Mercy of the Fallen
Big Bang 2009.   Anything goes.
Rodney turned away from the Captain, and moved towards the middle of the room. "Good afternoon. I'm sure we're all anxious for this interviewing process to start, but there's a demon in the room. Lieutenant Barnes there is possessed, and I'm not going to stand here and pretend I don't see it. I'm sure some of you have seen it — well, this whole room is full of us. Why play the secret game?"
Word Count
101986 words
Thank you to googlebrat, tzi and chaps1870 for the editing. This is a shameless mix of SGA, Sandman Lucifer, Constantine, and Supernatural.
This story has warnings; they are listed at the end of the story.
Jump to the warnings.
Companion Artwork
  • Cover Art: Mercy of the Fallen by calcitrix
  • Field Exorcise by calcitrix
  • I Just Flew In From LA and Boy...Nevermind. by calcitrix
  • Triptych by sian1359

It was a bad sign that the first thing he did when he entered any big city, even a relatively small big city, was look for a particular type of bar. A gathering place, something that seemed familiar to him and accepting of his type. There was usually one in every big town, and New York and LA had a few, three or four, enough of them to leave him feeling torn and strange, strained with the energies of the place.

Colorado Springs had the Air Force Academy, a hell of a lot of mega-churches, and one seedy little shit hole built into the end unit of a strip mall beside a Chinese restaurant. At least if the place was a dive, John could get takeout and take it back to the hotel with him — he'd done that a few times.

Tomorrow he'd have to pretend to be normal and ordinary, and that took focus and concentration. This might be his only chance to wind down a little before he immersed himself in it all and shut off that part of himself and became 'one of the guys'. Right now though, he was fresh in from Antarctica and hungry for contact and bad beer. He glanced up at the neon sign that flickered a little with the rather cheesy name of Kudos in vibrant red, and entered, looking for the 'right' entrance.

The bar was dingy, and badly lit which was all to the good, and for all its appearance as a dive, there were people there and that was what mattered.

The bouncer on the inner door only gave a preliminary nod to keeping out the riff-raff, holding up a card silently and waiting for a reply. If John had been holding up a flashlight, he probably could've answered just as fast, because they looked pretty thin and cheap.

"Three stars over a filled glass," he drawled. At least it proved there was a community of his type here.

"Enjoy your evening." The best things about that was it was less about the hookup and the looking hot and hitting on people, and more a cover for business deals and casual conversations that people, normal people, had out in the open all the time.

Well, there were still hookups, but really it was about meeting Otherkind for whatever reason you wanted, business or pleasure. He ducked in through the doorway and heard it close behind him.

Huh, not many here. The room was pretty small. He tried not to Look, but some wore their identity fresh out on their skin in this room. Others passed for ordinary human, and were except for an ability or two tucked away in their bloodlines or through other means. These places were usually run by someone with a vested interest in neutrality and he wondered who it was here.

This place was pretty clean looking and his Othersight could make out some decent warding and prohibitions against violence and killings. Even someone with experience would hesitate about attacking someone here, which was a pretty good indication that their host was someone with a good touch of power. There was a woman by the bar with a bit of a tail, and a man in the corner with a crawling face who was probably 'letting his hair down' so to speak. The rest of them looked… normal, and it made him itch to Look at them closely and See what he was sharing the room with, other than some psychics. But John started into the place, right up to the bar.

The guy behind the bar looked like he had vampire or demon heredity from the length of his incisors, either that or he needed a much better dentist. He also looked pleased for the excuse to move away from another guy propping up the bar.

No one, regardless of the scene, liked to get stuck with the drunk who wanted to tell stories.

"What can I get for you, newcomer?"

"Beer," John said. Maybe when he knew there wasn't someone who liked to pick a fight he'd hit something stronger. Every now and then he'd come across someone who wanted to try and give him a smack down because they'd "heard" of him.

That was a stupid reason to pick a fight. If you heard of a guy, wouldn't you leave him alone and pick on the kid who was all starry eyed with wonder? But it was a pride thing, and John knew how that went. "Got a brand preference, or is whatever swill we have on tap good enough for you?"

"Tap," John said. He'd try it once at least. "Any tips for a newcomer to the area?"

The bartender snorted. "Enjoy the religious? I've been told they taste delicious. We've had a few newcomers lately. It's strange."

"Yeah?" That was unusual, because their kind were few and far between. He ignored the other comment, knowing it was just a tossed out comment to see if he were spookable. "Transferring into the base?"

"I suppose they are. If there was a plan to overthrow the military, I wish someone had told me." He grinned, and pulled John a mug of draft. "I would have put out signs."

Behind them, the door opened again, and closed.

John glanced around and leaned on the bar. The man who entered looked ordinary enough, but he attracted his attention, only not because he was Looking at his true nature. It took the mystery out of things. He had one night before he was tucked back into military protocols and at least half of his intent was to enjoy himself.

The man who entered stood out because he looked extremely normal, which was the eye-catching thing. Most everyone in there was at least dressed up, but he had a flannel shirt, slacks and a jacket, and didn't look like he was even trying. He breezed up to the bar, and pulled out the stool beside John's. "I want the most disgustingly sweet and fancy thing you have the supplies to make. With hard liquor."

John watched the man, giving a lazy smile. If he was the type to be interested, the lazy smile usually attracted attention and if that didn't work, then this might. "Make that on me," he drawled, glancing at the bartender.

The bartender snorted, and turned away. "Right, let me get the blender out. One hard liquor girly drink coming up."

The newest newcomer — which made John not quite the newest newcomer to that particular place — leaned his elbows on the bar. "Are you in the habit of buying for strangers in strange places?"

"As it happens, pretty much," John replied with a faint smirk. "Best way to get to know someone."

The other man sighed. "Uh-hmn. And what are you here looking for?"

"Nothing much," John answered. "I was thinking hot sex, but that's just a thought." He grinned a little. No point wasting time, because he wanted to burn that itch out of his system before he reported for duty.

If the guy had had his drink in hand already, he probably would have choked on it. As it was, he just stared at John. "Well, aren't you Captain Blatant? What's your fancy, then? I'd avoid the demon in the corner, unless you're into a slow death."

"Major Blatant actually and this is the only sort of place I can be," John said still smirking a little. "I was pretty much looking at you… if you're interested in that sort of thing."

"Are you kidding? I just walked in the door, and you —" He stared at John, bright blue eyes looking gold-rimmed for a second. "I might be interested. Might. What's your name?"

"John," he said. He didn't immediately offer the Sheppard part of it. "I've learned not to waste time." He had an instinct for trouble and an instinct for being lucky. Often the two were inextricably combined. "What's your name?"

"Rodney." There, that was a normal enough name. Rodney, instead of any of the thousand fancy names that sounded like wanna be fantasy novel names. The guy looked like maybe he was a magician type, or mageborn. Seemed the kind, sharp, intelligent, detail orientated and not focused on his own physicality but definitely liking a bit of control. A little soft at the edges of his face, so probably a maker of things rather than someone who used his magic at ground zero out against the nasties. "So, are you a serial killer for a living, or do you have a job besides picking men up in strange bars?"

John smirked again, liking the openness of the other guy. "I have a job. Pilot." He didn't specify what type. "Just moved out here. I try to keep the whole killing thing to a minimum."

There was definitely something about this Rodney that was attracting him, and he wasn't sure what it was. He wasn't classically good looking, but he wanted him. John had learned to never ask why and to seldom say no if opportunity knocked.

"Oh, good. I'm a scientist, and my work is far too important to have it interrupted because someone's stuffed me in a car trunk."

"You can't use some of your… whatever to check?" John asked mildly amused. Rodney's attitude was refreshing, nothing complex and everything out there. "We can have the drinks first."

"Do I have to have a whatever?" The bartender came back with a drink that looked more like a milkshake, complete with cherry on top. He looked a little smirky, and Rodney bared his teeth in a smile right back at him. "Very nice."

"To get in, pretty much," John was focused on him. "Scientist huh? Studying anything interesting?"

"Mm, can't say. But yes, I generally only study things that interest me. Planes are fairly interesting, what with their defiance of gravity." He took a sip from the straw, and slouched a little. "That's nice."

"Sugar fiend huh?" John smiled a little. He needed that if he walked between worlds, into Hell or wherever, but alcohol was close enough to sugar for his normal metabolism. His frequent trips there and magic use burned the surplus stores off of his body. Holland had always bitched at him for eating full fat everything and still not being able to hold weight.

"Sugar is a victimless sin," Rodney sighed. "And good. Chocolate, too. The really good stuff. I might as well enjoy food."

"Nothing wrong with good food," John commented. "Can't beat a good steak if you ask me."

Rodney's eyes tinged a little gold around the edges again, which was interesting. "Huh. I keep expecting you to be a vampire. No, steak's good. Cheetos are better."

He couldn't say that was a sign of anything in particular; he'd known magicians and demons that had that, a little sign of the difference in them all, flares of black, red or green. Gold and blue looked good together though. "Cheetos? Okay, you are missing out on a decent steak then… with real fries, onion rings and the works."

"If you're new to the area, we could possibly try a few places to find a good one. I'm sort of stuck not passing through town, which is disheartening."

"Sounds like a plan," John smiled. He did have talent for making friends, if not for keeping them. "So, the stuff you can talk about… is there anything?"

Rodney looked thoughtful, and took another sip of his drink. "Well, government work tends to be secretive in nature, so not really. I was out in Area 51 before this."

"Cool. So, alien conspiracy stuff huh?" John half joked.

"It was great. All the boring work one man could handle." He lifted his drink in a toast. "So, are you Air Force, by chance? I only ask because of the two bases and the school in town."

"Yeah," John answered. "Pretty much." He knocked back some of his drink as well. They were attracting some interest.

That was never one hundred percent good. Interest in general, interest from some of the people in that bar, when he was taking his chances.

Rodney looked sideways, and sucked hard at his booze milkshake. "So, you want to blow this joint, since neither of us are here for the business aspect?"

"Sure." John said easily, imagining the taste of that sweet alcohol on Rodney's lips. "I've only got a motel room."

"Huh. I've got a motel room, too. Want to go out to the parking lot and work out whose is less seedy? I can't get the heat to turn off in mine. And it rattles. It's great. Ambiance of a blacksmith's shop, all in my tiny hotel room." He gave the drink another good steady slurp, and slipped off the stool.

"Sounds one step up from mine," John said. "Besides, I can't be a serial killer luring you back to a lair if I go to yours."

"Could be that you don't want to do your horrible deed in your own hotel room, thus linking it to your government credit card." He didn't sound serious at all, and he was smirking like he was pleased with his own logical train. "Which would make that officially stupider than the guy who bought his girlfriend breast implants. C'mon, the demon in the corner's watching us and I'd rather not be on display."

"Mm." He liked them smart and clever and Rodney seemed to be both. "Lead on." He mused idly as he pushed himself to standing as to what sex might be like. He couldn't call it part of his ability but he sensed that it would be good. Perhaps even memorable.

He was still itching to peek at what Rodney's true nature was, but he wanted that to unfold slowly. Looking with Othersight sometimes felt like cheating.

"Did you drive here?" Rodney asked, conversationally as they headed out.

John shook his head. "Came out with the intention of having a few drinks if nothing else," he said. "Haven't been here long enough to get a car."

"Hello, rental?" Rodney lifted his eyebrows at John. "You walked? Seriously? Come here, I have a car. It goes 'vroom'. Don't tell me you flew, I don't want to know."

John chuckled. "I wish. Like I said, only got in couple hours ago. Like to get a feel for a place."

"Hell of a way to get a feel for a place," Rodney murmured, pulling keys out of his pocket. He pressed a button and the rental car beeped, lights flashing. "I used to walk everywhere. You get tired of it after a while."

"I'll let you know when that happens," John replied. "I guess you don't get this happening too often, huh?"

"Uh, actually, no." Rodney sounded a little sheepish, popping open the driver side door and gesturing that John could get in.

"But you have done this before? Been with another man?" John asked with a smile. If Rodney hadn't then he could teach him, there was an appeal to that too.

"Oh, no, I've done this before. The uh, the sex part, not the meet someone at a bar and leave part." He slipped into the driver's side, grinning. "Sodomy, one of the oldest and occasionally most enjoyable of laws to break."

"That's good," John answered as he got in and shut the door. The way he itched for contact after Antarctica, Rodney was going to be lucky to get to that motel room at all.

Rodney turned the engine on, and threw the car into reverse as he settled in, buckling his seatbelt. He pulled out the parking lot at a decent speed. "So, I take it you don't follow DADT."

"There's a reason I was in Antarctica before I was recalled," John answered. "Handy to have around, but an embarrassment." He wasn't embarrassed. Who was there to disappoint? No one.

"Antarctica? Really?" Rodney glanced over at him, and he was crossing lanes to turn left. "What did you do there?"

"Flew out to the snow, flew back again." John grinned a little. "It was…quiet."

And there weren't a whole lot of demons or other-beasts, or those meddling with powers going out there for him to deal with and he'd welcomed the rest… to start with.

After a while, he'd started to go out of his head with boredom, and now he had the feeling he was going to be in the thick of it again.

"Huh. That sounds boring. I mean, intensely, inherently boring."

"Pretty much," John answered raising an eyebrow. "Might help explain my behavior a little though."

"All that white, all that vastness, nothing to do…" Rodney sighed, and glanced at the intersection before he made another turn. John could see a motel up ahead. "I sympathize."

He'd practiced his skills. There was nothing much else to do at the end of the day. "The flying was good. It was quiet."

"Mmm, I bet." Rodney shook his head a little, and drifted over a lane. "I'm just up here. Uh, I brought my cat with me, but he's taken to sleeping in the tub."

"I'll make a point of not sleeping in the tub," John said dryly. Cats were good. He understood cats, they understood him. Sometimes he wondered if they could see the tracks of other worlds in his energies, as they were so adept at sliding through them themselves. "You're going to be lucky to make it in the door, hope you know that."

Rodney choked a little, and just grinned. "Yeah? That a promise?"

"Sorta promise I like to keep," John drawled and he didn't remember being this hungry for someone since he was a teenager. It was as if, to a part of him, there was a scent or taste that he was finding irresistible, like a moth careening towards a bright flame.

It was novel for John, and John wasn't a man to avoid throwing himself at the bright interesting flame. Rodney seemed so normal, pulling into a parking space and turning the car off while he unbuckled his seat belt. For a moment he considered whether Rodney was some sort of incubus-kin to have this sort of effect, but he'd met enough of them to know what they felt like. A musty aftertaste in the mouth as if the lush ripe fruit they were offering was rotting inside.

Then Rodney leaned in to kiss him, over the center console, reaching to slide fingers behind John's head.

No, it was something hot and bright, no aftertaste that signaled an elaborate trap. He wanted him, and his arms were reaching and the kiss pushing to become something more as he leaned in. The energy practically crackled between their skin.

Rodney pulled back first, licking his lips. "So, want to take this inside where it's warmer and naked won't get us both imprisoned?"

"Mmm." John wasn't too worried. The reason he could be this reckless was because he had a powerful charm that he'd had for years which encouraged someone to see him as someone different should they catch sight of him. He'd had opportunity to test it often enough and it had fooled pretty much everyone. Who said magicians were good for nothing? He'd paid a heavy enough price for it.

Completely worth it.

Rodney moved, and popped the car door open, and what was there for John to do but follow him? He headed towards the steps after he locked the door, his footsteps lighter than his body type implied.

He did pretty much tackle Rodney in through the door once it was open; he was hard and wanting and really, unexpectedly happy to let Rodney dictate terms of this sort of encounter which hardly ever happened. At least never first off.

"Ooof, hmmm." Rodney closed the door, without using a hand, and John knew he'd been right — that there was more to him than met the eyes if he'd been in that bar. He was almost as tall as John, and he pulled John down onto the bed, pushing his coat off. "Inconvenient outerwear!"

"Very inconvenient," John agreed, shrugging it off, and getting grabby in a fun happy way. He leaned in to nuzzle and taste at Rodney's neck, his hands showing his degree of practice at getting clothes off.

Rodney's shirt was easy to remove, almost as easy as his jacket. Flannel was soft, and it unbuttoned quickly, revealing smooth pale skin, while Rodney was trying to pull John's polo shirt up over his head.

John was scarred all over the damn place and he didn't try to hide it. He had tattoos that meant little to those who didn't do the sort of things he did. His body was a walking arsenal against Otherkind, honed over the years and people just never even knew. Not unless they were staring death in the face and suddenly he was there as an unlikely savior. Right now he didn't care what Rodney thought of them, as long as he got more of him.

Rodney seemed, at worst, a little distracted by the tattoos. John's chest was clean, but his back wasn't, and his forearms weren't, and further down his body, he had more marks, but his chest was just good old scars. "You've seen interesting times." He looked at the tattoos on John's left arm, and then glanced to the right one. "Uhm, not a serial killer then."

John had a moment's pause as he reoriented himself. There was maybe one person in a million that would recognize those tattoos for what they were. "Told you I wasn't," he murmured, distracted by tasting Rodney's skin again.

"Huh, well, this could work." Rodney tilted his head back, and pulled them both further up onto the mattress, trying to push John's shoes off with his own feet. Somewhere, he'd lost his sneakers.

It was definitely going to work. John managed to get the shoes loose and they dropped to the floor, even as he devoured the taste of Rodney with enough hunger that the other man might be forgiven for suspecting him of being some dark creature.

"Mm… you taste good," he murmured against his skin, conscious that he was hard, and pressing against him.

"Antarctica, huh?" Rodney was grinning with his voice, and his hands started to push John's pants down. "Damn, you're eager. Oh, right there feels good."

"It's a long way from anywhere," John murmured. "Let's just say there wasn't a lot in the way of options there." He mouthed at the spot, kissing it with fervent vigor.

"No, I imagine not." Rodney stretched his legs, and finally got John's underwear off with two seeking hands. "Here, help me get my pants off and we can enjoy nakedness."

Easily done and it was good to be wrapped up in this to the point of pulling clothes off and just going for it. There was something to be said for good, quick, intense sex.

Naked happened swiftly enough that under other circumstances it might be called magic. "I want you."

"I hope you have lube and a condom." Rodney exhaled a little unsteady, pressing his hard cock up against John's lower belly, against the crease where leg met torso.

"Always," John smirked a little as he reached between to stroked Rodney's erection. "Told you I was hopeful."

So what, he was fast and easy sometimes. That was the way he had to take human contact. It didn't usually last long, so he sort of had to throw himself at it bodily and hope the sensation lasted a while.

"Pants pocket?" Rodney asked, and okay, yeah. His pants were on the floor. That meant getting up.

"Yeah," he answered, reluctant to move and pull away from that heat.

Rodney stretched a little, and John heard his pants moving back up onto the bed, the dragging sound of fabric on fabric while Rodney squirmed a little. "Uhm, sorry, I'm rusty at this."

"Just as long as everything still works," John answered. "Got a preference?"

It was unusual for him to ask, but he wanted everything from this one night stand that he could get.

It didn't actually shock him when the little tube of lube and the three condoms floated unsteadily into Rodney's hand. "Anything. I prefer to try to out-stamina people, if it helps."

Out-stamina…huh. The thought of a long hard fuck was suddenly appealing. Quite often it was over too soon and left him feeling like it wasn't worth it. Besides, the way he was right now he'd probably come the moment he pushed into someone and that would spoil it.

"You fuck me then," he said. "The first time." He smirked a little because he wanted it clear he could usually go for more than one encounter.

"You keep making these great promises," Rodney murmured, shifting, pressing a knee against John's side, and shifting to turn John onto his back. "I'm going to have to hold you to them."

"Never go back on a promise," John answered, rolling easily and taking in the view. "I'm hoping this stamina lives up to expectations

Rodney's arms and shoulders looked powerful, good, useful muscle as he pushed himself up over top of John. "I'm going to make sure it will." Naked skin on naked skin, with the heater buzzing along as background noise — wasn't bad at all. John liked it, the seeping warmth, the fact that Rodney leaned down to kiss him again, pressing mouth against mouth like he thought it was the best thing ever before he pulled away to lick John's right nipple.

"Mmm," John knew how to make himself look hot, to move so things rubbed in the right places, when to push and when to yield to pressure. He could… and had once rather famously seduced a succubus.

It didn't seem like Rodney was going to need that kind of deep seduction. There was power in him, sure, but he wasn't resisting, wasn't looking to resist. He stroked his hands over John's chest, looking at his body, seemingly admiring his scars before he wrapped one hand around John's dick to stroke it upright.

That made him huff with pleasure and push a little up at him. "Rodney…" he said, and his voice was a little rough with desire as he tried out the name. He wanted to offer something, to lie there and suck his cock, to reach and stroke him to hardness.

"Hold on, we're just getting to the interesting part…" Rodney slipped a tiny dollop of lube over John's cock, to make the stroking easier, slow and steady while he reached his other hand to stroke John's balls, and then lower. He stopped, getting more lube for the other hand, and John wanted to complain.

"You know, I thought you'd be heading right for it, no waiting," John said although it felt good to be slick there.

"A little foreplay has never done me any harm," Rodney mused. Fingers were prying between his ass cheeks, two slicked fingers, and Rodney was trying to edge his knees up under John's hips.

"I don't want to come too soon…" John replied, exhaling as fingers slid in. Better. "Unless you think you can make me get it up twice."

"I might be able to?" Rodney was moving his fingers slow, and the burn was nice. Nice and easing up towards a want. Rodney spread John's hips a little, got his ass up onto Rodney's knees, and seemed to like that position. Whenever he was done fingering John's ass, he'd have easy access.

"Okay, I'm up for that," John answered and moistened his lips at the thought of being pushed that hard, into a sore intensity that sometimes came with a back-to-back climax. "For that, I'll give you a wild time."

"After you recover." Rodney lifted his eyebrows at John, and slowly slid a third finger in beside the other two. He started to stretch them, pressing and twisting them slowly.

A bit of pain and that was spice enough. Rodney seemed to know a lot for someone who looked like a geek on the surface. But then he wouldn't do this for just anyone. There must be something special about him and he didn't know what it was exactly, just that he didn't respond like this to just anyone. "Mmm, that's good."

"Good. Tell me when you feel ready." He was still stroking him, stroking his dick, stroking his insides.

"About six months ago?" John said with a half smile. "I want to feel it… hard."

It got him a quiet laugh, and Rodney started to work his fingers slowly out of John. "Six months ago, huh? I had no idea I was that good looking."

"Do you want me to flatter your ego when you've got your fingers in my ass?" John asked.

"It couldn't hurt." Rodney lifted his eyebrows, and it was a ridiculous expression, but he was moving his fingers out, reaching for the condom.

"You've got good muscles and…." John smiled a little. "There's something about you that is irresistible."

He was still opening the condom when he flexed his arms. "If I make a 'gunshow' joke, I'm going to laugh so hard that I'll fall off the bed."

"I don't want that. I promise to take this very seriously," John said, watching hopefully.

"There's enough time in life for sex not to be direly serious." Rodney started to roll the condom down the length of his dick, fingers of his other hand sliding along the length of John's dick. "All right."

"Go for it, I'm ready," John promised, more than eager now.

Rodney looked down, and moved his free hand to help guide his dick. He squirmed, shifting in a little, and then John felt the pressure against his asshole. Yeah, this was going to be good.

"Not fragile," John pointed out, in case Rodney had missed that.

"Oh, I remember." Rodney inched the head of his dick into John, then put both hands on John's hips. Nice strong grip, holding him still while he pushed in. It was a slow motion, but steady and unyielding.

Yeah, that felt good, was good. He liked that feeling. Loved it. His exhale pushed outwards along with his push against him. "Mmm."

Rodney clutched hard at John's hips, once he'd pushed all the way in. "Oh, so tight. Mmm, hold on."

John clutched back. "Not going anywhere," he said breathlessly. He was nice and solidly rooted in John's ass, and when Rodney started to move, he proved that he knew what he was doing. Slow, steady, and moving his hands down John's thighs to pull his legs up onto his shoulder. It was just as well he was limber. "Mm. You sure you can keep this up?"

Slow, steady motions, sliding his cock in and out of John's ass. It was a good, slow burn. "Oh yeah."

"Great." Because he really was about to lose it unless he really made an effort to hold back.

Maybe he didn't have to. Rodney reached down, wrapped fingers firmly around John's dick, and thrust his hips up hard against John's ass.

That was enough to have him clenching and shuddering with the need to come. "Rodney!"

"Then come," Rodney grinned, stroking his other hand over John's calf. "I want to see you."

Another thrust and that was enough to have him let go. It had been longer than he would've liked since he came from someone else's hand. It was enough to make him gasp out and clench around Rodney.

He felt Rodney's thigh muscles flex, a smooth motion, and the stroking of his dick turned a little stuttered, but he didn't think Rodney had come. He had come on his hand, a thumb rubbing firmly against the underside of John's dick.

"Mmm." The result was that he was relaxed now, flexible. For a brief glimpse, a blur of his Sight, Rodney was above him coated in light.

He didn't focus on it, couldn't, because Rodney was shifting, getting onto his knees, holding John's legs on his shoulders, still dick deep in John's ass. "Tell me when you can't take it anymore."

"Oh, you are sure of yourself," John answered. "Are you deliberately trying to make it a challenge?"

"I'm going to try to fuck you hard again." Rodney started to move his hips fast, short stabs that were aimed at his prostate. "Try. Logically, if I can get you hard again, we can change positions. At least once."

"If that's what you, uhn, want." John replied relaxing into it, riding each jolt as a burst of pain and pleasure. "Mm."

Rodney's breathing was perfect, like a metronome, fast and measured, and John looked up at him, taking in the lines of his face, and his bright blue eyes, watching John's stomach and John's shoulders and everything that was probably turning him on harder. It was nice to roll around in the hay with a guy who didn't mind having semen on his hand and kept going like good and dirty wasn't a problem. It made him wonder again what the deal was with him, but it was hard to concentrate with him hitting his prostate. Could be a charm or spell for stamina, unless he was a half-breed.

Rodney hadn't been kidding about stamina. John disappeared into sensation as it went on and on. Steady, steady and fast and pounding. His balls twitched, twinged, and his dick was coming to life again. He was going to have a bruise on his right hip and in the morning he was going to sit in chairs tentatively, well-pounded. But he was getting hard, and it felt amazing.

He held on a long time, an incredibly long time, but eventually he had to find the breath to say. "Rodney… need…"

Something, anything, and whatever he wanted.

Two more thrusts, and Rodney stopped, eased back, holding still.

"You weren't kidding," John said shifting a little, sweating with the effort. "You…want to finish off or, me finish you off?"

Rodney eased out of him, fingers a little unsteady against John's hips. "I think we should swap."

God, he felt empty then, but the prospect felt good. Lube then, and he needed to loosen Rodney. "Got the … lube."

"Right here." Rodney palmed it over to him, letting John's legs down, and he leaned down to kiss John first.

His legs were a little stiff, but that didn't hold him up. He smiled as he squeezed some out and quested for Rodney's ass and slid slick fingers up the crack before going any further.

Rodney laughed against John's mouth. "Waste no time." His fingers flexed against John's ribs.

"Mmm, why would I?" John said. "You do it this way much?" Seemed like he was good at topping, maybe he had to go careful with him. He slipped fingers in, using all his skill.

They were close, and Rodney shifted, laid on his side to make it so he wasn't laying on top of John. "Sometimes. Half and half, I'd say."

He didn't mind the weight. "Mm, flexible." Fingers, moving, twisting and stroking. He was damn good at this and he knew it, but for the first time it wasn't just a means to an end. He'd already gotten off. He could have just left, waved a hand and said, 'Thanks, but I'm all fucked out,' but he wanted to stay and fuck Rodney, play with his ass, watch the way his face twisted up.

Something told him that Rodney didn't get that sort of attention that often. Oh, it wasn't all altruistic, in fact he'd known people who would've fallen over laughing at the thought of him being altruistic. His ex would've said he was good in bed, excellent but it was more about his own ego and agenda than anything else.

Not as true as she would've believed. He had manners; he knew how to repay favors. He knew how to use his body as a form of currency for things that could not be bought any other way. This, on the other hand, was pleasure and indulgence, and he could afford to be generous. He could afford to indulge every once in a while, and Rodney seemed to be into it. He moved against John's hand, and then turned, shifting to get onto his hands and knees to make it really easy for John.

He toyed with him, until he heard him react, coaxing moans from him and only then moving to position. "Ready?"

"Yeah." He finally sounded a little unsteady, and that was nice. Not that steady metronome the whole time, then.

John liked to think he was more able to be more than a ripple in his feeling. "Mm. Good." He was careful, pushing hard but evenly and waiting, then moving, then waiting and moving again.

His back bowed, and while he couldn't see Rodney's face like that, he could hear him. He could hear the emotions, the strain in Rodney's breath. "Yes, yes…" His ass was tight, and when John looked down he could enjoy the easy sight of dick sliding in and out, the head of his cock coming up against the edge of his hole and then sliding back in.

Thank God he'd come once already. He was able to keep going until he sensed Rodney was on the verge. His hand was reaching around Rodney to tease him as well.

Steady and hard, smooth and enjoyable. Rodney was bouncing back to him finally, moving his ass between John's dick and the hand playing with his own. That's what he wanted — reaction, losing control. He wanted that, and it pushed him to greater efforts. He worked at it, pushed where he was going.

And he got it. He finally got it, and Rodney was losing control, rocking hard, and moving harder, close to coming, then. Almost there, and he was doing that. He used everything he had pushing Rodney to climax, pumping with his hand, with his cock, and moving with his whole body until he came.

He was exhausted by the time that Rodney came, by the time that Rodney groaned and hung his head down between his shoulders, panting. "Yeah, that. Wow."

"Pretty much," John answered pulling away and half collapsing. It meant he didn't have the strength to do his usual flit and run just then. Few hours, then he might vanish off into the night.

He'd see.

Rodney stretched out on his stomach, and exhaled, folding his arms under him. He had a nice body, and holistically, John could see what he saw in the guy. "Did you come again?"

"Yeah. Makes it two to one," John answered relaxing next to him. "Gonna feel that."

Rodney was smiling when he drawled, "Sorry. Do you want a shower?"

"Yeah, in a bit," John lay back and smiled. "You know, you might be as good as you think you are. Nearly."

He was still smirking, and it made John think that he might puff up his chest like a bird if he'd been sitting differently. "If we run into each other again, we should give it another go."

"Wouldn't say no to that." John answered and was surprised to realize he actually meant it. But friends of his were killed with amazing regularity, either by war or by Otherkind. He stroked absently at Rodney's skin.

Rodney closed his eyes, and kept smiling.

It wasn't a one hundred percent sure thing, and John had known that when he'd rolled up to Cheyenne Mountain, and started the agonizing process of getting a visitor's pass. Pictures were taken, fingerprints, the usual questions about distinguishing marks, and though he was sure it was in his file, the guy checking him in took the time to photograph his tattoos meticulously.

Then Major John Sheppard, US Air Force, was cleared to enter what he'd already figured was a top level base.

He wondered if they were just cataloging the tattoos to see if he was some sort of gang-banger, because he sincerely doubted the Air Force would have a damn clue what they were about. It wasn't like he could explain that they were how he could force demons out, prevent them getting in, fight them all with the ink on his body if he was caught without his other weaponry.

He was shown to a room where there was a dozen or so other people waiting, but not all of them looked military. Every now and then a new person would be shown in.

It was a little strange that they were being brought in, kept in one room, and John wondered why. Why him, why those other people, why all corralled together.

"Oh, lovely. Little plastic chairs. Mmhm, if they put on a power point presentation, I'm going back to Area 51."

Nearly startled, he glanced up recognizing that voice. Rodney? Here? But he was a scientist.

"I was given to understand we didn't have a bloody choice," another unfamiliar but lilting Scottish voice said. The man standing next to Rodney seemed to be acquainted with him at least marginally.

'Yes, well, I've been given to understand that I always have a choice, even if I have to take it from someone." He looked different than he had the night before — good suit, dark shirt, and the other man was, well. Dressed up to his civilian, first day on the job nines, John guessed. He'd personally taken the effort to bring his shoes up to dress standards. "Oh, this just got interesting."

"How…" The other man glanced at him and said, "Oh, someone you know?" He shouldn't have picked that up merely from Rodney's comment. Huh.

He gave a flip salute. "Hi, Dr. McKay."

"Sheppard!" Rodney moved towards the empty chair to John's right. "Sheppard, this is Doctor Carson Beckett. Carson, this is Major John Sheppard. I think I know what we're doing here now, and this just got intensely less interesting for me."

"Care to share the theory, Rodney?" Carson said with a familiar sounding exasperated good humor. "Pleasure to meet you, Major. Rodney has the annoying habit of keeping theories to himself."

Rodney waved a hand, and leaned into John to whisper. "Take a 'Look' around."

John raised his eyebrows and then allowed his Sight to come in. He was one of the rare ones, he'd been born with it and it had made his life hell, up to the point his parents worked out what was happening and then things got a whole lot worse.

The room lit up for him like a rainbow. "Holy… shit."

"What?" Carson asked the both of them.

"Tada." Rodney leaned back, and added, "The Lieutenant in the corner's a little worrisome to me. I never thought you'd end up in on this, Carson."

"In on what?" Carson asked, sounding genuinely bemused and John looked to focus on the Lieutenant and see what he was exactly. John focused, recognizing the signs of a skillfully raised illusory shield over the features of the Lieutenant. He Looked harder and there it was. The half rotting, distorted visage of a demon lurking under the skin.

And he knew that John had pierced his disguise. This could get a little tricky.

Rodney leaned back in the chair. "Carson, stay put. I'm going to go talk to the stupid officer in charge of this very bad idea." Rodney stood up slowly, still looking at the room, and he edged towards the door. "Captain, when is this show getting on the road? I think having everyone sit here is a… poor decision."

"Why am I staying put?" Carson asked, sounding confused, even as John sized up the demon, and the demon sized him up right back at him. He smiled at John, with feral teeth showing, and John noticed Carson glance over at the man with a faint frown appearing.

"They'll be here shortly sir," the Captain replied.

"Not soon enough," John muttered. Soldier demon. He could exorcise the bastard on the fly if he had to.

"Right, shortly still isn't fast enough. I'm going to warn you that this place is going to get rowdy in a minute."

And Rodney turned away from the Captain, and moved towards the middle of the room. "Good afternoon. I'm sure we're all anxious for this interviewing process to start, but there's a demon in the room. Lieutenant Barnes there is possessed, and I'm not going to stand here and pretend I don't see it. I'm sure some of you have seen it — well, this whole room is full of us. Why play the secret game?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Rodney," Carson hissed. "Are you crazy?"

"He's not crazy," John stood up with his characteristic nonchalance. "Anyone want to deal with this guy?"

No point putting forward the effort if this was some sort of set up. But the Captain had paled and hit an emergency button at Rodney's words, so maybe it really wasn't a set up after all.

One of the women stood up, eyeing the Lieutenant warily. She was a Lieutenant, too, and she was definitely squared away, moving unsteadily towards him. "I, uh. Can I get backup, I uh…"

And then the Lieutenant moved, standing up and snarling, and everyone got to their feet. Apparently it wasn't on until there were noises to back it up. Rodney moved in, apparently intent on providing the physical restraint.

"I know you're hot shit, McKay, but stay back," John snarled moving forward. No one was doing anything, well, nothing useful. The damn thing would be up the wall before they acted. "You want something, demon?"

"Sheppard…" The reverb in the voice was unmistakable, painful to the ears in a way that human voices never could be. "He sends His regards. Another thing against you, trespasser, that will give Him delight in your endless torture. He wants you for His own."

"Yeah, whatever." No one acted, so he did. Pulled off his jacket, pulled up his sleeves. "Anyone here got anything hidden, this is going to get a little embarrassing right now," he warned the room.

The focus, the activation of the tattoo glyphs was inherent now and the air seemed to ripple around them.

He didn't expect Rodney to grab his fists and shove them down and away from each other. He'd gotten brighter the closer he got to John, and his hands were glowing when he touched John. "I'm a rude asshole, but this isn't how I want to get to know everyone, Sheppard. Put your body away. Demon, tell 'Him' this is not the place to play."

"Oh, quite the contrary," the demon hissed. "This is just the beginning. You go into our domain now and you think we will not contest that? When even the Snake Lords cannot stem our conquering ways? "

"What is going on?" Carson asked in a hushed whisper.

"Chosen," the possessed man gave a mock bow towards Carson. "Marked by Blood." He gave a chilling laugh. "Never was there one so unsuited, so ignorant of a destiny."

Rodney cocked his head to one side, and then reached fingers out to grasp the Lieutenant around the throat, pushing him up against the wall hard. "Sheppard, send this bastard back to Hell. Thanks. I don't feel up to this today."

"My pleasure." John pressed one of the symbols engraved on the back of his dog tags to the man's forehead, the exorcism flowing from his mouth like second nature. The demon screamed and yelled but really, he'd dealt with worse, and it helped having someone hold him. Piece of cake.

He could work with a little backup now and again, John decided, because the demon surged back, and the man went limp. Rodney seemed reluctant to let go of his neck, but he did, easing him to the ground. "Huh, he's lying. Samael's left Hell. Other people are running the show. You must have quite the fanclub."

"You'd be amazed," John said dryly. "I think I've pissed off pretty much everyone down there, up to and including the big guys."

Carson had come over, focused on the unconscious man and it was then that John saw something definitive about the Scotsman that indicated some sort of variant of the Sight, or power. A flare when it came to him examining something.

"He'll be okay," Carson said. "Though I suspect he'll sleep for a few hours."

"I suspect he'll have nightmares for years," Rodney murmured, turning his back to them for the moment to survey the rest of the room. "Lieutenant, thank you for the offer. I'm sure we'll all get to know each other, or not, as things go, and…."

And there were people in the doorway, and Rodney stood up a little straighter. "Which one of you thought putting a random mixture of supernaturally inclined people into a room without screening for demonic entities was a good idea?"

"Well, y'know, that would be entirely dependent on us having a reliable screening process, wouldn't it," an older man replied. "Daniel, I told you it was a stupid idea."

"Yes, yes, stupid idea, I've got that, Jack," a younger man replied. "Sorry, why don't you come through to the briefing room? Although you have to admit, it did help achieve what you wanted."

"I'd rather manage that without the critical security risk, Daniel," Jack answered.

"Do you know how much worse this could have been than a demon?" Rodney groused, moving protectively towards Carson to escort him towards the briefing room. "No, no, you probably don't. C'mon, I think this is the first job interview where everyone in this room knows more than the interviewers."

"And that is why we need to talk with you all together, rather then individually," the one called Daniel said. "This way please."

John moved. This was intriguing to him — the military knowing about the Otherkind? Demons, and all of that? Pretty damn weird, because government generally turned its head the other way when the world got strange.

They filed out, Rodney sticking close to the scientist who'd come in with him, and the woman who'd first edgily volunteered to do the exorcism stuck close to them, as if she'd picked who among the strangers she was most comfortable associating with. It was subtle, but that was the world they lived in, where a hunch could save a life. They moved into the briefing room, and took up spots at the wide table. There was an extra chair, and John figured they hadn't expected the exorcism.

"So, uh… let me explain why you're all here," the man called Daniel said even as he sat down. "You've all signed the non disclosure forms, but more than that, I suspect a lot of you have been living with this secret for some time."

"Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel," Jack sat down. "Look, I don't have time for lengthy explanations. You guys know about crazy things like demons, and supernatural beings, right?"

There was a reluctant spate of nodding around the table.

"Good. Because we're about to throw aliens into the mix," Jack said.

Rodney leaned back in his chair. "Some of us were pulled from Area 51 — how is this different than the information we had there?" That, John figured, probably took a little wind out of their sails, while there were at least a few of the soldiers around the table who looked mildly stunned.

Aliens, huh?

He resisted the urge to mutter cool.

"Okay, here's the thing. A while back we found and worked out how to activate an artifact which we call the Stargate," Daniel said. "And, as its name suggests, it is essentially a wormhole created between different gates on different worlds in the galaxy that allow near instantaneous travel. So we started taking trips out into the…uh…"

"Final frontier," Jack supplied.

"Yes, thank you, Jack, and there we discovered a big problem." Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. "There are good aliens and bad aliens but most of all, out there the supernatural is open and visible. Demons rule worlds; creatures of myth terrorize everywhere, whole planets. Everywhere, except here."

John gave a little snort to himself at that. The door opened behind them, and a blonde woman stepped in with the hurried step of someone who was running a little behind.

"Are you going to share your no doubt banal explanation of why you think that is, Doctor Jackson?" Rodney seemed to be baiting, and baiting hard, and John sort of felt warmed to that. He was expecting the trite line of something about God's doing, or God's hand.

"Our research shows that, well, to borrow a biological metaphor, the humans here had started to develop as the equivalent of antibodies," Dr. Jackson answered. "We have resistance, we have the ability to force them out, to kill them."

Rodney craned his head to peer at his companion, and cocked an eyebrow. "I'm not a medical doctor, but I think that's a mixed metaphor."

"To put it another way, Doctor McKay, people like all of you fight back. For whatever reason, there hasn't been a war waged out there in the rest of the galaxy the way it has been here. It's very likely that the Aliens changed the genetic code that allows people like you to do… what you do."

"If they did, it was a bloody long time ago," John heard Rodney's friend say. "The stability of the human genome has persisted for some time. But… uh, there are differences with those who have certain abilities. Who were born with them at least."

John frowned a little even as Jack spoke. "The point is, kids, that we're out there now in a war and we find that we don't personally know the tactics of fighting them, but we apparently have a planet of highly trained specialists."

"And we would like to interview each of you, because we know that fitting you into teams and learning your exact specialties will take time. We're going to order lunch in, so uh, if everyone can just get comfortable and bide with us while we in-process each of you and work out, uh…what you would be best suited to doing." That was the blonde woman — Major Carter, from her rank and her nametag.

"Lunch with monsters, Carson. I bet you're thrilled."

"We'll be going alphabetically," the woman said, as if volume could overcome McKay's voice, "so if I could see Doctor Carson Beckett and Specialist Ronon Dex."

"I'm still not sure what the bloody hell anyone is talking about," Carson muttered as he got up. "Maybe they want me for my genetics research. Back soon."

John leaned back as Carson and a large man stood, all muscles and attitude. "He's a were," he said, as an aside to McKay.

"Yes and no." Rodney sat back, squinting at the man as he left. The two men who'd been running the presentation were lingering, looking at them and they seemed as uncomfortable as everyone else did.

"You should all, uh, mingle, talk, uh, we'll be interviewing. You're all on duty, so don't, uh…eat each other while we're gone. We need you."

They headed off, leaving them there to 'mingle'. John smirked a little. "So, you didn't want me revealing you," he said to McKay.

"No, I don't. I don't think the guy who's of The People would have liked it either, or the half-breed vampire over there."

"We do have names," she remarked, when Rodney pointed to her. She had hair almost the same color as her skin, darker than caramel — not what John was used to in a Dhampir. And she was Marine, of all things, a Captain. She was probably going to hit Lt. Colonel before John did, too. "You should perhaps learn them."

"Fine. I'm Doctor Rodney McKay and you are…?"

"Captain Teyla Emmagen," she replied with a smile. There was just the hint of pointed incisors there.

"Major John Sheppard," he said by way of introduction

"Good, all right, Captain Emmagen. We're introduced. I'm sure you, like everyone else in the room, is just dying to work together to go fight demons on other planets."

The woman from before leaned forward, elbows on the table. A Marine Lieutenant, now that people weren't moving and John could read names, place the uniforms. Cadman. "Actually, I think it's pretty cool. Even if I'm completely outclassed. My family are hunters, but it's been a while. More of a demon trap and rock salt style then the uh… combat exorcism you did, Major Sheppard."

"Rock salt?" A warrant officer at the end of the table leaned forward. "What did you put it in?"

"Sawed off shotgun, just like my daddy used to."

And that seemed to break the ice. It was almost a relief, and Rodney sat back, quiet, while the rest of them finally started to talk a little — stilted, nothing particularly personal, but it was the gun-show version of supernatural creatures. Most everyone was military, and if they could talk in those terms, then at least it was better than silence, John figured.

"So," Cadman said after a while. "I've heard your name, Sheppard. Around. Never knew you were a flyboy, though."

John shrugged. "You sure you've got the right man?"

"It's not like old-style wizards grow on trees," Rodney murmured. "You have a reputation in our circles. Or at least, you have the reputation of having a reputation."

"Oh, a reputation?" John raised an eyebrow. "Really? Why don't you tell me about my… reputation." He wasn't exactly an old style wizard, unless he meant someone with it born into his blood.

"Hunters say you've walked Hell and back," Cadman said pointedly.

"Taken on the Triumvirate of Hell," Rodney added.

"Cast out many demons," Teyla added, her smile almost demure. "And possibly laid to rest many of my father's kin. If you are the same Sheppard as the stories."

"All we have are stories." Rodney rubbed at his jaw on the right side, and stood up. "I'll be back. I'm going to see about lunch."

Most of it was true, but it suited him to be underestimated. "Yeah, don't believe everything you hear."

It was a deflection, but Cadman grinned. "We'll let you prove yourself before we put you up on a pedestal. Don't you think this is cool, though? Aliens and demons to hunt."

"I wonder if they're Roswell grays, or you know. Alien aliens, with the head in the head and the Geiger design?" the Warrant at the end of the table grinned.

It started another spate of conversation, and John was content to watch and try to guess what the rest of them were. It was almost a shame that he hadn't revealed them all. Almost.

"Captain Emmagen?" A young Air Force officer opened the door, and Carson and Specialist Dex were escorted back into the room. "If you would follow me."

Teyla left and Carson sat down looking bemused. "I'm still not a lot the wiser for all that," he said to John. "I don't really know what this is about."

"You're the seventh son of a seventh son," Dex told him, sitting down heavily into his chair. "It means they think they can use you. You're more than you thought."

"So?" Carson looked at them, "Well if you believe the family stories, seventh of a seventh of a seventh, but why is that important? That's just numbers."

John sat up a little, and paid attention. "Seventh Sons are… important," he said. There were demons that would wade through martyrs' blood to get their hands on Carson.

"Just at a very basic level, there are old, dangerous rituals which would need your blood as a rare ingredient." Teyla was looking at Carson sympathetically. "You are some type of healer…?"

"Well, aye, I was a doctor. Still am, but I found it… difficult to work with patients in the long term," Carson said. "Although I was an excellent diagnostician. A knack for it. They have just called me a 'sensitive', but whatever that demon thing was spouting had them worried."

And it should have, but it wasn't as if Carson was going to draw any more of an unnecessary risk than John would.

The door opened again, and Rodney slipped back in. "Right, Lunch has been arranged for."

"Always a good thing," John agreed. "Hey, did you know about Carson here being a Seventh Son?"

"Uh…" Rodney glanced at Carson, while he sat down between Carson and John. "Actually, I did."

"Why didn't you tell me? I feel a wee bit of an idiot, as everyone else seems to have a clue here, and I don't," Carson said. "Whatever I'm meant to have, I don't have it. Just a knack."

"Because I didn't want to scare you, and you're a good friend."

John had half a thought that the guy was probably Rodney's only friend, if his attitude was turned on all the time. "Sometimes, that's all that manifests. Sometimes, other events make you stronger."

"Can't say I've noticed," Carson said. "I would've thought Major Sheppard here would be the one to watch. Aside from you, Rodney, of course. "

He smiled a little, but John was wondering how true his random phrases were. Some people had that happen as well, where they revealed knowledge subconsciously.

"What makes you think I'm anything but knowledgeable?" Rodney bristled a little. "You know how much I need to know things."

"Aye, true enough," Carson shrugged. "You know a lot though. I assumed you'd had experience."

"We all have secrets," John said, "Some are more powerful than others."

"And sometimes the very powerful fall." And if John had been a tiny bit more egotistical, he would have taken that as a threat. As it was, he'd had the guy's dick in his ass, and vice versa, and he was just getting a feeling for Rodney's… unique personality.

Daniel felt he needed the moral support when it came to interviewing Dr Rodney McKay. The man's reputation had preceded him and frankly when it came to technical details, he needed Sam. He was the one with the ability that they were classifying as a Sensitive, but Sam had that technical mindset as well.

"Dr McKay, how would you classify your abilities?"

The funny thing was that he qualified for the Stargate Program completely separate of his Sensitive abilities. And he looked unhappy that he was there at all, talking about it. He folded his arms over his chest, and exhaled slowly.

"I don't. Can I see how you're all breaking this down?"

"At the moment we are working on three classifications. Warrior, Magician and Sensitive. This encompasses half breed types, for example," Daniel explained. "Warriors being fighters, Magicians being knowledge users, with certain abilities to affect reality, and sensitives being those who have more subtle, innate abilities."

"Given those very restrictive categories, you're going to have to put me down as a 'Magician', though it's very innate for me." He leaned forward a little, peering at the columns, and then briefly at Sam. And Sam's breasts.

It was a good thing Jack wasn't in the room.

"Are you aware of any genetic differences you might have?" Daniel asked, after clearing his throat.

McKay was being elusive, he had to give him that. "Yes. Yes, I am. I'm infertile."

"How do you reconcile your abilities and your interest in science?" Sam asked and Daniel tried to focus and open himself up to pick up more information about the man.

He'd always been aware of things like that, of the differences. He didn't have the easy 'sight' that he suspected some of them did, but he could try to absorb holistic pieces that would tell him more about them.

"Why do you think that would be problematic?" McKay asked back. "That demons and the atomic bomb somehow fail to go hand in hand?"

"Traditionally science and religion have been in opposition," Sam said, tilting her head.

He opened his mind and the information that came flooding back was a sense of something vast there, a white horizon.

"Traditionally, people have been morons. If it's been done and said forever and ever, it still doesn't make it a good idea." He moved, and the white horizon moved with him, because it was him. "If I were exceedingly religious, I'd be forced to point out that science is our way of interpreting the Logos."

"Ah, the Logos." That made sense. It fit with the impression he had of intense curiosity, and bright thoughts.

Sam beamed. "I agree. That's just what I have said when I was helping to calculate the equations. And Magic follows different laws but it can be balanced in the same way, if you can understand the rules."

Uh oh, Jack wasn't going to like this at all, not the interest that sparked in Dr McKay. "Magic — what kind of magic have you run into? What demons? I'm curious, because I can fill in some holes for you. I'd like to do that — if I'm going to be here, I don't want to see another incident like what happened earlier."

"I've been developing a theory of magic based on quantum equations and chaos theory maths," Sam said her eyes lighting up.

"Guys, guys…" Daniel waved at them. "Obviously you two are going to need a long talk. Dr McKay, are you interested in joining Stargate Command? And potentially working as part of a field team?"

He lifted his eyebrows at Daniel, and sat back in the chair. "Yes, with one condition. Sometimes, you're just going to have to take what I know at face value."

"I think we're always going to have to do that with a lot of information," Daniel said. "You're not going to reveal yourself are you? Can you see what others are?"

"Yes. You're trying to Look at me, and it doesn't work very well, I've been told." McKay glanced over at Carter again. "So, when can I start being useful?"

"Pretty much immediately, once we've got you set up here," Daniel said.

"Okay. Then let's get going, because you need to ward every human in that room — half of them have no blocking protection, and the other half are doing it wrong. Now, can I go?"

"You can. We're assigning teams later, so… you'll get to meet your teammates," Daniel said. They were only aiming for two teams of 'specialists' at the moment, but he was pretty sure McKay would be on one of them. It was fortunate that Sam was a 'Magician' for their team, he was a Sensitive, and Teal'c was their Warrior. And Jack… Jack was the leader. Sometimes not having a bit of all of this was an advantage. Occam's razor. Sometimes a madman threatening a town was just a madman, no demonic possession needed.

"I hope you're paying attention to cultural sensitivities for some of these non-humans when you put the teams together." And then Rodney was leaving. Probably to go eat lunch with the rest of them.

Taking his endless white horizon with him.

Carson wasn't sure how his life had become so odd recently. He'd thought he'd put that all behind him, although he was quietly relieved to be told his nervous breakdown after ER duty hadn't actually been a nervous breakdown at all. And here he was, discovering that Rodney was some sort of supernatural guru.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked again.

They'd broken away from the group a little, because Rodney had said it was giving him a headache. Dex — a werewolf-type man, according to the conversation they'd had with the people running the show — was sitting to the other side with the two pretty Marine women, talking casually and laughing. Everyone had broken into little clusters, and Sheppard had been taken off for his interview. "You would have thought I was insane."

"Well…" Carson had to admit that was true. "Maybe just a wee bit. How long have you been doing all this?"

Rodney rummaged around in the bag of Cheetos that had come with his roast beef sandwich. Some people had other sorts of chips, and Carson had a feeling that Rodney had checked boxes to find exactly what he wanted first. "A very long time. My whole life, actually."

Carson knew strangely that he was telling the truth in that. "So you've been battling demons and things before?"

"I like not to do it, but I've done it," Rodney shrugged, licking two fingers before getting himself another Cheeto or two from the bag.

"Can you tell me about it?" Carson said. "I'd like to know what this was about."

"Well, some of the myths you've heard in life are true. God, for instance, exists. Not that he involves himself in anything but creating new things. So all of these structures he put into place run themselves. Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, though that happened so very long ago that it doesn't apply to us as humans."

"Just as well I've been a Christian all my life then," Carson answered. "Huh, how do you know all this?"

Rodney shrugged. "Well, Christianity has one aspect of it right and several more aspects of it wrong. All three of the big monotheistic religions have pieces of the puzzle, and no one's really sharing. If they did, they'd break down their own belief systems, and that would be too easy for them. There are different Hells, for example. God created other gods, so some of those are real. Creation is wide, expansive. Wider than you could imagine."

"So… The odds are there will be different gods on different worlds yes? Different demons?" Carson asked. "Will what works here work there?"

Rodney rubbed at his temple. "No, no, there's Him. The creator. Period. Let there be light." Rodney snapped his fingers. "He presumably enjoyed that part, and carried on building worlds over and over and over and over, with different types of life forms. But it's all him. There's one set of rules."

"So a catholic exorcism works even across the galaxy?" Carson asked, a little stunned by the implications of that.

"You could say the same words in English. You could say the same words in French, Spanish, Italian, pig Latin, alien language, anything. The words carry the effort." Rodney tilted the bag, pouring Cheeto dirt into his hand. "Mmmph. I guess we have to think about moving out here and settling in. I don't think this mission will be up in a week or two."

Carson nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Rodney, I have no idea what use I would be to anyone on this mission. Now, you have knowledge, and if what I hear is correct then The People have enhanced physical abilities. What on earth could a… sensitive do?"

"Sense things. If you feel something in a hunch manner, that's still ten times better than someone who doesn't." Rodney smirked, and put a hand out, his shirt-sleeve riding up. "Try it on me. Touch my wrist, and tell me what you feel."

"What sort of thing?" Carson asked, reaching over a little hesitantly, finger hesitating above skin.

"Anything," Rodney shrugged. "Anything at all could be more useful than not knowing nothing. I bet we can pitch in and train you."

"Okay…" He would probably feel nothing. He touched his fingers to Rodney's skin and tried not to feel ridiculous. It didn't help.

"It's not working."

"Maybe I need to be injured for it to work." Rodney frowned for a moment, then picked up his sandwich with his other hand. "I'm not going to stab myself with a fork for you."

Carson grinned a little and was about to say something when he had a sudden… sense. "You had sex last night!"

Rodney groaned, and fumbled his sandwich for a moment. "You pick that up, of all things?"

"You did?" Carson blinked. "Bloody hell, and you didn't say a thing."

The next groan was slightly less theatrical, but Carson still felt shocked. After all, his motel room was right beside Rodney's, and he hadn't heard a bloody thing! "What was I supposed to do, Carson? Knock on your door and say, 'Hey, I trolled a bar last night because I was lonely and desperate'?"

"Well… you could've knocked on my door before you went trolling a bar," Carson answered and then half realized what he said.

Rodney caught it, staring at Carson. It was a funny picture, Rodney with his arm still held out like Carson was taking his pulse, sandwich still in hand. "You're not joking, are you…? We, wow, we have to work on timing."

"You mean, you're interested?" Yes, his sense told him, yes he was interested. Why couldn't he see that before?

Was it because he hadn't been trying to see anything? He was reluctant to let go of Rodney's wrist, wondering what else he could sense out, like poking about in the dark. "What? Yes, but you're also my best friend so I was sort of weighing the pros and cons in my head."

"Aye, well." Carson shrugged a little. "I'm not used to people being interested. Uh… how do I pick more things up?"

"Close your eyes and focus on your senses." Rodney took another bite of his sandwich, and started to chew. Carson closed his eyes. He could smell the lunch-smells in the room, still taste chips and turkey in his teeth, the back of his tongue, he could feel Rodney's pulse under his thumb, always a little fast. Rodney complained that Carson gave him white coat syndrome, and Carson pointed out that he just had high blood pressure.

Flash image of… Sheppard eyes closed and pushed back and wow, he knew who the sex had been with, but then he decided he was interested in the high blood pressure. He let himself sink deeper and deep and it was strange… It was like swimming underwater and seeing a great light.

And then the connection was gone and Rodney was holding his shoulders, pushing back upright in his chair. "Whoa, whoa, hi. Are you okay?"

"Wha?" Carson blinked. "What just happened?" He'd never had anything like that happen before, unless he counted the whole nervous breakdown thing.

"Too deep, too far. You probably need to recover. What did you see?" Rodney was looking at his eyes, bright blue eyes and oh, oh, bloody hell. There was gold in the middle, just for a moment, hot gold instead of black.

"Depths and… light. Oldness. Something…" Carson shook his head. "I thought I was going crazy before. Before I moved to research. They… they told me I was having a nervous breakdown. Took me away."

"What did you sense? Then, I mean. What did you feel? Or do you remember at all."

"Not a lot… they started giving me drugs. Saying there were seizures," Carson said. "Only there was no evidence they were. I remember…I remember touching a patient in the ER and seeing exactly what had happened. Knowing where all the damage was, then it didn't stop. It started rolling back all the information piling it on. But… it was a delusion or something."

"No." Rodney's mouth twitched into a smile. "No, you were seeing everything about your patient. You didn't have a breakdown, and you've probably blocked what you can do as a defense. I think we can help you work out how to control this."

"It's…" Carson didn't know what to say. "All this time I've believed I couldn't cope under pressure and now I find it was something very different indeed." The relief was incredible. It was a terrible thing to feel that way when he had set his heart on being a hands on physician.

Rodney pulled back for a minute, but it was just to grab his chair and scoot in closer. "No, you have a skill. Do you know how many people in this room have been institutionalized, taken drugs, tried to fight what they were? The half-breeds, the ones of the People are the lucky ones — they were raised with an acceptance of what they were. They were never told to be normal, to stop that nonsense."

"Didn't you ever… I mean, did anything like this happen to you?" Carson asked. He found it hard to believe.

Rodney ripped off some of the bread from his lunch remnants and passed it to Carson. "No, but my experiences are different."

"And you don't like to talk about them," Carson stated, rather than asked. "They are taking a long time with Major Sheppard."

"Major Sheppard probably has a lot to say. He probably has a very sensational rap sheet. He's also the last one they took in, so I know that the 'alphabetical order' plan is a lie."

"I think I worked that out when they didn't take Cadman in with me," Carson grinned. "She's a lovely wee lass."

"I'm pretty sure she wouldn't want to be called 'wee'. She's built, for one." Rodney glanced over his shoulder at the others. "So. You seem to be taking this very well."

"Well, I can accept that I was either nuts, or that there might just be things out there I don't understand," Carson answered. "I'm seizing on the not insane option."

It seemed like the best possible option he'd had in a long time.

John had to give it to them. Daniel was one of the most astute… Sensitives, as they seemed to be labeling them now, that he had come across. Well, the ones that were still alive, at least. Carter seemed to have a magician's way, but not like him. He was awkward, he knew that. He didn't neatly slot into any one of the categories, he just sort of crossed boundaries. He had some aspects of a sensitive, like the Sight, he had a shit load of Magic, and a hell of a lot of a Warrior too. And a few other things that probably didn't fit anywhere. If they wanted to label him they probably ought to make a whole new section.

There were a few of them that didn't belong in any of the categories and it grated to try to sit there and have them categorize him. But they seemed to trust him.

"What I'm wondering about was your tattoos," Daniel finally said. "I know they were grandfathered in when you enlisted, and again when you went OCS. But what are they?"

John smirked a little. "The built in equivalent of a Do It Yourself demon and monster fighting kit," he said leaning back. "Gotta be able to use them, not just have them. That's a different set of skills."

"All right." Daniel leaned back, and glanced at Sam. "Can you — do you know what you were going to do in the other room? Do you know why Doctor McKay stopped you?"

Huh. So they hadn't been as stupid as John had thought — security cameras had definitely been watching that melee, waiting to see if it went out of control even if they hadn't anticipated when it started. "I'm interested in the mechanics of how you make it work," Carter added, leaning forward a little.

"It's not the sort of thing I do as a trick," John answered. "It was a … it's difficult to explain. It forces the truth of reality to be exposed. Very useful if a Demon is body hopping or likely to try to. The side effects of it would've made any half-breed visible, and there would've been effects on others. Wouldn't normally do it, but if the soldier demon jumped into someone with a gun, we could've had carnage."

"Okay." Daniel rubbed at the corner of his mouth. "How do you make it work, though? If I had those same tattoos on my arms, for instance…"

"Your ability might not be the right type to make it work. You've got to have something hard and focused. You guys tend to be more open, more diffuse. Means you pick up more." John grimaced a little. "The ones that you're calling Sensitives tend to be like a large cloud of power or energy. Lit up like a goddamn beacon and spreading out all around you. But your magicians are like… a blade. Focused in but hard. Good for different things. I'm not exactly typical. There are about… three people I know who can make the Gates work without a lengthy ritual."

"So these are… gates?" Daniel was making notes, like he was going to personally go look this up. "How would you classify some of the people you met in the other room? I'm — we're working with what we managed to stitch together, and we're, well, obviously more than happy to utilize people like you, McKay, Dex, Emmagen, and Cadman, who know more about this than we do."

"Classifying huh? You're going to run out of labels pretty quick. I haven't used the Sight on McKay, only enough to know he's one of the good guys. I can tell you he's got power though." John shrugged a little. "Dex is one of The People. He's a 'Were', if you're using Hunter slang, but they're not uncontrollable beasts… those would be demons got mixed up with the Were origins. He could take on several squads of Marines without breaking a sweat. Emmagen, she's a Dhampir, a half-breed vampire with reflexes and strength like you wouldn't believe. Cadman… Hunter kids tend to have a touch of something, otherwise they don't survive. She's probably got a touch of the Luck. Beckett…" He shook his head. "Seventh Son, huh?"

"Seventh son of a etc, etc." Daniel squinted. "I'm wondering if you had thoughts on how we could put you all into a… we want at least one dedicated team, and the rest scattered into other units. The Colonel looked over your file and wants to propose that you… could lead a squad."

He raised his eyebrows a little. "Depends what the remit is for the group. If you're doing diplomacy, send Sensitives. If you're trading in wards and protection, then send Magicians. If you have strike teams, then send your Warriors. If you want a specialist team or two, you need a team with a representative of each. Minimum." He narrowed his eyes at Daniel a moment. "Your team — you're a sensitive, she's your Magician and I'm assuming you've got a Warrior and a leader. It's a solid number. If you want a highest powered team, out of the people you've got out there right now, its McKay as a magician, Beckett as a sensitive, either Emmagen or Dex as a warrior, and myself as… an all-a-rounder. Beckett's the uncertain one, but if he's a seventh son, he needs to be with the highest degree of protection you've got."

"Then should he be sent out at all?" Daniel pressed a little.

John chewed on his lip a little. Difficult question, very difficult. Logic said no, but his gut said yes, and if you wanted to live, you always listened to your gut. "Yes. There are some disturbing prophecies about Seventh Sons, and I'm not saying it is Beckett, but that doesn't matter. It's what the other side believes that's the case. A Seventh Son will open doors out there like you wouldn't believe. If they're really openly living with all this stuff, you have in Beckett the mortal equivalent of an angel or prophet. Even if he just stands there and does nothing, that's an advantage you can't afford to pass up."

"We haven't run into any angels, but if we do, we'll put that on your team, too. Frontloading," Daniel smiled, and looked at Carter again.

"If you could look over our teaming plans, and tell us whether or not these look like good choices. You're the last one in here. McKay mentioned we should try to be aware of cultural sensitivities in some of these people."

"Coming from McKay, that's pretty rich, but." Daniel was still looking at him, and it was almost maddening. "Don't look too hard," he said. "You might see something unpleasant."

He looked over the team plan, intrigued to see that they hadn't done a bad job. He made a brief scribble and swapped two around to stop bloodshed. Some of the Eastern European Otherkind had some really long running blood feuds. They'd either end up fucking or fighting and, either way, that wasn't good for teamwork. He frowned a little when he saw a couple of names and shifted two more around that he knew had beefs with each other if the names were who he thought they were. The second team didn't look too bad either. "Heh, always wondered what Lorne did as a day job," he murmured pushing the team sheets back to them.

"Lorne was recommended for this program based on his military prowess," Carter murmured, glancing down at the sheets.

"So, would you be willing to lead a team, Major Sheppard? Dealing with Aliens and demons out there in the galaxy? It's going to take weeks to train and get all of you working as cohesive units. We have some planets we're on friendly terms with who're willing to allow us to use them as jump points for training."

"Might be interesting to do it as a real job. Get it set up so we can kick ass on our home soil as well," John said. "I'm in. And Lorne's holding out on you, he's pretty good at divination."

Carter exhaled. "Huh. Well, if you're in, then we'll go announce the teams to the group and we can get everyone moved out here. Welcome to Stargate Command, Major Sheppard."

He nodded at her and at Dr Jackson. This was a big move, a hell of a big move and they weren't going to be able to do this without repercussions, he knew that. But maybe for once there would be support there — no more trying to stitch himself up and pretend everything was okay. No lack of sleep at night and working all day. Proper supplies. With the US military behind it, he was sure he wouldn't be running out of dragonfire any time soon. If they could bring in some of the secret religious military orders, then they really would be on to something big.

Everything was moving so strangely.

They'd announced the teams, and it was just as Rodney had suspected. Put together one front-loaded team, and a second slightly less front loaded team, and then scattered the rest of them. He supposed that it was the best way to do it, so every team going out of Stargate Command had someone who could sense if the villagers they were dealing with were all that they seemed.

He still expected high fatality rates and for it to be a complete fiasco, of course.

And he was part of the front loaded team with Major Sheppard as their commander. Well, he had to admit the man wasn't completely incompetent, but really.

"So, team meeting, guys," John said in an annoyingly chipper tone of voice and Carson was sitting there looking anxious again.

The Dhampir was on their team, too, and there were certain advantages to that. Strength, speed. Not quite the lucky coin of metaphorical tender that Carson was, but useful. She was all smiles, calmly looking at the three of them.

He wished Carson didn't look so anxious.

"Woo. Why are we having a team meeting?"

"Well, I thought it would be useful if we didn't accidentally piss each other off," John said. "By team meeting, I mean getting a drink and relaxing. "

"I think I need more than a drink to relax," Carson said looking around at them all.

"I could very much use a drink right now," Teyla volunteered, sitting up.

"Mmm. I can be the designated driver," Rodney offered, putting one hand up slightly.

"Let's hit a… sympathetic bar," John said and it seemed a fair few people were heading out in that general direction anyway, so Rodney let the others focus on small talk while he dealt with more important things.

"Ohh, indoctrinate poor Carson early. If we head there now, we can get a booth." Rodney shrugged his suit jacket back on while he stood up.

A lot of the journey to the bar, which despite its dive like nature was a favorite spot, was spent introducing Carson to the whole concept of the place. He'd been amazed, fascinated and concerned that such places existed. The one thing that preyed on his mind was that he wouldn't be able to get in through the test.

"I really don't know," he said as they descended down to where the bouncer was waiting with his pack of cards.

"Open your mind. You can touch the card if you have to, but you aren't allowed to try to tip it and peek," Rodney advised, nudging his shoulder while Teyla took the lead. She glanced at the card, and declared it a flying lizard before she stepped past the man.

Of course she had control of herself.

Sheppard grinned. "Just relax, doc, nothing to it. Two spheres beneath a moon."

"Bloody Hell," Carson said looking at the man and stepping forward. "Sorry lad, not done this before." He took a deep breath and touched the card. "A…snowflake and two swans?" he said sounding surprise. "Well, they could be geese I suppose."

"Go on."

He pulled up a new card for Rodney. He opened his power up for a moment; hit the card and some of the man with it. "Bleeding sun. You should get that ulcer looked at — I can smell the death on you."

"He has an ulcer?" Carson paused not quite through the door. "How did you pick that up? I want to learn that."

Of course he did.

Rodney shut it down, and smiled widely at Carson. "It's not the ulcer, it's the blood I picked up on. I can shut mine on and off. If I was open all the time, I'd have a worse attitude than I do now." He shadowed Carson into the inner part of 'Kudos'.

"Oh really?" Carson grinned obviously on a bit of a high from getting it right. It was normal for him but to Carson this was all new, he forgot that sometimes.

"There you are," John said. "C'mon, we've got drinks and Teyla's staking a claim on a table over there."

"What did you order?" Rodney kept herding Carson forward, and made sure he got into the inside of the booth, between Rodney and the wall.

"For you? Something incredible sweet and… froofy," Sheppard said with a devilish grin. "Carson, you just get beer at the moment?"

"Beer is fine, lad," Carson replied.

"Rodney, you want to set some privacy wards or do you want me to?" John asked.

"No, by all means. Go for it, be impressive," he smiled waving a hand at the empty space between them, and the rest of the bar. Teyla looked comfortable enough sitting at John's other side. It looked like she was drinking some kind of lager.

John shrugged a little and muttered a little under his breath. It was as neat a set of wards as Rodney had seen, made to look easy.

"Now we can talk," John said. "If we're going to be their front line team we need to figure what we need to deal with as soon as possible."

"I don't know where to start," Rodney admitted, sliding the straw through the milk shake of hard liquor. "We need to work out how we can complement each other."

"Okay, what experience do any of you have of what we would call combat situations? Supernatural or demonic combat," John asked.

"I keep telling you all, I've bloody well got nothing," Carson said shrugging a little. "I'm pretty sure if there's one of us with a big neon sign of liability to be stuck on them, it's me."

"I have many years of fighting vampires. I started when I was very young," Teyla replied. "It is well known that only Dhampirs can kill true vampires."

Rodney glanced slowly between them, and wondered just how much of himself to unfurl. "I don't get into combat situations very often. I prefer to pretend I'm Switzerland."

"That's going to be difficult if we're on a team heading into difficult situations," John said looking at him. "Are you going to be able to do something? I don't want one of my team, any of you killed."

"Okay, uh. I have had a long-standing position of personal neutrality," Rodney offered, sharing that much. "So maybe Switzerland is the wrong analogy. Think America before Pearl Harbor. I have a lot of power. I just don't want to use it."

"You know, I haven't Looked at you really," John said. "I got the impression you didn't want that."

"Many of us do not like to be reminded of our Other natures," Teyla said calmly.

"I've put a lot of work into getting where I am now with my natural intelligence and ability." He shrugged. "You can look. Doctor Jackson tried before and couldn't get far."

"Not the sort of thing I'm going to push in a public place," John replied with a grin. "Maybe someplace private. Okay, so, Dr. Beckett…"

"Call me Carson."

"Carson is our one that needs the most training." John said. "All of us are going to need some physical training and I'm thinking Teyla is our expert there."

"I have a touchy back," Rodney warned. "Just to put that out there. You're going to do horrible things to us, aren't you?" He could tell that she was looking forward to it, almost glowing with the anticipation of besting them.

"Oh, yes." She smiled at them all. "Even Major Sheppard here could enhance his skills considerably."

"Thank you," John said dryly. "I take that to mean you will be kicking my ass literally."

Teyla smiled again. "It will be educational."

"Whom do we have who can train Carson?" he asked.

"I can train Carson to use his abilities." Rodney took a swig of his drink, and then fished out the cherry that was stuck in the foam.

"You have experience?" John looked impressed. "Okay, look I've worked with people before. Good friends and… it's dangerous out there. I've lost way too many. I don't want to lose a new team if I can help it. Kinda like the idea of some back up. But you also have to know we are going to attract trouble one way or another. There are some big names out there who don't like me."

"Carson is going to attract trouble," Rodney shrugged. "Teyla is going to attract trouble. I'm bound to run into someone I've pissed off somewhere. We're going to make a great lead team."

"We sound like a bunch of lightning conductors," John said. "So… okay, we're okay with it. Aliens, huh? Anyone come across them before?"

Rodney stuck his straw briefly into the air. "And Carson. In a passing way. Those 'Roswell Grays'? Are real. And I've been able to study a computer model of the Stargate. I'm looking forward to that part of things."

"Aye, the Asgard. I've been doing some genetic research on them," Carson admitted. "I've been with Rodney at Area 51. His team has been making extraordinary advances in science."

John nodded. "Hmm… interesting that the runic systems can work as well for demons. I wonder if that means other races out there also had defenses."

"It's the words, not so much the language," Rodney shrugged. "I tried to explain that to them in the interview. Though the runes can gather the concepts together much more tightly than, say, English can. Sometimes there are better languages for the words. The power of a name in its native language." The power of saying a name, of revealing and binding with a name. Rodney closed his eyes for a moment, before peering down at his mudslide.

"The Word of God," Carson said and he seemed to be looking at Rodney when he said that. It was a little alarming that, even untrained, Carson seemed to be hitting near the mark more accidentally than people who had practiced over the years. "I suppose that is at the root of most religions, but some religions built very specific means of dealing with demons into it… delegated power. They could really do with some priests on board from the sound of it."

"There were a couple there. At least one shaman I recognized," John said. "People find what works for them and use it." He took a mouthful of his beer.

"I'd leave the normal Chaplains out of it. They're more likely to fall to their knees and start praying than they are to fight back." Rodney scraped the fluff down from the sides of his glass, and glanced over at Teyla. "What are your preferred techniques?"

"I find stick fighting to be curiously effective against Vampires," Teyla replied calmly. "With their sensitivity to wood, they suffer from the strikes greatly, although I always carry sanctified knives and I have recently adapted to a katana blade which I find allows me to keep my advantage of speed. Planning is paramount however if facing more than one of these creatures."

"When you get a chance." John looked somber a moment. "Sometimes you don't get that option."

"You're really helping my confidence here, you know that?" Carson said looking at them both with wide eyes.

"I'm tempted to take you to Lux, in LA," Rodney grinned, nudging Carson's shoulder. "We've got, what, two weeks before we're supposed to be back here and report for duty?"

"Yeah," John said. "To finish up projects or move or whatever, only I'm pretty much moved apart from finding a place."

"Oh lord, finding a place to live…" Carson shrugged. "Looks like another apartment is in my future."

John shook his head. "Carson, if word gets out about what you are… We need to be pretty close to you if that happens."

Rodney glanced over at Carson. "We could always do cheap communal living," Rodney pointed out.

"You three may pursue inexpensive multi-room housing. I believe I will get an apartment," Teyla told them demurely, for someone who'd just polished off an ale.

"That might be an idea," John replied. "Only one set of wards to set up. And we need to get Carson a tattoo. You, too, Rodney unless you've taken steps against possession. First thing we need to do is to make sure we don't have to worry about possession."

"Nothing is going to possess me," Rodney murmured, picking up his glass. "Actually, I do need to go to LA to wrap a couple things up. If you want me to go magical item shopping while I'm there, I'll accept requests and a list."

Teyla started to smile again. "I will take you up on that offer, Doctor McKay."

"Yeah, that would be cool," John said. "I need to get some dragonfire and then see what you guys can do about replicating it. That would make a very effective weapon for all teams."

"A tattoo. My mother would have a pink fit," Carson commented glumly.

"And if Carson will let us borrow a bit of his blood…" John said, glancing at the doctor.

"What?" Carson startled up. "What do you want my blood for?"

"I'm sure Rodney will find it useful." John said innocently.

"It's better than cash in a barter system," Rodney volunteered. "John, if I go take care of the shopping list, will you stick with Carson and get him moved out here? It shouldn't take me more than a couple of days out there if I leave tomorrow morning."

"Sure," John said drawling a little. "You want us to look for somewhere local? You okay with anything we pick?"

"As long as I have a bedroom and space to put books. Also, my television will be inherently better than yours, so please wait to arrange the living room around its breathtaking perfection." He shifted, starting to stand up. "I'll get everyone another round."

"Yeah, enough work stuff," John said lazily, and Rodney was pretty sure he was looking at his ass as he got up. And possibly Carson too, but John did it much more blatantly.

He was moving in with the both of them, like a horrible situation comedy from the eighties. Three makes for really, really gay company? That was probably not one of his better ideas, but if he could keep things casual enough and focused at work, the rest would follow suit. He was used to living alone, and there were problems that went with not being alone.

He wondered if he could talk Carson into watching Ellis while he was gone. Rodney waited for the bartender to get the next round ready, and walked it back to the booth.

"…not garlic then?" Carson was asking.

"I find it somewhat refreshing," Teyla answered with a smile.

"I'm feeling somewhat disillusioned," Carson commented even as John chuckled a little.

Rodney could tell it was going to be a night full of ever more ludicrous stories and fortunately he had a few to share that wouldn't reveal too much about him. And maybe later on… he might just give in to the gleam in John's eye. Just a little.

Carson had a stinking hangover and he wondered why he put himself through this sort of torment. Admittedly he always got over them quickly, but right now Rodney and John were making his head pound as they talked over his groans.

"So, get him tattooed, and if you can get his stuff over here, I'd appreciate it. It shouldn't take me more than a couple of days to get back. This is my cell phone number, and I'll leave him the rental car."

"How are you going to get to LA?" Carson asked blearily.

"If I plan to be back in two days, isn't it obvious that I plan on flying? Seriously, do you think I'm going to drive from out here in Colorado to California?" Rodney snorted, and Carson felt him pat his head. "Hey, do you mind taking care of Ellis?"

"Ellis? Your cat? Did you bring him out here?" Carson asked, clutching his coffee for dear life.

"Yeah. I had a feeling we'd be staying out here, so I figured I should bring him." John, of all people, was scraping together a workman like breakfast on the burner of Carson's coffee pot, and paper plates. It smelled rather decent — scrambled eggs, sausage. "Dragonfire might be problematic to find. Did you look at the list Teyla gave me?"

"Yeah… workable," John commented. "You got any idea what sort of thing is out there? Are we needing some serious ammunition?"

"I'm pretending that we're walking into an area that's never had any kind of resistance," Rodney declared. He was looking at Carson, though, mouth pulling down thoughtfully. "Do you have anything I can draw your blood with?"

"Oh crap, I forgot about that," Carson said waving over towards his bag. "I've got some hypos in there."

"I'm going to be the most suspicious businessman ever." Rodney stood up to get the bag, but he deferred to Carson for the rummaging through it part of things.

"Well, obviously there are sample tubes," he said, pulling out the hypo. "Is my blood really that valuable?"

"Like gold," Rodney told him, extending Carson's other arm for him. "If you let me do this to you, there's a fifty percent chance I'm going to scar you."

"I think I can do it to myself," Carson said, hastily taking control of the hypodermic. There was a fifty percent chance that Rodney was exaggerating, but. "I've done it before."

"I can help if you need it," John offered.

"Finish making breakfast," Rodney groused. "I can't believe that was your idea before takeout and me getting donuts. No, just a quick fry up on the coffee element."

"I'll be all right," Carson said, focusing on tying off his arm. "After some food."

"Well eat some of this…" John said bringing it over. "And you, Rodney. If you want."

"Won't say no to food." Rodney was still eyeing him, watching him take the blood. Two tubes, or three? Three would be a good number, Carson supposed, in case someone wanted two for an item.

He knew how to find a vein, how to slip it in and he had it tapped. Three. He could split it up if he wanted. "This enough for you?"

"That's going to be plenty. Is there anything else you think we should get for Carson other than the tattoo?" Rodney was watching him work. "We want you protected."

"He has some of his own defenses if he learns to use them," John said with a shrug as he dumped the food in front of them. "Eat while it's hot. Otherwise, a high level amulet would be good."

"Mm. I'll see how it goes if I can find one. So, you've both got my cell phone number if something comes up. I called the moving company to get my place packed up at oh god o'clock last night to piss them off."

"We'll go looking today," John promised. "The SGC apparently has lists of suitable properties."

"Well there can't be many wanting the larger properties," Carson said handing the vials over.

"If three of us apply for one of them, it at least saves us money." Rodney took the vials, and carefully wrapped them in the damned oddest-looking piece of fabric. It was old and embroidered at the edges, with what looked like words.

"What does that say?" Carson asked curiously even as he had a mouthful of scrambled egg. Not bad.

"It's the Tetragrammaton." Rodney tucked the edges in around the vials, until it was carefully wrapped. "All of this makes my skin crawl sometimes. In case you're starting to nurse an inferiority complex about this, Carson."

"I started nursing mine a long time ago. It's all grown up now." He'd thought he'd had a mental breakdown. He'd been on heavy-duty medication for some time; of course he had an inferiority complex. It was just weird.

It was still shock-like that this was all real, and that Rodney was slipping vials of his blood into the inside pocket of his jacket, zipping it shut. It got a laugh out of Rodney while he sipped his coffee and stuck most of a sausage in his mouth. "Mmmph, I should probably get going or I'm going to miss my flight."

"You want a lift to the airport?" John asked and Carson considered he should've thought of that

Rodney stuffed some of the scrambled eggs into his mouth. "No, called a taxi."

"Well, you watch out for yourself," Carson said and had another one of those feelings that maybe John and Rodney had been close the previous night.

Maybe he was wrong. He hoped he had an opportunity to talk with Rodney about it, to find out if he even had a chance, if it was worth even pursuing. Carson wasn't a man to throw himself at a brick wall; there was no sense in that. "Thanks."

Rodney hesitated, and then leaned in and pressed a peck of a kiss on his cheek before he headed for the door. "I'll drop Ellis off and then I'll be gone. I want Carson in one piece when I come back, Sheppard!"

"Hey, trust me," John answered with a smirk. "See you soon. If we're not here when you get back, I'll be getting Carson tattooed."

"Right." And then Rodney shut the door, leaving Carson sitting there, feeling stunned.

"This is…" Carson sighed. "Really, I am beginning to wonder if I have actually gone insane."

"I used to wonder that, too." John sat down, opposite of Rodney's now empty chair, and hunched over his own plate of strange looking scrambled eggs and sausage. It all tasted oddly good, for grilled on the coffee pot element. "So, what would help you believe this is more normal?"

The door opened again, and Rodney stuck a cat carrier in just inside the doorway, and a book bag balanced on top of it. "Carson — remember to feed Ellis, not more than one can of Fancy Feast a meal, twice a day. Litterbox is in the carry cage with him." And then it shut again.

Carson blinked. "Did I just lose some time or was that really quick?" he asked, distracted.

"He was just next door," John pointed out. "Poor cat's probably been packed up since before he came over here."

"He loves that cat," Carson said. "I'll let him settle, then let him out. And I'm not sure what will help. I'm just terrified of being a liability. You're all… terribly competent."

"That's why you're on a team with us." John smirked a tiny bit, and it was a damn flattering look on him. Maybe the man was a seducer, a succubus or whatever the male version was. "We'll make sure you're competent."

"You keep saying that but I don't want anyone hurt because of me. And I know nothing about myself," Carson said. "How are you going to make me competent?"

"I know McKay already probably tried this with you, but touch me and tell me what you see. If we can make what you see by touch stronger, then you might be able to see without touch. And when you can see without touching, you're officially no longer a supernatural liability. The weapons training, the Air Force will teach you. And Teyla."

"Okay… but is that all I can do? You guys seem to be able to do that as well." He finished his breakfast and reached over, hesitating.

"Lore about seventh sons says you should be a healer. You probably are, but you're probably also repressing it." John shrugged, and offered his hand over to Carson, turning it palm up.

"Okay… I'm just warning you, I tried this with Rodney and sort of zoned out," he said hovering his hand over skin. "After discovering you and he had been sleeping together."

John cleared his throat, still offering his hand over to Carson. "That was kind of accidental."

"Oh, really?" Carson smiled and touched his skin to John's and focused.

And fell, fell down and down into fire and a place so terrible and with creatures so hideous and loathsome it could only be Hell. And yet John was there, walking towards something so vastly evil and terrible that its shadow was living darkness, consuming and lapping at objects.

He wasn't seeing the now, or a sickness, he was sensing the past, something hidden by John. The darkness was moving, alive, and the evil flickered tendrils out, moved to suck John in. He could smell the sulfur, he could smell pain and iron and blood in the air, and he could feel the sting of burning ash against his face, and then John was turning towards him and pushed him back in his own sight, and he was in his chair again. In the hotel, and he wasn't touching John anymore.

Oh god.

Breathing hard, yes, but conscious, and staring at John, where he possibly wanted to throw up.

His hands were shaking and he had to gulp. He wasn't meant to have seen that, he knew that as well, as sure as anything. John didn't want people to know that, never talked about it, lived with the darkness alone, but it was so huge, so vast, a scar inside of him however deep he had been drawn to it. The images were seared into his mind, and he belatedly became aware of other things…emotions, drifting names, a growling memory of sounds that he somehow understood.


John blinked at him slowly, and sat back in his chair. "That was you. I remember this presence coming at me, and I pushed it back. That was you. You…"

"No, wait.." Carson was shaken. "I don't understand. I don't bloody understand. That wasn't now, was it? That was… then but… this is now, but I was there then and.. Jesus…"

"You were there then," John told him after a moment of quiet. He pushed his chair back, slowly, and stood up. Carson expected him to leave, to leave him there to work out what the bloody hell was going on, but he moved to sit on the floor in front of Ellis's cage. He popped the door open quietly, and pulled out the bundle of longhaired tabby.

"What… what are you doing, John?" Carson looked at him, sure that perhaps he had done something he shouldn't have been able to do. It made him wonder if there was something he had done.

"I'm hugging the stupid cat until I figure out how to train someone like you to do that." He heard Ellis chortle happily, clutching onto the fabric of John's shirt.

"Okay, I heard the words, but I didn't understand a lot of it," Carson admitted. He nearly spilt his coffee trying to drink it. "What was I seeing?"

"Me in Hell, before I enlisted. Back when I was a kid. But you didn't just see it — you were there. Briefly. I remember at the time you startled the hell out of me and I did the only thing I could. I pushed you back. And this is when you did it. You entered time." He petted Ellis's head gently, but firmly. The cat purred contentedly in John's arms, pleased to have the attention.

"But…" Carson looked at him "That's impossible isn't it? At least if I'm getting anything off of you, it's that it is impossible."

"Nothing is impossible." John hunched in closer to Ellis, still petting him. "Dammit. We have to work on how to train you to do that. It's like an astral projection." There was a heartbeat's worth of time, and then John added, "I think."

"How was it that you were there?" Carson asked. "And that demon… that was no ordinary demon."

"It wasn't Satan, but the guy was up there." It was a glib comment, and Carson moved in closer to John, knowing he was looming but wondering if John wanted him that close after what he'd just intruded on. "Hell's a bad place to be. You try not to take a fight to their territory."

"So, what were you doing there?" Carson asked again. He frowned a little. "…wait, wait… they tried to give you over in pact? Your parents?"

John scuffed fingers through the fur under Ellis's chin. "Just my father. Mom died a few years before that."

"But…" His head hurt thinking about it. "How could he do that? What did he want? To swap you for her? You can't do that!"

"You can, sometimes. But that wasn't what he was doing. He'd made a pact with a crossroads demon, and he wanted to get out of the end result of the pact — the ten year limit." John stood Ellis up on his lap, staidly bushing the cat's belly fur down. "Man, you're like a teddy bear."

Ellis mrowed at him happily enough, but Carson was still worried. "They took you to hell but they couldn't hold you. But… they want you."

"Oh yeah. They want me bad. I've sent enough of them back to Hell, fucked up their schemes enough. They want me." John leaned in and pressed his face into Ellis's fur, and then, apparently satisfied with his mauling of the cat, put him down to let him decide where he wanted to go. "This projection of yours makes it more important that we get those wards permanently inked on your skin, Carson."

"They won't have you," Carson said. "You feel that presence again, let me stay. I don't know what I can do, but it must mean something."

John turned, looked up at him. "Carson. You… I appreciate the offer, but let's just focus on what we can do now. I've earned their hatred, and there are worse people to be despised by. Demons, creatures of the dark, some of the worse Otherkind."

"But they are not going to have you." It was important, he knew that much. It was important that John Sheppard did not go to Hell.

The edge of his mouth curled up a little, while he stood up. "You're one of a kind, Carson. C'mon, let's finish breakfast and try to find a good tattoo parlor. Or a bad one."

"I'm not sure I want to be one of a kind," Carson said. "I don't think I could eat much more anyway."

He wasn't even sure how to be himself just then, because at his roots, he was a doctor, a geneticist, a researcher, and now he was going to be out fighting demons? Or whatever they were supposed to be doing out there, in space.

And Rodney was selling his blood for supplies. It was no wonder everything felt balled up and surreal, because his mind wasn't adjusted to the new reality yet. Might never adjust, Carson supposed, while Ellis hopped into his chair and eyed the scrambled eggs greedily.

With a sigh, he pushed them over towards the cat, and turned to John, because at the end of the day it seemed the decision had been made for him.

He was going to have to adjust, but he wasn't going to be doing it alone.

They didn't understand why he didn't want to get involved, and they didn't understand why he couldn't help but get involved, and it made his heart pound, made everything spin wildly. Sometimes the only way to clear his head was to run, to go, to soar.

He was a flying, soaring secret, a mystery, screwing with air traffic controllers' heads. He wondered if they'd scramble jets to find him, wondered if he'd register as a plane or a missile or if they'd try to shoot him down and it was stupid, but he had to be concerned about things like that nowadays, like he had to worry about identity and humanity and testing and fingerprints, and DNA and iris patterns and those thousand sharp ways that people tracked each other to say, 'You are not who you say you are,' and to profile someone down to the letter of their favorite cereal.

Rodney McKay closed his eyes, and beat his wings in slow, powerful bursts, holding the bundle of his shirt and jacket in his arms. He'd been flying for three, four hours, and he was past tired, but it was worth it to clear his head, to put Colorado and the threat of the StarGate Command behind him. To fly free and wild for what he hoped wouldn't be the last time.

It was going to be difficult to sneak off from Sheppard and Carson if he was living there all the time, but if he didn't he wasn't as smart as he knew he should be. This was messy though, unprecedented. This was accelerating his… sphere of influence faster and faster and it made him wonder if it was him after all, or if someone else was involved. He'd been a self-involved bastard for the last few centuries and he wanted to keep it that way. He wanted to take part in very few big pictures. He'd dabbled, he'd inspired, and he'd walked away. Never hands on. He'd be in the lab, he'd work, and he'd go away. It was someone else's idea, but it was his imprinted hand on them, or it was him, toiling away quietly and unnoticed, unappreciated, but eventually realized, post mortem, for the importance of his work. This was new, new territory, more involvement than he'd ever had. He never dealt with things like this, demon fighting, and direct challenges.

It left him worried, his heart knotted up in his chest despite the muscle tension as he worked his wings, and started to slow, ease into a descent. He needed to find a back alley, something where he wouldn't really be seen, where he could disappear in a blink, pull his shirt and jacket back on. Blend into the city from there, and recoup for a few hours once he tucked his wings away.

He'd wondered why he'd been drawn to Carson. He thought it was just the intelligence, because the man was very intelligent, perhaps a genius in his own way, and he was drawn to that through his nature, but he was starting to get disturbing intuition that maybe it was part of a bigger pattern.

Rodney hated the bigger patterns.

He'd enjoyed liking Carson as a person, as a friend, a friend that he took pleasure in the company of, because he was intelligent, because he could occasionally give as good as he took, but this development was disturbing. Seventh son of a seventh son of a etc, etc. It meant, implied, power, and Rodney wondered how it had manifested in Carson; he would find out, but wondered how deep he'd gotten before he'd been shocked out of it when they'd been in the meeting room. If he meant what he'd said about the attraction to Rodney.

Damn, the place changed every time he visited it. There was no navigating it from the sky, so he aimed for an alleyway, and coasted in, smacking one wing hard against a brick wall while he went down.


He needed practice at flying; there was no other thing for it. It made it hard to fold them away and they could really do with some decent grooming, preening or whatever he wanted to call it. Even if they were a quantum meta-state, they still felt better tidy.

So, first thing was first… did he go to Lux or did he start shopping around first?

Shopping was probably the better thing to tackle, and then wait for the later hours, for the dark, to go to Lux. When it was busy, when he wouldn't be the sole customer there. When he wouldn't have undivided attention.

Rodney wasted a few more moments compressing his wings away, and then he pulled his shirt on carefully, jacket over top. The vials had made it in one piece. Rodney knew most of the occult dealers in the area, and the people who could be trusted. He had an interesting list to buy for. He wasn't sure of some of the things Sheppard had asked for, because he was obviously planning something but Rodney wasn't sure what.

There was a niggling feeling that he could and had to trust Sheppard, though, so he'd make the purchases and hope it didn't bite him in the ass later.

The first place he ducked into looked like a trinket shop and smelled like a candle shop. Bells tinkled when he opened the door and again when he let it close behind him.

"McKay." The woman leaned forward. "Haven't seen you back in my neck of the woods for some time. Welcome."

"I've moved around a few times." He shifted his shoulders, trying to press back the itchy feeling of dirty wings under his skin. "How's your stock looking today?"

"Fine, fine as ever," Morgana — whose real name he happened to know was Helen — was a Wiccan white witch, but her main talent was for genuine occult materials. "I have some good sources. What were you looking for?"

He sighed, and pulled the list out of his jacket. "Everything under the sun. Dragonfire being the most rare. I'm looking for any protective amulets I can get my hands on, I'm looking for hair of a yeti, remnants of faerie, good quality pure crucifixes, uh…"

Damn, there was a second page, and it was mostly Teyla's and John's. All Rodney wanted was to go home.

"Give that to me and I'll set up the list." She looked at him. "Dragonfire is expensive… you know that. Irreplaceable. Trade or pay?"

"Both." He handed it over slowly. "Though I prefer to pay."

"Mmm, then pay. My supplies are genuine," Morgana said. She looked at the list. "This is heavy ammunition, McKay. Is there a war which the spirits you have not told me about?"

"I'm in a fit of paranoia right now," he sniffed, giving her and her badly-done highlighted hair a dirty look. "Or so I've been told. With my resources, why deny myself the comfort of stocking up?"

"And here I was starting to believe the rumors of the Spear of Destiny surfacing once again," Morgana said, as she busied herself packing things up. "You say protective talismans… any particular denomination?"

"A range would be nice." Seeing as they weren't sure what they were up against. "Better safe than sorry?"

"Fine. I will give you a selection," she said. "I'm interested, McKay. I have a genuine hearthstone, complete with bind runes and earth and blood magic to root wards as deep as Yggdrasil. If you are feeling paranoid, then nothing can get under this."

"Good." He crossed his arms over his chest, and looked sideways around her place. "I'll take that book bag on the wall, too, to put it in."

"You're going to be paying my year's rent at this rate." Morgana joked, fetching the bag. "Take a look around, I'll fetch the dragonfire from the back. I haven't got much."

"No one does, what with them being dead and all," Rodney called over his shoulder, moving to peer more closely at the wall. Feather of an angel, huh. He reached out to lay hands on it, curious as to whose it was.

An Angel's feather sang to those who had ears to hear, harmonic frequencies that pulsed through the ether, unique and glorious. When the hierarchies of heaven unfurled their wings, there was the music of the spheres harmonizing. This feather sang all right; he did recognize it.

"Hey — when you get back out here, I want this feather, too." If she had any kids, he was at least going to put them through their first semester. Of law school. In New York.

With a top storey apartment overlooking the harbor.

"My Angel's feather?" Morgana called out. "Not unless you have something of equal worth. They don't come up that often."

"I'd assume angels tend to keep them close," Rodney called back, stroking the edges. So pure, so strong. It made his chest vibrate with the power — one of the Powers, or a Throne. That was useful just as a bargaining chip — one could do horrible magic with someone's feather. "I have the blood of a Seventh Son."

"Goddess mercy!" Morgana came out with her hands full. "A true Seventh Son? Verified?"

He could summon with a Feather as well. It would set its fellows to ringing in sympathetic harmony. Quantum entanglement at its finest.

"Verified," Rodney confirmed. He picked the feather up off the wall, and carried it to Morgana's counter. "It's very potent." It was easy to unzip the pocket inside of his jacket, pulling his wrapped bundle out.

"In these days of birth control, it is hard to find a genuine seventh son of a seventh son," Morgana said. "I will trade, McKay."

He laid the bundle down, and carefully un-tucked and unfolded the cloth, to reveal the three vials. "One for one, then. Any goofy stories about whose feather it is?"

"I have heard tell that there was a skirmish between a mighty Angel, and an arch-demon over the fields of Kansas. The sky was torn with tornadoes so fierce they stole feathers from their wings," Morgana replied. "Wodensen, the Seer, said he claimed one Feather before they vanished."

"Over Kansas," Rodney repeated. He lifted an eyebrow, thinking hard about that. Kansas. No, most of those on earth stuck to themselves for a reason, and mostly in big cities. Had to be a messenger of the Host. "Huh. Well, this is your vial. What do I owe you?"

"I hope your job is paying well." She pushed over a bill with a lot of zeroes on the end and smiled sweetly.

Rodney whistled, and fished into his pocket for a credit card. "Oh yeah, this still hurts."

"I did warn you," she said but she didn't seem too unhappy about it as she took his money. "I didn't have any of the star stone… not that I would put my reputation behind. I cannot vouch for it, so I've been selling it to the occult tourists. You might want to try the Gnome's Cavern for that. Joseph has some nice crystal pieces in at the moment."

"Okay. I appreciate that, and I'll go there to finish the list off." She handed that back to him once she'd swiped his credit card. He folded away his two remaining vials.

"A pleasure doing business with you, McKay," Morgana said. "Blessings be upon you."

The odd thing was, Morgana always meant it.

She was a good person, and if there had been anything horribly wrong, he would have told her, so she could at least have enjoyed her last days for what they were. "God be with you." He shouldered the book bag, and tucked away the vials, heading towards the so-called 'Gnome's Cavern'.

Joseph was always a little annoyed that people didn't realize that 'gnome' was the official name for an Earth elemental, and it was sheer stubbornness that made him keep the name even after the umpteenth person came in looking for ornamental gnomes. He often ended up selling things to them somehow.

Joseph was a crystal user all the way, and sometimes his theories were out there, far, far out there, but he had an unerring sense for a powerful piece. Even if he wouldn't know what to do with if it someone stuck it up his ass, he knew when it was strong.

It was an eight-block walk, of course, and Rodney kept his sight shuttered for the bare reason that if he didn't see them, most things ignored him as one of the human rabble. It was easier to walk through the crowded sidewalks in that part of LA that way. He could make stops after that. Get some coffee. Something. He wasn't sure, but he didn't want to go to Lux run down.

By the time darkness had set, Rodney's backpack was laden with supplies, and he had taken the time to eat dinner at a quiet Italian place that had only cost him his other arm and leg. By the time LA had had its way with his wallet, he was going to be flat broke.

On the bright side, he was only going be gone a day which, while it was exhausting, he preferred it to the two day fiasco he'd been planning. Morgana conveniently had most everything he'd needed, and the other three stores he'd visited had patched the holes in the list — except information.

Hopefully he'd meet Lux's dress code.

The high ceilings, and dark walls were a nice touch — there was a huge, circular bar in the center, and a blonde woman tending it. Light on staff, then — well, it was how Rodney supposed he'd run a nightclub, too. He stood just inside the threshold for too long, perhaps, before he slunk in, looking for a table, searching for familiar faces.

He didn't think to look for the man playing the piano, but once he heard the voice singing to the tune, he knew where Samael was.

So he took a seat close to the piano, but not too close, and waited for the circling waitress to get him, sliding his satchel down off of his shoulder to cradle it to his front.

"I'm open to requests," Samael said casually, as his fingers flickered over the keys. He glanced right at Rodney and the power just rolled off of him when he was like this. It was enough to subtly unsettle the others around them so that they would leave.

It was hard not to bask in it, though, and Rodney sat up straighter, pushing down his nerves. "Would you play Fortunate Son, or is that too contemporary?"

"For you… McKay, I will." Samael tinged the words with the irony the two of them knew he would recognize in the song. "I'll sing it if you play."

He still had that ability to put him on the spot.

He stood up, and shouldered the book bag, leaving it on as he moved to sit at the piano bench. There was no such thing as, 'Hi, what's going on, oh, nothing,' in their world. Perhaps it was why he liked humans so much. "I'll play."

Samael gestured even as he stood. "Heart and soul… McKay."

Always that pause where he seemed to substitute his name. He knew he was thinking his real name in his thoughts, hard enough to hear it mocking him.

Rodney didn't think his real name in his own thoughts. He'd had all sorts of names, and somewhere in the last six hundred years, he'd decided to stick with various R names because they were a sound he liked and it kept a pattern he could stick to. Most languages had an R. "I'll do my best." At least he wasn't sharing the seat with Samael, and he moved into position, hunching over the keys for a moment. Of course the piano would be perfect.

The notes came to him as a skill he had learned some time ago. There was a pleasure in music, a sense of feeling whole again that made him understand why Samael played and sang so frequently. Once, his voice could be heard bright among the Host, pure and full of the glory of all things.

And now he sang in a nightclub, his accompanist likewise Fallen.

It was still pleasing and glorious in its own right, and Rodney closed his eyes, reveling in it for the moment. Maybe he needed to take up playing again, but for the moment the double-layered resonance of Samael's voice was enough.

He was almost sorry when the song came to an end, especially as Samael looked at him and beckoned him over to sit in some of his designer chairs.

"It's been a while. What brings you back to Lux?"

Off to the side, out of the way. "I'm curious," Rodney offered, and then paused and laughed for a moment. "Yeah, uh, I'm curious. Things have been moving very fast for me recently. You could call it a conjunction."

"Oh, I always knew the stars were under your remit, but are we moving into astrology now?" Samael asked raising his eyebrows.

The edges of his mouth twitched a little, and he caught himself staring at Samael's eyes. "In a way, yes. To other parts of the universe. I was curious if you were involved, or had heard anything."

"You'll have to narrow it down. I hear a lot of things," Samael said and a waitress brought them both a drink without them having to even ask. "Can't you tell I'm busy?" He gestured to the club.

"It's a nice place." Rodney slouched into the chair. "You don't even screen the door. It's uh… The American government has become aware of the variety of life on this planet, because it's become aware of the variety of life on other planets. It's putting together task forces to help allies on these other planets."

"Oh really?" It was difficult to tell with Samael if that was 'Oh really, I knew all about that ages ago' or more 'Oh really, that's news to me but I'm being cool about it because I am after all the Original Rebel with or without a cause'.

It was a fifty-fifty split.

"So, me of all people. Spiritual warfare. There are a lot of powerful people involved in this project. It made me think that someone was manipulating this into place."

"So naturally you thought of me." Samael didn't seem to resent that. In a strange way it was very nearly a compliment. "Not this time… Rodney. That's a can of worms I've been avoiding up until now."

"Oh good. So I've just stumbled into this one on my own." Rodney reached for the glass, looking at it before he took a sip. Very, very good wine — Samael was nothing if he wasn't a good host. "Do you know anything you can tell me about it?"

"It's a clusterfuck waiting to happen," Samael said succinctly. "Here, here was always the unconquered land. The first… the Old ones, they've got a power base out there. But, He's got here. In a crude way, Earth is a boot camp. I wonder what's pushed the agenda up?"

The first… something. First something. Rodney tucked that away, and took another sip. "I don't know. I only have uneducated guesses on what might have inspired it. They're using what they call the Stargate." That inspired another sip. "Technological remnants of the first humans."

"Oh those guys… the Nephilim." Samael shrugged. "Progenitors of the mythical beasts and having a leg up on the direct access to His Almightiness due to our influence. Well, the whole sleeping with the Daughters of Eve business. Or Sons of Adam… I sound like that pious prat C.S Lewis."

"Screwtape doesn't seem the right name for you." He swirled the wine in the glass, looking at Samael's eyes again. It was easy to lose himself in it, the familiarity of his power that was right there, present in his eyes. "Mmm. Seems they had the same propensity for trouble as most of us did. And I'm going to revisit their mistakes."

"Enjoy," Samael said. "You never know, you might win your way back into their good graces. Who else do you have with you?"

"A member of The People. A Dhampir. A Seventh Son. A few hunters, some assorted Eastern European Otherkind. At least one seer, a few magicians, and John Sheppard." He waited for any reaction to that list.

"Sheppard?" There was a glimmer of light in Samael's eyes. "Oh ho, Rodney, have you tangled yourself with that particular thorny issue? For someone professing to be Switzerland all the time, when you come off the fence you really know how to pick sides. Did you purposefully decide to oppose pretty much all the Lords of Hell, or did that just happen accidentally? The First wants him, and you know… he's been denied. He doesn't take that well."

Ah, then his instinct had been right. Rodney groaned, and rubbed at his face. "Complete accident. The Air Force decided he should be the team leader. Look, at least I'm not Melios, playing with power no one can control, him and his deck of cards. I'm just…"

A schmuck.

"Caught in the middle," Samael finished. "Still, if Sheppard can outwit the Fallen as many times as his reputation describes, then perhaps it's not such a foolish move. Melios is a prick and if there's one thing I know, you play with that sort of power, it'll eat you unless you have the sense to walk away. Dhampirs and The People, eh?" He shrugged a little. "Like special pets. But the Seventh Son intrigues me. The last I recall was… oh, back sometime in the 14th Century."

"He has some manifestation of power. I'm working on what it is." It was always comforting to hear his own thoughts on one of their own.

"You've been trading his blood?" Samael asked and half-stated. "Let me see."

"A little. Nothing near the two pints you'd need for blood magic on him," Rodney murmured, reaching into his pocket to pull out the two carefully wrapped vials.

"You wound me," Samael said with a smile. "I'm just interested in his potential." He took a vial.

"I couldn't wound you if I tried," Rodney drawled, holding carefully to the other vial.

Samael cracked open the vial and sniffed it with the air of someone trying a fine wine. "Mmm, interesting bouquet." He dipped a fingertip into it and extracted a drop, and then licked it off carefully.

If he had choked or coughed then Rodney would've know he was playing with him, but the way his face became thoughtful and little shuttered was more alarming on so many levels.

"Well, you are right about the power," he said and handed the vial back.

"Not going to tell me any more? No tantalizing hints?" Rodney hunched his shoulders a little, and stoppered the vial.

"Oh, you know these things sometimes don't live up to their potential," Samael said. "Humans are generally very disappointing. Always wanting to be more when they didn't even value the inherent power they had. Watch him. The patterns pull people together for a purpose and he is at the center of that, as is Sheppard."

"Huh." Rodney tucked the vials back into his jacket. "I have no offerings to make but my thanks. So, thank you. For what it's worth."

"You have brought me information and music. I am feeling unaccountably generous," Samael answered.

The truth was, there was probably a price looming in the future somewhere.

It was hard not to smile while he drained the wine, and set the glass on the table. There always was. "If you would excuse me, then, I have a long flight to return home."

"You could stay if you wish," Samael said lazily and that was a little alarming.

He could stay. He could stay for a long time, but he wasn't going to. "No, if Carson needs watching, I had best start now. But thank you."

It was time, past time, to leave Lux.

"Have fun, Rodney, I'll be seeing you around," Samael said lazily and gave him a wave.

He had to remind himself that Samael had been one of the most powerful of them all; still was, if he chose to exert it, but he'd made a decision to walk away and sometimes Rodney wondered if that hadn't have been the hardest and truest choice of all.

John knew from past experience that the tattooing was going to hurt like a sonuvabitch. But the best place was over the heart, and after that experience earlier, he was sure not to cut corners.

"Can't I have it on my ass? Or even, my back… that has less nerve endings," Carson pleaded.

"It needs to be right over your heart." John reached to press his hand right over Carson's heart. "This is important for all of us, for you personally and for the mission."

"It says a lot that I'm scared enough to let you do this," Carson said. His heart was beating pretty rapidly.

John tapped the area twice, and then looked at the darkened, tinted windows of the tattoo parlor they were standing in front of. "You don't want to be possessed, trust me."

"Have you been possessed, John?" Carson asked. John had gone and fetched the special ink as well. It worked great, and he was going to make sure he had the layers of protection there.

He just had to talk the parlor into using it. "Yes and no. Not in the usual sense of the word."

"Is there a usual sense of the word?" Carson said, as they entered the parlor.

"Strangely, there is. The Exorcist would apply, actually." John herded him into the place gently, and smiled at the clerk. "Hey. We brought our own ink. Can we use it if my friend here gets ink done?"

"Your own ink?" The clerk raised her eyebrows. "Ritualistic stuff?" She was chewing gum, which was a little annoying. "We gotta specialist in that sort of thing."

"Yeah? It's kind of ritualistic, yeah. Runes 'n stuff." If they sounded like gay bikers, well, that was fine by John. He'd never see those people again. "I have it on my back, my friend here wants it on his chest."

"I'll call Steve. If you wanna look at any other designs while you're waiting, Steve has his own book of special interest stuff," the clerk said. "Have a seat on the couch."

John moved to sit down, and patted the spot beside him for Carson. "I bet you never thought this was something you were going to do."

"Not even remotely," Carson said. "I'm trying very hard not to be completely useless. But I feel that way. And this morning… when I touched you, that did scare me." John had a moment of thinking that if anyone was listening to the conversation they really would have the wrong idea.

"Sheppard?" 'Steve', it seemed, wasn't actually Steve at all.

"Is there something special about Colorado Springs that I didn't know about? Is it the mega churches?" John grinned, standing up as he extended his hand to Phil. He'd run into Phil in New York, years ago, marking up the hot, popular, hip and dangerous. He'd fallen a long way if he was out in a dive like this, or he was hiding from something. "You're the guy I wanted to see but couldn't afford the flight to get to. Weren't you in Vegas, too?"

"Yeah, did a time there. Decent enough but not so much interest in my sort of …specialty." Phil grinned at him. "I went to Kalina and paid out for a real reading, y'know? She told me I would earn my fortune and serve my destiny in Colorado Springs. So I packed up and got here few months ago. Truth is until I saw you, I was starting to wonder if she'd been on the 'shrooms again."

"Yeah, well. I'll be referring some work your way," John murmured, lifting his eyebrows, and turning to Carson. "Phil? This is my buddy, Carson Beckett. He needs what I have on my back on his chest. Over the heart. I brought my own ink."

"The cool stuff?" Phil grinned. "One day, I'm going to get that ritual out of you. Okay buddy, Carson Beckett… come through, lie on the chair we've got here. I'll get you inked up."

"You coming in, John?" Carson asked

John wasn't sure that he needed to supervise, but Carson seemed to want the company — or the assurance. Or both, John guessed. He probably would've preferred it if Rodney were there, making paranoid comments about the autoclave. "Sure, yeah. If you want me to."

"If you don't mind," Carson said as he headed in and got set up on the tattooist's chair. Phil started marking him out.

"You mind taking you shirt off, John? I want to make sure I'm getting it right."

"Yeah, I'll grab a chair." He started to unbutton his shirt, and grabbed a chair to turn it around so he could show his back. "It needs to be precise."

"I know that," Phil said, lighting some sage to cleanse the area and fetching something John was pretty sure had to be Holy water to sponge off Carson's chest. "So, what have you been up to?" he asked as he started copying.

John settled in, arms folded over the back of the chair, looking sideways at Carson's face while he tried to watch what Phil was doing. "I was over in Afghanistan for a while. That whole 'job' thing, then Antarctica."

"Not so much of your… other work then?" he asked, even as he carefully drew on Carson's chest the outline in the right spot, glancing at his back. "I see you've been unfaithful to me with some other artist."

"Yeah, picked up a few other places. My arms, though, I'm glad I had you do that. It's perfect. No one else could have done that." They were honest compliments, because Phil did good work.

"Man, that was intense," Phil said. "I've done nearly whole bodies in the time it took me to do that. Okay, how's that looking on your buddy here? Take a look." He'd sketched it in.

John leaned back, and traced a finger over the lines. It looked good. "Just measure to make sure it's perfectly round as possible, and — man, that's good work." He cut his eyes to Carson's eyes. "You're okay with this, Carson?"

"Oh aye, I said I was," Carson replied. "Don't be surprised if I let the side down. I don't like pain that much."

"Let the side down?" He grinned a little, pressing his cheek against his own arm, still displaying his back. "Does that mean 'scream'?"

"In a manly way," Carson said. "It's more of a high pitched bellow."

"Don't worry, I've had seasoned bikers pass out when I do this," Phil said, in a bad attempt to soothe him.

"See? You're in good company." John was smiling at Carson, and couldn't really do anything but keep smiling. Carson had a good attitude. "I cried when he did my arms."

"I know you're trying to make me feel better, but all it does is fill me with impending fear."

"Just relax," Phil said. "I'll do it as carefully as possible."

It was probably small consolation for Carson, when his world was already moving distressingly fast. If there had been a choice, he would have talked Carson up to the tattoo, he would have taken a few weeks, but after the stunt he'd accidentally pulled over breakfast, John knew they couldn't risk it.

Visions were one thing. He knew plenty of people who had visions. Hell, he'd even had a few in his time, usually with the aid of some sort of vision-vine extract, but astral travel in time in a vision? To be a palpable presence? That had alarming implications.

"You can put your shirt on if you want, Sheppard," Phil said, as he started up the needle and swabbed Carson's chest with alcohol. To his credit, Carson didn't do much more than wince to begin with. "So, not looking for anything new yourself?"

"Not right now, nah. But if something comes up, you'll be the first person I come to." He started to pull his shirt on, but he was still careful to watch Carson. "You know, we should probably get McKay in here when he comes back from his trip."

"He said he had it covered," Carson replied in a slightly pained voice.

Maybe he did. It was possible but if you were untrained and you needed protection that wouldn't rub off, be forgotten, snap off of a necklace you either branded yourself to get it done quick, or you inked up.

"I still want to make sure. I can't have anything happening to either of you, and he said he's not usually involved in combat." So, he had to be sure. He'd feel better if he knew what McKay was using to keep himself protected.

"You gearing up for something, Sheppard?" Phil asked as he patiently worked on Carson who seemed to be going almost into a bit of a trance with it.

"Not me." He lifted his eyebrow at Phil, hoping the question would end thereabouts. "You know how it is — make new friends, realize they're doing things in not the most efficient way."

Phil laughed a little. "Yeah… You doing okay there?"

"Oh aye, fine," Carson replied and he sounded okay.

"Well, you're doing good so far."

There was an unsteady note in his breath, but for where the tattoo was going, and the shape of it, he was holding it together great. It made John wonder if he was sublimating the pain as part of his… thing.

It was possible. Seventh Sons were meant to be natural Healers, the power of miracles. Natural magicians, natural psychics, natural every damn thing which sounded great but in reality meant either they were targets, or they got killed, or they went completely insane in fairly short order, or… they were subsumed by one side or the other. Carson must've done a good job of hiding his talent and status, even inadvertently.

"So, had any interesting encounters recently?" Phil asked.

"Soldier demon in an Air Force lieutenant the same damn day I got here," John snorted. "Not really interesting, unless it turns into something more."

"Huh, probably didn't even break a sweat." Phil said. "I'm getting a large mirror for in here after what you said before."

"It's a good idea," John insisted. Demons were usually vain things, and if they caught sight of themselves while they were possessing someone, they tended to stop and stare. It was hard not to. It was a damn good way to draw them out and kill the demon, too.

All you needed were a few critical moments and there it was… all done.

"So you doing anything else? There's not a lot else of a scene around here at the moment," Phil said and then muttered a sorry as Carson made a hiss of a sound

"I think there's going to be a scene here." John slouched a little in the chair. "In fact, I know there's going to be a scene here."

"Good to hear," Phil said. "Mmm, your friend here is trancing out on us."

"Is that good for a tattoo? I seem to remember doing a lot more squirming and yowling." John leaned in a little, but he didn't want to cast a shadow over Phil's work, even if he'd brought a light in close.

"You did, like a hellcat," Phil said. "Mm. Maybe he's into it, huh?" His voice had a bit of sly tone.

Carson was staring straight up and his pupils were dilated. Maybe he was into it, in which case if he ended up with more tattoos, John figured Carson's mother would do more than just have a stroke.

He slid his eyes down, trying to surreptitiously see if it was affecting all of Carson. No, not into it in that way, so it must be affecting him somewhere in his abilities. They had forced him to start poking at his abilities and there were decades worth dammed up inside him.

"I can see you, John," Carson said. "Although it reminds me a wee bit of one of the opiates. Heh… You're all glowy."

"I'm all glowy, huh?" That was funny — John figured he was the last human being on the earth who was the glowing sort, with some of the shit he'd summoned up over the years.

"Aye." Carson raised a hand and brushed at the air a few inches from his arm. It was a little odd because he could feel it, tingling and stimulating.

"We're still working out what Carson does, exactly," John explained, glancing over at Phil. Phil just kept working, and that was great. That was why John liked the guy. "Do you feel anything that you see?"

"Aye, I can feel some of the physical state of your body," he replied. "It is a wee bit peculiar. I'm not sure what to do with it."

"Just explore it a little and we'll figure out how to get you to this point again." Hopefully without the tattooing.

"Mmm. It's like taking morphine," Carson said. "I am aware of pain but it doesn't worry me. Natural endorphins maybe." He frowned a little "Phil, you have a kidney stone about to shift. You should drink a lot of water."

Phil stopped, lifting his pen for a moment, dabbing gently at the blood that was coming up as he worked. "That's… interestingly random information. Thanks."

"I should say that I'm a qualified doctor," Carson pointed out and John snorted a little. "I'm just saying in case it moves. It hurts like hell."

"In my line of work, when someone tells me something like that, I generally believe them," Phil said mildly. "You don't argue the supernatural."

"Sensible," John put in.

"How did you start doing all this?" Carson asked.

"Oh, the usual way most guys get into it. There was this really hot girl I wanted to impress. She was kind of Wiccan, but it was accidentally not-poseur Wiccan. Long story short, she got herself killed and I started researching like nothing else. I was already a tattoo artist, so I decided, there's a need for ink for these types."

"I keep hearing things that involve people dying," Carson pointed out. "It's more than a little alarming."

"My then girlfriend went… obsessive about getting revenge on her family for her shitty upbringing. She summoned this demon to right past wrongs, and…" Phil shrugged minutely, and leaned in to continue working on Carson. "It had its fun with her, and killed her. Couple of local hunters finally put the thing back in Hell."

"Revenge is by definition an out of control emotion," Carson said. "I'm thinking anything done in that way is going to have extreme results."

"Anything involving demons is going to have extreme results," John snorted. "They're not genies that you can put back into the bottle when you're done with them."

"I don't know why people summon them," Carson said. "It seems to have issues in it."

"There are people who think they're just as evil and badass, that they can handle it. I've summoned a few — and I can't say it ever went well for me. I got over it." If Carson was putting him on a pedestal, it was best to knock himself off before something happened to do it for him.

"Really?" Carson asked twisting to look at him a little. "Why, lad?"

"Young, stupid, angry, with too much power. Most of us have done something like that, and if we survive…" John grinned. "It kind of changes your priorities. We should ask Teyla and Rodney about their big mistakes. After a while, you get to laugh at them."

"Do you laugh at it?" Carson asked in a deceptively soft voice.

"Sometimes, yeah. At myself, mostly. Who was I to think I could stand up to a creature forged in Hell?" John snorted. "Or one who was cast out of heaven?"

"That still disturbs me a little," Carson said.

"Oh, you wait until you see one in the flesh," Phil said. "Hold still. Anyway, Sheppard is probably one of the only ones that could do all that."

"Yeah. Out of sheer persistence. I've got a few things lined up to get me, though. My 'fanclub'." He leaned his elbows on his knees, still watching Carson while Phil worked.

Carson frowned in concern. "Lined up to get you? But…how? What can you do about that?"

Phil grinned. "Make nice with the good guys."

"See, that's the idea," John grinned. "I can't exactly just call it quits, tell everyone I'm hanging up my hat. I figured that out before I was out of puberty. The only thing I can do is try to hope that the good I've done outweighs the bad." It was sort of like being an old-fashioned gunslinger — John didn't particularly think he was going to die in his bed of old age.

"The one good thing in this game, is that older doesn't necessarily always mean weaker," Phil said. "There's a reason the whole powerful magician stereotype is a grey beard. If you survive that long, you've got to be hot shit. Bit more to do here…but nearly there. Usually there's a whole lot more screaming and macho posturing rather than polite conversation."

"Sorry," Carson said. "They don't have a claim on you though, do they?"

"No. Once upon a time, one of them did." John watched Phil blot again. "But I got myself out of that. Hey, Phil, how do you think I'd look with a grey beard?"

"You'd still have every creature on or off of Earth wanting you," Phil said. "Sometimes I think you fell in a vat of charisma potion when you were a baby. There, I'm done. How does it look?"

John sat up, while Phil leaned back. It was a nice ringed pattern, with the runes locked carefully into the pattern. "That's nice. You always do excellent work. I'm going to go up front and pay your girl at the desk while you give Carson the aftercare and feeding rules."

"He probably knows them better than I do," Phil said. "Spread the word for me and that's a good payment. You know where I am now."

It had been coincidence that brought him here, but he was always wary of coincidence.

"Oh aye, I know what to do." Carson said. "You go on, John, I'll be with you in a moment."

"Still paying you," John called over his shoulder as he walked to the front desk. "You've got to make rent somehow." You didn't want someone like Phil getting resentful when he was inking up a crucial piece of protection.

It didn't take long to pay the clerk out front, even if she looked bored by it all. Carson was coming out, chatting to Phil as if they were old friends by the time he was done, and John could see the basic dressing put on the tattoo.

"Okay, I'm ready to go." Carson said looking remarkably well if a little drugged by whatever he had done to himself to get through the experience. "I'll pay you back for it, John."

"I'm pretty sure you will somehow," John shrugged, waving to Phil. "I'll be sending more people your way now that I know where you are."

"Thanks man, I appreciate it. I owe Kalina an apology," Phil said. "Stay safe."

John slapped Carson lightly on the shoulder, guiding him out towards the door. "Well, mister doesn't scream while getting tattooed. What do you want to do next?"

"I don't actually know. I suppose we ought to look for a house for us all," Carson said. "I at least know what Rodney is going to want. He does have particular tastes."

"Yeah?" That caught John's interests, because Rodney seemed torn between not at all picky and insanely picky. Or maybe John just fell within the lines of his demands. "Go on, I'm listening. We can roll up to a real estate agent's office and scare the hell out of her."

"Well, there is that list from the base we can look at. Anyway, Rodney does like his own space but he… if you've ever seen him work, he likes tables. Surfaces to dump a laptop onto when he's walking around and he can just start working. He likes comfort in a sofa or a couch, and he's not kidding about the TV. It's a… well, it's like a wall. He takes those comforts seriously. Kitchen wise, he loves food but the only piece of equipment he could not live without is his coffee maker. He eats out or lives on Cheetos and snack bars and take out. Bad habits," Carson rattled off.

"So, are you two…?" John waved a hand from side to side, peering at Carson. Tables, then. Sofa, tables, and they could cede to Rodney's TV.

"Friends." Carson looked down a moment before very obviously plastering on a smile and shrugging a little. They were out on the street now, heading back to the car. "Which is… great."

"You, uh…" John cleared his throat. "Look, what Rodney and I did is, it's, it doesn't mean anything, so if you have intentions towards him, hey."

"Well intentions became all a bit immaterial," Carson said with a shrug. "Rodney will pick who he will pick. I'm, I tend to become friends with people before things go further, if you know what I mean."

The edge of John's mouth quirked a little. "It still doesn't mean anything. I picked him up at that bar we went to the other night. It was a complete fluke."

Carson looked at him a moment and actually nearly snorted. "Bloody hell, you really can't see it can you?"

"See what?" John herded him towards the car, and reached to take Carson's keys from him. Well, Rodney's keys.

"It's more than casual between you two. I thought it was obvious," Carson shrugged.

It was John's turn to snort. "I hardly know him. You know that he likes tables," John pointed out.

Carson shrugged. "I just know, lad. I can usually tell… for other people. Myself? No idea. Completely clueless."

"Complete denial," John decided, and he popped the lock on the doors of the car, and got in. The driver seat had to go back, and mirrors had to be readjusted while Carson settled in. He wasn't sure how McKay drove with the steering wheel almost into his chest like that, sitting bolt upright, or why Carson hadn't bothered to adjust it. "So, are we heading back to the hotel room to regroup and call real-estate agents on that list?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Carson said. "I think I need to let this effect of whatever I did to wear off a wee bit. I hope you've got some books and things so I can read up on all this sort of thing. I'm getting the impression I'm going to have a steep learning curve."

"Most everyone does. You'll feel better, maybe, if we all sit around and tell our Stupid Things We've Done list." John pulled out of the parking space after another moment, and mentally mapped the course back to the motel. Ellis would want attention anyway, and Carson probably needed a nap.

He knew for a fact that whatever Carson had done, however inadvertently, it cost energy and that needed to be replaced somewhere along the line.

"Sounds like a fun evening," Carson replied. "I'll look forward to it."

All he needed to do now was make it sound like it was something that anyone with half a brain would run a mile from. That was probably easier said than done.

Once you were discovered, there wasn't really anywhere to run to.

Carson still felt a little like he had been dosing himself with morphine after the tattooing. There had been a sharp pain initially and then it had all became a little floaty. An afternoon of fun house hunting had it narrowed down to three prospects that they were going to look at the following day and then they'd gone and got dinner. Right now, Carson was feeling floaty, full and pretty good with the world, despite the strangeness.

He was working under the assumption that his own body was protecting him from the extent of how much the tattoo had hurt, and that perhaps when any lingering pain had gone, so too would be the drifty feeling.

Dinner with Teyla, Major Lorne, and Ronon had been interesting and nice. Lorne seemed less derring-do than John, but still very nice and competent. Ronon was still a quiet fellow, but it was good to reaffirm to himself that his new co-workers were interesting and relatively normal people.

What was weird was the increasing rate of weird feelings, images and …stuff that seemed to happening. The floaty feeling was quite good at numbing the after effects of that. Things had drifted up, distracting him. Lorne seemed to be plagued by a repeating apocalyptic vision, but he never mentioned it. Teyla… Teyla had the image of a haunting pale white face with glowing yellow eyes whispering her name. Ronon was the moonlight and black blood of another wolf dying and silvershot while he howled in grief.

And John was putting out all sorts.

John was images of Hell — brown and red fire, char and ash, and standing in a circle around a symbol on the floor, and the thought of turning his back on a big, beautiful house, the barking snarls of dogs in his ears when he left. He'd drifted and listened, and enjoyed what Lorne had declared was the best Italian dive in town, drinking red wine and eating stuffed pasta.

He didn't actually realize he hadn't been talking much because he felt like he'd been having a conversation with them all, where in fact he hadn't said much of anything.

It came to something when John was the one pointing out that he was being quiet.

He'd blamed the tattoo, and endorphins, but John had still insisted on driving him back to the motel again, in case he drove into a wall, which was kindly enough, Carson supposed. John helped him up the stairs, and shadowed him to the door.

"You sure you'll be all right?"

"Oh aye," Carson replied and smiled. He reached to pat John on the shoulder; he was a tactile person by nature, maybe for a reason and was stunned when another set of images bubbled up from nowhere.

"Wait…" Carson was frowning. "That can't be right."

"What can't be right?" John didn't move, just stood there and waited for Carson to open the door. But, he was clearly thinking about whether Ellis would try to make an escape, and what Carson would be like in bed.

"Are you seriously considering what I would be like in bed?" His usual subtlety vanished in surprise. "No one ever… uh."

John half-opened his mouth, then closed it. "We could probably talk about this inside, better."

"All right then. If you want to," Carson said, opening the door and ushering him in.

Ellis was sitting on the coffee table, passed out. He didn't exactly curl up dignified — he looked like he'd passed out mid-motion, sprawled out on his belly. John glanced at the table, and shut the door behind him once they were inside. "You're attractive, and I'm kind of easy," he admitted.

"Easy? John, people just don't do this to me," Carson replied, still at a loss as to whether he was shocked or flattered. "It's usually the whole long getting to know people thing. I'm not complaining, I'm just… surprised."

"I make snap decisions about people." John shrugged when he said it, as if he was brushing off his own opinions. "I like you. As a friend, as whatever. You're a nice guy. And McKay will have my head if I hurt you."

"Well, I'm not likely to turn down someone like you taking an interest in me," he replied. "If you really want to do this."

"You don't have to do this just because I'm interested," John countered, stepping in a little closer. "Like I said, McKay will kill me if I hurt you."

"John, I'm not being forced here," Carson said smiling a little. "If you want to, go ahead…"

He wasn't sure why John would approach him, but he did, closing the space between them, and leaning in close enough that Carson could smell him, faint aftershave and warm skin. He wasn't going to argue, he was going to lean back and kiss him because John was incredibly attractive and damn, he knew how to kiss and…touch and Carson didn't need to be convinced too hard.

It had been a while, and the way John was moving, pressing in close against him, hands sliding up and down Carson's sides while he tilted his head to kiss Carson better said that it would be good, and it was. It was rich and intense, smoky like a golden whiskey and there were ghost impressions of Rodney flickering around his awareness, which shouldn't make it hotter, but it did.

Carson supposed that if he was going to have decadently strange sex, he might as well have it with gusto. John moved a hand up, fingers in his hair, and moving him away from the dining table and towards the small bed.

It was easy to tumble on to it, pulling John down with him. There was a sharp jolt from his chest, but that just peaked up the floaty feeling. "Mmm, John…" he murmured kissing back. He really wanted John to enjoy himself as well. He got the impression John didn't always let himself go.

Maybe he could talk John into letting go.

Talk with his hands, his mouth, though, and that was different. The floating feeling was better than morphine, and he drifted through John taking his shirt off, John touching his skin, avoiding the patch on his chest that was covered in gauze.

He let himself move by instinct in a way he hadn't done before and it lead him to the most unlikely spots on John's body that nevertheless made John shiver with reaction when he kissed them, when he sucked at them and smoothed his thumb over them. Like a red haze of arousal, John's skin started to taste of desire so he felt like he was breathing it in, tasting it.

It just made him want more, until they were side by side on the mattress, finally naked, and John was breathing hard from the movements over those sensitive places. "You're, Jesus, you're good."

"Not usually…" he admitted in a fit of semi-hazed honesty. He assumed it was a side effect. "Mmm, please John, I want more. Can I…" Give him the blowjob of a lifetime or kiss him, or push against him or…

Anything. Anything for more contact, more touch. "Anything." John sounded stunned, but felt eager, his chest singing with it, his thoughts, the brief flashes Carson felt, were lurid, Carson with his dick up John's ass, pounding him.

If that was what he wanted, Carson could oblige, and then some. His hands burned with heat as he slid them over skin. He was going to suck him and tease him into losing control. And then he was going to do more. As much as he could, until John didn't have any control left. It had been a while for Carson, but he could still master simple mechanics like sliding down a body to give a blowjob, particularly while he was drifting with power.

Mmm, touch, and touch again, tracing over tattoos and kissing them even as he made his way to John's cock and settled to sucking with a degree of attention that had him drifting in a timeless motion and need.

John didn't feel like he was going to last long, or maybe he was. Maybe he was lasting a long time, hard against Carson's tongue and sliding in and out of his mouth, and it was Carson who had no concept of time. John's dick was clean, and his pre-come tasted faintly bitter against the back of Carson's throat, and there were fingers in his hair.

He didn't care, it was just good to have sex and feel it like this. Fingers stroking at the same time, mouth teasing until he could feel his balls tighten for a climax. He did that. He did that, he could still do that, riding a wave of euphoria that wasn't his like it was his, sucking harder, until John's fingers tapped at his hair. "Can't, oh, fuck, can't get hard again this fast."

"Are you sure, lad?" he murmured pulling away. It was there lurking close enough to reach in that golden haze. A touch, a stroke of colors and blood would flow here, desire flow there and… oh yes. Why had he never realized this before?

John choked on a gasp, rocked his hips up. "S, surprise? Huh."

"Mm." He smiled a little and ran his fingers to touch his ass and caressed it. "I can feel what you want, John… I can tell how you want it."

John clenched an ass cheek, and leaned up on his elbows, watching Carson with bright, bright hazel eyes. "Yeah? Then show me how I want it."

Carson smiled trailing his finger over the hipbones and muscles until he had a clear image in his head of what he needed to do and then he did it. He moved with a decisive manner, moved to fulfill the fantasy.

Helped John get to his knees, and for a moment the image was Rodney on his hands and knees, and then it was John again, the reality of John and John panting and telling Carson where the lube was.

He had to fumble a little to get it but after that it was smooth and automatic, knowing exactly how to stretch John, when he was ready, how much he could take and when and then pushing hard, moving, thrusting and hitting every single button he had.

It was amazing, watching him arch and twist and move, move, move into it, moving with and against Carson, and John was riding him as much as he was riding John. The room was full of noises, grunts, the slap of skin on skin, and John was getting erratic.

"Come now, love," he half gasped out. "Come, John." It was barely a whisper but he paced with him, reaching around to jerk at him.

Stroked him off. There was going to be come on the bedspread, but there was probably already someone else's come on it, knowing how well motels cleaned. He stroked into John, until he felt John come over his fingers.

Then he was able to come himself basking in a sort of afterglow that he never remembered having before. All he wanted to do was hold on to John, hold him skin to skin.

Just lie there and savor the feeling. It was late, but he didn't need to go anywhere particularly early in the morning. He and John needed to call the movers and harass the real-estate agents, he knew. And that was it.


He draped himself over John happily. "Mmm." He nearly laughed. "You want to know something?" he murmured.

"What?" John moved lazily, but didn't seem interested in moving to get up.

"I don't usually top," Carson replied and half laughed into John's shoulder. "I think I'm under the influence a wee bit."

"You should top more often," John murmured. "You and Rodney could fight over who tops. Damn. You mind if I hang out, sleep…?"

"Stay, John," Carson murmured, knowing John needed to hear that. "Stay. I'm not going anywhere."

"Mmm." John sounded tired, and he shifted, pushing the sheets down. "That sounds like a nice plan."

In the room next door, someone started running a shower.

It took some time for Carson to connect the fact that that was Rodney's room and actually… He half wanted a shower himself but the water was hinky and they'd discovered if one of them was having a shower, then the water ran cold in the other room.

Carson waited even as John slipped into sleep, and optimistically tried his shower and nearly yelped with the cold. It was no good… he'd have to go see him.

He was sure that Rodney wasn't supposed to be back for another night. As it was, he was still running the hot water when Carson popped the door open quietly.

"Rodney?" he called out. "Rodney, come on, you must be done by now." He waited for an answer and then sighed. "Rodney, lad, you awake in that shower?"

He started to get a little worried. Rodney wasn't the type to spend a lot of time in the shower.

Rodney was a quick bather. Carson closed the door behind him, and he stepped in towards the shut bathroom door. That was Rodney all right. Even alone, he'd close the door to keep heat in.

"Rodney?" he called again and listened. All he could hear was the running water and suddenly starting to think that actually maybe Rodney really had fallen afoul of slipping on cheap motel soap or something, he pushed the door open really hoping that nothing had happened but worried enough to risk the embarrassment of going into the bathroom just in case.

He almost wished he hadn't opened the door.

The water was still running from the showerhead, and the room was full of steam, and he could smell soap — good soap, something a little spicy — and Carson could see feathers. Silvery-grey, with wet undertones like oil bubbles glistening over top of them. Rodney had them pulled around himself, these huge wings, and he was carding fingers through along the outer edge of one wing. The water at his feet was grey and murky, filled with specks and detritus.

Then he turned and saw Carson, and the wings snapped out, but the shower stall was small and Rodney howled as soon as one hit the curtain rod before snapping them in close against his body. "Oh, fuck!"

Carson was staring, literally at a loss for words. When he managed to say anything it was a rather plaintive and confused. "Rodney?"

Rodney leaned back against the wall of the shower stall, breathing hard, wings shuddering with him, and he seemed as much at a loss for words as Carson was. "Oh, oh fuck. Dammit, dammit, you nearly scared the life out of me!"

"I thought you'd concussed yourself in the shower!" Carson said a little lamely. "I wanted one and… I waited and waited and eventually I started to think something was wrong in here after thirty minutes or so. Rodney… you've got wings!"

As if Rodney wasn't aware of that fact.

"Yes, and apparently the entire state of California and part of Arizona decided to start burning for my return trip back, and I almost flew into a Canadian water-depositing thing, and I'm a filthy wreck. What are you even doing up at this hour?" Rodney took another almost scared, shuddering breath, and folded the wings more closely around him. The water was still running, and soaking his left side.

"Well uh…" Carson flushed a little. "John came back and… um.."

He was trying to say they'd had monumentally fantastic sex, without sounding too bigheaded about the whole thing.

"Oh." Rodney stood up a little, still not quite looking at Carson. "Look, close the door and I'll be out in a few minutes."

"Rodney…" But Carson did as he was asked because he had been rude and barged in on him and this had to be whatever Rodney had wanted to hide.

He didn't know many supernatural beings with wings, but the obvious were angels. And he couldn't think of someone less likely to be an angel in his life.

Rodney was abrasive and mean, sometimes, and he was, well. Rodney. Smart mouthed, quick to criticize, full of pride and belief in his own ability. He had no sense of religion and had occasionally jibed Carson when he felt the urge to go to Mass. He talked about science and theory and precision, and… And. Maybe there was some other mythological creature.

He also had the distinct impression that he might've just upset him a wee bit with the whole thing with John, but he didn't want to feel guilty about that. He was pretty sure that whatever Rodney was, he wasn't out to kill him or anything; he'd had ample opportunity to do that all the time they had spent together.

So he sat down in the mirror version of his own room, and waited for Rodney to come out. After another minute or two, the water shut off, and Rodney came out, wearing pajama pants and rubbing the feathers down with a big towel. "Okay. Hi."

"Hi," Carson said back. "I'm… really sorry for barging in. I really thought there was something wrong… well and I wanted a hot shower."

Rodney made some sort of agreeing noise, and sat down on the bed, still carefully drying the feathers off. It looked like it was going to take a lot of work to do that, actually. "Right, well. You can have your hot shower now. I'm done."

They were skirting around the subject, as if Rodney wasn't standing there with wings right in front of him.

"Er, Rodney," Carson said after a moment. "Are you…I mean, I don't know much about all this, but are you an Angel?"

"Yes. You know, this conversation never actually goes well. The last time I was caught, someone tried to dissect me — which, incidentally, is why I think all of the biologists in Area 51 should be taken out and shot for not picking a more useful career path than taking things apart without a care in the world as to whether those things wanted to be taken apart." Rodney twisted, moving to the other wing, and he started to move more gingerly. "I've hit this one on something twice in one day."

That automatically had Carson stepping up close to him. "Maybe I should take a look," he said. "If it hurts… I could do something about it."

"Be careful — they're delicate. Stupidly, stupidly delicate." Rodney didn't move away, but he did go very still. "So. Uh. You're not going to run off and tell the rest of the command?"

The thought honestly hadn't occurred to him. "No?" Carson answered a little surprised. "No, it's your secret, I don't go around telling other people's secrets. Although… I think you should tell John. Considering we will be living and working together…"

Rodney sat up a little taller, and stayed quiet while Carson started to tentatively touch Rodney's wings. He wasn't going to tell Rodney that he thought the man could be better served by a vet. There were definitely bones under there, running along the top of the wing, and what felt like a scab at the leading edge. Possibly from a scrape? "Do you want to get him now, or is he asleep? I hate bringing these things out, but he'll think I had the mental version of a Bell's palsy attack on my flight back if he doesn't get the whole picture."

"I'll get him in a moment. How does it work? Do they stay like this, hurt, when you put them away?" Carson asked. "Or do they heal when you fold them?"

"They heal if I take care of them first, which is nearly impossible. This is the reason why humans never have to worry about birds overthrowing them." He twisted, and demonstrated that he couldn't touch the edge Carson was touching while facing it. "But I can do it backwards with a mirror."

"Well you won't need to do that," Carson said. "I can help you out." They were soft and warm under his fingers and he could feel that white horizon wrapped up in their soft feathers. "I'll go get my bag, and John, and we'll see to them."

"Thank you." Rodney slouched a little, seemed to relax, but it was hard to read him. He seemed scared, and he knew what Rodney was like scared — quick to accuse, quick to snap. He just didn't know why Rodney was scared.

Carson was careful only to open the door a peek when he slipped out, and locked it behind him.

He wasn't sure why Rodney would be scared of him. No one was scared of him. Carson let himself into his room and rustled around for his bag first. Doctors and nurses often kept a few emergency things on hand and he was no exception for all he had mainly been in a lab. Then he moved over to the bed where John was sleeping.

"John… John, are you awake?"

"Hmn?" John stretched a little, and rolled over onto his back. "Hmn, yeah. Bed got cold."

"Uh, I think you should come next door," Carson said. "I think, well, I think Rodney needs to show you something."

It was surprising how quickly John sat up. "He's back? I thought he went to LA?"

"Yes, well, um… You really need to see this," he said as he picked up his bag. "Room to the left."

"What happened?" John was standing up, all fluid muscle while he bent to pick up his boxers and jeans. He grabbed a t-shirt, and Carson wasn't entirely sure it was actually John's. "Is he hurt?"

"Just a wee bit, uh." Carson grimaced. "Look, you know more about this sort of thing than I do. You know he's been hiding something? Well he's not anymore."

And John was quiet for the moment. "Okay, let's see this." He pulled his boots on quickly, and moved towards the door.

Carson was watching as John entered the room; what he wasn't ready for was the way he hissed under his breath and canted out a Latin phrase that sounded like it should have been in Harry Potter. What he did feel was an up rush of power that was like a blast of heat.

"Oh, are you kidding me?" Rodney was still sitting on the edge of the bed, his wings draped almost pathetically around him.

"John! It's Rodney!" Carson stepped in between them. "Stop that! What are you doing?"

"He could be an Angel, he could be a Fallen angel and Fallen angels are generally demons," John replied through gritted teeth.

"I think he's planning to send me to Hell," Rodney drawled. "Which I suppose has more basis in logic than I care to admit, given that train of thought. I'm not a demon — just look at me. Do I look like a demon?"

"No," John replied. "But then some of the Angels have screwed me over as well. I'm not inclined to be charitable."

"Yes, you bloody well are," Carson interrupted. "There will be no sending to Hell when I'm here."

"This, this is why I didn't let you reveal me in the meeting room, because you would have wasted more time trying to punch me out than exorcising that stupid kid." Rodney stood up in a rush, and the wings moved with him, twitchy and angry seeming. "You can't send me to Hell. I'm not bound there, that place has no call on me. This apparently is the thanks I get for spending a new car's worth of money on the supplies you wanted?"

John unclenched his hands and it was like the power in the room dribbled away. He was staring at Rodney intently in a way that Carson was beginning to recognize was him using his Sight. "Okay."

"You should apologize," Carson said. "I've touched Rodney, there's nothing unpleasant in him."

Rodney sat down again, still petting nervously at the edge of his uninjured wing. "I told you before, Sheppard. I'm Switzerland. I'm not of the Host. I'm not a demon, and funnily enough, I'm also not the only Fallen angel who decided to take his toys out of the game."

"Samael? Is that where he went? Jesus…" John exhaled. "Okay, look, sorry… by the time one of you guys Wing up at me, it's usually followed by a shit load of pain one way or another and trying not to die. Call it a… reflex."

Carson looked between the two of them. "Not going to kill each other?"

"No. I like John." That didn't stop Rodney from giving him a dirty look. "And I didn't 'wing it up' at you or whatever you called it. I flew over a forest fire on my way back, and I was trying to get the soot off. Then Carson walked in on me showering, which okay, I scraped one of my wings on a wall this morning landing, and the last thing I need is an infection, so possibly it wasn't horrible. But I got your supplies, and decided to decline an invitation to stay the night."

"Let me take a look at that scrape now, lad," Carson said, pleased things were calming down a little. "I can put something on it if you are not going to get angry at each other."

"I'm being calm." It was almost accusatory, and he was still watching John.

"Look, I'm sorry," John said again. "And believe me, I don't say that often." Carson could believe that even as he wiped down the raw area carefully, and then got out some salve. There was no doubt that they were real, not when he could see layers of scraped skin, and blood, and that little padding of a yellow fat layer in one spot.

Rodney grimaced, and the wings shuddered a little. "I hate walls. Well, aren't you going to start interrogating me, Sheppard? Who I am, what I did?"

Carson glanced at John who shrugged. "I just woke up. My interrogation technique is… not so good in the morning."

"Easy, Rodney," Carson soothed petting the feathers. Fear started to drift up at him off of the feathers, fear more than anything else.

It was hard to guess why he was scared, but that fear was there under his fingertips, and Rodney didn't seem to be calming down. "Fine. I wouldn't exactly call this morning."

"John, sit down would you, you're… making Rodney nervous," Carson said. "I'm curious, Rodney, but I wouldn't want you to feel interrogated. That implies that things are one way."

"And given the little show of force that came in the door…" Rodney waved a hand at John, and then rubbed at his face. "I've been wound up all day. I did a little information hunting while I was in LA."

"Oh aye? And what did you find out?" Carson asked as he stroked and put what balm he could on the wound.

"You should preen the feathers through with blessed oil," John said offering his advice. "I've been told it helps them."

"Well, you could help while Rodney is telling us about his trip," Carson suggested, recognizing an oblique apology when he saw one.

He wasn't too surprised when John got up. "I'll be back in a few minutes. I don't have any in my pocket."

"Don't suppose you would," Rodney sighed, twisting a little to try to watch what Carson was doing.

"Easy there," Carson said as he twisted and John popped out. He leaned forward. "Why are you scared, Rodney? He won't do anything. It was just reaction."

"This never ends well for me. To hunters, to people like Sheppard, I'm just as bad as a demon. I might as well be slobbering and eating babies." Rodney shifted, looked at Carson, fingers petting his wing, but Carson wasn't going to stop. "I'm sorry about this. You should be taking a shower and basking in the afterglow."

"Don't worry about it. John won't do that, and you're still Rodney," Carson said. "It'll be okay, don't worry."

Carson was going to make sure it would be okay.

It wasn't often John felt a bit ashamed of himself but he did right then. He just reacted. You see wings, you ante up, and that was how he survived. Gabriel had not been any less threatening than some of the demon lords. Mind, the archangel had not been happy that he'd been able to force him/her/it into a corporeal form.

But Rodney was no archangel, and now he'd pissed him right off.

He did want to know Rodney's story, who he was, just, all of it, but with the way Rodney had been looking at him, he had no idea how to approach it. It sort of explained a couple of things, though — the secrecy, the plain stamina, the implacable ability set that he kept secret, too.

It wasn't that far a walk to his motel room down the block, and the cool air did him some good.

He'd heard that they existed, these celestial equivalents of conscientious objectors, but never met one and wasn't entirely convinced that there was any truth to them all. But that would explain where Samael had gone. Satan defected to the sidelines. Huh. He fetched the ritual oil — he tended to use it before and after bad battles to try and purge demonic taint.

An angel, not a smiting righteous bastard, and not a demon lord.

An angel who was just sort of… there. Doing his own thing, and that was hard to conceive of. If it was possible, why become a long-suffering demon lord?

He'd need more oil, but it was easy enough to get, and it existed to be used. John wasn't a hoarder like some people were, keeping things when it defeated the purpose of having. It would be an apology in a way, because Rodney had been bristling when he left, and he was probably still bristling.

This would literally be a case of soothing ruffled feathers. Even so, he wasn't sure now whether the strange attraction was down the whole angelic thing or not. Or whether he'd just sleep with anyone or anything.

It was possible, John supposed. He could hear his footsteps echo in the parking lot while he jogged across it, and headed towards the stairs. He had time to work that out, seeing as he'd agreed to move in with Carson and Rodney, and they were on a team together.

He opened the door carefully, not wanting to spook them again and heard Carson talking that soothing rambling voice that was almost hypnotic.

"Well, that should be all the wing treatment needed. John might be right, the feathers do seem a little dry and brittle."

"It's probably because I compress them into my back." Rodney's voice was quieter than it had been before, calmer. "The favorite technique is to cut them off. I… couldn't do that to myself."

"I don't blame you," Carson said. "They are beautiful, really … wonderful." He stroked down the feathers.

"I've got the oil," John said, as he walked forward. Carson really was good at calming him down.

"Thanks." The wings moved a little, or Rodney moved them, and John circled in closer. "I neglect them, I suppose. I can't just fly around, and you can't exactly walk around with these. Once upon a time, I could. It was a, a majesty. Now, I'd get shot and they'd figure out what the hell I was later. 'Better safe than sorry', huh?"

"I have a charm or two I could work for you. Make you unnoticeable if you want to stretch your wings." He put the oil on his fingers and then started carding them through the feathers gently.

He didn't expect Rodney to sigh and groan a little. "Oh, might take you up on that sometime. I couldn't, and maybe I'm a coward this way, but I couldn't do what the rest of them did. Samael cut his off, recently. Melios burnt his, angry leathery things. Sandalphon cut his, and turned to me, and I… left."

"Sometimes it takes more courage to walk away," Carson murmured taking some oil and starting work on the other wing. The feel of feathers, angel feathers, against John's fingertips was sensual in the extreme. It was no hardship to smooth the oil in lightly.

They hummed, and the crispy brittle bit of their edges seemed to fade with the extra care. "I picked up the feather of a member of the host while I was shopping. I hate to say it, but it could be useful. Samael said you're probably the most powerful seventh son to make it to this age without your head imploding. Congratulations, Carson." There was a muzzy quality to Rodney's voice.

"Thanks, I think." Carson said. "What can you do with that feather?"

"Plenty," John replied. "Summoning at the very least… depends which one it is, and what sphere they control." Angel feathers were a one time deal if you had one, but they worked. "You don't need to tell us that… Carson's been manifesting all day."

"Apparently so," Carson added dryly.

"Huh. What happened?" Rodney turned his attention to Carson, while John stroked oil into the feathers slowly. It didn't take much, just a thin coating on his fingers to do most of one wing. Up near the bone, he pressed a little harder, stroked more firmly.

He shouldn't be feeling anything, not after the pretty spectacular sex he'd managed to have recently, but it was doing something for him. Maybe it was the idea of the feathers. "He touched a memory… a deep memory, and he was actually there," John said.

Rodney's next inhalation was a little startled, his chest puffing up. Now, now John knew why Rodney reminded him of a bird. "Oh, we have to start training you in the morning. That's spectacular, Carson, it's no wonder you thought you were going insane…"

"Aye." Carson said. "And I self-medicated during the tattooing. Truth is, I've been a wee bit uninhibited all evening as a result."

John half wished he could get information as easily, up until he remembered how they usually went nuts from overload. That had been deep in him, that memory. If he had to absorb everything in someone's head to get that deep, John knew he'd snap.

"You probably both need to sleep. Thank you for… I'm sorry if I've snapped. I'm exhausted."

"No, it's okay," Carson said. "We can sleep in tomorrow. If you feel like telling us about things then, that's good."

"You need a rest. Jet lag," John said. To be able to fly like that… That was a dream he'd buried a long time ago.

"Yeah." Rodney gave a quiet bark of a laugh as John got up and moved to the other side, to massage oil into his injured wing. "I wouldn't even know where to start."

"If I say the very beginning, do we go back to Genesis?" Carson asked.

"Yes." Rodney tilted his head a little. "Yes, we do. The world seemed very small then, and it seems very small again, now. In the middle there, it was vast."

"I'd still like to hear… when you are rested," Carson said.

"So would I," John said. He wanted to know more about Rodney, his sphere of influence, and his deeds.

"Right. In the morning, then. I'll bring donuts and reclaim Ellis." He rustled his free wing a little, and stretched it out, until the feathers were brushing the ceiling. "Oh, that does feel good. Time to pack them away now."

"How does that work?" Carson said curiously even as John stepped back. Angels were just another supernatural creature to Carson, another amazing thing that was suddenly real.

No feeling of unease for Carson, no. "Like this." He stretched the injured wing out now, and then folded them both against his back, at ease. Slowly, the feathers pulled into themselves, and the skin and bone, compressing somewhat grotesquely into Rodney's back, from his shoulders to down either side of his spine, until they disappeared, as if Rodney's back had swallowed them up. "Compressed matter. And that is how I weigh so much, in case you want to nag me about the donuts, Carson."

"That has got to be the best excuse for excess weight I have ever heard," Carson said with a grin. "I'd use it myself, but…"

John was frowning. "I don't know any other angels who can do that. You did that with math, didn't you?" There was something familiar about the shapes he could See when he watched that happened. Something that reminded him of topographical equations.

"Oh yes. Math and physics. All I've done is increased the density of them by compressing them. And when I say 'all I've done', I mean it was very complicated and took a little time to perfect, but they're my wings, and I'm keeping them. No sense in hacking them off to try to spite God somehow. He's not watching," Rodney stretched a little, and flopped back on the bed.

"Cool." And it was. John grinned a little. He liked the sheer geekery of circumventing the rules with math and physics. He missed that when he became focused on his second life as meddler in the occult. He was good at math, but unless he was going to try pure numerology, that wasn't traditionally part of the hunter's arsenal.

"It is." Rodney closed his eyes, and John couldn't remember angels sleeping, either. Not usually. "Thank you both. Night."

"I take it this is our cue to leave." John hovered a little. "We'll see you in the morning. Sleep off the jet lag."

"Night Rodney," Carson said moving towards the door. "Sleep well."

It was surreal, and John didn't enjoy riding the ups and downs — from having his brains scared out, to this, this calm after his apology with the oil. He still had the bottle, and he might as well keep it on him. Carson closed the door behind him, and John waited while Carson opened the door to his room. "I guess you can have your shower now?"

"I'm intending to, and then sleeping if you'd care to join me," Carson said.

John had to admit Carson seemed to be taking it all quite well.

"I'm sorry about the…" He gestured a little vaguely, and knew it encompassed nothing at all. "Overreaction."

"Don't worry, lad," Carson patted him on the shoulder. "It's understandable considering what you have been through. Rodney will come around."

"Angels are usually…" John shrugged his shoulders while he followed Carson inside, and stopped by the table to take his shoes off and start undressing. "Dangerous."

"Aye, I gathered that from your reaction. I thought they were the good guys?"

"Good in this very self-righteous, esoteric sense of the word. Some of them would like to Sodom and Gomorrah the whole world." He pulled the chair out, and nudged Ellis off of it. The big cat whined, and then raced over to the bed.

"Bad move, there," Carson commented. "The wings were wonderful though."

"They don't usually look like that. I'm sure it signifies something. Almost like pigeon wings." He pulled the t-shirt up over his head. "Do you mind if I join you in the shower?"

Carson smiled. "Of course not, John. I think I'd enjoy that a great deal." He looked so trusting and innocent then, that John had a momentary pang of conscience about the world he was suddenly going to immerse him in.

He didn't want to get Carson tangled up in it all, but the world seemed determined to pull Carson in. "Thanks." John stood up, and shucked his jeans and boxers off, leaving it in a pile by the chair.

The best he could do was to watch his back, and try and see if he could actually save a friend this time around instead of getting them killed.

And in the mean time, getting to know him better wasn't a hardship at all.

He felt better after sleeping. There was a Krispy Kreme open down the street, so he'd walked there, bundled up for warmth, and walked back as fast as he could, while carrying a box of twelve donuts. It was easy just to blank his mind and enjoy the feeling of normalcy that was pushing back the dread that Carson and Sheppard knew what he was, and probably had questions, and he had no idea if his answers were going to be satisfactory or not.

Of all the times and ways to let his secret slip, he managed it in the shower. Ridiculous. Of course, he hadn't expected Carson to come in while he was in the shower. Most people would have, if they'd suspected something had happened to him, calmly sat back and just let it happen.

On one hand, it was a nice change of pace. On the other hand, why did it have to be the shower of all places? Rodney jogged up the stairs, and moved to knock on Carson's door, like a polite person would.

Carson was up and he was pretty sure John would be as well. Military types tended to get it ground into them.

"Rodney, come in," Carson grinned at him and he looked faintly pleased with himself. Obviously John had stayed the night. "John went and got some decent coffee for us."

"We're certainly supporting the local restaurants around this dive," Rodney murmured, holding forward the donuts. "Where's Ellis — Ellis! C'mere, oh, who's a good boy?" He passed the box off, and closed the door behind him, crouching down to scruff his cat's ears. "Yeah, who's a good boy? Who thinks he's a dog, huh? Who thinks he's a big German shepherd?"

"A German shepherd?" Carson smiled a little.

"Someone mention my name?" John called out from the bathroom.

"Ellis plays fetch," Rodney offered, holding Ellis up under the arms before he stood up with his cat. "Cats are great."

"We used to have cats at home. They used to all try and sleep on my bed."

"That means they like you. Well, or hated you but liked a warm bed. Fifty-fifty either way." Rodney glanced towards John when he stepped out of the bathroom. "The donuts are fresh. Where'd you get the coffee?"

"There's an imitation Starbucks down the block," John said. "Seemed like pretty good stuff." He'd obviously just shaved and was looking a lot less rumpled that he generally did in the mornings.

It was funny, Rodney decided. "Imitation Starbucks is usually better than the real thing." He deposited Ellis on the bed.

"I hope you are feeling better this morning, Rodney," Carson said even as he popped open the donuts. "My head is a wee bit clearer, which means this tattoo is correspondingly more painful." He gestured to his chest.

"Oh, hey. That went well, then?" Rodney pulled a chair out, struggling not to peek sideways at John.

"Seemed to." John sat down and sipped at his coffee. "So. We've got a Seventh Son doing things no one has seen before and we've got an angel who didn't so much fall as lower himself carefully downwards, and we've got me… and nobody is entirely sure what I am, aside from a goddamn pain in the neck to most demons."

"I should almost feel offended. I fell, alongside the rest of them when we challenged God. I just decided not to wallow and self-justify what was retrospectively, not the best way to go about things." He reached for one of the Boston crèmes, and added, "Though you're completely correct about yourself and Carson. Like I said last night, Samael was impressed."

"Who is Samael?" Carson asked. To Rodney it was like asking something like 'What is the sun?'

"Samael, also known as Satan," John answered, leading to a slightly panicked look from Carson

"Lucifer is more correct. Humans have been very spotty in their mythology, and called every major demon Satan at some point. Samael led our shiftless angelic rebellion, but I believe it was part of the grand plan. Someone had to run Hell. We… were duped." Rodney shrugged, and started to nibble his donut. "This buying and selling souls bullshit — he never did any of it. It would've bored him. He runs a nightclub in LA now."

"So…" Carson seemed a little stunned by that. "Lucifer is a night club owner. And not a demon? I don't understand then. What are demons?"

"Demons… demons are creatures, evil creatures from all mythologies and many, many worlds. Sometimes they're Fallen angels who, I don't know. Believed in their own evil."

"But Fallen angels have a choice about whether to become evil," Carson frowned. "Okay… so if Lucifer is running a nightclub, who is running Hell?"

"Members of the heavenly Host, and demons." Rodney smiled a little, and kept chewing. "Hell is ultimately God's domain, after all. This is good coffee."

"Who was that one who you were facing off against, John?" Carson asked.

"The First," John shrugged a little and that was a little alarming. You didn't get blasé about the First.

"The first predated us. The angels. The First was cast down by God because he thought God was insane. He's very… Powerful, though I suspect that Samael or Michael could take him. If either cared." Rodney swallowed, and tried not to give John a dirty look. "Very dangerous."

Sheppard looked back at him. "He keeps telling me I belong to him. I keep telling him no," he said succinctly. "Although with a lot more blood involved."

"I should try to find out why he thinks he has a hold over you." He just wasn't sure how to do it. "You have to understand. I still fear Samael and the more powerful ones."

"Oh, I know the reason," John said. "My parents promised me to him in a pact. Fortunately without my consent. No one had the right to sell someone else's soul into slavery. That was one of the truisms of God's creation."

"It is." Rodney took another sip of the coffee, and sagged back in the chair. "So."

"So." John looked at him. "You feel like giving us as a rundown of things?"

Not really, no. He inhaled, taking in the smell of the coffee. 'I'm not sure what you want to know. I could tell stories all day."

"I want to know what you can do Rodney?" John said. "As the team leader, I kinda need to know."

Rodney shrugged. "I… know things. I know how to manipulate matter, and can. Mostly, I know how to make things work. It's what I've always done. I'm not… Samael. I can't ignite the world."

"What was your sphere of influence?" John asked and it was as close to an interrogation as he was going to get, from the sounds of it.

"I… was of the Logos. I was physics, minerals, astronomy." He set the coffee cup on the table, and kept his hand around it.

"I didn't even know sciences had angels," Carson commented. "So in fact… you do exactly what you do already? Try to understand things?"

"And usually grasp them quite well," Rodney cut in. "It was very dull back in the day, actually, and that was probably why I was restless. I studied the universe, the planet itself, because the humans in the garden were so… dull. And God kept trying to, the woman, it was a fiasco. Lilith was very lovely, black hair to her ass, she looked — and that's the other thing, I hate those paintings, you know those paintings where everyone looked like they were just sprung from a French palace?" He took another sip of the coffee, and that was why it was a problem to recount things. There was so much information there, in his head, pressing at the edges.

"Mm." John was smiling a little. "So no unearthly powers of smiting then, or banishment."

"No." Rodney lifted his eyebrows at John. "No, not as such, no. Though I'm handy with the rules."

"How about injuries? Pretty much human level of reaction there? Or can you heal up quicker?" John asked.

"Well his wing did get hurt yesterday," Carson pointed out. "So obviously he can get hurt."

"I heal faster, but I can be hurt. Killing me… is dicey." Rodney licked his bottom lip. "I've talked among the others about this. Long bouts of torture might do it. One of us was shot, right in the forehead once. He woke up, buried in a ditch, some weeks later."

"What about a demon getting hold of you?" John asked and it seemed quite calculating in some respects. "I've seen you guys fight before. Not pretty."

"I really think I'd have to be decapitated. Even then, I don't know. I certainly don't want to test the theory." He had to respect that. John had possibly run through a list of what he could have Rodney do, as a member of the team. "I've met demons. Most of them leave me alone because of my status as Fallen, so of the fights I've been in with them, I've started them."

"I find it hard to believe you start fights," Carson replied, smiling as he stole another donut. "Mm. So, you're pretty safe from a lot of things. That's good to know. "

"You can work under pressure then?" John asked. "Out in the field?"

"Oh, come on. You think I can't, as experienced as I am?" Rodney snapped, reaching for another donut. "I've seen things that would make your hair stand on end."

John gestured to his hair, which was erratically standing on end. "Consider me amazed."

Carson snorted a little. "Rodney is at his best, and most vocal, under pressure, John."

Rodney leaned, and nudged John's leg with his shoe under the table. "Har har. What do you need as proof?"

"That might have to wait until training exercises. Maybe Carson can see if he can pick something up from you later," John said. "And you're going to have to help train him. I can do a lot of things, but I can't push at someone's mind like you could."

"What do you mean by 'push at'?" Rodney glanced over to Carson again. "You know that now that you know, you're both going to be treated to the supernatural equivalent of 'in my day'."

"I think that would be interesting," Carson said.

"I mean Carson has to develop shields," John said. "That needs some… mental sparring."

"Ah, that kind of mental push back. I don't…" Rodney waved his free hand a little. "I don't do minds much. I'm a little heavy-handed. I can push back, though. Block."

John sighed a little. "Okay, maybe Teyla can test us out. Some of the Dhampir have the mental ability of their parentage."

"We liked your wings, Rodney," Carson commented with a smile.

It was a little strange, and caught him off guard a little. "Oh, uh. Thank you?"

John glanced at him. "Yeah, looks like Carson's ability is waking up again. He gets a bit random."

"I do not!" Carson protested. "You were just…uh…"

"No, go on. This, I want to hear." Rodney sat back a little, still smiling at Carson.

Carson looked embarrassed. "Well… it just popped into my head. It was probably me because I…"

"Carson, you're not helping," John replied. "Besides, it's not as if I'm not upfront about what I like. I was thinking about your wings, okay? I liked them. Yes, in that way." He stared at Rodney as if daring him to make something of it.

And Rodney didn't know what to make of it, even if he'd wanted to be confrontational. "Huh. I'm flattered, but wait until you have one smack you in the face or something." All he could think of was that Greek island where he'd worked for a while and he had half a feeling that he'd become the basis for Icarus. It was funny what he got when his mind free-associated.

"We'll see," John said.

"Sorry… I'm getting confused about whether it was from me or not for a moment," Carson said. "I also want to know why me astral projecting or whatever I did was a big deal?"

Because that was more than just being a seer. That implied an ability to change past or present. It messed with ideas about the immutability of time and space. It had profound implications to a lot of his own research, for a start.

"You moved through time in what I would call a persistent state, if John described this correctly," Rodney told him. "You changed time."

"But wouldn't it always have happened that way?" Carson asked.

Ah, the paradox right there. Now it would always have happened that way, but before it would've been different.

"Now it would, yes. Now that you've done it, but was it that way before Carson did that, John? While I do believe the ineffable plan is an annoying thing that inserts itself in so many ways…"

"It's difficult to say. I remember him being there," John said and shrugged. "It's a problem because certain beings might find it irresistible."

Those who wanted to change something. Make it happen differently. Rewind the past. "Yes, yes, ugh, uhm. All right, have either of you called the movers?"

"Yes. We've got three houses to take a look at today. At least all three of us are here," Carson said. "In fact, the first appointment is in an hour so we better think about getting ready to go."

"Mmm. I'm ready." Rodney grinned. "Ellis! C'mere, boy, c'mere. Hop into my lap!"

The cat did seem to respond a little like a dog in that he bounded over and bounced up into his lap obediently, and then started purring.

Rodney abandoned food to scritch carefully through fur. "I love this cat. You'll learn to love him, too."

"I'm sure we will," Carson said diplomatically and John just quirked a look at him.

"I promise not to show you slides of his kitten hood," Rodney offered slyly. "Though, I did that to Jeannie, once…." If that didn't put them off then it was likely this team thing might work after all.

"As long as there are not ones of him wearing diapers, I'll survive," John commented.

Rodney lifted an eyebrow at John. "You're not a cat owner, are you? If I tried to put a diaper on Ellis, I'd end up maimed, and fast healing or not…"

Carson cleared his throat. "And on that note, I think I'm going to get ready," he said and got up. "There's a house out there with all our names on it."

"I'll be in here, drinking the coffee you brought," Rodney called out, while Carson headed to the bathroom.

Maybe it wasn't going to be such a hellish day after all.

Moving in to their new house had actually been surprisingly painless. John had practically nothing to ship in except a few rather esoteric looking boxes, Rodney had… well, books. A lot of books. But then so did he and in the end the spare room was designated as a default library. They'd managed to pick bedrooms without shedding blood, although Carson was pretty sure that John had yet to sleep in his own bed.

The unpacking had taken a relatively short time. The setting of wards had been fascinating and disturbing at the same time.

John and Rodney had walked through the place meticulously, and they were still discussing the best ways to add extra, piddling little things to the wards, to turn the place into a fortress. He, on the other hand, was making coffee. And trying really hard to distinguish his own thoughts and feelings from everyone else's. He could feel them there, wrapping the place in protection. It felt a wee bit like home used to feel and he wondered if perhaps his family knew more than they had let on.

He wasn't that keen to get started on his training, which was apparently the next task on the agenda.

For the moment, Rodney was testing the coffee maker and trying to will the second moving truck to show up with his TV and his bedroom set. His mattress and his books had arrived, and it had been a source of endlessly funny phone calls to the moving company.

"Rodney… I said I would make the coffee," Carson said, as Rodney looked one step away from taking the whole thing apart. "John is clearing out the garage. He reckons we might fit two cars in there if the junk is moved and I promised to take him a coffee."

"God knows when my car will arrive out here," Rodney growled, stepping back from the coffee machine. "I think the Air Force outsourced their moving company to Dogs with Driver's Licenses. Maybe not even that."

"Well, we are pretty close to the base," Carson said, pushing his cups over. "Coffee, Rodney?"

He'd never yet seen Rodney turn one down. In fact, it was possible that Angels had coffee for blood.

It was possible, at least, that Rodney had coffee for blood. "Yes." After a moment, he even added, "Please." Then Rodney leaned back against the counter, looking tired. "Mmm, need to ward the electrical system."

"Is there any part of this house you haven't warded?" Carson asked. "It makes me wonder how I ever survived up until now."

"Well, there's three of us now. And we're going to be outright antagonizing things that could very well follow us home or have allies on this planet. I'd rather be safe."

"Mm." Carson said with a smile. "Well I feel safer with an angel around." And with John. John had an undercurrent of battle to him all the time. It never stopped. And maybe it truly never did stop. Maybe John was at war with more than the supernatural.

Rodney snorted, and dug around for mugs. "I'm not sure why. I'm not powerful. I'm not even angelic, though that might be a point in my favor as on the whole, they're assholes. Worse than me, I mean."

"I still find that fascinating," Carson replied. "I have to ask, did you see God? Are there lots of hierarchies?"

He supposed it was the usual sort of question Rodney got, but Rodney seemed to be willing to humor him, at least. "Yes, I did. A long time ago. I was of the Logos for a very long time, so… it wasn't seeing, so much as a physical experience." Rodney licked his bottom lip, and went for the milk from the fridge. "We had a very complicated structure in the Silver City."

"Can you tell me more about it?" Carson asked as he set the coffee machine going. "I sort of find it comforting to know there is something more… after."

"That's the interesting thing. I don't know what heaven is like. This human, mortal conception of heaven is not where we were. The souls… went somewhere, and I've had the implication that it's what they made of it, which, like Hell, leads me to believe that it's what you specifically believe it would be. You want hooks, peeled off skin and fire, fine. You want to see all of your family again, fine." Rodney leaned in, with all of the fixings for the perfectly tampered with cup of coffee lined up and waiting on the counter.

It was odd that Carson's first thought was of concern that if he died he might not see Rodney. But then if belief was the source of a conception of heaven, he was pretty sure that he would be seeing Rodney one way or another. "It doesn't seem fair that you didn't get to experience that."

"Think of it as the payoff for the very small scale of experiences you have the opportunity to have," Rodney smiled a little. "I don't know what Jeannie would say, actually. If I ever told her."

"She doesn't know?" Carson asked as he took the milk to pour in their coffee. "You've never been tempted to tell her?"

"What, that her older brother is actually an angel who was working construction in Canada and overheard her mother's fervent prayers that she wouldn't miscarry again, and decided to step in when she did miscarry and spent five months playing at being a fetus? I would slap myself if someone told me that story." He leaned up again, like he was restless. "But I experienced growing up with her, and I had no memory of what I was until, oh, puberty. It was sort of nice to start over for a while."

"That's nice to hear. Must've been strange realizing what you are though," Carson said stirring the coffee an offering a mug to Rodney. "I just thought I was weird, not a different species."

"Well, you are weird." Rodney bumped against his shoulder. "Blood lines are very powerful. Yours is… very good, very latently something. Which reminds me, you're never allowed to donate blood again."

"Well, I've been on a variety of medications that stopped me doing it," Carson said. "I think this is all still settling in. It all feels a little crazy to be honest. I'm starting to feel which are your feelings and which are John's." He smiled a little. "Last night you were 'loud' enough to wake me up."

"Oh." Rodney's cheeks started to do a slow burn, in a blotchy, unflattering way that made Carson smile a little. "Uh, I thought we weren't talking about uh, the, I'm not even sure what's going on."

"I think we are both succumbing to John," Carson said. "He wants you. He wants me. That much I can tell and he just goes with the moment, I think. There's no need to complicate things. Well, we could simplify them."

"I…" Rodney's voice was full of hesitation, and then he finally said, "It's been a long time since I've fallen in love."

"How long?" Carson asked, feeling a little deflated. He wanted Rodney; he had since before John came into their lives but it was obvious Rodney was focused on John. With reason.

"Nikola Tesla." Rodney lifted his eyebrows at Carson. "And a long line of mad, mad scientists. I think I drive them to it. Eventually. I'm not sure. So, you see my concern."

"I'm sorry," Carson answered. "I don't think you'll do that to John though."

And definitely not to him.

"It's always been possible that I found the unstable sorts in the first place." Rodney offered his coffee mug to Carson for pouring. "We'll see."

"You need to know…" Carson cleared his throat. "John doesn't know how to express emotional stuff well. It's all a bit conflicted for him. Just so you're aware."

"And how about you?" Rodney countered, holding a mug out to Carson. "We can make this place either a soap opera or a sanctuary."

"I give my heart too easily," Carson said lightly, taking the mug. "It's my sentimental Scottish side"

"Are you…" Rodney added milk to his. "Still interested in me?"

"Yes." He said simply, not looking up. "But you've just admitted to being in love with John… so…"

"I meant you! And possibly John, I — it's been a while. You're both very comfortable."

"Wait… you meant me?" Carson was stunned at that. "But… you've slept with John, you have feelings for John…" What use was all this ability if he couldn't use it for himself?

"And you! You're my friend, Carson. If they hadn't tapped you for this, do you think I would have left my safe haven out in Nevada?"

"Well, yes, actually, I would, I mean, chance of a lifetime for you." Carson said. "Bloody hell, Rodney, I'm too close to read what people think and feel about me, and what type of friend would I have been wanting to keep you with me rather than encourage you to do what you most wanted."

"Carson — news flash! I saw this planet's creation, I saw Cain bash Abel's head in with a rock. Chance of a lifetime means very little to me. Friends mean much more." He sloshed a little coffee over his hand.

Carson blinked a little. "Really?" That was a little stunning in itself, being declared more important than defining points in human history. "But we haven't done anything."

"You're still a friend," Rodney declared, setting his mug down. "You know me. I don't have to be having sex with someone to care about them, or I'd have to freakishly redefine my relationship with my sister."

"Well, yes, obviously, because otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here in love with you." Carson shook his head. "What does it say that I find this more shocking than the whole deal about demons and angels and aliens?"

"You're sorely out of touch with yourself?" Rodney picked up John's mug. "I'm taking this to the garage, then you can watch me try to ward our electrical system. There's a sixty percent chance of electrocution."

"All right, smart ass." Rodney liked him, really liked him. It was all very teenage first crush but he was happy to follow him to see John, just to keep this moment going longer and not let it fade away.

This was not how he'd wanted to introduce them to fieldwork.

It wasn't how he wanted to know any team, any functioning but ultimately green unit, was introduced to field activity. He was pretty sure that Carson was nowhere near to range qualified yet, and Rodney was holding his P-90 like he was waiting for it to rear up and shoot him in the head. At least Teyla looked calm and confident.

Not that calm and confident was going to help them, because they were standing in the midst of a crowd of low-level possessions, the likes of which John had never seen before.

He figured he was going to learn to rue the words SG-1 needs backup.

The main problem was he didn't want to kill them, especially if they did find Dr. Jackson and Colonel O'Neill. They were relying on Carson for that, but he was seriously considering getting the hell out of there.

"McKay! How quickly could you set up a protective circle?" Rodney had told them these demons were photosensitive and he had an emergency flare. "Carson, you sense them yet?"

"I'm bloody trying," Carson said. "I'm not as good on remote sensing and…."

And it probably hurt him with his shields so new. John grimaced. He might have to try some sympathetic magic, if Teyla could take the defense and hold it while Rodney set up a protective circle.

Rodney was good, John knew, at protecting. He blocked, he guarded with the ease that most people breathed, and Rodney was nodding, already moving to try to set up the circle, mumbling under his breath as he went. It was kind of hard to tell if it was bitching, prayers, or incantations.

Maybe it was all three.

"I sense movement. We are attempting to injure or disarm without harming them, correct?" Teyla asked, moving in closer to the point.

"Yeah," John answered. "We need to buy time for either me to do some basic summoning using what Sam gave us or for Carson to get a handle on them both."

Compelling movement was subtler than it appeared, especially if there was another consciousness in there.

"I'm really trying," Carson said as the growling and snarling shifted around them.

"And, and we're locked in safely," Rodney murmured, stepping back in closely to them, shaking his hands out. "So, mass possession. The last time I saw this, I was in Wein."

John was quietly impressed. He'd never seen anyone set one of those up that quickly. "Fall back inside the circle, Teyla," he ordered. "Same type?" he asked as he reached for the bits of personal property of their missing people.

Carson was squinting as if he had a migraine. "I… think I can feel them. They are alive."

"Oh, good." Rodney was making gestures, quick motions with his fingers. "I would kill for a bomb right now. Nuke. No, this is nothing like that. Same concept, though?"

"That's a good start… hold on." It was a quick and dirty vodoun based compulsion to draw them towards him, but they still had to cure them and the others. His fingers didn't fumble too much as he made the figures, and he managed to mutter the chants correctly.

"It's working," Carson reported as around them the place seethed with demons. "They are moving."

"Fantastic. What're we moving them to?" Rodney demanded.

"Here," John said. "Bringing them here, we'll clean them out then use a flare to get them the hell out of here." He could hear them all growling in demon-speak and he didn't like it. "Rodney, what is this place?"

"I think it's a breeding pool. You know how in the first Alien movie, that guy goes down into the abandoned ship and the face hugger gets him? It's a lot like that."

"How refreshingly encouraging of you, Dr. McKay. Did not the one woman make the only survivor?" Teyla was moving to the edge of the protective circle, ready to strike them back if she had to.

"Better hope there's not a big mother demon out there," Carson quipped and John glanced at him then to Rodney.

Shit. Shit, Carson was right. What were the odds on the babies lying around unsupervised? He needed some sort of Holy h-bomb. Damn. He Looked and saw the distorted visage of O'Neill practically dragging Dr. Jackson with him. He would have to go out of the circle to do this

"Queen," Rodney snorted, stepping in closer to John. "Where are you going?"

"I've got to send these demons back to Hell," John growled, getting his kit together and ready.

"Do it inside the circle," Rodney snapped. "Don't be impatient!"

"They can't get close enough," John replied sharply. "Sometimes it needs physical contact.

"You should take Rodney's advice," Carson said. "It sounds reasonable."

"So you want just to wade into the muck without protection?" Rodney was gesturing at him, but yeah. Yeah, he did. Someone had to hold their safe ground.

"I was planning on taking Teyla and having you cover us as well," he said. Warded circles could collapse.

"Fine, fine." Rodney kept making gestures, telling Carson to step in closer to him. "This would be easier if we could just kill them all."

"Kinda the whole point of the 'rescue' part of things," John said, glancing at Teyla. Her eyesight would be much better than his in the darkness, and he didn't want to use a flare yet. "Ready? Here we go."

And he stepped over the boundary, and it was like stepping out into the storm. Teyla bounded out with him and he could make out the speed and dexterity with which she moved, but he was already on Colonel O'Neill, pressing a Holy symbol to his skin and rattling through the exorcism. It wasn't just about the words; it was about the intent the words contained. The words were a necessary container of sorts, but it was the will and intent and power of the person that provided the real kick to get the demon out and back where it belonged.

He and Rodney were just going to have to agree to disagree on the power of words.

Teyla was moving, protecting him, and when he felt it leave, he twisted and threw O'Neill at Rodney and Carson. Bowling with humans was just gonna hurt, no matter what, but John figured his arms would heal and O'Neill wouldn't mind the scrapes because there was no time to casually walk him back.

Dr. Jackson was trying to run, his face distorted with the demon's visage too in John's Sight and John grabbed him and struggled to press the symbol to his skin.

"John!" Carson sounded panicked. "John, we've got to leave… something's coming!" He could barely make out the sound of Carson making some sort of expression of pain

"Hold on. We're not leaving without them!" Rodney, John didn't know what Rodney was doing, because he was focused on Dr. Jackson, and starting to say the words. He felt a burst of pressure, and that had to be Rodney expanding the circle.

The demons around him started to bay and howl, their human voices barely recognizable as he drove out the spawn in Daniel. They were damn well getting tattoos when they got back before they were let off world again.

"John! We must return to the circle… hurry!" Teyla said appearing ahead of him.

Shit, shit. He stuck his arms under Daniel's arms, and locked his hands together to drag him.

"Now now now!" Rodney was demanding. "Now! Move faster!"

The air was crackling with ozone and he knew better than most of them that it meant something powerful was lurking on the etheric level and manifesting.

Hands were grabbing and dragging him back in the security of the circle, which was definitely bigger.

"Nice work…" he said panting little. "How much can your circle hold McKay?"

"Oh, us. The question you wanted to ask might have been 'How long can it hold for' and 'Wouldn't you rather just shoot them?'" Rodney was still moving his hands. "We need to get back to the gate."

"My experience tells me there is something coming," Teyla said. "And Dr. Beckett seems to be feeling the effects rather acutely."

Carson did seem to be pressing the heel of his hand to his temple, even as Colonel O'Neill pushed himself up. "Crap, where the… what happened?"

"There's no time," Daniel said. "It's all around us — we can't run."

"Thank you for the obvious. Did you enjoy your possession?" Rodney sounded like he was amping up into full bitching mode. "I guess you're going to get one of those 'stupid tattoos' now, if we get out of here."

"There is a time and a place," Carson snapped back. "Can't you feel it?"

"Where the hell is my gun?" Jack demanded. "We'll shoot our way out if we have to."

"Yeah, to do that, it needs to be corporeal," John said.

John got to his feet, and was trying to work out what to do next, while Rodney stood up straighter and stretched his hands out. "Shit, it's old."

"Do you know its name?" He could force a corporeal state on lesser demons but this was a demon lord of some type and he could do it if he had its name, a focus for his will.

Rodney was doing his thing, reaching and pulling back because ultimately he was the one holding the circle together and he couldn't stretch too far. "No. Shit, no, it's too old."

Lightning struck down around the edges of the circle, bouncing off of it as if they were encapsulated in some sort of force field.

"Where the hell is it?" Jack demanded, but then an onslaught that had the protection buckling under the howling tornado and lightning that engulfed them drowned any answer out. Rodney was visibly straining but it was like protecting an egg from a steamroller

Rodney didn't have a smart answer for that, just kept murmuring over and over, his eyes closed, his hands stretched out like he was physically holding the bubble.

"It is a sign that we need to move this and get to the gate," Teyla told Jack.

John Looked with his Othersight, and grimaced. Daniel was correct; the demon was all around them. If they made a run for it, they would run right into the damn thing.

And the circle was buckling. This was going to be one short career. It was like a giant fist thumping down on them all, the concussive wave alone enough to knock them all off of their feet.

And that was when the circle failed, because Rodney couldn't concentrate if he was ass over teakettle. The circle failed and the creature was on them, grabbing at Carson and hauling him up into the air.

"Carson!" he bellowed, half regretting all the jokes and teasing they had done to the man about him being tasty demon bait. The truth wasn't as funny as it should be. Rodney's expression was horrified as they saw the doctor flailing in panic.

At first it sounded like Carson was screaming, which he undoubtedly would be even as John tried to think of a way to fix this. Eventually he worked out that Carson was yelling. "Berith! His name is Berith-sa-Amonday!"

That was what John needed to know, while Rodney got to his feet and started to chant, and it was hard to guess that was old tongue he was talking, ancient something, arms outstretched over his head while the circle started to re-form.

It was only absently that Dr. Jackson started to do middling work to form it out farther, and John just needed to get out there again.

It was going to take his energy to get him to be corporeal and then they could hit it with the dragonfire. He bared his forearms and then stepped out again, bringing them together, forcing his will through the name and it burned. It burned up his arms and settled into a pain in his chest and lungs, but the air shimmered and a massive beast of a demon form appeared in front of them all, still gripping Carson.

Its shape was shifting, shimmering red and gold, almost human but almost goat, and warping seamlessly between the two. Teyla started to shoot at the beast. Goddammit, his gun was somehow heavier than lead and he'd fallen to his knees but he raised it up, pulled the trigger more than once, forcing himself to move. Shit.

The dragonfire burned big holes in the demon — one should've been enough but it was too old and strong. A Duke of Hell at the least, but it was burning now and it could be killed like this and it knew it. And it still had Carson. He had to finish it quick. It would've been better if Jack and Dr. Jackson had been armed, if they'd been able to fight, too, but bullets and fire from him and Teyla should have been enough, while Rodney held back the growling hoard of little demons.

Headshot, heartshot, one, two and it started to burn and not extinguish, like embers crawling over paper, eating away at it. There was a flare of light from somewhere and Carson dropped from its grasp into the darkness.

With a deafening howl, Berith burned away to nothing, the final gasp of its existence a blinding explosion of light.

"Someone get Carson!" Rodney broke from his chanting, but held his position.

John shook his head to clear it a little. There was a reason he didn't use the Gates on his arms that often, and right now he was feeling it. Fuck. He was a soldier, time to think practically. He pulled a light flare and popped it, tossing it down in front of them, making the Other back off.

"I see him!" Teyla called out. "I will fetch him. Major Sheppard, get back to the circle."

If Carson had even survived the fall.

Turning, he staggered, and Teyla had a clearing and speed, Jesus she was fast, moving over the ground and underbrush and getting him, coming back. While Rodney held the fort and O'Neill and Jackson looked like they were still trying to figure out what was going on.

She was barely winded when she came back with Carson, and John was practically dripping in sweat.

"He is unconscious," Teyla said, not putting him down. "We should leave for the side of light."

"Yeah." John stood. "Okay, let's move before the flare dies down. Teyla, you've got another?"

"Yes, Major, I have one ready for use."

Rodney let his head hang down, his arms still stretched out. "Jackson, O'Neill, you two can walk now?"

O'Neill was giving Rodney a strange look, but he nodded. "Yeah. I'd kill for a gun right now…"

"Take mine. I'm going to try to make a walking circle and I won't need it."

"Jack…" Daniel was jerking his head over towards John and he belatedly realized that the archeologist was trying to tell his team leader to help him. He wasn't that bad. Just exhausted and shaky and….

Okay, a kitten could beat him up. And walking circles just weren't meant to be possible.

"Come on, Major, let's get this show on the road."

"I hope you know that God is laughing at me right now." Rodney stretched his arms out, and moved to point. "Let's move. I don't want someone else coming out of the woodwork."

He couldn't manage a second confrontation like that. He wasn't even sure how he'd managed a first, but there had been help from Rodney, Teyla, and Carson and moving was proving difficult enough that he was leaning on Jack without even realizing what he was doing. The Light wasn't that far away, but it seemed like a marathon to get there.

The warded circle went with them, and Rodney was holding it, holding it well. He might not be much for the attacking, but defense, defense Rodney was good for. He wished he'd been able to plan for that before they'd been put out into the field. Still, he knew now and that would make a difference. Just as knowing when Carson warned him like that, they should run for their lives. The fact Carson might pick up even a powerful demon's true name had not occurred to him, but it did now and… thank God, there was the light. Few more steps and….


"Good job McKay," he said.

"I love that we're B-team," Rodney bitched, dropping the ward and turning to sit down on a rock a few feet away. "Uhnph, someone drag Carson over here. I'm going to try to see if he needs purification."

"You got the energy for that?" Rodney must have more than he appeared if he could manage all that. His own form of miracle working.

"Here he is, Dr. McKay," Teyla said and it was odd to see the fairly bulky doctor being lifted so easily. "It is difficult to know if he was tainted. The whole area smells of the demon."

"You owe me a five pound bag of sugar, and a bag of Cheetos." Rodney started to sit up, reaching to pull Carson in close to him. It was funny, and awkward, and Daniel Jackson was staring, moving in closer.

"So, what are you doing, Dr. McKay?"

"Using a very basic purification blast to clean any lingering evil off of him. Evil's funny. It doesn't infect and spread, but it can weaken you, run your system down." Rodney pulled Carson in until he was almost in his lap, and then wrapped his arms around him. "If you want to know how, I'll draw you diagrams. Later."

"I would be very interested."

John was as well, but he ended up sitting down heavily, half watching Rodney do his thing. Carson did seem to rouse a little when Rodney did whatever he did, lips moving fast but quiet.

"Bloody hell…" He groaned clutching at Rodney desperately. "Rodney? John?"

"Hi." Rodney put his forehead down on Carson's shoulder. "We all made it. Everyone got their fingers and toes?"

"Got some pretty revolting stuff under my fingernails but yeah," Jack said. "The Major here is looking pretty much like a white sheet, all of you look something like the same. We need to get you guys home."

John was struggling to keep his eyes open now.

"Yeah," Rodney closed his eyes and John barely saw that motion. "Mmmph. Okay, let's stand up and move. Coming with me, Carson?"

"Aye." They were all staggering like they had been out drinking, and he couldn't believe it. They'd killed a Duke of Hell. Ended him, just like that. Incredible.

That definitely deserved some downtime.

The debriefing, it seemed, could only wait as long as it took for them to be checked over by the Infirmary. Carson was already feeling stiff, with bruising coming out, but to be honest that seemed pretty trivial to the aftermath of horror in his head. It made it difficult to concentrate on exactly what was going on. Rodney had been very vocal in insisting that they all needed food, and no, it couldn't wait until the briefing was over, so they were there with it in front of them, trying to get some energy back while they talked.

Or listened to others talking as they ate.

It was a nice distraction, actually, having food. Rodney was sitting to his left very studiously ripping a roll apart, and pressing globs of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese into the bits of bread before folding it over it and chewing. And Carson was hungry, starving, sore and with his head full of thoughts that he never wanted to hear, never wanted to know about.

He didn't even know how to explain it. They were jumbled up but sometimes when someone said something they would snap into place. He was very absently listening to O'Neill talking.

"And it pretty much went south from there, General," Jack said. "We set one foot in that place… first we thought it was an illness or something but then these shadows started moving and went for Daniel. I told Sam and Teal'c to run like hell and that's pretty much all I knew."

"Teal'c and I ran back to the side of the light, and then came through the gate after the people on the side of the light verified that the people on the side of the 'dark' were just abandoned there." Sam was all nerves, it sounded like. None of them had expected things to go that wrong.

"Yes well, the possession experience was… unpleasant," Daniel said pushing his glasses up. "It was something that could be fought in a conventional way, although as I understand it the less access the host mind has, the more primitive the available human responses. That is of course a common theme across cultures. Only very powerful entities can masquerade as humans well enough to pass. Then, of course, our rescue team arrived."

"Major Sheppard, do you want to give us a rundown of what happened?" General Hammond asked.

John looked, to Carson's eye, at least just about capable of doing a run down on a bed and staying there for a couple of days.

"Absolutely, sir. We went in knowing that we were facing some kind of demonic influence. Once we crossed deep into the dark, we came across the encampment of the possessed. Dr. McKay stated that they were like demon tadpoles—"

"I think I was a little more specific than that," Rodney groused around a mouthful of his weird bread-potato-macaroni-&-cheese combination. "But yes. It was a breeding, or spawning pool. Very weak, baby demons, with all the fresh humans to hop into that they could have."

"And Dr. McKay started to set a ward circle," John went on, only giving Rodney half a dirty look. "We were circled pretty quickly, and we evaluated our options carefully. Carson and I worked to draw Dr. Jackson and Colonel O'Neill in towards us, and then Captain Emmagen and myself left the circle to reclaim Jackson and O'Neill. Captain Emmagen laid cover, while I exorcised them both."

It made it sound so simple, so calm, instead of the frantic darkness around them, pushing and hungry. It had felt like claustrophobia times a hundred, as if the dark itself was alive.

"He dislocated my shoulder," Jack said with a half grin. "But then the second surprise of the day. The Godzilla demon."

"Where there's a pool like that, there's a demon tending it," Rodney inserted, waving a fork covered in macaroni. "And that demon was immaterial. John drew it out, but that was sort of… not enough. Carson sensed it, though."

"Immaterial as in… what?" the general asked, looking confused.

"Intangible, invisible," Daniel explained. "Certain spiritual entities are able to manifest effects without a direct manifestation. It was very powerful. More powerful than the Goa'uld god imitators we've come across. Of course they have their own skill in displacing a spiritual possession with their ability to manifest a tangible possessing form and…."

"Daniel…" Jack said in a warning tone.

"What? Oh right."

"John pulled it down, with his gates." Rodney gestured to John's arms.

"And then it was visible. This was after it broke the ward circle and grabbed Dr. Beckett from our midst. I used the dragonfire and Teyla shot it to pieces, and it went up. Dropped Carson, and we made a run for it."

"Why didn't you make it tangible before the circle broke?" General Hammond asked

Carson shuddered a little, the memories flooding back, as well as the sheer panic and terror when the thing had grabbed him.

"It was trying to crush us," John offered calmly. "And making a creature like that show itself isn't easy. McKay reformed the circle, and we made sure everyone was with us after it burned, and we ran back to the side of the light."

"It was a bit more complicated than that," Daniel said. "Definitely. I want to know how Dr. McKay knew ancient Hebrew."

"I want to know why you haven't used your paycheck to buy nicer glasses, but we don't get the answers to all the questions we want," Rodney snapped.

"Dr McKay…" General Hammond interrupted. "It is obvious that you came up against a more powerful enemy, which you still managed to dispatch with comparative ease. This is encouraging on a tactical level."

"No, no, wait…" Carson put his hand up. He had to disabuse them of this notion immediately. "Hold on a moment. That's not going to be the case. This demon was caught by surprise. It wasn't expecting, for example, Major Sheppard to have the strength to force it to do anything and so it didn't bother to resist. It didn't expect us to have weaponry that would kill it, either, which came as a definite shock to it. So… all this means is that next time there won't be this easy route."

"It's going to spread, the news of what happened. They'll know that someone with armament has entered their playground. Some of them won't have the defenses. We'll be back to dealing with Earth level demon cunning very soon, though." Rodney looked sideways at Carson, nodding a little.

"How do you know that, Dr. Beckett?" General Hammond queried.

"It was something I picked up when the demon picked me up, along with its name," Carson said glancing at Rodney and John. He tried not to shiver, but the immensity of the creature's mind promising to do really unspeakable things left an impression. He had a not dissimilar feeling to how he imagined someone in the clutches of a psychopath with sexual intentions might feel.

Rodney nodded. "We're working with Dr. Beckett, but he's very good for information pulled out of the air." As if his words would reconfirm.

"You get actual words?" Daniel asked and Carson nodded. He wasn't going to talk about the details and weird quirks his ability manifested. Some strange things had happened when the demon had hold of him and he wasn't even sure what it was. He knew he wasn't meant to get that deep in his mind for a start.

"Aye, sometimes." he replied.

"Then you are a valuable source of information, Dr. Beckett," Hammond said. "Do you have any other knowledge of their forces and capabilities?"

"I… I'm not sure. It was so much so quickly," he said. "I know they are aware of us, but they thought we would be like the humans they are used to."

"I suspect that the first team to a scene should possibly… pursue their options more cautiously in the future?" Rodney suggested.

"Ya think?" Jack replied. "Sir, we're going to have to do this a little differently. I'm going to have to look at the teams again. Tweak them. And these tattoos are going to have to become compulsory, no doubt about it."

Carson risked a glance at John then.

"Yes. Pardon me saying so, but they're going to have to be, for everyone who can be possessed. The people like Teyla, people like Ronon, they don't worry about it because they're not pure human. We have a few other people who should be exempt."

John cleared his throat. "Those you've classified as sensitives need to be done as soon as possible. They went for Carson out of all of us, even though he wasn't the most direct threat."

Carson winced at that. He hadn't really done anything aside from stand there and get snatched. That was pretty humiliating.

"Yeah, and Daniel," Jack added. "They wanted Daniel."

"Well, sensitives are literally more open-minded. Easier to get into I suspect," Daniel commented.

"But Carson was already blocked, and he can't be possessed. Daniel was," Rodney pointed out. "And that's dangerous."

"Believe me, Daniel is getting that done before anything else," Jack said looking at his teammate. "Teal'c is safe as long as he has Junior."

The Jaffa inclined his head. "That is correct, O'Neill."

"That leaves myself and Carter. We both need it."

They really did need it. Carson had felt the pressure of the entity trying to gain entrance. If a creature possessed him like that… who knew what would happen? And that had been John's point in him getting it done.

"So. Anything else?" Rodney asked.

"We need to consider long-term defense implications, but for now, no," General Hammond said. "You are all dismissed."

Rodney slouched over his food. "Right. I guess I'll drive?"

"If you don't mind, Rodney," Carson answered. He was too shaky and unsettled. He and John shouldn't be driving at all.

Rodney scraped a fork through the mac 'n cheese. "Not a problem. Teyla, do you need a ride?"

"No, but thank you, Dr. McKay."

"Let's get the hell out of here," John said, even as Carson pushed himself unsteadily to his feet. Images of Hell and that feeling weren't passing off easily. He felt as though he wanted to scrub his head out.

He wasn't sure how he was going to, but he wanted to, and wanting had to be half the battle. Rodney stood up, and reached to steady both of them. He seemed too energetic, too awake and together not to draw suspicion.

They made a fairly hasty exit, and all the while Carson could feel the ghostly sensation of feathers near Rodney as if he was barely keeping his true nature under the surface. John was… John was not as awake as he appeared.

It was fascinating to feel that, to delve into that and let him drift on it, Rodney's power, John's tiredness, and the car starting up.

Oh, bloody hell, when had the car started up with him in it? John had told him to try and be aware as much as possible of things like that. Easier said than done.

"Rodney… what's going on with you?" he murmured. "You feel wired."

"I am wired," Rodney assured him, checking his mirrors. "We just defeated a Duke of Hell!"

"I don't… really know what that means," Carson admitted.

"It's a big deal," John drawled. "We didn't just banish him, we destroyed him. That hasn't happened in…. Rodney will know better than I do."

"Centuries. A bunch of Jesuits got one, and when I say 'a bunch' I mean almost fifty. That's a victory we'll probably never have again. It didn't expect anyone to bring a gun to a toothpick fight." Rodney backed slowly out of the parking space.

"You feel like…." Like he wanted to raise his wings and shout in victory. "Buzzed," he said finally. "John feels exhausted."

"Took it out of me using the Gates, especially on a demon with as much juice as that," John admitted. "If he'd fought back, he might've got me."

"Would have. He would have gotten us all," Rodney murmured, guiding his way through the parking lot. "That's a rush. That's… a rush."

Carson didn't feel a rush. In fact, mainly what he felt was nausea and the chill of shock. "I, uh, don't really feel much of that," he said quietly.

"You need to get home and rest. The comforts of home go a long way. It's like, John, you can explain it better. It's battle high."

"Adrenalin. Give you a boost then you crash," John said succinctly.

"Aye, well…" Carson coughed. "Does it count if you don't have the high? I want to scrub my bloody head out!"

"Yeah, actually, it counts twice if you miss the high part," John assured him, leaning up to pat Carson's shoulder from the back seat.

And with the touch there he was seeing John's state, his memory of exhaustion and determination and a burning pain as he used his energy. It tasted like blood in his mouth and made his bones ache. There was the demon and he was thinking dark, bitter thoughts that were overwhelming.

Carson blinked a little. He couldn't cope with this very well. It was just… sitting there unfolding.

It was all pouring out, and he wanted to shake off John's hand, but he didn't. "You look tired."

"Mainly stiff. You're the one that's tired," he said pointedly. He was fed up with his abilities just not really doing anything useful. "That… demon was not pleasant. I thought he was trying to crush me."

"He was," Rodney deadpanned, still driving. "I can't, I can't believe we did that. Still. And that you pulled his name."

"It was there." In a single bright memory of someone beloved whispering the name in his ear, when he was part of the white light horizon. It had been a single bright thing in the darkness and he had been drawn to it. The only good memory it had left. "It was the only… good memory there. The rest was all darkness and Hell and betrayals, wars and plots."

"Names are powerful," John murmured, sitting back. "I, we couldn't have done that without a name. Right, Rodney?"

"Immaterial power of the Logos. Also, it was Umabel, if you're going to be a snippy ass about it," Rodney told them firmly. "Not that you're pulling me anywhere."

"Could if I had to," John half smirked back at Rodney. "Umabel." John was saying it as a joke, but Carson wasn't hearing it like that. There was something lost and lonely trailing around the name and this was just diving him crazy. Everything was affecting him right now, and he felt as though he would drown in it all.

He had a growing certainty he was going to throw up.

"Mmmhm, knock that off, Nancy." Rodney put his eyebrows up.

"Could you…" Carson swallowed. "Are we nearly home?" He had his eyes closed, but it was like he was still seeing what they were doing. He could hold on a few minutes, but not much longer than that. Otherwise he was going to have to get Rodney to pull over.

"Yes, we are. Are you okay?" Rodney's concern spiked tangibly.

It made him wince. "I'm just feeling a wee bit… nauseated," he said resisting the urge to gulp air. It wouldn't help. "Too much in my head… everything in there."

"Us?" Rodney seemed to press the gas harder. "Dammit."

"Sorry," Carson winced. "I lost my shields and I've been trying to put them back but…" He wasn't bouncing back like John seemed to be doing. "Demon's thoughts keep knocking it down."

Rodney made a quiet noise, and all at once, his contributions to the noise shut down. "John, shields up. We can get Carson back together when we get in the house."

"Sorry, Carson," John said and he was sounding concerned. "Not as tight on my own stuff as I should be right now."

Carson relaxed a little. "That's… that's better. Thank you."

"Sorry. I think we've all gotten… relaxed with each other." Rodney made the turn into their complex, and Carson knew he could wait until they got home to be ill.

"That's good, I don't want us not to be relaxed," Carson answered. "It's just a wee bit like a migraine inducing horror movie spectacular at the moment."

"So, you see its thoughts?" Rodney sounded thoughtful as he pulled into the driveway.

"Some of it," Carson laughed a little hysterically. "It's bad. Really, really nasty."

"Easy there," John murmured. "You just need a distraction."

"What do you want to do?" Rodney got the garage door up with a fumbled click of his button, and coasted slowly in.

Carson wasn't sure. Half of him wanted to obliterate it with drink, or just have someone close so he knew he wasn't there, in Hell. "I.. I want you there, I want to know I'm here, not there," Carson replied.

Rodney caught John's eyes, and gave him a look while he turned the car off and put it into park. "Shower?"

Carson nodded. "Mm," Maybe it would help him feel clean.

"C'mon, Carson," John said. "Let's get you in, huh?"

Carson allowed himself to be guided inside and things were a bit vague for a while. He knew when Rodney rejoined them, after having closed up the Garage, while John was starting to slowly strip Carson off in the master bathroom. "You'll be okay. I'd be shocky if I were you, too, Carson."

He blinked a little, focusing on John. John who was solid and whose will had taken his information and made use of it. Shock. Aye, well that was something like it. "Sorry," he apologized. "Sorry, I'm all to pieces and I don't know how to deal."

"There isn't really any set list of how to deal. You just need time to calm down and warm up, and rest, and get yourself grounded." He rubbed at Carson's arms once he got his shirt off. "Here, let me get the water going."

"You're all moving slow," Rodney grinned, stepping in and shutting the door behind him. "Sorry, I don't want the cat in here, too."

"Cats are good," Carson said randomly. "They walk between the worlds — that must be something to see. I wonder how they do that?"

The water started running behind him.

"Technically, I have no idea," Rodney grinned, starting to peel his clothes off. "I hope most of our off world is calmer."

Things felt… good around Rodney. He stepped closer into the feeling of protection. It was like basking and he smiled, closing his eyes, ignoring the fact he was standing there naked.

John slid his own pants down, and Carson could feel the smirk. "I wish you were right, McKay, but…"

"I know, I know…"

"It's not going to be like this all the time is it?" Carson asked. "I don't know if I could take something like that." Thoughts, demon thoughts were not pleasant. They bubbled here and there but it was strange, they weren't unremitting evil. A demon's shame, a moment of mercy for no reason. A love left behind, a war being built among the stars where an army grew on a world with two suns and triple moons…

He blinked again. "Wait, wait. I think…" No, he was in the shower and that felt good. Distractingly good.

"Hmn?" John was right in beside him, moving to press up against his back.

John against him was supremely comforting and the images were fading. "It's going… they're building an army on… on a world with two suns and three moons and I'm losing it…"

It was like remembering a dream now.

"We'll remember that for you," Rodney promised him, getting in and pulling the curtain behind him so the floor didn't end up sopped. Carson was glad that the tub/shower combo was ridiculously large, because it meant that Rodney could go for the soap and move in near to him, too. "You know what we need? A porn star to deliver pizza."

"You mean you're both not porn stars?" Carson asked and this was definitely helping. John was smoothing hands on him, Rodney ahead of him and the stink of that planet and sulfur being washed away.

The communal soap smelled like mint, Carson decided. Good mint, like mint candy. "Nope. But I will fix your plumbing if you ask."

"In a provocative fashion?" Carson asked. Communal showers were pretty damn good as well.

"Is there any other way?" John answered.

The best part of it was that there was no wondering if they were being nice or if it was just a communal shower. There was a pleasant undercurrent of want that was helping to haze back those other thoughts and memories. "Provocatively cursing the drywall?"

"Angels don't curse…" Carson said. "Unless someone drinks all the coffee." He nearly giggled at that, which really wasn't what he wanted. No, he wanted all that want and need and, oh hey, he was apparently into fondling Rodney and moving against John.

Then Rodney got between him and the showerhead to kiss him, and John kissed the back of his neck. It was one hell of a way to get clean. All of the intrusive thoughts were drowned thoroughly by the kissing. This was Rodney, and god, he'd wanted Rodney for so long. Sweet and intense and John was all want and passion.

The cleaning part of the shower became very secondary.

He guessed the running water did most of the work, and roaming hands wiped away suds as well as any scrubbing. Their hair was probably going to end up ratty, but Rodney didn't particularly care and neither did John. When the water started to run cooler, Rodney shut it off.

By then he just wanted all of them to spend the night together. Well, more than just the night. It felt right, being with them, touching them, kissing.

"Can we?" he asked faintly even though it wasn't really necessary.

"Yes. Oh, yes…" Rodney reached for a towel, and John was chuckling quietly.

"So, is this our debriefing?" John smirked against Carson's back.

"Only because you are all crazy and call your underwear briefs," Carson murmured. "Please. This is good, it helps, a lot."

"It's such a hardship for us," Rodney scoffed. The towel was being pulled around Carson, while they walked him out of the tub. "Really. John, are you being as inconvenienced by this arrangement as I am? Why, I could be watching lint dry. Playing with the cat!"

"Picking your nose," John added helpfully, grabbing a towel for himself.

"Oh, shut up the pair of you and get over here and fuck me," Carson said with good-natured annoyance.

"What, in the bathroom? Seriously, I paid for furniture so we can have sex near the toilet?" Rodney grabbed a towel for himself, and started to rub his chest dry.

"Okay, I'm heading towards the bed," Carson said. "Dry or not, I don't care. "

"The sheets will help," Rodney called after him.

Out in the hallway, Ellis was roaming, and he meowed loudly at Carson while he passed

He sprawled himself on the bed. Sex and arousal was doing a bloody good job of purging things from his mind. He probably looked bloody ridiculous, sprawled out with a towel under him, and his dick standing straight up in the air like a welcoming flag when Rodney and John got into the room just after him.

"Nice," John grinned.

"All my own work," Carson smiled at them both. His mind was settling down now.

It was like having music on in a room, in a way, because they were distracting and calming at the same time, flooding back the tension. "Are you sure you meant to make it that red?" Rodney threw his towel at the chair to the side, and frowned when he missed.

"Easy there, sharpshooter."

John was sauntering, his body marked like a tribal warrior with tattoos and scars until he made it to the bed.

"Come to bed," Carson cajoled. The lube and supplies were already out, just in case they didn't take the hint.

He hadn't been with Rodney yet, which was strange, he supposed, given that they were both sleeping with John. Rodney had almost been courting him, though, which was funny, trying to be nicer than usual around mealtimes and letting him pick the movie they were watching.

Still, Rodney seemed to take the hint, and he moved to kneel on the bed while John stretched out.

"As I said before, I don't usually top," he said. "I'm really looking forward to one or the other of you or both taking advantage of that."

John tilted his head slightly and looked thoughtful before he looked up at Rodney. "So, coin toss? Or you could maybe grow a second dick, since you're already kneeling, and you could do us both?"

Rodney's little spike of irritation was attractive, and probably the reason why John prodded at him like that. "Let's just see where it goes."

"Mm," Carson grinned. "We've got all night." He liked the thought of them both, of Rodney and then John with their different styles. "But I'd like to get started sooner rather than later?"

"And pass out for sleep?" Rodney asked, leaning down to kiss Carson slowly. John seemed content to watch, it seemed.

"Mmm." Or float in a literal haze of heavenly bliss. He decided that kissing Rodney was right up there with one of his favorite things to do. He was just wonderful; sharp and bright, warm across his senses . A wonderful complexity of things.

"I like this view," John remarked, sliding a hand between them to stroke Carson's chest.

Carson smiled. John still felt tired but that, too, was fading as he became interested in what they were doing. "I'm sure we've all looked a wee bit more perky," he said, glancing around at John for a moment.

Rodney kissed the side of his jaw. "Huh, I can't even keep your full attention. I should be deeply offended."

"Room full of high kicking Chippendales couldn't keep my attention rapt right now," John smiled, still stroking Carson's chest.

Carson was immediately assaulted by two images of high kicking Chippendales. "Rodney's are prettier," he commented. He moved against them both. "Let me pay some attention to Rodney here…"

"Mine are Greek," Rodney deadpanned, shifting so — oh, that was better, pressed against John and Rodney to his front, lying on his side between them.

He did settle then, feeling safer, more grounded and it was easy then to unfold into pleasure. Kissing Rodney, using that ability to sense what would bring pleasure to both his partners.

He couldn't get very far with Rodney, but there were surface thoughts, immediate thoughts, brief reactions right there that he could catch. John shifted up behind Carson, hands sliding over his side.

That was enough to tease them both. He moved in reaction, feeling John's cock behind him, and Rodney's in front of him. Rodney tasted fantastic and he decided he could spend a whole night just kissing and be happy. They were different flavors, textures and feelings and they complimented each other perfectly. There was something supremely satisfying about having the pair of them at once.

"Mmm, this is nice." Nice and lazy. Rodney kissed him again, and moved to slide an arm beneath Carson.

"If someone else is willing to move," Carson said between kisses. "I'm willing to suck anything anyone puts in my mouth."

"That's kinky." John nuzzled the flat of one shoulder blade. "Okay, I'm feeling better. This is… nice."

"We don't have to do anything," Carson said mellow, some of his eagerness leveling out. "I love you both."

Rodney kissed the edge of his mouth again, and murmured, "I think I might be jumping the gun, that we both do. Too. You back." Behind him, John snorted.

"I can't even get it up all the way. I'm calling a rain check until the morning."

"If I had more energy I'd make sure you were ready." Carson said. His surge of need had seemingly been motivated by the need to get them here, close and now they were there, he was content just to lie there.

They were safe, and they were around him. They'd all made it through the mission, in one piece even if they were exhausted. Rodney's nervous energy seemed to be settling down, and he seemed as content as Carson was to lie there and touch and exchange kisses. "Want to call it a night?" Rodney asked quietly. "I can get up and turn the light off, and we can pick things up in the morning."

He still wanted Rodney, but he wanted it to be one of his better efforts. He didn't want his first time with Rodney to fizzle out halfway. He wanted to show him exactly what he felt. "I still want you," he murmured. "But I want for it to be… everything, not just something."

"You want me for everything?" Rodney mused that quietly as he leaned up and waved a hand at the light switch. It flipped off.

"Cool," John murmured behind him and Carson smiled.

"Aye, for everything, and forever." He gently stroked down Rodney's arm.

Rodney lay back down as if his parlor trick had completely exhausted him, but he was smiling in the dim light that dreamt in through the windows. John was moving, and pulling the sheets up. "You'll get tired of me, you know. Sometime. Probably. I'll take what I can get, though."

Carson shook his head. "No, Rodney, we won't," he promised. "And you don't have to take what is so freely given."

"I dunno," John murmured, twisting to stretch out on his stomach. "That pile of socks over there needs to walk on down to the laundry machine sometime…"

He was half sure that Rodney kicked John lightly over top of Carson's legs, from the oof and the laugh. "Red stripes at the top, yellow toes? Those are all yours, flyboy."

"Not mine," Carson mumbled. No demon thoughts could withstand the closeness and intimacy here and now. He was protected and cared for, his erratic feeling of flying apart was dealt with and he wasn't crazy now.

Not when men had wings and could call demons to reality with their arms. Not in a world that crazy.

John realized he had been exhausted when he hadn't woken at his usual early hour. He had felt bone tired, bruised inside and out and he hadn't slept as well in a long, long time. He was reluctant to open his eyes, because he had the remnants of intensely erotic dreams drifting through his mind and….

Huh, maybe it wasn't a dream after all. He could be wrong but either he had a better imagination than he thought or someone had started the promised morning activities while he was semi-conscious.

It didn't seem like such a bad prospect, but John wished he'd woken up whenever Carson and Rodney had. Or maybe just one of them was there, but someone was toying with his balls. Definitely a hand.

He cracked open an eye, and could see and feel a hand that he recognized as Rodney's deft fingers teasing at him and that meant the warmth beside him was Carson, half sprawled next to him, fingers trailing over his chest.

Hell of a way to wake up. "I miss breakfast or something?"

"Breakfast and nearly dinner, lad," Carson's soft brogue murmured at him as he traced along scars. "But so did we. You used more strength than you let on."

"I woke up to eat, went back to sleep, woke up to eat again, fed the cat, woke up Carson…" Rodney shifted, and stretched out to John's other side.

"And… we were much more energetic this morning," Carson said with a faint smile glancing at Rodney with an almost happy glow. John wasn't sure if he was vaguely left out or jealous about that.

Rodney nudged Carson's side with his knee. "So! Do you want to join in? I called the base, we're not expected in for another day."

"That sounds about the right amount of time," Carson said with a grin. "Mm. So, John, are you interested?"

"I think that goes without saying," John murmured.

"Seeing as we started without you," Rodney agreed, lifting his eyebrows at John, and giving his balls a faint squeeze.

He twitched a bit at that. "So what did I miss?" he drawled stretching out some stiffness.

"Bacon." Rodney spread his fingers out and wiggled them. "And sodomy." It made Carson catch a choked breath, while Rodney lay on the other side of John. "Scoot in, or I'm going to fall off the bed."

They all shimmied up. "Mmm," Carson responded and he could sense the flush that came with his words. "The uh… sodomy was really rather wonderful."

"I know," John answered, aware that he couldn't be resentful when he had been the one to have them both first.

The dynamics of a threesome were interesting, and Rodney seemed very proud of himself in a silly way, a faint flush of delight while he moved with John and Carson. "Which leaves us a wide variety of options."

Carson smiled. "Aye, a lot of them."

"Give me a clue," John replied. They looked innocent then, the pair of them, innocent in a way John was sure he had never been but he wanted to taste. "What do you want to do?"

"What do you want?" Rodney leaned up onto his elbow. "Just, whatever you want."

John let himself think on that and he mulled through ideas and preferences. Some of the things he had done and enjoyed would freak them out and that wasn't what he wanted. He enjoyed them both; they both had their skills. Feathers drifted into his thoughts.

"Wings, he wants wings," Carson murmured.

"Wings?" Rodney shifted, moving to peer down at John. "How come?"

He shrugged a little. "I like your wings," he said, even if he wasn't sure why. "I like flying a lot so I guess I've got a thing."

"Okay. We can do wings." Rodney squirmed, twisted, and got out of bed, and moved towards the window, where he pulled the curtains.

"You don't have to?" John offered. Maybe it was a little weird but he just… liked it.

"I'm interested as well," Carson said. "They are lovely, Rodney."

"I've spent so long keeping them compressed in, I'm not… used to this." Rodney turned away from the window, and moved back towards the bed. John kept watching him, waiting for the unfurling. It was beautiful, a slow motion reversal of the folding in on itself, the wings slowly decompressing.

He used to dream of flying when he was younger. Still did, but his wings were invisible in his dreams, not real and substantial like Rodney's. It made him want to touch them, run his fingers through them and believe that maybe there was something else out there except his inevitable descent to Hell when he made some mistake and the First finally got his way.

The final snap when Rodney stretched them out was impressive, and then Rodney was kneeling on the bed again. They did move like they were alive, in and of themselves. "Wings, John. Just for you."

They filled the room, and Carson was looking up at them, reaching to brush the feathers.

"Ever had sex with them out?" John asked wanting to touch them himself. He wondered what it felt like for Rodney.

"Once, a long time ago." They moved a little when touched, and Rodney seemed to shiver. "They feel good, after the oiling they had last time…"

"Does it feel good?" John asked reaching to preen his hands through them. They were soft like owl feathers but with the sharp edge that marked a hawk. Heh, angels were predators by design.

"Yeah." Rodney exhaled shakily, and his arrogance slid a little. "Yeah, it feels real good."

John smiled, and Carson looked delighted.

"There is something compelling about this," he said, even as John felt the strength of them. From the way Rodney was reacting, it was almost as if they had found an erogenous zone. Experimentally, he stroked and probed at the most sensitive wing sheafs that secured the primary feathers.

"Is it like how babies are cute, thus ensuring their continued survival? Wings are pettable?" Rodney leaned in towards them both, letting them touch.

"Maybe it's just you, love," Carson replied and John half envied him that ease of being able just to say love and mean it.

"I want you to fuck me like this," John murmured, the feathers silky and healthy. They'd been dry and sad looking the last time. Maybe afterwards he could groom them again, which was surprisingly intimate for something that was outwardly so mundane an act.

Rodney groaned, and shifted, moving his hips as if he could do the job without any prep for John. "Let me find the lube. It's been misplaced."

Carson shifted. "No, no, you two just… carry on, I'll find it." He smiled and rolled off even as John pushed himself up to kiss Rodney. Yeah, the angel, Fallen or otherwise, was hard.

Rodney leaned down into the kiss, planting his hands to either side of John's head. "Wing kink," he grinned, and took another kiss.

"Match made in heaven?" he said with a grin. "One of many kinks…"

"Sounds like fun," Carson murmured. "Here we are. Lube. I think I should get to play with this."

"The lube, or my wings?" Rodney twisted, looking backwards at Carson.

"Both," Carson replied. "I think I'll help you prepare John and then while you are doing your thing I will be giving you a little added incentive from behind Rodney."

Okay, John reevaluated his opinion. There was nothing innocent about Carson when he smiled like that.

"Added incentive is a hell of a way to phrase it," Rodney smirked, stretching his wings forward for a moment, so they touched the wall.

"Sounds good," he agreed, and that had Carson crawling under the canopy of Rodney's wings and reaching with that sure touch of his to finger in exactly the right places, with just the pressure he wanted and could stand.

Carson was damn good at using his fingers, at slipping them in places. John could imagine what he'd been like as a doctor, all intuitive senses of healing. Rodney was careful not to smack either of them with his wings, though he seemed happy to kneel there and kiss John. "See, I get all the fun, he gets all the work."

"It's a hard, hard life," Carson replied with a grin and a stroke to them both when he said 'hard'.

John arched a little, the languor of sleep vanishing with growing urgency as Carson fingered him. Eventually he groaned "Now, Rodney… fuck…"

Rodney leaned down, kissed the side of his neck, and nudged a knee to get John to move his leg.

He spread them willingly enough, canting them at a bit of an angle. Fuck, it was the stuff of fantasy, especially as he angled and pushed into him. He half missed Carson slipping around behind Rodney, but he didn't miss Rodney's reaction.

Rodney's eyes went wide, wide and startled and he jerked his hips hard against John, into John. "Oh, oh, god, the next time someone calls you innocent, or goes 'Oh, Carson would never say that' I'll smack them."

"I'll give this thing of mine its due," Carson replied. "It certainly gives me an advantage."

John was too busy gasping because holy crap that had been deep and hard.

"Like telepathy, but without the smug all-knowing, oh, fuck." Rodney's breath caught, and he pulled at his bottom lip with his teeth. His wings stretched out, quivering. "Huh."

"Did I hit a good spot?" Carson inquired and John slowed his breathing down enough to be conscious of that trembling inside of him.

"Crap, yeah…" he gasped out on both of their behalf, mesmerized by the fluttering effect.

"Good spot," Rodney groaned, slitting his eyes open after a moment of closing them. He rocked his hips again, and then seemed to focus on John again, seemed to focus on John's reaction.

"Don't stop moving," John managed. "Move Rodney…" He flexed his own hips encouragingly.

"Uhm, huh, yes…" He shifted, got John's legs spread better, and leaned in so he was closer while he thrust.

The wings arched up and trembled even as John could feel his muscles doing the same. He could see glimpses of Carson as well, and felt oddly connected to him through the thrusts.

"Yes, yes…" Rodney seemed lost in it, caught between them, moving but not coherently, fingers clutching, petting at John.

He flexed into the movements, let himself revel in the push and give of skin and tissue, the heat and burn that for once was part of something real. He could see Carson reaching around with one arm and hand to toy with Rodney's chest, even as he nuzzled in to his neck.

It was strange to see the way that feathers pressed and folded against Carson's arm, shifting and curling like they were trying to close Carson in, to caress him as much as he was caressing John.

He could imagine them doing this while they were flying or falling, the air rushing past them, the entire sky theirs to color with passion. It was a freedom he craved, an uncomplicated release after being born chained by his parents' ambitions, expectations and then his father's attempt to sell him.

There was something different about him, he knew that, but right now he was as human as they came, being well and truly fucked.

It was moving, in more ways than one, though he was pretty sure his head wasn't going to hit the headboard, and he was so close to coming.

Carson's voice was soft and sensuous; Rodney was beautiful with his wings arching over him, the light falling, falling through nacre coated grey feathers. And somewhere in there he was flying as he thrust wildly upwards, climaxing with a cry.

He was still on the bed, only it didn't feel like he was on the bed, or anywhere normal in the world. He was too relaxed, and Rodney was settling to lie comfortably just to his side, wings still out and loosely draped over him and Carson.

"You know…" Carson murmured after an indeterminate period of time. "I could get used to three of us."

"I like it," Rodney murmured against John's neck. He was breathing, very softly, warmly, against John's skin. "Mmph, we owe you breakfast."

"Yeah. Getting hungry now." But he didn't want to move. He was too comfortable, and it felt right.

Lying there, covered in feathers and skin, and Rodney lying there mellowly, happily, Carson to Rodney's other side. Yeah, this, this was good. He could savor that forever.

It wouldn't last, it never did. Everyone he got close to was killed somehow by those after him. He tried so damn hard to keep them safe but that just made them even bigger targets. But maybe an angel, even a Fallen one could take care of themselves, and a Seventh Son with Carson's power after a little training could hold his own.

He just hoped that they'd continue to live on for a long time.

Having a day off after harrowing missions seemed like a good idea to Rodney.

It gave all four of them time to recover. After they ate the day after, Carson called Teyla to see if she wanted to come over, and they actually did shit-all for the day except chat occasionally and listen to John and Teyla rehash war stories while he and Carson did everything from take apart the left speaker on the stereo set up, to make a boxed cake.

Teyla had been right about applesauce in cake, it really did help. It was very strange and mundane, but nice to do their thing and be more natural in a setting that wasn't a seedy bar or a place of impending doom.

Of course the fact that the three of them had somehow slipped into sleeping with each other as a result of the bad mission was a positive side effect. He still wasn't sure how that happened. He was half blaming Carson, because he was pretty sure that he would have some sort of active component to his really ridiculously strong gifts and who was to say they hadn't been acting under the influence.

Still, if they were… well. There was no question that Rodney had been attracted to John by himself, because hell, he'd picked him up in a bar. And he'd always been close to Carson, so the threesome was sort of a natural evolution. That he was going to enjoy, because it made getting through the post-mission analysis a lot easier.

He leaned into Daniel Jackson's office, and knocked on the door. "You wanted to speak to me, Dr. Jackson?"

"Ah, Dr. McKay… come in, sit down," Daniel looked up from the manuscript he was poring over. "I wanted to talk to you about what happened."

"That sounds ominous," Rodney muttered, moving to close the door to Daniel's office-cum-den of books. "I'm sorry that everyone here seems to be in over their heads."

"No, no, I'm trying to get to grips with everything," Daniel said. "Jack has designated P3X-797 as… well, a training ground. Get some of our teams some practice, and they certainly have enough people needing Exorcism. Have a seat. Sorry, I was just looking over some Mesopotamian prophecies."

"Land between the rivers." They'd been a lovely people, though it did matter whether Daniel meant Sumar, Babylon and the Assyrians, or whether he meant the first Persian Empire, which did make a difference of myths, Rodney supposed. Difference of science and technology, too. The Babylonians had been fantastic scientists, and they had a heliocentrist whose face Rodney could still remember. "Anything interesting?"

"They did have some fascinating 'Omen Texts'," Daniel replied. "Although much of the surviving literature is centered around Gilgamesh. But then as we are discovering, many of the demons referred to in our mythology have a presence. In fact, it is possible we will come across Humbaba, unless he really was destroyed." Daniel blinked a little. "The Aztec, Olmec and Maya prophecies have a high degree of specific relevance to our project as well. I was wondering if you were familiar with any of these systems?"

"No, I'm more Indo-European in my base. I'm sure I'm familiar with their system. They're all very similar in the end." He settled down into the chair across from Daniel, watching him.

"Yes. Yes, exactly." Daniel seemed enthused. "The point is, that the details of one set of prophecies can fill in the gaps of another. The symbolism is… culturally based, but with interpretations we can get an advantage. I'm getting indications that some of these people referred to in the prophetic texts are around now. But to do that I need to know what you can do, and how…"

He could all but pass out at the lovely feeling of someone rubbing oil in at the base of his feathers before he compressed them away. He could wander the earth, he could learn and share and compel. He knew, and that was his reason for being, to know things. He knew more than Daniel probably ever would, and it made Rodney feel like the asshole he was often called out as being. "What I, personally, can do?"

"You obviously have knowledge, Rodney, extensive knowledge. You were chanting in ancient Hebrew, you did something that, as I understand it, even Major Sheppard was surprised at, in creating a walking protected circle of power, and somehow I don't think Major Sheppard is surprised by a lot. I'm trying to understand how it works, what you are. Who you all are and your limits and potentials. I'm trying to re-educate the military to look at this sensibly and not see it as…" He gestured in an airy-fairy manner.

"Well, let's be honest, it is a little." And Rodney repeated the ridiculous gesture back at him. "If you're going to keep demanding answers like that, nobody is going to get answers they like or comprehend. I'm powerful, all right? I'm powerful because I understand the importance of the system on which everything — from the smallest ant, to the tiniest atom to the tallest mountain — is built. A structured concept, imbued with will and intent, which is an energy in and of itself, is all you need."

"But what is it that makes us, or you, powerful here, that others out there don't seem to have?" Daniel asked. "How is it that some are more powerful than others? Is it innate? Can it be learned?"

Rodney tilted his head at Daniel. "It can be innate. It can be learned. If it's innate and you learn nothing, you died young. If it's not innate and you learned everything, you can still be powerful or you can be weak. It depends on the strength of your will. I was made this way. It was never not a choice. I've always been aware of the power of the Logos."

"Right, right… the Logos. But is someone like the Major using the Logos?" Daniel queried.

"Yes." Rodney rubbed at his jaw. "Yes, everyone is. You use it when you get out of bed in the morning and you use it when you get in your car. It is the structure of everything. The theory of everything, if you prefer it. The Grand Unified Field theory."

"So it is the power behind the magic that people perform?" Daniel frowned intently. "Do you have to speak for it to work?"

"No. I find it easier if I use the words. There's a beauty in the structure and power that words can be imbued with, a finesse of control. I don't have to, but thought based magic is a little more broad stroke. I know those who don't need to use words." Samael could wave a hand, snap his fingers, and even those gestures were unnecessary showmanship on his behalf.

"But presumably the words on their own don't… no, that doesn't work. Symbols work, we've seen them work. Holy Water works and it's imbued. Talismans are receptacles of power…" Daniel was considering. "Can words acquire power in their own right? Can a symbol acquire a quality in its own right? Like glyphs and religious symbols?"

Rodney leaned forwards, and put his elbows on his knees. "Can I give you a demonstration? This might be easier as show and tell. I'd take it down to see and say, but then I'll have flashbacks to when my kid sister terrorized me with the mooing cow."

"Please," Daniel gestured. "I would very much like to see that. Not the mooing cow, the other."

"This isn't something I do for everyone," Rodney warned, shifting to the edge of his seat. Show and tell, he could do a show and tell that would put Samael to shame. Rodney stretched his hands out, palms up on Daniel's desk. "I use the Tetragrammaton, frequently. I have a very nice piece of cloth edged with it that I use for transporting items precious to me. I write it on things that need to stay whole, that need to last through time. Here, give me your pocket knife."

Daniel pulled out his pocketknife and handed it over. "The Tetragrammaton… one of the names of God. But also a magical glyph."

"The Tetragrammaton can also be said. It's a very powerful word, and you don't just say it. It hasn't been said since the Temple was destroyed." Rodney took the knife, and opened it. "So, while I can say it, I'm not, because this is not for any use, it's to show you power. I'm not going to weave a word in the air for you out of nothing, because I'd like to have some energy to drive my car home tonight. So I'm going to take a little of my own blood…" Just a nick on his fingertip, enough to squeeze a couple of drops off.

"So it's easier to access in some forms than others," Daniel put in, watching intently. "That makes sense."

"Blood is very powerful. I don't give mine away, so don't try to get me to do any blood drives," Rodney smirked at him, lifting his finger up, and holding his hand over the bloody tip, leaving Daniel's knife on the table. He drew the blood up into the air in a contained drop, and then formed it into the Tetragrammaton. It was thin, and red, and glistened gold. "I can do this without the item for the structure, because at this point it's a little chicken and egg — which came first, the blood or the word? Well, the word, of course, but then you could say the Blood was the product of the original word and so on. But. We have the Tetragrammaton. Touch it."

Daniel reached tentatively, looking astonished and curious at the same time and reached to touch it. "That looks very advanced…" he said, and then drew his finger back as he made contact. "That's like getting a minor shock!"

Rodney reached up to touch it, and moved it from hovering in the air. It felt wonderful to him, humming, and he held it in his hands. "Really? I find it very inspiring."

"It's quite intense," Daniel said, eyes following the magically generated form. "Are there many others who could do this sort of thing?"

Rodney set it on Daniel's desk. "Yes and no. Many who can, but you'll never meet them. I'd say there are five or six like me, another two or three like John. Dhampirs are maybe thirty in the world. The People number in the hundreds, in quiet enclaves."

Daniel nodded, taking it all in. "How is what John does different to your… way?" he asked, unable to stop touching the enervated item that Rodney was holding.

"John's a warlock." It was simple enough, and he sat back. "True born, long line of them, intelligent, gifted warlock. The clue is in the name. War-lock. He's a war-mage as far as I can tell. I tend to create, to defend. John attacks, he calls." And he was pretty sure John had some Otherkind blood in him, but not one he could readily identify.

"Is that a personality thing or… he has the ability and you do not and vice versa?" Daniel queried again.

It was hovering there, on the tip of his tongue. "Dr. Jackson, I'm not like John. I'm not like you. I'm something else entirely. John's a human Warlock with a solid, stable personality for someone who's been to Hell as many times as he has."

That nearly had the archeologist's eyebrows crawling up his forehead. "If John is a human warlock, then… what are you Rodney?"

"I'm reserving the right not to talk about it," he answered, sitting back. "You can keep that, by the way. If you put it over your door, it's a nice ward that no one from the outside can see."

"Thank you. I appreciate it," Daniel said.

And he had no idea how powerful a ward made from angel blood could be.

"So, if you have a protective focus, and John has an aggressive focus…what does that make Dr. Beckett? Or someone else like myself? What can we do?"

"Probe and receive. Merge and flow. Knowledge is power. Carson gave us the demon's name. He was one of the Heavenly Host, once, and now he's… he was that creature. It's sort of impressive," Rodney smirked.

"And with the real name you were able to perform magic?" Daniel said. "Can sensitives do magic? Learn it?"

"Yes, but I suspect your range will be limited. Carson's range has proven to be… very impressive. We're still gauging it." It was a little unfair. Daniel was possibly the strongest sensitive he had met up until Carson had started coming online.

"Really? What can he do that an ordinary sensitive couldn't?" The truth was that Daniel was a very strong sensitive, and if he hadn't met Carson he would've been impressed.

"You're not an ordinary sensitive, first of all." Rodney shifted, laid his ankle on his other knee. "I think with some work you'll be very impressive. Carson is a Seventh Son, of a Seventh Son — possibly even a triple. I had his blood evaluated by an expert, and he's particularly potent. It's a natural, innate ability. Carson had to drop out of being an emergency room doctor because he found himself enmeshing into his patient's emotions and pain. He didn't have a breakdown. His ability manifested."

"Ah, there was concern over that in his file," Daniel nodded, making a note. "So John saying to Jack that Carson would be like wandering around with royalty wasn't far from the mark. That's really useful. We're going to have to come up with a program of useful magic for teams to be trained in. I would really appreciate your recommendations."

"Protective wards, exorcism, and tell me you went to the place John told you about and got yourself tattooed," Rodney rattled that off, and he was sure he'd have more in order.

"Believe me, it was the first thing we did," Daniel said. "Being possessed was… not good. Not something I ever want to repeat. Also, any talismans not completely associated with fighting. John gave us a list but we're not going to be going in as warriors all the time."

"I bought a number of talismans when I was in Los Angeles," Rodney told him. "I brought them in for inventory and distribution. What's been done with that?"

Daniel coughed a little. "Well, they're not sure what to do with them so they're… being analyzed."

"You use them. Oh, what the hell." Rodney stood up. "We're going there right now. Come on. I paid a lot of money for that to sit in a plastic bin for analysis."

He was convinced they were just sitting there staring at the talismans because he wasn't sure what else they thought they could do. Idiots! Idiots, and Rodney pulled Jackson's door open. "Here, give me that, it's going over your door now," he demanded, snapping his fingers.

Daniel handed it back. "Perhaps if you explain how they work to me, then I can convince the others. They understand about the tattoos now."

"Oh good. You haven't tried to talk any of the 'other'-types that they need to be tattooed, have you? It's a waste of time and effort, and more than a little offensive for them." Rodney stood in front of the door, and let the Tetragrammaton float up to rest on the top edge. "There. Let's go."

"That sounds intriguing in and of itself," Daniel answered. "I haven't, but again we're not sure how to deal with them."

"Who in particular is… Who are you afraid to approach?" Rodney asked after a moment to think of the rephrase. After all, they weren't used to handling the 'others'. What would Daniel know about their cultural norms?

"The available literature about the vampires, were and Otherkind is somewhat muddied by folklore." Daniel answered. "It's difficult to know what aspects are true and which aren't. That's the sort of thing we need to know."

Rodney waited for Daniel to fall into step with him. "I know this might seem like a wild and crazy suggestion, Dr. Jackson, but have you tried… asking?"

"Well… I like to have as much information as possible," Daniel said. "But I will. I've gleaned that they can be hierarchical and the elders have means of compelling obedience."

"That depends on which Otherkind you're talking about. The Vampires, yes. The People, or what you usually call were-folk, compel obedience the same way humans do. With yelling, social pressure, and guilt. And the occasional scuffle for dominance." Rodney wandered towards the elevator, and punched the down button so they could go down to the next lower floor to the labs.

"So there's no actual magical compulsion?" Daniel asked, concentrating solely on him as they descended. It was almost flattering to experience even if he was surrounded by idiots. "Are the stories about silver correct?"

"No, though Silver does have its uses against demonic animal forms, which are commonly mistaken for the People. And there are creatures like the Wendigo which are completely real and horrifying to meet in reality," Rodney promised him. "A lot of mythology ends up muddied. What's the best unbelievable thing you've learned since this all started?"

"The best? That is difficult to narrow down." Daniel considered as they made it to the storeroom where the talismans were locked up. "Perhaps that angels and demons exist."

"What would you do if you met an angel? What would you think? You've met demons, the other side of that coin is out there. And some of those you think of as demons are still angels." It was baiting, yes, but Rodney could bait. He liked baiting, teasing people, pulling at their preconceptions, which were based on faulty knowledge. "One of the talismans I brought back was an angel feather."

"I don't know what I would do. Ask them endless questions, I suspect," Daniel replied pleasantly enough. "Jack says that I have a thing for knowledge for its own sake, but I find it all fits together somehow. Angels are fascinating and complex mythologies, well, and demons as well, and it raises more and more questions. What does an angel feather do? Would it have DNA? Would that mean anything?"

That was certainly a different tact than what Rodney was used to hearing. "I suppose it might, at the base. What you would call DNA anyway. But the feather is a powerful summoning tool." Rodney stopped with Daniel in front of what he was assuming was the storage closet where everything was kept. "I wouldn't summon an angel lightly. Sheppard will tell you that they're seldom the benevolent creatures of mythology. The ones I've met are assholes. But they're useful as a last ditch effort."

"You've met angels?" Daniel seemed eager again. "As incarnate forms? What are they like? What sort of thing can they help with or why might you summon one? Can I see the feather you purchased?"

"Get the door open, and yeah," Rodney told him, gesturing to the storage room. Angels were attuned to the Logos, and if he told Daniel that, the man might put two and two together and get four instead of three, and Rodney couldn't have that happen. "You know the angels of the old testament? Those books got it fairly right about the angels."

"Wrath and smiting? Warriors of God?" Daniel asked as he opened the storage room. For a start they needed to set up some wards around this place, make it an esoteric vault as well as a mundane one. "Hmm, possibly not very forgiving at least in some of the hierarchies. Hierarchies do exist, yes?"

"Thrones, Powers and Dominions," Rodney agreed, grimacing as he looked around the place. "If we can designate this our permanent store area, I'd like to start putting wards on it. Now."

"That would be an excellent idea," Daniel replied. "Can I watch? I'd like to learn how to do this sort of thing if at all possible. The ease with which you cast your protection I think would be very valuable. Can anyone do it?"

"Yes, but if you don't know what you're doing you end up with more problems than you would have if you just left it alone — for example, when I was fifteen or so, we had a roof leak at my parent's house. Being the engineering oriented people we were, we decided to, after fixing the leak, put the drywall back up on the ceiling ourselves. Can you imagine how that worked out? It was crooked and bowed in the middle and eventually it gave, not to mention the sprained shoulders, ankles, tension in the house, and cusses my little sister learned from us grownups. Eventually, we gave up and had a professional fix the job. What had taken us a week and a half to look horrible and start caving on us, took him two hours."

Rodney gestured Daniel into the room. "Incidentally, I end up consuming freakish amounts of sugar to, I assume, keep my blood glucose high enough to keep up with the output I manage on some days. Actually, I should pursue that with Carson — I've never poked too hard at the physical reactions. Now, close the door and I'll start. I can't use the Tetragrammaton here. Some of the artifacts will clash with it, violently. Also, it won't exactly do what I need it to do."

"I see," Daniel was concentrating hard. "So you have to imagine a little like you're making a complex compound or… recipe of energies. Some things react badly together and others complement each other?" Daniel was obviously more intelligent than he gave him credit for. On the other hand, he didn't give hardly anyone credit for being intelligent.

But his short, short list was growing the longer he spent time at the SGC. "Think of it more like chemical compounds. I wouldn't put gasoline in a Styrofoam container, and neither would I place His Holy Name next to a vial of demonic anything if I wanted to keep that vial in any usable shape. Some things, we don't want purified." Rodney crouched down at the doorway. "Now, the first thing your garden variety hunter, like Cadman, will tell you is that salt is your friend. It is. It's a ward against ghosts, and you can use it to knock most supernatural bad creatures for a loop — any demon manifesting in a human, for example. So if we were in a desperate, trapped situation, I'd run a thick line of salt from one side of that door to the other. It buys you time, and it's neutral as far as wards go. This takes no power at all. Still, it's not what this room needs."

"I wonder why salt is so powerful in that respect," Daniel commented. "So we have demonic artifact here? Or what people would call dark magic?"

"Salt is powerful because it's in so many things, particularly the corporeal forms of anything. No salt, no life. All of this could be used for dark magic," Rodney pointed out. "It has to do with intent. My personal intents have always been towards self-preservation and safety, so I've never felt, well, that's a lie. I've never actually played with the darker aspects of the Logos. I think we're all tempted. Also, I never want to see another blood drive in this section of the base. Two pints of blood is the requisite amount to do anything you want with blood magic." He looked around the room and sighed. "Where was I?"

"Showing me what these amulets and artifacts can do," Daniel said. "Any way they could be useful. I've heard Major Sheppard talk about bullets that can kill demons, is that right?"

"There are a lot of bullets that can kill demons, and a significant number of early gun manufacturers who realized that there were things their bullets couldn't kill that needed to be killed. The usual form is blessed shell casings, and Holy water capsules compressed inside. When the bullet explodes on impact, you have a deadly spray of the good stuff inside of their body. The problem is that it kills the host if it's a possession, and that host nine times out of ten did nothing wrong and lived a relatively normal life until things went wrong for them. Now, if you have a pure demonic form, Holy water bullets are your friends."

Rodney reached for the dragonfire container, which they'd be taking with them for replication. "Back in the day, people used to tie arrows with potent herbs, blessed objects, dip it in the blood of their best, purest whatever — priest, priestess, you name it. They blessed swords, they imbued the metal with pieces of relics, chanted over the forges, anything at all to wring the littlest bit of blessing onto their weapons."

"And that works I presume?" Daniel asked. "I'm trying to get my head around whether there's a substance or just an energy that demons are sensitive to. I mean, what's the difference between water and Holy water? It's been blessed yes, but is that essence something that can be replicated? My studies would indicate that even as time has gone on, it still works, despite shifts in rituals. There has to be a common element…"

"And the common element is a similar manipulation of the Logos. Demonic entities are in opposition to God — the higher god. Now, you, well, we actually have other gods on this planet, and their power varies by belief levels. Bast is still around, somewhere, for example, buoyed by cat owners like me whose pets have them wrapped around their little fingers. But the common thread is that Demons are in opposition of God — even within specific mythologies, demons are in opposition to the self-perceived forces of good in the world. Through their own self-definitions, they define their weaknesses. You take something imbued with the Logos, believing it to be good, and you can fight a demon with it. You take something imbued with the Logos, believing it to be a force of evil, and you can bring havoc down on the world."

He picked up the crosses he'd purchased. "Now, this item has been heavily imbued, and is imbedded with Holy relics. I could dip it in a town's well, and all of that water would turn Holy — and free of disease as well. But that doesn't mean I also couldn't bludgeon someone to death with it."

"A useful trade relic — we can purify off world water supplies," Daniel nodded, possibly missing the point. "So the more intense the belief and the action can determine the extent of the effect, but it's not limited to the purpose for which it was designed. That would indicate an inherent component. Just as there appears to be some sort of inherent component to the peoples of Earth to be able to combat demons and the supernatural. That could use investigation. So what sort of items do we have here?"

"There were the Nephilim," Rodney offered. "There's angelic and demonic blood. If I had to say any single reason for Earth fighting back, I'd say it's because there's been a lot of scuffling here. This is still prime territory. This place is one where God still took enough of an interest to create a heaven, an end goal. Why fight when there's no one and no structure telling you to strive?" He moved towards the first box, and pulled it off of a shelf.

"Let's go down the list."

The glue on the sensor disc was making him itch and John had to resist the urge to scratch the annoying thing off.

"Now hold still… just setting the monitors going again. Now, I want you to perform the basic charm that is the baseline for us again please," Sam instructed even as Carson smiled at him. He'd taken little blood to analyze and John wouldn't trust it with anyone else.

He started the chant and heard the monitors beep and react, which was distracting.

"Do you have any idea how creepy I find this?" Rodney griped off to the side. He was standing there with his arms crossed, looking pissy that he was next in line.

"No, Dr. McKay. The first two times you said it went completely unheard." Yeah, at least Carter had an attitude John was familiar with.

The talking was distracting, too, and he had to start over. It was just a simple charm on a metal ball, levitation. He could do it if they'd, oh, shut up.

"There's definitely activity in specific areas of the brain when you do that," Sam commented. "Ambient energy readings are jumping as well. It's higher than anyone else casting this charm as well."

"Rodney'll be higher. He's the Magician."

"Rodney doesn't want to cast charms while being measured," Rodney snorted. "Also, how are you baselining this? We're not all doing the exact same Charm, are we? I don't even do charms."

John sighed, and gestured the metal ball up into the air. "There we go. What's next?"

"Testing your blood glucose levels, and trace. What's the strongest magic you can perform?"

Oh, now there was a question. Probably nothing he could lay claim to. Carson was taking another sample.

"Uh… Strongest how?" John sat up, and turned his neck from side to side, cracking it. "I'm not going to summon anything.

"What have been the effects to you after a major magic working?" Dr. Fraiser asked. "Physical or mental. We are trying to gauge what might help."

"Feeling like someone wrung me out and put me up on a clothes line?" He smiled at her. She had that same helpful, hopeful aura about her that Carson did, that they were both good people without having to look much deeper. "Physical exhaustion. No real mental effects that I know of."

"Detrimental exhaustion? Have you ever heard of anyone over extending themselves?" Sam asked even as they ran probes over his tattoos.

He held his arms out for her, but he didn't bring the gate together. "I've over extended myself. It's like trying to start a car with an empty tank."

"Have you ever heard of people dying?" Sam asked. It happened. It could happen. Go up against something too big to handle and it could suck the life from you.

So he still told her the answer, still said, "Yeah. I have."

"People can jog themselves to death, too," Rodney drawled.

"I would surmise that any intense experience has the potential to do what a physical experience could do," Carson added.

"I'm trying to determine how things can work and whether we need to supply kits with glucose pills or emergency interventions," Dr. Fraiser said.

"We seem to be getting energy readings in different intensities but in similar bands for similar types of magic. Protective magic seems to lie between a couple of frequencies, destructive in another, psychokinetic in another and so on. The intent that you talk of has a quantifiable energy pattern." Sam declared.

"Huh." That was kind of neat, and John concentrated on the ball while they were talking. They were still monitoring him, and he had the time and the space to weave an interesting bit of spell on that ball. "So, what's the intent of doing something cool?"

"Well… that uses an area of brain associated with hormones and curiosity from the looks of it," Dr. Fraiser replied looking at the imaging. "Closer to the protective frequencies."

John murmured the closing word, and the ball collapsed into a donut shape. "Anything else you want me to do, before I pass this off to McKay?"

"This is preliminary data only. We'll need to do blood analysis, and go over the MRIs," Dr. Fraiser replied. "You can pass off."

He stood up, grinning as he reached a hand out to Rodney. Behind him, the donut fell to the floor. "Your turn, buddy."

"Ugh, I'm allergic to blood draws," Rodney muttered, taking John's place in the chair.

"Just putting sensors on. Carson will be drawing blood, so try not to hit him," Dr. Fraiser said and smiled as she stuck them on.

John was interested in how Rodney was going to do this. Hide things, maybe, or appear different? John didn't much care what they picked up about him — he was run of the mill, au naturale, no big secrets that people didn't generally know if they were in the world long enough. That he was John The Badass Sheppard, or whatever the rumor of the week was. Rodney was holding stock still, watching them. Maybe he was going to go au naturale, too, and hope they didn't guess what was up.

They had pretty sharp minds there, but then that might be an allure for Rodney. He appreciated new discoveries. That was his purpose and he might just see this as a means to an end. Carson seemed happy enough on the science side. John didn't have to have the Sight to tell Carson was comfortable not using his talents.

He didn't have to use his talents to study the read-outs, didn't have to use his talents to know what it all meant. John wasn't even sure what he was getting out of the readouts, even when he edged over a little to peer over Carson's shoulder. "Getting anything interesting yet?"

"Are these even plugged in?" Rodney groused.

"Yes, they are Rodney," Carson said with a smile. "You run a twitch more hyped than most. Unsurprisingly, with your disposition."

John snorted a little.

"That's the most polite accusation of being high strung that I've ever heard," Rodney snorted, sitting back in the chair and crossing his legs at the ankle. "What are we doing first?"

"Well, as you say you do some things differently to others, let's go by genre. Can you do me something protective?" Sam asked even as Carson skillfully took Rodney's blood.

Rodney frowned at Carson for a moment, before he looked back at Sam, and then closed his eyes. His lips were moving, but it wasn't the shout he'd done to keep the protective circle up under duress. Still, John felt when the bubble formed around Rodney and Carson. "There. Now, I can do the traditional ones, but I don't think that will help your research along."

"Well we're trying to get a common baseline," Sam replied. "It might be useful for comparison's sake."

"It is using the same area of the brain," Dr. Fraiser reported. "We do seem to be proving a theory."

Carson took another sample of his blood then, obviously for a before and after. "Actually I would like to measure how something like this performs under stress. John, would you be able to perform a mild attack of magic on Rodney's shield?"

"Finally, a useful application," Rodney declared, sitting up with a little more enthusiasm. "Come on, John. Hit me."

"Hit you," John deadpanned, grinning a little. A nice pressure slam, a psychic punch at the shield could be stress enough. "One hit, coming up."

He focused a little and sent a blast at Rodney, registering that Carson looked a little concerned. It was the equivalent of pulling his punch but it might rattle the shield a little. Rodney would have no problems, though, he was sure of that.

He raised his hand, which wasn't strictly necessary and flicked the burst at Rodney, immediately sending the monitors beeping frantically. "Very showy, Sheppard. Have you been taking lessons from people I know?" Rodney extended the bubble with a slow sideways sweep of his hand, so that Carter was now in it, along with the sensory equipment.

"Do it again, and don't pull it. Dr. Fraiser, you might want to stand in here or leave the room, because I don't know what the backsplash on Sheppard's attacks are like."

"This won't be my most powerful. Adrenalin and fighting for your life can give it an extra kick," John said, even as Dr. Fraiser opted to leave the room. "Ready?"

He wasn't going to show everything he had, but he did have a ridiculous urge to impress Rodney somehow. He knew that Rodney would have a fair amount of power and the blast he threw then would've taken out a demon of moderate power.

"Hah!" There was backsplash, and the computer that Sam was standing at within the bubble was beeping wildly while Rodney started to stand up and then sat back down. "Do you know how impressive that is, Sheppard? How few and far between warlocks like you are? Oh, that was great. I can still feel the sting."

"I'm not going to go any higher in a confined space," John drawled feeling a little glow of satisfaction. "The place isn't shielded enough. If we spar, which would be a good idea, there ought to be a facility suitable."

"Boys," Sam interrupted, almost visibly rolling her eyes. "That was very interesting. Spiked energy consumption on the part of both of you. They seem to be following laws of conservation."

"The question is, how much energy do we have?" Rodney drawled, as if he didn't actually know the answer himself. He dropped the shield, and glanced over to Sam. "Well, what do you want to see next?"

"Well, we've recorded a lot of baselines. We'll probably start to try and identify certain different variations. It would be useful to be able to make a scanner, for example, that can identify the type of magic you're up against. Elemental, voodoun, and so on."

"Wait, I've got one you haven't recorded so far. John, want to be the guinea pig?" Rodney stood up from the chair, trying not to pull his leads. "I'm personally curious what part of the brain this attaches to."

"Sure. What do you want me to do?" John said easily enough. He was intrigued as to what Rodney might come up with. He got the impression that Rodney was enjoying himself and he liked the whole wrestling with an angel thing as well. Felt like he was getting a work out in the same sort of way that sparring with Teyla challenged him physically.

"Just stand still. I haven't done this in forever, but I promise it won't blow you up." Rodney stepped in close to him, and set one hand on John's forehead lightly, thumb pressed against John's left temple. There was a spate of what John could only call gibberish, sibilant sounds that could have passed for Latin if John didn't know Latin. Then he felt the heat spreading through him — almost fever-heat, from somewhere inside of him.

He was luminescent.

"Cool!" John waved his glowing hand around "Human lightbulb! Can I do anything with it now I've got it?" He mentally pulled the light into a clenched fist and let it build there.

"I don't think you should experiment with it too much, John," Carson said, but he was too late to escape the burst of light like a flash grenade that erupted from John's hand.

"Ow! Bloody hell, John!"

Rodney grimaced a little as he stepped back from John and towards Carson. "Really, just let it flow through you. We can play with it more later. That's an actual Blessing, John. If you can take it into yourself, it'll heal internal damage, old scars, wipe away years of hard living, or you can keep it external and have a grand old badass time with it and burn your opponent's cities to dust."

"A Blessing?" Sam looked over at Rodney. "Isn't that the sort of thing saints do?"

A Blessing. John was impressed. He never thought he'd be on the receiving end of one of these and there was a feel to it that he wanted to keep. He also knew it wasn't the sort of thing that could be bestowed lightly.

"It's beautiful, Rodney," Carson said looking mesmerized by it.

Rodney was smiling slowly, and he seemed delighted by it. "It is. Actually, here…" Rodney stepped over to Carson, moving to repeat the same gesture of hand on his forehead, thumb on his temple. It was fascinating to watch the same glow slowly come out of Carson, from the inside out. Rodney stepped back, shaking his hand out. "There, that's me, done for the day. I'd say that unequivocally, you've both earned at least that in your lifetimes."

John could imagine Carson was going to feel it even more than he was and he was grinning like a loon. He tried internalizing the glow and managed it slowly, though the bit around the head peeked out. "You know, this is a slightly bizarre way to realize what a halo is," he said as Carson followed suit.

"That is what a halo is. The heavenly hosts carry that blessing all the time. Much stronger, of course." Rodney tilted his head a little, and seemed to pause, hand still half up. "Well, uh, who wants to go see what they're serving in the cafeteria? I'm starving."

Carson looked up belatedly. "I'm not surprised. Your blood sugar dropped significantly in that last effort," he reported. "You need food now."

"Could use a bit myself," John added, feeling hunger pangs hit.

"Okay. So…" Rodney looked over to Sam, as if he was asking permission, but John doubted that if she said no, Rodney could actually listen. "Are we done now?"

"For now, yes. We have some data to work on," she said. "Go eat before you all pass out, or something." She smiled at them all.

Rodney gave her a thumbs up as he started to pull his leads off, and rubbed at the sticky spots. "I'm still curious what part of the brain that comes from. No one's actually sat down and studied this quite like this before, and it's almost a shame."

"All I can tell you is in the prefrontal lobes somewhere," Sam replied. "And where most of the higher functions are based."

"It's fascinating really," Carson said. "There is a biological component there I think. Like, like striking a match to make fire. You can achieve fire with a hard graft of rubbing wood together but if you have a bit of wood with the right mixture of phosphorous compounds on it… well."

"And you don't do anything stupid like put a lit match in your pants." Rodney was moving towards the door, and he did look a little shaky.

"You shouldn't do that too often," Carson scolded supporting him on one side. "Now we know why there were notes about hypoglycemia all over your file. John, help him will you?"

"It's not something I'm usually in a position to do," Rodney told them. John sidled up to Rodney's other side. He felt good, he felt… amazing, alive and thrumming with power, with energy, with a buzzing feeling of health. It was hard to imagine feeling like that all the time.

"How long do I get the buzz like this?" John asked and smirked a little as he added. "I'd like to make the most of it."

"I admit, it feels a little overwhelming," Carson agreed.

"It should last a day or so. Maybe two. The drop-off is slow." Rodney still seemed delighted for someone who'd just wiped out his own energy.

"Huh." John considered this fact and grinned. "Long enough then." Long enough to have fun with it after all, and find a means of paying Rodney back. He wasn't worried about wiping off scars but internal damage would be good to fix and cleansing out any dark magic traces was worth its weight in gold. That stuff could fester like cancer.

"Long enough for…?" Rodney looked over at him a little dazedly while they stopped in front of the elevators to go up two floors to the mess hall.

"Long enough to make sure you sit down and eat for your own good," John answered. "And maybe to beat Teyla just once."

"I think I just need to sit down and pay attention to what is going on in my head. It feels so full," Carson said as they stepped inside the elevators.

"Of what? How?" There was a tinge of concern in Rodney's voice, and he stood up a little more, trying not to lean on either of them.

"Ideas. I feel on the verge of some sort of realization or discovery," Carson answered and John wondered if that was something to do with Rodney's nature.

Rodney's smile spread a little wider. "Good. Just think on it and let it flow. We'll snag a notebook or some napkins for you."

"Aye, I might well do that, but food first," Carson instructed. "Here we go. What are you wanting Rodney? I think you should sit down. I can fetch something."

"Pasta?" Rodney moved into the cafeteria with them, and John was glad to help deposit him in a chair at one of the tables off to the side. "Anything."

"And cake," John agreed, stepping back.

"Right, we'll load you up with carbs, Rodney," Carson promised. "Just sit there a moment lad." And he was off before John could say anything over to the food. He probably had a better idea of what to get than he did.

John ended up trailing after Carson, picking up a tray. "Hey, you should eat, too. Tell me what you want."

"Well we should all have carbs so pasta is good. The lasagna will do. And for once, I will allow the fries as well. And the cake."

John was surprised to note that he was actually hungry.

"Oh, fries. I feel spoiled," John smirked, loading up with pre-served plates worth of food. "This is something else."

"Aye, I know. I need to …do something with it," Carson said. "It's like there are ideas jumping up and down in my head. You know when you feel on the edge of putting something big together?"

"He said he's been a muse before. I wonder if that's how it works." For truly scientific minds, John supposed. He was grateful just to experience a real Blessing, whether or not it came with a surge of ideas.

"What does it feel like to you?" Carson asked as they headed back to the table.

"Warm. Tingling. Like I could shoot fireballs from my hands, and like I might actually get back some of my liver," he smirked, carrying the tray of food for himself and Carson.

"You've been rough on your body. That's something I've wanted to work on when we had a chance. Hands on healing. Rodney says I should be able to do that," Cason said.

"Food." Rodney sighed it, reaching his hands out a little when they got to the table, and John set his tray down.

"Brains." He countered with that, just to see Rodney's face scrunch up.

"Romero was never the genius he thinks he is, and I can't believe you own those movies."

John grinned a little. "Call it research. Eat." He gestured with his fork and started taking a mouthful. "Maybe they'll make us a sparring area. "

"Where? One slip down here and we have a structural collapse of the rest of the mountain. They'd need to put something topside and seal it in." Actually, that sounded like a pretty good idea. Until then, they could at least wrestle in the back yard. Rodney picked up a fork and started to shovel away lasagna.

"I think I'll watch you two spar," Carson commented.

"Ah ah…you need to learn too. Especially you," John pointed out.

"Oh, please. Me, sparring?" Rodney grinned, still eating fast. After the first five or six bites, he did start to slow down. Start. "It's not what I'm good at. I don't have the natural physicality in that same way."

"Well that and the magical sparring. It would be good to flex against someone I have to work hard with," John pointed out. "If we're doing missions, we need a broad range of skills."

"I can help with the magical sparring. I've sort of crippled myself, actually. I mean, I'm wholly reliant on it, but there's only so much I can do without, ah." He wagged his eyebrows at them, and John almost choked on his french fries. "What kind of dirty mind do you have, Sheppard?"

"Nowhere near as dirty as yours apparently," John replied, half smirking. "And seriously, at some point I need to know what you can do. Limits wise. I know we've talked a little but I need to have an idea."

"I'd love to tell you if I know myself," Carson mumbled with a mouthful.

"Seventh sons can be the great prophets or the great evil of the world. Or, as I said before, they end up dead or their heads explode." Rodney picked up a fry, alternating pasta and potato. "Your power is going to continue to shock and delight us."

Carson looked faintly horrified. "I don't want my head to explode!"

"Not literally," John reassured. "Unless you count that one time…"

Rodney scuffed his shoe against John's shin under the table. "I meant it in a 'go crazy, break from reality and give up' way."

"That's scarcely reassuring," Carson said. "Although technically I've done that already."

"Yes, but you pulled yourself together. You have a stronger grip on reality than most people who've come into contact with this aspect of reality." Rodney scraped ricotta off of his plate, apparently intent on not leaving anything behind. "You're going to be amazing."

"Yes well, right now I'll settle for slightly better than lackluster," Carson answer. "You know we can get you more if you want?"

John smiled a little. Carson really did have a few issues with everything.

"No, I'll just polish this off. All of it. You're not lackluster, either." Rodney started to lean back, scrounging into his pockets. "Speaking of, you need napkins, and a pen. You said you had ideas racing around."

"I do. Which I think is something to do with you," Carson said glancing at them both. John fished around in his jacket for the notebook he kept there.

"Here, knock yourself out."

"No, it's all you, Carson. Believe me. I just provided the inspiration. John had the same Blessing." Rodney sat back, reaching for his fork to tackle the cake.

"No great ideas in here," John answered gesturing to his head. "What were you thinking about anyway?"

"Well I could sense some things while you were working as well," Carson said. "If there is a biological component, there are a great many things that can be done."

Well that was interesting. He raised his eyebrows considering the implications of that statement. More than respect huh? That would mean Rodney had fallen for them. "For both of us huh?" he queried snagging a little cake.

"Well, or it wouldn't have worked." Rodney scraped icing off of the plate, and seemed to be contemplating the line in the distance. "I'm going to get something to drink — do you want something?"

"Sure. If you are steady enough with some food in you," John drawled. "Tonight we should go out to eat. Or get something decent in if Carson is going to be glued to a notebook."

"He's going to be glued to a notebook." Rodney's smile was unbelievably fond, and he stood up a little steadier, probably to get sodas or milk or who knew what. "Right back."

John leaned back and then peered over Carson's shoulder. He could usually follow some of Rodney's workings, though he tended not to reveal that, but Carson's scribblings were full of complex molecules and spiral helix diagrams with formulae he didn't recognize and cryptic notes about mRNA. Carson was so unassuming about most things it was easy to forget that maybe in his own way he was a genius. He should know that already.

Carson was a genius in his own right. It was just that John didn't have the basis of knowledge to go 'damn, that's so far beyond the norm' when the norm tended to leave him in the dust.

Rodney set three glasses of milk on the table, and sat back down across from John.

All they could do was leave Carson to follow whatever track he was on and carry on regardless. No doubt he would let them know as soon as he had anything thing solid.

Carson had lost track of time somewhere around the third day. Sleep had mugged him at some point and now he wasn't actually sure what day it was. There was a strong possibility he should be at work. Unless it was the weekend.

But he had the idea down. Oh, it was basic and needed the practical input, but it was there.

It was possibly insane and spurred on by angelic influence, but Rodney was ensconced on the sofa when Carson wandered down the stairs with his notebook in hand, hoping for someone to throw his idea at. Ellis was sitting behind him on the cushions, watching… News, actually.

"Hello there. John's outside beating up the grill. He says it's warm enough to call it summer. I say he's insane."

"Aye well, that's John for you. Is it the weekend?" he said sitting down heavily, still damp from a shower.

"Saturday, actually. We brought you in to work, and Carter suspended our mission schedule while she let you work, and we poked around with what it was doing for John. No one has guessed yet what I am." He sounded oddly delighted about that; that he'd even put the temptation out there. "Or if they have, they're too polite to mention it, but I really think not."

"I'm pretty sure they would mention it." Carson smiled. "I lost track of time. I'm blaming you for that angelic muse." He patted at him gently.

Rodney leaned his head back to look up at Carson, while Ellis squawked an indignant mrow at a head touching his back. "It hung on to you for a long while. Here, take a load off."

"It might be a load of rubbish," Carson protested but sat down anyway. "But it seemed to fit together.

"It's not going to be rubbish. If all you had in your head was rubbish and half ideas, you would've been watching John jam ping-pong balls into the wall with me. The General and Teal'c were having a grand old time."

"Jamming ping-pong balls? Never mind. Uh… do you know much about my sciences, Rodney?" Carson asked.

"Enough to follow it if you're going to explain it to me," Rodney told him.

"I'll try and keep it simple." Carson said. "I was thinking… My powers very evidently have a hereditary link. I'm a seventh son of a seventh son, possibly of a seventh son. There are others born to it, like John who apparently has been experiencing things since he was a child. So the logical reasoning is that there is a genetic key. A predisposition."

"I'd believe that," Rodney agreed. "Possibly seeded by the Nephilim?"

"Whatever the genetic source, the fact there is a genetic code that is effectively the magic gene is apparent through observational data," Carson said. "That's the background. Now where my specialty comes in is that I have designed what I think is an activation protocol for that dormant gene."

"Huh. And with this… activation protocol, you can open other people to the possibility of fighting back as well?"

"Yes. Yes, I believe so." Carson leaned forward. "There's a sequence that John has that shares commonalities with you. How they express is another matter, but it has to be there. "

"I wouldn't really wave my DNA around as a model of anything," Rodney murmured, lifting his eyebrows at Carson as he leaned in to brush shoulders with him. "If you want pure DNA, you can check that feather I bought, you know, right at the base? There might have been a little skin pulled when it fell out."

"That's a fantastic idea," Carson said feeling a surge of enthusiasm. "I can effectively activate any non-expressed sequence and…" He hesitated a little. "There appears to be a section that has a commonality with demons but not with angels that effectively gets eradicated in the process. This seems a little bizarre, and I wanted to ask you what you thought that might be. The only speculation I have is… well, it's a bit out there."

"What's your speculation?" Because, well, he was the expert, but it was hard to tell if Rodney knew what Carson was talking about or not. His eyes had that touch of gold around the edges. "I wouldn't have that sequence if it's what I think you're suggesting it is. Regardless of what I do to myself in terms of a body, I pre-date that little twist."

"That it might be the innate code for original sin. That it was a viral DNA strand that can be effectively removed with gene therapy," Carson explained in a rush. He wasn't sure but it seemed to make sense. There was something that held a demonic marker in the human genome that wasn't connected to making magic, it was just there. "I did have a sort of a vision when I concentrated on it of those sort of events but… I'm still not comfortable with how truthful they are."

"What sort of events?" Rodney set the remote control down, but he left the TV on low in the background. "The real question is who did these memories come from, this vision. You tap into something when you do that."

Carson hesitated. "I'm not sure. It was like I was there. Like, when I had the vision of John and of the demon when it caught me. I suppose theoretically it is inherent in everyone so… I was watching it happen. It was… it was a beautiful place but in a wilder way than I expected. And there was a tree and I saw a snake spiral into a tree and it was biting the fruit. Actually sinking fangs in. I've never heard that in any rendition of the story. No one else was there, no presence, nothing. But it seemed to look up as if it could sense me. I didn't see anything else. That was it…a brief enduring scène. The snake was a patterned green with bright yellow eyes."

"Part of the infallible plan." Rodney rolled his shoulders, and spread his hands. "The stories have stretched over the years. Some have become more glorious, others more mundane or glossed over because the enormity of them is hard to bear. You can't have good without evil to realize what good is. You can't have free will without the differences between your choices."

"But I don't think that the fruit was meant to contain whatever was in the bite. I don't doubt that the whole tempting thing was ineffable but not what was in there." Carson said. "I… I don't know. I thought you might know more. I mean I don't want to remove something that is meant to be there, but otherwise why would I have an inspiration like this on the back of a Blessing?"

"You would be… surprised at some of the things that are part of the plan. The Fall was part of the plan. Wars are part of the plan. If certain players stop playing their parts, or fail, someone else will step in and do it for them if it's actually part of the plan." Rodney reached behind him, and groaned a little as he pulled Ellis down onto his lap. "Perhaps that piece of the puzzle has outlived its usefulness."

"If I go ahead and develop this treatment to activate the ability for magic in a magicless population then that is going to vanish. So before I put it out there… I don't want to do the wrong thing," Carson worried.

"You're not going to activate the ability for magic in all of humanity. You're going to remove the stop device that might allow a portion of humanity to do better at it. Sure, it's going to remove a lot of the barriers. It's going to cause problems. On the other hand.." Rodney shrugged. "Everything does. Nuclear power."

"Equating this with nuclear power is not exactly comforting, Rodney," Carson replied dryly. "I'm not sure if I should open that can of worms."

"I did." Rodney carded his fingers through Ellis's thick fur. "I was there. Died from radiation exposure, actually. You can't take progress without acknowledging the that every good has a bad."

"You died? I mean.. you can die? I sort of assumed…" Assumed Rodney was immortal in some way, that he chose to be his age or whatever. That meant they could really lose him.

"Well, the body I was in died. I let it die, and I remade myself elsewhere. It would've been suspicious if I hadn't let myself go after the levels I was exposed to. I could have just shaken it off and kept on, but. Here…" Rodney waved a hand. "Melios took a bullet to the brain, and pieced himself back together. The unexplainable is more acceptable in circumstances like working with the SGC."

"Especially now they know of your kind," Carson absently patted his leg. "It must be hard for you, outliving people."

"I generally start over after a loss. Well, cats excluded." He scratched the top of Ellis's head, looking at some point in the middle of the living room that wasn't actually anything at all. "It's less painful and lonely down here than it was before the Fall."

Carson looked at Rodney, trying to comprehend that level of loneliness and loss that he had experienced when the aching rush of being and seeing something in a vision slammed into him suddenly. A whirl of spinning out of time and then something desolate and lonely. Rodney on the edge of someplace …middle east somewhere, on fire and destroyed, with a sense of hopelessness there that he desperately wanted to stop so much he felt himself move forward, closer, trying to impart some reassurance that things would change and he could be happy.

"You don't belong here." It was and it wasn't Rodney. It was Rodney in the eyes and parts of the face, but he looked like he belonged there, skin darker, features sharper, his hair longer. He wiped at his eyes. "Go home."

Everyone told him that. John told him that when he had gone there, but he knew somehow Rodney desperately needed hope for the future. He couldn't seem to speak in words, and he felt ethereal and unreal, but he tried to tell him of wonders that were awaiting him. The world, the stars, how man would make it there sooner than anyone would think. How there would be people that would love him and that he would love. That he shouldn't slip further down to Hell in bitterness, but to stay because he was something unique and wonderful.

"You think I haven't figured that out yet? You all die. Every one of you dies! You're like damn ants!" He didn't expect Rodney's wings to snap out, sharp, sudden, like it took no effort at all, and then he was taking off towards the towering inferno.

And he was there with him, tethered by some connection, something bright, and nothing more than a presence to Rodney, but reaching to touch him somehow he grabbed him with insubstantial hands and kissed him with an upsurge of the sweet fresh love he felt for him, and then he was tumbling and falling and…

Thumping back against the sofa with his head spinning.

Rodney was leaning over him on the sofa, and Ellis was somewhere on the floor, mewing miserably at them both. There was still that gold rim around Rodney's eyes, but he seemed more intent now than delighted. "Welcome back."

Carson tried to move and felt oddly disjointed in his own skin. "Where… where did I go? Did you see?" He didn't like the vulnerability of what had happened.

"I saw that we need to work on your control of situations like that," Rodney warned quietly, still peering at Carson. "You went to Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth. The Mythical Babel. There was a fire, and construction resumed after it burnt out, but you showed up in the heat of the moment…"

"It was you… you needed someone then," Carson said a little shakily as he tried to sit up. "The Tower of Babel?"

"I have been around," Rodney reiterated calmly, putting a hand on Carson's side. "Steady. It was quite the fiasco. The half-breeds were involved, and they actually left shortly there after. Plague. I never did bother working out whether they did that to themselves, or whether we did it to them."

Carson still had the feeling of Rodney's distress from millennia ago and it was fresh to him. "Did you know it was me?"

"No. I assumed it was someone I would know, as the future tends to reach back more than the past reaches up. It was heartening that someone would go to that trouble for me." There was more to the story, but Rodney spoke with the vocal distance of a storyteller retelling an oral history.

"I'm not sure why I went there," Carson said shivering a little. "Aside from you… needed someone, or something. It seems a little extreme to go all that way and not really do anything."

He hadn't really. Just stood there and kissed him.

"I could feel your presence very strongly. For all I know, you provided the seconds of distraction that I needed not to do… something daft." He rubbed fingers against Carson's side, still watching him. "Do you want to go outside and see how steak-man is doing?"

"Aye, I think that would be good." From their findings he'd need food. Maybe it had been enough. He wondered how he could do that. It wasn't normal. "Let's go."

Rodney reached his fingers to grasp Carson's hand. "Monday, you can start officially working on your project."

"But between now and then, I think I want to catch up with what you and John have been doing without me," Carson replied, gripping his hand.

Rodney gave Carson a bright grin. "If I make dirty eyebrows at you, will you believe that we've been marathoning bad movies and having adventures in junk food?"

Carson chuckled. "Not for a bloody moment," he answered feeling the leak of Rodney's emotions. "You two can be noisy enough to break my concentration."

"I microwaved Cheetos," Rodney deadpanned, leading him over towards the sliding glass door at the back of the house. "With popcorn. You didn't even notice the burnt smell. Hey, John — he's surfaced!"

"Hey, Carson." John turned and looked at him over his shade. He looked… possibly more edible than the steaks. There was something dangerous and lean about John and he could feel Rodney respond to it in a direct mirror of his own feelings.

"I'm alive," he declared. "Missing a few days."

"Actually, we sat you down to eat and also made sure you took showers." Rodney slung an arm around Carson's shoulders. "Welcome to an artistic fugue. Tesla never was right afterwards, but I don't think he was ever really all right to start with."

"And I didn't even get to enjoy it." Carson said with a smile. "Well, it wasn't artistic as such but…"

"No, no, scientific discoveries are an art when you're drawing solid conclusions out of the mists of your mind." Rodney pulled away a little, but just to peer at the steaks, and it was almost like he was segueing back into the three of them again. It was funny that he'd been the one out of it.

"Well that was the inspiration, now for the perspiration," Carson replied. "I'm starving."

Rodney leaned back from the grill. "Okay, there's crumbled up Doritos on my steak. Hah hah, John."

"Junk-food — food of angels!" John smirked. "Hey, pull up a chair and let's eat outside. It's nice today."

It was. Carson sat down and considered as he listened to John and Rodney bicker back and forth about anything and nothing while the sun shone and steaks sizzled on the grill that they needed to make the most of these times. It might not be like this forever.

"My feet are killing me."

They'd trudged at least, at least, five miles to the gate, because civilization had been that far. It hadn't been a bad meeting — the people seemed peaceable, traders with only a few problems, and not too much by way of demonic or Goa'uld interference.

Still it seemed like they were making some headway out here. They had groups cleaning out worlds and then John had shown various worlds how to engrave a decent Devil's trap into whatever plinth the Stargate was on and that really pissed the demons off. They literally walked right into it. They had snagged some pretty high level demons that way and that felt good, bottling the bastards up in Hell.

It was slow and steady. They made friends, Carson treated any medical issues that were immediate, and people liked that. John talked seriously with the leadership with Teyla, and Rodney offered to repair any sort of rudimentary equipment they had.

Their team worked, and was fast becoming one of the best first contact teams they had out there.

"Nearly there, Rodney," John answered even as they finally ascended the dais. He checked the Devil's Trap there. He had marked it strongly and encouraged them to actually come and meticulously cut it in.

"Do we have to?" Carson said. "I hate traveling though the gate."

He did look a bit spooked, but then Carson had never relished gate travel.

"It's all science, Carson." Rodney stopped at the DHD and started to dial. The best part of the trap was, of course, that if the gate opened there was a nine out of ten chance that the demon would be blown to smithereens by the gate opening.

"Yes well, it feels.. .weird." Carson shuddered a little. "Maybe sensitives are more sensitive to it."

"It is a normal sensation Carson," Teyla commented. "We have experienced it many times. It means we will be going home."

"I'd almost rather be staying," Carson said with a sigh.

"Seriously?" Rodney tilted his head. "Why? That's not normal. You're usually happy to go home."

"Oh, just the usual dread of stepping through the gate," Carson said airily. "Don't mind me. It's just a wee bit stupid I know."

It was a little unusual. Unusual enough to have John a little more on alert. "Rodney, do the honors?"

"I'm not sure I want to now," Rodney confessed, hand hovering over the activation button. "What if he's right?"

"About what? You lectured all of us on how safe it was to go through the gate for… well over an hour," John replied. "Besides I'm hungry. Thought we could get Chinese tonight. Or Thai from that place you like."

"For that, I'll walk through the gate first," Carson put in.

"I'm just saying that sometimes a bad feeling exists for a reason." Which could be anything from the mountain had collapsed to there wasn't a world on the other side of the gate. Rodney pressed the activation button slowly.

"Well we'll ask," John said patiently as the chevrons locked and loaded, and the wormhole engaged. "Before we go through."

"I'm sure it's nothing, Rodney. You know I get bad feelings all the time," Carson said.

"Just radio through," Rodney said, snapping his fingers at John. "I'd rather check than not."

"Fine." John saw Teyla roll her eyes a little. "SGC, this is Major Sheppard. Got a couple of nervy scientists here who want to check everything is okay back there in case the wormhole decides to go wandering. How's the event horizon weather been?"

"Uh, Sunny and clear, Major. You're clear to come through." It was Walter. Walter was honest to a fault, and Rodney decided that he could shake it off as just pure paranoia, then.

"Okay then. After you," he gestured and noticed that Carson did lag a little bit before visibly pulled himself together and stepped through. He brought up the rear as he strolled through even as he saw Carson shrugging off his kit on the ramp and Teyla reassuring him about something even as he gave an automatic glance around the gate room.

Oh. Shit.

The problem with seeing was that once he Saw, he couldn't un-See, and most demons had a way of knowing that they'd been seen. He just hadn't expected the fucking gate-guards to be possessed.

His anxiety levels must've spiked because Carson was turning around with a frown to look at him and saying "John?" in puzzled tones even as he was drawing his dragonfire gun.

"Seal the goddamn gateroom!" he bellowed and shouted, "Take cover!"

But it was too late, the possessed guards were already moving.

One of them didn't even have to move — he had a nice mounted machine gun that he just started to fire, coating the bullets down. John rolled, looking for better cover, but he felt one hit his leg before he got all the way down.

Teyla was moving so fast she was seemingly dodging bullets but Carson was down and still on the ramp way. Sirens were going off and he felt, almost before he heard, the unmistakable thump of explosive charges somewhere in the complex.

No time for anything fancy; he was chanting and gesticulating his way through a nasty charm that would slow the bastards down, and looking for Rodney.


A bolt or a blob of something hit the one in the corner with the machine gun — it killed the host, but John felt it kill the demon, too. Off on the other side of the ramp then, hiding and fighting back.

Dragonfire had a satisfying snap and burn to it and he had his hands full, full enough that he only became aware of the fact that someone, something was challenging Rodney directly.

And it was powerful.

It was just a sensation off to his side, but they still had other people in the room, and there was a fight in the control room, and he needed to see how Carson was as well as how Rodney was. Teyla, thank God, kicked enough ass for two of them.

This was a complete disaster and John knew it. But if there was something that could be described as his own real genius, it was that he could do his best magic and his best spellcasting in the immediacy of battle.

A hot fiery rage fuelled his performing of the Gates and he managed to rip some of the lesser demons clear out of the bodies with the force of his anger. The others… just became visible and that was enough.

Rodney was engaged in a duel of some kind with a high-ranking demon lord. A Duke or a Prince, and it was getting nasty. Shapes and forms danced around them both and John started to realize this was where he needed to intervene. He saw Teyla reach Carson and turned to head to help Rodney.

He could see them gripped close; almost wrestling standing up, and John felt himself buffeted by the power they were throwing at each other. Oh, oh hell. How was he supposed to fight that, break that apart? Then the visions warped and he wasn't sure what was what and who exactly was who because they seemed to snap back and forth, Rodney facing one way and then the other.

Shapeshifter or chameleon. Fuck. Stupid leg. Well, he couldn't exorcise Rodney so he blanket aimed his exorcism at them, fishing for his Holy water so he could see who was going to flinch when he threw it. Then he was going to hit them with a blast of magic that would do more than sting a little.

It was moving fast, though, and the figures were moving, and it seemed like Rodney, maybe, was winning while John uncapped his Holy water and threw it towards them.

Then he felt the sucking power of a Gate.

"No!" He reached then, gripped hold of Rodney magically and pulled at him. How the hell had they opened a literal goddamn Hellgate here? That had to be against the rules. He bellowed as he pulled, and he was winning, he was fucking well winning… right up to the point a whole load of other demons literally threw themselves on him.

They were outnumbered, and the best John could do was try to fight back, fight them off fast, yelling any chant that came to hand, that came to mind, spilling Holy water at them to get room to go back to pulling at Rodney.

It was too late. John was clawing free, the drifting smoke in the room blocking his sight of Rodney, but even as he staggered upward to his feet he felt the snap and backwash of a gate closing. "McKay!"

Nothing. Nothing but the demons who were still behind, and some of them were letting their hosts go. Dammit, they'd been waiting for them to come through the gate.

He moved then, grabbing one of them and performing a fast and dirty binding on him. He wanted answers, and if they had grabbed Rodney and taken him to Hell, he needed them fast. And questioning was a whole lot easier than going through the rigmarole of summoning one to question. The words tripped off his tongue like a whip cracking out and he snagged one as it was trying to boil out of the body like black cloudy smoke. "You're not going anywhere," he snapped and put a binding rune on the host forehead, and then knocked him out.

The guy hadn't really deserved the blow to the head, but it felt good. John dragged him to a place he could be sure to find him, and turned to see where Carson was.

Carson was lying on the ramp still, Teyla over him and blood on her hands that had to be like a torture to her as she tried to stem the flow. "Major Sheppard, Dr. Beckett needs medical assistance immediately," she called out urgently.

Carson was moving weakly though, looking for him. "Rodney…"

"Medic! I've got a man down!" John shouted it over his shoulder, still moving towards Carson. "Okay, uh. Here, where was he hit?"

"In the side, John," Teyla said. "Lie down, Carson."

"Where's Rodney? I can't feel Rodney?" Carson kept trying to push himself up. "What's happened to him? He's not… he's not dead is he?"

"We'll talk about it later," John snapped, leaning in to try to pick Carson up. "I think we can carry him to help faster than help can get to us."

"Bloody hell, that hurts." Carson clamped his hand over the wound, and John saw a flare of power with his sight and the wound stopped bleeding — not that Carson noticed. "I need to know!"

"They took him through a gate. They moved so damn fast…" At least he had Carson up in his arms. "Teyla, can you stay with that guy I marked over there? We need to interrogate him. The demon's still in him."

"I will fetch Ronon," Teyla said with a feral smile of her own. "We will get answers. He knows what to do."

"Not… the Stargate?" Carson said looking up at him. "A gate to where? "

John was ignoring the problems with his leg as he carried him. It was kind of impressive, that he was walking when he shouldn't have been. Or stupid. He was feeling kind of lightheaded, but he could get Carson to the infirmary. It was the same floor and all. Besides, he probably needed to go there as well.

The corridor was filled with smoke and people hurrying around. Apparently this had been a major strike at the SGC; something he had warned them about. But they had waited for their team to come back before striking. Why? Surely it would have been easier to inflict damage without them there? They had to be after someone, and they assumed most people would go after Carson but they had left him and gone for Rodney.

They must've known who and what Rodney was.

Not that the SGC knew who and what Rodney was. It made sense that if they wanted to take most people down to Hell, they'd get claws into their souls, tempt them to do something horrible or stupid before death, and then kill them. But Rodney wasn't killable.

Rodney needed a Gate.

He almost dropped Carson when he crossed the threshold into the panickedly full infirmary. "I've got two gunshot victims."

Dr. Fraiser headed over to assess them hastily. "We've still got casualties coming in… Carson?"

"I'm all right, lass. Can't 've been that serious. The bleeding has nearly stopped." Carson replied as John put him down. "John was shot in the leg though."

"Yeah, working on it," John grumbled, leaning back from Carson and wobbling. "Dammit. They started shooting as soon as we came through the gate."

"We had detonation in key areas. Sorry about this, but it's protocol now." Janet splashed some Holy water on the two of them and when they didn't scream, she started moving swiftly to assess them. "Get up on the bed, Major," she ordered looking at Carson's wound with a puzzled look. "Well, it went through but… I'll need to check with some scans. By rights, you should have a shot liver. Must've just missed. Lie down, Carson, and you'll be seen to."

"We're down a man, and if it's possible I'd like to get back out there, brief the general…" Tell someone, anyone what was going on.

"Nothing's going to happen until I get this wound to stop bleeding," Dr. Fraiser said. "You could use whatever useful magic first aid you did on Carson."

"Wasn't me." John shrugged as he leaned back, while Fraiser examined Carson. "Really."

"Well." Janet looked them both. "Something has moved the healing along a few days. Let's take a look at you, Major, as Carson is stable."

"Sheppard!" O'Neill, it seemed, had come to find him. "What the hell just happened to my base?"

"Demon attack. Hey, do I look personally responsible for this, sir? We had a great mission on MX1-385, and were just coming back, when suddenly I've got demons wearing gate guards shooting at me."

"Waiting for you," Jack said. "They wanted to sabotage the place, that much is obvious, but why risk waiting?"

"One of them opened a Hellgate, and took McKay. He didn't try to take Carson, didn't try to take me, so I guess that was why they risked it." And Carson had a hinky feeling. He should have paid attention and done something. Dammit.

"Okay, pretend that if there was a briefing on Hellgates, I was unavoidably doing something else like sleeping," Jack said. "A Hellgate? Weren't they the things that were impossible because of the power drain? Like… Stargating to another galaxy or something?"

"So one of the demons that came up here was a big bad bastard. Rodney was having trouble with him, and I tried to hold on to him, to pull him out, but this guy was…" John could feel that moment where Rodney had slipped away and through the gate. "Took McKay to Hell."

"What?" Carson was trying to sit up. "Ow!"

"Don't make me sedate you, Carson," Dr. FraiserFraiser warned, from where she was digging around in John's leg.

"Rodney's in Hell? But… "

John grimaced and tried not to twitch, but Fraiser was digging in his leg, looking for the bullet. It might've been kinder if it had just blown out the other side, painwise. "Yeah, so. Sir."

"So, how do we get him out?" O'Neill asked, and John was kinda glad that Jack thought that way, but it didn't change the facts of the matter. You didn't just walk into Hell or you couldn't just walk out again.

"You need to open a gate. And hold a gate to get back out. None of us has the power to do that." Rodney would've had the juice to do just about it. He didn't toss his power around though.

"So you're saying they took our best magician and scientist and there's nothing we can do about it?" Jack replied looking stubborn.

"What about when I had that vision of you… you know…" Carson said, trying to be circumspect.

"You won't be able to get him free and back up," John said firmly. "And I don't want you risking it. You've just gone back in time before, not forward. And yes, sir, I'm sorry but yes. McKay could create a gate back here if he gets free, but he, that demon was so strong."

O'Neill was not happy about that, but it was true. Opening a gate to Hell was a big deal from either side.

"Fine. I'll want every detail you can get, but our priority will have to be to secure the SGC and push through the setting up of the wards," he said.

"Yes, sir. I want to discuss with you and Dr. Jackson about McKay when there's time." So they knew what had happened and how important it was to get him back.

"You do that," O'Neill replied, and then was interrupted by a Marine needing his attention.

"Got it." Dr. Fraiser brandished the bullet, and then hastily dressed the wound. "We'll finish you off later. Just don't go anywhere. Either of you."

She left the pair of them to move on to her next triage and Carson looked at him. "John… what are we going to do? We've got to get him back."

"I'm thinking." Not that it was getting him anywhere. They could both reach Hell astrally, but to mount a rescue, they needed to get down there physically. If it had been the other way around, Rodney could've done it for any of them…

"If we get into Hell, how do we get him back?" Carson asked sounding a little slurred. "Can we fight all of Hell?"

"I don't know. We just need to fight enough to get him back to a gate. We'll need to find him." They'd need to get into Hell first of all, above all else.

"We'll be able to do that." Carson tried to sound certain but it wasn't that convincing.

He'd been to Hell once or twice, touring. It wasn't his place, and the horrors and games that Samael had played hadn't been his interest. But human life led him there, interest, curiosity, and it was different both times.

It was different this time, too, and Rodney wished he wasn't there, bound up tightly.

"Rodney McKay… You know of all the aliases you could've picked, you chose Rodney? Really…" The demon paced around him smiling a familiar smile. "That is disappointing, Rodney."

"I like it." He shrugged with the tiny bit of movement room he had on that rack.

"I remember when you were proud to be known as Umabel. It's not exactly a 'kick-ass' name but it served," he said. "So, welcome to Hell. You were taking such a long time to get around to falling I really couldn't wait any longer…"

"I Fell far enough the first time. You don't have to be here, either. Samael knew he could leave," Rodney reminded. "Why haven't you gone after the others who are up there walking around?"

"Because they're not you." Abruptly the figure became devastatingly handsome with blue eyes, dark hair and a movie star chiseled jaw. "Remember what a good team we were? Our sphere overlapped, Rodney."

It was almost flattering, but Rodney couldn't. He reached for it, but it wasn't one of those faces that stuck with him. He remembered hundreds and hundreds of humans, Nephilim, cats. Creatures that left a mark in his heart and his mind, and this… Not so much. There was more to life than pretty. "What Sphere was that?"

"Well, I'm hurt, Rodney. Terribly hurt. Perhaps this is a face you remember?" The face shifted again. "Or this? Or how we discussed the Logos endlessly? Discussed the Sciences, and the stars in their courses…"

"Dantalion." Rodney pulled back a little, trying to pull harder at the bonds. He just needed a little slack to get free.

"The one and only," the demon bowed mockingly. "Perhaps this face would suit you better." And there was John, the spitting image of him down to his sticking up hair. He gestured a little and more bonds crawled their way over Rodney's body like cold metal snakes.

Rodney twisted, trying to stay tense, trying to have as much leeway as possible. There was no point in escaping while he was being watched like that. "Just knock that off."

"Well, you are in Hell. There are certain things that have to be done. Unless of course you agree to join me," Dantalion said. "Look at me, Rodney, I'm a Great Duke of Hell and what was I in the Host? And my influence is growing day on day. Science is a powerful force and we control it. The two of us together… well."

"Are you happy down here?" Rodney countered. "Are you happy living down here, surrounded by the politics and the seething demons? The creatures?"

"Ah well, there is power to be had. And in the end, knowledge is power, is it not?" The words sounded strange in John's voice. "We have the potential to have more Power than anyone would dream possible. Join me, Rodney."

"I have the power of freedom. Free from the games, from, from expectations," Rodney growled. "I do what I want."

"I think it would be better to do things my way," Dantalion answered. "Plus, you know… if the others knew I had an angel here and there was no screaming in unholy agony, there would be, huh, Hell to pay." The bonds tightened.

Rodney grimaced, twitching his muscles. "Hah hah. You were an angel, once. You don't have to be this way."

"No. Choice is the point, isn't it? I choose to do something with my power." Dantalion stroked down Rodney's chest. "It could be something… nice."

"No interest," Rodney told him again. "None. I do something with my power. I do what pleases me. I thought you'd respect that."

"Game has changed. Stargate opened and oh look, our sphere is sky-rocketing." The hand teased a little more. "We could kick ass on the old school."

Rodney focused, watching Dantalion's false face. "I don't fight anymore."

"Time is you have to pick sides Rodney. Your… friend Samael might think that he can stay neutral in that nightclub but he's a bigger fool than you would think for someone who ruled Hell," Dantalion replied. "Last chance. I don't want to kill you… but I am more than willing to break you and reform you obedient to my will."

"You're just one more power hungry idiot. You think you know everything, and you're all absorbed in the perfection of your plan." Rodney lifted his head, staring back at the shapeshifter. "Good luck."

Dantalion gestured a little, and the metal snake like bonds rose up like a hydra, their ends flattening to razors, or to needles. "It's more a question of skill."

And the silver metal crept along his skin until Dantalion flicked a finger here… and here and they dived beneath the skin to continue crawling beneath it.

It was agonizing, and Rodney hadn't felt pain like that in a long time. He could sublimate, he could focus elsewhere, anywhere. He could reach for meditation, but none of it was going to make Hell end any sooner.

"This is just the beginning, Rodney," Dantalion murmured in his ear as metal stitched its way through flesh like burrowing worms. "I do have control of electricity…" Another gesture and an electric current pulsed through the metal. "… heat… cold and all manner of physical properties. Let's explore them together shall we? In… infinite detail."

It was hard not to scream then, howling. The best he could hope for was that his physical form would die soon and he could reform himself elsewhere. Soon.

"Don't worry… we'll have plenty of time together. They can't come after you and time moves so much faster here. They're probably still bleeding on the floor of that gateroom. You could be here years… and I can destroy you and bring you back… over and over. Scream for me, Rodney."

He wasn't. He wouldn't. He wouldn't cooperate, wouldn't work with him, and wasn't going to do a damn thing he was told.

"Oh, you know, stoic isn't something you're famed for." Searing heat now, enough to cook flesh and make it sizzle. Something metallic creeping to twine around his cock. "Perhaps this is a turn on for you. Is that it? Does your dangerous human dabble in making marks on your flesh?"

"No." He croaked that out, trying not to choke at the smell. He started to shift power, looking for a way to shed his body, to let it ease away.

"Oh dear, Rodney, don't tell me you think you can just shuffle off this mortal coil?" Dantalion said in a mocking tone. "Why do you think I went to all the trouble of getting you here incarnate? It traps you in your body in Hell… and I can stop that body from dying. I don't want you dead, I want you as my faithful consort. Or my pet. Either would do." The metal constricted like wire pulled tight around his penis.

He swallowed hard, strangling back the scream that he wanted to give. "N-not. No. I won't."

"Not even now?" Sharp metal was crawling up the crack in his ass, pushing in. "This is but the games lovers play in Hell, Rodney. I could fuck you with these, send a probe into the fleshy pleasure centre of your brain and make you scream with pleasure while I am doing it. I can make you beg to feel barbed wire trailing over your skin because… oh, it'll make you tingle alllll over…"

Fuck. Rodney swallowed again, choking on it, gagging, because did Dantalion listen to himself?

"Tell me you never tried it, all those millennia amongst breeding, fucking, slutting humans? Didn't try anything and everything they had on offer." There was a definite sensation in his ass now and a low tingling of electricity targeting those areas.

"Tried less than you did, apparently. Never… crossed my mind to do this to myself."

"Then you do it to that soft looking human of yours?" There was a shift and instead of wearing John's face there was Carson there. "You know I love it when you do me…" lilted Carson's voice. "I can suck you, love, if that's what you want."

"Stop that." His voice came out rougher than he'd wanted it to, less firm. "Just. Stop that."

"Why would I want to do that? You are an angel. I beg for every touch from you like the good little slave you want me to be, secretly deep down. You want me on my knees. You'd love to see me bound and open for you. I can see your thoughts, love, all those nasty deep subconscious lizard brain impulses skittering around in the dark. How you want to take and be taken. Bruise and delve… be their world because you are so lonely. So damn lonely…" The last was a hiss in his ear and he'd forgotten Dantalion had the skill to look into those thoughts.

He still went stiff, because the pain was abating but the creature was wearing Carson's face. "So? And you're not lonely?"

"Oh no, why should I be lonely when I have you. For years, and years…" He licked down the side of his face. "Mmm. I do love you, you know."

"You're mimicking love. You've never loved." And he just had to keep it together, ride through the pain and the time distortions.

"How could you say that to me?" Dantalion sounded hurt and it was easy to hear Carson in him. He raised a hand and another long jolt rode through the metal.

Rodney did scream then, did let go and just howl with the pain of it, because there was nothing else to do and he couldn't hold back that building agony any more.

"Yes, scream it out Rodney. Make me believe it… this is only the first of many…"

He could barely hear it over the sound of his own screams but it sounded like Dantalion was laughing.

The pain in his side wasn't actually as debilitating as he thought and he was eager to do something. But no, it was get some rest, Carson. You need to take it easy and yes, I did slip you a sleeping pill. The disadvantage of that was seeing, feeling Rodney in Hell. The scream was half his own, half Rodney's, as he bolted awake.

"Carson?" John called up the stairs at him. "You all right?"

"Oh God…" The images were still there, ghostly and flickering in front of him so he could barely see the real world. "No… no…"

No, he wasn't bloody well all right.

John pushed the bedroom door open, and he seemed prepared for anything, looking at Carson before he sat beside him. "Hey, it's just me. I was just downstairs making coffee."

He was shaking and he kept trying to clear the images, but no. It was like a waking nightmare. "I can see it… see and feel what they are doing to Rodney.. oh God, John.."

He almost didn't expect for John's face to stay so grim while he sat there, looking at Carson. "Is he still alive?"

"Yes… Yes, I… could hear them. He's keeping him alive. He can't let go of the body. A reason for taking him to Hell completely."

"We need to talk to the General about McKay," John said after a moment. They'd been released to go home, and Jack had said he'd wanted to talk to them all when they had clearer heads.

Carson closed his eyes trying to squeeze the images away. "And what is he going to do, John? What can he do?"

"We have two options. We can use that angel feather and try to summon one to help us. Or we can find Samael." Clearly rather than resting, John had been giving his options some thought.

"Samael. He mentioned Samael and a nightclub," Carson said. "Would a summoned angel help Rodney, though? Or would Samael?"

"My experience is that any angel we summoned would say that Rodney had it coming." John shifted. "I'm going to get you some weak coffee, okay?"

"Okay." Carson closed his eyes a little. What help would telling O'Neill be then? That surely left Samael as their only option. Maybe…maybe he could find out where Rodney was or something.

John came back up the stairs slowly, a little while later. "See, the thing is that if I go into Hell, I might not come back. I kind of want the SGC to know that I didn't just go AWOL."

"Oh." Well, that was a good point. "Well, we could leave a message? We… we can't just leave him there, John." Carson said taking the coffee in shaking hands. "He's… he's trying break him. Not kill him. Break him."

John was holding onto his own cup, and sat back down beside Carson again. "Yeah. I know. Are you all right with being left here if I head back in to go back and forth with them a while? I need some of the things we've been using as equipment. And then you and me are getting a plane out to LA."

"Yeah, okay." He looked at John. "Is there anything I can do? I feel useless. And Rodney…" Was being tortured in Hell, images compressed at speed flickering in his head.

"He's going to need you when I get him out of there." John's mouth compressed tightly. "Okay? So just… be there for him. With me."

"But you can't go in there alone, John. I know you are…" Carson gestured trying to find a way of saying ruthless and dangerous in a way that did not sound bad. "…but this isn't one demon. It's Hell."

"If I get close enough to the place where he is, then I might be able to pull it off. Look… We don't have much else for options."

"Can you… Maybe someone like Teyla or Ronon, or another magician can back you up? One of the hunters like Cadman?" Carson suggested. If there was a group, maybe he could sneak in. "I can be useful somehow."

"I wouldn't do that to a hunter. Hell's one of those places that can drive a person mad…" John sipped at his coffee. "I'm still going to have to talk to the General. Particularly if we want reinforcements."

"I still think I should come," Carson said. "I'm going with you to find this Samael."

"You can come with, but I'm not handing you over to Hell, Carson." John scruffed a hand through his hair. "You need anything?"

"No, no, lad, I'm fine." It was a lie because he knew the moment he closed his eyes he'd be back there again. But maybe he could get Rodney to sense him. Give him comfort that they were trying to get to him. "You should rest. Before talking to Jack."

"I can't sleep." John shrugged his shoulders. "I'll come back and catch a little, once I get things squared away."

Carson half wished John would come and join him, but that would make sure neither of them slept properly. "I'll pack a few things?"

"Nah, just rest. I should be back within a couple of hours." John took another swig of the coffee, and then went to get Carson the remote for the smaller TV in the bedroom.

Carson lay back. John had to get the all clear, they had to go. He just knew they had no choice but to get Rodney back, and the sooner the better.

John could almost ignore the pain in his leg because all he was thinking about, mulling over and returning to, was Rodney. Hearing Carson scream had confirmed all his worst fears, because he knew how swiftly time could pass in Hell. He could be tortured for years down there before they could even get going. They had to go find this Samael tomorrow because there was a growing chance that even if he could pull off the impossible, there wouldn't be enough of Rodney left to bring home.

So here he was, disturbing the brass so he could drop a proverbial bombshell.

He didn't want to do it. It was Rodney's secret to share, but without that key information, there was no way they'd mount any rescue. If he was a wizard, well, wizards were mortal. He'd already be dead, and then his soul would be in Hell, and that got messy when there was no body.

But they'd taken him incarnate for the purpose of controlling him, and that meant John could get him back. He knocked on O'Neill's door, automatically casting around for anything spelled, charmed or likely to ambush him.

"You waiting for anyone?" And of course, the man would sneak up behind him. "Sheppard, didn't expect to see you in here so soon."

"Sir," John gave a salute. "I need to discuss something with a ranking officer." If he could get Jack on his side, then the rest would be easy.

Going up the chain more directly had always served John better than skipping guys to get to the real power. It was even better when the real power was the guy he was chatting with. "Oh, yeah, uh… Sure, what can I do for you, Sheppard?" He stepped around John to unlock his office door.

"It's about McKay. About rescuing McKay. I need to tell someone about why it's important that we get him back at any cost," John said in a low voice. He was going to cast a cloaking spell when they were inside.

"Sheppard, I know that losing a team mate is hard," Jack said, sort of eyeing John like he was a dog that was going to go crazy at any moment. "But we can't save a soul from Hell."

"Dr. Jackson told you that?" John asked as he stepped inside after the Colonel. "Research would suggest that, yes."

"You've said so yourself, Sheppard. Look, you can't change facts because they piss you off. We'll all miss McKay. I'm sorry it happened."

John muttered under his breath, flinging the anti-scrying charm out. "Sir, I need to divulge information. I am breaking a confidence in doing so, and it's about Rodney McKay."

"Strangely, I feel as if I should be shocked by this. And I'm not." Jack moved to sit down behind his desk. "Okay, let's get started."

"We need to get McKay back. Not just because he's our strongest magician but…." This was difficult. "He's an angel. He's not dead in Hell, they're trying to turn him."

"McKay. Our McKay is an angel. Rodney McKay, who made one of our mess cooks cry last week over the macaroni and cheese, is an angel?" Jack looked more than a little skeptical at that pronouncement.

"This is probably the point to say that most of the angels I've come across are not into touchy feely crap and are generally assholish," John answered. "Rodney's a Fallen, but there are a few of them who walked away from heaven but stayed away from Hell. He's one of those."

"You're not kidding." Jack kept his eyes focused hard on John. "I… need to page Daniel, Major, if you'd just wait."

"The fewer people we can keep it to the better, sir," he suggested. "I can wait."

"You're talking about sending a rescue party to Hell. And you might not have noticed, but you're short the guy I'd suggest you take with you for such an asinine non-plan — McKay." The Colonel moved to pick up one of their radios. "Daniel, do you have a minute?"

The answer was evidently a yes in a roundabout way, which he understood. He tried not to think of each moment as Rodney suffering in Hell. He tried not to think too hard on what was going on down there, about whether Rodney could collapse and give in to them or not. He hoped Rodney wouldn't.

Daniel turned up, not bothering to knock, John noticed. "What's the problem, Jack?" he said as he came in, giving John a look.

"Sheppard here has… well, Daniel. What was your favorite theory about what McKay was? C'mon, say it. We can all have a laugh now." Jack gestured for him to close the door.

Daniel looked around. "Well, I didn't sense human from him. The amount of power I've seen him exhibit is far and away above anything else I have witnessed, so.. I theorized he was potentially a half-breed of daemon blood, as he has human characteristics. Perhaps like the descendents of the Nephilim."

"So close, Daniel. So close." Jack paused for a beat, and then said, "He's a Fallen angel."

He could see the moment when it all clicked into place in Daniels head. "Oh. Oh of course. Well that makes sense. Perfect sense."

"Glad you think so," Jack commented. "Apparently this makes a difference."

"Well yes, obviously it would. It would explain why he targeted him," Daniel commented.

"And why, according to the Major here, we need to rescue him," Jack suggested. "Because he only… half fell?"

"He calls himself Switzerland," John deadpanned. "They don't want him dead, they want to break him and remake him on their side. If they managed it, they get the benefit of his sphere of influences."

"Did he tell you what they were? Has to be something science related, I don't think even a Fallen can avoid their nature," Daniel commented.

"It's science. Scientific inquiry, maybe. Atoms, look, I'm not sure. It was science related." John tried not to sound or get emotional in front of them. "He's mostly wandered around being a muse to scientists. Oppenheimer and Tesla are two he mentioned."

"Really?" Daniel seemed fascinated and leaned forward.

"Daniel, we're losing sight of the problem here," Jack said. "Seriously, how does this change things? Way everyone was talking, it's an impossible thing getting into Hell or getting someone out."

Damn, if only he could remember Rodney's angel name, then Jackson could at least squirrel off with a book. "Gates can be opened into Hell. If someone else had been snatched, Rodney could've opened a gate there. He has enough power to do it. But he was the one taken. He says he can't be killed, so he's still alive down there. Just… being tortured. If he becomes one of them, just imagine the security risk we have on our hands, Colonel. To humanity. Rodney's been here, on earth, he knows humans, he knows the governments, he understands it in a way most demons never could. He, uh…"

Nice place to falter while he was making his case. "Umabel. His real name is Umabel, Dr. Jackson, maybe there's something you can do with that."

"Right." Daniel Jackson nodded. "I can research that now. I don't think we can summon him. Unless he turns demon… in which case we could perform a conjuration."

The whole point was to stop that from happening. "Wait…" Jack narrowed his eyes. "You said you could get into Hell. You didn't say anything against getting out again. Or that anyone else could go with you?"

"I could go to Hell astrally. I've been there before. I wasn't honestly planning against taking anyone with me, because you're not going to like my first option of who can open a physical gate for us." John squared his shoulders a little, staying focused.

"And that is?" Jack asked. "I've gotta know the risks involved."

"Rodney calls him Samael. He's running a nightclub in LA." John cleared his throat a little. "It's where he went when he got all of the stuff we're using, so I'd say that recent, familiar contact with Samael might predispose him to humoring us when I ask him to open a gate to Hell."

"Okay, and why might we not like him?" Jack asked looking at Daniel who looked up.

"Uh, Samael, was, I believe the name of the Fallen angel, who is colloquially known as Satan. The Devil." Daniel looked at John. "Assuming that the lore is correct."

"What? What the hell, Sheppard?"

"It's our only option." John shrugged his shoulders tightly. "He's mentioned a few others, but I can tell they don't get along — there was a, uh, Sandalphon, and a Melios, Melior? He still talks to Samael."

"Okay…so, this is a high level demon who might just help you out. Is he going to get you and McKay out of Hell as well?" Jack said. "Noticed you've avoided that part of my question every time."

"This is a Fallen angel who might just help us out. I'm betting he won't read as a demon, any more than Rodney does. Our options for getting out… Samael can sit at the gate and keep it open for us. Or Rodney can open a gate of his own to get out." Which meant that if he didn't find Rodney, there was no getting out. "Carson would prefer it if I went with a team of some sort, but Hell's… a dicey place. It's Chaos."

"What are the odds if you take a team with you?" Jack asked, and it was encouraging he was talking in possibilities. "Someone like me?"

"Higher, sir. You're very good at what you do." Even if that was mostly staying supremely confident in a tight tactical situation, John had to respect it. "I don't think you'd succumb to the place. I don't think Dr. Jackson would, or Teyla, or Dex, or a lot of our people. I wouldn't do it to the Hunters though, sir."

"And what are the odds of getting McKay out of there intact?" Jack pushed. John could tell he wanted there to be a rescue mission and that was good, but he had to do a risk analysis. "Can't send a team in there if it's gonna be a suicide mission for them. One thing when it's a team…" He glanced again at Daniel who was studying them both.

"If we can use Carson to work out where in Hell McKay is, then we can have the gate open extremely close to his location. I'd say that we have an 80 percent chance of getting there under those circumstances. If we can reach McKay, he will come out intact."

"Are you taking Beckett with you?" Jack asked. "Assuming I can get a mission past General Hammond."

"I'm not taking him into Hell with me, no," John murmured. "He's worth too much in Hell."

"More than you?" Jack raised his eyebrows. "Kinda got the impression you were a wanted man. Okay, look, I'll try and get a small black ops style team authorized."

"Thank you, sir. Do you want me to stay here, or…?" Jackson probably wanted to have words with him, maybe, but that was the only thing John could think of.

"You might as well. Draw up a hypothetical team if we get the go ahead," Jack instructed. "Go with Daniel — you might be able to give him shortcuts."

"Yes, sir." He moved towards the door, waiting for Jackson. The sooner he could get going, the better. He already had a sense of his hypothetical team — Teyla, Ronon, himself, Jack, Daniel, Sam. If he could have them. Lorne and Ford if he couldn't.

Dr. Jackson headed out ahead of him. "I knew that there was more than met the eye. I had a distinct sense of limitless horizons when I touched him," he said as they headed to his office. "I have some lore that might be applicable."

"I'm all ears, Dr. Jackson." John followed him towards Daniel's office, just feeling… hopeful in the face of the danger they were facing.

"Angelic entities, as you know, have strict levels of rank, power and areas of influence. Within their area of influence, they have the capacity and legitimacy to develop things, instigate breakthroughs, cause miracles," Daniel replied. "Some spheres of power have more potential than others. If Rodney's is something to do with sciences, then I can understand why he is wanted and it will give us a clue how hard they will be defending him."

"I suspect it's going to be pretty bad." There was no point in being overly optimistic. "And if a mission team isn't approved, I'm still going in."

"Yes, well, I figured as much," Daniel replied even as they entered his office. "Jack would look the other way if you did. He's been known to do that a few times."

"I can't just leave him there." He moved into the room, and started to scan and search immediately. The place felt oddly well warded to him.

Daniel followed his look. "Rodney did that… made a ward out of his blood in front of me."

"Do you mind if I…?" John leaned up to pick it up off the inside of the door jam. "This… could be useful."

"If it helps, then by all means." Daniel gestured for him to sit down.

He could do magic with it. Blood calling to blood. It wouldn't work across a dimension but once they were in Hell? Even if they moved Rodney they would have their own lifesigns detector keyed into him.

He sat slowly, still cradling it. It was funny, but for all of his apparent lack of faith in God, Rodney kept using more Holy-leaning charms than he had to use. There were easier ways to do a powerful room ward.

Still, it played in their favor. He could find him. He just didn't want to think too hard, be like Carson and have it overwhelm him. He needed to be able to fight.

"You know, there is one common element to mortals successfully retrieving someone from Hell," Daniel said interrupting his train of thought.

"What is it?" He clutched tightly to the oddly humming piece of work.

"They were in love." Daniel looked at him, and okay, he was a sensitive. It was easy to forget that. Carson didn't make a big deal about what he knew and he knew he wasn't easy to read.

John cleared his throat. "You know that 'don't ask, don't tell' thing? Yeah."

"Powerful Magicians are often bisexual. In virtually all cultures." Daniel looked at him over the rim of his glasses. "Allowing them to draw from male and female sources of power, apparently. Some Native Americans revere the berdache as a bridge between worlds. If the SGC want a force of mages then they're going to have to reconsider policy."

John waved one hand from side to side. "Yeah, well, if you'd like to file the petition for that… But McKay and I are good friends. What are some of the other traditions revolving around that?"

"The getting out is harder than getting in. There's some sort of price to pay as well. But that's usually for death… Rodney was taken from us," Daniel pointed out as he leafed through a book. "Uziel…Uriel… Umabel.. ah, here we are."

He saw Daniel start to frown. John just clenched his teeth and waited for more words. "Anything good?"

"Well, that depends," Daniel said. "Umabel has… astrophysics, sciences … and more to the point, the stars as his realm. Back in human history that was… well, abstract. The stars were nothing much. Now though…"

"The stars are being studied. Hell, we're out there." And that would mean that Rodney was more powerful, not less. Maybe he was just more inhibited, but not less powerful.

"Exactly. It means who controls or has Rodney on their side may… effectively come out on top," Daniel replied. "Out there at least. Rodney's had a promotion and he doesn't even realize it."

"Doesn't care," John shrugged. "He wants to sit on the couch, eat Cheetos, make his cat chase string and watch bad TV. I mean it. He loves being like a normal guy."

"Which is good in one respect, but if they break him…" Daniel trailed off. "You're right, we need to get him back."

"Yeah." And not even for that reason. He was important, and he was protecting Carson, and John wanted him back. It was a holistic sense that his life wouldn't be the same, as interesting, as… good without Rodney.

In some ways that was more terrifying than the descent into Hell would ever be. He'd never had someone he'd want to really be with before and now he had two. Rodney was grouchy, snarky, petty and brilliant but John wouldn't trade any of that for all they had only know each other for a few months.

"How many times have you been to Hell, Sheppard?" Daniel asked that slowly, curiously giving him a strange look.

"Too many," he replied. "Sometimes it's necessary."

"What… would you honestly do if you had a team backing you up?" Daniel was leafing through his books, and standing up to get another one.

"Create a distraction, inflict as much damage as we could to thin out their ranks and then go after McKay, and get him out." John replied as if it was that simple.

It was never that simple, but he still felt like it could be. "And you really think that this… Samael would hold a gate open for us?"

"I think I can persuade him," John answered a little vaguely. He had no idea if Samael would open it and keep it open, but he was sure he could offer him something. Rodney would kill him if he offered him his soul though.

He'd figure it out when he got there. "I see." Daniel gave him a funny look over the rim of his glasses. "That's very heartening to hear."

"Yeah, well…" John shrugged a little. He wasn't sure what else he could do.

"I would suggest making supplies that you might need to produce an assault on Hell," Daniel replied. "Some form of mission is going to take place… one way or another."

Whether he was approved for it or not, yeah. "Then I'll be in the store-room if you need me."

Daniel just nodded, still watching him as he moved away and he could feel the light sensation of being watched by the sensitive even after he had moved out of direct line of sight. He had to keep going because Rodney would be waiting for them and he just hoped he was fixable if they managed to get him back.

By the time they were making their way to the infamous nightclub of Satan, rather incongruously called Lux, Carson was feeling like he hadn't slept for months. Every time he closed his eyes, he was there seeing and feeling what was happening to Rodney. It had started when he was awake and he managed to be there a few times when Rodney was alone and reach to touch him, speak to him even though he knew Rodney wouldn't hear words. He hoped it was enough, because it was very bad.

Every time he touched in with Rodney, he was being mutilated. It seemed a constant process, stopping just long enough for some parts of Rodney to heal so he could be mutilated all over again. And again. They seemed to have an endless taste for it, unstoppable, and Carson always had the sensation of time moving impossibly fast.

And he wasn't even going to go in there. John had refused pointblank to allow him. Put up against the team he had of Teyla, Ronon, Jack, and Sam, he supposed he could understand why, but even so, he felt like a coward.

Lux, rather surprisingly, looked just like an ordinary nightclub from the outside. "This is it?" There was even a roped off line that was probably seven people deep — dressed up people, women in tight, beautiful dresses and men dressed up sharply. Carson wished he could see what sort of crawling creatures they might be underneath of their skin, but that was possibly his own expectations of the place.

Rodney had spoken of Samael, after all, like he was some beautiful being.

It seemed a little odd to find him in a common dime a dozen nightclub, no different to anywhere else.

"I don't sense anything," Ronon said almost scenting the air.

"He's good at concealing himself," John said.

Carson concentrated a little. There was just the faintest tinge of something under the surface. Enough to give the impression that a predator lurked beneath the calm surface of a lake or a perfectly camouflaged beast breathed and gave a hint of presence.

"He will know we are here?" Teyla half-stated, half-asked.

"I'm gonna guess that the answer to that is 'yes'. If the duffle bags don't tip him off." Jack rocked back on his heels. "Well, kids, want to get in line and scare the doorman?"

The doorman appeared impassive, as if a group looking serious and focused and ready for action was a normal sight. They didn't even get queried, just waved inside.

John seemed to know where he was going, and the rest of them just tagged along. There was no way of knowing if John actually knew where he was going, but Carson followed, staying close to him, and it was hard not to turn and stare and look at the people because there were hints that not everything was as it seemed. It might've been a normal nightclub, but there were people of their ilk there, too. The waitress in the red cape and hood, and the half-mask caught Carson's attention as they passed her, as something particularly old and strong.

It was more than a little unnerving and in his attempt to track down what that all meant that he missed the fact they had arrived and John was talking to someone. He was just trying work out if this was the infamous Satan when it turned out that it wasn't. They were led to a quiet corner where a man appeared to be sipping cocktails.

"Quite the little war party you all have here." He looked beautiful, handsome, with sharp, fine features. The eyebrows were dark, and his hair was blond, his eyes bright, bright blue with the suggestion of a gold ring glittering at the edge. "So, what are you all? Hunters? I wouldn't try anything ill advised."

"Think of us more as a rescue mission," John replied smoothly. "I've come to ask a favor, not hunting."

'I've' not 'we've'. John was pitching it as his responsibility, and that was surely dangerous.

"And what if I'm not interested?" He sat back, twisting a wine glass in his fingers. "Very little interests me, John Sheppard."

"I'm sure you could find something you'd like," John answered, shifting a hip none too subtly.

Carson blinked. John was making a very open offer there. And Samael sounded as though he knew John, as well.

The man lifted his eyes, and looked hard at every one of them, an almost physical sensation as part of the looking. And then he cut his eyes to John. "I believe you are making some interesting, yet base, assumptions about me."

"Not necessarily," John answered. "You know Rodney McKay. He's the reason for the mission."

He tilted his head a little, not quite looking at John. The power Carson felt coming from him was intense. "I see. And you need a doorway made."

"I do," John said simply. "We're going in against some of the Dukes and Princes of Hell. I want him back."

Just like it was that simple. And maybe it was that simple. Carson wasn't sure. "Lux closes at two a.m. You can come back then, or you can wait."

"You have terms?" John asked. "Carson here is staying behind."

He got the impression that this was some kind of a test of Samael's intentions as well, but he wasn't sure, and everyone else was staying silent, waiting as much as he was.

"I have no terms. Your doom is your own to write." He started to stand up, taking his wine glass with him. "Do any of you play the piano?"

"I only sing a wee bit," Carson put in during the resounding silence that followed. "Rodney, he…"

And he stopped wavering as another vision of Hell swept over him out of nowhere.

He was dying in slow motion, fractions and atoms, the spaces between atoms, particles crashing together, little shards and shreds of his power bleeding off in licks to try to preserve himself. He felt like he was slipping apart, because he couldn't tell where he ended and the pain began. He didn't remember pain like that. He'd been hurt, wounded, pulled apart, but dissection couldn't compare for time and effort.

"I can make this stop," a familiar voice murmured. "I just need your word. Join me, Umabel. There will be pleasure again. Ask me to end it."

He wanted to. He couldn't even recall why he hadn't, wasn't agreeing in the first place, just that he wasn't, that he wouldn't, that he didn't. Didn't want to, didn't think it was right, something. Something worth fighting the agreement. "No." His voice sounded in his head louder than it could have sounded in reality.

"Would you like to meet your liver or your kidneys?" Dantalion asked pleasantly enough as pain sliced into him. "I told you I would teach you anatomy inside and out."

The strange thing of it was that in all of that pain, he never felt like he was fading away. He could feel his power, running laps inside of him, trying to repair the damage as it happened, trying to compensate even though he was bound down by the laws of the dimension.

They couldn't kill him physically here but that could be a curse in a place where torture was the main recreational habit. Sometimes Dantalion let lackeys at him. Sometimes he was left alone impaled on something or slowly dying. He almost looked forward to that because it was then that he could feel the presence.

It was just a whisper of familiarity, and he'd felt it before — reedy, but forceful enough that he could talk to it, sometimes, even if the other side of the conversation was lacking. And so brief, but it was like being given water in a desert.

What he'd do for water.

He wasn't sure which way he hated most of being killed but starving to death and dying of thirst had a sharp edge of realism to them. The gratuitous violence left the body in shock half the time and he was numbed to a lot of the horrible things. After the first few times mutilation lost the shock value and became about pain. And as the body automatically tried to deal with shock with a detachment and numbness, then he was dealing with it. Resisting. But it had been a long time now. He wasn't sure if he could last forever. He'd try, though. He had a feeling that he had forever behind him and forever in front of him, and all of that behind him made him think he could last at least a while.

"Here… are you hungry?" Dantalion asked. "We could be working at this a while. You should keep your strength up. I have some raw meat here."

Oh yes, very unsubtle. The demon liked to feed him bits of himself in a mockery of food."Rather not. Thanks." He swallowed, throat dry, and while choice wasn't an option, defiance was.

"Sure? It's very fresh," the demon mocked him. "Here… perhaps I could make it into a liver pate. A little brandy, a little seasoning…perfect. More succulent than a foie gras…"

"Fail to see the allure of perverting everything this way." Demons wandered past wearing intestines from their victims, carrying limbs like shovels, fancied up into extravagant beasts and creatures, some in mimicry of long dead beasts and long dead civilizations. None of it held any allure to him.

"Sometimes, Rodney, I don't think you are really getting into the spirit of things. A few more years and you won't remember your own name. Then I will remake you. Rescue you and rebuild you. And you will never know that was not how you always were." The blade danced in front of his face then.

He was going to cut it. He was going to do something, peel his face off — and there was a lingering thought of 'again'; but Rodney wasn't sure why — and he leaned forwards a little, the tiny bit of leeway he had, and whispered, "I still have my wings."

That seemed to enrage the demon. "I am a Great Duke of Hell, I fly on wings woven by my thought and will from shadow and fire. Do not pretend that feathers are better than that. I can fly but I don't need God's grace to do so." He slashed hard in rebuke, parting skin from muscle.

He took a minute to gasp, hanging limply against the chains. "You miss it. You know they weren't just feathers. You miss what you turned your back on. You made the wrong choice like the rest of us and then kept making them."

"Oh, wanting redemption, are we? And what of the chains of obedience, of never questioning when it was in our nature to question. How can we have been created to explore the wonders of the universe and blindly obey?" Dantalion replied viciously. "Ever get the feeling you've been screwed over?"

"Just recently." And just going back and forth with Dantalion solidified why, why he wasn't going to give in, not just yet. No matter how much it hurt.

He had been losing his memories. Pain would do that, degrade awareness to the here and now of blade, blood and pain but he was different. He didn't belong here for all his doubts and anxieties; this was not where he was meant to be. Someone was looking for him, and looking out for him and he'd be screaming today, tomorrow and on and on but he knew that much. If their positions were reversed, Dantalion was truly damned.

Carson shuddered, having to steady himself on the nearest person, who turned out to be Samael. That was a mistake as well. A second vision hit him right between the eyes, this time of a being so bright and glorious that Carson was sure if he'd been looking at him with physical eyes, they would've been burned away.

John was pulling him away, and it broke the image, but Samael was staring at him. "I think you could use a drink after that." And then his gaze seemed to open up, and he looked at all of them, him, John, Jack, Teyla, Ronon, Sam, and declared, "You're all my guests. Please, speak to Beatrice at the bar and she'll take care of you."

"Thank you," Carson answered. All he wanted to say was, 'You're beautiful,' but it wasn't the sort of thing he could just say. It was as if he had glimpsed a moment of whom the Fallen angel had been, and maybe even forgotten himself.

"We'll be ready," John said, still tense and resting his hand on Carson protectively.

"When we close for the night. This sort of thing takes an excessive amount of floor space!" He moved towards the piano, and seemed content to no longer interact with them — or perhaps playing was his new interaction.

"Well, that was easier than I thought," Jack commented, even as Ronon headed towards the bar for drinks. "You didn't have to give anything."

"I'm not finding this comforting," John remarked quietly.

"I found him to be very personable," Teyla remarked, moving to sit down at one of the tall chairs, still graceful while she settled her pack of equipment at her feet. "As one would expect."

"What do you mean?" Sam asked frowning a little even as Carson sat heavily, leaning back. The images still burned in his mind. Rodney in pain and then Samael before the Fall. The music was soothing and he needed that.

"Many cultures depict him as quite pleasant." Teyla smiled at Sam as though she was an idiot, which was probably why Teyla and Rodney had gotten along on missions — as long as Rodney wasn't complaining about his feet. "And charming."

"Who, the boss?" The woman behind the bar was youngish, smiling blond, and there was nothing she he could sense about her. Nothing. "He's great."

"Aye," Carson said without thinking. "I can see that." He looked over at the man playing the piano, a weird feeling falling over him suddenly. He couldn't put his finger on it but he had a sense their connection was going to grow in the very near future. Whatever that meant.

"So, what's your fancy? You all seem… happier than the usual people who ask after the boss." It was hard to tell if she even knew who her boss was, and Carson wasn't going to be the one to say.

"You know what? I'll have a cheap beer. You got anything in a green glass bottle?" Jack leaned against the counter, smiling at Sam. "Daniel's going to be angry that we made him sit this one out."

"I'll have a scotch," Carson said resolving not to have any more but trying to stop his head from spinning. "Don't think getting drunk will help much though."

"Water," Sam told the woman, who pointed to John next.

"And for you?"

"Vodka." John answered. Perhaps he was more shaken or anxious about what they were going to do than he let on. "We've got hours yet."

"Waiting here?" Ronon shrugged. "Beer me, I'll drink whatever."

"One cheap beer, one scotch, one water, a vodka, and a beer," the bartender rattled off. "I'll be right back."

John waited until they had gone before saying, "What did you see this time?" to Carson.

"Same as before," he admitted. "Rodney. He's slipping away. Not broken yet, but…"

"We'll get him back." John sounded determined every time he said it, but Carson wasn't sure he was sure. There was a hint of 'or we'll die trying'.

"Well, I'm not going downstairs for the fun of it," Jack put in. "Do we know where we're going?"

John shifted his shoulders. "Roughly, sir." More like 'hardly at all' because it wasn't as if Carson could contextualize where this one place was.

He'd picked up the name of who had Rodney, hoping they could summon him somehow and bind him to give him back. It seemed that summoning a Great Duke would be possible… but after months of preparation and then it was dicey. They didn't have that long. Rodney didn't have that long.

He'd managed to get images of a place, a set of towers, a road and a city of fire that John had nodded and appeared to recognize. "We could use some more intel," Jack said pointedly.

"We could ask our host," Teyla suggested, and that was such an easy suggestion that it didn't surprise Carson that none of them had thought of it. Or said it out loud if they had.

Ronon made a noise of assent. "If anyone would know, he would," he commented.

"Anyone feel like asking?" Jack said pointedly. "I'd say Dr. Beckett or Major Sheppard are ideal for that."

Carson didn't want to go over to the piano, and yet he did. It was a strange, torn feeling that he didn't want to get much further involved in. John twisted his head, and looked back towards the piano. "Yeah. I'll go."

"I'll go with you," Carson said hastily. He wasn't sure why he had an attraction of sorts to the Fallen angel but he appeared to be drawn even while another part of him panicked. He followed John over, a little hesitantly.

"I wouldn't stand between a diva and his light source," Samael drawled, not looking up at them. "Yes?"

"We were wondering," Carson said. "If you would be able to give us a wee bit of help? I'm afraid I'm not as precise with my information as I should be."

"I wouldn't expect you to be," he drawled. He was still playing, not even breaking a sweat. "Sit down, Carson. Tell me what you've been seeing."

John leaned against the piano even as Carson sat.

"I've been seeing Rodney being tortured mostly," he said in a low voice. "The one who has him keeps changing his face. He's appeared as us, as people I don't recognize. He's trying to break him to his cause. Rodney called him Dantalion and they are in some sort of castle like building. I saw towers rising beyond a city of fire. A black lake of something was to the right and forward."

"There is no way to quantify where that is. I can place you all near it, however, if it still has the same location." He seemed to be idling through some composition, stopping and replaying a piece here and there, reworking it as he went.

"He is still in those towers," Carson said.

"Which are in the heart of Hell," John added from where he was watching them. "Carson is… talented. Rodney might've consulted with you about him."

"Sheppard, while I appreciate your less than subtle suggestions, I was the first being to draw conclusions on this planet. The heart of Hell has moved since I grew weary of living there and left."

"May I ask why you left?" Carson questioned although he wasn't sure where that urge came from. He was getting that a lot. Prompts from nowhere to ask, say or do something.

"I was bored. Tired. I'd spent millennium watching human beings torture themselves." He moved up the piano keys, towards the lighter, more sprightly sounds. "I told this to an old friend of mine, but it bears repeating. No one from any one religion ended up there more than the others. People who believed they were going to be punished for their evil deeds punished themselves. They moaned, they screamed, and when I fired the hoards of demons, when I locked the gates of Hell and closed it before it passed on to new management, there were mortal souls there protesting that they deserved, needed to be punished further."

Carson nodded. "I saw you. Before," he blurted out. "You are…" He flushed a little and stopped. "You were right. It was the right thing to do."

He seemed contemplative, looking at Carson. "I don't have regrets. There is a third way."

"Yes." Carson was suddenly very sure of that. "The way those of you like Rodney and yourself take."

John was looking at him quizzically, but it felt like he had to say it or something. He had to say something.

"Umabel is ultimately good. Better natured, better aligned than I was ever inclined to be, though much weaker. He cares about you humans, takes you under his wings, tends to you, mourns you when you pass. I have no such interests." He lifted his head, and looked at John. "I can hear your thoughts, Sheppard."

"Really?" John slouched with nonchalance. "And what was I thinking?"

"I have no interest in turning Beckett here. He's a unique creature, key to our present time. I have no interest in any of your souls. This is an amusing diversion to me." It seemed as if he was answering thoughts or questions that John had.

"He seems pretty well disposed towards you for a first meeting," John answered and Carson cleared his throat.

"John I… just like him. It is possible to do that, you know. "

"Paranoia knows no bounds. I have other business to attend to, gentlemen, but I expect you all to still be here once I've closed." He played a hook on the piano, and stood up, catching the attention of the woman with the cloak.

"We will," Carson promised moving out of the way. Time for that drink then.

"What the hell was that about?" John asked that quietly, close at Carson's side as they walked back towards the bar.

Carson shook his head. "I have no idea," he admitted. "Something that needed to be said, I guess, or he needed to hear. He seemed to understand it."

"Can you explain it to me? Because I didn't." And he seemed wrapped up in that, but Carson was sure it was some manifestation of worry.

"I saw him… I saw who he was before he Fell," he said quietly. "He wasn't disobedient. He didn't hate God…quite the contrary. It's like… like one of your Black Ops missions, John."

"I don't know if I can believe that." John's posture was tight, while he pulled his bar chair out a little.

"They are not all like that. Dantalion is… evil. They are just like people," he replied. "Just as complex or two dimensional as people we know. And how he is now is not the same as who he was."

"Out here, running a piano bar." John looked over his shoulder, and then eyed the bartender, who'd moved down the line. "Most everyone here is normal."

"I'm sure there have been a few times where you wanted to get out, say 'screw you' to everyone, John," Carson replied. "Rodney did the same in a way without running Hell first."

"It gets into free will. Is this free will? Was that free will?" John took a sip off his shotglass, and eyed Jack at the other part of the table, eyed Sam.

Carson shrugged a little . "I don't know. I think so." They were all eyeing each other and Carson felt a little on the outside because he was going to be left behind. "Samael is going to help you."

"And keep you company while we're gone." He lifted his eyebrows at Carson. That was worry.

"I think you all have more to worry about than I do," Carson reassured him. "You'll have to trust him, John."

"I can see why Major Sheppard is concerned," Sam said. "He's very powerful."

"So, for all purposes, is McKay," Jack reminded her. "You know, the asshole you argue over generators with?"

"He's not asking a price for this," Carson said. "He doesn't have to help us. And he's not a demon as such. No more than Rodney is."

"He's still the Lord of Hell. I can't…" John shook his head, and finished his shotglass. "I wish I had another option."

"If we had another option we wouldn't be here," Jack said. "About to do something really stupid."

"Aye well, I'm still more worried about you." Carson sighed. "I guess there is nothing to do but wait."

"No, there isn't." John started to twist the bottle, but he was still looking at Carson.

He was just going to have to wait.

Going into Hell in a physical form was different to his normal trips. He'd assured Carson they would be back in very little time because of the disparity and time difference but that still meant that they had to get to the Hell towers, get in and get Rodney out. Theoretically they should be able to perform magic here with their corporeal forms intact and that put them in with a fighting chance. They had power that mortal souls usually lacked, and John was counting on that to tip the balance in their assault. Hell never got any better. Fire, destruction, scouring wind and darkness and he didn't have to have Carson there to know the others were a bit overwhelmed by their first contact with the underworld. But he just reminded himself that their advantage was that here demons had a corporeal form that could be hurt, even if it was damn difficult. Better than in their world where the damn things could run screaming back to Hell if things looked tough.

Jack was holding his P-90 at the ready the whole time, though. John knew that generally, lower level demons left the corporeal alone. Generally. Jack had shot up one that had advanced on them, but it had been something low level and they tore each other up all the time. No one was going to give a shit about it. After that it was mostly a matter of getting through the shifting environment and picking off patrols.

He was expecting more resistance when they reached the towers. They could see them from were they were and he was confident that he and Sam were more than capable of affecting them with their magic if they got through the outer defenses. Ronon had enjoyed being able to physically attack demons to the point John had to yank him back under control.

"So. Any idea of the defenses?" Jack said to him as they studied their objective from the cover of some ruins.

"I've got nothing, sir," Sam declared.

Teyla leaned up from her crouch. "We can assume they are not accustomed to attack, but perhaps keeping people inside?"

"Even demons have politics. There'll be some sort of wards but they might be demon specific," John said, readying his weapons and figuring the charms, hexes and battle-magic he was going to have to use. He had a sanctified knife, dragon's fire, Holy water that he suspected would be like napalm here in Hell. Should be enough.

"Gotta assume it won't be," Jack said. "We'll split. Teyla and Ronon will go in after McKay."

John immediately protested that. You didn't split up in Hell, not if you wanted to get out again. It could get disorientating even if you knew the terrain. He did, but he still wouldn't recommend it. "Sir, I really think…"

"They have stealth and tracking abilities we don't and you have our biggest metaphysical firepower," Jack replied. "If the alarm trips, we need you."

"Shouldn't we all stick together?" Sam leaned forwards a little while she asked that.

O'Neill looked at John with the sort of look that made him realize how sharp he really was under his just a flyboy exterior. "If you've got information on how demons hang out, now would be the time to share. This is how I would run a black Ops out there."

"Odds are, sir, if we're going to trip something, we'll trip it going in," John said. "In which case, Rodney might be our only hope of getting out. It might be better if we were all near him. He'll need Sam and I to unlock what bindings he has on him."

"So if we're going in like this, we need to get to him as quickly as possible and then try to get out," Sam half-stated and half-asked, glancing at Teyla and Ronon. She looked miserable being here, and John could get why. It was Hell. It worked on the darkness in the mind and strengthened it little by little.

"You could've told me that before I came up with a plan, Sheppard," Jack said, sounding a little snarky. "Okay. Let's try this again. We need something distracting out here. We've got some remote detonators. We'll set something up out here and go in. Teyla and Ronon can take point and if we trip something we'll hit detonators outside so they'll believe it's outside not inside. Then we'll find McKay and get the hell out of here, blowing up what we can on the way."

"I like that plan." Ronon started to dig through his vest. "Any specific charges you want laid down?"

"We want maximum confusion and damage," Jack pointed out. "You know how to do that."

"Holy water charges will eat away anything in Hell like napalm acid," John assured them. "Might be an idea to use on foundation areas."

"Right. I'll start here and lay it down as we go." Ronon gestured to Teyla, and together they started to work on it. Sam edged up anxiously closer to John and Jack.

Jack looked uncomfortable and John knew he hated doing an op that had so many hidden variables in it. "Carter, Sheppard, you got anything that might give us indication of the demonic version of burglar alarms?"

"Nothing, sir." Sam shook her head, while John just shrugged.

"Reality's different here, sir. So, no." They were just going to have to hope they beat the clock.

"Dammit. This is exactly why magic is so…" He waved his hand around in an airy-fairy manner while grimacing. "Well, do whatever the hell preparation you need to have some things to watch our backs when we go in."

Radios didn't work so he had to wait for Ronon and Teyla to come back before he could check progress. "You done?"

"Ready to light this place up." Ronon crouched back down beside them, giving him a grin.

"We can ward," Sam suggested. "While we go, if we've already attracted attention, because I think the magic would get their attention more than us."

John nodded. "Good idea." Carter was brilliant even if she wasn't as used to the whole occult magical combat thing.

"Right. Let's move out people," Jack said. "No radio, no talking unless you really gotta."

And that was it, they were finally moving, finally on their way to get to Rodney and that made his attention sharp. Ronon and Teyla took out a couple of lower ranking demons and they hid the grotesque bodies even as they found a small entrance to the Tower.

Ronon was sniffing at the air, grimacing a little as they start moving along the corridor. Teyla appeared to be listening with her heightened senses. It wasn't going to be good. John knew that, and he stopped only when he had to, peeking around corners and firing when necessary, but mostly running.

Demons seemed to have this tendency towards the gothic. He wasn't sure why. They were traditionalists in a lot of ways, and the atmosphere certainly fitted expectations. The place was torch lit and stone, and filled with screams and a stench of blood and fear even he could smell. Which meant Ronon and Teyla would be having difficulties. How could they pick out one person's scent?

In formation, they lightly ran up the stairs, not encountering resistance. The place was adorned with grotesque statues that John realized with a shudder were actually people with their flesh turned to stone but their eyes still able to move and roll in horror at their fate even as they transformed slowly to marble.

Whatever could be imagined could be done in Hell, and unconsciousness could not save a soul from torment. He had seen some horrific things in his time, and this was the least of it.

Ronon gestured to follow him as they headed through a hall that was incongruously modern-looking with some very unpleasant looking hi-tech equipment. Ronon paused and sniffed over one of the silver morgue type tables and looked at Teyla. John didn't need an explanation that Rodney had been there, or a description of the blood he was smelling. It was Teyla, then, who started listening and pointed for them to move through the Hall.

Fast. The faster they moved, the sooner they could reach Rodney, and if they could get to him, get him loose, he could do what he needed to do to get them back out without a harrowing run back to the first Hellgate. He heard Jack moving closer to them, a compressed unit as they pressed through the hallway in the direction Teyla had gestured.

They headed through places that looked like some arcane laboratories complete with screaming souls with mutated, experimental growths. There were strange spheres and energies and some of the worst screaming seemed to be coming from one lab where the dim shapes of souls seemed to be eroding with infinitesimal slowness, being burned off by an energy that made John's skin crawl and that his Sight saw in shapes and horrors that made him want to throw up. He got the distinct impression nothing, no demon, no entity of creation, should be toying with that stuff.

Jack was gesturing him to hurry as they went up more stairs, deep into the heart tower. They were getting closer, he could almost feel it. The blood ward that Rodney had made for Daniel was heating against his chest. It was when they stepped into a final corridor, he could practically feel it tugging in a certain direction. John gestured to the chamber to the right and Teyla nodded, holding up fingers to indicate three and their rough positions.

O'Neill gave brisk no-nonsense commands, and he took what they had dubbed the 'Holy hand grenades' and lobbed them in the door. And at that point they tripped the wards.

It had been easy so far, so John had been waiting for that issue, for the wards to finally go off in the place. Of course they'd want to keep Rodney from leaving, so they had the place done up with heavy magical security. The grenade did a damn good job of melting the doors off, though, a space big enough for them to slip through one by one while Jack hung back to provide cover against whatever would be incoming.

"He's in here!" Ronon called out gruffly even as there were sounds of Teyla apparently taking on whatever guards were there with a minimum of trouble. "Can't get to him through wards."

"Carter… you're up. Sheppard, you and I are holding the way out of here." O'Neill gestured him over. "Time for misdirection."

He hit the detonator without hesitation and even here they could hear the 'thump' sound of charges exploding. It had to have sent some of the people who would've been coming towards them running the other way. But John still flinched inside when he saw the first Hellhound bounding up the stairs, a huge slobbering beast with mobile fleshy growths lashing out at anything that came close.

They both fired with their P-90's — even if the sanctified bullets were less physically devastating than normal ones in the real world, they could at least hurt the demonic beasts. The first hound went down but more were coming and he cast a ward to keep them at firing distance and charmed a handful of pebbles to flare with Holy fire at demonic proximity and hurl them at them, watching them turn into fireballs just before they impacted.

"Nice." O'Neill commented. "Could do with learning that trick."

"We get out of here, sir, I will show you every stupid parlor trick I know," John promised, stopping only to pop another clip into the P-90. They were coming too fast now, but they could retreat to the door and use it as a choke point.

"How's it coming in there, Carter?" O'Neill called out as they were pushed back some. John was holding on to his energy for the heavy hitters. "You got McKay?"

"Nearly got it, sir," Carter called back. "But McKay is semi conscious at best. And… he's injured badly."

Badly injured, John was expecting. Alive was the important part. As long as he was alive and sane, he could heal, he could be fixed. He didn't turn and look, but stayed focus on shooting the threats, firing short bursts from his P-90 when there was enough of an enemy for the spray of the Holy water to matter.

The area around them began to rumble and this was bad news, really bad news. He'd hoped to have a bit longer, long enough to get Rodney up and running. "Colonel, fall back into the room, we need to make a circle!" he said, dropping back himself. "Got some of the bosses coming in."

All they had to do was keep the doorway occupied until Sam got McKay free. All. Like it was easy, but John focused on that as and Jack backed up and moved into the room, shooting through the doorway.


"Nearly got it sir," Sam answered and John had to admit he probably had more brute intuitive strength in terms of power, but Carter had a hell of a lot of know how and was a fast thinker. Looking at the layers of protection, he wasn't sure he could've decoded them this quickly, although he was sure that Rodney had the ability to crack them.

Not quick enough though. Gesturing to O'Neill, he deployed one of the gadgets that proved that when the military got involved, even the occult magic got an upgrade. A protective circle — the parts of it that needed physical symbology unfolded in a few seconds even as he powered it up with the chanting and actual magic. It meant a level of security that literally took hours to draw was done in the time it took him to pour his energy into the channels provided by the symbols. It wouldn't last forever but it might last long enough for Rodney to wake.

"Get in the circle, they're coming!" he called even as Carter called out.

"Got him!"

He felt a faint surge of power when Rodney was released, and then Ronon and Teyla and Sam were coming in close, Ronon carrying Rodney's… corpse. Corpse-like form. He was shredded, and there were organs glistening, hanging free, veins loose, muscle picked apart.

They were in trouble. The odds of Rodney recovering before whoever cracked open their defenses were slim to none. If they'd brought Carson… no, no they couldn't do that. But maybe they should've.

There was a rumble of thunder, and lightning filled the room, playing around the edges of the circle. John tossed out the mini-robot inkers that could put down a standard devil's trap in seconds.

He did love the scientists for that, that speed of turning their little tech tricks quickly over to a useful thing. "Hey, Sheppard. Can we work on getting out of here now?" Jack pressed.

"That's the idea, sir, only our key out of here has half his insides hanging out," John replied, avoiding looking at Rodney too long because he might just lose it. "Carter and I are going to need to cast whatever the Hell we can, you, Ronon and Teyla are going to have to shoot, lob grenades, do all of it. You only get this sort of fanfare from high up Demon Lords."

And there was one now trying to materialize in the room… right over a devils trap.

John glanced over his shoulder at Rodney, just to check, just to be sure. He had to start healing, and Teyla seemed to understand that, murmuring something over him. But Carson was their healer.

One, two, three traps snared demons and then they got wise to them and the room billowed with thick oily black smoke that flowed in between the traps and rose up as individual demons.

He even recognized a few and paled a little. "Shit." This wasn't just one high level demon. This was most of the inner court of Hell. He'd banked on a healthy belief in his ability to force through any limitation to tackle a Great Duke and his minions. But there were others, and Princes and….

"Breaking and entering in Hell? It's been a few millennia since anyone living had the temerity to bear living flesh into Hell," an exceptionally good-looking man said stepping close to the edge of the circle. "How terribly… unromantic to bring a military escort."

"Yeah, well. I like to come prepared, instead of the usual doomed attempts." Everyone backed up from the edges of the circle, and John comfortably gestured with the P-90.

"Oh, please, you think that can work on us? It might smart a little, but I'll heal." The demon paced closer and smiled. "I should thank you. Having you here is going to make it so much easier to break him. He always seems to know when I'm wearing your face. No sign of the Seventh Son? I am disappointed in that. I had a lot of… interesting issues to explore with Umabel's unconscious desires and that one. "

"We might still make it out," John murmured, shouldering his P-90. There had to be a way to get out. He wasn't willing to admit that they were fucked.

"I am impressed you've made it this far, but then not many people want to get in to Hell. Most of the wards are to stop people escaping. You do know you can't escape, don't you?" Dantalion smirked and raised a serpent of fire that wrapped around the edges of the circle forcing John to brace himself and then with a gesture flicked a burst of energy back at the demon.

It didn't accomplish a damn thing, but it was worth it for the look on the demon's face, the brief startled expression before he lashed back at their circle. "Colonel, we need to get out of here now. This won't hold much longer…"

"Yeah, I figured that, but there's one detail missing," Jack growled back. "How?"

He'd have to try and face them. Buy enough time. He looked then at Rodney, long and hard, willing the rage and fury he had tried to stop cloud his thinking to rise up. "I'll cover you. Be ready to run. Rodney will come back for me if I don't make it out."

It was a stupid plan, but it was also their only choice. Ronon seemed ready to sprint at the first warning that it was time to go, and Teyla seemed to be in agreement. If just a couple of them made it back… Then that was enough to turn around and get them again. Better prepared, with Rodney stronger.

"On your mark then, Major."

He gathered the level of energy he had held back on before showing any of them, and pulled up his sleeves. The Gates on his arms would force the truth of things to reveal themselves and that was going hold them for a while, because the process was not pleasant. The energy he focused made the marks burn with light and, taking a deep breath, he forced them together. "Now!"

The magic gripped the Demons around him, trying to force them into their true shapes, which in some cases was a little like turning them inside out.

"Move, now!" O'Neill took off seizing the opportunity to shoot a few of the demons that were locked in place temporarily as he covered Ronon and Teyla with Rodney.

Already he was feeling the strain of it, pressure fighting back and he started the build up to a destructive blast that would undoubtedly knock most of them out…. and probably take a lot of the castle with it. He could do that. The rage he had was enough; the power enough and being blown up might keep him safe from torture, at least temporarily.

Unconsciously he was shouting a protest of pain as he tried to time how long it might be, how far they had managed to run, until he was vibrating with the next spell and had to let it loose.

It tore through their ranks, tossing some aside, obliterating the weaker demons even as he yelled defiance and then the backlash hit, and the place started to fall apart on top of him as he was tossed back out of the safety of the circle into the wall.

The fast moving time on the other side of the gateway felt more real as Carson sat there beside Samael, watching it. Samael had taken pains to ward it against outgoing demons, and seemed amused to watch the odd creature fry itself trying to cross out of the gate, somewhat slouched in his chair beside Carson while he watched the door.

"They won't be coming back out without more help."

Carson looked at him. "What do you mean?" he asked, terribly afraid he actually knew what he meant. This was Hell they were talking about. If it were that easy to get in and out of, it wouldn't be Hell. They were powerful yes, they might stand a chance with Rodney, but even that was more hope than actual judgment.

Samael sat up a little straighter, eyes fixed on the door. "You know what I mean, Carson. Open your mind to it."

He'd been trying to hold back the flickering images, but Samael had a commanding presence. He did let go, and immediately images of nearly all the team running towards the portal, the tower exploding behind them and a veritable army of pissed off demons surrounding and overrunning them snapped across his vision, causing him to nearly fall off his chair.

"No!" he exclaimed and looked at Samael. "They've been captured. We… we need to get them out of there."

It was strange to look at someone with eyes just like Rodney's, but none of the smirking humor and warmth that lit that identical blue gaze. Samael was calm, watching him. "What do you plan to do?"

"I… I don't know," Carson said with a dawning horror as he realized how hopeless it was. It was just him. "Maybe… maybe I should ask the SGC for help. No, by the time they get here it will be too late." He was going to lose Rodney and John, and the rest of their team. That filled him with complete panic. "Can… can you help me?"

"Yes, and no." Samael started to stand up. "You will be going through the Hellgate to get them out, but you will also need help."

"Okay." Okay? Here he was agreeing to go into Hell. John had expressly forbidden that, because according to him, he was like some feast for demons wandering around on two legs. "Are you… would you come with me? Otherwise I'm not sure what I can do. I'd do anything, but I'm not sure what that should be?"

"I have no designs to go back there. My presence would be seen by the ruling parties as a threat. Most of the hosts of demons still see me as their true leader. I would rather not squander that confrontation yet." He seemed to contemplate the door for a moment.

"Please…" Carson was in absolute desperation now. "Please. I know offers offend you but… you know something. I can tell that much. I… I don't know what I can say to convince you, save I love them in the same way you love Him."

"I don't think you understand what you're saying." He tilted his head, still watching the door. "Look for the First Fallen. If you can bargain with him, he will be the power you need to finish your task."

Hope. That was all he asked for. "Can you send me to him?" he asked.

"Yes. This door will have to go, but I suspect none of you could get out of it now that it's been discovered." He laid a hand at the edge —a spectral edge if it was an edge at all — and it started to dissolve away into nothing. "You will be on your own, but if you open your mind in Hell, you will find your own powers… remarkable."

He doubted that but he nodded slightly and said, "Thank you. Considering the potentially one way nature of this, is there anything I can offer as a grateful… friend by way of thanks?"

"Tell Umabel that I may have a favor to ask of him at some point." Ah. That seemed as if it would be that, and Samael was walking towards the bar, towards the woman with the mask, asking her for something.

He'd used the blood of a dove to open the last gate, and it seemed like the ritual would replay again.

Carson watched, trying not to think of the time that would translate to, hours or days in Hell just during that conversation and the hesitation on his end. Who knew what that would mean for them all? He was terrified but resolute. Whatever he had, he would give it to get them out of Hell.

He just wanted to come back home with everyone safe and sound.

Samael came back, and sat cross-legged on the floor with his back to Carson. He could smell when the dove had been cut open, the tang of nicked organs and thick arterial blood, spilled on his hands. He used his hands to gesture a small door open, speaking, speaking the whole time, and there it was.

"Thank you." Carson faced the door looking at the darkness ahead of him. "Is there anything I should know before I go?"

"A smart salesman doesn't sell himself — he sells his wares." Samael stood up, and leaned back to wipe his fingers with a cloth. "I will leave this door open in the event that Umabel has been disabled beyond quick repair."

Carson nodded and looking at the Fallen angel one last time, took a deep breath, and stepped through into Hell.

It was a different place from that where the other gate had seemed to lead, very different. Instead of fire and smoke this was a place of swirling blackness, and Carson couldn't trust that where he was stepping was solid, or real, as it all seemed to be a void of mist that felt rocky and craggy under his feet.

The place felt impossibly old, and if it was Hell, there was not much evidence of fire and brimstone. There was something there; he could sense that. He stepped forward, towards the presence. "Hello?"

Something moved, but it was void on void, impossibly lacking in form. He felt a sensation of noise coming from all around him, more than he heard it, and then it seemed to compress itself down.


"My name is…. Carson Beckett. Samael has sent me to you as someone who might be able to help me rescue some of my friends stolen by some Demon Lords," he called out. "He called you the First… are you the First?"

"I could perhaps be." There was the sensation of something firming up in front of him. "Who asks?"

"Carson Beckett," he answered seeing a humanoid figure starting to coalesce ahead of him.

"Do I know you?" The figure was tall, but shrinking down from impossibly big just to disturbingly tall, and he was coming out of the dark and into the dark where Carson was, a difference of shades.

"Most likely not," Carson admitted, aware he wasn't making a good case. "Perhaps you know one of those I am hoping to rescue. Rodney… uh… Umabel? Or… John Sheppard?"

John had been to Hell after all.

In a rush, the man-creature coalesced, and the area around them began to light up, enough for them to see what was going on. He was tall, dark haired and tanned, his eyes hard. "Sheppard?"

"You know him?" Carson had to stop himself from stepping back. "I'm afraid he has not said anything about you, but John is a wee bit closed-mouth."

Oh god, now he was babbling nervously.

"I should. I've tried to drag him here more times than he would wish to speak of." There was a coldness to that statement that burnt at Carson's ears.

"Why? What is he to you?" he asked, needing to know. There was no point him making a deal if this creature was going to take Sheppard."

"He was promised to me." He stepped in closer, invading into Carson's space. "He was promised to me by his father, and he has lost his soul to me twice more, and snatched it back each time."

Carson stood his ground. "A man's soul is his own to give away or promise. And if he's snatched it back twice, it's still his," he pointed out. "But that's a moot point. He is now in the grip of Dantalion and a whole cabal of the court of Hell. That would make your claim on him… useless."

"Dantalion? That upstart." The First Fallen stood looking at Carson, right in front of him. "What interest would the courts of Hell have in him?"

"I believe this is the Fallen angel that we came to rescue, Umabel. As far as I have been able to See, he wishes to turn him to add the dominion of his sphere under his control," Carson said. "They nearly made it out. I believe John made the tower explode, but too many found them. Will you help me?"

The First seemed to lose focus for a moment, growing wane, and then he sharpened up. "Umabel was a curious creature. All of the angels are curious creatures. What will you give me?"

He remembered Samael's advice. Don't sell your soul in Hell, sell what you can do. Bargain his skill, however uncontrolled it was. "I am a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son of a Seventh Son," he said. "I have abilities. Apparently abilities that neither John nor Rod… Umabel had come across before. I would trade you a use of my abilities for your assistance."

The First drew himself up taller. "I wish to use your abilities now."

"I agree, when I have your word you will help," Carson answered narrowing his eyes a little. He didn't miss the lack of promise to actually do anything.

"I will help." But it was damningly non-specific.

He had to risk it. "All right then. I agree. I find if I touch someone, they can See the vision I See as well. Perhaps with your power, you can direct my vision in the direction you wish to see."

"Perhaps I can." He reached a hand out to touch Carson, and while Carson wanted to flinch back, he didn't.

He reached out and took the cool flesh and immediately felt like an anvil had hit him in the head and chest as they appeared to be rushing back a long way…. and it was if he felt someone tug hard and painfully at him, like a rider trying to control and steer a half-wild horse.

He tended to reach back in time, and Rodney had commented on that more than once, because forwards seemed unnatural to him, but it seemed that that was where the rush was headed.

This was draining him badly. Incredibly badly, because this was far in the future and much further along than he had ever considered going in the past. It felt like he was being stretched out impossibly.

Then they were there, and this was nothing like anything Carson had experienced before. It was all-encompassing, impossibly glorious and his eyes burned and his psychic Sight was filled with the impossible glory of his Vision.

He was doing something no human soul should do and remember, and that was looking on the Presence of God.

It was amazing, and overwhelming, and he could feel the First reaching out tentatively, being accepted back. There was a sense of scheme or plan, and forgiveness, but it overwhelmed Carson wholly, truly outside of the scope of his comprehension.

He was only dimly aware of things because it was becoming unbearable in its wonder, making him feel like he was being burned from inside out. But there was a sense of reconciliation and even… an apology. Not for whatever had been done but for what it had cost.

For whatever it was still costing, and that was strange, but he was still there as it went on, as endless and as ageless as the time taken to reach that point and the eternal being that he inadvertently had contacted.

Perhaps he was always going to be there. He was dissolving away, unable to maintain his individuality under the sheer weight of Presence, his thoughts casting around for a lifeline and feebly focusing on Rodney and John. With a strength he had not believed he had possessed, a will to survive, he was wrenched free. Then the shock of snapping out of that, back into the past, into darkness and exile made him scream.

It was worse than being thrown into an icy lake, torn away from everything Holy that he'd been basked in, overwhelmed with, and then back to the comparative nothingness.

The First was standing there, looking wan, his presence unsettled. "Huh."

"Oh…" Carson was flat on his back shaking and twitching uncontrollably and he was going to be about as much use as a chocolate teapot because he could feel every atom of his body resonating with the proximity of the Divine. He supposed that Rodney would've had a very favorable opinion of a chocolate teapot, under usual circumstances. "Was… was that payment enough?"

"I believe so. Take my hand."

He did so and a measure of strength seemed to be available to him. He tried to push down the whispering images that were flowing off of the being almost constantly so they didn't interfere with his concentration too much. It wasn't until he looked down at his hand that he realized that he was glowing, not unlike he had been when Rodney had bestowed the Blessing, but stronger and with a ridiculously ostentatious intensity. He had to try and contain that somehow.

It was very odd, but if there was any one place where that might come in handy, it was Hell.

"Let's leave this place and finish your task." So simple, so easy, and Carson hoped they could get out of there and back home with such ease.

He just didn't expect to be swallowed by the darkness again to do it.

He could feel the screaming more than he could hear it. It actually drew his attention from his own pain, which had started to become dull, boring. Impossibly persistent and constant, constant enough that he drifted on it. This was distracting, closer than the usual screams from further down in the place.

It encouraged him to open his eyes, rather than feign unconsciousness a little longer. He had dim memories of something happening, but he wasn't exactly sure what and regardless the noise was louder than normal.

"Wake up, Umabel, I have some friends here who want to join your game."

"Uhn?" He lifted his head a little, and considered moving, considered again that he couldn't. He'd been rigged upright and in pain for a long time, bound by magic and the objects imbedded into him.

"Oh, they've come such a long way. And I've got to admit, I am rather annoyed with them." Dantalion said. "Especially this one here. I've been entertaining myself for a while now, but I decided to hold off the really interesting stuff until you joined the party."

He looked at Dantalion rather than just listening to him, and squinted to try to get his eyes to focus. They just hadn't been right since Dantalion had pulled them out that once.

What he could see he hoped was a trick. Hoped it was one of Dantalion's mind games where he tried to get him to give up hope. Because he could see John spread-eagled and streaming with blood center stage and around the room Colonel O'Neill, Sam Carter, Ronon, Teyla in similar frames as if forming an orderly queue for torture.

"I'd forgotten how satisfying it was to deal with living flesh."

"What, what're you playing now…?" Rodney leaned forwards a little, eyes scanning back and forth and back and forth. They had to be demons in their shape, done to draw him out.

"Oh, delightful. You don't think it's them, do you? For all your murmurings, you really didn't believe anyone would come." Dantalion mused. "Well, how about a taste? You know what he tastes like don't you? Here…" He approached him and placed sticky fingers to Rodney's lips. "He gets off on the pain," he confided. "With surprisingly little help."

He ended up with the taste, whether he had been going to agree to it or not. There was no consent, no time to think down there. There just was, and it took Rodney a moment more of staring past Dantalion for it to click. "John?"

John lifted his head, and those were his eyes, his sardonic attempt at a smile. "Hey Rodney." It was cracked and hoarse and there was rage there a much as anything else. "Can't say I think much of your taste in acquaintances…."

"More like a filthy third cousin." It was hard not to smile, even if he sensed the rage flair up in Dantalion. Dammit. Carson wasn't there, and that was the only small blessing, because John was. John and Teyla and Ronon and O'Neill and Carter were all there in Hell.

"You wound me," Dantalion said. "You really do. Perhaps I should return the favor on one of them." He moved back to John and stroked down his blood slick leg. "He seems to want me to kill him. I'm not sure why. Some people are just like that."

Rodney was pretty sure John would have a reason. Something he was thinking, except he wasn't like Rodney. Dying would be no beautiful release, a faked shedding of a form so he could revitalize himself. He wanted to do that, wanted to get free like that, squirming against the bonds of magic and metal. "John…"

"I blew up his tower," John replied in his infuriating laconic way. How he could manage that while being so hurt Rodney didn't know. "It was pretty ugly."

Smartass. Rodney pulled, trying to gather up pieces of energy to fight, harder than he'd tried in a long time. "You shouldn't have come."

"Oh this is so touching. I do believe your pet has feelings for you," Dantalion said. "Is it he that is the key? Or the other soft one. If I kill …John… does your hope die, Umabel?"

"They all die." Rodney swallowed, straining. "They all live and die, and I've accustomed myself to this. I called them ants, once."

"But not now. Would you bargain for their lives?" Dantalion asked curiously as he teased the point of a knife into John's flesh.

Rodney jerked against his bonds. "Don't."

"Don't bargain? Don't hurt him?" Dantalion asked and licked his lips. "Oh, so sweet, so touching. He's trying to be stoic for you. I had screams enough before you woke up."

"Leave him alone." Rodney pulled again, but the wires threading through his skin snapped tight and pulled him back into place with a jolt of agony.

"If you join me, perhaps I will. Perhaps I can be persuaded to send them home…" Dantalion dug the blade in deeper and John was biting back reaction.

"I can't. Wouldn't even know how." Rodney still tried to struggle, but the wires were moving now, shredding at him.

"Rodney, stop…" That was Sheppard trying to give him orders now, even with a hitching gasp in his voice. "Stop moving."

He did, but it didn't matter. He was wallowing in pain. There were wires laced up through his veins, through every soft part of him, or whatever it was that Dantalion was using in lieu of wires. It all hurt.

"Would you like to try that?" Dantalion looked at John and the others. "Of course, you know I think I can stop you dying if I concentrate. But what if that slips?" He gestured and a writhing mass of sharp wire rose up and started to crawl over John's skin.

Rodney jerked again. "Don't! Don't, leave him, don't…."

Hearing John scream and knowing what Dantalion could and would do with those wires was enough to get him tearing at his own torturous bonds without regard for what it was doing to his own form. He got an arm free, and he pulled, trying to get his lower body free enough to move, feeling it pull his skin off, rip muscle apart, make veins fail. It was so hard to breathe, and everything was dizzying, but he had to get to John, to all of them, before Dantalion killed them.

He failed because more and more of the damn things gripped him, pinned him down as blood flowed and the demon made John scream an angry sound of pain again.

"Leave him alone!" It was a howled demand, a scream, and he kept trying to fight his way free, because what did it matter what he did to himself?

He would regenerate, he would come back but they would die and then… even if they were souls, the demons would have them. They would be trapped here. Dantalion just laughed, obviously pleased to break him this way.

But the only thing he could do was keep fighting, keep trying to get free, get to John, get to his team before they died…

It took a while for the rumbling to penetrate through his struggle but Dantalion stopped, looking around with a faintly worried expression. The rumbling had to be the sound of wards falling; giving way, and he had no idea who that could be. The angels were happy to let him rot.

Fallen was Fallen, after all. Fallen was Fallen, and they didn't care whether he belonged there or not, whether anyone belonged there or not. Why were the wards falling?

The presence that filled the room was older than him… ancient, vastly powerful and there was a sudden look of panic on Dantalion's face. "What the…"

"What a lovely day for torture," a voice said. "And I wasn't invited. How remiss."

And there was one figure and then another manifesting as well, a very familiar presence that was practically burning in his angelic senses.

Rodney still struggled, and he felt more able, more able to move and fight against the strands that didn't grip him so tightly anymore. "Please, help…"

"Carson?" John said weakly and the other figure looked affronted.

"Have you forgotten who I am, Sheppard?" he asked. "Ah well. Cease this struggling…" He didn't even gesture and the wires were pulling out and Rodney was being released.

"How can you… you don't come into Hell," Dantalion spluttered, stepping back automatically from the other figure that felt vast and powerful.

"I go where I wish. When I wish." He was closing in on Dantalion, and Rodney struggled forwards, stepping free of the frame at last, victorious in freedom, and determined to try to help despite the agony and blood loss.

"Rodney!" Carson started forward to be yanked back by the other person.

"No. You are staying close."

Dantalion lunged at Carson then, and howled as his hands started to smoke and blister the moment they touched him.

"I do not think you should be the one to upset the balance of power this way," the creature was saying, and he was a creature, no angel that Rodney recognized, but powerful. He moved in towards Dantalion, and the closer he got, the more it seemed as if wards fell away, and his would have been rescuers were free.

Dantalion frowned. "First Fallen you may be, but not even you can stand against all of us," he said releasing a summoning spell that had an almost immediate effect. "This is how Hell shall win. How we will take permanent domain of the stars and the worlds of the heavens — this is your goal too!"

"Crazed sycophants playing into His hands. How subversive it is to play the other side of the coin the way you do it." He seemed amused, and still keeping Carson close. Somewhere in there, Rodney was half-aware that he'd started to collapse to the ground, muscles too badly damaged to keep carrying him forwards. He tried to pull himself together, tried to make himself whole again.

All around them, with the wards down, demons were materializing in the room and it was getting alarmingly crowded.

"Crap, not this again," O'Neill said even as John made his way over to Rodney to help him even though he didn't look that good himself.

"Rodney…" And there it all was in that word, all the emotion that had brought them into Hell after him. His hands were gentle, and he was looking at him carefully. He was oblivious to the drama around him.

That was stupid, because there was a demon with some kind of absurd bone axe moving to take John's head off from behind. Rodney thrust one hand out towards the demon, and threw a burst of power at it, knocking it backwards even as he gripped harder at John and tried to stand up. "Fixing later, getting out, now. Carson?!" How the Hell had he arrived here and was still standing, let alone deflecting high level demons?

Carson was looking a little strained even as the First laughingly deflected a concerted attack. He looked over at Rodney and John and his expression became resolute. A glow that Rodney recognized began to build around him until he was blinding. "Enough! This is forbidden. I call upon the rulers of Hell. Your charge is in peril… Duma, Remiel, your sacred trust is being broken and you will be found negligent in your duty!"

Rodney had no idea what Carson thought he was doing, and the alarming thing was he was sure that Carson had no idea either.

He started to feel around, reaching with his power, trying to thread himself back together still while the battle continued. John and him together were keeping themselves upright, and Teyla was behind him, no, on his other side now. Ronon, O'Neill and Sam were gathering in close, and Rodney realized what Carson was saying. They'd failed to protect the un-condemned from Hell. The living of humanity didn't belong there, even if that failed to include him.

There was a faint vibration coming through the air towards them, and Rodney had a feeling it might split the tower in two, or at least create a dramatic hole in the ceiling. It was the sensation of something of the Holy Host moving closer, with speed.

Two figures materialized in the now crowded chamber, and the First looked less than impressed. "Oh great. You had to get them involved. Don't get above yourself human, invoking the authority of God."

"I'm stating the facts. They seek to keep the un-condemned here, these souls bound for heaven and one who is not damned and has not Fallen to Hell," Carson explained in a voice that brooked no arguments.

Rodney wanted to say that God didn't watch. God wouldn't have noticed at all, but the laws and having it pointed out to them was enough to bind the angels to action.

"This is a disturbing milieu." One of the angels moved away from the other one, who was wearing a great key around his neck. Rodney tried to place who they were — the one with the key seemed not at all familiar, but the other one…

"Remiel. We don't belong here."

"In some cases that is debatable," Remiel answered. "There is no human without a stain of sin upon their soul and sin is…."

"…Wait a moment," Carson interrupted him. Interrupted the angels in charge. "You presume to know the will of God."

Rodney had no idea what Carson thought he was doing and he could tell John was thinking, 'Holy shit.'

"I think it is more the case that you presume, human," Remiel answered, flaring wings at the sensitive's effrontery. "How is it you can believe you know more of God's Will than I do?"

"Because I'm not an arrogant bastard?" Carson replied.

"And when was the last time God explained his plans to you?" Remiel said approaching him now, his wings flickering with wrathful fire.

He heard John mutter, "Shit," under his breath, but rather surprisingly it was the First who started laughing.

"Oh, oh priceless, an angel caught by a classic moment of pride," he crowed with delight. "The answer to that one is… a few minutes ago. Do you think any other Blessing save that of God himself would last in this cradle of damnation?"

The silent one — Duma, Rodney realized. Duma. Good old, might as well be a part of the furniture back in the Silver City. Duma was in Hell, running Hell. Never one to say no, to question, and Rodney stepped forwards a little even as Duma stepped forwards and put a hand on Remiel's arm.

And pulled Remiel's hand down.

"I…" Remiel faltered, and the burnish of fire faded off of his wings, cleanly chastised by the more pious of them. "I think it is time for all of you to go, before you entice anyone else to fall, First."

"You spoil my fun," First complained, but he was still laughing. "The deal was to get his friends out of Hell. Rules are rules. And even better, I get to dump you into Samael's lap. "

He saw John look up sharply at the mention of the word deal. "No, wait…"

"Too late, Sheppard, deal has been done, payment agreed for your worthless soul. You all get to go home." The First gestured and Rodney could feel a portal opening.

They were going to get out. They were going out, but Rodney wanted to make sure Carson was going with them, so he reached for him, broke away and stumbled past the angels towards him.

"Oh you want him? Really?" The First let go of Carson. "Have him. One day he might appreciate the extent of what he accomplished here. Assuming he makes it."

"What have you done to him?" Sheppard practically growled.

"Me? Nothing. All self-inflicted. Time for you to go home."

Rodney grasped Carson's hand tightly, still struggling to stay standing, and started towards the gate. "Now, Sheppard. I don't want to wait around for things to get worse."

They stepped through together, back into the now empty nightclub were Samael was watching with interest. "Some of you might need medical treatment," he commented, but didn't seem overly inclined to actually help.

"Good to see you, too, Samael." They probably looked like, well. Hell. Rodney counted heads, but he still wouldn't let go of Carson's hand, even while he twisted around to look for John, and dammit, his left knee went.

"Okay, lad,let's get a look at you both," Carson said, still glimmering with that blessing light. "Stay down. How is your healing? "

"I'm calling for a rapid evac," O'Neill said, wiping a trickle of blood from his face. All of them were marked one way or another.

"Carson, I've gotta know what deal you made," John said urgently.

"I did warn against promises," Samael advised quietly, walking towards them studying Carson's face closely. "Ah. You used your brains. You are an impressive one."

"I… took your advice." Carson looked up, blinking a little. He seemed glassy-eyed a moment. He frowned and looked at his hand, which was starting to tremble, then shake, and there was a faint, "bloody hell," before he just folded up and was out cold. Done, just like that, and Rodney leaned over, looking towards John before he reached to make sure Carson had a pulse.

It just never seemed to stop.

The pulse was there, a little weak and thready, but there. "McKay, Sheppard sit down and stop bleeding on everything," O'Neill ordered. "Carter, Dex, Emmagen, how's your status?"

"I'm uh…" Carter was moving to crouch down beside Carson. "Mostly all right, sir."

"Good. Glad to be back." Ronon was giving Samael a dirty look, but that was all right.

"I think perhaps I will not agree to that particular mission again," Teyla offered. "But nothing light medical treatment will not fix."

"Sheppard's got the worst of it. He won't heal like we do," Ronon replied

"Sit the Hell down, Sheppard. And you McKay, freaky angel healing or not." O'Neill ordered. "I've got a pick up arranged."

"Glad to see I'll get my nightclub back." Samael commented. "Rodney, you owe me a favor. I'll cash in some time."

"I'm sure you will." And when Samael came calling, Rodney was not going to say no. "Just please don't ask me to do anything stupid."

He could apparently do that all on his own. He lay back on the cold stone floor beside Carson, and realized that the wetness his hand was laying on was probably an internal organ, and one of his own at that.

At least at the end of the day, he apparently no longer had to worry about maintaining his cover with certain people and could let himself heal. The effects to his mind…. Well, that was a different story.

John kept trying to tell them these wouldn't be his first or last scars, of that he was sure. It wasn't the first or last time he had been in the hands of a demon either. He was pretty sure he knew more about his capabilities than anyone else. He'd been doing this long before they had even heard of demons. However, it seemed that they were all imprisoned in the SGC infirmary pending further notice.

He thought it a little excessive that he was in the equivalent of intensive care with Rodney and Carson. They'd explained Rodney's apparent miraculous ability to survive with organs hanging out as a demonic curse, and Carson… well, none knew what the Hell had gone on with Carson.

Dr. Fraiser had put Carson on a glucose drip, and Rodney was semi-conscious, propped up and covered with padding because by all rights he should've been dead, and Dr. Fraiser had no idea what to do with him until she'd consulted with him again. She had John on some kind of antibiotic, and she was staring at all of their blood, looking for demonic pathogens.

Mostly, John wanted to be doused in Holy water.

Nice big bath of the stuff and it was practically a baptism.

He kept watching Rodney, privately amazed they had got him back. Not many people made it back from Hell. Well… none. Every now and then, Rodney would stir and he desperately wanted to see how lucid he was. Recognizing him had been promising, the banter, too, but that didn't mean comprehension. Rodney's corpse could probably banter.

Rodney had mostly babbled, and he might have thought he was conversant, but his bottom lip was mostly ripped off after he'd pulled himself free of the rack — Fraiser had sewn that back in place, at least, not stunned by that damage — so most of what he'd been saying during the conflict had been slurred, hard to understand. It worried John.

Everything worried John. Carson worried John. He shouldn't have come, shouldn't have made any damn promises to the First.

He'd spent a lot of his life pissing the First off, one way or another, and he was a tricky bastard. So was Samael from all accounts, and yet Carson had offered the First something that had made him agree to help someone he'd been dying to get his hands on for years.

He heard Rodney muttering — it sounded a bit more comprehensible this time.

John leaned up, considering getting out of bed and shuffling towards Rodney to talk to him. Infirmary bedding was awkward, and he knew everything was spaced out so doctors could reach both sides of the bed, but he still wasn't close enough for conversation with anyone.

No one was around so… it seemed sensible. He swung his legs out carefully and half fell towards the other bed, unsteadier than he was likely to admit. "Rodney?"

"John?" Less slurred was definitely an improvement. Rodney shifted, a hand falling to the side of the bed in some attempt at motion.

"Hey," John said, pulling over a chair so he could sit. "I'm here. You're safe now. Back in the SGC, and I can tell you, the warding is pretty damn serious now."

"'Bout time. Told them, everyone needed tattoos. 'f they'd listened, we'd be, we'd, wouldn't happen." Rodney waved his arm limply. There were tendons that were frayed, and the protective padding had fallen off. "Hi."

"Uh, you might want to hold still with that," John pointed out. "You know… I was wondering how you were. Hell's… not a good place to be."

"Visited Samael there once. Once." Rodney stopped trying to move and gesture, but only for a few moments, John knew. "Same crazy place. I didn't visit long. That crazy wears on you. The things people do to themselves."

John put a hand on Rodney to stop him doing that. "We knew it was a long time for you. Sorry."

"Fast. I… know the time difference." Rodney's jaw worked for a moment. "Hey. 'n you talk to doctor? Need to get my wings out. Move some energy around."

"I can stop people coming in," John said. "Got a cool avoidance spell." It was pretty low powered but effective and he cast it out over them all. "Go for it."

"Takes energy." He wasn't sure what was taking energy, but Rodney leaned up a little, and the wings slowly unfurled from his back, decompressed flesh giving way to feathers as everything turned right side in again, or however the Hell Rodney did it. The feathers looked dry, maybe a little damaged, but John could imagine they would have been worse if they hadn't been hidden.

The bed seemed impossibly small for him and his wings, but it did seem to encourage Rodney to pull his arm back up onto the bed, to fold them around himself towards the front. "Huh."

John moved forward. Rodney had relaxed and enjoyed when he and Carson had helped… well, preen the feathers. "Would you like me to… you know?" He touched his fingers to the nearest feathers.

There was another noise that might've been a huh, but then Rodney was nodding. "Doesn't hurt. Everything else hurts."

"Maybe it will help you relax," John replied. He looked around. They were bound to have oil of some description around here. Ah, there it was… presumably for some procedure. He fetched it and settled down again, dipping his hands in the oil and liberally combing it through the pearlescent grey feathers.

Rodney smelled like a vat of open blood, but he seemed to be slowly relaxing, his wings drooping a little around himself while John carded through them. "You came for me."

"You doubted we would?" John replied, taking his time. Rodney needed a bath as well, and they could go in together. Yeah, in his dreams.

"Didn't want you to take the risk." He stretched one wing a little and shuddered. "Oh."

"Sorry…" John hesitated. "I would've come alone if they hadn't agreed to come after you. Both of us would've done that."

"I know." And oddly, Rodney sounded a little sad. Or wistful. John wasn't sure, but he kept his fingers moving. There were more than a few feathers that needed attention, and more were beneath Rodney, but he couldn't get there to preen them.

"Something wrong?" he asked as he finger-combed them thoroughly, and then realized that was an incredibly stupid thing to say to someone who had been tortured. "Aside from… the obvious."

"Did the 'doctor' leave me open air wounded for any reason? Stitches would be nice. A lot of them." Rodney was squinting at John, watching him.

"Wasn't listening that much and…."

"I need you to heal a little more from the inside before I sealed you up, otherwise you court complications and pockets that can cause abscessing," Dr. Fraiser said walking in. She held up a charm. "I get an access all areas talisman. Can't have your medical experts unable to get in and treat people behind privacy wards."

"Oh." Rodney shifted his wings a little, and on second thought, they were definitely wrapped around him in a somewhat protective position. "It's still strange."

"No more strange than discovering that I have an angel as a patient. There's no need to hide them away, Dr. McKay," Janet said. "And you Major Sheppard, what part of don't get out of bed did you not understand?"

"I think it was the don't part." John shifted in, leaning an elbow against the side of the bed.

"I suppose I should be grateful that you only made it this far," Dr. Fraiser said, coming closer. "I want to take a look at Rodney's injuries and see if I can stitch them now."

John guessed that meant he was supposed to move, but he wasn't much inclined to. "I'll give you room if you tell me where Beckett is."

"He's still out?" Rodney shifted, tried to sit up a little, but the fact that he was ripped up did stop him from doing much more than squirming.

"Lie still. Yes, he's still out," she replied exerting gentle pressure to get him under control. "I had to do significant repairs inside of you even with your self-healing. He's breathing for himself, but he is in a coma."

John scooted his chair back, and decided he'd stay and watch for a while, if he could. The wings kept trying to move in the way, like they were an entity unto themselves. "What'd he do?"

"That, it would appear, is the mystery," Dr. Fraser said peering into the wounds and lifting surface dressings carefully. "I was half hoping that one of you could tell me what he might've done. At the moment, we have unusual brain patterns and complete physical exhaustion."

"He was glowing like he was of the Host. The human body's not meant to take that. Power has to be sublimated, moved around." Rodney laid his head back, and seemed to be watching her with morbid curiosity.

John grimaced a little. "He made some sort of a deal. He persuaded Samael and then the First to help him. What if he asked for the powers of the Host to bust us out?"

"Wouldn't know to ask. Only one can grant that, and it's not the First." Rodney squinted down at himself. "This is less horrifying than the last time."

"The last time?" Dr. Fraiser asked irrigating the open wound with saline. "I might put you under to stitch you."

"No, just do it. I heal better awake." John could only imagine how strange it was to be sewing up a conscious patient, though. "It's a long story, and it involves Nazis. Which is sort of self-explanatory. Only it was more like that Area 51 video."

"I hope you did a Raiders of the Lost Ark on them all," John said a little flippantly. "Angelic wrath."

He hated the thought of Rodney in that position.

"Always thought that was a cool movie." Rodney twisted his head a little, focusing on John more than what Dr. Fraiser was doing, and that was good. That was better than good. "We should watch that when we get home."

"Yeah. I get to laugh at the kabalistic fakery," John smirked. He tried to avoid looking as well. "Carson will probably enjoy it too."

"Just numbing the area… try not to twitch."

"Mmm." Rodney closed his eyes, and his wings went very still, as if that was the part of him mostly likely to flail. "He's going to need time."

"Yes, well it didn't help that you all went haring off with bullet holes still in you as well," Dr. Fraiser said tartly. "And I'm talking about you, too, Major."

"Hey, I wasn't going to wait to heal," John shrugged at her. Honestly, what did she expect him to say? That he wanted to wait until there wasn't much of Rodney left to recover?

They couldn't wait, with time running apace in Hell. He wasn't sure of the ratio, but a day was a good few months. Between Carson's appearance with the cavalry and their capture, he was willing to bet it was a matter of minutes on his side, and days on their own.

"Well, I would appreciate it if you two would turn your talents to some healing charms." Dr. Fraser said as she sutured the wounds.

"Not generally my forte." Rodney kept his eyes on John now, which had to help with the squirming. "I could bless Carson, though I don't know if that would pile on what he's already gotten."

"And more to the point, not something you will be doing with a gaping hole in your stomach," Dr. Fraiser said. "Dr. Beckett is stable for now. If necessary he can wait until you're healed up."

"If he was…" Rodney seemed to be considering it. "I wonder where he went this time. I wonder if that's it."

John frowned a little. "You've got an idea? He definitely gave the First something. He doesn't do something for nothing."

"Samael said something to Carson." And Rodney was possibly trying to dredge up what had been said. "About using his wits."

"Yeah, but that would really piss the First off," John said knowing that from personal experience. "And he was pretty damn happy, for him."

"Maybe Carson found God for him." It was such a strange statement, like Carson had been looking under pennies or rocks.

John nearly snorted. "Yeah well, that's more likely to annoy him…" He stopped though, remembering the First quipping about God sharing his plans.

"I thought not even all the angels saw God?" Dr. Fraiser commented as she continued.

"Not all of them did, no. If you're the angel of Thursdays, no, you probably never did. Probably still had more faith than I ever did, though." His wings twitched, tightly controlled, and he sucked in an unsteady breath.

John reached for his hand that wasn't a mess to steady him. "He's going to have some questions to answer when he wakes up. You okay?"

"Past pain, and moved into numb. Yeah." Rodney's grip was tight on John's still slightly oil-slippery fingers.

"Sorry," Dr. Fraiser apologized. "Nearly done. You do realize we will be referring you all to Dr. Heightmeyer as well?"

Rodney gave a laugh that made his chest rise, and he caught himself. "John, maybe, but not me."

"Hey, I don't need it…" John replied. "I'm fine."

He was fine, always fine. No one had bothered before.

"You were in Hell. Therapy for everyone." Everyone except Rodney, but Rodney was old. Old old. It just didn't seem like it.

He resisted the urge to say, 'whatever.'

"Okay, I'm all done now," Dr. Fraiser said stepping back. "Sorry about that, Rodney. Can I give you anything stronger?"

"Is my liver still exposed?" Rodney sat up a little, peering at himself. There was a lot of blood, but it looked like she'd patched the holes she could, stretching skin where it was possible.

"Not any more." Dr. Fraiser said smiling. "You should heal more rapidly now."

"He still needs to take it easy," John said and he was a fine one to talk.

"Immortal," Rodney reminded, reaching one still-floppy sort of loosely moving hand to rest on John's shoulders. "Here, hold still. You don't do injured well, and I can't do this for Carson right now."

"No!" John pulled away. "No, Rodney… not now, not after you've just had your guts sewn up."

He couldn't explain that it felt wrong just to have it… taken away. That when it was gone, it was something he missed, that he yearned for again, and maybe that was why Rodney seemed so free with it. He'd had that feeling once himself, all the time, maybe stronger. And that had worn so much energy down, just from that brief period of time. If Carson was swamped with it, stronger…

Rodney's expression faltered a little, but he sat back. "It's the only thing I can do."

"No, Rodney, it's not the only thing you can do," John reassured him quietly. "Seriously… I just don't want you over straining yourself now."

"I'll heal," he insisted, obliviously. "Melios took a bullet to the head. This will be just fine."

"Rodney…" He said it in a low and intense voice. "I'll keep. Okay? I feel better knowing you're recovering. I shouldn't have let them take you."

"I don't remember 'let' being involved." But Rodney started to close his eyes a little, even if he was still holding onto John.

He hadn't tried hard enough. He knew that but Rodney didn't need to deal with that right now. "You rest. I'll stick around." He ignored Dr. Fraiser's glare at him with practiced ease.

"Okay." Rodney moved his hand, the more injured of the two, to clutch over the other side of John's hand, holding onto him with both of them as if that was comfortable somehow, wings splayed awkwardly around him.

Somewhere in the back of his head, he realized that Ellis was going to be crazy angry with them all when they got home.

He'd have to remember to check to see if the SGC had put the contingency plans in place or not. Either way, he would make sure their cat was taken care of because he knew Rodney. After everything that had happened to him, he was damn sure he'd think of their cat first.

And it hadn't been more than a day. It was hard to remember that, but it had only been a day, maybe two counting time lost here in the amphitheatre.

John lifted his eyebrows at Fraiser, but she left him there, and that was all right.

Drifting up out of unconsciousness, he could feel the memory of that glorious moment fading away. He had been full of the wonders of the universe, had touched and comprehended the glory of God, been immersed in the divine plan and now…

Now it was cold and dark and alone. A separation that had him sunk into a deepest depression that meant he did not want to wake up.

But something, or someone was tugging him upwards.

"Here, put these in your ears before I put them in his. I want to make sure it's not too loud, and one of mine is apparently still punctured." It was an odd snippet of conversation to come up to, but he could feel warmth beside him.

"Rodney… whoa, you know when you turn around like that, you could knock me out with the wings…" Another voice drawling and familiar and it was a little spark a hint of what he had lost that drew him like a moth to a flame.

"You don't think that music might put him to sleep even more?"

"It's from his iTunes." That sounded like a protest. "I have nothing to do with the seventies through eighties soft rock ballads he likes."

He twitched, trying to wake up and grasp onto that flare of warmth in the darkness. He wanted to grip and hold on to them and never let them go. He needed it like a man dying of thirst would reach for ice-cold water.

"So, assuming the volume is acceptable, maybe a little music might rouse him." There was pressure, and then he could hear sound, music, but the feeling of warmth, of longing, was what he was drawn to.

It wasn't the music but he felt his hand respond, and he reached and gripped blindly with all his strength, which was woefully pathetic.

A flow of memories startled him, centered him.

He could see a scruffy haired young man leaving a school with a backpack thrown over his shoulder and a duffle dragging behind him, and then he could see that same man, John, sitting on a cot somewhere, picking mud out of his boots with a knife.

It grounded him and he was aware he was clinging to him. He was stronger here; the presence came easier now for some reason. "John?" He was talking in the vision but hoping to reach the present.

He felt the flame of warmth startle, and the hand clutching his held back tighter.


"Help me." He wasn't sure how, though; he didn't know how they could help him, only that their presence made him feel better. Less…bereft and despairing.

"Who the hell…?" overlapped with a murmured, "Hey, c'mon, wake up for us," and the fingers clutching his squeezed tighter while John lowered his knife.

He orientated on the voice that seemed to recognize him, drawing back from the vision towards the real world. "Hmm…" He opened his eyes, but he wasn't completely there. He felt detached, as if he was weighed down.

"Hey, there you are," and, "Hey, Beckett," sounded at the same time, but it seemed like it was coming in two different voices.

"John? Rodney?" Everything seemed unreal and two-dimensional now, and he was seeing things all distorted. Then he realized he hadn't even opened his eyes. He cracked them open, not even sure if he had been physically talking or just believing he had been.

"There we go." His other hand was being gripped now, and that was Rodney. John was on one side of him, and Rodney to that same side, pulling his hand across his body. Keeping him close.

"I don't feel… right…." Carson said, almost desperate. "Don't feel… right…."

He had no energy, no strength. It felt like he had to force himself to breathe.

He half-watched John and Rodney look at each other. "We'll get Dr. Fraiser. You're going to be okay, though. None of your machines are beeping…"

"Everything is… so…." Depressing, painful in what it wasn't. "A shadow. It's not real, nothing's real." Compared to that moment of everything, all encompassing joy and reality then it all was just a shadow. He needed something, something more than this.

"Rodney? Can you uh, tell what's wrong?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I can." Rodney glanced over his shoulder at John. "Get Dr. Fraiser and ask her for two of the saline-glucose whatever drips."

"Okay." John patted his hand and moved off.

"Rodney, what's wrong with me?" he asked, feeling miserable.

"Imagine living a small eternity with that feeling you felt. Every day was like that. And then when it goes away, it leaves you hollowed out, empty, angry, at loose ends." Rodney was shifting, setting his hand to one side of Carson's face. "I'm going to bless you. It's not going to be anywhere near to that, but it might buoy you for a while."

He should say no, he knew he should but he couldn't function like this. "Okay." He let him do it, let the glowing feeling fill him again. "Oh, thank God. Thank God…"

He could move and breathe again, he could live again.

"Never had to wean someone off of God before." Rodney's mouth curled in amusement as he sat back. "Not that we really had that option. Hi."

"You're… looking better," he said finally focusing on Rodney. "How long have I been out?"

"About four days. I'm still a mess, but my insides are inside again. Ronon's been telling everyone that I'm from a pigeon-like offshoot of The People. He's been sporting his tail around the base to make it more plausible."

"A pigeon?" Carson was half amused, half shocked. "I love a part pigeon?" He found that almost hilariously funny for some reason. "Well I suppose your wings are that sort of pearlescent gray."

"Whatever soothes the locals around here," Rodney murmured, lifting his eyebrows at Carson. "I'm compelled to research if other humans have experienced the Fall."

"Is that… I suppose that was what it was," Carson admitted. He looked at Rodney. "You felt like that? That's what you… went through?"

"Worse, probably. We were made into that state where that was normal. That was just life, and then to have it ripped away, to Fall away from it…" Rodney seemed clear and coherent, where he remembered John being worried that he wouldn't be. "It was horrible."

"That seems such an inadequate way of putting it." He inhaled and exhaled. "I need to refocus myself." He brushed his hand over Rodney's skin, scanning him. It was a lot clearer now, the information he was getting back. "Bloody Hell, Rodney, you're still a bit of a mess in there."

"Yeah, we're not talking about that. It's going to take time." Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "And I know what kind of timeline that's on. What's going on with you is different, more…" He waved one hand.

"I'll be fine. I'm… physically better than both of you, just a wee bit achy." Carson had a sudden strong desire to take Rodney home and take care of him, touch every injured part and soothe away the hurt.

"You've been high on God." Rodney sounded oddly delighted by that. "This is like the worst joke ever."

"It explains a lot about angels," Carson answered with a smile even as John came back.

"Glucose drips all round," he said even as Dr. Fraiser came in.

"Dr. Beckett, I'm glad to see this is no false alarm his time," she said. "Let's just take a look at you. Rodney, you'll need one of these too, by all accounts. Hold still, let's get you sorted out."

"He's in withdrawal from Holiness." Rodney leaned back, got out of Fraiser's way.

"Wow, okay, that's new," John replied. "Kinda brings up what we wanted to ask you, Carson. We're pretty worried about what sort of deal you made."

Carson watched as Dr. Fraiser set up the IV for Rodney and for him. "Well, our contact, Samael, he was actually very helpful. I asked him for help when I saw what had happened. I may have told him a few things, you know, like I do." He cleared his throat. "He sent me to the First, and warned me to bargain something I could do, not myself. So I did. The First agreed. I took his hand, and he steered my… uh, ability where he wanted to see."

"How odd of him." Rodney leaned back a little, and seemed thoughtful. "Huh. So he ended up seeing, at some point, God?"

"It was a long… long way forward. But yes." It was hard to explain without feeling choked up. "It was their reconciliation. For a moment I was in the mind of God, Rodney… I think it came close to killing me."

Rodney tilted his head a little. "Yes and no, but yes. It would have destroyed your form. You seem okay right now."

"So you didn't sell your soul or anything?" John asked again. He seemed a bit obsessed by that.

"No, John, just a one off, which was enough, I can tell you," Carson admitted. "I'm still not sure what was going on when we came after you or how I knew who was running Hell or any of that. I think that was just an after effect."

"You did it," Rodney pointed out. "You got us out of Hell. All of us, Carson, whether you were one hundred percent there and doing it or not."

"Well, I'll just assume that they didn't want the demons to have you, Rodney, and I was a convenient …vessel I think they call it." Carson smiled. The Blessing was still buzzing around in his body. "John organized it all in the first place, though, hope he told you that."

"Yeah." Rodney leaned back in his chair, and looked over at John. "He did. Haltingly, and eventually."

Carson glanced at him as well. "John, you are rubbish when it comes to taking credit. In fact, you are all so concerned about me making a deal, and John was fronting up for one with Samael to get you back."

That made Rodney grimace, and move to half-heartedly kick at John's shin. "Sheppard! You don't do that with Samael. He'll take you up on it!"

"Hey, I wasn't like I was going to let anyone else bargain," John protested and Carson was glad that Dr. Fraiser had gone. "It wouldn't be the first time."

"Maybe not the first. Maybe. But not Samael. He'd, he…" Rodney waved his hand, and seemed like he was going to idly play with the IV stand. "No."

"I've broken deals before," John answered stubbornly.

"The fact is, a deal wasn't made, Samael has asked for a favor at most." Carson said. "And I think… I think he liked me actually."

"Lions can like you, too. His uh… servant, right hand, the lilim woman? I'd never cross her. The lilim always made my skin crawl." He took one more nudge at John's chair. "And I can say this from experience."

"When can we go home?" Carson asked. He could tell there was a lot of discussion to have between them all. "Have they said?"

"They said… we might be home in another three or four days. You were in a coma until just recently, so no diagnosis on you yet."

"That should work." Carson nodded. "I really want you both to myself. "

He wanted them both and he was possibly broadcasting some of that.


"I think we're going to have some leave time after this. The base is finally secured. You know those guards the demons rode in on? Henna tattoos. They wear a little, smudge out, and suddenly your ward is worth nothing."

"They apparently didn't prioritize them in the tattoo queue," John said. "That's changing now. They're not allowed in until they've done them."

"That makes sense," Carson replied. He was getting a little tired again.

Rodney reached forward, nudging the mp3 player he'd been playing with when Carson had started to come to. "This is going to keep wearing off, and we're going to need to wean you off. What I can share is nothing like what He can give."

"I'm going to go through withdrawal?" Carson asked as he settled back. "Great. No wonder demons are so notoriously unstable."

"Hey, am I unstable? Is Samael unstable?" And notably, Carson knew that Rodney knew other Fallen angels, but he didn't mention them as fine upstanding citizens. There was no question that the creature who had held them all hostage had been unstable.

Nevertheless, he smiled. "I stand corrected. Or lie corrected." Right now though he felt fine. He yawned a little. "Sorry, I'm a wee bit tired."

"Sleep. John and I will still be here when you wake up, Carson. With all the bad power ballads you could want." Rodney leaned in and patted his leg gently, but he had the oddest, most wistful expression on his face.

Carson considered he was going to have to get to the bottom of that soon, when he wasn't falling asleep again. Rodney was more hurt than he made out and he got the impression that previous ordeals had been dealt with by him alone. That wouldn't be the case any more, but Rodney might need reminding of that. Soon. When he'd managed to get more rest.

It felt strange to be home again after so long.

It was just a week, and Carter had been by their house to feed Ellis and change the litter, but it felt like an eternity since he'd sat down on the sofa and coaxed a cat to sit in his lap, like a normal person. Ellis, it seemed, was initially not happy with any of them but the lure of a warm lap had won him over and he had settled on him.

It was good to be somewhere safe and secure with John and Carson even if the three of them were all in various screwed up pieces.

They were physically there, and Rodney could blank his mind and pet his cat, and wonder if Cheetos tasted as good as he remembered them tasting. He wanted to be home, and he was home, but it was still in his head.

Terrible things had happened to him, and as much as he wanted to blank it all out, he couldn't. Sometimes it was just there, reducing him to a quivering wreck that he didn't want them to see. John appeared to be doing the same thing, and Carson…. well, he was looking at them both wondering what to do. He seemed drawn to be with them when things got bad, to be close and touching.

That just made him feel worse, because he should be there for Carson, should be attempting to fix his problems because he knew, he knew, firsthand what that could feel like.

"Cup of tea? Or coffee?" Carson called out from the kitchen. "Where's John?"

"Hiding." There was no point in lying about it. Rodney leveraged himself off of the sofa, bringing Ellis with him. "Which is sweeter?"

"I'll do you a coffee," Carson answered. "I'm going to have to do something about this whole hiding thing you are doing. I haven't had my post coma ambition of getting the both of you in bed together fulfilled yet."

"We should do that." Rodney wandered into the kitchen with Ellis, fingers stroking through his fur. "I, uh. Dantalion did some horrible things wearing your faces."

"Oh." Carson looked at him. "I did… see that. Some of it. Is that way… you are holding back some?"

"I don't know. I…" He leaned against the inside of the doorway. "So much time passed. It feels strange to be back here like nothing happened."

"Aye." Carson finished making the coffee. "I can imagine that. I was thinking at the time I couldn't waste time going to call for back up as it would be weeks or months for you."

"It felt like years. I lost track." Rodney curled his fingers in Ellis's fur. "And the crazy thing? He never made an impression on me. I mean, there are some of the host who are still there who left an impression on me, and more of the Fallen, and I hardly remember him. He's the equivalent of some guy you bump into in a Seven-Eleven. Weird hat, huh, whatever, oh, look, donuts, and you move on. And he didn't."

"He probably could tell that and it bugged him," Carson answered. "He wanted you because of the power you have, not for a private vendetta. You know, I don't think you've really considered how much more powerful you probably are now Rodney."

"The question is actually do I care?" He lifted an eyebrow at Carson while he watched him tamp down the grounds for his espresso maker.

Carson chuckled a little. "Perhaps it might be useful to make sure certain members of the Fallen don't get the idea to try it again?" he suggest mildly. "Although John blowing up a significant portion of Hell might make them think twice."

"John's impressive, and so are you. You realize that I've lived here with humanity for so long that I keep most of my powers packed away? The energy it takes just to blend in is immense."

"One day I'd like you to… unpack. I think I have a bit of a thing for angels. One particular angel, at least."

"Unpack?" Rodney scritched under Ellis's chin. "I'm not sure I'd know how to put it all away again."

Ellis rubbed his head against him and purred even as the coffee was poured and Carson got his tea. "Let's sit down again. Does it bother you if I get close to you now?"

"No." No, he liked it. He'd like it better if John was there, but he'd stuck his head in the computer room earlier, and John had seemed well ensconced.

"How about if I touch you?" Carson asked. "I'd really like to do that, but I don't want to upset you."

Rodney reached for his coffee cup, even as he let Ellis throw himself down onto the floor. "It's okay, Carson. I've got a pretty good grasp of what's real and what's not now."

"That's good, because I really have this very strong urge to touch you that won't fade," Carson admitted. "And John. Maybe I just need to reassure myself you are both okay."

"We're okay. Well, I'm okay." Rodney pulled a seat out at the kitchen table. John, less so, and it worried him.

"You're worried about John?" Carson asked in a low voice. "Has he said anything to you?"

"Very little. He's usually more sociable, and I'm used to handling these things alone, so I suspect he is, too."

"I'm just used to having nervous breakdowns. I am determined I'm not doing that and neither of you will be alone," Carson insisted as he sat as well. "I'm not sure what I can do but I'm going to do it."

It made him smile a little. "Good. So, do you want me to go roust John and bring him down here?"

"Yeah. Maybe we can watch something together to start with or… something," Carson suggested hesitantly.

"You might want to pour a cup of coffee for him, too. I'll be right back." Rodney wasn't sure why he was the one going in, and not Carson, but he took his coffee mug in hand and scooted his chair back. It was the sensations of things that made it all seem surreal. Coffee was warm and had a familiar taste, the hazelnut creamer they had bursting on his tongue.

"I'll do that. Meet you in the living room." Carson gave him a faint smile.

"Right." He took the stairs slowly, one at a time, because if he was honest, he still hurt, ached, like not everything was where it belonged yet. It made him wonder about the Fallen who treated their bodies like ping pong balls, trusting the self-repair.

It sounded like John was playing some sort of computer game up there now which was an improvement from mindlessly staring at a screen. He seemed pretty intent and completely shielded from any sort of occult prying eyes.

"John?" Rodney stepped into the room, watching some kind of ball bounce around the screen.

"Yeah?" John glanced up. "You okay?"

He always asked that, always. As if he was afraid he might break or something.

"Carson's making coffee and we're thinking about putting a movie in. You want to come down?" He stepped closer in towards John. "The good coffee."

John looked torn. He shrugged a little. "I'm not really good company right now."

"Neither am I. Carson's worried." Rodney wandered in closer, peering at the screen.

"Peggle. You'd like it." John grimaced. "If I stayed up here, you reckon he'd come up after me?"

"I'd help, too." Rodney set a hand on John's shoulder. "C'mon. We were both there. We know what happened. This makes this suffering in silence twice as strange."

"Not exactly suffering here." John stirred, for all his words, only slowly, as he got up. "You were there a helluva lot longer."

"I heal up faster. Also, do we have to whip it out and try to take a ruler and measure who suffered most? It's Hell."

"Look, it's a matter of perspective. Doesn't feel right to complain when it's a fraction of what happened to you." John shifted awkwardly. "Ow… Don't usually have anyone to complain to."

"You know Hell, John. You know it. And you still voluntarily came to get me. As a matter of perspective, that's insane of you to make that decision," Rodney pointed out. He moved to let John leave first.

John hesitated as if he was about to say something, but then walked past him, downstairs. It was infuriating; Sheppard clammed up and he got the equivalent of verbal diarrhea.

Carson had obviously decided that coffee might not be all they needed and an array of snacks and harder drinks were arrayed waiting for them when they got downstairs.

Rodney clutched at his coffee cup, and followed, waiting and hoping that John might open up, on some level. "Well, this is productive."

"Come and sit down," Carson beckoned. "Any particular movie you want to watch? I'm not bothered by what it is."

"Rodney can pick," John decided, and gave a faint smile. "Then I can tell him how bad the movie is."

"Mmm. What did I say we should watch when we got home?" Rodney lingered at the bottom of the stairs, watching them. He wanted that. He wanted a home; he always wanted a home, because things had seldom seemed right since he Fell. Now it felt oddly like he'd lost part of that.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark," John commented. "I said I was going to laugh at the mythology."

"Sounds like a good one, and one we apparently have. In fact we have all of them," Carson commented as he managed to find it and put it on. "Now, both of you come and sit with me, otherwise I will be convinced I smell or something the way you are avoiding me."

"We can start to work our way through them?" Rodney suggested, moving to stake out a spot at the end of the sofa.

"Sure." John took the other end, and Carson came and sat between them instead of taking the chair. He actually seemed to relax just by being in contact with them both.

Rodney shifted. He was glad once the movie was playing as opposed to just running through the horror of the previews for some other discs they didn't want to watch. It was something to do without having to actually interact, and if Rodney got closer to Carson while digging for ranch dip to put on a plate, and passing some to John, well.

For a while, he thought Carson was going to push for a serious discussion right there and then, and John seemed like he expected that too, but nothing. Carson just laughed at the comments, made a few of his own, and if his hand ended up on Rodney's leg then that wasn't threatening.

That was okay. Rodney ate, and then abandoned his plate onto the arm of the sofa, Cheetos piled on it so he could absently munch while getting comfortable. There were times that he thought he could be running around the world interfering with everything out there, and he didn't want to be. Power was useless to him.

This on the other hand, was rare and wonderful and…. He would lose them. That's what happened, he lost anyone he cared for and love, well love made it that much more difficult.

Carson was very comfortable, and from the way John was sprawling, he thought so, too.

The movies were very good, very engaging — lots of witty repartee, lots of action, women running around, unnecessary sword scenes. John seemed comfortable, and Rodney didn't want to shake that. He could imagine Dantalion telling him how much he was wasting his power, but so what? It wasn't like it was rotting away. Life was meant to be lived however he saw fit. The wonders of the world were in the small things.

Carson's hand was petting him absently much like he did to Ellis. A quick glance at John showed he was doing the same to him and his hand felt warm and comforting.

Funny, how Carson just stepped into that role, a role Rodney had never even been sure he needed filled or had open to be filled. But here Carson was, soothing them both down as if they were skittish wild animals.

Maybe they were in a way — him with his wings that twitched and mantled at the slightest sound and John with his stare like a wolf caught in a bear trap. Nice and comforting, and Carson's hand had found its way under his shirt to rest on his skin over his stomach. It was almost suspiciously relaxing.

There was another fight scene on, but fed and relaxed — there was very little else he could ask for in life. "Hey, Carson?"

"Mmm?" Carson was seemingly looking at the screen but his eyes were just a little bit unfocused.

"What?" John said and he sounded a little bit like someone had given him the good drugs as well.

"I was thinking we could maybe pause the movie. I haven't really been watching it." He'd been wallowing in sensation, small as it might've been.

"Sure," John drawled and pressed pause as he had the remotes. "You know, I'm feeling kinda chilled."

"Mmm, yes, you are." Carson murmured.

"We could move this upstairs?" Okay, so it was as subtle as a hammer upside the head, but it was the best idea Rodney had.

That caught Carson's attention. "Yes! I mean… are you sure?"

John actually laughed. "Like we could say no to that response."

"We can just sort of see what happens," Rodney suggested, shifting and twisting to get a better look at both John and Carson.

"How about I get to give you guys a massage?" Carson asked. "That's pretty non-threatening and will satisfy this thing I have to check over every inch of you."

"Well you've twisted my arm…" John drawled turning the TV off. "I can deal with that."

"Were you just in a coma?" Still, it wasn't as if Carson was going to be going out and running a marathon. Just lazing in bed with them. He put the lid back on the ranch dip, so they wouldn't find a bloated cat and an empty container later.

Ellis was probably cursing him somewhere.

"I find it relaxing as well." Carson said. "If it goes that way, then you two can return the favor."

He stood up, just watching Carson and John for a moment, before he leaned in to offer them a hand up. "Okay." Why not? Why sulk and keep putting off something he wanted?

They made their way upstairs, John clicking off the TV and DVD and following them both up. Surprisingly, Carson seemed to mean it about the massage and had busied himself getting towels laid out and some massage oil. "Both of you on the bed," he said briskly, looking almost eager.

"I think I just stepped into a porno." Rodney smirked, starting to undress. He wasn't over-dressed, but even t-shirt and sweatpants was too much just then, and he let his wings spread out slowly once he had his clothes in a pile at his feet.

"I'll have you know my designs on you are entirely innocent," Carson replied.

"I've heard that before," John quipped and Rodney hadn't really seen him undressed since their trip to Hell. It wasn't pretty. It reminded him how fragile they could be. John was a mess of stitches still, and pink lines from his lighter cuts, bandages and pads on his skin.

"Entirely innocent of innocence?" Rodney caught himself leaning in closer to John, reaching out to touch beneath one of those marks.

He felt John tense automatically and then relax, looking at him directly. "Hey."

"The closer you two are, the better." Carson he clambered onto the bed.

"Right. Let me get my pants off, then." Rodney pulled back and slipped them off before he moved to lie on his stomach on the bed.

John moved up close to him, even as Carson began talking. "I'm glad we're doing this," he said. "I think my mind is a wee bit obsessed in doing a thorough examination of you both. It won't let the subject drop."

"Why?" He was allowed to be curious, even as he turned his head, and propped an arm under it, peering at John.

"No idea," Carson sighed a little even as John stuck his tongue out at him and smirked just to annoy him. "I've found myself saying things a lot recently and not having a clue what I'm talking about. I'm sure that's not normal."

He was warming the oil in his hands and by the time he dribbled it onto his back, it was almost hot.

"You're still easing off of that high you were on." He could only imagine what a mess they were going to still be when they were put back on duty, even if it was light research duty for a while.

"I'm sure there is something wrong about being addicted to holiness," Carson murmured as his hands started to smooth over his skin and then apparently over John as well. "You've both got knots in every muscle."

"Do John first." He wanted to at least watch John try to pull more faces at him.

"As you wish," Carson answered turning to work on John in earnest. John made appropriately bizarre faces as he did so; exhaling in a grunting groan of relief each time something was released.

"That's… uhnnn…"

There was just the faintest gleam of light around Carson's hands, which was probably a trick of the light.

Still, he watched the gleam, watched it rise and fade, and wondered if it was some new facet of Carson which had turned itself out in response to everything that had happened. His hands didn't usually glow, after all.

He watched as faint line of pain smoothed out of John's expression. "That's… fantastic," he murmured, his eyes half closing.

"Thank you. I'll do Rodney's back and then get you to turn over." Carson reached out, and wow, his hands felt hot then, like liquid sunshine pouring into his over-strained body.

"Huh. What're you, what is that?" It felt good, solid, going right through him, but it didn't feel like the heat was harmful.

"Not sure," Carson replied. "But it feels good. Like I've been bottling it up and it just feels like it rushing to all the damaged spots. It's not draining me or anything if that's what you are worried about."

"That's what I'm worried about." He laid his head back down, still trying to somehow look over his shoulder at Carson.

"Stop that, I can feel you pulling on a damaged muscle," Carson admonished him. "If you are worried, I give you full permission to come and take a peek in my head. You, too, John, if you wish."

"I'm not going to intrude," Rodney murmured, settling back down.

"Spoilsport," John said. "You know I can't do it without a spell or you dragging me in." He looked very relaxed then, and happy, and that was almost a miracle.

"Maybe its surplus holiness," Carson suggested. "I promise you, it just feels right."

"I'm still allowed to worry." Rodney pressed his face into the pillow for a moment, and couldn't help but groan when Carson pressed more of that heat through him.

"Yes, you are. I can feel it off of you, and John, which is strange because really, I am probably in the best shape out of all of us." Carson's hands kept moving. "You two are very good at internalizing things. I'm not so good. Probably why I lost it when my abilities first started. It wanted to be out there all the time. It drives me mad not being able to fix things."

"Are you fixing us?" Because that was what it felt like, physically.

"Maybe I am…" Carson's voice held a hint of surprise and wonder. "Finally! An ability I actually want!"

"Huh." Rodney slouched in a little, and just took it in. Carson was healing, physically healing, with no obvious ill effects, no mania, no loss of control. He was coming into who he was more smoothly than Rodney had ever guessed he would. Perhaps it had been kick-started by the push from the First, or their ordeal, but it seemed to be rushing in fast.

"You know…" John watched him. "The lore on Seventh Sons usually makes them out to be healers."

"I'd say Carson's been focused on that on his own for quite a while." And now he could do it more essentially, with a manipulation of reality through the Logos that was fascinating.

"Hah, you guys are going to be my guinea pigs for testing this." Carson was obviously delighted. "Mmm. Okay, turn over."

"Who, John or me?" Rodney started to twist onto his hip, a wing stretching to lie flat on the bed behind him. His erection was already trying to get free of being caught between the mattress and his body.

"Both." The answer was decisive. "Whoever makes it first, I'll massage first."

"Hey, he already started," John complained.

Rodney eased onto his back, and smiled as he settled comfortably. "Start with John. I like to watch."

"Well, if you insist." Even with the scars, John was still obscenely attractive. With Carson beginning to move deliberately sensuously as he started on his front, it was definitely an erotic sight.

Rodney crossed his arms behind his head, watching Carson's fingers slide over John's chest, over his tattoos. Carson's hands were glowing gently again, and Rodney sat up and started to trail touches behind Carson's fingers.

"Mmm," John had been relaxing with his eyes shut and cracked them open. "Okay this is the sort of massage that gives massage parlors a bad name."

"Purely medicinal. Well… nearly," Carson said. "Bloody hell, I think I can see inside of you. That's novel."

"Inside him? Like, his insides? Liver damage and all?" Rodney teased, pressing fingers along the line of one of John's warding tattoos. It made John actually shiver. Magical tattoos could be used as conduits both ways.

"My liver has seen better days," John murmured.

"Aye, well, most people's have," Carson answered. "Mmm, it feels good to touch you."

"It feels good to watch." Rodney traced the closed circle with a fingertip. "I've missed this."

"I'm not complaining." John looked up at him as Carson move downwards.

"They did something to you here…" he said seriously, looking at John.

"Hmn?" Rodney sat up a little, trying to see what Carson meant, what he might have personally missed.

"Demons tend to assume I'm a whore and treat me that way." John answered unconcerned on the surface at least.

Ah. Ah, and oh, shit. Rodney shifted, leaned up onto his elbow. He'd had that happen down there, but it was, it was something he wasn't thinking about, wasn't focusing on. His life had been too long, too varied to let it dent him, but he wasn't human. He wasn't even particularly special — it was probably a bad idea to deal with things the way he did, but to know that happened to John…. "John…"

"What? Not like I haven't had to deal that way before," John answered.

"I did wonder why you seemed to be making a pass at Samael," Carson murmured softly. "I think I can do something about the physical damage for you and Rodney. A wee bit like Rodney's blessing I suspect."

"You made a pass at Samael?" Rodney tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice, but what the… hell.

"He's a good looking guy," John said obviously trying to sound flippant as Carson's hands glowed in earnest. "Look, demons don't do something for nothing."

"Samael will do something to hang it over your head for all eternity," Rodney groused, leaning on his side and reaching a hand out to touch John's chest again.

"It would've been worth it," John said meeting Rodney's eyes. "We weren't going to lose you. Only… we were trying to keep the sensitives safe."

"I know. I, you saved me. I don't know what I would have done, with more time there." He didn't, He'd been close to falling apart one or two times.

"We left you there too long." John reached up to gently pull his head closer as a prelude to initiating a kiss. "I was worried that you wouldn't come back as you."

"Who would I come back as?" John's mouth felt good, and Rodney scooted over a little, just to be close.

"He was methodically breaking down your sense of self, love," Carson added. "They weren't sure if you would be sane. Most would not be."

"Huh. Well, I'm a little detached and drifting sometimes, but I'm certainly me. It just feels shocking to be home. To be back here." He glanced at Carson, even while he reached fingers for John's hair.

"Don't mind me, I'll just make sure certain parts are in tiptop condition should we need them." Carson smiled. "This is home, home for all three of us and it always will be."

Well, until something happened to John or Carson or both of them. Time wore down civilizations, rubbed out cities and people over and over again. Always was such a short time.

His thought processes were short circuited by John leaning up for a kiss, and that tended to derail everything. Whatever powers John had or commanded, possibly his most underrated one was in the way he kissed. It pulled Rodney back into the here and now, and he leaned in, kissing John hard because, damn, he wanted that. Contact, intimacy, warmth and love, he could have it all, right then and there.

It was spark enough to set John off, to pull him closer as if he thought they wouldn't be able to do anything like this again. He heard a low chuckle from Carson and a touch that warmed him all through.

He groaned against John's mouth, and pulled back a little. "Mmm, hello to you, too, hot hands."

"I'm getting the hang of this," Carson murmured in his ear. "And full body contact makes it much easier."

John was insistently kissing his jaw and neck, distracting him.

"Mmm." Rodney just reveled in it for a few seconds, concentrating on the feeling of Carson leaning into him with his whole body, John's roaming mouth finding that spot on his neck that made him shudder. It was real, and Carson and John, not any demonic creatures.

Carson was fondling his wings, broadcasting immense satisfaction at doing that and John was intent on him, his skin, and from the feel of it, things were in working order. Things were definitely in working order. He was hard and he wanted, he wanted anything, anything he could get at all. John, Carson, both of them, either of them. Humanity was so fleeting and he couldn't remember the last time he'd loved and wanted that strongly and had it reciprocated.

John was rubbing against him languidly but with a steadfast refusal to let go of him. Carson was over arching them both, soothing down their frantic need into something more enduring. "Maybe you shouldn't… if things were bad." He seemed a little hesitant. "I wasn't affected in that way."

"Hmn?" Rodney pulled back from kissing John, and tried to look for an answer on his face. "What do you think? I'm flexible. I've missed you both."

"If you want it… I just don't want to push you too far," Carson murmured softly and nuzzled the back of his neck with a kiss.

"How about it, John?" He was neutral, Carson was all for it, John was…. what?

"I would never say no to you," John answered and smiled a little. "Let's just see who ends up where when we get there."

"Right." Rodney shifted, tried to give John more room while at the same time trying to slide an arm under him. The physical dynamics of the thing was challenging, sometimes.

Carson grinned and even as John moved to try kissing again, he shifted downwards creating warm trails with his hands. Then there was the warm and wet sensation of a mouth down there, teasing around his cock, and from John's groan it appeared he was getting a handjob.

Both of them at the same time, sucking and stroking, and oh. Rodney pushed gently against Carson's mouth, clutching more tightly to John, kissing him over and over. The edges between them blurred, kisses here, there, everywhere as they touched and slid into a natural-feeling balance of warmth and comfort that was completely at odds with the brief hot spurts of pleasure the demons had forced on him as 'rewards'.

This was a low burning want that kindled in his stomach and reached up to grab him. All he could think to do was not to hit anyone with his wings, trying to curl around and clutch both of his comparably frail humans close.

They were both underneath his wings now, seemed to like it there. Whether the protection they afforded was symbolic or actual, he didn't know. John was slowly rubbing his erection again as Carson seemed intent on attempting to suck the both of them at the same time.

Rodney rocked, too, minute movements of his hips, because he could feel Carson's tongue on his dick, and then his cheek, and then his tongue again, moving between them both.

"Rodney…" John murmured as if he was about to say something but just couldn't get the words out.

"John wants to say he loves you," Carson murmured, the words huffing cooling air over his hot skin. "So do I."

"You got me out of Hell." No one did that. Maybe to them it seemed like it had been tough, but Rodney knew that no one did that. No one. It wasn't just amazing, it was something that millions of sane humans had considered and firmly decided no to the option of doing. "That said it louder than words."

John kissed him thankfully for that, for not making him say the words.

"Mmm. Hey, I think I've worked something out." Carson laid a hand over his ass, and over John's. Nothing seemed to happen for a moment and then he could feel the merest burning tingle inside, flickering up and down and appearing to send delicate teasing jolts over his prostate in rhythmic pulses.

It was hard not to laugh and squirm at the same time. "Oh, that's… damn." A warm feeling, pulses that felt like heat and pressure and nothing like electricity biting at him.

"I like being able to do that to the both of you at once." Carson beamed as the pair of them reacted.

"You keep that up, and one day I'm going to show you how I can make you come without touching you… or allowing you to touch yourself," John promised.

"Oh, incentive…" Carson chuckled. "What do you offer, Rodney?"

"Sex while flying? But I can only carry one person at a time." And a varied experience, and he leaned in to kiss John again.

"Mmm, sounds like fun," Carson replied, and the sensation grew more intense, as if he was being invisibly fucked. John was clutching at him then. "I should point out that I want the real thing here."

Rodney groaned, trying to press back to that nothing, to Carson's hand. "Move up here and I think one of us will oblige you. Wow."

Carson obliged, wiggling upwards. "It's good to be at the center here," he said. "First come, first served."

"That's a horrible pun, Carson," Rodney groused, sliding one hand along Carson's side. "Uhmp, three is better than two."

"Do you want his ass or his cock?" John asked, more than eager for action now. Obviously the stimulation was enough to trigger his need.

Rodney was just pleased to have the both of them that comfortably close to him. He'd take either, so he decided to go with what John might not want just then. "I'll take his front." It would just take a little wiggling around.

"I'm pretty happy either way," Carson replied, even as John got himself into a nice comfortable position and started teasing at Carson in a way that made his eyes go wide and unfocused fairly rapidly.

Rodney twisted, turning so that he was facing Carson on his side, trying to move his wings up out of his way behind himself. "Mmm. I want to watch your face."

"Easy… to please… oh, eager, John, are we?" Carson asked as John was already pushing into his ass.

"Says the man who's been magically fingering my ass for the last however long," John panted.

"Lube?" Rodney twisted, and it was times like that that he wished his wings were prehensile or something. They certainly didn't follow commands enough to open a drawer.

"I'm using the massage oil," John murmured settling in, even as Carson exhaled a moan. "You want?"

"Yes." Rodney reached over John, fingers bumping for a moment before they managed a pass off. Carson's face was tight and loose at the same time, caught up in what John was doing.

His concentration was obviously slipping because the sensation on his prostate became less predictable and measured; instead there were bursts of intense pleasure.

Rodney fumbled some of the oil onto his hands, and reached between their bodies to stroke Carson's dick hard and upright, playing with the curve of it. It went a little left, and that amused Rodney.

"Oh… oh god," Carson groaned. "I'm not going to last if you do that."

John chuckled. "Now what type of a magician would I be if I couldn't stop the rabbit popping out of the hat prematurely?"

He whispered a charm that Rodney could sense binding itself around the base of Carson's cock. "It's very useful. I can stop you coming no matter how desperate you are… makes for some interesting sex."

"Problem solved." Rodney gave Carson's cock another slippery stroke, and then reached behind himself to slide a slick finger up his own ass. Nice, nice and slow, nothing like the intense pains he'd felt down in Hell.

"That's… one of the sexiest things I've ever seen," Carson said, watching even as John gripped on to him and began moving slowly. Immediately his cock twitched. Rodney was definitely going to find out that charm for John. Generally only the person casting it could release it, and he liked the idea of that.

Bondage without the ropes, leather thongs, and anything else that went with it. Rodney made the motion a few more times, trying to work up to two well-slicked fingers. If it was sloppy, well. He liked things a little dirtier.

"At least I know I won't be letting you down," Carson murmured and half gasped at a particular angle that John hit. "Oh…"

"There's no letting down involved here. I want you, you both, real and in person, touching you, that's all I need." Any sex act that went with it, came near it, well, that was a bonus. He could tell they were solid and real and alive, while he moved to try to get a leg over Carson's hips awkwardly to get him near his ass.

Carson helped support him with his hands, and that warmth flooded strength into his body. "That's it, love," he murmured, even as he rocked a little with John's movement.

It was awkward, but he could see John over Carson's shoulder, and see John's hand sliding around to rest on Carson's stomach. Face to face was worth it just for that, even if he had to twist his hips weird to press against Carson's dick.

It took them a little while to get into a comfortable position where friction was producing the results they wanted. John was half controlling the pace and movement. Rodney was sort of along for the ride, but he liked it. He didn't have too much say in the timing and speed, and it felt good just to touch and stroke and feel Carson and John.

Carson was trying to kiss him and touch him, reaching down to provide wonderful bursts of sensations with his hands that rippled throughout his body. This continued until John moved to shift position, pulling them all up, and suddenly there was a much more comfortable and satisfying element to his position. From Carson's rather breathless reaction, he obviously felt it, too.

"You okay, John?" Rodney asked, settling onto his heels and crouching for a moment. It was nice to spread his wings out, stretch.

"Just… admiring the view," John answered, and Rodney could feel the strength in John's muscles as he thrust, moving the weight of all of them.

"Oh my god, I'm never going to survive." Carson closed his eyes but his hand slid, gripping Rodney's cock as well.

"Oh, I think we'll survive just great." Rodney could feel his stomach muscles tighten, trying to get a better balance to move against what John was doing, thrusting up against Carson.

In that, his wings helped stabilize him, and it was then that John set up a maddening relentless pace that had Carson almost in a panting delirium of need when he couldn't come and the stimulation continued. He wasn't sure if Carson was doing it unconsciously or in self-defense, but somewhere in their movements, the golden warmth ignited into a fire in the blood. Suddenly, pure arousal and want flooded all of their systems and the Joint Chiefs of Staff could have wandered in right then and they wouldn't have noticed.

Not that Rodney thought anyone would be getting into their house without their permission, but.

Every so often he twitched his wings, getting himself a little lift, a little relief off of his thighs, even as he tried to lean in and kiss Carson while the pure arousal flooded over him.

Carson was responding hungrily, unable to stop touching him. He kissed as if he needed it like the gasps of breath he was inhaling. John was starting to make noises that were rough and almost primal as he sped up. "Please…" Carson was whispering against his lips in between kisses. "Please… more…"

"How much more? This much more?" He tried to move faster, but more, more didn't matter until John released the charm from Carson. More would just build and build until John said so.

From the look in John's eye, he wanted them all reaching a climax together. "How close are you?" he managed without pausing a thrust.

"Little further." But close, rising and falling with the rest of them, moving his body as close to in time with theirs as he could. "Close."

Carson seemed to take that as hope and redoubled his efforts, pushing hard up into him and stroking his erection hard.

"Better," John managed. "Tell me when you're going to come."

Rodney had a sneaking suspicion John had used that charm on himself as well as Carson. And that meant all of them were hanging on when he was ready to orgasm.

He moved hard, pressing down onto Carson's dick, shifting until the angle was just right, over and over and over. "Now, now…"

There was a gasping annulment of the charm and almost immediately Carson erupted into a frenzy of movement and John likewise until there were twin hoarse shouts and flooding warmth inside of him.

He rode it out, hit his own orgasm, and kept moving until things ached a little, until he was sore and he was well past spent, moving to get off of them so he didn't collapse as an added weight on the both of them. "Mm."

"Oh my… god." Carson practically collapsed. "I think I actually passed out for a moment, I came so hard."

"This is what we get for having sex with an angel and his unearthly stamina," John pointed out.

"More foreplay makes that shorter," Rodney admitted, lying down beside them, curling one wing over them both. "Mmm, thank you. It really feels good to be alive."

"Mm, and that magic thing…." Carson glanced at John. "I didn't know what to do with myself. But I think we'll use that again."

John chuckled a little at that. "Thought you might like it."

"I liked it," Rodney volunteered. He was shifting minutely, gathering them closer to him.

"Maybe I'll try it on you next time," John promised with a lazy leer. "Here, come on, lie on top of us. I kinda like the weight, and it will allow you to sleep with your wings out."

He stretched them, and squirmed over to do just that. "I missed you both." So much. He was trying not to think about Hell, trying not to replay any of it, and he was good at that.

"I know, love." Carson gently steered Rodney into a comfortable position. "But we're not going anywhere. I promise."

He could flop out on his belly, and just relax with them both there. "I know."

It was good to lie there and bask in the wealth of emotions that they produced together. This was real, where Hell had been a mere distorted copy that was easily dismissed when matched with the original. He had fallen in love and half of him reveled in it, but the other half, that couldn't let go easily into slumber, dreaded the inevitable day that he would lose them, one way or another.

Carson liked his new abilities, liked being able to diagnose with a touch, a feel and his ability to heal seemed to be coming along as well. That was more directly connected to his emotional link with the other person, so John and Rodney did well out of him, but he hadn't been as successful with others. He suspected that would come in time.

Maybe. It was interesting just to try, to feel things out and revel in his abilities. More things would go wrong, Carson knew, and the more ready they were, the better. The more ready he was personally, the better.

They had been allowed back to the SGC, keeping it pretty light. Daniel kept dragging Rodney off to talk with him, and he had taken to hiding in unusual, out of the way places to avoid being pounced on too often. John was training everyone in everything remotely combat magical and was finally getting pleased with their progress, enough to make the odd compliment. He'd also, with the help of Carter, marked out a complete set of protective wards and defenses that showed pure deviousness.

In the mean time, Carson had been working on his project, and doing pretty bloody well as it happened. He just trucked away at it, running tests in simulation until he could get an approved test group within the SGC. To pull that piece of the genetic code back to where it had been once upon a time would be like a bloody miracle. He had an advantage — he was sensing his way into the areas of DNA that were most relevant.

He decided to take a wee break while his latest tests were running and get a cup of coffee, wandering into one of the quiet offices only to be hit by an emotional backwash from the occupant there.

It was strange, and the flood was immense, more intense than anything else he'd come across. The sensation was heavy, dragging, and Carson started towards the door, focusing hard on what he was getting a sensation of as he started to walk towards the door.

It felt old. Ancient, as if time was an enemy. There were a lot of long-lived half-breeds. Teyla and Ronon were surprisingly old and they weren't the only ones. He paused, trying to sort it out in his head. There was a sense of loss and fear of loss milling around in his head.

He wasn't sure he wanted to open that office door, and disturb whoever was in there, but whoever it was needed comfort.

The weight of loss and loss and loss was heavy in the air, though, and how could Carson consider himself a decent member of the medical profession if he didn't try to help a little? It was very hard to ignore when he could feel the pain there. He opened the door, putting on a slight smile and concerned look and was surprised at who was tucked away in the corner.


It didn't look as if anything at all was wrong. He had a computer on his lap, and it looked as if he'd set up a comfortable if out of the way workspace. Just looking at him, Carson wouldn't have guessed at any of that. That anything at all was wrong. He looked up, canted his head a little, chin jutting. "What, is something wrong? I'm hiding from Jackson."

He could just walk away and pretend, but he'd thought Rodney was happy. Really happy. They had spectacular sex in a variety of combinations, they bickered, they had a level of comfort that all of them had been missing and he felt happy when he was with them so this was a bit of a shock. "I was going to ask you the same thing," he said, coming over.

An odd, fond undercurrent spiked up, warm and wide, and Rodney scooted over a little, as if he expected Carson to join him on the floor. How many people like himself and John had Rodney lost? How many humans did he mentor a century, and how many centuries had he been doing it, over and over, with no hope of it stopping, with no reason to believe that circumstances would ever change? There was every indication that he remembered everything. "No. Why?"

He did sit down next to Rodney, still considering that. "I could feel what you were feeling…"

Rodney stared at him for a moment, and finally started to close his laptop. He hadn't been doing anything more mind wracking than playing solitaire. "Ah. Look, I just… wallow every once in a while. That's all."

"You know we don't want to leave you," Carson said softly. "Has this happened a lot of times?"

"You all die eventually. It's not a matter of leaving." Rodney slipped his laptop off of his lap, and turned his head to look over at Carson. "And I know that I could have decades more with you both. But it's hardly any time at all, and this program isn't a safe one. The SGC isn't the place you want to work if you want to retire at an old age."

Carson wanted to comfort Rodney somehow, but everything seemed inadequate. "We both know that something comes after," he offered. "I… maybe there is something more?"

"Heaven. Your conceptualization of it. I know it exists. I've never been there. Angels… don't actually frolic around in heaven. It's closed to us." Rodney paused, swallowed, still looking at Carson. "So, eventually. That's where you're going to go. And where John will go, even if he thinks he's too badass for it. And I'll still be here. I've done this maybe thousands of times, but it never hurts any less. And no one's ever loved me back so much, so if I need to take a couple of hours to wallow…"

"I won't stop you, I understand. I just… wish there was something I could do to help, to stop it hurting as much." Carson touched his face. "As corny as it sounds, love doesn't fade away. There are miracles out there, science leaping along now we have entered your sphere en masse. Don't give up hope. love."

"I have people who care." Rodney leaned into that touch. "So, it's not that hope's missing, exactly. Just deferred."

"Heaven shouldn't be closed to you," Carson asserted trying to give Rodney as much comfort as he could. "I think, I just have this feeling that you are more on the way than your brethren." He remembered it being about choices and being able exercise free will and Rodney had done that and then some.

"I can't die," Rodney pointed out. "Oh, I can suffer. I had proof enough of that in Hell. But I can't… do what you all will eventually do, and let go like that."

"Well, no, perhaps you can't. Your natural form is energy isn't it?" Carson half-asked, half-stated. "But energy can be transformed, right? I may not know a lot of your hard science but I know that much. There is a chance that things can change in the future."

Rodney bumped his shoulder against Carson's again, a gentle, almost contemplative motion. "There is. I'm glad you put up with me."

"Are you kidding? It's not a case of putting up with you." Carson was firm. "We both want you, and I'm glad you provide incentive for John to stop being so self-destructive."

"It's not incentive, it's guilt. Some people are born to go out in a blaze." Rodney shifted, seemed to be considering turning towards Carson. "Okay, I can't mope here anymore."

"Everyone is entitled to mope," Carson said fondly. "I just wanted to make sure it was not something I could do anything about. I love you, Rodney, I just… want to help if I can."

He wanted to fix it, and he had a sense that it was possible in that frustrating tantalizing way his talents seemed to manifest. It was vague, and intangible, and maybe he'd stumble across it at some point. For the moment, he was trying not to too-actively sense what was going on with Rodney, but he felt the frisson of mental heat when Rodney leaned in to kiss him. "C'mon. I just have to pack up my laptop."

"My simulation should be about to finish anyway," Carson answered. "I'm very close to a working treatment, although I might have to try it on myself."

It was a calculated risk, and he was pretty sure he would be able to pick up a problem rapidly. Besides he would take samples of his existing DNA just in case. He wasn't sure how he'd go about reverting it, of course. Rodney lifted an eyebrow at him as he started to stand up a little unsteadily. "It might be better to start with someone who doesn't have your complicated DNA."

"Well, I have a while to work it through. I'm not doing anything unless it is stable. In fact, I could use your technical know-how to help streamline the computer modeling, if you have a moment?" It was a blatant attempt at distraction, but hopefully it would work in the long run.

It would probably work in the long run. "Your lab is the last place Doctor 'I want a greater understanding of the world's religions' will look for me." Rodney shuffled his laptop and the charge cord into his messenger bag, and stood up.

"Then everyone wins," Carson agreed. "Come and have fun in the Infirmary labs. You might keep the people away who interrupt me for a minor headache."

"I wish I were that intimidating," Rodney scoffed, reaching a hand down to help Carson up.

Carson took the help, the physical contact reassuring him that Rodney's melancholy was buried under the surface for now. If the only thing he could do was give him good memories then he would make sure that would happen.

They were going to make a lot of good memories, the three of them, no matter how his research went.

John pretty much saw this sort of thing as part of his job. He took risks so other people didn't have to, especially if those other people were those he cared for, like Rodney or Carson. In this instance, having a test injection of Carson's developed gene treatment was not exactly like stepping in front of a bullet or facing down a demon single-handedly.

At the worst, he expected to get a little sick.

Well, if he were being honest, the worst worst-case scenario would be if it morphed into some kind of demonic AIDS and ravaged him with cancer. But Carson had tested and re-tested it.

He'd even asked Lorne who had a damn good track record with his tarot cards and he'd pulled the Star which was a pretty positive sign although he could only assume the wish granted referred to him not turning into a scaly demon.

So he rolled up his sleeve, and waited while Carson swabbed the inside of his arm with an alcohol soaked cotton ball. Rodney was looming, but only out of curiosity, he'd said.

"You might feel a wee bit ill with it," Carson advised. "A mild fever most likely. Hold still."

"Does that mean I'm not going to have to make dinner tonight?" He held still, watching while Carson slipped the needle in carefully. It hardly hurt at all, no wiggling from side to side.

"We'll have soup," Rodney smirked.

"I'll let you off. It is entirely possible that you won't feel much in the way of an effect at all, John, but I want you to tell me if you get odd sensations," Carson told him as there was a brief stinging under his skin.

"Anything weird at all," Rodney reiterated. "No, oh I feel lousy, but I'm not going to say anything about it."

"Okay, I said I would let you know," John promised flexing his arm a little. "So what's this going to do again?"

"Well, not sure what the effects will be exactly, but I believe I've identified the genetic contaminant injected into the apple in Eden," Carson said. "And this is a retrovirus to strip out the effects."

"You'll be pre-sin," Rodney smirked, lifting his eyebrows at John. "No idea what this means, but I'm excited."

"I'm working on the premise that the contaminant was some sort of impediment to the natural human development. Now, it seems to have some parallels to our particular genetic factors so we will most likely have a good chance of assimilating it."

"Which means you're probably going to end up more impressively powerful." Rodney leaned against the counter, resting on his hands.

John raised his eyebrows at that. "Powerful enough to take on a Demon Lord and actually destroy it?" he asked hopefully.

"No idea. I never knew what humanity's potential was when it was first conceived." He rolled his shoulders. He'd actually been taken with felines already, from what Rodney had mentioned, and the humans had seemed nothing more than other angels until they started to breed.

"All I know is that He… She… It…" Carson fumbled over the pronouns. "Expects great things. But it was a little like being a dust speck in an infinite ocean."

John hmm a little under his breath. "So we have to stay here?"

"Don't see why. We might have to bring you back if you do get a fever, but…?" Rodney was glancing over at Carson. "I've blown all day on the installation of the Iris and wards over the gate."

"Well I suppose I can monitor you just as well at home as here. To be honest it could be up to a day before effects become a problem," Carson replied.

"That settles that," Rodney declared. "Because I need to go home and wash. I mean, really shower. I think I have metal filings in my nose. It's like toner, it just gets everywhere."

John shrugged. "I cleared my schedule in case I was laid up," he said. He didn't feel any different. It would be useful to have access to more power if it was possible because if he'd been able to kick ass on a Demon Lord, Rodney would never have been taken in the first place. That was his priority, protecting him, and anyone else he had to protect.

Safety, then whatever other benefits went with it. If he could just keep them all safe and together, out in the field and in the face of the threats that lurked at home, he'd be all right. Carson's abilities were growing, but there was no comparative growth in his own ability to protect himself, and Rodney still felt weakened, almost, from what had happened.

That wasn't surprising really. If he was honest, then he probably wasn't completely up to par either. He had been affected, and he knew it, and being good at masks wasn't a substitute for recovery. It was just that his recovery had been put on hold for a bit. Well, his entire life. But for the first time, he had a situation where he wanted to recover. Not just for his sake but for people he cared for… okay, he loved them. He could admit that to himself, even if he seemed to need Carson to say it out loud for them both.

"Aye, well, let's get ourselves sorted out and we can have a nice quiet evening at home. I'll even allow us to break the household limits on take-out," Carson decided.

"Oh — does that mean you'll give me the menu back for that place that'll deep-fry anything you ask them to? Deep fried chicken. Deep fried Snickers. Deep fried deep fried French-fries…" Rodney dodged the playful swat Carson took at him, and picked up his messenger bag. "I'm going to make sure I'm wrapped up for the day, but should we reconvene at the car?"

"Sounds cool," John said. "We've got some new recruits coming in and O'Neill wanted me to do a walk past, see if I could see anyone trying to hitch a ride into the SGC. Won't take more than a minute."

"I'll go with?" Rodney offered, making a back and forth gesture with one hand. When he wasn't head to head with Sam or another of the scientists, he was staying pretty tightly glued to John and Carson.

John could understand that. Safety in numbers and also they at least were protected from being possessed. "Sure. You could probably spot them as well as I could."

"I'll see you at the car. Keep an eye on how you are feeling, John," Carson instructed even as John stood up and headed towards the door.

Rodney shadowed him for a moment, and then fell into step at his side once the hallway opened up a little wider. "So, honestly. What would you like for dinner? Guinea pig's choice."

"Right now?" John considered as they walked along the corridors and he could 'see' the pleasing blue tracery of wards he had set up. All solid and safe. "I think..mm, I think I'd like the Thai place we had. Although now you've mentioned that place…"

"Thai's good. And huge servings," Rodney agreed, gesturing out what had to be an imaginary delivery bag. They'd regret eating there less in the long run than the place Rodney had suggested.

It did sit pretty heavy on the stomach and was a meal more suited for watching the game and having a few beers. Thai had the big servings and was the sort of thing that could be picked at without turning into congealed grease. The thought of that turned his stomach a little.

"We all know size is important," he smirked a little as they headed up to the waiting room.

Rodney snorted, and jostled his shoulder. "Massively important. Why should I bother with something little, when for the same price, I can get something huge."

"I'm not even going to touch that line," John grinned and looked through the window where the new recruits were sitting. "Huh."

No possessions but a couple of interesting people.

He was pretty sure he'd never actually met a Selkie before, and there was one guy that he couldn't quite get a read on. Rodney leaned in towards the window.

"Huh, is right."

"Mmm. Selkie blood. Probably went Navy SEAL. Could be a good advantage there. Seeing something about the ginger haired guy I can't pin down," John said. "You know what it is?"

"Old god. He's uh… dammit. Pharamond is too haughty to do this, the rest of the Babylonians are dead. He looks annoyingly familiar to me." Rodney leaned in, pressing a hand against the glass. "This is worse than playing along with Jeopardy."

"A trickster god?" John frowned a little. "Those bastards can be tricky. Would you remember a bad guy?" Otherwise, he saw a couple of hunters he recognized and one guy he had a feeling was some member of a spiritual warrior cult. He had a damn big sword that John had seen in action before.

"Yeah. He's not a trickster god. They're too powerful to do things like get a day job. People still believe in them." Rodney shifted from heel to heel. "Dammit, dammit…."

"He looks kinda European. Norse? Celtic? Scandinavian," John said as he jotted down the notes that O'Neill wanted.

Rodney's fingers drummed on the window for a moment. "Oh! Perun. Uh, Slavic, in that area. Old thunder god."

John glanced down the list of names. "They've got him down as a scientist. Radek Zelenka. He's due in your labs."

"Oh, seriously?" Rodney kept watching through the glass. "Huh, well. It's that or starve to death, I guess. Scientist, fantastic. We need more brains. Dr. Lee is a complete moron."

"His file looks good. Do you think he remembers he's a god?" John wondered if it was possible to forget. Actually John was seriously contemplating what Carson had told him quietly about Rodney not wanting to be alone because of immortality. If he got on with this god… well…

Well. It was a good thing, right? In a long term way.

"Oh, he remembers. If you were worshipped for hundreds of years, would you forget? Ever? If you had temples in your honor, sacrifices, if you fought other gods…" Rodney stepped back from the glass. "No, he remembers."

"Times like this, I could do with Carson's skills," John said. "See what he had in mind. Not setting my instincts off though."

"My gut says he's all right. Most of the gods who are still around… if he's integrated into society, then he's just trying to survive. I know a few 'last of their kinders' who've done that."

"I just hope he's not like one of your minions that you can't stand," John said still smiling a little. "Otherwise we'll get into competitive smiting in the labs." It would be amusing if nothing else. There didn't appear to be anyone else in there that stood out as anyone unusual so that would make the report more interesting.

"Please, I can completely smother a lightning bug," Rodney smirked. "So, does O'Neill have you write a report up on them, or is it verbal?"

"I've been scribbling notes. That's all he needs," John replied. "If there was something worrying there, I'd find him. You want to talk to thunder-guy?"

He didn't have any aura of evil or demonic activity.

"Yeah, just for a second. I'm sort of curious — how long he's been over here, what he's up to…" Carson would probably take a good thirty minutes to wrap up his work, file his notes, put away his equipment, and he had a cell phone that he wasn't afraid to use if they weren't at the car when he got there.

John was willing to listen in to that. "Why don't you call him in? I can carry on writing this up. Won't take long."

He wanted to be around just in case things turned the wrong way. Demons weren't above using agents and there were entities out there that would act as mercenaries.

Rodney blew a good thirty seconds looking for the intercom button. "Radek Zelenka, please come to the door."

Then he stepped back and moved towards the door himself. John could honestly say he'd never met an old god, but before Rodney, he'd never met a Fallen angel who'd stayed an angel.

He watched as the wild haired man came to the door and Rodney let him through even as the others there watched curiously. "Yes? I am Dr. Zelenka?"

"Dr. Zelenka, I'm Dr. Rodney McKay, Astrophysicist and Mechanical engineer. We were looking through the newest intake and, well, you're going to be working with me. I thought I could spare you some time with the whole integrating into the SGC." Rodney extended his hand, and from the smirk, John was waiting for him to be hiding a joy buzzer in his palm, except that would have taken forethought.

Zelenka looked at Rodney with a part frown. "Dr. McKay, I have heard of your reputation," he said carefully, glancing over a John a little suspiciously. "It has been a long time since we have crossed paths. I was not aware you were affiliated with this project."

"I am. I like it here — good people, good mission, lots of equipment to play with. How long have you been stateside?" He shook Zelenka's hand firmly, and turned to look at John. "This is Major John Sheppard, my team leader, demon fighter, blah blah, accolades he doesn't want to hear. Major Sheppard, Perun, one of the last of the Slavic gods."

"Welcome aboard," John said pleasantly, as if he was introduced to gods on a daily basis, even as Zelenka looked horrified.

"Dr… Dr. McKay!" he half spluttered. "Are you wanting me to reveal things about you in such a way?"

"Sheppard knows. There's a small group that knows, the same ones who are going to have to know about you," Rodney said firmly. "I mean it when I say you're welcome here."

"He knows about your…." Radek gestured in a vaguely flapping type way reminiscent of wings.

"Yes I do," John said. "Look, we've got a collection of interesting types here. Dhamphirs, The People, fae-blood, selkie, hunters, Magicians, Seventh son…."

"I'm delighted to have another outlier on board," Rodney grinned. "You've still got a good week of paperwork ahead of you, but I've missed having someone intelligent to work with in the lab who is actually assigned to the science area."

Zelenka was looking a bit bemused. "This is overwhelming," he said. "It has been many many years since I have been called by my first name."

"You know, I've gotta ask, how come you're still around and the others aren't," John asked. "You got worshippers?"

"Not really." Radek said pushing his glasses up his nose. "I had long times to contemplate, and after others of my pantheon faded to voices on the wind I reasoned that to survive I needed belief. And the logical step from there was to find a mode that could believe in itself. Humans believe in their own existence without even having to struggle with it."

"It sounds so easy," Rodney mused. It did sound easy, and logical, to John. To John, what Rodney had done in walking away had sounded logical, too, but logic and reality didn't usually shake hands. "Well, we'll, uh. Let you get back to the meeting room, but I'm looking forward to working with you."

"I am also," Radek replied, and continued with a deadpan expression. "You need someone to tell you how wrong your theories are."

John tried to cover a snort.

"Oh, hah hah. Go, shoo. We can argue about your long-standing hatred of string theory later." Rodney glanced over at John while he opened the door back to the meeting room again. "I mean it. Good to see you again."

Zelenka nodded and looking less nervous returned to the meeting room even as John passed a bundle of papers to a Marine sent to them by O'Neill.

"Okay, time to head home." John said. He was feeling headachy and tired for some reason.

"I guessed as much. You look a little peaky." Rodney reached to take John's gear bag, which he never did.

John raised his eyebrows at him. "There's nothing wrong with me," he said.

"No effects from the shots?" Rodney tilted his head a little, watching John while they headed towards the elevator.

"Well…" John had been about to deny it. "Getting a headache and feeling kinda crappy."

"There, is that so hard? Hand over the keys." Rodney snapped his fingers, and held his hand out to John. "I'm driving."

"Carson would've spotted it anyway," John said. "I can drive. I'm not immobilized or anything."

"Sickness slows your reaction time." Rodney kept holding his hand out, and it was hard to resist Rodney when he got stubborn like that. "Keys."

"Fine." John would fight his corner if he hadn't been feeling a little clammy and dizzy. He handed them over.

Rodney moved to his side, expression twisted with worry. "Okay, do we need to head back to the infirmary or are we going home?"

"No, no. I'm fine. Just like when a cold comes on. I've flown missions with worse and done exorcisms," John pointed out truthfully. "I'd rather go home. I can never sleep in the Infirmary unless I've been drugged."

"Okay." Rodney was giving him a look, and he was sure Carson would hear all about it, but then they were stepping into the elevator, headed up to the surface.

He kept his mouth shut even as he wondered exactly what this was doing to him.

Carson was waiting for them at the car by the time they got there, and John made an effort not to mention he was feeling rough right then in case he did drag him back in the SGC.

"Wait until I tell you what we've got working with us now," Rodney grinned as he jangled the keys absently in one hand, pressing the clicker to unlock it.

"Oh, aye?" Carson queried as he deferred the front seat to John who settled in. "Someone good?"

"Yeah. I'll tell you about it at home." Rodney slipped into the driver's side, but he did seem buzzing with energy while he started up.

John wasn't really focusing that much on what Rodney and Carson were chatting about while they drove home. He was looking forward to food, even with the feeling of aches and pains lurking.

He was hungry, and that was generally a sign of good things to come, right? Right. Or tremendous energy being spent. Rodney got them home safely, though. He drove well, and John figured he probably had enough years of muscle memory of doing it to be good at it.

Carson insisted he shower and rest on the couch while the two of them bustled around talking about this and that. Every now and then one of them would come on and say things like, "What do you want to order?" or, "Warm enough?" or rather tragically, "No, you better not have beer."

It felt like it was passing him by, though, and that was weird. He was generally more alert, more engaged than that, than just to drift through like that. His khao pad naem didn't even seem to get his attention

He just ate it as if he was a starving man and it was the content more than the taste. Rather embarrassingly after he ate, he drowsed a little, ending up snoozing on the others. Not that he thought Carson or Rodney would care, because every once in a while he'd surface and realize he was propped up between them, with Ellis somewhere around his feet, plucking at the laces of his boots.

"…yes Rodney, this is pretty much what I was expecting," he heard Carson say as he contemplated opening his eyes again. "He doesn't need to go back to the SGC. If he were going to have a severe reaction he would've had it by now. And the retrovirus dies off after a few hours so it won't keep breeding. I engineered it very carefully."

"I'm just saying that the cat is winning right now, Carson. It's a little worrisome." A hand patted at his knee, and he was going to assume it was Rodney. "Should we get him undressed and put him in bed? I feel like I'm in Weekend at Bernie's."

"I'm fine," he mumbled making an effort to wake up and join the land of the living. He was squinting a little as he brought them into focus. This apparently was a signal for the cat to jump on his lap purring madly.

"There see now, he's fine," Carson said. "Do you want a wee drink, John?"

"Hi." Rodney always did that. He leaned in, peered hard at whomever was coming out of consciousness, and just said hello. "You stay with him, I'll get him something to drink."

"I'm not ill," he protested. "Just… tired. Gotta kick that retrovirus." He suppressed a yawn. "Did I miss anything?"

"Nope!" Rodney called that out from the kitchen, and Carson just smiled at him.

"You really haven't. Rodney's restless. Although he did tell me that we've got a god working with us now? Sometimes this place strikes me as so odd."

"The thunder god," John said and grinned. "Zelenka. I'd like to sit in on watching Rodney deal with him. Why're you restless, Rodney?"

"Because you look ill, and you're letting Ellis ruin your boots, and Carson keeps telling me you're fine." Rodney sat beside him on the sofa again, pressing a glass of what might've been milk into his hand.

"I am fine," John insisted. "I've been worse after a night out. This is just… feeling tired. And I feel much better now." He looked at his boots. They were a little cat savaged. "Damn. Ellis!"

Carson chuckled a little, "His revenge. Seriously, you are feeling better? Rodney wanted me to take you in, but the mild fever you had dropped and you seemed fine."

"Zombie Sheppard is not what I would define as 'fine'," Rodney noted. "I put a Disney movie in, and you didn't even blink."

"Why would you put in a Disney movie?" John asked. "How do we even have a Disney movie?"

"I expect it's one of mine," Carson smiled. "I think you've stabilized now anyway, love. Most likely the virus has done its work and died off."

"I'm dragging you up to bed now," Rodney declared, but he hadn't moved. He was still watching John, like he was expecting him to keel over. "So, how are you feeling?"

John actually thought about it, knowing Rodney wouldn't appreciate an automatic 'fine' "No, I think I'm pretty much okay. Seriously."

"I don't think Rodney believes you. It might be a good idea to go to bed," Carson murmured. "If you perk up, we can do something else."

"If you perk up, we can save it for tomorrow, when you look healthier." Rodney started to stand up, but he wasn't automatically hauling John to his feet.

"Rodney…" John whined. "I'm fine. Really fine."

"Of course he is." Carson reached to help him up. "I'm sure I would pick something up if he wasn't…" His hand closed around John and immediately he jerked as if he'd had an electric shock, his eyes rolled back in his head and he pitched forward, half over the two of them. "Carson?!"

"Son of a bitch." Rodney was moving to steady Carson, and the two of them eased him onto the sofa, with Ellis squawking in indignation that there was a human being lowered into his space. "I was worrying over the wrong one."

"He's having a vision?" John asked, his adrenalin pumping. "It must be an intense one. Can you get us in his head?"

Rodney hesitated. "I'm a little afraid. I mean, what if he's seeing you at some point, and we show up there as a tangible presence? I don't play with timelines."

"If it's absolute, we can't change it, if it's not, then just as well to see it," John lowered his voice trying to get the intensity across. "Rodney, he nearly lost himself in the last big vision he had."

He could see Rodney hesitate, and then he reached for John's hand. "I hate doing this. Hate. This is not something I'm doing again for a long, long time…" And then he was pressing his fingers against Carson's temple.

"My responsibility," John replied. It was important. If it was this bad, he needed someone to bring him out of it. He held on until he felt Rodney reach up to him and touch his fingers against his temple, and with a sharp flash they were traveling at speed through blurred images and John could just feel that they were speeding forwards.

Forwards was weird and exhausting, and it felt like he was losing pieces of himself as they moved forward in time, Rodney linking them both up to wherever Carson was.

He was starting to understand a little more about why Carson seemed to have reacted so badly and had ended in a coma for some time. They had assumed it was all to do with the exposure to the Divine presence but perhaps the future had some of it.

The blur resolved to images of themselves. Older selves and from the looks of it still getting into trouble and this time not looking like they were going to get out alive. There was something disconcerting about seeing himself… well, he wasn't sure what they were doing as they looked too old to be on active service but they were doing something life and death and the older him seemed to be more towards the death part of it anyway, if the visible blood had anything to go on.

Maybe they'd been called out of retirement. Hell, O'Neill was as old as dirt, and John expected him to be in the service until and possibly after they buried him.

It made him bizarrely happy to see he was flying as part of his apparent death.

"Rodney, get Carson the Hell out of here!" his older self was demanding with as much strength as he could muster.

There was Carson apparently pinned under some exploded part of debris. "I…I think, loves, we're riding this to the end," Carson said and there were tears in his eyes as he looked at Rodney. "I'm so sorry, Rodney."

"It's okay. It's, you're both going to be just fine…" And Rodney was trying to get Carson out from under the debris, but John had no context for what was going on, no idea where they were, and he wanted to try to help. "Dammit!"

"Rodney, I can't… deploy it. We're gonna have to…"

John winced at his older self's action. After all the time that had passed, he still had that self-destructive streak. It was strange seeing the three older 'them' and then having the three current them standing watching.

"There's no time," Carson said and the three older selves turned and focused on the task itself. "At least we will have saved everyone else. Let's do this, John. Rodney…"

"Stay with Carson. I'll do it." Rodney moved towards what looked like a cockpit, and sat down in the chair beside John's. "Go! I don't want him alone back there, I can just rig this to go off."

His older self dragged himself back, and John knew he'd only do that if he wasn't sure if he would stay conscious long enough to finish the task. He didn't have to be a doctor to know he was dying.

"Hey," his older self croaked out, coughing a smattering of blood. "Doing okay there.,.?"

The older Carson reached to touch him and he obviously had no strength to heal him and sigh. "No regrets, John?"

Normally there would've been a flippant remark, but this time, he responded with a shake of the head.

And Rodney was quiet, grimly determined, poking at his computer, switching wires, working hard to deploy whatever they were trying to deploy. John could feel that there were lives at stake — and he wanted to pull back with Carson, go back home, but he wanted, maybe morbidly, to see how it all ended. There was sort of a contentment in knowing.

Their Carson, the one having the vision was looking at the scene, his face twisted with emotion. "This shouldn't be happening, we should've found a way not to leave Rodney. It's not fair. Why am I even seeing this?"

"We should go." Rodney was holding John there, though, until Carson let go. They could still see the fact that Rodney was running some kind of… no, it was a space ship of some type, and it was headed towards a larger ship, and moving fast.

"It won't deploy. It looks like we're all going."

There it was, the end of the three of them staring them in the face and both Carson's said at exactly the same time, "Wait."

The future Carson and John had started to glow, much as they had when Rodney had Blessed them, but this time the light was not fading and John could see it echoing back onto their Carson.

Their Rodney lurched forward, when the future Rodney moved to the back, leaving the ship on autopilot. He didn't say anything, but Rodney seemed to understand what was going on. Both of them.

"We need to leave. Carson, we need to go. I don't want you pulled in."

"What's happening?" Carson said even as they watched Rodney light up himself and surprisingly it was future John who dissolved into light first, arcs of it sweeping upwards around him like wings, until it was twirling and twining with Rodney and beckoning to Carson.

That the same was happening to Carson was obvious, but it was starting to happen too early. "Drop us out of here, Rodney. I've got him. Come on, Carson, break it off."

He felt when Rodney pulled them, pulled both of them hard, snapping them back like a bungee cord, though John was sure they'd feel echoes for a while.

He groaned a little, as he sat up and tried to make sure Carson was with them. "Carson? Come on… no lighting up here… wake up. That's it."

"Stop that." Carson sounded exhausted again. "Bloody future visions! What… what was I seeing and how was I seeing it?"

Rodney looked a little stunned, and he just let his fingers linger at the side of Carson's face. "You need to take the shot you gave John. It worked."

Carson looked at them both and then looked down. "I… uh, already took it," he admitted.

"You what?" John said.

"I took it. I didn't want to risk John. I just… knew I had to," Carson admitted.

"I… I have no idea whether I should be angry with you, or…." Rodney leaned down, and kissed him hard. "It worked. It works. I can't believe you did it."

"That's great," Carson said coming up for air. "But what worked? What has the serum done?"

John looked at Rodney then, all fiercely happy and almost incredulous. "I think it's done what it was meant to do. Taken a block away."

"You can become like I am. You can Ascend, like the Nephilim did, without their insane rules about it. You could die and shed your form and do what you want." And Rodney was almost shaking, leaning in to hug Carson, peering over at John.

"We could stay with you?" Carson asked. "That's our future? John's and mine? Not just a suicide run?"

John moved over to hold on to the two of them. "Well, that's pretty good news, huh?"

"Might be why you both seemed so calm about it." Rodney moved to slide his other arm around John, just leaning down to the two of them on the sofa. "I almost can't believe it."

"Hey, you might get sick of us," John offered, glancing at him. "So is everyone who has the treatment going to be able to do this… Ascension thing?"

Carson shook his head. "I think it gives the capacity to Ascend, the potential. I think… I think that was the plan all along and the references to being cast out of Eden and dying… well, that's what the demons did. Changed things enough that there was a block on that potential."

"There's no question you both have that potential." Rodney seemed shocked and delighted, still holding them both tight.

"Aye." Carson was smiling a little. "You won't be alone, Rodney. You won't have to say goodbye unless you choose to, love."

"Yeah, well that's… that's not likely," John pointed out. "So, successful experiment huh?"

"You look like you stopped bothering to shave after a while," Rodney smirked, leaning back a little, still looking at them both in dazed delight. "Wow."

"We looked pretty good for old guys," John said relaxing a little.

"You always look good, John. And Rodney still had his hair." Carson said.

"I can keep it if I want to, you know." Rodney shifted, and knelt down, still grinning hard. "We should celebrate."

"Got any ideas?" John said with a smirk. "I'm feeling pretty good right now."

"Oh, right, Mr. Fever. And you, experimenting on yourself," Rodney scowled, reaching for their hands.

Carson shrugged. "I'm not having someone suffer for something I've created," he said. "Besides, it worked out well."

John watched Rodney move, standing up, and offer his hands to them both. "I think we were headed to bed when this happened?"

"I think I can go along with that plan," Carson agreed, tugging John up as well. "Come on, John."

There had been a time when he never would've dreamed of letting himself get so close to someone. Everyone he knew or cared about ended up killed or insane just by association with him. He'd always thought it was a matter of steadily decreasing outlandish odds that he would survive even a few more years. But it seemed maybe he would, and not just that, he'd have Rodney and Carson there, too. It wasn't just Rodney who had a deep-seated need to be with someone, and he was luckier than he'd ever imagined considering the depths and damnation he had been plunged into all his life to date. He was loved by an angel, a snarky, pissy, challenging and completely captivating angel, and by a Seventh Son who was making a habit of surprising some of the most powerful entities that existed.

Either way, if it was his role to protect them or to love them, John was pretty sure he could handle that, no matter how long a future they had together.

The End
Violence, non-con torture, supernatural and religious themes and sacrilege.
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