trading opportunity for us."
"Yes, I do."
"You understand that due to our limited resources and our orders from my commanding officers we can no longer do humanitarian missions – trading or otherwise."
She forced herself to keep smiling. "I couldn't care less about your humanitarian efforts, Colonel. As far as I'm concerned, we're all responsible for looking out for our own. Those not capable of doing that shouldn't be running around on their own anyway."
Ellis smiled at her. "An unusual but refreshingly correct attitude, Commander."
"Thank you. So, may I propose the trade?"
"As I'm sure you're already aware from having read the mission reports, we have a Lantean warship."
"So I've heard."
She had to hand it to the man. Not a single flicker of emotion crossed his face at hearing the warship mentioned, even though she knew internally he was probably salivating.
"Unfortunately, none of my people have the Ancestral gene naturally and our attempts to duplicate it have been largely unsuccessful. We can't access most of the systems, and we have very limited control over the ones we have managed to initialize. Since our resources are also tight, we have unloaded the people living on the ship on to a planet a while ago. Right now, it's just a large bucket that's not very useful to us. But it can be of great use to you, I'm sure."
Again, not a trace of emotion. "Having another warship at our disposal would never be a bad thing, Commander."
"What would you want in exchange?"
"Weapons. We confiscated Sheppard's weapons when we took him captive and we've greatly enjoyed the efficiency and effectiveness of the projectile weapons he had on him. The only other people who use projectile weapons are the Genii and the Cova and they have no use for a Lantean warship."
For the first time in their conversation, a flare of interest lit the man's eyes. "Speaking of whom, you haven't seen Sheppard recently, have you?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Sheppard? No. But I wouldn't mind seeing him again. I'll never say no to ogling pretty flyboys." She twisted in her seat and scanned the rest of the control center outside the office as if she were looking for him. "Where is he anyway?"
"Never mind, Commander. How many weapons?"
She found it interesting that he hadn't asked her to keep an eye out for their fugitives or asked her about the others. She guessed that either it wasn't important enough for him, or that he knew that she – and the rest of the galaxy – would never give up Sheppard in order to help this man.
She hoped it was the latter. "Fifty of the larger weapons and seventy of the smaller ones."
She deliberately left out mentioning the extra ammunition clips, which Sheppard called 'magazines'.
"That could be arranged."
She noticed he made no attempt to remind her that she would need extra ammunition or that he'd throw that in for free, or made any attempts to point out that her request was ridiculously small in exchange for a ship. Bastard.
She gave him a smile. "If you agree to our terms, I can have the warship brought here within three of your solar cycles. We'll drop off the ship and you'll have crates of the weapons ready."
"Agreed." Leaning forward, he stretched out his hand again to seal their deal. Resisting the urge to crush his hand, Larrin shook it.
Rising, Larrin left the office, Garan at her heels. She was heading down the stairs of the control center towards the gate when a man she had never met before hurried up beside her and matched her pace.
She nodded. "And you are?"
"Major Lorne. Colonel Sheppard's former first officer."
"Hmm." She didn't look at the man or give any indication that this fact interested her. If he was fishing for information about his fugitive commanding officer he wouldn't get it from her.
"I'm not accusing you of anything, nor am I asking anything, but…if you do ever happen to run into him, tell him…tell him he's still in our thoughts."
She bit back a smile, knowing exactly what the Major meant to imply with that statement.
They paused before the gate and waited while it was dialed. Just before she stepped through, she turned to the Major and gave him a smile.
"I'll pass on the message when I see him."
The Major immediately noticed that she'd used the word 'when' and not 'if' and a small smile tugged on the corner of his lips.
"I'd appreciate that, Commander. Purely from a security perspective, of course. We all have our jobs to do around here."
She nodded. "We certainly do, Major."
Not knowing which of the soldiers in the gateroom were loyal to Ellis and conscious of the fact that Ellis was probably watching them from his office made her turn away from the Major and step towards the wormhole before they gave too much away.
With Garan at her heels, she walked back through the gate to the planet she'd left her fleet orbiting.
Garan and her stepped out of the gate and headed towards their ship. Once the gate disengaged, Garan let out a chuckle.
"I can't believe Ellis actually asked about Sheppard."
"I can't believe he's that oblivious to what's going on in this galaxy that he'd think anybody would give up Sheppard or the others to help him."
Garan smiled. "I can't believe the idiot actually thinks their old metal spewing chattering machines are better than our blasters."
Larrin smiled, holding up her hands and mimicking the loud obnoxious chatter the Lanteans guns made when they had them on the continuous setting.
Garan burst out laughing. "Thank the Ancestors we don't actually have to use those things. The first piece of metal the thing shoots would go straight into my head."
"Would you please stop wearing a groove into the floor?" Rodney snapped at John, who had been nervously pacing the Lantean ship's bridge for what seemed like hours.
"I can't help it, McKay! I hate sitting around while others are doing the work."
Rodney rolled his eyes and stayed focused on the many screens before him.
John couldn't believe that they were actually on New Lantea. More specifically, they were sitting on their city.
He couldn't believe he was back. The closer they had flown to the planet, the more strongly John felt Atlantis calling him, welcoming him home.
He'd firmly told her to keep quiet and contain herself as much as possible. The last thing they needed was for somebody in the city to get suspicious and think that the city's favourite person was back.
But John couldn't keep the dopey smile off his face when he heard the soft humming in his mind again. It felt like a hole deep inside him had been filled up again.
Once they'd landed, the humming had gotten louder and John had wanted to leap off the ship and touch her to make it real.
He was back. They were all back.
He firmly shook himself. They still had the trickiest part of this operation to do.
He fingered the crystals around his neck and firmly told Atlantis to calm down so they could both focus.
The first parts of their plan were supposed to be simple and if those turned complicated, they still had time to call the whole thing off and be gone in minutes.
Larrin had brought most of her fleet with them, telling Ellis in a transmission that she hated splitting up her ships for any period of time. Most of them would remain in orbit and all the people who usually called the Lantean ship home were moved over into other ships for the time being.
They'd landed the Lantean ship, Larrin's ship, and Cpt. Kojo's and Cpt. Sango's ships on the western pier and powered down.
John had at first insisted on being part of the raid, but Larrin had quickly shot that idea down. All the Lanteans would quickly be recognized and their presence would give up their ruse.
They were supposed to stay on the Lantean ship and monitor the rest of the raiding parties through audio-visual devices the Travellers had clipped onto their collars and wrists. If anybody in the control room scanned the Lantean ship for lifesigns, they'd see them but wouldn't be able to tell who they were.
Larrin's group had been the first to leave, quickly stunning the security team sent to greet them. Then she signaled Kojo and Sango's groups to leave, all three groups fanning out and entering the city at different points.
The Lanteans had initialized their LSDs for the raiding groups and even though they didn't have nearly enough for everybody, at least each group had a few and could use them.
Pierce and Miko were in charge of supervising Kojo's group, Stackhouse and Eldon Sango's group and Rodney and John were looking after Larrin's group. Pairing each group with one scientist and one soldier ensured that the group would be able to hack through any security measures and properly interpret the chatter coming from the radios of the stunned security teams and relay appropriate messages back to the control room when pretending to be the stunned marine.
As soon as Larrin started moving, John was glued to the monitor, all other thoughts fading away. Atlantis' humming became distant and his focus became as sharp as if he were the one moving through the city, blaster held ready in one hand and LSD in the other.
They moved through the city, stunning the security personnel they encountered and dragging them into nearby rooms, taking their weapons before locking them in. Rodney told them how to disable the door's locking mechanism so the people locked inside wouldn't be able to escape.
Sango's group was the first to encounter one of the main control panels and wordlessly went to work, pulling out laptops, wires and crystal attachment cords. Her group had been taught how to plug the Lantean laptops into the systems and how to upload the virus Rodney and Eldon had specifically created for this purpose. They followed Eldon's instructions and got the virus uploaded, which immediately went to work, temporarily disabling the city's self-destruct sequence, shutting down the city wide communications system and the security cameras and initiating a long, tedious systems diagnosis which would tie up Atlantis's main systems for hours.
Then Sango's group continued on to the control room, the same place Kojo's group was heading towards.
Larrin's group had the tricky mission of dealing with the scientists in the labs.
John knew that the scientists had a lot more aces up their sleeves when it came to resisting a raid than the soldiers. There were a hundred ways even one of them could wreak havoc on their entire plan and send it all to hell. They only had one chance to do this right and it all centered on one Czech scientist.
Larrin strode into the lab and her people fanned out, immediately barking at the surprised scientists to put their hands up and keep them up where they could see them. Then Larrin stunned all of them one by one, her people catching each scientist as they crumbled.
She stopped when her gun was pointing at Zelenka. She looked him up and down, frowning at him while Zelenka stared back at her, terrified.
"Is this him?" she asked into her radio.
"That's him. Let me speak to him," Rodney said.
Larrin pulled off her radio and tossed it at Radek. "No funny stuff, doc. There's somebody who wants to speak to you. All I want you to do is listen and talk. No other movement or you'll join your buddies. Trust me, this will be easier if we have you to help us."
Radek narrowed his gaze. "Why would I help you? I don't even know who you are and you'll kill us anyway."
Larrin gave him a smile while nodding at the radio and meaningfully waving her gun under his nose.
Radek dutifully lifted up the radio, cleared his throat and loudly said, "Hello?"
Rodney rolled his eyes and pressed the button on the control panel before him that would allow his voice to transmit through the radio. "I can hear you just fine, Radek. There's no reason to make me deaf."
Radek's eyes widened and he stared at Larrin, lowering the radio. "This is a trick."
"Oh, for…" Rodney leaned over and held down the button so Radek couldn't interrupt him.
"Radek, this isn't a trick. Look, ask me a question. Not a personal question because they could have gotten that out of me before they killed me and impersonated me. Ask me something only an astrophysicist from Earth would know."
Radek's gaze raced around the lab before he lifted the radio closer to his mouth.
"Give me the first fifteen digits of pi."
Rodney smiled. "3.14159265358979."
"And what is pi?"
"The ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter."
"Okay, and what was Greek scientist's name who came up with heliocentric theory for solar system? Started with P, no?"
Rodney grinned. "Nice try, Zelenka. Ptolemy proposed a geocentric theory and it was Copernicus who proposed a heliocentric theory later proven by Galileo."
A look of pure relief flooded Radek's face and he nearly sagged. "Rodney? Oh, I can't believe it! Rodney, where are you, what are you doing? Who is this woman holding me hostage?"
"We're fine. I can't tell you where we are in case things go wrong and they interrogate you, but we're all fine."
"Even the Colonel and Miko and Eldon and the others?"
"We're all fine and accounted for, Radek. The woman holding you hostage is Commander Larrin. She's been giving us a roof over our heads and oxygen to breathe since we left."
Still looking like he was about to fall over, Radek briefly closed his eyes and then regained his focus.
"So what are you doing and what do I need to do to help?"
"Just like that?"
"Rodney, you have not been here. Even if I pay the price for it later, if you have any plans to screw over Ellis, I am 100% there, even if it has no benefit for me."
"We need the city, Radek. I'd tell you more but that would—"
"Be security risk, of course. What do I need to do?"
"I need you to sit tight and keep an eye on the systems. We slipped a virus into the city's mainframe but I can't monitor its progress as much as I'd like from here. I need you to keep the city from being used against us."
Radek nodded, looked at Larrin and gestured at his laptop. "I will need access to that machine."
Larrin stepped back and gestured for him to take it. Radek wasted no time and was barely sitting down before he was already in the midst of Atlantis' systems.
Less than half an hour later, it was all over. Everybody in the city with the exception of Ellis and Radek had been stunned, tied up and locked into a room with no way out. The Travellers were standing guard over every door, ready to stun anybody who tried to get out.
Larrin had finished the very successful raid by walking into Ellis' office, taking his weapons and having him lie face down on his office floor with his hands behind his head.
The expression on the Colonel's face was one John was sure he'd never forget.
Then Larrin told John to get his ass over there to start their new negotiations.
"I thought we had a deal, Commander," Ellis snarled from the floor.
Larrin smiled down at him. "Oh, we did, I just had never any intentions of sticking to it. A concept you must surely be familiar with."
"I was ready to hand over those weapons."
"I'm not talking about myself, you selfish ass. I'm talking about every other world you promised to protect and then left hanging."
"I never made those deals."
Her smile became very tight. "You were put in charge of the Lanteans which means that your word became the word of all Lanteans. You let down everybody in this galaxy who depended on you. Maybe you couldn't care less about any of us backwards, ignorant savages, but the thing is…" She crouched down until her mouth and the muzzle of her gun were right beside his ear. "You're the outsider. You don't belong in this galaxy and we don't want you here any more."
"You can't just throw us out."
She laughed. "I believe I'm about to do just that, Colonel."
Then she nodded for Garan and one of her other crewmembers to haul the Colonel up to his feet, tie his hands and bring him down to the gate.
John swore the deck plating under his feet heated up and twinkled when he stepped off the ship's ramp and onto Atlantis.
Rodney sucked in a deep breath and briefly closed his eyes. "You never realize you miss something before it's gone, huh?"
The rest of their people stepped out, Sheila grinning and Pierce letting out a shout of triumph. Eldon was also taking deep breaths, commenting how much he'd missed the smell of the ocean.
John checked to make sure they all had a blaster set on stun and then they headed off to the control room.
Each corridor they passed through lit up beneath John's feet and the subdued humming had become louder and cheerier the closer he came to the control room.
He let one of his fingers run along the wall, watching as the wall glowed where his finger touched it. "It's good to be home," he whispered. "I missed you, old girl."
Rodney shot him a small grin. "This is the only place where people talking to machinery is perfectly acceptable and even necessary at times."
John returned the smile and lengthened his pace, more eager than ever to fully reclaim their home.
They reached the gateroom and they all paused, staring at the room they thought they'd never see again.
"Damn, it's good to be home," Yamato muttered, patting the wall beside him.
John felt another smile tugging on his lips, but the sight of Ellis standing before the archway of the gate completely wiped the smile off his face.
Larrin was beside him, her gun pointed at the Colonel's head, a cocky grin on her face.
"He's been very quiet. The feeling of being screwed over isn't so fun when you're on the receiving rather than the giving end, is it?"
John came to a stop before his former commanding officer. "Colonel Ellis."
The Colonel glared at him. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Sheppard?"
"Taking back our city, Colonel."
"This isn't your city any more than it's mine."
"True. But I accept the responsibilities of living in this city and I'm willing to abide by the rules of this galaxy, which is more than you can say for yourself. Nobody minds us living here as long as we abide by Pegasus rules and become part of the Pegasus community, a fact that you've never really gotten a hang of."
"You're a wanted man, Sheppard and so is the rest of your merry band of outlaws. You may have won today but if you think that we'll let a wanted criminal and fugitive run around doing what he pleases, you're wrong. Every planet in the Milky Way and many in this galaxy know what crimes you're wanted for and we've provided very nice incentives for them to turn you in."
John gave him a cheery smile. "I'll just have to make sure to stay out of those neighborhoods then, won't I?"
Larrin laughed. "If you think that anybody in this galaxy would help you to get Sheppard arrested, you're lacking even the brains I originally gave you credit for."
"You don't have allies in every corner of this galaxy, Sheppard."
Larrin smiled. "Maybe he doesn't, but you on the other hand don't just have no allies in any part of this galaxy, but you have enemies in most of it."
Choosing to ignore Larrin, Ellis kept his attention on John. "If you kill me, you'll only be adding to your list of war crimes, Sheppard."
"That's funny, he hasn't committed any war crimes as far as I'm concerned," Rodney put in. Noises of agreement and laughter greeted this from the Lanteans and the Travellers surrounding the gateroom.
John was smiling at Ellis. "Sir, I have no intentions of killing you. I may not like you and the rest of this galaxy may not like you, but you're a good, loyal soldier and it would be a shame to deprive Earth's military of your services." He gave him a wide smile which Ellis didn't return. "I'm here to propose a deal."
"I don't make deals with terrorists."
Larrin pushed the muzzle of her gun more firmly into the side of Ellis' head and John gave him a smile. "Oh, I think you'll take this deal. Most likely because you won't like the alternative."
Rodney was glaring at Ellis. "Terrorist?! You have got to be kidding me! John, let's forget about the whole deal and just toss him onto a recently destroyed planet. He can get a taste of what he's been missing while living in his nice, secure city and we won't have to deal with his nonsense."
"He's still an officer, Rodney, even if I'm no longer part of the U.S. military. And he's kept our people alive and whole while we've been gone. He gets brownie points for both of those."
Ellis' glare had hardened. "What's the deal, Sheppard?"
"We let you and anybody else who wants to go back to Earth get your stuff together, we dial Earth and you leave without making a fuss. I have no intentions of wasting resources keeping you locked up for eternity and I'm sure there are some people desperately wanting out of this mess once and for all. If you say no, we'll let anybody who wants to go back to Earth go, and we'll bring you to a nice, abandoned little planet where you can put all of your survival skills to good use. It'll have a space gate so we can check in on you from time to time, but we wouldn't want to chance anybody else interfering with your learning opportunity so you'll be left all by your little resourceful self."
Ellis glared at him and John smiled back.
"You'll regret this, Sheppard, I promise you. There are only so many places in this galaxy you can hide and I'll bring every ship we have and search every square inch of this galaxy until we've found you and your renegades."
"You know, out of all the people to give me the whole 'trying to threaten me into wetting my pants' speech, you're not particularly impressive. So, what do you say? An hour for packing? Larrin will accompany you and if you ask very, very nicely, she may help you fold a few socks."
"If he asks very, very nicely, I may help him shove a few socks up his ass," Larrin said, smiling sweetly at Ellis while giving him a hard shove towards the living quarters.
John smirked. "Or that. We're a helpful bunch around here, aren't we, Rodney?"
John turned on the radio Larrin had lent him.
"Attention everybody. Please check to see if your temporary detainees are awake yet. If they are, inform them that nine of the Milky Way's most wanted have returned home and would like to resume normal Lantean operations as soon as possible. Colonel Ellis will unfortunately be leaving us within an hour and anybody wishing to go back to Earth should start packing now. There won't be any hard feelings if somebody decides to leave, but if they stay, they should understand that our command structure and our mission objectives will return to being what they were pre-Ellis. Anybody who has a problem with that should just go back to Earth. It'll be less stressful for everybody involved."
Rodney grabbed the radio from him. "And anybody who thinks the Colonel or any of us should be punished for what we did should be the first ones through the gate."
John smiled and then they all went to sit and wait on the control room stairs, grinning as the stairs twinkled beneath their feet.
Rodney bumped John's shoulder with his own. "It's damn good to be back home, hmm?"
"You won't be needing those crystals anymore."
John nodded, fingering the chain beneath his shirt. "I'm still thinking I should keep them. In fact, everybody should get a pair."
"New dog tags."
Rodney stared at him and then smiled. "What are you going to do with your old ones?"
"Ellis can bring them back home with them. If anybody has somebody back home, they can think we died valiantly and move on with their lives."
Rodney nodded and then turned to John, reaching under his shirt to pull his dog tags out and over his head. He stared at the small pieces of sparkling blue crystal next to the gleaming metal tags.
Rodney looked up and realized John was staring at him and not his tags. Blinking hard, Rodney nodded. He undid the chain and gently pulled off the two metal tags that had defined John's life for nearly twenty years.
He left the piece of crystal on it and closed the chain and slid it over John's head and tucked it under his shirt.
He fiddled with the tags in his hands until Pierce stepped up beside him and held out his hands, in which he already had his own tags.
"Give them to me, doc. I'll start collecting them."
John stared at him and then at Stackhouse and Yamato, who were wordlessly pulling their chains off, removing their tags and tossing them to Pierce.
It took more than an hour for everybody to regain consciousness and for those wanting to go back to get packed.
John was surprised that very few of the military wanted to go back. Some of the soldiers who had come over most recently with Ellis wanted to go back and the ones who had only been here for a short rotation wanted to go back to the SGC, but the rest wanted to stay.
More of the scientists wanted to go back – and most of them were people who had close family ties back on Earth and had had enough of this crazy business.
Only two people – both scientists – from the original expedition were going back to Earth.
John stood at parade rest before his people, the Traveller crewmembers keeping a close eye on everybody.
The military who were leaving had already said their goodbyes and were waiting in front of the gate beside Ellis. Ellis hadn't said a word and was staring straight through the gate as they waited for everybody to assemble.
The soldiers who were staying had lined up and solemnly removed their tags and dropped them into a bag one of the soldiers was taking back with him. John thought that the action would be enough for some of them to change their minds, but most of them looked quite cheerful doing it and fingered their empty chains with small smiles on their faces while waiting for the others to finish.
The scientists who were leaving were saying tearful goodbyes to their colleagues and friends, hugging and sobbing into each other's shoulders, telling each other to be careful and stay safe and happy.
Once they were ready, John saluted the soldiers leaving – with the exception of Ellis – and awkwardly hugged the scientists leaving and then asked Chuck to dial Earth and send their message through.
The message was simple and to the point: Atlantis had undergone a change in management and leadership and would be resuming their fight against the Replicators, even if the costs would be high. Everybody staying behind understood that and supported them.
Once he'd done that, Chuck gave him a nod and John gestured for them to head through the gate.
When they were through, he gestured for Chuck to keep the gate open for a bit longer.
"Alright, I need everybody to listen up. I didn't want to get into it when Ellis was still here, but I have to remind you that we are all fugitives now."
"Only as far as Earth is concerned, Colonel," Radek put in.
"True, but the fact remains that none of you will be able to go back after this. We'll have to take measures – some extreme – to hide our presence from anybody who would come looking for us from the Milky Way. Which means that getting back to Earth after this would be very, very difficult for you, if not impossible. I need you all to completely understand that. Does anybody want to go back?"
None of them moved. John waited a good five minutes and people had hushed conversations debating the issue, but none of them showed any sign of having changed their minds.
"Alright. You're all sure?"
The gateroom full of people nodded back at him.
"Okay. Sergeant, shut down the gate."
Chuck did as he was told and within seconds, the gate had disengaged and the entire gateroom was completely silent.
John grinned at them. "Well, I don't know about any of you, but it's damn good to be back home."
Realizing that they had finally gotten rid of Ellis and life was about to return to normal, entire gateroom erupted into cheers and John and the rest of the former fugitives were swarmed by their old friends and colleagues, welcoming them back.
John let the festivities go on for a bit longer before he motioned for Radek, Rodney, Lorne, Sango, Kojo and Larrin to meet him upstairs in the conference room.
On their way up the stairs, Lorne shot him a grin. "It's damn good to see you, sir."
"Likewise, Major. How have you been liking my job?"
Lorne made a face. "I'd much rather give it back to you, sir. I was just getting the hang of being your XO when this mess happened."
"I'd love to have my job back, Major."
"Good. I was prepared to use bribery to get you to take it, sir, so you're doing yourself and me a favor."
John laughed and clapped him on the back as they filed into the conference room.
Once they were all sitting down, the mood turned serious.
John leaned forward in his chair, feeling slightly overwhelmed that he was back in this room. But they were a long way from being safe. "So, we're obviously not out of the woods yet. As you probably already have guessed, the SGC will very likely try dialing us back. We can keep the shield up and hopefully it'll take them a while to figure out how to get around it."
"And we'll get busy figuring out how to make that harder for them," Radek said, nodding at Rodney.
"Good. Secondly, I want to get things moving as far as the Replicators are concerned as quickly as possible. People are dying and the situation is getting very desperate out there. Rodney, I want you on the Replicator situation, Radek, you're on the gate situation. Once we've dealt with the Replicators we'll figure out what planet we're going to head to. If this Replicator business will take longer, we may have to get out of here before that."
Larrin raised an eyebrow. "You're leaving?"
"Well, with the city."
Kojo looked utterly surprised. "She can fly?"
John grinned. "That's not all she can do."
Lorne was typing away on a tablet, making notes on everything. "I'll start skimming the database for suitable planets."
"I can give you access to our own database, Major. Maybe it'll help you find a suitable world faster," Larrin said and Lorne nodded his thanks.
"Okay, Lorne, you're on that. Rodney, I also need people to get the stardrive up and operational. I don't know how soon we can finish with the Replicators, but if we can get the drive operational and find a planet to go to sooner, we'll go."
Once they were on a new planet, the chances of anybody in the Milky Way being able to find them were pretty slim. They could dial the old address over and over again, but because the gate wasn't on that planet anymore, they wouldn't get a lock. Then John would get Rodney to remove the Earth crystal, destroying any chance that the Wraith or anybody else would one day get to Earth through their gate.
John then turned to Larrin. "Things will be very hectic around here, but your entire fleet needs resupplying. We can give you as much water as you all need and we'll share as much food and medication as we can. Feel free to tell the rest of the fleet to come down here and stay until we're done dealing with the Replicators."
She nodded and Sango and Kojo grinned at him. "Thanks, Sheppard."
"It's the least I can do, Larrin. You've given us a place to stay for weeks without booting us out on the first planet we came to and we couldn't have pulled this off without you and the rest of the fleet."
She grinned. "And I suppose you'll need help finishing this Replicator mess too, huh?"
"I haven't quite gotten that far, but that's a strong possibility."
Larrin rolled her eyes. "Well, I can always find time in my schedule to spend time with pretty boys and destroy machines."
John laughed and then elbowed Rodney, who had narrowed his eyes at her.
"What?" Rodney hissed. "I'm not jealous."
"You just can't put this behind you, can you?" John asked in a low, amused voice.
Rodney jerked his chin up. "So?"
He leaned even closer to Rodney so Lorne couldn't hear him. "I was planning on getting reacquainted with your bed later on tonight, but if you're too busy sulking over Larrin…."
A faint blush crept over Rodney's cheeks. "Do you have any idea how much we have to get done?"
"It won't take long….especially if you prep well in advance."
Giving Rodney a lewd smirk, John turned back to the rest of the table and made sure everybody knew what they had to be doing in the next few days before ending the meeting and heading off to start doing the hundred things they had to get done all at the same time.
John almost regretted that the SGC would never know how damn efficient they were being right now.
Chuck had been nervously sitting in the control room, watching the lights race around the gate as each chevron lit up again and again and again – the SGC attempting to dial in and bring down the shield.
They'd tried brute force a few times – which all helped prove to them what amazing feats of engineering the Ancients had been capable of, and then they tried sending viruses through. Radek sat beside Chuck, both of them trying to destroy the viruses as fast as they were being sent.
They had no idea what else Carter and the others would try or what technology they could get from the Asgard or others to help them. They also knew that the Daedalus had probably already been dispatched and would get to New Lantea within a few weeks.
Understanding the urgency of the situation, Lorne and Larrin had immediately stuck their heads together and found a suitable planet for them to fly to. The engineers had given the stardrive and the inertial dampeners the thumbs up and John wasted no time getting them off the ground.
All of the Travellers and many of the Lanteans had gone back to their ships to fly alongside the city. The less weight they had when trying to lift off, the less strain the engines would be under. If the engines broke before they were gone, the Daedalus would find them within days or the SGC would succeed at breaking down the shield and they'd all be on the run before dinner.
John found himself not as nervous as he'd been when flying the city the first time, but flying a city would always be a slightly stressful and just plain weird experience. They lifted off without a hitch, Rodney squawking all the data into his ear which Atlantis was automatically putting into his mind anyway.
Larrin stayed behind on New Lantea with the Lantean ship and once they were all gone, she opened fire on the abandoned planet, scorching the entire surface and destroying any living thing that had inhabited it. It was unfortunate, but necessary. If the Daedalus arrived, they would hopefully believe that Atlantis had been destroyed by the Replicators. The SGC not being able to lock on to their gate anymore would hopefully help with the ruse. Also on their side was the fact that the Replicators used Ancient technology and the damage done by their weapons matched the damage Larrin could do with the Lantean ship.
Once finished, Larrin jumped into hyperspace, following the city and the rest of her fleet.
Once they were in hyperspace, John disengaged from the chair and went to help Rodney remove the Earth dialing crystal from the gate.
He didn't realize how symbolic the gesture was until he saw that most of the Lanteans who were still in the city had gathered in the gateroom, solemnly watching Rodney digging around inside the DHD panel until he found it and gently pulled it out.
John stared at it. Considering it was their only direct connection to the Milky Way galaxy, it was a damn small crystal.
Rodney handed it to him and John turned it around in his hand. It felt warm to the touch, having been in the DHD for so long.
Then he turned to their people and held it up. "Last chance to change your minds, guys. And I mean absolute last chance. Without this, the trip is a lot longer, especially considering we're flying farther away from the Milky Way."
None of them made any sign that they wanted to take him up on the offer. John nodded and was about to stick it in his pocket, when Rodney's hand on his stopped him.
"Give it here for a second."
John handed it to him and Rodney stared at it with a funny little smile before he dropped it onto the floor and promptly crushed it under his boot.
The entire gateroom erupted into cheers.
John stared at the broken pieces and then at Rodney, who shrugged. "What? Security measures, right?" He said, having to raise his voice above the noise.
Then Rodney grinned at him. "Besides, we need to start collecting crystal pieces to make you all new dog tags, right?"
"Not you all, Rodney, but us all. Everybody's getting tags this time around."
Rodney stared at him, looking pleased but surprised. "Really?"
"Of course. It's long over due."
"You know, it's kind of a morbid gesture, but it's also kind of sweet."
John laughed and bent to pick up the broken crystal pieces. Once he'd straightened up, he stuck them into his pocket and glanced at Rodney out of the corner of his eye.
"So, looks like you're stuck with me. Well, in this galaxy at least. You could still leave anytime you wanted."
Rodney rolled his eyes. "And why the hell would I want to do a stupid thing like that?"
John stared at him, having no idea what to say.
Then Rodney laughed and grabbed him, wrapping his arms around him and kissing the side of his neck. "You're not getting rid of me that easy, Sheppard. How the hell would you run this city without me?"
John smiled and ran his fingers through Rodney's scalp. "How the hell I'd run my entire life without you is beyond me."
"Let's never find out, okay?"
They released each other and Rodney glared at the hollering and cat-calling people in the gateroom. "What are you all staring at, people? We have some machines to destroy and a planet to land on!"
"And Captain Altair's ship?"
"They're up at the pumps at 1430, sir," Lorne answered, leaning over John's shoulder to point at the spot on the tablet. John blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes to refocus.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept even though Keller was routinely showing up at odd times to bully him into taking a power nap and eating something. She swore she was doing the same thing for Radek and Rodney who had their hands full with the Replicator machine.
Between landing the city, getting the resupplying in swing for the Travellers and working on the Replicator situation, none of them had time to breathe.
Rodney's crazy plan had started developing into something workable. They'd go to the Replicator homeworld, somehow get their block of nanite cells into their city and then trigger them to start attracting others.
The problem was that most of the Replicator ships were away from the homeworld on attack raids. In order to do this properly, they had to have every single nanite cell in the galaxy in one place at one time.
The only way to get the ships to go back home was to launch an attack on the Replicator world and hit them hard enough to warrant having them recall their ships.
Right now, the Lanteans didn't have a single ship. Larrin had immediately said any of her ships which were capable of fighting would participate, including the Lantean ship. That gave them nine ships in total, still a woefully inadequate number.
John had quickly sent out gate teams to worlds which were known to be currently active Wraith feeding grounds to get the message out to the hives that John Sheppard was looking for the Wraith Commander he'd been held captive with.
It seemed that the Wraith really had been communicating more with each other since the Replicators had launched their attacks and within a few days, Stackhouse's team reported that they had found a Wraith who knew Todd and would relay the message.
Now they were playing the waiting game. Rodney still hadn't gotten the nanites under full control yet and there was no telling whether Todd would tell them all to go to hell.
But it was better than doing nothing.
John was frowning at the schedule, trying to see where Lorne had schedule Captain Jenali's ship for water resupplying, when he heard a throat being cleared at the door.
He looked up and saw Stackhouse standing there. "What is it, Sergeant?"
"An old friend here to see you, sir," Stackhouse said with a grin and stepped aside to let Todd pass by.
Todd stepped into the office and gave that little half smile he reserved for times when he was particularly pleased or amused.
"John Sheppard. I had hoped we'd see each other again. When I heard you had left the city I thought our paths would never cross again."
"I decided I'd had enough of wandering around the galaxy for a while. Solid ground feels too good under my feet."
Todd smirked. "Considering you live on a city floating on an ocean, that is a funny thing to say."
"I was speaking metaphorically."
Todd gave him a half bow but still smirked at him and John glared at him. Lorne let out what sounded like a laugh but at a glare from John, he quickly turned it into a cough.
"So, while I do wish to catch up with an old friend and brother, there are more urgent matters for us to attend to. I am told Dr. McKay has a plan for getting rid of these machines once and for all."
"Well, you know Rodney."
"Indeed. What can I do to help?"
Rodney could feel John's glare digging into the side of his head. He rolled his eyes and returned the glare.
"Would you relax? I'm not going to let her design her own personality or let her marry Radek! She wanted a name so I gave her one. Besides, if you only had a few hours to exist and really wanted a name, wouldn't it be the morally right thing to give you one?" He whispered, conscious that Todd was staring at them with amusement.
John stared at him, ignoring Todd and Lorne's amused smirks. "Well, she'll be asking about marrying somebody pretty soon at the rate she's going!"
"She's not going to be around long enough for any other development to happen—"
They were interrupted by Lorne noisily clearing his throat and giving them pointed stares.
Shoving the whole FRAN mess aside for the moment, John focused on what they were supposed to be doing.
"Alright, folks. Thank you for being here. I understand this is a highly unusual situation and while we've become used to working with To— the Commander here, others of us haven't had the pleasure."
He knew how short they were on time so he quickly ran through the captains names and made sure they understood that Todd was here voluntarily and as an ally.
Then he turned the floor over to Rodney and within moments, the strange mix of people sitting at the table – Travellers, Wraith and Lanteans – were in deep discussion of how they were going to pull off this crazy plan.
"There's nothing we can do, John! It's a blackout! The entire power grid is down!"
John stared at the images the sensors from the Lantean ship was transmitting into his mind. Rodney was right. The whole Replicator world's power grid had shut down.
He asked the ship to scan for any other nanite particles. Zero. None.
"Rodney, all the particles are part of the mass now. Why can't we just fire some drones down there?"
"It's not as simple as that!" Rodney shouted in his ear.
Knowing they were running out of time, John desperately asked the ship to give him any and all readings concerning the planet.
Todd's fleet and Larrin's fleet had done their jobs and kept the Replicator ships busy long enough for FRAN to be beamed down by a dart and to set the ZPMs to overload. Then she – it, it's an it – walked over to the control room and started to pull the other nanites to herself – itself, itself. Now the nanites had all been pulled together and even the ships in orbit had been pulled apart and attached to the blob.
And now was the time the damn power grid decided to give out.
John scanned the information the ship showed him, trying to find something, anything that would help him.
There! The planet's core was 97% Neutronium. According to the ship, Neutronium was damn dense. If the blob was heavy enough, it would eventually sink and…
"Most of the planet is Neutronium!"
"Neutronium? Of course, that would make complete sense! Let me…yes, the mass is sinking! Oh, god, the mass is sinking! Garan! Garan, signal the rest of the fleet. We have to get out of here in a few seconds…don't ask me stupid questions, don't you know better by now? Tell the Commander to recall all of his darts and get out of here! Yes, now! Right now! Go, go, go!"
Hearing the knock on his office door, John looked up, grinning when he saw Larrin lounging against the doorway.
"Always, but I could use a break."
She came in and dropped into the chair opposite his. "So, we're almost done resupplying."
"This whole thing must have thrown your schedule into chaos."
She waved a dismissive hand. "Doesn't matter in this case. We got the supplies we'd need anyway and there's no telling how many of our other trading partners have been attacked since we last saw them."
John sighed. "There's going to be a lot of rebuilding that has to be done."
"Mm hmm. You up for helping?"
"I'll let you know if we come across places where we could use extra hands. By the way, how do you like the new planet?"
John shrugged. "It's fine. There's an enormous landmass which we'll start cultivating soon."
"Got a name for it yet?"
"No, the planet, genius."
John smiled. "It's an Earth term. It describes the enormous landmass all of the landmasses on Earth used to be locked in."
Larrin grinned. "Kind of describes all of you, doesn't it? All from different parts of Earth and some from here, all living in one city and part of one people."
"Yeah, I'm poetic like that."
John was about to turn back to his tablet on which he was looking at the training schedules Lorne had thrown together to get the civvies back into shape, when he noticed that Larrin wasn't moving.
"I want to make a deal with you."
He put down the tablet. "Oh?"
"The Lantean ship is more a pain in the ass for us than a benefit. We can't use half the systems and our control over the other half is pitiful. Unless we have you or somebody else with the Ancestral gene onboard, the ship is useless."
"That ship is housing over 1300 of your people, Larrin. I wouldn't call that useless."
"No, but that's the only benefit it has for us. The ship uses up more resources than we can afford to spend on it."
"What can I do about it? As much as I'd like to cut myself in half, I can't. Dr. Keller already gave all of your people the gene inoculation. It's hardly my fault that it only worked on a few of your people and they can't control the technology properly."
"What if I gave it to you?"
"You need a ship. Without a ship, the gate is your only escape route, and what if that's destroyed during an attack? You'd be stuck on the planet with no way off. Your people can do things with that ship that we never could and the ship would be more useful in a fight when Lanteans are at the helm."
John wanted to start drooling at the thought of getting his hands on that ship permanently, but he knew Larrin wouldn't be giving to them for free, no matter how useless the technology on it was to her.
"What do you want in return?"
"Take 2500 of my people."
John nearly fell out of his chair. "What?"
"You heard me."
He started smiling, thinking that surely this was a joke. "Larrin…"
"This isn't a joke, Sheppard. You let 2500 of my people live in your city and I swear you will have a Lantean warship and their loyalty."
John reached up and started fiddling with his crystal tags, still not able to get rid of the habit. He couldn't explain why fiddling with them calmed him more than fiddling with his old metal tags ever had.
"Don't tell me you don't have room for 2500 people in this city, Sheppard."
"Larrin, they're your people. You can't just leave them here."
"They're living crammed in quarters too small to house a child, never mind an entire family. With the number of worlds that have been destroyed by the Replicators, who knows when we'll be able to resupply again? Keeping all of us together may lead to our deaths, Sheppard. We all know it. You have the supplies to support them and the room. And I promise you that they would all earn their keep. Some of them are skilled workers and the others are willing to learn and be of any help they can be."
"How many kids?"
"How many kids?"
"Does it matter?"
"You bet it matters. Having kids living on a military base is a huge security risk and bad for their personal well being."
Larrin stared at him for a long moment before she burst out laughing. John stared at her, thinking that she'd finally succumbed to space dementia.
"Cut it out! What the hell is so funny?"
"Oh, Sheppard," she shook her head at him. "If you're going to live in this galaxy, you really have to leave all of your Earth habits and thoughts behind. This entire galaxy is constantly a war zone. Whether it's the Wraith or the Replicators or something else, something is always trying to kill us and we're always fighting for our survival. Do you think we pack all the kids into a special corner of the galaxy where no bad guys are allowed to go? There are no safe places in this galaxy, John, and you have got to get that through your head. Our children live with us, they learn from us and they grow up to be the ones to teach the next generation how to survive. It's the only way our species is going to survive."
John pressed his lips together. He had never even considered permanently taking on such a large group of refugees. They'd taken on groups of refugees before, but only ever for short amounts of time. The only refugees who they had taken in permanently were Ronon, Teyla and Eldon, and they had all been old enough to fend for themselves at the time.
"Look, all of the kids have parents or caretakers and none of them expect any of you to play the roles of parents any time soon. Come on, John, do you really think this place will be child free forever? What happens when your own people start having families? Are you going to somehow ship them back to Earth?"
John blinked. He hadn't ever really thought about that. The concept of having kids was one that had never come up in conversations with Rodney and before they'd cut themselves off from Earth it was normal policy to make anybody pregnant go home.
"I'll have to discuss it with the rest of the senior staff first."
She smiled. "Of course. Oh, and John?"
Her grin got wider and she wiggled her eyebrows at him. "I'll throw in a few crates of blasters if you promise to let my people celebrate our new cycle festival whenever it comes around."
John shot her a mild glare. "What makes you think I want the things? Our P-90s are damn efficient."
"Of course they are…until you run out of ammunition and have to go begging Ladon Radim for replacements."
"I'll have you know we're allied with the Genii now."
"Of course you are, and always having to stay on good terms with them to keep your supply of ammunition coming is a fabulous arrangement."
"I hate you."
Rodney lay sprawled on his bed, never wanting to move again. He'd thought that running around the galaxy for a few weeks wouldn't have had much of an impact on his physical fitness and he'd be able to get back into the routine of doing the civvies workout every morning no problem.
Either he was in much worse shape than he thought or Lorne was feeling particularly sadistic. Damn that man and his ability to keep smiling and keep that damn cheery tone in his voice while counting out the millionth jumping jack.
Rodney heard the door hiss open and didn't bother looking up. "Go away. I've done my workout and unless there's something about to blow up, I don't want to hear about it."
He felt the bed dip beside him and recognized John's smell right away.
He turned his head and stared at John's hip.
"Lorne went pretty easy on you guys today, huh?"
John chuckled. "So, Lorne and I were reshuffling the gate teams. We've been asking people if they'd like their old teams back or get new ones."
"What did people say?"
"Most want their old teams back."
Rodney closed his eyes and felt John's hip nudging him. "So? How about it? Wanna be on my team again?"
"Two people isn't much of a team."
John was silent for a long moment. "We'll find them, Rodney. We're starting rebuilding missions tomorrow and every team that's going out is going to ask about them. There aren't that many places they could have gone. Most planets are such a mess now anyway."
"Have you ever considered that they may have been on one of those planets?"
"They're too smart for that."
Rodney snorted. "Even Teyla can't sense the Replicators coming."
"No, but they'd both know that the Replicators could come at any second. Neither of them would have ever been far from the gate."
Rodney sighed. "If you say so."
"Hey, how about a little hope, huh? We never thought we'd have our city back and Ellis gone either, did we?"
Rodney opened his eyes. "Well I'm glad to see we're not shaking up the status quo. You the eternal optimist and me the eternal pessimist."
"Speaking of status quo, I have something to shake it up a bit. Sit up for a second."
Grumbling and wincing over his sore muscles, Rodney pushed himself up. John smiled and smoothed away some strands of hair which had flattened themselves to Rodney's forehead.
"Your hair's getting long."
Rodney waved that comment away. "I'll ask Branson to cut it for me."
"Don't. I like it. Makes you look rakish."
Rodney snorted and rolled his eyes.
John nudged him with his hip and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a familiar looking metal chain. Two light blue crystals dangled from it, the edges carved into a smooth ellipse. Rodney stared at it and then glanced at John's neck and saw that he was wearing his.
"You finished them."
"Well, I had very little to do with it. Pierce and Chang took it upon themselves to shape the crystals and find the spare chains. Marla actually did the engravings."
Rodney frowned as he stared at the crystals dangling from the chain. "That's not English."
John snorted. "No, Rodney. It's not. Imagine Marla's decision to not write our identification in a language which nobody in this galaxy can read."
Rodney grabbed the tags and stared at the elegant symbols carved into it. "It's Ancient."
"Yup. You know I can't read anything but basic Ancient so we'll have to trust that Marla knew what she was doing. They all say our names and the fact that we're Lantean. Those of us with allergies – such as your wonderful self – have a line on there about having animal and food allergies."
"Smart. Few people around here automatically know what citrus and bees are."
"Yup. Marla's one smart cookie."
John shook out the chain and undid a few tangles in it before gently slipping it over Rodney's head.
Rodney stared down at the crystals lying against his chest. "Wow."
John's fingers traced the chain and the outline of the tags. "Yeah."
They stared at the tags for a long moment.
"Try to make sure nobody will need to put them to their proper use though, okay?"
Rodney smiled. "Only if you promise to do the same."
Nodding, John leaned forward and they shared a soft kiss.
Scanning the mug of vegetable juice before him, Rodney didn't interrupt his ongoing conversation with Miko while he looked at the results, made happy noises and drained it.
John smiled, tipping back the chair he was sitting on, letting the chatter and laughter in the pub wash over him.
They'd spent three days on Octivia helping the survivors rebuild their settlement and starting the process of turning their soil back into something they could use. After three days of back breaking labor, a group of Octivians had gated over to Tarana for a night off and some celebrating at the nearby pub and John's team had joined them.
It was an easy mission and John had decided to take Miko and Pierce along with them to give them some of the offworld training they'd been begging for.
He was quick to explain to them that they would only be made permanent members once they'd given up hope of finding Teyla and Ronon, but Miko and Pierce both immediately said that that wouldn't be happening and they wouldn't want it to.
They'd stick together for now and then John would assign them to another incomplete team. They'd both surprised John so far, showing a willingness to learn and a resourcefulness that he knew they hadn't learned on Earth.
Miko was scowling at Rodney and wagging her finger in his face, telling him how very wrong he was. Rodney scowled back and told her not to waggle her finger in her boss's face, making Miko stick her tongue out at him and turn back to her own mug, Pierce laughing at them both.
John smiled. Who thought he'd see the day when timid little Miko was going on offworld missions and sticking her tongue out at Rodney?
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud voice cutting through all other conversation in the pub.
"Well it seems this galaxy is a damn small place after all."
Rodney froze, Miko let out a squeak and John dropped his mug, his eyes jerking over to the tall figure standing in the doorway, grinning at them.
Ronon was more tanned and gruffer looking than when they'd last seen him, but aside from that, he was exactly the same.
John tilted his chair back, grinning at his friend and trying to appear nonchalant about the whole thing. "Well, we just stopped by for a drink."
"Is that so? Seems like we both have the same good ideas."
With a loud laugh, Ronon yanked John off his chair and pulled him into a huge hug. They laughed and hugged each other, oblivious to the fact that they nearly knocked over a table.
When Ronon finally released him, they stared at each other.
"You look good, Sheppard."
"So do you."
"So, rumor has it the Travellers teamed up with the Wraith and the Lanteans to get rid of the machines once and for all."
"Good news travels fast."
"Rumor also has it that you booted out whatever his name was and moved back home."
"That we did. And we happen to have some spare rooms."
"I heard you were pretty full."
John snorted. "We're barely filling seven wings. Trust me, there's room."
"I've got a few friends who wouldn't mind also having a permanent roof over their heads."
"You'll vouch for them?"
"I'll vouch for them and keep an eye on them."
"In that case, tell them to come over here and introduce themselves."
Ronon grinned and turned around and jerked his head at a man standing just inside the door. "Go get the others and then get over here and meet my Commander."
Then Ronon let out a holler of "McKay! Get yourself over here!" and pushed his way through the throng of chairs and people to grab the grinning astrophysicist around the waist.
John wearily rubbed his temples and glared at Captain Branson and his new team consisting of two Travellers and Sergeant Chang.
"Sir, the people were showing the exact same symptoms as the others Dr. Keller examined."
"Damn it. How many planets is that?"
Lorne glanced at his notes. "Six, sir."
"Damn." He didn't want to dial back search efforts but this damn disease was starting to seriously wreak havoc on their galaxy.
As soon as Ronon told them that Teyla had been swept up by a culling beam while they were searching for her people weeks ago, John had launched massive search efforts to find her and the Athosians.
He had no idea what was going on, but having Teyla disappear after her people did was too much of a coincidence.
The fact that only Teyla had been swept up by the dart also left a very unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was something personal. This wasn't a normal culling.
And the only person in the galaxy who would go to such extreme lengths to get his hands on Teyla was Michael.
If it wasn't crazy machines, they had to deal with crazy Wraith. Or rather, half Wraith. Or whatever the hell Michael was now.
The fact that this disease was the same that the Hoffans had created years ago and the only knowledge of the disease was on Atlantis cemented his belief that Michael was behind this.
"Alright, keep looking. Did you get samples from the sick for Keller?"
"Good. Get them to her and then keep looking. And keep an eye out for anything suspicious."
"Like anything that strikes you as being weird."
And it was a sign how accustomed Branson had become to life in the Pegasus galaxy when he nodded and completely understood what was classified as 'weird' and what wasn't.
"Commander? There's a strange ship hailing us."
Larrin looked up from her intense argument with Derryn. They'd been discussing the newly discovered fact that Derryn had been harboring less than innocent feelings for Sergeant Stackhouse for more than a cycle, only they'd both been behaving like Uga mice and been too scared to do anything about it. "Define strange."
"Something I've never seen before."
Frowning, Larrin stepped closer and stared at the strange ship filling the viewscreen. She'd never seen that type before either.
"Put it through."
Moments later, an older man appeared on their viewscreen.
"I'm Colonel Caldwell of the USS Daedalus."
The mention of the rank immediately made her realize that this man was from Earth. Careful to keep any expression off her face, she raised an eyebrow.
"What can I do for you, Colonel?" She wasn't about to give him her name or any other information he may use against her or the Lanteans.
"We're looking for a group of people known as the Lanteans. I'm sure you're familiar with them."
Larrin made a big show out of glancing at Garan, then around her bridge and then frowning at the Colonel.
"You mean the Lanteans who lived in the Ancestral city?"
"Yes. Have you seen them?"
"Why are you still looking for them?"
"They're wanted for crimes back on our homeworld, as I'm sure you know."
She let out a little laugh. "Well, you'll have to find somebody else to chase. They're all dead."
The man blinked. "What?"
"The machines destroyed their world soon after a small number of them left with us to fight them. Surely you've been to see what remains of the planet."
"We've seen it. You mentioned that some of them were with you at the time?"
She clenched her jaw and pretended to look upset. "Yes. News of the machines destroying their city arrived just before we reached the machine's homeworld. They were upset and after starting their plan, they rammed the ship they had borrowed from us into the machine mass. They were destroyed. I have to say that they did help sink the mass, but they also destroyed one of my ships."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You wouldn't be in any position to replace it, would you?"
The Colonel was trying to hide his disappointment and was miserably failing. "I'm afraid not. They were criminals and our world can't be held responsible for their actions."
Larrin sighed. "I guess not. So, feel free to keep looking for them, but you're wasting your time. The Lanteans and their beautiful city are gone. On the bright side, the machines are gone too and the Wraith are having their own problems at the moment. We're no threat to your galaxy anymore and we have nothing that your people could want. We'd very much appreciate you leaving us alone from now on."
The Colonel stared at her for a long moment before giving a slight nod. "I'll inform my superiors."
"You do that."
Then she signaled for Garan to cut the connection. Once it was cut, her entire bridge crew erupted into laughter.
"Oh, that was fun. Alright, let's do our next jump and get our rear ends to Tavo. I can't wait to tell Sheppard about this when we see him," she chuckled, going back over to Derryn to continue their discussion.
EPILOGUE: (Five Pangaean Years Later)
Teyla glanced up from her tablet at the sound of Chuck's voice in her ear. She reached up and activated the radio. "What is it?"
"Colonel Sheppard dialed in from Tarana. He'd like to speak with you."
"Are they in trouble?"
"No, ma'am. He wants to ask you something about the festival."
Teyla got up and headed out of her office and towards the control panel, pressing the appropriate button. "John? Is everything alright?"
"Are you finished already? I realize Garan is getting slow, but surely Miko has not beaten him so quickly."
John's laughter carried over the radio. "They're still at it. Ronon is watching her and Rodney's busy arguing with Sango's engineer about something."
Teyla smiled. She was still thrilled that Miko had so seamlessly become a part of her old team and gave her teammates the balance she had always felt she provided them. When she'd approached John about staying off the team and staying in the city to raise Toran, she thought he'd put up a lot more of a fuss than he had, but he'd immediately asked her to take over as Commander of the city.
She thought she'd eventually get bored, but being in charge of a city which housed the Lanteans, many former Travellers and many Athosians and various other groups of people who had needed place to live never left her much time to get bored.
"What did you want to ask?"
"Two things. Larrin wants to know if you want her to ask Kojo to make you that Gucho cake you absolutely adore and wants me to remind you that if you do, you have to promise to dance with him at least twice during the festival."
Teyla smiled. "It is almost frightening how little I would not be willing to do for Gucho cake. Tell him I accept. What was the other?"
"I just ran into one of Ladon's generals. She says Ladon just learned that he has something to deal with at home so he and the other Genii will be a few hours late. They'll send official word about it soon, but since we're both here, she figured she'd let me know."
"The gate is open whenever they are ready."
"I'll tell her. Sheppard out."
Teyla nodded to Chuck to turn off the transmission and moments later, John disengaged the wormhole from Tarana.
Smiling, she headed back to her office, thoughts of Gucho cake already filling her mind.
She couldn't believe that this would be the fifth year they would be celebrating the festival.
John had been firm about making new traditions for themselves and not clinging to old ways which weren't part of their lives anymore.
They'd decided to blend the tradition of an Earth new year celebration with the Travellers new cycle celebration and threw an enormous party once every Pangaean year, inviting all of their allies and using the time to celebrate and strengthen bonds.
She eagerly rubbed her hands together, excited about the Gucho cake, seeing the Darvians again and challenging Sora to their usual bantos duel – one which Teyla had never, ever lost.
John sighed and put his feet up on the table, glancing into his mug and then nodding at Larrin's. "You out?"
Larrin looked and then sadly nodded.
"Aser!" John called over to the bartender. "Two more, please!"
"Coming up, Colonel."
Larrin was fiddling with the mug, rolling it over the surface of the table and glancing at Miko and Garan playing their boardgame with their usual stern concentration.
"You ever regret it, Sheppard?"
John looked up from staring at his mug. "What? Inviting Ladon to the festival? Only when the man swipes the last Vanus tart."
She smiled. "Not that. Living here. You ever want to go back home?"
John looked around the pub at Ronon smirking at Garan, and Miko looking thrilled with herself, Ladon Radim's general at the bar flirting with Aser, and Rodney waving his hands in the air and calling Sango's engineer an idiot and drawing schematics on the table with his finger.
John smiled. "This is home, Larrin. It always will be."
Larrin grinned at him and rolled her eyes. "So, Derryn is getting very giddy at the thought of seeing a special someone soon."
"Jesus, those two are ridiculous. It takes them three years to do something about how they feel and then they only see each other during the festival and other random times."
"Maybe they've been seeing each other more than you think."
"Derryn asked me to speak to you about Stackhouse moving in with him."
John grinned and raised an eyebrow. "On your ship?"
"Well, I won't be paying rent for him if that's what you're after. He's a great pilot though. With a little training, he'll earn his keep."
"He better. He causes enough of a distraction for my chief engineer, he's going to have to make up for that in some way."
"You be nice to him."
She smiled and gave him a small bow. "Always."
They raised their empty mugs at each other to seal the promise and then went back to staring around the pub.
Moments later, Rodney made a triumphant noise and got up, weaving through tables to John's side.
"Okay, we can leave now."
"Toya caved to your brilliance?"
"Of course she did. She always does."
John smiled, reached up and yanked Rodney partly into his lap. Rodney gave a surprised shout and braced himself half on the table and half on John before making himself more comfortable.
"Do we have to put on PDAs?"
"Since when do you mind putting on PDAs when Larrin's watching?"
An evil grin crossed Rodney's face and his eyes slid over to her as he leaned in and gave John a very lewd, very slurpy kiss.
"You know, I forget how much I enjoy PDAs."
A spent blaster cartridge hit Rodney in the head and he scowled and started untangling his hands from around John to grab the cartridge and throw it back but John sighed and held him still.
"Let it go."
"She wants you to react, McKay. Otherwise she wouldn't be sitting there killing herself laughing."
Rodney glared at Larrin and stuck his tongue out at her before turning back to John.
John stared at him, noticing how Rodney's hair had receded a bit more in recent years.
Rodney frowned. "What? Do I have something in my hair?"
"Are you happy with the decision you made?"
"Are you happy here, Rodney? Do you ever want to go back to Earth?"
Rodney stared at him, looking incredulous. "Just when I think you can't get any dumber, you go and prove me wrong," he said, shaking his head and placing his hands on both sides of John's face so he couldn't look away.
"I'm exactly where I want to be. This is home. You, the city, this galaxy."
John smiled and tilted his head up and kissed him. Rodney moaned and kissed him back before a loud cheer from Ronon momentarily interrupted them. John glanced over and Rodney chuckled before turning John's head back around and reclaiming his lips.
They kept kissing while Miko started to apologize for yet again winning and Ronon made loud remarks about old age never winning.
Rodney was the first to start laughing, his lips parting as he laughed harder. John felt a smile tugging on his own lips and before long they were both laughing, leaning their foreheads against each other.
Larrin rolled their eyes at both of them, also fighting a smile. "You two have always been crazy, you know that?" She turned to the bartender and narrowed his eyes at him. "Aser, are you waiting for me to grow old? Get me that drink already!"
"Rein in your Boras, Commander," Aser yelled over, not taking his eyes off the Genii General.
Larrin scowled. "I realize you're flirting with the General but I'll sleep with you myself if it'll get me my drink faster. And get Sheppard his so he and McKay will finally shut up before they kill themselves laughing."