They'd given him a choice; the white expanses of Antarctica for the rest of his military career, or resignation.
Antarctica had sounded appealing on so many levels, with the long months of solitude at McMurdo but, equally, he would be grounded for so many of those months with the conditions too poor to fly. John was uncertain if he could cope with months of inactivity despite McMurdo boasting a nine-hole golf course. In the end, his father had suggested an alternative, trying to lure him back into the family business by whatever means possible but, for once, it had suited John.
He was stationed in the US Virgin Islands, flying Sheppard Industries executives between the electronics facility in Charlotte Amalie and the US mainland by island hopping across the Bahamas. Occasionally, he'd fly deeper into the Atlantic to a small island on the other side of the Puerto Rico Trench—an island that was too small to make most commercial maps.
On the whole it was a good life, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the island of Saint Thomas, and the Caribbean on the other. All it lacked was the sense of immediacy that he had grown used to in war-torn Afghanistan, where every smiling local face could be a potential suicide bomber.
He spent most of his time between flights on the beach, surfing the Atlantic rollers or basking in the sun on fine Caribbean sand—and picking up the occasional tourist for no-strings fun and sex. Spotting the tourists was easy enough, with their pale skin and awed, carefree expressions. With the military no longer dictating his actions, gender no longer mattered and he would find himself cruising the gay bars as frequently as the so-called normal clubs, depending on whether he was in the mood for breasts or cock that night. He would let them take him back to their hotel room—never to his own place—spending the rest of the night fucking and kissing before disappearing after the sun had risen with half-hearted murmurs of meeting up again later. Sometimes he even kept that implied promise, especially if the person had proved fun to be around and great in bed, letting them possess him for the remainder of their vacation and waving them off at the airport without making any false promises to keep in touch.
It should have been idyllic but he found himself craving the excitement of his former life, only finding that adrenaline rush when he was soaring through the blue skies across a seemingly endless blue ocean.
Scrubbing a hand through his wayward hair, John levered himself up to sitting and took a moment to stare down at the almost too-pale body in the bed beside him. He wondered if the guy ever saw sunlight for more than a few minutes at a time. Sleep and good sex had slackened the tense features, smoothing away some of the lines of stress that had drawn him to this particular man in the hotel bar last night. The crooked mouth seemed a little straighter, a tiny smile playing about the still kiss-swollen lips, and John wondered if the man, if Rodney, was having good dreams. He reached out to brush a few stray wisps of fine brown hair off Rodney's forehead, grinning at the irritated mumble as the man's face screwed up a little. A large and yet strangely delicate hand tried to brush away the irritation, and that made John grin even wider. There had been something about this man, the way he riled up those around him as if unable to censor the thoughts traveling at light speed through his immensely powerful brain. According to Rodney, he was a genius. Certainly, John could agree that he was a genius in bed, with that quick tongue proving its amazing agility as he gave John one of the best blow-jobs he could ever recall, and he'd had quite a few over the past ten months, making up for all those lost years in the military. Rodney's hands were equally amazing, seeming to know exactly how much pressure to apply from light, skimming brushes across a nipple to hard, digging fingers over John's hips as he fucked him deep—his cock managing to hit the right spot with every thrust until John was a babbling wreck and gasping in release.
A quick glance at the travel clock on the bedside cabinet showed that there was still time before he had to make a move, knowing it wouldn't take long to cross the island and reach the airstrip in time for today's flight. He contemplated his options, hissing when he became aware of the burn of a well-used ass when he moved, which threw out the possibility of being fucked into the mattress this morning. After all, he had a run out to Isla Verde later today, taking some faceless executive to oversee some work on the tiny island. It was going to be uncomfortable enough after last night's wild activities without adding more discomfort, no matter how welcome.
That left option two.
Carefully, John pulled back the light cotton sheet to reveal the rest of the pale skin, drawing the material down startlingly white, strong thighs, and enjoying the way Rodney writhed a little at the drag of cotton over his sensitive morning erection. Once the sheet was a discarded pile on the floor beside the bed, John licked his lips, hungry for a taste of the hard cock arching up from a thatch of golden brown hair. Before he gave into the urge to lick a stripe along the smooth length, he made sure the right supplies were within easy reach, not wanting to fumble for a condom and lube once he had Rodney positioned exactly how he wanted him.
Rodney tasted so good, his skin smelling of hotel shampoo beneath the musk of fresh sweat and sex, reminding John of the shower they had shared that had led to his third climax in as many hours. The memory made John groan softly, the cascade of warm water over his face as he sucked Rodney—his climax drawn from his own hand, splattering against the bathroom tiles and quickly washed away. Both of them had collapsed onto the shower floor where Rodney had grumbled about drowning if they didn't move soon.
John tasted Rodney again, tongue lapping over the head and delving into the sensitive slit. He wanted to bring him to a slow and powerful climax and then fuck his lax body—wanted to make Rodney burn so he'd remember John for the rest of his day—and be interested in meeting up again tonight for more of the same.
Rodney's hips flexed as John took the whole head in his mouth, sucking gently, and John encouraged the legs to fall wider apart, coaxed them into pulling back so he could run a lube-coated finger over the small hole and press in. A soft gasp and Rodney's eyes opened, the deep blue iris almost lost in a sea of dark lust, mouth slack with desire as he pushed up unsuccessfully against John's firm hands upon his pelvis. John released the cock with a loud, obscene pop—and grinned.
"Wanna fuck you."
His grin broadened as Rodney swallowed hard and nodded, legs going loose and welcoming as John's finger sank deeper into the tight hole. Sinfully long, pale eyelashes fluttered when John found his prostate, and John imagined Rodney seeing stars—perfect stars in a brilliant display of want and need. A second finger joined the first as John bent his head to Rodney's saliva-wet cock, swallowing it deep in one move, his throat clenching around the hard column of flesh.
"Ohgodohgodohgod." Rodney was babbling, more vocal than any of John's previous lovers and one-night stands. The desperate sounds were music to John's ears as he fumbled the condom onto his cock, his own desire heightening. His cock dragged uselessly against the mattress until the first bitter spurt of Rodney's release coated John's tongue, and he sucked through the tiny, restricted thrusts, drawing every last droplet from the man.
Spent, Rodney collapsed back against the pillow, his body beautifully boneless as John shouldered his lover's legs out of the way so he could position himself and thrust in deep with one powerful stroke. The tiny, surprised whimper and the blissed look on Rodney's face urged him onwards, harder and deeper. He couldn't last, wanted to last, but Rodney was perfection all around him. Tight and hot and needy, Rodney's body sucked the release right out of John in wave after wave of pure pleasure.
Afterwards, they lay in a heap of sweaty limbs on the center of the mussed-up and messy bed, John's head pillowed on Rodney's chest as the thump of his beating heart gradually slowed. When he found the strength to raise his head, he found a loopy grin on Rodney's face, uncaring that he probably sported a similar goofy smile.
Eventually, clean and dressed, John pressed one last kiss against the swollen lips.
"Tonight?" he asked, and Rodney smiled his agreement, his trailing fingers tightening in John's dark t-shirt before scraping across a tight nipple, sending an echo of desire through John.
"Eight o'clock…and I like Turkey club sandwiches," John murmured, indicating towards the room service menu.
He looked back once before he closed the hotel door behind him, burning the image of Rodney lying sated and sleepy with the morning sunlight bringing a warm glow to his pale body and light brown hair.
Perhaps this life was idyllic after all.
Rodney woke just before noon to the strident ring of the telephone. He picked it up, clearing his throat before demanding, "What?"
The disembodied voice on the end of the line was nasal, imperious and yet also whiny, and easily recognizable as Kavanagh. "You're late for the conference."
Rodney glanced at the travel clock and groaned.
He was due to speak in less than an hour. "I'll be there in 30 minutes. Make sure there is coffee. And, Kavanagh, I want lots of it."
Rodney slammed the receiver back onto its cradle as Kavanagh whined out a protest about not being anyone's coffee boy, wondering when the man had become deluded enough to believe he was capable of anything else. Gingerly, he struggled to a seated position on the edge of the bed, hissing at the burn from this morning's enthusiastic sex, but smiling crookedly in remembrance rather than complaining. He hadn't expected to get picked up at the hotel bar last night as he was rarely that lucky. In truth, he'd been convinced right up to John leaving without taking his wallet—or the cash in it at least—that the seriously hot guy was a prostitute. Thankfully, for once Rodney hadn't insulted the man by asking, as last night had been… Well, it had been better than anything he'd had in years. Better than the I'll warm you up sex with that lab assistant in Siberia and, strangely, even better than the thank god we are still alive sex he'd had with Jonas Quinn in the SGC after they defeated Anubis's attempt to destroy the Earth by overloading the Stargate.
Eight o'clock. He could hardly wait, knowing he would have to suffer through an interminable conference and then avoid being Shanghaied into going to the reception this evening. Of course, he could always convince John to go with him as an escort. He grinned at the thought, imagining the stiff-backed military and scientific community's shock at seeing a handsome man at Rodney's side.
No, he thought. He didn't want to mix business with pleasure, and what he'd had with John last night and this morning was pure, unadulterated pleasure, something that had been sorely lacking in his life recently. He'd let the others moan about his non-appearance at tonight's reception while he indulged in someone who was far worthier of his time and energy. Perhaps tonight he'd learn a little more about John because the man had been taciturn over any questions asked last night, giving just the vaguest of responses or distracting Rodney by playing with a sensitive nipple or kissing him hard and dirty. Rodney hadn't even caught his surname and had pieced together a few more details only by inference. He was convicnced the man was possibly a pilot of some sort. At least he had mentioned that he could fly but that didn't mean he was employed as a pilot here on this small piece of land surrounding by a lot of ocean. For all Rodney knew, he was simply here on vacation, surfing waves and singles bars.
A pilot of what though? Jets had pilots, but so did helicopters… and cropdusters. Perhaps John was a little ashamed of his lowly position compared to Rodney's importance as a renowned astrophysicist. Except John hadn't come across as ashamed, merely vague and a little furtive. Like a hunted man.
Certainly, there had been no shame or trepidation on display when they reached Rodney's bed.
As Rodney wandered into the bathroom, he caught his sickly sweet yet lustful expression in the mirror, and he frowned in annoyance, noticing the love bite on his neck. Fortunately it was low enough to conceal beneath his dress shirt collar. He rubbed a finger over it gently, recalling the feel of John's lips on his body, sucking and biting, and possessively marking him. He wished he had done the same in return, leaving John a small reminder of what they'd shared last night and this morning, even though it would have faded all too quickly.
Gathering his thoughts, he showered and dressed quickly, making it to the lobby in less than twenty minutes where various scientists and military were already gathering in small groups before moving into the conference suite. The doors closed as he stepped onto the platform, and he started his presentation on Wormhole Physics and Zero-Point Energy to an excited audience of his peers.
Two hours later, after the presentation and the heated, informal debate that followed in the Reception Hall, Rodney managed to escape into the fresh air. He didn't notice Sam Carter following until he heard her soft voice beside him.
"It went well, McKay."
Rodney gave a noncommittal grunt in response, aware that he'd only given away as much information on Wormhole Physics as the military would allow—enough for the more intelligent of the physicists to at least start moving down the right paths. One day he hoped he would be able to tell them everything and glory in the wonder and amazement from his peers—and in the Nobel Prize that would follow. For now, all he could do was nudge the rest of the world in the right direction. He turned away from Sam's understanding smile, aware that she had been in the same position for just as many years, and he stared across the Atlantic Ocean to where the sky was darkening on the horizon. Sam must have noticed what had captured his attention, speaking softly.
"It's a squall. Apparently, they spring up out of nowhere at this time of year. They don't always become hurricanes," she teased.
"Well, that's good to know because I didn't come all the way from the blistering heat of Area 51 just to get killed in a hurricane in the balmy tropics."
His eyes darted towards Sam when he heard her quiet laugh. "You seem almost mellow today, Rodney. Meet someone last night?"
Rodney fidgeted under her scrutiny, resisting the urge to finger the bite mark just beneath his collar. He knew he was flushing an uncomfortable shade of red in embarrassment, but that only seemed to increase the teasing sparkle in Sam's eyes.
"Maybe," he replied cagily, not wanting to reveal that his bed partner had been another man. He wasn't Air Force like Sam but he'd worked alongside the military long enough to know you didn't talk about such things.
She rested a small hand on his forearm. "Good." Then she cocked her head towards the reception hall. "I'm heading back in now."
Watching her go, Rodney realized that he felt no stalkerish desire to follow her. In the past he would have been dogging her heels, trying to get her to admit that he was a pretty good catch. Today, blond hair and blue eyes held nothing against the memory of sex ruffled dark spikes and green-hazel eyes sated in pleasure.
While he watched flickers of lightning dance along the distant horizon, his thoughts turned back to the man he'd taken to his bed last night. With a sigh, he realized he still had five hours before he'd see John again, if that was even his real name.
Taking a deep breath, he strode back into the reception hall to field more questions from his mostly incompetent peers.
The skies were clear and azure blue when he took off from the airstrip just outside Charlotte Amalie; the vibration of the helicopter blades slicing the air made him grin in a different kind of pleasure from the one he'd left behind in bed that morning. Leaving Rodney had been strangely difficult, with part of him wanting to be at that conference, watching his new lover's hands fly as he described the mysteries of the universe. John could have called in sick and got Mikey to fly to Isla Verde instead but he had seen a few military uniforms in the lobby the evening before; at least one of them was a USAF lieutenant colonel.
Before the incident in Afghanistan, he'd been on the fast track for promotion to lieutenant colonel.
The sight of the uniform had given him a pang of regret for the military life he had given up, though Rodney had managed to swing his mood back around pretty quickly during that first blow-job. He grinned in remembrance, then pushed all those lazy, lust-filled thoughts aside and the accompanying regret, focusing instead on the instrument panel in front of him.
"Welcome to Sheppard Airways. Please secure all trays in the upright position and ensure your safety belts are fastened."
A glance over his shoulder saw bewilderment on the faces of his passengers but they were at least checking their safety belts. As the helicopter lifted into the skies as blue as Rodney's eyes, his spirits lifted with it. He focused on the distant horizon beyond the lushness of Saint Thomas Island as the ground fell away beneath him, heading Northwest into the North Atlantic. From previous trips he knew it would take a couple of hours to cover the 200 miles to Isla Verde, with his expected time of arrival around mid-afternoon. As his passengers would not be returning with him, John anticipated a fast turnaround of an hour, perhaps two on the outside—enough time to refuel and pick up anything that needed transporting back to base.
By the time he was ten minutes out, he was already thinking of the homeward bound journey and calculating that he would have plenty of time to shave, shower, and change his clothes before knocking on Rodney's hotel door. He grinned, wondering when his life had become this good.
The executive had ordered John about imperiously on arrival at the airstrip, and now he and his two staff were talking on what they thought was a private frequency. They were no doubt unaware that as Patrick Sheppard's son, he had access to whatever information he cared to check. His dad had made that very clear, giving John top clearance in the hope that it might encourage him to eventually take a more managerial role in the business. John merely smirked softly to himself and ignored his passengers, concentrating instead on the cockpit controls. As he approached the outer edge of the deep abyss just off the coast of Puerto Rico, he noticed the barometric pressure was dropping, albeit slowly. Scanning the horizon, he could see nothing untoward but he was fully aware of the squalls that pulled up out of nowhere over the trench, often wondering if the deepness of the water there had anything to do with it.
Twenty minutes later, his concerns grew as the sky directly in front of him gradually darkened, keenly aware that he had already passed the point of no return. He had no choice but to press on, knowing there was nowhere else within range for a safe landing, just water stretching for miles in all directions.
John clicked into his passengers' private frequency, and glanced quickly over his shoulder.
"We've got some bad weather ahead. Make sure you're buckled up tight as it could get a little bumpy."
"Bad weather? Shouldn't you have checked for that before we started out? Should we turn back?" The executive had paled.
John allowed the slur against his professionalism pass unchallenged, concentrating instead only on the final question. "Little too late for that. We have to go on."
Ahead, he watched the thunderheads forming while trying to ignore his recall of old stories told about the Bermuda Triangle, especially since they had crossed the imaginary line stretching between Puerto Rico and Bermuda twenty miles back. He flicked onto the Isla Verde frequency and radioed ahead.
"Isla Verde control, this is flight SI458. We're heading into bad weather. Do you copy?"
The only response was static and a strange high-pitched whining. He tried again. Between one second and the next, all the controls began spinning, including the compass.
"Shit." He flicked the radio again, this time to the air traffic emergency channel. "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is flight SI458 in serious difficulties. Lost in storm front approximately eighty miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Instrumentation has gone haywire. Do you read me?"
Nothing but static came back, the helicopter rocking as they entered the thickening, dark thunder clouds. A bolt of lightning illuminated the suddenly darkened cockpit followed by the sound that he had always dreaded—that of the rotor blades slowing as the helicopter lost all power.
"Hold on tight! We're going down!"
Behind him, he could hear cries of fear and panic but as the helicopter began to fall out of the sky, John's only consolation was at least the rotor blades would have stopped turning completely by the time they hit the deck. Hopefully, they wouldn't be thrown around like a rag doll when the blades touched the surging waves beneath them, tumbling end on end. In the darkness of the clouds he couldn't make out where the stormy sea separated from the sky, the safety harness digging in tight when the helicopter hit the churning waves below. With years of experience, cockpit simulations, and at least one former crash behind him, John didn't panic. He released his belt quickly and grabbed the life raft, shoving open the door and loosely tying off the rope to keep it close to the helicopter before throwing the life raft outside where it inflated automatically. His three passengers had been battered by the landing and were still panicking, scrabbling into life-vests placed under the seats for emergencies such as this.
Rain lashed at John's face, soaking him to the skin in seconds. He reached back for the first of his passengers, hands slipping as he tried to grab a handful of life-vest. The idiot had already inflated it inside the helicopter, making it that much more difficult to maneuver the man through the doorway.
John wasted precious seconds forcing the others to move but eventually, he managed to shove each of them through the door and into the life raft, unable to find the time to offer reassurances. Before he could make his own leap, the helicopter tilted, the door slamming closed and trapping him inside; he scrabbled once more for the release catch. The life raft broke free and swiftly drifted away on the high rolling waves, disappearing from view momentarily before reappearing too far away. John pushed hard against the door, feeling it give but another wave struck the helicopter and it turned over, plastering him against what was the ceiling and he lost vital seconds trying to orientate himself in the darkness.
As she sank beneath the stormy waves, John tried to push against the helicopter's door but it failed to give this time, locked tight by the quickly increasing pressure of water outside. He spread his hands out and pressed his nose against the clear cockpit glass as the helicopter continued falling into the abyss; his last thought as a spider crack blossomed across the glass was of Rodney McKay's bright eyes, quick smile and clever hands.
His one regret was that he wouldn't be knocking on Rodney's door that evening after all.
Rodney stared at his travel clock—hope plummeting with each minute passing beyond eight o'clock. On the small table, the bread of the turkey sandwich was starting to curl up despite the air conditioning keeping the room cool. He picked at his own sandwich but, for once, he found no comfort in food, thinking only of the silence in the room where there should have been soft laughter and the brush of skin against skin. He should have guessed that someone as hot as John would not be interested in someone like him—pale and a little soft around the middle from too many years spent inside a laboratory, and not enough time spent in the fresh air or exercising. Still, he thought he had seen something in the man's eyes this morning as he… as he fucked him, as he kissed him goodbye, as he paused on the threshold just to look at Rodney one more time as if storing up the memory.
With growing bitterness, Rodney realized John—and he was still unconvinced that was his true name because John had not offered anything more despite Rodney asking several times—had certainly managed to fool him into believing there was something about the two of them together, something that might last more than a single night of passion. He'd totally bought the eight o'clock, sneaking away from the conference just after seven just so he'd have time to clean up, shave, shower, and make sure there was plenty more condoms and lube on-hand.
Now he felt like the biggest fool in the galaxy rather than a super-genius.
Another minute marked its passage and Rodney debated over whether he ought to go to the reception after all. He could lose himself in the mindless idiocy of those around him rather than dwell on what he had never had in the first place, what he had only dreamed of having. He didn't feel like company though. He didn't feel like making even a modicum of effort to socialize, preferring to leave that aspect of conference life to others. Even the thought of picking up some wide-eyed, ground-he-walked-on worshiping Physics groupie held no appeal because he didn't believe anything or anyone could compare to the feel of John in his arms, or to the feel of John moving inside him. Or him inside John.
With a heavy heart, he shoved the sandwiches back onto the tray and placed it on the floor outside his room where some nameless, faceless hotel person would take it away during the night. Locking the door behind him, he peeled off his clothes and stepped into the shower, recalling the way John had gone down on him in there. He could still see the water droplets glistening on John's eyelashes, could still see the redness of John's lips stretched around his cock, and his body reacted to the mental stimuli automatically, cock thickening in anticipation of something that wasn't going to happen.
Viciously, he turned the water to ice cold to kill his growing erection.
When he sank between the clean sheets, he laid quietly in the darkness of his hotel room, listening to the wind and rain battering against the window. The squall had reached them just a few hours earlier, casting an early gloom over the resort that mirrored his churning emotions. Eventually he slept, but his dreams were filled with images of spiky hair and of hazel-green eyes darkened in lust. It should have been erotic but memories from the shower—or more likely from the sound of heavy rainfall on his window—mutated the dream into a nightmare that had haunted Rodney since childhood. He was alone on a stormy sea, seeing the lights of safety so far away and rowing as if his life depended upon it. From beneath the waves something was lurking, paralleling his course and finally rising up from the depths to swallow him whole. In his nightmare, he always awoke before the water closed in around him, but not this time. He woke up abruptly, bolting upright in the bed with a shout of fear as the cold water tried to pull his down and drown him.
Rodney did not sleep for the rest of the night, tossing and turning until well after the storm had broken.
At sunrise he stepped out onto the balcony, sliding down to sit on the still-damp floor, back resting against the wall as he sipped strong, black coffee. Although the sharp pain of fear had gone, it had been replaced by a dull ache of loss that tightened in his chest.
John had not come, and Rodney had to let it go because he had only a handful of days left before he was due back at Area 51.
When the knock came at his door, Rodney anticipated only one of two people, and was not surprised to see Sam standing there. He beckoned her in and poured her a coffee, taking it back out onto the balcony where the air was clean and fresh after yesterday's storm. In no time, the heat would dry out the chairs but for now, they leaned on the balcony and gazed out over the sea.
"Daniel found a reference to another one of those Ancient Database repositories. I've been recalled to the SGC. We're heading out there this afternoon."
Rodney nodded. He'd heard rumors in Area 51 that Anubis was amassing a fleet to send against Earth after failing to destroy the Stargate, and this time he would not stop until Earth was subjugated once more. By now that fleet could be halfway to Earth, making Rodney feel a little guilty for wasting time at this conference—time that could be better spent in the laboratory working on weapons. He understood the necessity though, of keeping up the pretense that there was nothing to fear out there.
"You know, in a parallel universe I would have asked you to marry me and you would have said yes."
"Dream on, McKay!"
She punched him on the shoulder. "Not in this one though," she stated firmly.
"No," he agreed reluctantly, because in this universe he had already met someone who literally blew his brains, and he had found him and lost him in a single night. Somehow it just didn't seem fair, but Rodney had come to expect that from his life—the unfairness of it all.
Hours later, he wandered through the hotel lobby on his way to the next presentation in the conference suite, bypassing the newsstand and thereby missing the numerous newspapers reporting the downed helicopter. Images of John Sheppard were plastered across the front page that mentioned the rescue services still searching for the son of billionaire media magnet Patrick Sheppard.
Being irrelevant to the vast majority of attendees at the conference, the news passed without comment. Two days later Rodney returned to Area 51 unaware of John's fate.
He was floating, caught between the dream and waking world and yet John felt no alarm, comforted by a reassuring hum that seemed to vibrate cell-deep within his body. Visions appeared with a dreamlike quality—spires and towers stretching into an azure sky, standing circles filled with liquid blue that rippled like water seemingly defying the laws of gravity. Nightmares followed as he saw vast empires rise and fall on distant worlds; he saw terrible creatures, vampires of myth and legend that sucked the life force out of their victims leaving nothing but a shriveled shell behind.
Where am I? What is this place? Who or what are you? How did I get here? How do I escape?
Questions arising in his mind were answered in the abstract, in muted colors or in new visions—some of it almost beyond his comprehension while other answers seemed too fantastic to be real. He wasn't sure how long he had been floating in this dream state—hours, days…perhaps weeks. Nothing changed. He felt no physical sensations until something stirred deep within his dream world; the resonant hum changed, taking on greater insistence and forced him to look beyond his own being. His mind's eye looked up through miles of ocean, up towards the darkness of space, moving passed the gas giant Jupiter with its great storm swirling across its surface, beyond the pitted surfaces of moons that were little more than gigantic chunks of rock enslaved by gravity. He passed through the rings of Saturn, soaring on the solar winds, uncertain of what he was hunting as his journey turned back towards the inner planets-and Earth. Clouds of white swirled across a sea of blue, land masses rose above the sea reflecting green and gold. He skimmed the outer atmosphere, moving across the barren mountains and plains of ice while part of him imagined what it might have been like if he had not resigned from the USAF.
Then he saw them.
Strange ships appeared above the planet, some of them seemingly wrapped around pyramids the size of those ancient tombs in Egypt. The soldier within him measured distances and direction, and he wondered at the fleet's intention as malevolence danced on the edge of his subconscious, radiating out from the center of that alien armada.
John felt it then. He felt a new presence—a mind filled with words and images that were alien and yet tantalizingly familiar to him. He watched as a small ship-carrying this mind-raced towards the Earth even as the alien fleet attacked. The mind reached out and touched his, thoughts briefly entwining before wrapping around him with the strength of someone used to giving orders, and used to having them obeyed.
Those thoughts were deeper and faster than a mere human's and filled with both desperation and purpose. They guided him through a labyrinth of protocols too intricate for his human mind to commit to memory but John sensed the mind—Jack, he thought—was weakening with each passing moment. He could feel the incredible knowledge tearing Jack apart. So much knowledge—too much knowledge for one man to hold and still function. John knew Jack was but a man—human—not alien.
As John tried to draw back, resisting the mental touch, he could feel despair creeping through from the other, lacing the bright thoughts with dark bands revealing the bitterness of growing defeat. Jack's mind was swiftly failing as the battle raged in the clear blue skies over Antarctica.
Memories of blood and aviation fuel soaking into the burning sands of Afghanistan crowded through John, reminding him of conflicting orders given and eventually disobeyed. He had paid the price for failure, had turned his back on a military life, but duty called to him once more and demanded that he answer. Instinctively, he reached out to give strength to the rapidly weakening mind. With a mental cry, John pushed at the other, trying to force back the formidable tide of knowledge flowing into Jack, wanting to buy him the time he needed to fulfill his duty. John could feel the power of ancient technology pulsing through Jack's fingers, instinctively recognizing the weapon's system coming online, and understanding on some deep level what he needed to do for Jack. John turned his mind towards the sky above the ice and snow-covered plains and mountains, seeking the larger targets moving into strike positions above the Earth. His mind flew within the golden swarm of Ancient drones, searching for the dark malevolence of its leader as the drones locked onto the attacking fleet. The Other mind flew with him, the drones obeying his mental command as they pulsed around the Earth ship, leaving it unharmed.
He could feel Jack's smug grin, its warmth radiating through John as the drones found their true target. Eventually, all that remained of the alien armada was dust particles and small debris, burning in the upper atmosphere in a beautiful light display that could almost put the Aurora Australis to shame.
Salvus. Safe from harm. Saved. John knew Jack spoke of the planet—of Earth—and his mind reeled at the thought. He was still uncertain if this was simply another dream or nightmare drawn up from the depths of an oxygen-starved mind.
Am I dying? He remembered the storm brewing on the horizon, buffeting the helicopter. He recalled the heavy swells of the ocean, battering against the downed helicopter and trapping him inside before it slipped beneath the waves. Was he still falling…falling…into the abyss?
The single word reverberated through him from Jack. Exhausted, he tried to hold on tighter but Jack's thoughts were becoming hazy, slipping away, and John no longer had the strength to hold back the stream of knowledge that was overwhelming the other man. Jack had to sleep, or he would die.
Domata, he replied, knowing he was losing this chance to save himself. Don't forget me, he pleaded, feeling even more alone as Jack's thoughts became clouded and finally drifted away.
Unable to let go, John stretched out his mind, gliding over the battlefield. He chased the fleeting thoughts of the dead and dying, of those who had fallen in battle. He couldn't save them; he was too weak. Slowly, he slipped beneath the ice, brushing over the stasis unit as Jack's thoughts slowed in domata. He tried to reach out to the three who stood before the stasis chamber but their minds were closed off from him in grief, unaware of his presence. His strength faded, drawing him back into his own place of sleep as the world continued to spin on its axis, with most of its inhabitants unaware of the great battle fought above their heads.
As his thoughts began to drift, blue surrounded him: the water that pressed down upon him moved through the spectrum from indigo to Caribbean blue, the deep azure of the skies above Antarctica now clear of battling fighters, the Cobalt blue of the Astria Porta as the wormhole rippled along the event horizon. It beckoned him to step through into other worlds, into a lost city filled with magnificent towers and spires—and the Cerulean blue of Rodney's eyes before the darkness of want and need consumed the iris.
John knew which of those he could fall into willingly, knew which of those he would happily drown within. His heart ached for the quirky smile and quicksilver mind, for the gentle hands caressing his skin and the sweetly passionate kisses that breathed life back into him.
Eventually, he fell back into exhausted dreams, forgoing the wonder of alien worlds and long lost cities as he dwelt on the perfection of one man, and a single night.
The helicopter swooped low across the ice plain carrying a full complement of excited passengers. Their chatter through the headphones was both fascinating and irritating in equal measure, and Rodney was tempted to remonstrate with these so-called experts in their particular fields for some of the incredibly inane suggestions passing between them. Fortunately, he had managed to grab the seat next to the pilot, much to the consternation of the military attache who'd accompanied them on the flight, and who had presumed he would have that seat. Instead, the man was in the back compartment with all the other idiots, leaving Rodney with a clear view of the breathtaking terrain below.
Whether deliberate or not, the pilot banked hard around a snow and ice covered mountain and the chatter from the back turned nervous for a moment, until they all realized they were not about to crash. Rodney sighed raggedly, holding on tighter to the door brace. He'd been on far worse flights with USAF flyboys who felt it was their duty to annoy their civilian passengers.
The pilot pointed through the cockpit window. Rodney followed the line, his eyes fixing on the dark speck ahead that was slowly growing into the military installation. Within moments, the speck had become a clump of pre-fabricated buildings, with a dome set up over a circular hole formed by O'Neill's modification of the transport rings. Rodney wished he could have seen the interior of the Tel'tak, the Goa'uld scout ship, if only to see how O'Neill had boosted the power of the transmission beam into a type of laser that could cut a hole through a mile of ice in less than a minute. The application of such technology would revolutionize the mining industry, perhaps saving the lives of many miners in the process. Once O'Neill had created the hole, he and his team had gained access to the Ancient structure lying beneath by using the transporter rings.
It was one of those times when Rodney was pleased that the Goa'uld had stolen so much Ancient technology as it could have taken weeks to dig down through the ice otherwise—weeks that they'd simply not had at the time. Now Anubis and his fleet were so much stardust and hopefully the Earth was safe—for the time being. Safe for his sister Jeannie, and safe for people like John, who still haunted his thoughts. If events hadn't overtaken them then he might have put some of his considerable resources—admittedly military resources—into locating the man. In truth, he had to accept that John had not wanted him as much as it seemed at the time. It wouldn't be the first time Rodney had been stood up and probably wouldn't be the last time either, but he'd truly thought that one night had been something special for both of them.
Rodney knew he could be a petty and arrogant man. But occasionally, he could also be quite shallow, not letting pride get in the way of what he wanted. He was due a vacation-one of these days. Perhaps he'd take it in Charlotte Amalie and see if he could find anyone who knew John. The hotel might still have copies of the security footage for when they crossed the lobby and used the elevator up to his room. It was less than a week ago after all, and Sam owed him a favor for abandoning him at the conference, even if it was to go save the planet.
"Ready to land in two minutes, doctor."
The suddenness of the pilot's voice through the headset made him flinch. Rodney nodded at the pilot and turned all of his attention back to Ancient facility lying beneath the ice ahead of him.
Before heading out, Rodney had spoken to Elizabeth Weir and she had seemed convinced that Earth had won a major respite while the other System Lords fought among themselves as they divided up the mighty empire Anubis had left behind. Still, Anubis had proved that the Goa'uld had their avaricious eyes set on Earth, especially now that the Earth humans—the Tau'ri—had stepped through the Stargate. In just a few short years they had destroyed several high-placed Goa'uld and ended thousands of years of galactic domination and subjugation. It was only a matter of time before yet another System Lord gathered his armies of Jaffa and attempted to invade the planet.
With luck, the Ancient outpost would hold more technology that could be used as weapons to protect the planet from further attacks. Rodney's main task was to study the Control Chair that O'Neill had used to guide the assault on Anubis's fleet. He was also tasked to see if they could reverse engineer both the power source O'Neill had taken from the now destroyed Taonas outpost on Proclarush and the drones, so they could produce and fire more of the powerful weapons.
As the helicopter came in to land, he went over his mental list of the personnel selected for the initial task team. He had placed Grodin in charge of reverse engineering the drones while Simpson would help Rodney with the Chair and power module. He had some theories already, having spent several years studying Ancient technology and the Naquadah that comprised the Stargates in particular. Rodney glanced over his shoulder automatically, even though he doubted he could see the second transport helicopter landing behind them. It was carrying all of his team's equipment plus three Mark II Naquadah generators, designed and built with his own hands during his exile to Siberia. Rodney was looking forward to trying them out, not wanting to rely solely on the standard US military generators.
As soon as the pilot gave the okay, Rodney snapped off his seat belt. He clambered into the rear compartment in time to get hit by a blast of cold air as the door slid open. The few steps from the helicopter to the complex were enough to chill him to the bone, and he wished he'd put his fleece on underneath the standard issue military snowsuit pants and jacket.
"This way, doc."
The soldier led Rodney, the small group of eight scientists, and one military attache into the main complex. As soon as the door closed tight behind them, Rodney started to pull off the jacket and pants, hating to be encumbered by their bulk. He quickly rummaged through his carry-on bag, drawing out his favorite orange fleece and pulling it over his head—reveling in the warmth and comfort that suffused him instantly. That it reminded him of John's warm body wrapped around him was a little pathetic, as he'd not even had the fleece with him at the conference. Yet, there had been something about John that had made him feel safe and secure, and that was something he had not felt since discovering there really were aliens out there trying to get them.
The misery of being in a cold climate yet again was quickly replaced by frustration when he realized the engineers had not quite completed work on the elevator.
"Forty minutes, sir. An hour tops," the chief engineer stated tersely, "Unless you'd like to be dropped down in a harness."
"Or without," someone murmured under their breath.
Rodney rounded on the hapless engineer instantly, finger stabbing into the man's chest. "And when was the last time you saved the planet? Hmm? Never! I'd suggest you save your pathetic threats for the idiot who thought you had the intelligence to complete a simple engineering task."
"Making friends, Rodney?"
He spun on his heel. "Sam!" His eyes narrowed after the initial shock of finding her standing right behind him. "And with all your resources you couldn't have them install a set of transport rings?"
"Not so easy to come by on short notice."
"What about that Tel'tak?"
"I think someone might have noticed an alien ship hovering over the ice after a while."
"Did it need to hover? Couldn't you just have landed it…."
"Give it up, McKay." She smiled brightly. "Besides, I have something that will keep you occupied while you wait."
"Oh?" He smiled. "Finally going to let me re-code the gate protocols on that monstrosity of a DHD you built at the SGC?"
Her eyes narrowed, no doubt recalling how they had first met when Teal'c was caught in the Stargate buffer, and how it might never have happened if Sam hadn't deliberately overridden various safety protocols in order to have the Stargate operational much sooner. As far as Rodney was concerned, it was a major oversight done for the sake of expediency. If the US government hadn't been so keen to keep the Stargate's discovery all to themselves in those early years then perhaps he might have been contracted in a lot sooner and fixed many of the problems before they turned into potential disasters.
Releasing Teal'c from the Stargate buffer had cost them the only known DHD on Earth, and the price demanded for its loss was Rodney's brief but memorable tenure in Siberia designing and building Naquadah generators. He'd left Canada because he couldn't stand the cold winters and Siberia was ten times worse.
She gave him a tight smile. "No, it's the blueprint to the modified transmission beam."
Her smile sweetened. "Yeah, really."
He rubbed his hands together. "Then what are we standing here for?" Rodney ignored the relief on everyone's faces as Sam led him deeper into the complex. "By the way, I have a favor to ask…"
John became aware again, though he had no idea of how much time had passed while he had remained unconscious. Unfortunately that awareness did not stretch to his physical body, giving him no clues as to where he might be. For all he knew he was in a coma having been pulled out of the sea, and the temporary oxygen deprivation would certainly explain a few things.
His dreams had been vivid, filled with spaceships, alien technology, strange new worlds, and of battles fought to save the planet like he was some hero in a science fiction movie that he had once watched. It was too unbelievable to be real and yet he craved more of the same.
He thought he'd been happy after resigning from the USAF, leaving behind the blood of friends and comrades-in-arms in the dust of Afghanistan for a safer climate. He thought he had been enjoying the sun, sea, and sand, knowing he could fly whenever the mood took him as no one at the airstrip was going to refuse Patrick Sheppard's son permission to take out a helicopter—not unless his father ordered them. He thought he'd been happy surfing the waves by day and cruising the tourist bars by night, picking up the occasional willing body for the evening and stretching it into several more days and nights if the person was only looking for a little holiday fun rather than a life commitment. He'd been married once already and had taken to it badly, perhaps because he'd married for the wrong reason, trying to please his father rather than marrying out of love. Fortunately, Nancy had understood and had let him go without too much of a fight.
After that he'd avoided commitment to everything but his career, until he was given a choice between disobeying a direct order or abandoning a friend in hostile territory.
Rodney could have been the exception, taking John places with a warm reverence in his touch that would have sent fresh shivers of want down John's spine had he been able to feel his body. When he thought back to their first meeting, it now seemed incredible that he had almost passed him by in favor of another more amenable person—but something about Rodney had intrigued him. The memory washed over him, the images so crisp and clear that he felt as if he was reliving the moments leading up to that meeting…
The deep bass of the music throbbed in a steady rhythmic pulse that thrummed through his body like a thumping heart beat, exciting and powerful. The flashing lights played across a crowded floor full of closely packed, gyrating bodies, with the lights occasionally strobing so the dancers' movements turned jerky—an epileptic person's nightmare.
John watched the frenetic dancers curiously as he sipped on a beer containing just enough alcohol content to give him a buzz but not enough to endanger performance. Most were stripped to the waist to reveal smoothly waxed chests glistening with clean sweat. The occasional flash amid the throng caught his eye as the lights reflected off a nipple ring or other metal adornment. It wasn't something he'd ever considered for himself but curiosity had persuaded him to take home one guy who'd got really turned on when John played with his nipple ring. He'd spent a week tempted by the idea of getting one as well. He ultimately decided against it because he had no intention of waxing his chest and the ring would get lost in his chest hair.
It had been almost a week since he'd allowed anyone to take him back to a hotel room or villa, and he wanted a guy tonight. He wanted to feel his cock buried deep in a tight ass, or better still, he wanted to feel his own ass filled. He licked his lips in anticipation, already imagining how the night would progress. He'd let the guy blow him first to take the edge off. Then he'd let the guy fuck him long and hard, maybe spend the rest of the night with a cock buried deep in his ass, and perhaps he'd return the favor later if the guy also liked to bottom.
John always felt this way when he had a flight out to Isla Verde in the morning. Though he loved to fly, that particular journey for the most part, was nothing but blue water stretching from one horizon to the other. It was the type of flight where he could get a little too comfortable and distracted. It kept him sharp on that particular flight—the twin sensations of soaring into the clear blue sky while his ass still burned a little in discomfort, keeping him focused on the world around him.
Not that he had ever let his attention wander too far from his duty in the past, but flying helicopters for Sheppard Industries was far less dangerous and exhilarating than flying through the war-torn zones of Afghanistan where every large rock could be hiding a Taliban with a missile launcher.
As the music throbbed on with the track changing but the beat remaining the same, John stuck to the darker shadows along the outer wall of the nightclub. This was where the older or more body-shy tended to gather like a pack of ravenous wolves as they checked out the younger or fitter guys on the dance floor. Not that he was ashamed of his age or his body—he knew he was in good shape, jogging and working out most days—but he had to admit to having a predatory streak. His eyes strayed over individual dancers to see if any tempted him but in truth, none of them did. He wanted someone different tonight, someone whose conversation went beyond the less than scintillating conversation about Britney Spears and reality television. Sheri, his previous one night stand, had been fun in bed but was so dumb that she had made his brain ache with her stupidity, though he'd tried not to let it show. If growing up in his father's household had shown him one thing, it was how to remain polite and aloof around practically anyone.
Although he wasn't too vain about it, John knew he was a good looking guy so he wasn't expecting to have any trouble picking someone up…or being picked up.
A tall guy with a pony tail sidled up to him, grinning wolfishly. "Come here often?"
John almost rolled his eyes at the terrible pick-up line but had to admit that this guy was more what he was searching for tonight—someone who was older than most of those out on the dance floor, someone perhaps more experienced looking for a long, slow night rather than a ten minute rabbit fuck and then back here for more dancing, or crashing until morning. Not that quick fucks didn't hit the right spot occasionally, just not what he wanted tonight.
He smiled at the man. Not bad looking really, but John had always had that sixth sense about people. His gut feeling told him he wasn't going to enjoy the man's company outside of the bedroom, but for this one night, John didn't much care.
"My hotel's next door…and the bar's quieter."
It was hard to hear the guy over the music but John could read his lips after years spent around noisy helicopters and aircraft as well as these last few months on the nightclub scene. Going to the bar next door wasn't exactly what he had in mind, but some guys were a little skittish about taking a complete stranger straight back to their hotel room, wanting to get to know them a little in a public place first. When he nodded his agreement, he saw the guy's eyes light up with something akin to glee. Of course, there was the other type that liked to show off their prospective bed partners to their friends and colleagues before taking them up to their room, wanting to see the envy—or shock—on their faces.
He nodded to the bouncer on the way out, getting a half smile in return. It always paid to stay on the good side of some people since he never knew when that might pay off, especially when a combination of youth and adrenaline were mixed with alcohol, causing an ugly scene. Outside the club the silence was almost as deafening, with his ears buzzing from the residual effects of the loud music. The guy tried to wrap an arm around his shoulders but John shrugged him off. Sex was one thing but public displays of affection, even of the 'clap to the shoulder' variety, were an intimacy he rarely shared except with good friends. He doubted this guy would ever make the small list.
"Kavanagh. Peter Kavanagh."
Kavanagh held out a hand and John took it, touching skin for the first time and finding the guy's hand clammy. He wondered if he had made a mistake in letting this guy pick him up but decided he could always insist he preferred bottoming on his stomach.
Kavanagh waited, then cleared his throat when he realized John was not going to tell him the rest of his name. The less they knew about him, the easier it was to make a clean getaway if the girl or guy turned out to be less than fun to be around.
The bar was brimming with people, with heated debates going on in various places across the large room; John knew there was some science convention being held over the next three days. Even if he hadn't known about the convention, he might have guessed that many of these people came from academia as they looked like they hadn't stepped out of their offices and laboratories into sunlight in years.
That's when John saw him for the first time, or rather heard him first. His voice drowned out those around him with an air of superiority that had one of the man's companions seething—but the others smirking.
"Just admit it, Farleigh. You were wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. In fact you couldn't get it more wrong if you'd deliberately tried."
Farleigh was grinding his teeth but uttering no denial, eventually turning on his heel and walking away, stiff-backed with anger. The crowd parted to let him through, giving John his first look at the arrogant guy who'd belittled Farleigh in front of his peers. Just from the back alone, John began to salivate, taking in the broad shoulders narrowing down to a perfectly curved ass and strong thighs beneath. The man turned and John found himself staring at a quirkily handsome face with a crooked smile and bright eyes, in a face flushed with victory over an opponent.
He was beautiful; he flushed deeply when his eyes caught John's, pinging John's not-quite-so rusty gaydar instantly. Bright blue eyes dropped almost shyly for someone who'd just been tearing a strip off a professional colleague in public.
"McKay, I'd like you to meet my new friend, John." Kavanagh smirked with pride, obviously delighting in McKay's reaction. "John, this is Rodney McKay, who's under the delusion that he's superior to everyone else in the room."
McKay bristled, chin jutting out arrogantly. "I assure you it's not a delusion."
John should have found it off-putting but instead, he was fascinated, especially when McKay started laying into Kavanagh verbally, with his hands almost as eloquent as the ten-dollar words falling from his mobile mouth. All John could think was what those hands and that mouth could do to his body if they were as talented in bed as they were on the debate floor. He missed a lot of what McKay was saying until he heard McKay mention the KuttanJoukowski theorem.
"The Horseshoe Vortex."
"The simplified representation of the vortex system of a wing, but the model's unrealistic as it implies a constant circulation at all sect…."
"Yes, yes, I know," he turned and stabbed finger at Kavanagh, "But this idiot still thinks…" McKay frowned, turning back to John with both curiosity and pleasure. "You have a Masters in Aerodynamics."
It was John's turn to raise his eyebrows because that was quite a leap of logic even though the theorems pertained mostly to aerodynamics. "Lucky guess?"
The blue eyes had narrowed, taking in John from head to toe, finally fixing on his hair. "I'd say you were a military pilot…but not with that hair."
John noticed people were starting to drift away, all except for Kavanagh who reached for John's forearm but John had lost all interest in the guy. John licked his lips, having not felt a connection like this in years.
"If I buy you a drink, maybe we can talk some more," John asked quietly.
"I have a mini bar in my room."
John grinned. Now that was the kind of guy he liked; one that was quick on the uptake. He felt a little sorry for Kavanagh as he walked off with McKay, but not enough to pass up this opportunity.
His thoughts returned to the present and to the darkness of his current situation where he could see, hear and feel nothing. He and Rodney had talked and fucked half the night away, and sinking into Rodney's beautiful ass early that following morning had been everything he'd thought it would be.
In hindsight, he wished he had asked Mikey to take the flight out to Isla Verde instead; he wished he'd stuck around and waited for Rodney, perhaps even snuck in at the back of the convention room to hear his talk. He wished he was lying in Rodney's bed, enjoying the feel of those clever hands as they mapped his skin. He wondered if Rodney had been disappointed when he never came back that evening, wishing he could see him again.
Where are you now, Rodney McKay?
He felt a rush again, as if his body was flying across a vast ocean and over sheets of ice, weaving through snow-capped mountains before sinking into the Earth. The spinning world came to a halt and he was standing in the alien-looking underground facility with its metallic blue and silver walls. A man stood before him inside an alcove, frozen in place behind a force shield.
Jack, his memory supplied, and he spent a moment studying the older man, remembering the warmth and authority in his mind-voice. Another voice drifted from beyond an archway, muttering away to itself, and John felt a surge of pleasure and hope. He stepped through the archway into a larger room, drifting towards a dais holding a single throne-like chair. A splash of bright orange drew his attention to someone crouching down low, but John didn't need to see the man to know who it was.
Muttering to himself about the incompetence of certain military grunts that couldn't manage to connect a Naquadah generator without an idiot's guide, Rodney made the final adjustment and sat back on his heels. He surveyed his handiwork, nodded his approval as the indicators turned from red to green, before he pushed up to his feet. As he straightened a shiver went down his spine as if he could sense someone watching him—but the Chair room was empty—and a little creepy now that he was here all alone.
After a grueling day traveling to Antarctica, all of the others had succumbed to the necessity for sleep but Rodney had managed to rest during the flight, having secured a business class seat most of the way from Nevada to New Zealand. For once he had resisted the temptation to work during the long flight, determined to be as rested as possible for when he arrived at the Ancient outpost. The others had grumbled about flying in coach but it was either that or wait behind, and none of them had wanted to miss out on this amazing opportunity.
Rodney's only true annoyance was in having to take a plane at all—commercial or military—but the Prometheus had taken quite a few hits during the battle with Anubis's fleet, knocking the Asgard transporters offline. Repairs would take only a few days but Rodney simply could not wait that long to see O'Neill's discovery.
He winced. Technically, it wasn't really a discovery as the Ancient database downloaded into O'Neill's head had told him exactly where to find the outpost but still, it was a new find for the second evolution of the human form—those now walking the planet. Unlike the other site in Antarctica, where they found the second Stargate after O'Neill and Carter were sent there during a power surge, this outpost was intact. Sam and the others assumed that, ten thousand years ago, the only known access would have been by using the Transport Rings; it probably hadn't been buried under a mile of ice then. However, with the other Stargate site almost within spitting distance of this outpost, built into one of the mountains ringing the ice plain, Rodney wondered if there might have been a transport system linking the two locations in the past. Certainly it was something to keep in mind once they started to explore the outpost thoroughly.
He had to admit that he was surprised when Dr. Weir offered him the position as the chief scientist over-looking the exploration of the Ancient outpost. Originally they had offered the position to Sam, especially as her team had been instrumental in finding the place and keeping it in one piece during the attack on Earth. However, she had turned it down in favor of finding a way to restore O'Neill. If Rodney remembered correctly, the Asgard had helped him last time around. Kavanagh had believed he was next in line but Rodney had it on good authority, namely from Kavanagh in a fit of pique, that Sam had put Rodney's name forward as a suggested replacement.
Unfortunately—because he hated being beholden to anyone in the soft sciences—Rodney also had to be grateful that Daniel Jackson had been on the team with O'Neill. Before arriving at the Ancient outpost Rodney had seen images of the interior from photographs taken by Daniel, but they were nothing when compared to seeing the Ancient outpost with his own eyes. Without someone like Daniel, who realized how important it was to preserve such a find, Rodney could only guess what damage might have been caused by the heavy-handed actions of the US military.
As much as he detested the soft sciences, Rodney had to admit that archeology had played a major role since the discovery of the Stargate in Giza. Without Daniel's expertise in ancient languages, it may have taken a lot longer to decipher the symbols around the gate and hence, figure out their significance. Daniel's knowledge of ancient history had also stood the planet in good stead when they started to face down the Goa'uld, many of whom had passed into myth and legend as gods and demons. It gave Rodney a fresh appreciation of the classical stories that his mother had liked to read to him as a child, in contrast to the slightly more modern works that his father preferred, and that had also given him nightmares. Of course they had yet to meet a Gorgon or Hydra, but Rodney was not going to dismiss that possibility as pure fiction after all he had seen and heard so far. If Daniel had convinced him of one thing it was that there was a core of truth at the center of all the myths; sometimes that core was tiny, and other times it became the larger than life, delusional demi-god Anubis.
He caught something moving out of the corner of his eye and glanced around the room warily, half expecting someone to leap out of the darkening shadows.
Even though no one answered, Rodney still felt a little silly for jumping at shadows when it was probably just some marine on guard duty, stomping about in his too-big boots. He took a deep breath and let his gaze wander over the strange dais to the ornate chair standing like a throne upon it. According to the debriefing reports, O'Neill had sat in the Chair and it had activated immediately, yet everything Rodney had tried so far had failed to make the Chair light up the way Sam had described. He had examined the gel pads, looking for pressure points that might be an ON switch, but all of his observations regarding Ancient technology so far—both here and at Area 51—had pointed towards the requirement of a genetic or mental component for activation. Obviously O'Neill had that key component, which was so unfair.
A doctor had come along with them on the flight, intending to study the stasis unit and determine if O'Neill was, well, maybe not all right but at least alive. Beckett was a strange choice as the man was a geneticist but Weir assured Rodney that Beckett knew more than enough to deal with any medical problems arising at this isolated outpost. Apparently Beckett had been working on a theory that some of the Ancients had interbred with the new humans and that this specific genetic marker would be the key to understanding and activating their technology.
At least Beckett's study of the Ancient technology had led him to the same conclusion as Rodney, which meant he wasn't completely incompetent—for a voodoo practitioner. In addition, Beckett believed he had identified the gene in question, using blood samples taken by those who had been able to gain a response from Ancient technology. The geneticist had devised a test to see if that certain gene was not only present, but activated.
After explaining it to him earlier on the flight from New Zealand to McMurdo, Rodney had insisted that Beckett test his blood as well. Although his test had proved positive for the gene, unfortunately it was recessive—switched off. When he considered that both Beckett and Peter Grodin had proved positive on both counts, it seemed even more unfair. Of all the people on the planet who needed that gene switched on, he had to be at the top of the list.
Beyond the dais, the edges of the room fell into deeper shadow as two of the three Naquadah generators powered down for the night rather than waste energy. The latticework that separated the Chair room from the outer room leading towards the transporter ring cast eerie shadows that seemed to flicker and move, though Rodney knew it was just a trick of the dim light and his own increasing paranoia.
Shivering again, he straightened out his fleece before wrapping his arms tight around himself, still sensing another presence. Rodney sighed raggedly, wondering if the source of his paranoia was the sleeping O'Neill, frozen in his stasis alcove for as long as it took for them to find a way to remove the Ancient database from his brain. Rodney's footsteps echoed across the empty chamber as he walked purposefully through the archway to where O'Neill stood like a silent sentinel. He studied the rugged yet handsome face, wondering if the man was dreaming or if entering stasis was like going under a general anesthetic. Rodney reached out and touched the surface of the stasis field, feeling a vibration against his fingertips. O'Neill's expression remained unchanged, his brown eyes unseeing.
Another sound made him jump but he sagged in relief when a soldier came around the corner, head inclining a fraction to acknowledge Rodney's presence. Taking another deep breath and almost chuckling aloud at his own stupid fear, Rodney shook his head and started to turn back towards the Chair room.
Ghost fingers brushed across his cheek and something pressed against his lips, like a chaste kiss.
Rodney froze, his trembling hand reaching up to touch his tingling lips. He stared a little harder at O'Neill but O'Neill had not moved a muscle. A flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye had him spinning on his heel, and he thought he saw a glimmer of messy dark hair and hazel green eyes-but then it was gone, along with the sense of someone watching him, and of someone touching him.
He knew that hair and those eyes. He had dreamed of them often enough over the past days, recalling that one perfect night and the man who had given himself to Rodney so freely, and taken a piece of his heart in return.
He cleared his throat. "John?" His voice seemed to echo around the still chamber.
"Sir? Did you call?"
Rodney jumped as the soldier stepped out in front of him. "Um… No. Just…thinking out loud." He tried to smile reassuringly but feared it had come out a grimace. Waggling his finger, he pointed towards the elevator. "I'm heading topside now so… Carry on…erhm…Sergeant Bates," he stated, reading the name tag.
"Yes, Sir." The sergeant gave him a tight, suspicious smile.
Rodney didn't look back as he made his way to the elevator. Perhaps he needed sleep after all if he was starting to hallucinate.
The strange underground place disappeared, sending him back into the solitude of his own mind and leaving him with only a sense memory of Rodney's lips beneath his own. He didn't know how or why—but he certainly had not anticipated being able to feel. He wanted to go back and touch Rodney again but he felt too weak, as if the process had been mentally draining.
Darkness closed in around the edges of his mind, all other memories beginning to blur except for that single touch of Rodney's lips and the brightness of his eyes. John held onto that moment as he fell back into a dreamless state.
When awareness returned, he had no idea of how much time had passed but he knew where he wanted to be. He wasn't sure how he had done it last time but decided to simply try focusing on Rodney again, wishing he could be with him. It took a while but suddenly, he felt the shift. He felt a sense of moving, of flying and slowly the world reformed around him without the long flight across oceans and ice fields. He was in a small room, barely big enough for a single bed, a desk, a chair, and a small wardrobe; his focus went to the bed instantly and to the bulky shape hidden beneath the covers.
John drifted over and sank down, staring at the sleep-softened features with long lashes brushing against high cheeks. He couldn't resist reaching out and brushing at the baby-soft hair even though it barely stirred beneath his touch. Nor could he resist leaning in to press another gentle kiss against the slightly parted lips. He smiled when Rodney licked his lips in his sleep as if trying to capture John's taste. While he watched, the edges of Rodney's lips curled up into a soft smile and a gentle sigh was followed by the whisper of his name.
John felt something melt inside him. It was his name falling from a sleeping Rodney's lips, and though there could have been a dozen or more other Johns in Rodney's life, John knew Rodney was thinking of him. There had been something special between them, some connection from the first moment they saw each other in that hotel bar, as if they had been destined to meet.
Lying down on the narrow bed behind Rodney was so easy when he had no true substance and he wrapped his arms around the solid frame, recalling the perfect weight of Rodney in his arms from that single night. He pressed another kiss against the feathered hair at the nape of Rodney's neck, wishing he could truly touch this man and simply tried to hold him for as long as he had the strength. Eventually, he felt his strength waning, returning his consciousness back to where he hoped his body was being held. But this time, he felt no fear of being alone. This time he was fairly positive that he could get back to Rodney as soon as he had regained his strength.
Over the next few days it became easier as John learned to project himself straight to Rodney, no matter where he moved about in the Ancient outpost. His time was limited but as he listened to explanations and theories concerning aliens and Ancient beings, gradually he learned more about this strange place and Rodney's role in being there. Also, he knew his own predicament was connected to all of this somehow, or to the people who had built it millennia ago.
He tried to recall his last memory in the sinking helicopter, of watching in fear as the spider cracks fractured the cockpit glass, but then there was nothing until he awoke disembodied.
At least the presence of a digital clock gave him back some idea of how long he had been stuck in this in-between world where he could see and hear but was unable to interact, and it helped him keep track of the passing days.
Two weeks had passed since his helicopter had crashed into the ocean—two weeks of feeling like he was Patrick Swayze's character in Ghost—desperately trying to make contact with the living. He had tried typing on Rodney's laptop, hoping to leave a message asking Rodney to find him and help him, convinced that if anyone could figure it out then it would be this amazing, brilliant, and passionate man. However, although Rodney seemed to feel his touch on some subliminal level, he had no luck with inanimate objects. He could barely even sense the floor beneath his feet.
Instead, he haunted Rodney, enjoying the verbal smack downs when someone did anything Rodney considered stupid, or just simply watched him. He found himself mesmerized by Rodney's clever hands, by the way he illustrated his thoughts with twists and gestures, recalling the way those same fingers had smoothed over his body leaving a trail of fire in their wake that seared him to the core of his being. He watched the way others interacted with Rodney, seeing the begrudging awe on the faces of most, pure loathing on others, and the amused exasperation on those who had seen beneath the arrogance and bluster to the man beneath. John compiled his private list of the good and bad: the marine who had deliberately shouldered Rodney to make him stumble on two separate occasions now, and the Czech who shook his head and muttered profanities with a fond twinkle in his eyes—the one whose name Rodney could never seem to remember. He liked Zelenka, but if he had the power, Sergeant Harris would be busted all the way back to airman basic.
He found Rodney in the Chair room and by the low lights and lack of personnel racing about, it had to be late into the night. He'd found Rodney to be a driven man, determined to push himself in the furtherance of knowledge. The few who cared enough to convince Rodney to take a break must have long since gone to their own beds. The tense set of Rodney's broad shoulders seemed to ease a fraction, and John wondered if that was a subconscious reaction to his presence. As he pondered on this, John sensed the entrance of another and hoped it wasn't Harris looking to cause a problem for Rodney.
The familiar sound of a loading gun had him spinning round to an unfamiliar USAF major standing at battle ready, with his standard issue hand gun held steady in both hands, sweeping the room with his eyes.
"Major?" Rodney's voice was high-pitched in alarm.
"Sir, stand back against the wall."
Rodney raised his arms and shuffled backwards, blue eyes wide and bright with fear, but the major—Lorne—ignored him in favor of sweeping the room again.
"I…I realize the long hours and the isolation can be quite traumatic, and I'm not the best of company…" Rodney stammered, only to be interrupted.
"There's something else in here."
"Here?" Rodney squeaked, looking around frantically as if expecting some three-headed monster to suddenly attack from out of the shadows. "Where?"
Lorne was looking frustrated now, with lips a thin, tight line and eyes hardened as he tried to focus on something elusive—John realized that the only something else in the room was him. Desperately, he stepped forward until the gun barrel was pointing right at his heart, pushing all his thoughts at Lorne.
"Major? Major Lorne? Can you see me?"
Lorne's focus went straight through him, the gun moving away in a circle as Lorne surveyed the entire room.
"Lorne?" John tried moving back into Lorne's line of sight, only to see the gun slowly lower. Eventually, Lorne re-holstered the gun and gave Rodney a slightly embarrassed look.
"Guess it gets a little creepy down here," Lorne offered as a means of explanation, and Rodney's terrified expression gradually faded to annoyance.
"No!" John tried waving his arms, tried pushing at Lorne but his hand passed straight through, though he swore he had seen Lorne flinch just a fraction. "I'm here!" he insisted, but Lorne was shaking his head even as his eyes still flicked towards the shadows in the room, though mostly resting in his direction.
"A little creepy," Rodney stated in a flat tone. "Well thank you for pointing that out Major Obvious. Now, if you've finished freaking me out then maybe I can get back to this important work."
Lorne gave another tight smile but held back from remonstrating with Rodney, still looking a little uneasy. Instead, the major wandered over to where Rodney was recalibrating some strange piece of equipment attached to the weirdly ornate chair.
"So, what you doing, Doc?"
Rodney rolled his eyes and turned to the major. "If I had even the slightest hint that you'd understand more than a handful of words then I'd bother to explain."
Lorne grinned. "I'm sure a super-genius like you would be able to mash it down into layman's terms."
Rodney gave the major the same "why am I even entertaining this idiot?" look that he reserved for most people but instead of getting all offended like many of the others, Lorne grinned even harder. John found himself caught in a quandary between liking Lorne but seeing him as a potential rival for Rodney's affection, especially as he was not in a position to stake his claim on the other man.
Out of fatigue, or maybe surprise at Lorne's reaction, Rodney dropped the tool he was using and Lorne picked it up. The major handed it back, holding on just a fraction longer than necessary, and forcing Rodney to look at him.
"You should go get some rest, Doc. This will still be here in the morning."
Rodney looked embarrassed, as if unused to anyone caring about him. He seemed to deliberate for a moment before nodding tightly his agreement and putting down the tool. Rodney headed for the elevator and, after a moment's hesitation just to watch Lorne's expression to see what his interest in Rodney might be, John followed. He stood next to Rodney in the elevator, deciding against trying to touch his one-time lover in case it freaked him out within the enclosed space. Instead he waited until they were in Rodney's small room, sitting on the edge of the bed to watch Rodney strip down to a t-shirt and boxers. Rodney moved straight through him as he clambered into the bed, shivering even though it wasn't that cold, drawing up the thick, insulating covers. He remained sitting up with the covers pulled up to just under his chin and his eyes flicked around the room.
"You're here, aren't you?" Rodney's eyes went straight past him. "I thought it was just my mind playing tricks on me… Wanting… But Major Lorne… He sensed you too, didn't he? It is you, isn't it?"
"Rodney." John reached out and cupped the defiantly raised chin; he leaned in and placed a kiss on his lips as hard as he was able, desperately hoping that Rodney would feel him and would know it was really him.
Rodney let the cover drop as he reached up to touch his lips.
"John? I…I don't believe in ghosts so… But…" He took a shaky breath. "If it's you?" He straightened further. "If it's you then kiss me again."
Gladly, John thought and put everything into the kiss.
Rodney touched his lips once more, huffing out his surprise before his jaw clenched, and nodding.
"Wherever you are, I'll find you."
Rodney pushed out of the bed and reached for his clothes, tugging them on quickly before racing through the narrow corridors towards the elevator. His sudden arrival surprised the poor Airman who had landed the night watch and Rodney gave him a withering look until the soldier lowered his weapon. With a chagrined expression, the guard recovered quickly and stepped aside as Rodney opened the elevator door but Rodney could see him talking into his radio as soon as the elevator started on its long trip down into the outpost. The journey seemed to take forever.
"I need to find out exactly who you are before I can help you. I need to find out what happened to you." Rodney glanced down at the floor, shuffling his feet in embarrassment. He still felt a little foolish because anyone watching would think he was talking to himself. "I…I thought you'd stood me up. You were so hot and…and I couldn't believe someone so hot would want… I thought you'd stood me up because… I'm sorry, I should have… I should have looked for you," he blurted out and looked back up, wishing he could actually see John. Any remaining doubts were removed when Rodney felt the slightest tingle against his lips, as if John was pressing one or two fingers against them to silence his spilling words. "Yes. Right. Self-recrimination isn't helping anyone."
The elevator stopped and Rodney barely waited for the door to open wide enough before he was racing out. He ran through the outpost towards the Chair room, where he'd left his laptop after Major Lorne had convinced him to turn in for the night. A bright flash of light just ahead caught him off guard and he skidded to a halt, caught between his desire to reach his laptop and his fear of what that light signified. Rodney frowned because the light had been vaguely familiar, reminding him of the Asgard transporter beam used by the Prometheus. Unable to push down his morbid curiosity, he shuffled forward a few steps and when nothing reached out to grab him, he walked cautiously over to the darkened stasis chamber only to find that O'Neill had vanished. The stasis chamber had powered down now that it no longer had any life to support, and Rodney cursed his lack of a radio and the Asgard's bad timing. He turned on his heel and smacked straight into Major Lorne, who grabbed him by the arms to steady them both.
"What's going on, doc?"
Rodney held up a finger. "First… Colonel O'Neill is gone, and as I'm fairly certain it was an Asgard beam that took him. I think you need to contact General Hammond…and Daniel Jackson."
At the first mention of O'Neill's name, Lorne had looked over his shoulder at the stasis chamber. He sprinted off as soon as he realized it was empty, and before Rodney could tell him about the second and, in his mind, more important issue—John.
In dismay, Rodney stared at Lorne's retreating back until Lorne had turned the corner. With a despondent sigh, he glanced over at the now empty stasis chamber, but there was nothing he could do for O'Neill. If the Asgard had finally shown up then O'Neill was in the very best place possible for having the Ancient database extracted from his head-again. If not then there was still very little Rodney could to help him until they knew what enemy they were facing.
What concerned Rodney most was that his sense of John's presence had disappeared almost at the same moment as O'Neill, and Rodney was not one to believe in pure coincidence. As far as he was concerned, things happened for a reason and he was already beginning to wonder if the Asgard—or some other race—had taken John along with the colonel.
But what if he was wrong? What if the events were connected, and yet…not. What if the use of the Asgard transporter in close proximity had triggered something that had affected John's presence here? Perhaps sending him back to wherever he was trapped.
Sitting around patiently waiting for an answer to any question had never been one of Rodney's better traits, especially when it was important questions such as these. He had already deliberated too long when he ought to have started his search for John weeks earlier but, until this evening, he truly believed that this sense of John was no more than wishful thinking on his part—and a fear that he might have tipped slightly over the line drawn between genius and insanity.
Rodney turned away and carried on into the Chair room where he had set up his laptop to monitor a few tests on the Zero-Point Module that O'Neill have retrieved from Proclarush.
It was time to cash in a few markers and find out about the man he had taken back to his hotel room, and possibly fallen in love with, because Rodney couldn't imagine going to this much trouble for someone he barely knew otherwise. Thinking back to that night, he still had only the video feed from the hotel lobby to go by. If he could gain access to that information, then he could run image recognition software against it, courtesy of the US military's contact with Homeland Security. It was still a long shot, but it was all he had unless he could get back to the US Virgin Islands and make personal inquiries.
He quickly called a contact at Area 51 using a highly encrypted service that he had designed himself while he was working on a compression algorithm. The algorithm was still not quite right and would probably take him a few more months yet—if he could manage to spare the time to work on it—but the encryption was the best he'd ever seen, even if he did say so himself. He tapped his fingers against the edge of his laptop as he waited for a response, eagerly opening up the message when it popped up on his screen.
He read it twice but the wording never changed: the hotel had already overwritten the footage, and he cursed himself for being too stubborn and insecure to have asked sooner. His only recourse now was to return to the hotel and ask around the area to see if anyone remembered John.
"What's going on, McKay?"
Rodney whirled round to find Kavanagh almost hanging over his shoulder, trying to view the laptop screen. He pushed the screen lid down.
"Nothing that concerns…" His words trailed off as he looked at Kavanagh curiously, recalling the first time he'd met John.
John had arrived in the hotel bar with Kavanagh that night, dressed in tight black jeans and with a shirt open at the collar, revealing curls of dark chest hairs. Kavanagh had introduced him with a smug expression on his face that had turned quickly to annoyance and resentment when it became clear that John was more entranced by Rodney than Kavanagh.
He stabbed a finger at Kavanagh. "John was with you at the conference."
A sour, haughty expression of disdain crossed Kavanagh's features. "It's a little too late to apologize for stealing my pick-up from right under my nose, McKay." He sniffed and looked Rodney up and down, "Though I'm still trying to figure out how you did it."
"He obviously recognized a far superior…" Rodney bit his tongue, aware that he was alienating someone who might actually be able to give him a clue to John's identity. "I'm trying to find him," he ground out.
Kavanagh's eyebrows shot up and he snorted in derision. "You and one of the richest men on the planet!"
Kavanagh gave him that strange, knowing grin, shaking his head in disbelief. "You really have no idea who you stole off me that night. Three days in the Virgin Islands and you never noticed all the commotion? The front page story in all the papers, or the headline news on CNN?"
"Unlike some of us, I don't have either the time nor the inclination to waste hours on…"
"Maybe you should have made the time, McKay."
Shoving him aside, Kavanagh started typing on Rodney's laptop, much to his vocal objections. He stepped back with a smug smile before turning and walking away. About to remonstrate with him, Rodney glanced at the screen and froze in shock at the image of John staring back at him. He reached out and touched the handsome face, recalling how John had looked with his hazel-green eyes burning with passion, and his kiss-swollen lips parted as he came deep inside Rodney.
Above the photo was a single line: Media Magnate's Son Goes Missing in Infamous Bermuda Triangle.
John felt his mind torn away from Rodney's side, passing across ice and ocean in an instant. Confused, he wondered at the abrupt shift until images began to form in front of his eyes while his mind stretched beyond the Earth's atmosphere. There was a ship in orbit but it was different from the ones that had appeared before, and he felt no imperative to launch an attack against it. Some inner sense was telling him that this was an ally rather than an enemy.
The word came from nowhere and yet from everywhere, offering him blueprint images of the cloaked ship orbiting high above the Earth. For a moment he believed he could sense Jack on-board that ship, and he quickly tried to zero in on the other man's thoughts. Unlike before, Jack's mind was closed off from him. Yet, if he could reach him then Jack might have the means to send a message back to Rodney. Perhaps Jack knew what had happened to John and could help direct a rescue.
He pushed against the wall surrounding Jack's thoughts, finding a tiny crack, but a window opened in space and the ship vanished taking with it his link to Jack. A tactical display swept across the solar system one more time before slowly fading when it found no sign of impending danger to Earth. Exhausted from the strain put upon his mind, John felt the darkness edging in once more and this time he did not fight it. With Jack gone, all John could do was put all of his faith in Rodney, hoping that Rodney's incredible mind could solve John's problem—now he was aware John still existed.
John awoke in the same dark place, uncertain of how long he had been unconscious, but doubting it had been that many hours. Turning his thoughts outwards, he felt no danger in the skies above the planet, having realized that this place must be some sort of defense outpost like the one Rodney was working in half a world away. He wondered if this place had been abandoned at around the same time. The one buried under a mile of ice in Antarctica had needed an operator sitting in a control chair to function, but John had a feeling that this place had been used mostly as an automated defense system until he arrived.
The question was, why was he here at all? Why had it snatched him from a watery grave, and if he had been saved, then what about the countless others who had disappeared in the infamous Bermuda Triangle? Were they here too, locked inside stasis units—waiting years, even centuries—for a rescue to come?
His next thought was to reach for Rodney again, now that he was certain this place was not simply part of a dream or coma-induced nightmare, but some instinct forced him to turn his thoughts inwards to seek answers. Diagrams and system information began to flash through his mind, but one area in particular drew his attention. He narrowed in on what appeared to be power levels, slowly making sense of the slowly decreasing readings.
It took him a few moments longer to realize that it referred to his own condition. His confusion morphed into new information and he recognized when the significant drops in energy had occurred. He had used up so much power just wanting to be with Rodney. If his calculations were correct—and math had always been a strong point with him—then he could barely afford one or two more attempts to go to Rodney before the power would fall below a life sustaining level.
He could see no obvious sign of other people here with him, and had felt only one mind touch his since he awoke in this place—Jack's.
At least this convinced him, finally, that his body was still alive, held in some form of stasis chamber like the one that had encased Jack. However, if he didn't cut back radically on the amount of energy he was consuming then his chances of staying alive until Rodney found him would diminish rapidly. He guessed he had perhaps only four days of power left before whatever system was keeping him alive shut down, and that was only as long as he conserved as much power as possible in the interim. Certainly this explained the exhaustion and the periods of unconsciousness, where the machine or whatever it might be had tried to conserve what little power remained.
He still had no idea of where he was or how he had come to be here, and as each inquiry used a little more of that precious energy, he was loathe to use his increasing understanding of the mental component to the system to find out. For the first time since awakening to find himself trapped in this place, John began to feel afraid, aware that he had only managed to subdue his fear of having been abandoned through his contact with Rodney. The easy option would be to simply slip into a sleep—dormata—from which he might never awaken. But John had never been one to take the easy way out—until he resigned his commission rather than stagnate in Antarctica. Jack had taken the option to sleep but then, from what John could glean from his thoughts, Jack had been given no choice as it was either that or die from an overload of information. Living through the next few days with nothing but his own thoughts for company, like in a self-imposed isolation tank, seemed only marginally better than sleeping. At least while he was aware of the world around him then he could make choices.
Part of him wondered how different his life might have been if he had accepted the reprimand and gone to McMurdo. Would he still have met Rodney? As small as the Antarctic community could get, he had a feeling that he might never have crossed paths with such a highly placed scientist on a top secret military project. He smiled inwardly. Even if they had met, the military regulations would have kept them apart. No matter what happened over the next few days, John would never regret that one night they had spent together—so he couldn't regret resigning his commission either.
His only consolation was that Rodney knew he needed help, and everything he had seen of the man since finding him in the Ancient outpost had shown that Rodney was tenacious enough to search until he found him. All John could hope was that he was still alive when Rodney succeeded.
Within an hour, Rodney had read every newspaper article about the helicopter accident. He found media clips given by representatives of Sheppard Industries and by the Coast Guard, explaining the on-going search and rescue plans. He saw more clips of Patrick Sheppard and his older son, David, telling reporters "No comment" as they arrived in the US Virgin Islands on a private jet. Looking at the images, Rodney could see only a little resemblance between Patrick Sheppard and the son Rodney had known for a single night, concluding that John must have taken after his mother. For a moment he wondered where she might be, but further reading mentioned the tragedy of losing his mother in a car accident at a young age.
Strangely, there was very little known about John except that he had been a military pilot with as many commendations as reprimands from several tours of duty in war zones, and that he had resigned his commission under unknown circumstances.
That should have come as a shock to Rodney because the man he had known for that single night had displayed few of the normal military traits that Rodney had become accustomed to seeing paraded around him. John had slouched, leaning on walls and door frames, and that hair could never be regulation in a million years. Except, Rodney recalled spotting Sam passing through the hotel lobby in uniform as he and John waited for the elevator. Thankfully, she hadn't seen them at the time as Rodney was uncertain how he would have blustered his way through that particular conversation. He'd been so caught up in his own panic that he hadn't really taken note of how John had straightened instinctively, almost standing to attention before making a deliberate effort to ease back into a slouch.
Most of the tabloids speculated that his father had paid off the military to avoid a scandal after his son was caught in an uncompromising position with another man. Having spent a passionate night with John in his bed, Rodney could almost believe it was possible, and that someone placed highly in the antiquated US military would accept such a bribe. However, a quick hack into the USAF records revealed the truth, that John had disobeyed a direct order in order to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter.
On its own, that shouldn't have been a career-ending black mark as O'Neill had made similar choices in the past and he was now a full bird colonel. Of course, O'Neill had also saved the planet on several occasions, so perhaps his black marks had been conveniently swept under the carpet. In John's record it stated that he had been offered either the equivalent of a time-out in Antarctica—ferrying people between McMurdo and the outlying science research stations—or resignation.
John had chosen to resign.
Rodney wondered if they might still have met if John had stuck with the military and been assigned to Antarctica. On reflection, however, the only pilots used so far had been those already in the Stargate program. With a black mark on his record, John was unlikely to be offered that prestigious posting.
Strangely, the tabloids had not even been aware that John had left the US Air Force and had started working as a helicopter pilot for his father's company. Rodney wondered how Sheppard Industries had managed to keep that out of the news. But then he noticed that the younger Sheppards—John and David—had managed to keep a low profile throughout most of their lives.
Only David had graced the social columns in recent years, not that Rodney ever read such drivel. It was hard enough going through research papers submitted by his so-called peers without killing brain cells about what the idiotic rich and famous were doing at various premieres and black-tie parties.
However, seeing people bustling around one of the richest men in the world explained why John had never offered his full name to Rodney, and why he had been so vague when Rodney asked what he did for a living. After all, John was probably one of the most desirable catches on the planet—for his wealth, his connections, and his looks. No wonder Kavanagh had sneered at Rodney for not knowing exactly whom he'd stolen off of him that night. Rodney wondered if Kavanagh had known John's identity before seeing his face splashed across a dozen newspapers the following day. He wouldn't put it past Kavanagh, especially since a lot of government contracts and grants had come via Sheppard Industries in recent years. Rodney had never paid any mind to where the resources and money came from though. He had worked almost exclusively for the US government since they arrested him for building a non-working model of a nuclear bomb in high school.
He winced. Perhaps non-working was a little generous. All it had needed was weapons grade plutonium, which was hard to come by for a kid though he had to admit he had tried.
It meant nothing to Rodney though.
All of the riches and all of the family connections meant nothing because he had not fallen for John Sheppard, son of media magnate Patrick Sheppard. He had fallen for a messy-haired, hazel-eyed, passionate and playful man who had ensnared him with his touch—and that awful braying laugh when Rodney had realized John had a ticklish spot just below his ribs.
Allowing himself a momentary indulgence, Rodney smiled in remembrance of the play fight that had ended with more glorious sex, before casting aside the memory and pulling up a sea chart for the area where they believed the helicopter had gone down. Instead he focused on the problem at hand as he recalled the accounts from the survivors, both written and verbal, of John heroically getting them all into the life raft before the raft was swept away from the helicopter. They had seen the helicopter once more, too far away to make out if John was still inside, and then it had disappeared under the darkness of the heavy seas and rain.
They hadn't seen John since.
Rodney over-laid the chart with the flight plan John had filed before leaving that day, tracking the radio signals from different Air Traffic control towers from the Virgin Islands right across to Puerto Cruz, and finally to the point where the helicopter had simply vanished off the screens at Isla Verde. According to the records, John was an exceptionally talented pilot and yet there was no distress call received, so either it all happened too fast or something had interfered with the radio signal.
An electromagnetic field could have done that.
Despite blinking off the screen, no one in Air Traffic Control had noticed that the helicopter was missing until it failed to reach its destination of Isla Verde forty minutes later. Rodney had a feeling that someone on Isla Verde had lost their job that day, once Patrick Sheppard questioned why no one had raised the alarm the moment his son's helicopter disappeared off the screens.
The Coast Guard had picked up the life raft drifting well off course from their original destination, almost outside of the search area, indicating that the survivors had been in the water several hours before the first of the numerous rescue parties had converged upon them. Rodney quickly worked out how far they might have drifted from the supposed flight plan, but he was hampered by a distinct lack of data such as wind velocity and direction, and the amount of electromagnetic interference at the time of the storm that might have had the helicopter veering off its flight plan without the pilot's—John's—knowledge.
The currents close to the Sargasso Sea were treacherous and unpredictable, and tropical storms blew up seemingly out of nowhere while on other days, it was so calm with not a breath of wind stirring—old sailing ships had been known to get becalmed for days, according to a documentary Rodney had watched as a child.
Rodney recalled standing on the balcony outside the reception hall during the conference, staring across the ocean to where he could see a storm brewing on the horizon. From the timing, it was most likely the same storm that had brought down John's helicopter. It seemed ironic looking back at it now, that he had been more concerned for his own safety should the storm become a hurricane about to hit the island, than for the safety of those who might become trapped within its deadly currents and winds. It had never occurred to him that John might be out there, caught in that deadly storm.
Using his SGC security clearance, Rodney accessed three satellites—including one Russian spy satellite that had been over the area at the time of the storm. He ran the data through several programs, searching for specific anomalies; perhaps he should not have been surprised when he noticed a spike on a waveband that would appear as normal background radiation, easily explained away as sun spots or electromagnetic activity from the storm. Except some of these spikes came before the start of the storm. On most occasions the spike lasted barely a fraction of a second, but once Rodney knew what to look for, he spotted similar spikes at other times—some of them several minutes in duration—and realized that many of them coincided with the start and end of each of John's ghostly visits to him.
It couldn't be a coincidence.
Rodney checked the other surges of energy against known events in the past few weeks. He noticed that the longest spike had occurred when ships entered orbit around Earth, in particular while Anubis's fleet was poised ready to launch a full assault on Earth, and it had only subsided when the fleet was destroyed. The most recent surge had occurred when O'Neill disappeared, coinciding with the arrival of what Rodney hoped was an Asgard ship. Triangulating the data brought him to an area of sea perhaps four hundred miles square, and in the very center of it was Isla Verde.
Gathering together everything he had discovered so far, Rodney hurried back to the elevator with his laptop tucked under his arm. If he was right then there was a second Ancient defense outpost hidden beneath the ocean near that island, and the fact that O'Neill had gone all the way to Proclarush to find a ZedPM with enough power to defeat Anubis meant that the one near Isla Verde was close to entropy.
He cursed the slowness of the elevator. For all he knew, John was already living on borrowed time.
The slowly passing hours wore on John. He had never been the type of person to sit back and wait for things to happen, but it seemed he had little choice now, especially if he wanted to be alive when Rodney found him. The problem was that the long, lonely hours gave him too much time to reflect on the past— particularly on his mistakes rather than on his triumphs.
Scenes of war torn Afghanistan filled his mind, bringing back the sensory memories of aviation fuel, cordite, and blood. He could almost taste the sand that seemed to get into everything, whipped up by the winds that blew across the plains and through the canyons. For a moment he almost believed he was back there, recalling the laughter of friends that morphed into screams when a suicide bomber ran the camp gates, straight into the mess hall as if he had already known where to find the largest concentration of soldiers with their guard down. He hadn't been close enough to get more than a few small cuts from flying debris, but the cries of the injured and dying still haunted his nightmares.
The memories moved on and he recalled the chatter over the radio as his unit flew in formation over Khabour, heading for a med-evac of the wounded during a serious skirmish with Taliban rebels. He recalled telling the others to "Knock it off" just before he heard the shriek of the warning siren as his co-pilot yelled "Incoming!"
"Hold on! Countermeasures launched. Evasive maneuvers."
He blamed himself for the death of two good friends that day—his best friends in this combat zone. He had veered out of the missile's trajectory, countermeasures attracting the heat-seeking missile away from him, but Mitch and Dex had not been so lucky. When they touched down to pick up wounded, a second missile had locked onto them. This time it had been a rocket-propelled grenade and there had been nothing he could do to save them. There had been no countermeasures to launch, only a single Taliban holding an RPG launcher. From his helicopter, still in the air and sixty feet back, all he could do is look on in horror as the other helicopter became a ball of flames and debris on the ground. He turned to see the soldiers who had survived the blast scatter in all directions, only to be taken down by sniper fire. There hadn't even been enough left of his friends to shove into a single body bag, just two more empty coffins to bury at yet another military funeral.
Perhaps it was the impotence he felt while he watched his friends burn that spurred him on to foolishly attempt to save Captain Holland—a man he didn't even really like that much. Holland was a fellow pilot though, and all John had left of his original helicopter unit after losing Mitch and Dex. He disobeyed a direct order that day, taking a helicopter without authorization or a co-pilot, and he flew it into enemy-held territory. All for nothing. He had lost his helicopter, brought down by a lucky shot from small arms fire. Although he had found Holland alive, he had lost him by the time he realized he had been walking them in a large circle—a circle that lead them straight back towards the Taliban. The Taliban had been searching for the wreckage of both downed helicopters, looking for the US pilots to take as prisoners of war.
Holland had died from his internal injuries while they stayed hidden. John had escaped alone. He returned to Kandahar with Holland's dog tags so the Taliban couldn't put a name to the body should they find where John had buried him beneath a small cairn.
The only reason his superiors hadn't thrown him in Leavenworth—why they had given him a chance to stay in the USAF as a pilot—was because some doctor convinced them that he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome Disorder after losing the rest of his unit. McMurdo was supposed to be his rehabilitation—the chance to fly on milk runs while a shrink kept a close watch on him until he was fit to return to active duty in another war zone. His father had offered him an alternative—a flying job in the US Virgin Islands, without any pressure to take on managerial responsibilities. The idea of sun, sand, sea, and flying without the fear of flying bullets and missiles, and dismembered body parts, had been exactly what he needed. It was also a chance to be himself, no longer restricted by regulations that considered him less of a person purely because he liked bedding men as well as women.
He'd spent over a year in that tropical paradise, gradually falling into a pattern of spending lazy days surfing and ferrying Sheppard Industries' guests and employees around when the call came from the flight office.
David and his father had come out a few times and it must have been hard for them to hold back from pushing at him to take up an executive position in the family business. His dad had promised him no pressure though, most likely hoping that he would take on more responsibility on his own accord. John would have—eventually. He would have tired of having nothing but the next wave to challenge him, or the next in a long string of fun-seeking, empty-headed tourists to entertain him for a night—or sometimes more.
Perhaps that was why he had enjoyed Rodney so much. It hadn't just been the sex, which admittedly had been fantastic, but the whole package—the sharp mind and soft skin, the dry humor and even the sloppy, wet kisses when they were both lying boneless and sated. They'd talked softly before falling asleep, about science and math, about the universe. At the time John had known Rodney wasn't telling him everything, that he had his secrets too. For the first time in over a year, John wanted to learn those secrets. He wanted to know all about the brilliant man he'd felt connected to from the moment their eyes met across that crowded bar.
Meeting Rodney had been his salvation in this strange and lonely place. Following him around had stopped John from going insane even if he couldn't touch him the way he wanted to hold him, with both of them feeling only the barest brush rather than the solid feel of hands on flesh.
His thoughts always came back in a circle to Rodney, and how he might never have known the sweetness of Rodney's ass or the brilliance of his bright mind if he had stayed in the Air Force. He had known Rodney for such a short time and yet it didn't feel strange to pin all his hopes of surviving on him. He trusted him, trusted a man he barely knew, and perhaps that was the biggest shock of all after what he had been through in recent years.
Casting aside all the pain, grief, and fear from Afghanistan, he focused instead on Rodney's strong presence in his mind, letting the memory of their one encounter sustain him until he could have Rodney in his arms again.
His attention was caught by a small stream of data, and he watched the figures roll by too fast for a normal person to comprehend—and yet John knew exactly what it all meant. There was a ship known to this defense outpost moving back into orbit—one whose pattern had only appeared in this outpost's system history a few years back, but that had been named as an ally because of the Asgard technology fused with human. Asgard cloaking shields bounced back any normal signals emitted by most technology on the planet, leaving it practically invisible. But the Ancient systems registered it easily. It was the same ship that had fought in the battle against an alien armada, protecting Jack's ship until he could gain access to the weapons Chair in the Antarctic outpost.
John wondered where it had been and where it would be going next.
Convincing Elizabeth Weir to allow him to investigate the strange anomalies surrounding John's disappearance had been surprisingly easy once he had laid out all the facts before her. General Hammond was a lot harder to convince but when Rodney showed him the similarities in the energy patterns from those given out when the Ancient outpost defense mechanisms had engaged Anubis's fleet, even Hammond had to concede that it was worth investigating. Unfortunately, the timing was not perfect. The Prometheus was now back in operation, but the ship had been called upon to assist in a recently planned attack on another of the System Lords seeking to replace Anubis.
"General, I believe time is of the essence here and you have a ship capable of transporting me directly to the center of the anomalies—Isla Verde."
"I can't do that, son. Isla Verde is a privately owned island in the Atlantic Ocean. It's barely large enough to register on the charts, so beaming you down there is going to raise a few eyebrows and throw the secrecy of the Stargate project into jeopardy."
"I've done my research and the island is owned by Patrick Sheppard of Sheppard Industries, who just happens to be the father of John Sheppard, the man whose presence I've sensed over the past two weeks."
"I'm still not entirely convinced this isn't some psychological reaction on your part to…"
Lorne stepped forward. "Sir, forgive the interruption but I've sensed the presence too."
Hammond held Lorne's eyes for a beat and seemed satisfied that he could trust Major Lorne's account at least. It annoyed Rodney that Hammond wouldn't accept his conclusions despite him being a highly respected scientist. After all, this could not be the strangest incident that had passed across Hammond's desk in recent years. Aware that he'd made the mistake of pushing Hammond too hard before, and ended up in Siberia, Rodney bit back on a sarcastic retort.
"General, I'll have a plausible reason for being on the island, mostly because it would be the truth. I'll be offering my assistance in recovering his son."
"I'm sorry, McKay, but that still won't explain how you managed to get on the island undetected."
Lorne stepped forward. "Sir, what about shaving off some time and getting us to the military base on Puerto Rico?"
Hammond drew in a deep breath, puffing up his chest, and let the breath out slowly. "That I can authorize." He turned back to Rodney, leaning in so he filled most of the screen. "McKay, I'm on a tight schedule so you have fifteen minutes to get three of your people together."
"Fifteen! I need longer than that! And I need at least ten people to…"
"Well that's all you've got, doctor. Take it or leave it."
"I'll take it, but if I leave some vital piece of equipment behind then…"
"Then you'd best not leave anything behind. Hammond out."
The screen went blank and Rodney looked at it in dismay. A slap on the shoulder brought his head round fast, twanging the tense muscles in his neck from spending too many hours hunched over his laptop.
"Come on, McKay. Running out of time here. What and who do we need?"
"We? I can have only four people in total and you plan to be one of them?"
"Yeah, unless you have some hidden combat skills should you run into any trouble, or can pilot the helicopter we'll need to reach the island?"
Rodney opened his mouth to disagree, but Lorne had a point. They had no way of getting there except by sea or air, and by helicopter would be the fastest way. Also, they had no idea what they would find on that island, though Rodney didn't think he'd have too many problems from Sheppard Industries. The company had a vested interest in him succeeding in his self-appointed plan to find John. He let out a sigh.
"Didn't think so. So are you going to waste time arguing, or are you going to get your stuff together, doc?"
"Fine!" He turned to find Simpson and Grodin waiting grim-faced behind him and stabbed a finger in Simpson's direction. "You! You're in charge while I'm gone. Don't let Kavanagh touch the Chair or the ZedPM." She nodded, waiting for more instructions. "Get me the large kit and one of the Asgard molecular devices."
She turned and started away at a fast pace only to be brought up short by another yell.
"Simpson, get me that little guy with the wild hair and glasses. Zlinky or Zlanky."
"You mean Zelenka?"
"Yes… Him. Tell him to pack a bag and bring anything he can think of… Spare crystals, whatever." She shook her head as she rushed away. "Grodin, I want Beckett in case we need a medical doctor. OH! And tell him to bring his ATA gene research."
"Any particular reason?"
"No, but you heard Hammond. I've got one shot at this so I'm not leaving anything potentially important behind." He turned to Lorne, mind blanking. "You just…go get your big guns ready, or something."
Lorne gave him a smirk and strode away, already barking orders through his radio. A small hand on his forearm stopped him from following.
"I'll contact Sheppard Industries and see if I can smooth your access to Isla Verde."
Rodney swallowed, and nodded. He hadn't known her long but he knew she had come highly recommended by the President of the United States as a diplomat and mediator. From what he had seen of her management style here in Antarctica, he couldn't ask for better assistance. He turned to leave but her hand remained firm.
"And Rodney? Take care." Her eyes crinkled up. "We need you here."
He felt his cheeks heat at the unexpected praise. "Well, yes. Of course you do."
Fifteen minutes later, they were assembled in the military installation above the Ancient outpost with every piece of equipment that Rodney considered essential, and a few more pieces that might provide of no use at all.
"Doctor McKay, are you ready for transport?"
Rodney glanced around, taking in two sets of bewildered blue eyes and one airman, who could also pilot a helicopter. Zelenka had brought up several cases, and so had Beckett. Lorne had a couple of canvas bags and two cases. If he was not mistaken, one of those cases contained a Zat Gun, used for stunning people though it also had the ability to kill and then disintegrate the body. Rodney hoped it would only be used for the stunning part.
He took a deep breath and spoke aloud, knowing his voice would be picked up by the communications link.
"We're ready, General."
The familiar sensation of dematerialization reverberated through him, tingling through his bones like a bad case of pins and needles. Moments later, the walls of the Prometheus coalesced around them. He blinked rapidly and made a quick check to ensure everyone and everything had arrived with him. Not that he didn't trust the Asgard transporter technology, but it had only recently been repaired following the battle and Rodney wasn't sure how stringently they had tested it since. He noticed that Beckett was looking a little pale and shaken.
"That was awful! I'll be hoping we'll not have to do that again too soon."
"Sorry, doc," Lorne replied. "That was just one half of the trip. Next stop, Fort Buchanan."
Rodney gave a rueful, half smile. It took a little time to grow accustomed to the sensation that was not exactly painful, but certainly a little uncomfortable and disconcerting; he looked across at the technician.
"Ready for transport back down."
Rodney saw her relay the request through to Hammond, and the world faded out again when Hammond gave the order. This time they materialized inside an enclosed area where a nervous looking colonel was waiting to one side. Rodney wondered if the man had known of the Stargate project and its use of alien technology before today, but decided it wasn't his problem to deal with for once. Instead he noticed Lorne pulling himself to attention and saluting crisply, drawing the colonel towards him.
"Major Lorne." The Colonel glanced through the large doors towards a medium-sized military helicopter standing in the open air behind him. "She has a full tank. Bring her back in one piece."
"Yes, sir, and thank you, sir."
Rodney cleared his throat. "Yes, well, thank you, Colonel."
A quick radio call had two soldiers jogging in from a side entrance. "Help them get the equipment stowed on board."
Rodney clambered into the helicopter and supervised the loading along with Zelenka, while Lorne moved straight to the pilot's seat and started reciting some pre-take off checklist over the radio. By the time the last case was on-board, and Beckett and Zelenka were strapped in their seats, the rotor was already turning and picking up speed. Rodney grabbed the co-pilot seat, strapping himself in while putting on the radio headset. He stared ahead nervously as the helicopter started to lift off, but it wasn't like he had never flown with Lorne before, having finally recognized him as the pilot who had taken them to the Ancient outpost a few weeks earlier.
He listened to Lorne's chatter on the radio, informing air traffic control of their status before banking the helicopter sideways in a long, graceful arc, and flying north-east towards Isla Verde. Before too long, luscious green land was replaced by a sparkling blue-grey ocean, capped with white tips on the waves, and Rodney wondered if John had headed out in similar conditions that fateful day, never anticipating the arrival of a Goa'uld scout ship that was in and out of the solar system before Stargate Command could bring the Prometheus on an intercept course. It had been a mistake on Anubis's part, fueling the existing rumors of a gathering armada that was preparing to attack Earth. Rodney assumed it must have awoken whatever Ancient defense system lay sleeping within the deep trench that lay between Puerto Rico and Isla Verde. Perhaps, like a dying battery causing abnormal reactions in what it powered, it had sparked off the electromagnetic storm that had taken down John's helicopter.
"How long till we get there?"
Lorne glanced over. "ETA, thirty-seven minutes."
Rodney nodded, glad the military had given them one of their fastest helicopters since he really didn't want to spend too long above this particular stretch of ocean, especially if the ZedPM—or whatever power source it was using—was at entropy as he suspected. The last small surge had occurred when the Prometheus dropped into orbit but had subsided quickly, possibly because it recognized a friendly ship. However, if the defense station had become unstable, and that seemed very likely to Rodney, then it might only take the arrival of one more unknown ship to set it off again, whether friendly or not. Next time, it might completely deplete its power source, leaving Rodney with little hope of finding John alive.
Rodney barely noticed the minutes passing as he discussed possible plans with the two men in the rear of the cockpit. Zelenka seemed to have a good grasp of the problem as Rodney had hoped, and it left only trying to explain what he knew and had sensed to Beckett.
"My name is Carson."
Rodney frowned because he thought he had actually managed to memorize this name. "I thought it was Beckett."
"Aye! Carson Beckett, and can I call you Rodney?"
Before Rodney could answer, Lorne was on the radio again but Rodney could hear his words over the open channel.
"Isla Verde control, this is MV29-26 on final approach. Do you copy?"
"MV29-26, this is Isla Verde control. We copy. We have you on final approach, ETA 3 minutes. Helipad is secure for landing. Isla Verde control out."
"Well, that was easy," Lorne stated, but Rodney knew Elizabeth must have had something to do with it.
Minutes later, the helicopter touched down and the rotor blades began to slow. Through the cockpit window, Rodney could see a small welcoming committee waiting for them—at least he hoped it was a welcoming committee as they all looked a little grim-faced. Hating all the social niceties when all he really wanted to do was start looking for John, Rodney clambered out and met a striking man in a well-tailored gray business suite halfway across the helipad. The man held out his hand, shouting to be heard above the slowly dying noise of the rotor blades, hair and tie whipping in the downdraft.
"Doctor McKay? David Sheppard. According to Dr. Elizabeth Weir, I believe you've come to help us locate my brother's body."
It was only then that he noticed the tightness in the man's eyes, realizing it had to be a combination of fatigue and grief from a man who had already given up on ever seeing his brother alive again. As he was led back towards the rest of the small party, Rodney noticed another familiar face and knew he was about to meet John's father. He steeled himself, wishing he could sense John beside him right now so he could offer them a modicum of hope. Instead, all he had was his own deep belief that, somewhere inside the Puerto Rico Trench, John was holding on, and waiting for Rodney to find him.
Somehow, he didn't think his belief would be enough for a man like Patrick Sheppard, whose feet were firmly grounded in the known rather than the unknown.
The system came back online while he was dozing and it took John a moment to shake the growing lethargy from his thoughts and focus on the data streaming across his consciousness. It seemed almost second nature to him now, as if his brain had started to adapt to the flow of information passing between him and the machine. Something was on the surface almost directly above the facility, and it was moving in a sweeping search pattern. The system kept it under observation but John could tell that it wasn't considered a threat. It was not the first boat to sail overhead and John wondered if his father had the Search and Rescue teams still out searching for him, if only to bring back a body. It was something his father might do, especially as they had managed to reconcile some of their differences since John had left the US military and taken up a post in the family company.
Strangely, that reconciliation had come about purely because he had left the regulations of the military behind him, and yet coming out to his father had still been one of the hardest moments in his life. He had dreaded seeing disappointment or anger in his father's eyes but was surprised when his father had simply looked at him for a long moment before nodding.
"Yes. I already know," he had said with a heavy sigh, leaving John to wonder how he had found out when John had always been so careful to keep that side of himself hidden. It had been a great relief though, not having to hide any longer from either the military or from his family, and he relished the chance to be himself at last.
The boat made another pass overhead, the search spiral gradually tightening as if the occupants had detected something beneath the surface, making John wonder if whomever was on board had registered the defense facility. That would make sense if the boat contained one particular person—a certain astrophysicist who'd sworn to find him. Even as he thought of Rodney, he felt the system lurch as the dying power source sputtered in response to a hyperspace window opening high above the planet.
An electromagnetic discharge soared upwards through a mile of seawater, stirring it, and charging the air above. John watched in morbid fascination as clouds formed, drawing down moisture from the upper atmosphere, thickening and darkening as the winds picked up speed and the sea began to churn. Once started, the storm began to build of its own accord, reminding him of the storm front that had come out of nowhere only a few weeks earlier, and brought down his helicopter. This time it wasn't a helicopter caught up in the building waves but that small power boat. He could sense Rodney on board now, having become attuned to his presence over the past few weeks. He could feel Rodney's growing fear as the storm overtook a boat that was never meant to ride out such weather conditions, wondering why Rodney would be on such a small vessel in the first place when the military had access to far larger, more seaworthy boats.
The machine was trying to direct his thoughts beyond the Earth's atmosphere but John refused to obey, locking them onto Rodney instead. It took every little piece of willpower he possessed to stop himself from projecting straight to Rodney's side, until a massive wave swept over the tiny boat, turning it upside down. A single figure bobbed to the surface already fifty feet away from the boat as it was hurled away on the next wave. Even with the life jacket, the water was threatening to send the man back under. Another couple of figures were clinging to the boat as it was swept further away but John knew without a shadow of doubt that the lone man in the water was Rodney.
Warnings about critically low power levels flashed across his mind but he couldn't leave Rodney out there alone.
Perhaps it was the proximity to the defense facility, or maybe it was his desperation to be seen, but Rodney's frightened eyes widened when John appeared next to him, staring straight into his own.
"John!" he cried out before coughing as he took in a mouthful of rain and seawater.
John reached out for him but his hand passed straight through with barely a tingle.
"Rodney! You have to hold on. Help will be on its way."
Another wave rolled over Rodney, taking him under. John almost yelled out his despair at not being able to simply reach out and drag Rodney back to the surface, and hold him there safely. Instead, he could only lean in as close as he could once Rodney resurfaced on his own, courtesy of the buoyant life vest. He tried to calm the panicking man even though it became obvious rather quickly that Rodney could see him, but not hear him or touch him. He mouthed his words carefully, though he knew the waves washing over Rodney made it difficult for Rodney to see his lips move.
"You have to hold on!" he repeated as Rodney tried to cough up the mouthful of seawater he'd taken in during the last dunking.
"John! I was…was trying to find you."
"Yeah, I know, buddy," John murmured, knowing Rodney would not hear his words and hating not being able to reassure the frightened man with a touch.
Ten feet away, John could see a large piece of flotsam and he knew it would give Rodney more stability in the water if he could hang on to it, but how to get him there? He reached out with ghostly hands and cupped Rodney's rain and sea soaked face, making him hold eye contact even as the heavy seas battered against him. Gradually he moved his hands, and Rodney turned slowly to follow repeating the movement every time Rodney resurfaced after a wave tried to pull him back under. Once John had Rodney facing in the right direction, he started to pull back towards the flotsam.
Despite the confusion in his eyes, Rodney began to follow, picking up speed a little once he saw where John was leading him. It was exhausting just watching his lover struggle against the high waves in the inflated life vest, and he sighed in relief when Rodney managed to grab hold of what looked like the boat's hatch cover and pulled himself partly on top.
The worst of the storm seemed to be passing but John had no intention of leaving Rodney's side until he had seen him safely picked up. Instead, he drew up close until they were almost touching foreheads. The hatch cover dipped under several times, but it kept Rodney's face above the surface. John could sense the storm subsiding as the driving rain began to slow to a patter, and the intensity of the wind began to drop. He wished he could wrap his arms around the shivering man, or push aside the thinning, wet hair plastered to the tall forehead. All he could do was tell Rodney that he wasn't going to leave him all alone in this vast ocean.
In a voice shaken from the cold, Rodney looked deep into John's eyes and asked, "Where are you? What can you see?"
John shook his head. "Nothing. Just…like a monitor screen in my head. A lot of data flowing across it." He thinned his lips. "Power levels are critical."
The blue eyes widened. "Go. Go back and conserve energy."
"No." John shook his head. "Promised I'd stay until you were picked up."
Rodney was shaking his head this time, jaw tightening and chin rising in defiance. "Go! I can't save you if you're dead."
"And I'm not sure I want to be saved if you're dead!"
The confusion was back and John was almost certain Rodney had missed half of his words.
"Rodney. The island holds the key. An access port of some kind. I can't make it out."
"Isla Verde. The island. Go there." He mouthed the words as carefully as he could, hoping Rodney was reading his lips.
"We've already searched…"
"Search again!" He felt it then—a drag against him—and no matter how hard he fought against it, John found himself back inside the facility with the data streaming across his mind's eye. He tried to go back but could no longer sense Rodney in the water, could no longer sense him at all.
His mind cried out, "Rodney!"
One moment John was a spectral image beside him in the water and in the next he was gone, and Rodney was uncertain whether to be relieved or terrified. As much as John's presence had comforted him, taking away some of the terrible fear of dying alone out in this vast ocean, he knew every moment had been draining energy from the almost depleted power source. Except now he could not be certain if John had returned to the facility to conserve what little energy remained, or if the energy source had finally run out of power, taking John away from him forever. Without the equipment he'd taken on board the boat, he had no way of finding out.
In hindsight, coming out onto the water had not been his greatest idea. But after a few hours of fruitless searching on the island, Rodney had demanded that the Sheppards supply a boat so that he could extend the search out into the Atlantic. He had left Zelenka behind, knowing the other scientist was more than capable of checking out the rest of the island alone using the equipment Rodney had insisted upon bringing with them from Antarctica. In addition, Zelenka also had the assistance of the Sheppards and their people who, though skeptical at first, were willing to accept the recommendation of the US military and allow Rodney and Zelenka full access to the island.
He thought back to that meeting with Patrick and David Sheppard in the Isla Verde manager's office.
"By analyzing and overlaying the data picked up by any satellites passing overhead at the time of the storm, I've managed to reduce the search area considerably."
What he didn't mention was that he'd also used data gleaned from the Prometheus to tighten the search parameters further—the information gathered and stored during the battle with Anubis. He had ended up with an area of ocean that was perhaps only seventy miles square. Knowing what he did about Ancient technology, and their shielding in particular, Rodney believed that the lost facility had to be hidden in fairly deep water in order to avoid detection from any potential enemies entering orbit. A quick study of the maps for this stretch of ocean had revealed that the most obvious deep water area was the Puerto Rico Trench. If he was right, and he had no reason to believe otherwise, then that narrowed down the search area to perhaps only forty miles of open sea with Isla Verde at the northernmost tip.
He pinned the sea chart on a white board, marked out John's flight path in black pen before circling the search area in question in red. The search area was not a great match to John's last known position so Rodney was not surprised to see a frown cross David Sheppard's face.
"And the data pinpointed that area?" He looked unconvinced but Rodney was used to people doubting him.
In defiance, he raised his chin. "Yes."
Patrick Sheppard reached out and trailed a finger along John's planned flight path that seemed to barely skirt the edge of the circled area. The touch was light, as if caressing a baby's cheek, and Rodney wondered if John realized how much his father loved him. Patrick Sheppard sighed before asking, "And you're certain of this?"
"Yes. The electromagnetic disturbances would have affected any electrical or magnetic instrumentation…obviously. John…" He covered the slip quickly. "Your son would have been unaware that the helicopter had drifted off the filed flight plan by as many as fifteen degrees." Rodney let his finger indicate the difference, showing how the helicopter could have slowly curved into the circled area.
Both Sheppards were intensely focused on the map, and on Rodney's finger. Eventually, Patrick Sheppard cleared his throat and turned to his chief executive on the island.
"Get him a boat."
"Yes, Mr. Sheppard."
"I'll pilot it," David stated resolutely.
"And I'm going with you," stated Lorne, and Rodney could tell by the determined look on both men's faces that it would be a waste of precious time arguing with either one of them. All he could do was nod in agreement.
"Fine. I'll go get my equipment."
The boat brought round to the dock by David Sheppard was a medium-sized, sleek powerboat, built for pleasure rather than work. Rodney stared at it for a long moment before edging towards it with some trepidation. He was not a 'boat' person despite spending some of his youth at his grandparents cabin by a lake. He'd preferred it more when the lake iced over in the winter, spending hours skating round in circles with his sister or playing ice hockey with his grandfather.
He edged a little closer.
"Uh uh, McKay." Lorne threw a life jacket at him. "You wear it—inflated—or we don't leave the dock."
"What!" Normally, Rodney would have insisted upon a life jacket but he knew the bulk of the inflated jacket would hinder his attempts to read his scanners and other equipment. Rodney crossed his arms, hoping to bludgeon Lorne with a glare into letting him have his own way. "I'll wear it, but I hardly think its essential that I inflate it until absolutely necessary."
Lorne's eyes narrowed. "Life jacket. Inflated. Or you stay behind on dry land." Every line of his body showed that he was not going to back down on this issue. Rodney gave a huge put-upon huff of annoyance before a counter-argument sprang to mind.
"Fine, but only if you wear one too."
Rodney gave a smug grin, expecting to see Lorne back down. Instead, both Lorne and David Sheppard nodded in agreement and pulled on their jackets too. Defeated, Rodney could only slump inwards as he took the jacket from Lorne's outstretched arm and pulled it on. He pulled at the toggle and the vest inflated.
"Satisfied?" he asked in annoyance
The skies were a clear, azure blue when they left the dock, and the sea was smooth with barely a swell. David steered them straight to the outermost edge of Rodney's search area, and on Rodney's instruction, he followed along the edge of the trench. While he slowly spiraled inwards, Rodney monitored the readings, watching for any spikes in a particular wavelength.
"I think it's here!"
Lorne came over and glanced at the screen. "I don't see…"
Rolling his eyes, Rodney pointed at the almost imperceptible peaks that most would have passed off as background radiation but Rodney knew better. If he was right then they were almost directly above the Ancient facility holding John captive.
That was when disaster struck.
The storm had come up out of nowhere, overtaking them so fast that Rodney could easily understand how John could have been caught out in a similar one despite his military record stating that he was an exceptional pilot. This far out to sea, and with fuel running low, John would have been given no choice but to push on through in the hope of reaching the safety of Isla Verde. Rodney's calculations of the helicopter's fuel consumption had confirmed in his own mind that John would have already flown too far to turn back. Unfortunately, John would not have realized that his heading indicators were all wrong, leading him away from safety instead of towards it.
Though it had a lot of speed, the powerboat could not outrun the sudden storm front building fast on the horizon all around them. Neither was the powerboat built to handle waves that towered to at least thirty feet by Rodney's estimation. Rodney had tried to hold on tight but when the boat flipped over on one huge wave, he was thrown high into the air. In hindsight, Rodney was glad Lorne had insisted on the life jacket as he knew he would have stood no chance at all without it. It had kept him more or less afloat, and even though the twenty foot waves had pushed him under too many times to count, the life jacket ensured that he bobbed back up to the surface like a cork.
By the time he surfaced that first time, he could see no sign of the boat at all. Instead he found John, or rather, John found him.
John was as hot as he recalled from that first night, with messy dark hair, soft kissable lips, and an elfin-shaped face bordering on beautiful. He reached for John as the waves pounded against him, almost sobbing every time he was dragged under, wishing he could feel John's touch. He focused on his lips instead, and on the shape of words that offered promises that John could not afford to keep—that he wasn't alone, and that he would not die alone—aware that every second brought John closer to death too.
In a blink of an eye, John was gone.
His thoughts returned to his current predicament, drifting alone in the ocean with only a small hope of rescue. The sea temperature wasn't so low that he feared imminent death through hypothermia, nor was it so rough now the worst of the storm had passed. Yet all Rodney could think about was John, terrified that John had sacrificed the last of the facility's power just so he could fulfill that mouthed promise to be with him to the end.
He realized it was selfish of him but, in his panic, he had forgotten all about Lorne and David Sheppard. They had been in the boat with him right until he felt it lift beneath them, and even though the storm had started to subside, he could still see no sign of the boat or any wreckage. Only now when he believed him lost forever could Rodney admit that he had liked Lorne. Not in the same way that he had liked John, but Lorne had been more intelligent than the average airman—far more intelligent.
The familiar tingle was muted by the numbness of his cold limbs, but Rodney recognized the sensation as he was caught up in an Asgard transporter beam. He was relieved when the walls of the Prometheus formed around him. Several people rushed at him, pulling at his clothes and stripping him down with an efficiency that would have made him squawk about the indignity if he hadn't been too cold and tired to care less. A thermal blanket was wrapped around his naked body and he barely flinched as a warm saline drip was attached.
It took a moment longer to notice that he wasn't the only recipient of this treatment, watching through exhausted eyes as Lorne was lifted onto a gurney under mild protest that he was fine. A third man joined them and Rodney recognized John's unconscious brother. All of them had made it.
He closed his eyes in relief for just a second, and yet when he opened them again he found himself in an unfamiliar room that held the too familiar scent of antiseptic. Panic struck him and he surged upwards only to find hands forcing him back against the pillows.
"It's okay, doc. You're safe. We're all safe."
"Lorne? How long?"
"About an hour since we got picked up. The General had us beamed straight down to the military base hospital on Puerto Rico for obvious reasons." Lorne inclined his head towards the other occupied bed where David Sheppard slept with a light bandage around his head. "He has a mild concussion so we still have a case for plausible deniability."
Seeing David sharpened Rodney's thoughts, recalling John's last mouthed words. He struggled again but this time Lorne helped him to sit up. "I need Zabrinski."
"Zelenka is still on the island."
"Yes. Yes, Zelenki," he stated impatiently. "I need to talk to him, now."
Alarms were going off all around John—their silent messages flashed through his mind with rapid succession warning him of the imminent collapse of the protective shield around the defense facility. He watched as a blueprint of what he suspected was the facility sprang to the forefront of his mind. Small sectors began to turn red as the yellow outline shrank inwards. John realized the facility was sacrificing part of itself to preserve what little energy remained. It was closing in around what he suspected was the core, where his body was being held in some form of stasis.
More symbols flashed across his mind and John easily recognized a countdown sequence. With an ease that few knew he possessed, he converted the figures from Ancient numerals to hours and minutes, temporarily shocked to realize he had less than eight hours before the total collapse of the shield. He focused on the status of his body—uncertain if he ought to be relieved that the weight of the water above the facility currently being held back by the force field—would crush him long before he suffocated through lack of oxygen.
Seven hours and fifty-three minutes he thought, fighting off a mild panic attack. Only Seven hours and fifty-three minutes for Rodney to find him before it was too late.
Patrick Sheppard accosted them as soon as they arrived on the island on board a military patrol boat that just happened to be in the area when the call for search and rescue assistance went out—it had pulled them out of the water. At least that was the official explanation for how Rodney and Lorne had returned to the island so quickly. In reality, they had transported onto the patrol boat from Fort Buchanan via the Prometheus. Sheppard ordered them into the manager's office, telling everyone else to leave and shutting the door behind them so they could talk in private.
"Where's my son?" he demanded.
Lorne answered smoothly, "Your son was airlifted to the military base at Fort Buchanan. He has a mild concussion and a few scrapes, sir."
Rodney noticed Patrick Sheppard visibly relaxing, with the tension flowing out of him as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Even Rodney was not immune to the fact that this man already believed he had lost one son and had, most likely, been dreading the loss of the second under similar circumstances. It also made him realize that as rich and powerful as he was, Patrick Sheppard had no instant access to some high ranking officer in the Pentagon holding the necessary security clearance.
"A second helicopter is currently on route with your son. They should arrive within the next half hour."
Sheppard straightened, all vulnerability falling away as he took in both Rodney and Lorne. "I thank you for your assistance, but I cannot allow anyone else to be placed in danger just to recover the… body… of my son." His voice broke a little at the end and if Rodney had not already been a little attuned to the man's grief, he might not have noticed. "My people will assist in your departure."
Patrick Sheppard raised both eyebrows in shock at Rodney's outburst, most likely unused to having his orders defied.
"No," Rodney repeated. "I'm not prepared to give up on your son." He had already sent Zelenka all the data he recalled reading off his instruments before the powerboat gotten caught up in the storm, hoping it would narrow down the search for a way into the defense facility.
The man's eyes hardened. "There is a great difference between giving up on the dead and giving up on the living, doctor." He straightened. "One of my sons is…dead, and the other almost died today."
"A few more hours. That's all I'm asking."
Sheppard tried to stare him down but Rodney refused to be intimidated by this man, not when he knew there was still hope of finding John alive—even if that hope was diminishing with each passing minute.
"Rodney! I have found it!" Zelenka burst into the office with Carson right behind him, their abrupt arrival breaking the stalemate; Rodney dismissed Patrick Sheppard from his mind immediately.
"What? Where? Show me!" Rodney made grabby motions and snatched the tablet out of Zelenka's hands. He quickly scrolled through reams of data before staring straight at Zelenka in excitement. "If my calculations are correct then…"
"It is in the south-east corner…"
"Underneath the main complex."
"What is?" Lorne asked.
Rodney turned to him, aware that he was grinning maniacally. "The way in."
"Way in to what?" Sheppard asked and Rodney cut his gaze across to Lorne, having forgotten Sheppard was still present. He winced and hoped the Major would offer up the necessary explanation before Rodney did something incredibly stupid and accidentally let Sheppard in on the biggest secret of the century.
Lorne sighed and pulled out his radio, tapping it twice. "Sir, we have a situation."
Rodney left Lorne and Sheppard in the office and hurried off with Zelenka to the closest point to the hidden control room. No more than ten minutes passed before they were joined by Lorne and a very highly agitated Patrick Sheppard.
"My son? John?"
Rodney opened his mouth to answer but Sheppard cut in.
"I spent a lot of time being angry with him recently. I…I disagreed with his decision to join the Air Force and I was not…" He took a deep breath. "Not very understanding when he admitted he liked…" Sheppard cleared his throat, "That he liked men as well as women." He sighed again, raggedly, his voice becoming softer with remorse. "I threatened to disown him but David…" The words trailed off into an uncomfortable silence. "Is my son still alive?"
Rodney stared hard, seeing desperation and the kindling of hope in the older man's eyes. He wasn't good in this kind of situation, knowing he could offer only probabilities rather than guarantees. Eventually, he stuck with the truth, letting Sheppard draw his own conclusions.
"As of one hour ago, yes."
It took him almost an hour but once he and Zelenka had figured out the frequency for the force field cloaking the surface access room, Rodney began working on taking it down. He already knew from past experience that the Asgard transporter beam could not function through it. He was still surprised by that revelation as he would have thought a race as technologically advanced as the Asgard would have solved that problem by now. He suspected that it was simply another case where the Asgard were holding back on sharing certain aspects of their technology, believing the new humans — the Tau'ri—were too young and immature to handle all of it.
As the force field began to collapse, Rodney wondered if the Asgard realized that he had already found a way to breach those same force fields, making their reason for withholding that particular technology worthless. Given another few months of experimentation, and Sam's assistance due to her greater familiarity with the Asgard technology, Rodney hoped to crack that transporter problem for himself anyway.
He stepped back and grinned as the hand-held scanner revealed the room lying beneath what had appeared to be solid rock until a few moments earlier. He had several options open to him now. He could hunt around in search of the concealed door way, request a team of engineers to cut their way through the layers of rock to the inner chamber, or have the Prometheus beam him and the others inside directly. Rodney knew the first option could be just as time consuming as digging their way in, depending on how cleverly the Ancients had hidden and protected the entrance, or he might find it in minutes but with no idea of how much time John had left. Rodney decided it would be better to leave Zelenka looking for the entrance while he took a look at the interior.
"Zelenki," he ignored the name correction through Zelenka's gritted teeth, "Keep searching for the way in. And Major?" He snapped his fingers until Lorne had handed him the radio. "General? I need a site to site transport for three to the coordinates I'm feeding to you now."
Carson startled, realizing he would be one of the three as Patrick Sheppard had gone to meet the helicopter bringing back his son, David.
"Are you sure, Rodney?" Carson stepped forward, frowning. "What if we materialize inside a console?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. "Do I look suicidal to you, hmm? We're not exactly transporting blind. The coordinates are for a large open area almost one hundred feet directly below where we're standing."
Hammond's voice came through the radio, "Permission given and coordinates received, doctor. Ready to beam on your mark."
"Right. Lock onto Beckett, Lorne, and myself, and transport in three… two… one."
The Ancient walls in nacreous blues and greens coalesced around them. Intricate patterns adorned the walls and ceiling—and, once again, Rodney wondered if those patterns had some relevance or were mere decoration. He snapped his fingers at Carson.
"I'm a doctor, not a bloody cameraman."
"Yes, yes, Bones. Pictures. Now."
"You know, you can be truly unpleasant, Rodney."
"Oh, I'm sorry," he retorted sarcastically. "I didn't realize a sunny disposition was a requirement for, oh, saving someone's life?"
"I'll remember that during your next physical. I believe you'll be needing some vitamin shots," Carson sent back and Rodney paled a little, suddenly remembering why he tried to avoid irritating certain members of the medical profession.
"Hippocratic Oath," he shot back testily.
"Aye, and they will be for your own good."
Rodney huffed and walked away, heading towards the main room where three consoles circled what he believed could be a transporter. He gave another hard sigh when he realized the consoles would need to be initialized before he could work on them.
"What now, Rodney?"
"Please?" Carson gave him a defiant look.
Ignoring the snort from the Major, Rodney said through gritted teeth, "Please touch here."
With a smug grin, Carson walked over and placed his hand on the console and Rodney watched as he concentrated hard. It flickered into life reluctantly, but allowed Rodney access to the database. The readings indicated that there was sufficient breathable air in the facility down below but he was horrified when he read the status of the shielding. It had contracted to surround only the most essential part of the complex and by his estimation, the shield would collapse completely in less than seven hours.
Feverishly he tried to determine the correct sequence of commands to activate the transporter, but none of the controls would work for him. Cursing his lack of the ATA gene, Rodney glanced over his shoulder.
"Carson. I need you to follow this sequence."
He showed Carson what to do but the console still refused to cooperate. With dismay, Rodney realized they needed someone with a stronger expression of the gene but the only person he knew about was Jack O'Neill. Unfortunately, the Colonel had disappeared off the planet with the Asgard to who knew where. Leaning over the console, he dropped his head onto his arms. He was so tired, drained by the frantic search and from the dramatic events of the day. They needed Jack O'Neill but they didn't have time to find him, and he had no idea what to do next. All he knew for certain was that he didn't want to go back up top and face Patrick Sheppard with no answers.
Sheppard. The thought came in a flash and he straightened. It occurred to him that if the Ancient defense facility would allow only someone with a strong expression of the gene to access it then John had to possess that gene. Yet, if the ATA gene was hereditary, as Carson believed, then maybe John's father or brother possessed a strong expression of the gene too.
He turned to Lorne. "Get the Sheppards down here."
Lorne raised both eyebrows. "Telling Sheppard about the Ancients is one thing but the General's going to need a good reason to reveal all the rest—the Stargate, Asgard…Earth spaceships."
Rodney rolled his eyes, hating all the secrecy surrounding the project, especially as the older Sheppard had been given the highly abbreviated version concerning the Ancients. The man was not stupid and had to realize there was a lot more that he wasn't being told.
"The only known access to that defense facility is a transporter beam, and that only works for someone closer to being an Ancient."
Lorne nodded. "Like Colonel O'Neill."
"Which means?" Rodney prompted.
"John Sheppard is like O'Neill… and his father or brother may also carry the gene."
Rodney grunted his approval. "There's hope for you yet, Major."
Lorne gave a twisted smile as he clicked on the radio and made the call to Hammond.
John could see them in the control room above and he wished for sound, wanting to hear them too. His wish was granted as the sharpness of Rodney's voice cut through the silence.
"There's hope for you yet, Major."
He felt a stab of jealousy at the warmly indulgent look Rodney threw in Major Lorne's direction as the Major started speaking on his radio. He wanted to be the recipient of that indulgence—wanted to be the sole focus of Rodney's attention. As Lorne turned away, John fixed his gaze on Rodney and watched as the agile fingers danced over the control panel. He could see the frustration building behind the sharp, blue eyes.
"Bring Zelenki with them. There's no point of him working on the door when we're already in here."
A flash of light drew him to the arrival of three new figures, and John's thoughts momentarily blanked in shock when he recognized his father and brother. Both of them were looking around the control room in a mixture of disorientation and awe, looking to Rodney for answers.
"Ah, you're here. Put your hand there."
Confused, his father stepped forward and placed his hand on the console but nothing happened. Rodney sagged a little and pointed to David. "You try."
Again, nothing happened, and the devastated look on Rodney's face told its own story.
"Must have been through the mother's line," Carson murmured, a hand dropping onto Rodney's shoulder.
"What does he mean?"
John watched as Carson took his father and brother aside, his thoughts turning to memories of his mother. Friends of the family had always remarked he'd taken after her, with the same facial features and dark hair. His ear shape and his eye color was hers too, and John had often wondered if the reason why his father had found him so difficult to be around after his mother's death was because he was a constant reminder of the wife he had loved and lost.
In contrast, David had always looked and acted like a Sheppard, with the same square jaw and physique as their father.
Now it looked as though the similarities—him to his mother and David to their father—went as deep as their DNA.
"There has to be a way." Rodney straightened, jaw hardening with resolve and John had a feeling that no one was going to like what Rodney said next. "Carson. Give me the gene therapy."
"Rodney, it's not FDA approved. I've only tested it on mice so far. It'll be a few years before it's ready for human trials."
"Oh yes, and John Sheppard has so much time to sit around twiddling his thumbs while the FDA deliberates on pulling its thumbs out of its collective ass. We both know it's highly unlikely it ever will be approved." His crooked lips twitched upwards. "Not unless they declassify the Stargate program." He stared hard at Beckett. "I've read your research. It could be several hours before it takes effect and John Sheppard has only hours left, not years. Give me the therapy."
"I've no way of knowing if it will even work, Rodney. Less than fifty percent of the mice exhibited any changes in DNA during the test phase. Since mice cannot have the ATA gene, all I can test is for non-desirable mutations…"
"And there were none following the latest batch of tests."
"None that have come to my attention as yet. Changing your DNA could break down your cell structure, like a virulent form of cancer. Or it could make you impotent, like the results from a cross between some close species."
"I made enough donations to the sperm bank during my poverty-stricken graduate days, and have no intention of rearing any of the brats personally."
John could see Beckett crumbling beneath Rodney's determination, most likely because he was suffering against the same frustration of seeing his life's work held up by red tape. He saw the exact moment when Beckett gave in, watching as acceptance turned to excitement as Beckett opened his case and extracted a small vial and hypodermic needle. He strapped Rodney's arm, letting the vein bulge.
"I'll be using a mouse retrovirus to deliver the missing gene to your cells. You might feel a few side effects—dry mouth, headache… the irresistible urge to run on a small wheel," Beckett gave a tight smile and John realized he was trying to lighten the mood.
"Oh, very funny."
The needle slid into the vein easily and Beckett depressed the plunger, forcing the retrovirus into Rodney. He withdrew the needle and placed a wad of cotton wool on the puncture wound before bending Rodney's arm at the elbow.
Lorne stepped forward. "Doc, you said it was less than fifty percent effective, and it'll be a few hours before we know if it has taken with McKay."
"Aye." Beckett frowned.
"Then give me the therapy too. Doubles the chances of it working on one of us at least."
Beckett nodded and quickly injected Lorne.
"And for me too," stated Zelenka, stepping forward.
David Sheppard shrugged off his father's hand on his arm. "Wouldn't I be the better candidate, especially as I'm related to John? Oh, and in case you're interested Doctor Beckett, I've already got two kids and never planned on having three."
"David, I don't want you to do this."
"Dad. He's my baby brother. I'm not gonna stand aside and let strangers take all the risk when I might be the only one who can save him."
Perhaps there had been a time when John resented Dave's interference, finding him too overbearing while they were growing up. Now he could see the truth—that all Dave had ever wanted was to protect him, just like any big brother would do.
"Then maybe I should have this therapy too." John's father pulled off his jacket and began to roll up his sleeve.
If John had a physical presence, then he knew he would be feeling choked up with emotion at this moment. He and his father had never quite seen eye to eye on anything, not even when he was a child. After his mother died, every decision he made seemed to be the wrong one according to his father. He'd chosen MIT over Harvard, Math and Aeronautics over Business Studies, and the US Air Force over a junior managerial position in his father's company. Even the reconciliation following his decision to resign from the Air Force had been short lived. Not long after arriving in Charlotte Amalie, some small local newspaper ran a story speculating on whether his father had paid off the military rather than see him court-martialed under the DADT regulations. The reporter had come up with the story after John was seen leaving a nightclub with another man, kissing and touching intimately, but the story had died quickly. John's father had dealt with it in his usual manner—by buying out the newspaper. John remembered the heated words between them that had followed—words of disappointment, of disgust, shock, and of his own anger and bitterness at this latest display of non-acceptance for who he was. David had intervened, somehow always managing to say or do the right thing to defuse the anger between John and their father before the rift between them became too wide.
They had tiptoed around each other for the past year, acknowledging birthdays and holidays but making no real effort to be in the same house at the same time. Now he watched as his father stood beside his brother, ready to take an experimental therapy that could do them harm, and all for him. He didn't want them to risk themselves—didn't want Rodney to risk his life either—but he couldn't stop them. Instead he had to believe in Rodney, and in Rodney's faith in his friend Beckett.
John watched as Beckett gave Lorne, Zelenka, and his brother the gene therapy, but Beckett paused when he reached John's father, placing a hand on the older Sheppard's arm.
"I don't have enough of the retrovirus with me and there was a far greater chance of it working on your son than on you… if the gene has come down through the mother's side of the family."
Patrick Sheppard nodded and stepped back but the significance of his offer had not diminished in John's eyes despite his father not being able to see it through.
"So what happens now," asked Lorne.
Beckett sighed. "We wait."
Rodney huffed. "Well, while you're sitting around waiting for a modern-day medical miracle to happen, I'm going to make sure there isn't another way in just in case this," he raised his arm, "Doesn't work." He snapped his head round. "Zelenka. You're with me."
Zelenka raised both eyebrows and smiled as Rodney strode off towards the far console, shaking his head. "Finally, he gets it right."
Warmth suffused John as he watched Rodney roll his eyes at the remark, wondering if Rodney really was that bad at names or whether he simply liked to give an impression of not caring about his peers. John guessed it was probably a little of both. Still, it made John smile, especially since Rodney had gotten his name right from the very start. If… No, not if but when he got out of here, he was going to make sure Rodney never had the chance to forget, already imagining giving him mind-blowing orgasms that would have Rodney shouting out his name as he came.
All he had to do was sit tight and wait for Rodney to find a way to bring him home.
The hours crawled by far too slowly for Rodney's liking even though he tried to keep busy, learning everything he could about the installation nestled near the bottom of the Puerto Rico trench. Something was using the power up a little faster than he would have liked, and he wondered if that might be the stasis unit keeping John alive. He had seen similar, though admittedly lower, power usage readings from the one in Antarctica that had held O'Neill. In which case, he was certainly not begrudging the expenditure.
The first inkling that something was happening to him came when he saw the faintest blue glow come off of the small Ancient cube clasped in his hand. O'Neill had identified it—during his latest incident with an Ancient database repository overload—as a unit for the storage and display of holographic images. He stared at it, hardly believing that he had been granted one of his greatest desires outside of having John back in his arms.
"Carson! It's working!"
He held the device up in triumph, though quickly became annoyed when Carson rushed over and began to fuss over him, taking his temperature and drawing even more blood when he obviously had little to spare since Carson seemed to have vampiric tendencies. Lorne took the cube off Rodney and grinned too, diverting Carson's unwanted attention away from Rodney to himself as the cube continued to glow faintly.
Rodney took advantage of the distraction to step up to the console, feeling a hum growing in the back of his mind as he interfaced with the technology with an ease previously unknown. Intuitively, he knew exactly what to do and what to look for, drawing up hidden information and confirming that the key sequences he'd tried earlier were in fact correct. In addition, it proved that the problem in accessing the transporter system had not been solely the weakness of Carson's gene compared to John's or O'Neill's. Even though Rodney's gene was still quite weak—requiring a few more hours for the therapy to affect every cell in his body and hopefully growing in strength as it did—he knew he could activate the transporter right now. He had always suspected that the mental component was a major factor in operating Ancient technology and this proved it. Although a brilliant medical doctor, Carson's confidence with non-medical systems bordered on pathetic. Simply put, Carson was too afraid to wrap his mind around the more intricate operations, or perhaps he just couldn't follow the logic paths with the same precision as Rodney.
"Doctor?" David was holding the faintly glowing cube now and Zelenka looked disappointed when it was handed over to him and instantly went dark.
Rodney straightened at the console. "I can operate this."
"Don't you need to give it a wee while longer, Rodney?"
"No. We don't have the time to spare. Zelenka, Lorne, you remain topside while I…"
"Not happening, McKay," Lorne stated.
Rodney sighed heavily.
"While I realize you have this overwhelming concern for my personal safety Major Lorne, and quite frankly, I couldn't agree more. I am a very important man after all. However, I need someone to stay here in case of the infinitely improbable chance that I run into problems in the facility below." He waved towards Zelenka. "Zelenka isn't showing any signs of having the gene so someone is going to have to stay with him to operate the console and bring us back if the return mechanism below is damaged beyond repair."
Lorne gave a tight smile. "If that's the case then maybe Zelenka should go and you stay here."
Rodney blinked in shock. "What! No! I need to go as I'm the only one even remotely capable of bringing him out of the stasis unit…"
Zelenka bristled. "I would be more than capable…"
"Gene, Zelenka," Rodney stated bluntly, and saw Zelenka reluctantly concede that Rodney had a point. Without the gene, Zelenka would not be able to operate the technology below, if it even allowed him to transport down in the first place. Rodney had already figured out that some Ancient technology could be used by anyone with or without the gene once initialized but other technology, especially connected with defense or security, required the gene at all times.
He continued. "And I need Carson with me in case John is injured."
Rodney sighed, letting the tension drain away as he rubbed a hand over his tired eyes. "Look, Major. We don't have time to stand around arguing. The clock is ticking, and your familiarity with Ancient technology in Antarctica, even if you couldn't operate it at the time, makes you a better choice to stay behind and help Zelenka than…" He pointed his thumb over his shoulder at David Sheppard.
David's face scrunched up in irritation in the same way John's had when Kavanagh had tried to possessively pull him away from Rodney that night in the hotel bar.
"I take it you want me to go with you, so what do you want me to do, McKay?" David asked.
Rodney walked over to the corner of the room where all the equipment had been carried in and stacked during the past three hours. He grabbed a large, heavy box and shoved it at David.
"I'll need my hands free."
David tested the weight. "What is it?"
"Possibly the difference between life and death for all of us, John included," Rodney stated, aware that he sounded melodramatic—but in this instance, it might possibly be the truth. He had no way of knowing how the arrival of three more people would affect the power drain in the defense facility. Seeing David's continued confusion, he added, "It's a Naquadah generator with the equivalent output of a nuclear reactor capable of powering a small city."
"In this box?" David looked extremely dubious so Rodney raised his chin defiantly and stared him down.
"I designed it myself," he preened.
"Yes, yes, you are great designer of awesome power… which is needed in facility below," Zelenka added.
Rodney blinked rapidly. "Yes. Wasting time."
He moved to the console and began laying in the sequence of commands, looking up in bewilderment when everyone was still standing where he left them. "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you expecting a formal invitation?" He snapped his fingers and pointed at the central, ornate, triangular-shaped floor panel that was surrounded on all sides by the three consoles.
Carson grabbed his medical kit while Lorne helped David stack the necessary equipment onto the transporter panel. Zelenka came over to Rodney and watched carefully over his shoulder as Rodney input the final commands, hopefully committing the sequences to memory in case he needed to have Lorne bring them back.
"Major?" Lorne looked up from where he was discussing something with David. As Rodney watched, Lorne handed over a sidearm before stepping away to join Rodney at the main console. He answered Rodney's silent question.
"Mr. Sheppard has had firearms training," he offered up by way of explanation—though both of them knew that it was one thing to fire random bullets at a paper target on a firing range and another entirely to shoot at a living enemy. Not that Rodney expected anyone other than John to be down there after ten thousand years. Rodney pointed at a square of light glowing green on the console.
"When I say so, place your finger here and think, transport."
Lorne nodded tightly, and Rodney could tell he was still uncomfortable at the thought of sending Rodney off alone even if he had just armed David. Patrick Sheppard was saying his own goodbye to his son, hugging him.
"Bring him home," he said softly, and David nodded. He stepped up beside Lorne as Rodney took his place on the transporter panel, his face tight with worry. Taking a deep breath, Rodney made a mental check of everything and everyone, ensuring it was all in position before looking directly at Lorne.
"Rodney?" He glanced across at Zelenka, tensing as he wondered what he could possibly have forgotten. "Good luck."
Surprised by the sincerity clearly written across Zelenka's face and in his tone, Rodney nodded his acceptance before glancing back to Lorne.
He saw Lorne's finger move over the transportation command and took a deep breath as the world blanked out for a moment, plunging him into unrelenting darkness.
"I hope somebody remembered to bring a bloody torch," stated Carson off to his right. Moments later, light flooded the room as Rodney gave a mental command to switch them on.
His mouth dropped open in both shock and awe as he stared through the dome shield at the darkness beyond, broken only by the occasional strange creature swimming by. Beyond the shield, the immense pressure of water had crushed the facility into the sea bottom. As he watched, the shield contracted another inch, galvanizing him into action.
"You, bring the generator over here."
David hefted the heavy case and dropped it by Rodney's feet, and Rodney felt the other man's eyes upon him as he knelt down and unlocked the case, carefully extracting the Naquadah generator. It was a Mark III, built by his own hands and finely tuned only a few hours earlier. He checked it again before standing up with it cradled in his hands.
Turning to Carson, Rodney jerked in surprise and almost dropped the heavy generator; his heart skipped a beat as his chest seemed to contract painfully. A single control Chair filled the center of the room, set upon a dais just like the one in Antarctica, and seated but unmoving upon the reclined chair was a single figure with dark, messy hair plastered over a too-pale face.
"John," he whispered as David Sheppard surged forward only to be stopped by Carson grabbing his arm.
John could feel them close to him now. Rodney was with them but he felt different somehow, though not in a bad way. The attraction he had felt for Rodney seemed magnified as if the connection he had felt between them had intensified on a subliminal level. He didn't know what it was but if he could have felt his body's reactions then he knew he would be uncomfortably hard. He wanted Rodney so badly. Wanted to reach out and touch him, wanted to feel the softness of his skin, wanted to taste him.
He could hear him though but couldn't move—not a single finger, the flicker of eyelashes, or even the twitch of his lips. He had no way to let Rodney know that he was aware of his presence. It was torture.
"Wait. Don't touch him," Rodney called out.
David was with them. John recognized the sound of his brother's voice and once more he felt both awed and humbled that his brother had been willing to put his life on the line to save him. John felt someone accessing the system and knew it had to be Rodney. With great care, he tried to ease Rodney's passage, helping him to navigate through the pathways more quickly as Rodney began to interface an external power supply to bolster the dwindling energy in the facility's power source.
As fresh power surged through the system, John gasped, the feeling suddenly flooding back into his body bringing with it excruciating pain as every inch of his body began to tingle with something akin to pins and needles. He gritted his teeth, feeling momentarily disoriented as his body seemed to lurch into a new position. He forced his heavy eyelids open and was met by the most beautiful sight imaginable—the incredible blue of Rodney's scared, wide eyes.
"Rodney." His voice was rusty with disuse, the croaked word barely intelligible but it had to have been enough as he was rewarded with the most amazed and joyous grin. He blinked, confused when Rodney was no longer there in front of him.
Beckett's knowledgeable and efficient hands moving over his body only added to his misery, for even though the touch was gentle, his nerve endings protested the sudden stimuli. He might have lost sight of Rodney—who was replaced by first Beckett and then his brother's concerned features—but he could hear him in the background. His voice climbing rapidly as he monitored the power levels, reciting the falling figures.
"No broken bones or internal injuries but I don't want to move him just yet, Rodney."
"You don't have a choice. The internal power source has reached entropy and the generator is barely holding the shield back on its own. It's collapsed another three inches since we arrived two minutes ago. Another couple of inches and we lose the transporter."
The seriousness of the situation seemed to strike Dave and Beckett at the same time, with both of them reaching for him roughly. John tried but failed to stifle a cry of pain as he was lifted to his feet, only then realizing that he had been seated on a chair similar to the one he had seen inside the Antarctic outpost. He was too weak to support his own weight, his knees buckling under him until he ended up hanging limply between Beckett and his brother, with an arm stretched over each man's broad shoulder. Sudden movement towards the transporter panel made him nauseous and he barely managed to swallow the rising bile.
"Oh no. This is worse than I expected. It needs an operator." Rodney's fingers were a blur of movement as they danced over the console, and when he glanced up, John could see the downturn of his mouth and the fear in his eyes that suddenly burned with resolve. "We have only one shot at this."
He watched as Rodney input the final command sequence before rushing around the console. Those intelligent, blue eyes measured the distance between the back of the console and the triangular transporter panel embedded into the floor that was pulsing slowly in a Caribbean blue. Almost five feet.
"Rodney! The shield!"
"Yes, yes, I see it."
The shield had contracted another inch. If they were to escape then it had to be now or never, and John had the terrible thought that Rodney was about to sacrifice himself to save him and the others. He struggled weakly against Beckett and Dave, only stilling when he saw Rodney take a deep breath, slap the console and leap towards them just as the Ancient chamber disappeared around him. As the world came back, he realized he was falling. They were all falling as Rodney barreled into him but he didn't care because Rodney had made it. They had all made it back.
His last feeling was the welcome weight of Rodney's strong body covering his own, bring back memories of that long night wrapped around each other. And his last sight before slipping into unconsciousness was the relief and adoration in those blue eyes looking straight down into his own.
The only thing that could have made it even better was if they'd both been naked and tumbling into bed together.
Sprawled across his lover, Rodney looked down at him in awe, hardly believing that he had actually found him. John was staring straight into his eyes and Rodney wanted to lean down and kiss John so badly that he was almost shaking. Before he could give in to the temptation, not only had John's eyes closed and his head lolled to one side, but Rodney felt hands grabbing at him, dragging him to his feet. Zelenka and Lorne had taken hold of him, slapping his back and yelling their congratulations while Carson and the Sheppards had dropped down beside a now unconscious John.
As he was pulled out of the way, he saw Patrick Sheppard kneeling on the floor and gently raising John's head as he slipped in behind him—holding his son so tightly to his chest that it looked as if he planned never to let him go again. Rodney felt a momentary flash of insane jealousy because Patrick Sheppard could have what he had been denied—this moment with John. He swallowed down the words that threatened to bubble up and spill over his lips, and stepped back, turning to the main console to confirm what he already knew.
The Ancient defense facility was gone. The shield must have collapsed within seconds of their abrupt departure and he knew that the sheer pressure of water so deep in the trench would have crushed whatever remained.
"It's all gone," he stated to no one in particular, only to feel surprised when Zelenka's hand tightened around his forearm. He hadn't even realized that Zelenka had yet to let go of him. That was when the trauma of this day came crashing down upon him: the near drowning, the fear that he had already lost John when he disappeared from his side in the water, and then having to face the possibility of his own demise in order to send the others back before the shield crumbled around them.
He looked into Zelenka's worried eyes. "We made it back." He blinked rapidly because he hadn't expected to make it at all, uncertain at the time if the transporter took discrete packages like the Stargate or if he would be severed in half if not all of him was within the field at the time of transportation. He patted at his own body: legs, arms, torso. "I made it back," he stated in near disbelief. Suddenly his knees buckled and he would have fallen into a graceless heap on the floor if Zelenka had not still had a hold on him. He felt someone pushing his head down between his splayed knees. As if from a vast distance, he heard Lorne's voice, telling someone to take deep breaths—one breath in, one breath out.
There was another moment of disorientation and when Rodney raised his head, he knew he was no longer on Isla Verde but on board the Prometheus, a long way from John. Then there was nothing until he awoke in the small medical section within Stargate Command.
"You fainted, Rodney."
"No, I merely passed out from…from manly shock."
"The technical term is fainted."
Carson patted his leg affectionately. "You have a visitor."
Irrational hope filled him with wild imaginings of John waiting to see him but when he looked across the room to the doorway, he saw only Colonel O'Neill leaning there. It seemed that, once more, the Asgard had come through for O'Neill, saving what little remained of the man's sanity. Carson waved as he walked out of the room leaving Rodney alone with O'Neill.
"Nice reception, McKay," O'Neill stated sarcastically, and Rodney guessed his disappointment must have shown.
Huffing in mild embarrassment, Rodney drew the light covers further up his chest to just under his chin. He watched a O'Neill approached and sat down on the edge of the bed; the Colonel eyed him curiously.
"Heard you did good out there today."
"If finding a hidden underground facility, figuring out an Ancient transport system to an even deeper facility, and rescuing everyone before they were all squashed like bugs on a windshield is considered good then…well, yes." Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "I nearly drowned and had to risk being severed by a transporter beam. So how was your day, Colonel? Hmm?"
"Oh," he blew out his cheeks, "Just another day saving the Asgard from being overrun by Replicators." He waved a hand. "No big deal."
"Jack? There you are." Jackson had stuck his head around the door frame. "Rodney," he stated in greeting before setting his full attention back on O'Neill. "I want to head back to Isla Verde now."
O'Neill sighed and nodded. He looked back at Rodney and slapped him on the leg before heading for the door. "Later, McKay."
O'Neill turned, head tilting to one side questioningly as Rodney struggled to sit up.
"Is going to be fine."
Rodney slumped down in the bed as O'Neill turned and walked away with Jackson dogging his steps like an excited puppy. As their voices faded into the distance, Rodney gave a wry smile. At least he had managed to save John so maybe there was a slim chance that they could meet again some day.
A few hours later he was back in Antarctica being greeted by Zelenka. Gazing around the Ancient outpost, the past few days seemed almost surreal now, as if they had happened to someone else. All the urgency was gone too, along with that warm feeling of being watched over. Elizabeth welcomed him back warmly, and he endured her awkward yet heartfelt hug before clearing his throat and pointing over his shoulder.
"I managed to obtain data from the Isla Verde facility before it… I'll just go and run a few comparisons with here."
"Why don't you take an early night, Rodney. The data will still be there in the morning."
He opened his mouth to give his customary objection but yawned instead, catching him by surprise. "Maybe… Yes. Maybe I will."
His tiny room was exactly how he left it and he climbed into bed quickly after finishing his usual night routine, pulling up the warm covers to ward off the chill in the air. When he finally fell asleep, his mind was filled with strange towers climbing high into a clear, blue sky. Waiting for him upon an ornate balcony overlooking a Caribbean blue ocean was John, with his messy dark hair, coy smile, and laughing hazel-green eyes.
Warm sunlight streaming through an open window caressed his face, slowly waking him and he sighed deeply, stretching luxuriously at the feel of soft cotton sheets beneath him. Blinking away the sleepiness, he took a moment longer than usual to focus on the world around him. A quick sweep of the room confirmed that he was not in his small apartment outside Charlotte Amalie but back in the family home in California, in the childhood bedroom he had left behind when he joined the USAF. It was just as he had left it too, right down to the model airplanes and helicopters hanging from the ceiling.
He was confused for a moment, before the memories came crashing back of the helicopter going down and his certainty that he was going to die. He recalled the weeks that followed, of reaching out for his last truly happy memory, that of lying in the arms of a passionate and generous lover whose abrasive character had made him grin from the moment he first saw him. He remembered thinking of Rodney—and somehow finding him, spending those lost weeks watching over him, and desperately trying to touch him just one more time.
He'd seen so many amazing things that he could almost believe that the past two weeks had been a vivid dream. But then he would have to give up on his memories of Rodney too, and he wasn't prepared to let the irascible scientist go so easily.
If he had needed any form of confirmation that this was no dream then it came with the sound of his name.
He recognized the voice and turned his head to the man seated beside the bed, watching over him.
The older man smiled warmly and reached out, squeezing John's shoulder firmly before stroking his cheek. "I've been such a fool, John. Never realized how much of a fool until I thought I'd lost you."
The embrace was awkward at first, with neither of them used to hugging the other after so many years spent with only bitter words and arguments between them. Eventually, his father drew back.
"There's some people here to see you. They want to ask you a few questions, alone, but if you want me to stay…"
"No, it's okay."
It was a struggle to sit upright even with his father's help because he felt so weak. But finally, he felt comfortable enough to take those visitors. His father went to the door and beckoned them inside before leaving, gazing back at John one last time before closing the door behind him. At the sight of a full bird uniform, John had to stifle an automatic reaction to straighten and salute. He pushed down on it savagely because he was no longer in the military so he didn't have to abide by their rules and regulations any more. The Colonel must have noted his reaction though, as he smiled knowingly. John appraised the colonel carefully, recognizing him from Antarctica.
"Mr. Sheppard, I'm Colonel O'Neill and…"
"Jack." O'Neill blinked and glanced across at his companion, obviously confused, so John continued. "You're Jack. We…sort of met before. I helped you guide those missile things into that armada of weird pyramid ships." He turned to the other man who had yet to introduce himself. "And you're Daniel Jackson."
He recalled seeing Jackson a few times during those weeks, mostly late at night staring forlornly at Jack while he was in stasis. John wondered if Jack knew how much he was loved by this other man, but even if Jack returned that love he could do nothing about it because of military regulations. Seeing them standing side by side and yet knowing they could never be together, forced apart by stupid rules, reinforced his belief that he had made the right decision in resigning his commission.
Jackson stepped further into the room, pushing up his glasses. "I think we can dispense with the plausible deniability," he murmured to his colleague.
John ignored him and asked, "Where's Rodney?"
"Rodney?" Jack tried to look as if he had no idea of whom John was speaking but John was not buying the naive routine.
"Rodney McKay. Is he back in the Ancient outpost in Antarctica?"
Jack stared at him for a moment before sighing heavily. He sank into the chair that his father had vacated earlier. "I kind of guess that answers the question of how much you remember."
"I want to see Rodney."
"You'd be better off not…"
"He kept me sane these past few weeks, and he saved my life."
Jack gave Jackson a meaningful look, gaining raised eyebrows and a shrug before looking back at John, his eyes narrowed. "It's a top secret…"
"I've already been there a dozen times… Jack. Mostly following Rodney around, watching what he was doing, listening in on conversations and explanations about Ancients, Goa'uld, and Asgard." John shrugged. "I could give you the exact coordinates of the place and hire my own transport if it comes to it. In fact, I could fly myself there."
"Told you," Jackson stated, gaining an irritated look from Jack.
"In that case, I have a proposition for you. The United States Air Force is prepared to offer you reinstatement as a major, with full back pay to when you resigned… and that black mark conveniently struck from your record."
"That's very generous but no. I can't accept."
Jack's eyebrows rose in surprise, though why he thought he knew John enough to believe he would take the offer was intriguing. "It's a good offer."
Jack winced. "I guess that's a good reason to…" His voice trailed off, eyes widening. "You and McKay?"
John refrained from giving a crude and flippant response about Rodney's great ass. Instead, he looked Jack in the eye. "Let's cut to the chase. We both know I've got something Dr. Weir needs." He paused for effect. "The ATA gene."
"Thanks to Dr. Beckett, even McKay has the gene now."
"Not as strong as yours… or mine."
"He's got you there," Jackson stated solemnly to Jack.
"Not helping," he snapped back. "So what are your terms?"
"You get use of my gene, and I get Rodney…and flying."
Jack stared at him for a long moment, measuring him up, but he must have liked what he saw as he began to nod, finally relaxing. "We can always use a good civilian pilot for the milk runs."
John smiled because he'd be no worse off than before all this when he was ferrying his father's clients and executives around the islands, but this way he'd also have Rodney. As long as Rodney still wanted him.
The Ancient Outpost seemed colder than he remembered but he knew it had more to do with how lonely he felt now that John was no longer with him. The fact that he hadn't known John had been there all the time was immaterial; his subconscious merely registered the lack of his presence now. He shivered and tried to draw his orange fleece closer around him before bending back over to the task he had set for himself that day.
Everything was a little easier now that he had the ATA gene. He no longer had to rely on Carson or Peter for the basic operation of the consoles, which required a gene bearer at all times. Instead, he was able to extract all the information he required whenever he wanted. It was hard not to gloat about it too often, especially when he heard Zelenka—Radek—cursing in Czech frequently, but he did try to restrain himself. After all, he had been in Radek's position only a week earlier.
The passage of that single week had seemed like a lifetime, especially since he had no reason to believe he would ever see John again. His last sight had been of John's family crowding around his one-time lover's semi-conscious body before carrying him away. David had glanced back before they left, offering him a silent thank you. It seemed amazing now that no one had questioned why Rodney had been so determined to save John at any cost, including his own life. No one had asked if they had even met before that day, or if they had known each other personally, let alone intimately.
They probably believed he was just some mad, genius scientist who had stumbled across John's predicament while investigating the erratic power fluctuations from the failing energy source; he left them to their assumptions. With his own family life in tatters due to the death of his parents and his estrangement from his sister, Rodney had no desire to tear John's family apart as well. Certainly not when John's father wanted to heal the rift between him and his son.
The hard part was learning that the Sheppards had taken John away in a private jet without giving Rodney the chance to see him just one more time. Perhaps if John had been a simple helicopter pilot ferrying passengers from A to B, then Rodney might have had the opportunity to speak to him, to see if there was any hope for them, but he couldn't compete with the Sheppards wealth and power. John was rich enough to have his choice of bed companions, making Rodney wonder why John had chosen him in the first place. As his sister had once told him, he was no Adonis. An insanely busy, sedentary life style meant he was a little soft in places, especially around the middle where John had been lean and fit. If he looked in the mirror then he could point out all his other physical flaws: the crooked slant to his mouth, his thinning hair, and slightly chubby chin.
He snorted softly. He had beautiful eyes and a great ass though, at least he'd been told that on numerous occasions, so maybe that was what had attracted John to him that night. He doubted those two features would have been enough to keep John though, not when John could choose just about anyone. Any further maudlin thoughts were broken by Radek's arrival.
"Rodney. Supply helicopter is due to land in fifteen minutes and there is package on board you must take delivery of yourself."
"Do I look like the doorman? Surely someone else can handle package delivery."
He pulled himself to his feet, grimacing at the muscle ache from where he'd been crouched with his hands in the innards of a console for some time, repairing the fine crystal filaments used to carry data. When he'd accepted the position of Chief Scientist, he hadn't expected to get so much administrative work too. He needed a deputy to take on some of the useless paperwork, and eyed Radek critically, having already dismissed Daniel as a possible candidate due to his predilection for going off into the realms of fantasy that he called science.
"You've just been promoted to my deputy. Go handle it."
Radek looked surprised but pleased before he gave an apologetic sigh. "They asked for you specifically by name."
Rodney sighed heavily and let his head hang before turning on one heel and striding off towards the elevator. Hopefully, he wouldn't have to go outside.
The elevator seemed to take ages though Rodney knew it was just his own impatience working against him. Above ground, he could hear the sound of a helicopter coming in to land and pushed through the milling airmen, determined to get this over and done with quickly so he could return to his work. He was surprised when the first person to get off the helicopter was Colonel—no—General O'Neill. He had a feeling it would be just as much of a surprise for Daniel because he hadn't mentioned O'Neill was coming today.
"Doctor McKay? Your package."
O'Neill handed over a parcel, which Rodney tore into eagerly only to find a small pile of scientific journals. He looked at them in dismay.
"And you couldn't get one of your airmen to bring them down?"
O'Neill raised both eyebrows. "Hand delivery by a USAF general," he pointed out, and Rodney narrowed his eyes as O'Neill had a point. Not a good one, admittedly, as Rodney was easily worth more than one USAF general, even if it was uber-gene carrier and galaxy-saver O'Neill.
"Well. If that's everything then I have work to do." He dumped his journals into the arms of the closest airman. "Put them in my room," ignoring O'Neill's smirk and nod to the airman as Rodney strode back to the elevator.
Within minutes, he was up to his elbows inside the console again, reattaching those fine filaments that had degraded over thousands of years. Yet, as he worked, he felt a little less cold and lonely, though he hadn't a clue why.
John had taken this trip down in the elevator several times in spectral form, standing by Rodney's side, but this time he felt every bump and grind of the machinery. Stepping out at the bottom behind Jack, he stared hard at the interior of the outpost as if seeing the muted blues and greens for the very first time.
Daniel was waiting for them, and John wondered if Rodney had warned him of Jack's arrival though it was more likely he just let slip Jack's presence in passing. They greeted each other warmly before Daniel started to pull Jack away.
"Hey, don't touch anything," Jack stated over his shoulder as he left John to wander alone through the corridors of the Ancient outpost.
It was all so familiar, and memories of time spent walking through these corridors with Rodney filled his mind. Going against the order, he reached out and let his hand brush over the intricate fretwork of a room divider, expecting it to be cold but feeling warmth instead. The material was smooth to the touch and he recalled one of the scientists telling Rodney that it was a type of metal and ceramic alloy with incredibly strong molecular bonds, making it resistant to deterioration. It had lasted thousands, perhaps millions of years—far longer than the pyramids. If Jackson was right, then it might even pre-date the human race.
According to Jackson, present day humans were the second evolution of this form. Over the past week he had studied a few of the texts sent to him by Daniel, seeing some of the oldest human legends with fresh eyes. Daniel believed the Ancients had left Earth millions of years ago following a great plague, and had returned to Earth around ten thousand years ago for reasons unknown. The archaeologist was convinced that some of those who had returned had interbred with the new humans, giving their descendants the ATA gene, while others had sought some form of enlightenment that Daniel called Ascension.
It made a lot of sense.
While John was caught in the defense facility, he had accessed some of the database and had glimpsed enough history to send Daniel into paroxysms of delight. He had managed to confirm a couple of Daniel's theories regarding the Ancients, and had given him possible clues towards new discoveries. In comparison, Jack had recalled very little from his interface with the Ancient database and the outpost. The Asgard had stripped practically all of it from his mind, including some of his memories of the space battle. It seemed strange that Jack didn't recall John being there, when it was all so vivid in John's memory. Instead, Jack had retained only an impression of someone or some force aiding him at the time, and yet he accepted John's account of the battle without question.
Looking back over this past week, it was a shame that Jack had never been his commanding officer. He might never have resigned if that had been the case, but despite Jack making the offer a second time, John remained firm in his intention to remain a civilian. He couldn't go back to the way it had been before, couldn't deny that part of himself that enjoyed the touch of another man and—one in particular.
He smiled as he stepped into the Chair control room, ignoring the two scientists working at the far end of the chamber, and walked towards the Chair. He knew Rodney was here at the outpost for he had seen him topside. He had stood only a few feet away while Jack handed over a useless parcel with a smirk, enjoying the game of knowing what Rodney did not know, that John was standing right behind him. John wasn't sure why he hadn't announced his presence immediately, drinking in the sight of Rodney instead, and Jack had played along quite happily.
Rodney looked good though, with his broad shoulders accentuated by the brightly colored fleece. He had sounded good too, just as sharp-tongued as John remembered, making him smile as he recalled Rodney's more pleasurable uses of that wicked tongue. So why was he so uncertain now that he was here where he wanted to be, close to Rodney?
He had felt lust at first sight more times than he could ever remember but Rodney was different as it wasn't just the sex. It was the whole package that attracted him from the gorgeous body to the brilliant mind. It was knowing they were so different, and yet those differences seemed to compliment each other, making him feel whole for the first time in his life.
An idea came to him of how to make a dramatic entrance back into Rodney's life, and with a smirk, he lowered himself into the Chair. It reclined instantly, initializing beneath him. His fingers pressed into the gel pads, instinctively knowing what to do after weeks locked in a similar chair in the defense facility. He could hear shouts and the sound of running feet. Then Jack was standing above him.
"I said don't touch anything," but there was only exasperation rather than anger in his voice.
Rodney stumbled forward, eyes locked on him in wonder and disbelief, lips parted in a soft 'o' of surprise, and all John wanted to do was leap up from the chair and kiss him, deep and dirty. Instead he waited, aware of the audience that had gathered and regretting that he hadn't simply snuck into Rodney's room instead.
Rodney swallowed hard, his hands moving as if to frame his next words. "John…" He cleared his throat, eyes darting about the chamber as he noticed everyone watching them. "John, think about where we are in the solar system."
That was easy. High above them, floating above the platform, appeared a holographic image depicting the solar system with the sun at its center and the planets arranged around it exactly as they were in the night sky at that very moment. Moons orbited around planets and the Earth shone like the brightest jewel, highlighting Antarctica and the Ancient Outpost buried beneath the ice.
"Did I do that?" John asked, feigning innocence, and he grinned when he gained a huff from Rodney.
"No, it was a passing penguin."
Still grinning, John released his control on the Chair and it slid back upright, the light dimming instantly. "Hey," he stated softly.
Jack clapped his hands. "Okay, children. Nothing to see so let's leave these love birds alone."
The proclamation was met with raised eyebrows but Jack's shooing motions soon had everyone clearing the area, with Jack winking over his shoulder as he led a flustered Elizabeth away. Alone at last, John pushed to his feet and approached Rodney, reaching out to brush his knuckles gently down the side of Rodney's slightly bristled face.
"You need a shave."
"Well, I was hardly expecting company."
The sarcasm and bluster made John grin. His hand wrapped around the back of Rodney's neck and tugged him forward, lips meeting, feeling the vibration rather than hearing a mumbled "oh thank…" before Rodney melted into the kiss. Arms wrapped around him, pressing him against the solid body from chest to hip and he ground his growing erection against Rodney's, groaning in pleasure.
Rodney tore away from John, his breathing hard and his face now flushed; his hair was now mussed and sticking up in tiny tufts. "Not here. Not here," he stammered, and John had to agree that it was probably not the best place to have frantic reunion sex, though the Chair did look inviting.
"Rodney, power levels in the drone…"
"Unless it's about to explode then not now, Peter," Rodney ground out as he grabbed John's hand and began pulling him towards the elevator.
"No, it's…," Peter grinned, finally catching on. "It can wait until morning."
Rodney's small room was exactly as John remembered it except now he could touch as well as look. He closed the door firmly behind them, locking it as Rodney shoved the package of science journals off the bed and onto the floor before reaching back for John. Kissing Rodney was everything he remembered from that single night, hot and perfect as tongues dueled and hands clutched at hair and shoulders. Wanting to slow down the pace, John pulled back, licking his lips as he started to peel the layers of clothing away. Rodney got the message and tugged the orange fleece over his head, mussing up his hair even more. His face was still flushed, and his eyes were feverishly bright and yet dark too with arousal. His lips were a little puffy now, swollen from intense kisses, and John wanted to taste them again. Even the shock of cold air against his naked skin did little to hinder his arousal as he reached for Rodney's pants, opening them and sliding a hand inside. He rubbed his palm along the hard length as Rodney dropped his head forward onto John's shoulder and moaned beautifully, fingers digging into John's biceps. John's fingers curled around the length, easily recalling the strokes that Rodney had liked, short and hard, a thumb sliding over the sensitive tip to smear precome over the head.
The large hand wrapping around his cock was John's undoing. It had been too long. After weeks filled with lustful thoughts of this man and now feeling him, touching him, it was too much and he came hard, jerking into Rodney's hand. He dropped his head on Rodney's shoulder, biting down on the firm flesh as his orgasm ripped through him.
"I want… I need."
John let Rodney maneuver him onto the bed, feeling pleasantly boneless and sated as his pants and boxers were tugged off and discarded. With legs splayed, he barely co-operated as a pillow was shoved under his hips but he groaned in pleasure as slicked fingers breached his body.
"Let me. Let me…"
Anything, he wanted to say. You can have anything, do anything, and he gasped as Rodney fumbled on a condom before pushing inside him, the burn as glorious as he remembered, sending tiny shocks of pleasure through already sensitive nerve endings. Rodney didn't last long, barely managing four deep strokes before he was stilling, locked rigid for a moment in pleasure before his hips stuttered in several abortive thrusts. He collapsed over John, body sticky with John's release and their combined sweat, but he rested for only a moment before the chill of the air had him discarding the used condom and scrabbling for the warm covers.
Sated and lethargic, John snuggled beneath the covers against the furnace of Rodney's body, fingers stroking the velvet-soft, sweat-slicked skin.
"Thought I remembered how good that was but…but…"
"Yeah," John replied lazily, turning his head and kissing Rodney softly. He thought he had remembered too but the reality of Rodney in his arms was so much better than the memory that had sustained him over the past weeks. Beside him, Rodney's breathing had already slowed. He knew those soft, sleepy sighs from nights spent watching Rodney sleep. He tightened his hold—gaining a sleepy murmur of protest—but it was enough to dispel the now-groundless fear of being drawn back to the defense facility.
He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of his lover as he felt the gentle pull of sleep. Despite the stickiness, John didn't resist, knowing he would still be lying beside Rodney in the morning, and in the morning after that, and the one after that.
When Daniel raced into the Chair room the following day with a, "Just the people I need to see," yet too excited to make much more sense before racing away, Rodney merely looked at John in confusion. The Chair rose smoothly to the upright position and John gave what Rodney would eventually call his patented shrug consisting of one raised eyebrow. Rodney shook his head and they both carried on until Daniel appeared again moments later, waving at them to follow.
"Come with me."
Elizabeth and Jack were already in Daniel's workspace, staring hard at six symbols written across the white board. They turned when they noticed the new arrivals.
"Gentlemen, good of you to join us," Elizabeth stated with a twinkle in her eye. "Perhaps Daniel will let us know the reason now."
Like an over-excited puppy, Daniel moved to the board, chatting on about the Lost City of the Ancients and the sequence of constellation symbols that he'd found in old texts that ought to lead them to it.
"Recently we determined a seventh symbol," he drew the familiar upturned V with a circle on its apex that represented Earth.
"The point of origin," stated Elizabeth.
"Except that's not it," John said because he distinctly remembered the symbols being different from the series now shown on the white board. He and Daniel had spent an hour looking at symbols just the other day, trying to determine the address used by the Ancients when they fled the plague.
"So it's incorrect," Rodney stated, wondering at this latest waste of his precious time.
"Not incorrect. Incomplete. Something John mentioned during our talk got me thinking and… It's an eight symbol address. What we're looking for may be further away than we ever imagined, but it's not out of reach." He scrawled another symbol on the white board between the Earth symbol and the sixth symbol, and stepped back to let the others see.
Rodney stepped forward, already visualizing how this address might be used as a coordinate. "Another galaxy." He turned to Daniel. "Atlantis?"
Daniel was biting back on a triumphant grin but Rodney could see the excited look in his eyes. "Atlantis. I think we can go there."
"Atlantis?" Jack questioned. "I thought it was at the bottom of the ocean."
"The city that sank beneath the sea," Rodney murmured dreamily.
"Personally, I've seen enough of the ocean bottom recently," John added, gaining a smile from Elizabeth. Rodney rolled his eyes.
"The problem with legends is that they get corrupted as they are passed down from generation to generation," Daniel stated, and Rodney nodded in agreement. "The Atlantis legend never mentioned which sea. We, and I mean we as in the human race, made assumptions based on our own limited knowledge."
"Where's the but, Daniel?" Jack asked. "There's always a but."
Rodney knew the answer to that question, stepping in before Daniel could even open his mouth. "It'll take a lot of power to open a wormhole to another galaxy. We'd need to use the ZedPM."
"The Zero Point Module, General. The ancient power source you recovered from the Taonas outpost on Proclarush that is now powering this outpost's defenses. I've since determined that it generates its power from vacuum energy derived from a self-contained region of subspace time," Rodney added smugly.
Jack looked at him squirrelly before saying, "That was a waste of a perfectly good explanation. The answer is no. Find another way."
"No?" Rodney looked at the others for confirmation that he'd heard right. "There is no other way."
Jack sighed. "If it was up to me…"
"It is up to you, Jack," Daniel said softly, and Rodney could see Jack relenting.
"And there'll be more of these Zed things in Atlantis?"
Daniel grinned, sensing victory no doubt. "Yes and who knows what else we could find. This isn't just some other civilization we're talking about, Jack. These are the gate builders."
"If you're wrong then it'll be a one way trip."
"A trip I intend to take," replied Daniel, his eyes saying far more than his words, almost begging Jack to consider going as well.
Elizabeth stepped forward eagerly. "The benefit to humanity is far greater than the risk, General, and it is a risk that every one of my expedition members is willing to take."
Rodney glanced across at John, seeing the indecision in his hazel-green eyes. John hadn't signed on for an expedition, and having only just made peace with his family, Rodney was uncertain if he would agree to go if asked. If John didn't go then Rodney had a tough decision ahead of him. The very thought of passing up this opportunity to see Atlantis was sickening and yet so was the thought of leaving John behind when, as the General stated, it could easily be a one way trip.
With the meeting at an end, they left side-by-side, both of them deep in thought.
Their lovemaking that night held an element of desperation, with each of them holding just a little tighter to the other as if afraid of losing them should they let go. Afterwards, as they lay in each other's arms, Rodney could no longer stand the silence.
"If Elizabeth made the offer, would you go?"
John pulled away, rolling onto his side and rising up on one elbow so he could look at Rodney. "I…" John took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "I don't honestly know, Rodney. It's a lot to ask."
Reluctantly, he hummed his agreement. It just wasn't fair that he'd be offered two possibly contradicting opportunities of a lifetime almost on the same day and be expected to choose between them. On one side he had his dream—Atlantis—and on the other he had the reality of John Sheppard, but both were a gamble. They could reach Atlantis and find nothing there, just a pile of ruins with no means of getting home. Or, he could remain behind with John only to discover a few months down the road that they were not meant for each other after all.
Either scenario was highly unlikely, or so he hoped, but where John was concerned the seed of doubt had been planted years before. His sister had told him to grab the first person who showed an interest in him, no matter if they were the right one or not, or he was likely to end his days alone. He truly believed that John was the right one for him, but whether John felt the same about him was the unanswered question.
"I could…" Rodney began only to be cut off by John.
"Let's drop it for now. We both need time to think."
John soothed his harsh words with a gentle caress before leaning in to kiss Rodney softly yet deeply, seeming to pour so much emotion into that one kiss. By the time they parted, Rodney wanted to cry or scream or maybe both, because he knew which he would choose even though that meant giving up another of his dreams. It would be John every time.
With only two weeks remaining, Elizabeth was still badgering him to give a final yes or no answer, and John still had no idea what to say. He'd never been this indecisive in his life, but going to Atlantis was not the same as shipping out to some war zone. Then he had known exactly what to expect, and knew he could always find a way out if it became too much to handle. Stepping through the Stargate into the unknown was a whole new ball game. Plus, there was the whole problem of what exactly he would be doing, as they would not be taking any planes or helicopters with them. All he had going for him was his strong and natural expression of the ATA gene, and a Masters in Mathematics and Aeronautical Engineering that he had not exactly used in the last decade.
Another black mark against the expedition was the military head chosen for the expedition.
Sumner was a stickler for protocol and for someone who was supposed to be open minded enough to travel to other worlds in this galaxy, dealing with different cultures and different species, he was surprisingly narrow minded. He seemed to have purposefully forgotten that he would be leading a multi-national military force where most nations allowed gay soldiers to serve. Instead, he treated both him and Rodney with barely concealed contempt because they were sharing very small quarters without hiding what they were doing behind closed doors. In fact, there wasn't a lot of concealing on Sumner's part the one time John had been alone with the man.
Even though John was no longer military, Sumner was quick to remind him that someone who couldn't follow orders, and who preferred cock instead of breasts, was a liability. He'd argued against John's inclusion from the start even though Sumner ought to have had no say over the civilians whatsoever. John knew Elizabeth was becoming overly stressed by the constant attacks denigrating her authority as expedition leader, and even Rodney had come back from one meeting fuming more than usual at the "serious lack of intelligence displayed by the US military."
Secretly, John had to agree. If he had not already figured out that Rodney desperately wanted to go to Atlantis—and the only reason why he had not said yes to Elizabeth was because he was waiting on John's decision—then John might have backed out completely. It was strangely humbling to know Rodney was prepared to put his own dreams aside just for him and that John could simply say "No" to Elizabeth and walk away with Rodney by his side.
Except he knew it wasn't fair on Rodney, who had worked towards this moment all his life.
John saw Daniel seated in the cafeteria and took the seat opposite, seeing the same bleakness in his eyes that Rodney sported these days, and probably for the same reason.
"Has been offered a highly prestigious job in the Pentagon with direct access to the President."
John nodded, wondering who would be taking over Stargate Command as that had been John's fall-back plan for him and Rodney should they turn down the Atlantis expedition, perhaps even managing to get on one of the Gate teams together. It was either that or the private sector, as in one quiet moment after some great sex, Rodney had spoken of Area 51. He knew Rodney didn't want to go back to the laboratories of Area 51 despite the amount of alien technology dropped off there on a regular basis; it was mostly Goa'uld rather than Ancient anyway. Rodney had found the atmosphere too stifling for both intellectual and personal growth whereas John could see he had flourished here in the Ancient outpost with the technology at his fingertips.
"If he accepts, what will you do?"
Daniel's expression closed off and he swallowed hard. "There's no place for me in Washington."
John licked his lips, reading between the lines and seeing that Daniel would be separated from Jack whether he stayed on Earth or went to Atlantis. The only difference being that he could at least visit Jack occasionally if he stayed behind but, somehow, John knew that wasn't enough for Daniel. It made him appreciate his own position a little more for at least he would have Rodney whichever choice he made.
The blank stare was replaced by curiosity. "Why haven't you decided yet? Family?"
John winced. "I'm never going to be the son my father wants despite the reconciliation. I'm never going to run the family business or join the Polo Club and be seen at all the right restaurants, premieres, and high society events."
"Then what is it?"
He had tried to explain this to Rodney the other night, without success, but maybe Daniel would understand. "Flying and the military is all I know, unless there's going to be some awesome waves for a surfer dude."
Daniel snorted. "You could re-enlist."
John shook his head. "Not under Sumner's command, and not under US military regs."
Daniel nodded, not needing to know which regulations were holding John back from re-enlisting. "Sumner's an asshole."
John raised both eyebrows at the unexpected animosity from a man who had never seemed to have a bad word for anyone until now. He was tempted to grab Daniel's glass and check for alcoholic content. Daniel tightened his hold on his glass and smiled as if he had read John's mind.
"Elizabeth's wavering," Daniel added as a matter of fact, and that surprised John as she had seemed the most determined to get to Atlantis. "Sumner's pushing for the expedition to be under military control simply because we don't know what's out there." He blinked almost owlishly.
"I might not like him but he has a point," John conceded. "Except I can't see Rodney, or any of the scientists agreeing to having Sumner in charge."
They parted soon after, leaving John no closer to making that important decision. The For and Against Columns were still evenly matched and he hoped something would break the deadlock before he was reduced to flipping a coin.
With only a week left and departure from Antarctica to Stargate Command imminent, Elizabeth called all the scientists to a meeting.
"Could I have everyone's attention please!" Rodney glanced at John, wondering what this could be about as Elizabeth had not mentioned any last minute hitches. He gained only a half-hearted shrug in response, proving to Rodney that John suspected something. "Every one of you volunteered," she gave Rodney and John a pointed look, "Or is considering volunteering for this mission and you represent over a dozen countries. You are the world's best and brightest and in light of the adventure you are about to embark on, you are also the bravest. I hope we all return one day having discovered a whole new realm for humanity to explore but as all of you know, we may never be able to return home."
These people were the best and brightest despite Rodney's assertions to the contrary as he pushed them to do better, and they were reading between the lines now and not liking what they were hearing. Her next words confirmed Rodney's fears.
"None of us know what to expect when we step through the Stargate. Therefore, the IOA has agreed that a journey into the unknown should have a greater military presence until events prove that a sole civilian leadership is more fitting."
The murmur became a roar of noise as scientists voiced their disagreement, and Rodney leaned in to John, stabbing his finger in his chest in accusation. "You knew!"
John grabbed his wrist before he could poke him hard again. "I didn't know… but I suspected."
Many of the scientists were whispering Sumner's name and shaking their heads emphatically.
"Everyone please!" She waited for them to quiet down. "In light of the most recent news, I'd like to offer you all one last chance to withdraw your participation." She held up her hand, "But before you make any rash decisions, I want to present the new military co-leader of the expedition."
The noise started up again as people turned to glare at the door, and Rodney anticipated more outrage when Sumner sauntered in with that superior smile plastered across his face. He'd already had to listen to Carson's complaints when Sumner had basically ordered a marine to use his sidearm if Carson protested against something or other. That was not the kind of person Rodney wanted to work under despite having been a contractor for the military for most of his professional life.
He crossed his arms, tilting his chin up defiantly as he prepared his own blast of vitriol, and was shocked when Jack O'Neill entered the room instead. Automatically, his eyes sought out John's, but John seemed equally stunned. O'Neill climbed onto the raised platform to stand next to Elizabeth. Military personnel trooped in to fill the gaps and hug the walls until Rodney was certain every possible member of the expedition was present.
"Okay!" O'Neill clapped his hands, rubbing them together. "There's been enough excitement for one day so I'm only going to mention two changes. One, as this is a multi-national expedition with a high chance of being a one-way trip, all military will be adhering to a new set of regulations drawn from all participating countries. Go read them." He glanced around the room. "But for those that were concerned over certain amendments, there will be no restrictions on gay personnel serving from any country." Rodney looked across when he felt John's fingers dig into his forearm. "Anyone who has a problem with the new regs can back out now… no harm, no foul."
A few soldiers started moving through the crowd immediately, heading for the door, and Sumner was among them. Rodney almost felt like cheering even as he wondered why these people hadn't been screened out from the beginning. O'Neill waited until they were gone before proceeding.
"Two, for the eggheads here. You've all worked with the military for months, some of you for years in Stargate Command and Area 51. I guarantee co-leadership means exactly that. Elizabeth and I will be working together on this."
Taking her cue, Elizabeth stepped forward. "Under the circumstances, I am positive co-leadership will be of benefit to every single member of the expedition, both scientist and military. That's all. Let's get back to work."
She looked around with a smile, even though Rodney knew it must have hurt to lose sole leadership of the expedition. Still, O'Neill was a far better choice than certain others he could mention, though he was surprised they were placing a General rather than a Colonel in charge.
The noise level rose again as soldiers and scientists began to file out, but Rodney clearly heard his and John's names being called. He glanced over his shoulder to see Elizabeth beckoning him over.
"Rodney? I'd like a word in my office, please," Elizabeth requested.
"Sheppard. A word," Jack stated at the same time.
They glanced at each other, parting with a slight nod of reassurance. Rodney glanced around Elizabeth's small office, noting how much had already been packed away.
"Take a seat, Rodney. Tea?"
She smiled and poured out a mug for each of them, setting one down before him. "General O'Neill has been authorized to make John a new offer on behalf of the military." Her eyes narrowed. "If he accepts, will I have a Chief Scientist for the Atlantis Expedition?"
"I thought Kavanagh…"
"Doctor Kavanagh is a candidate should you refuse the offer."
Rodney preened. "Well, I am the best person for the job."
"I'll take that as a yes." She smiled, and for the first time in a long while she looked relaxed, as if a lot of her troubles were now behind her. Perhaps they were as it must have been frustrating fighting Sumner and his allegations at every turn, but O'Neill was not the martinet type. He was far more laid back and had worked alongside Daniel for enough years to know how far he could push the non-military before they rebelled. Elizabeth and O'Neill as co-leaders really could work.
The rest of the time was small talk until Rodney managed to escape citing work commitments, but in truth, he wanted to speak with John. Elizabeth had seemed fairly confident that John would accept so it had to be a worthwhile offer. He paced back and forth outside the room O'Neill had commandeered, rubbing his sweaty palms over his pant legs as he waited and fretted. The pessimistic part of him considered that he might be building up his hopes for nothing, only to see them dashed if the offer wasn't good enough for John. But another part reminded him that it didn't matter either way. He had committed himself to John, whatever the decision.
When the door opened, John froze on the threshold as he caught sight of Rodney. Tight-lipped, he indicated a direction and Rodney fell in step beside him. Almost bursting with impatience, Rodney turned the moment the door to their room closed behind them.
"No DADT, General O'Neill as my CO, and promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel as a reward for my part in destroying Anubis's fleet and saving the planet."
Rodney gaped in awe, then his eyes narrowed. "I hope you said yes."
"On one condition." Rodney frowned because what more could John possibly want? "You have to say yes too."
He rolled his eyes and pointed to himself with both index fingers. "Chief Scientist…if you say yes."
John grinned and reached for Rodney, who was happy enough to slide into his arms and kiss him soundly, hands clutching at the non-regulation hair with a little regret, hoping John wouldn't go for one of those buzz cuts. It didn't matter though, because now he had it all—his dream of Atlantis and John.
The sound of the ocean lapping against the city drifted through the open window like the calm after a storm. In John's arms, his lover slept peacefully, exhausted from the trauma of the long day and the slow but gentle lovemaking. Silently, he wondered how many would have died today if Rodney had not come with them to Atlantis, and if Rodney had not had the ATA gene courtesy of Beckett.
Atlantis, the city that sank beneath the waves, had been a fairly accurate description, and after ten thousand years the shield holding back the water had started to give way as the expedition's very presence drained almost the last of the power from the ZPMs. He and Rodney had worked together as a team, with him in the Chair and Rodney making the physical interfaces in the gate room. Rodney had spent those frantic minutes giving orders to Radek, who was in the ZPM room, that had all five Naquadah generators supplementing the failing ZPMs while John sought the failsafe that would bring the city back to the surface.
It had been a close call, and John remembered all too clearly how Rodney had become trapped in the gate room as the water rose around him, coming so close to drowning along with Major Lorne and Daniel Jackson. As the city rose swiftly, the water had receded but, by then they had already lost seven people, trapped in the flooding compartments between closing bulkheads. It wasn't the triumphant arrival in Atlantis that everyone had envisaged and Rodney had taken it hardest of all, convinced that he should have been able to do more to save them even though he had done everything within his power.
The clean up would take days, perhaps weeks, as they'd yet to discover how much of their equipment and supplies had been damaged. But for now, John reveled in simply being alive with Rodney still breathing beside him. Jack and Elizabeth had sent all nonessential personnel to get some sleep. Strangely, that had included him and Rodney because no one planned to touch anything until they had rested. The scientists didn't need Rodney to dry out water-logged equipment, and the military didn't need John to show them where to camp down for the night. He had left that duty for Major Lorne, grateful that he'd had the foresight to insist on Lorne's inclusion on the expedition despite his earlier jealousies concerning the Major's relationship with Rodney. He was aware now that Lorne had no romantic intentions towards his lover, just a strong sense of duty to protect those in his charge.
In hindsight, he wondered how the military would have fared under Sumner, as the colonel had included only one other officer besides himself, a very young and green lieutenant named Ford. If anything had happened to Sumner, there would have been no experienced officer to take command. Fortunately, Jack was more pragmatic and he'd been happy enough to accept John's recommendation of Lorne when it became clear that he couldn't take Carter with him. Her work on the new X-304, already christened Daedalus, was too important for Earth. Possibly for them too, if they couldn't find any ZPMs to use to dial Earth—especially since the Asgard had promised to share their intergalactic drive technology.
For now though, John let the hum of the city and the sound of waves wash over him as he remembered the sweetness of Rodney's response earlier. Too tired for anything energetic, he'd simply rocked into his lover in long slow thrusts that had Rodney gasping softly in pleasure, bringing them both to a climax that ebbed and flowed over them like the waves lapping against the city.
Tomorrow would be a whole new day in another galaxy, and a chance to explore an Ancient city that time had almost forgotten—but today had been a strong reminder that danger lurked around every corner.
Renewing a silent promise to guard this most precious man with his life, John wrapped his arms tighter around Rodney to draw his lover closer, and allowed the hum of the city and the sound of the sea to lull him to sleep.